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understand the _true_ private characters of their public men so little
as the Americans, or any people so well as the French. I have never
known a distinguished American, in whom it did not appear to me that his
popular character was a false one; or a distinguished Frenchman, whom
the public did not appear to estimate very nearly as he deserved to be.
Even Napoleon, necessary as he is to the national pride, and dazzling as
is all military renown, seems to me to be much more justly appreciated
at Paris than anywhere else. The practice of meddling can lead to no
other result. They who wish to stand particularly fair before the
public, resort to deception, and I have heard a man of considerable
notoriety in America confess, that he was so much afraid of popular
comments, that he always acted as if an enemy were looking over his
shoulder. With us, no one scruples to believe that he knows all about a
public man, even to the nicest traits of his character; all talk of him,
as none should talk but those who are in his intimacy, and, what between
hypocrisy on his part - an hypocrisy to which he is in some measure
driven by the officious interference with his most private
interests - and exaggerations and inventions, that ingenious tyrant,
public opinion, comes as near the truth as a fortune-teller who is
venturing his prediction in behalf of a stranger.[33]

[Footnote 33: I can give no better illustration of the state of
dependence to which men are reduced in America, by this spirit of
meddling, than by the following anecdote: A friend was about to build a
new town-house, and letting me know the situation, he asked my advice as
to the mode of construction. The inconveniences of an ordinary American
town-house were pointed out to him, - its unfitness for the general state
of society, the climate, the other domestic arrangements, and its
ugliness. All were admitted, and the plan proposed in place of the old
style of building was liked, but still my friend hesitated about
adopting it. "It will be a genteeler and a better-looking house than the
other." "Agreed." "It will be really more convenient." "I think so,
too." "It will be cheaper." "Of that there is no question." "Then why
not adopt it?" "To own the truth, I _dare not build differently from my

In France the right of the citizen to discuss all public matters is not
only allowed, but _felt_. In America it is not _felt_, though it is
allowed. A homage must be paid to the public, by assuming the disguise
of acting as a public agent, in America; whereas, in France, individuals
address their countrymen, daily, under their own signatures. The
impersonality of _we_, and the character of public journalists, is
almost indispensable, with us, to impunity, although the mask can
deceive no one, the journalists notoriously making their prints
subservient to their private passions and private interests, and being
_impersonal_ only in the use of the imperial pronoun. The
_representative_, too, in America, is privileged to teach, in virtue of
his collective character, by the very men who hold the extreme and
untenable doctrine of instruction! It is the fashion to say in America,
_that the people will rule!_ it would be nearer the truth, however, to
say, _the people will seem to rule_.

I think that these distinctions are facts, and they certainly lead to
odd reflections. We are so peculiarly situated as a nation, that one is
not to venture on conclusions too hastily. A great deal is to be imputed
to our provincial habits; much to the circumstance of the disproportion
between surface and population, which, by scattering the well-bred and
intelligent, a class at all times relatively small, serves greatly to
lessen their influence in imparting tone to society; something to the
inquisitorial habits of our pious forefathers, who appear to have
thought that the charities were nought, and, in the very teeth of
revelation, that Heaven was to be stormed by impertinences; while a good
deal is to be conceded to the nature of a popular government whose
essential spirit is to create a predominant opinion, before which, right
or wrong, all must bow until its cycle shall be completed. Thus it is,
that we are always, more or less, under one of two false influences, the
blow or its rebound; action that is seldom quite right, or reaction that
is always wrong; sinning heedlessly, or repeating to fanaticism. The
surest process in the world, of "riding on to fortune" in America, is to
get seated astride a lively "reaction," which is rather more likely to
carry with it a unanimous sentiment, than even the error to which it
owes its birth.

As much of this weakness as is inseparable from humanity exists here,
but it exists under so many modifying circumstances, as, in this
particular, to render France as unlike America as well may be. Liberty
is not always pure philosophy nor strict justice, and yet, as a whole,
it is favourable to both. These are the spots on the political sun. To
the eye which seeks only the radiance and warmth of the orb, they are
lost; but he who studies it, with calmness and impartiality, sees them
too plainly to be in any doubt of their existence.


