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.
Suppose—only suppose—it haunted her, night after night, and threatened her with revenge upon herself and upon me, of some prodigious and inconceivable kind, if she resumed the Mesmerism. And suppose that became a fixed idea! If it were once rooted in her unselfish and enduring nature, that I could bring the Malice of this Fancy on myself, by trying to heal her; I believe she would rather suffer, and would never tell why.
Could anything of this kind have been in her mind, when she was in that strange state we have so often spoken of, at Brown's one night—and so inconsistently and unaccountably proposed to drop the Mesmerism, of which she had then just begun to feel the Relief and Benefit? It may seem a monstrous idea of mine; but