Autograph letter signed, Rome, 31 January 1845, to Emile de la Rue
Purchased in 1968
Shortly after his arrival in the United States in January 1842, Dickens told Dr. R. H. Collyer that, "with regard to my opinion on the subject of Mesmerism... I am a believer [but] I became so against all my preconceived opinions and impressions."
While in America, Dickens carried out his first mesmeric experiment on his wife, recalling that he "magnetized [hypnotized] her into hysterics, and then into the magnetic sleep." But his first significant efforts began in Genoa in December 1844, with his mesmeric treatment of Madame Augusta de la Rue. In this letter Dickens informed the husband of Madame de la Rue that she was "now in a state most favorable and advantageous to the best influence The Mesmerism could possibly exert upon her."
In his life and art, Dickens worked energetically for healing. His fiction exposed many of the social ills of his day, and a significant portion of his later journalism is devoted to an impassioned campaign to improve sanitation and public health. Although he was a committed evolutionist and progressive in his attitude toward science and the improvements wrought by technological advances, he was also, by imagination and temperament, attracted to the fantastic and pseudoscientific. This was manifested in his interest in spontaneous combustion and phrenology as well as his fervent belief and active experiments in mesmerism (or "animal magnetism"), an early type of hypnotism.
Dickens was introduced to mesmerism through Dr. John Elliotson, his family physician and one of his "most intimate and valued friends." He became convinced of the therapeutic effects of mesmerism after witnessing Elliotson's demonstrations in 1838, and, although there is no record of Dickens undergoing the procedure, he learned to mesmerize others. Throughout the 1840s, he conducted mesmeric experiments on his wife and friends.
and how opposed to all my earnest wishes, that she should retain one, hidden in her breast. Do not lead in any way to the subject, lest she should think (which she would immediately) that I had given you any hint of this. But how unnecessary it is, that I should caution you who know her so well, and have studied and tended her with such delicate and loving care! My dear De la Rue, forgive me.
My agony is, lest any portion of the existing influence should be lost in prolonged separation—and lest that Devil in torturing her, should establish other secret horrors. In that case, how disheartening it would be to us (though I have no doubt of getting the better of them in time, even then) and what dreadful endurance to her!