Autograph letter signed with initials, Winterbourne, 27 September 1849 to the publisher F. M. Evans
Purchased on the Fellows Fund, 1971
In 1849 John Leech, illustrator of A Christmas Carol, was injured in a swimming accident. In this letter Dickens reports using hypnotism to restore Leech's health: "I soon began to magnetize him. He became composed immediately, and lay in a perfect calm." Dickens was convinced of the therapeutic effect of his efforts on this occasion and recalled observing "exactly this effect several times, in a lady whom I magnetized every day for Six months, in Italy [Madame de la Rue]. Her disorder was tic Doloreux [trigeminal neuralgia, a severe, stabbing pain to one side of the face] in a most horrible form. In some states of nervous excitement she never went to sleep for more than a minute or two at a time, but was invariably tranquillized and made easy by the process."
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.
My Dear Evans.
Leech was down in the sitting room, dressed, all day yesterday—and had a boiled fowl for his dinner, of which he ate the two wings with great satisfaction. Going up there, at a little after 8 last night, I found he had gone to bed, and was restless again and tossing about. I soon began to magnetize him. He became composed immediately, and lay in a perfect calm, though without sleeping more than two or three minutes at a time (and then very soundly) until 12 o'Clock, during the whole of which time I continued the magnetism. As he was then cheerful and quiet, though not—as he said—drowsy any more, I