Autograph letter signed, Naples, 10 February 1845, to Emile de la Rue
Purchased in 1968
Dickens's letters to Emile de la Rue included progress reports on the positive effects of his mesmeric treatment of Madame de la Rue, which was no less fervent for being, by this stage, conducted in absentia. Utterly confident in his powers, Dickens told de la Rue that, "when I think of all that lies before us, I have a perfect conviction that I could magnetize [hypnotize] a Frying-Pan." The biographer Fred Kaplan argued: "Mesmerism provided Dickens not only with a rationale for the working of personality and mind . . . but with a language and an imagery that could be dramatically utilized in fictional creation." But Peter Ackroyd has suggested that for Dickens mesmerism was "part of his need to control, to dominate, to manipulate."
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.