Animal Magnetism. - Somnambules. - Magnetised Patients. - My own
Examination. - A Prediction. - Ventriloquism. - Force of the Imagination.


Although we have not been without our metaphysical hallucinations in
America, I do not remember to have heard that "animal magnetism" was
ever in vogue among us. A people who are not very quick to feel the
poetry of sentiment, may well be supposed exempt from the delusions of a
doctrine which comprehends the very poetry of physics. Still, as the
subject is not without interest, and as chance has put me in the way of
personally inquiring into this fanciful system, I intend, in this
letter, to give you an account of what I have both heard and seen.

I shall premise by saying that I rank "animal magnetism" among the
"arts" rather than among the "sciences." Of its theory I have no very
clear notion, nor do I believe that I am at all peculiar in my
ignorance; but until we can say what is that other "magnetism" to which
the world is indisputably so much indebted for its knowledge and
comforts, I do not know that we are to repudiate this, merely because we
do not understand it. Magnetism is an unseen and inexplicable influence,
and that is "metallic," while this is "animal;" _voilà tout_. On the
whole, it may be fairly mooted which most controls the world, the animal
or the metallic influence.

To deal gravely with a subject that, at least, baffles our
comprehension, there are certainly very extraordinary things related of
animal magnetism, and apparently on pretty good testimony. Take, for
instance, a single fact. M. Jules Cloquet is one of the cleverest
practitioners of Paris, and is in extensive business. This gentleman
publicly makes the following statement. I write it from memory, but have
heard it and read it so often, that I do not think my account will
contain any essential error.

A woman, who was subject to the magnetic influence, or who was what is
commonly called a _somnambule_, had a cancer in the breast. M. - - , one
of the principal magnetisers of Paris, and from whom, among others, I
have had an account of the whole affair, was engaged to magnetise this
woman, while M. Cloquet operated on the diseased part. The patient was
put asleep, or rather into the magnetic trance, for it can scarcely be
called sleep, and the cancer was extracted, without the woman's
_manifesting the least terror, or the slightest sense of pain!_ To the
truth of the substance of this account, M. Cloquet, who does not pretend
to explain the reason, nor profess to belong, in any way, to the school,
simply testifies. He says that he had such a patient, and that she was
operated on, virtually, as I have told you. Such a statement, coming
from so high a source, induced the Academy, which is certainly not
altogether composed of magnetisers, but many of whose members are quite
animal enough to comprehend the matter, to refer the subject to a
special committee, which committee, I believe, was comprised of very
clever men. The substance of their report was pretty much what might
have been anticipated. They said that the subject was inexplicable, and
that "animal magnetism" could not be brought within the limits of any
known laws of nature. They might have said the same thing of the comets!
In both cases we have facts, with a few established consequences, but
are totally without elementary causes.

Animal magnetism is clearly one of three things: it is what it pretends
to be, an unexplained and as yet incomprehensible physical influence; it
is delusion, or it is absolute fraud.

A young countryman of ours, having made the acquaintance of M. C - - ,
professionally, and being full of the subject, I have so far listened to
his entreaties as to inquire personally into the facts, a step I might
not have otherwise been induced to take.

I shall now proceed to the history of my own experience in this
inexplicable mystery. We found M. C - - buried in the heart of Paris, in
one of those vast old hotels, which give to this town the air of
generations of houses, commencing with the quaint and noble of the
sixteenth century, and ending with the more fashionable pavilion of our
own times. His cabinet looked upon a small garden, a pleasant transition
from the animal within to the vegetable without. But one meets with
gardens, with their verdure and shrubbery and trees, in the most
unexpected manner, in this crowded town.

M. C - - received us politely, and we found with him one of his
_somnambules_; but as she had just come out of a trance, we were told
she could not be put asleep again that morning. Our first visit,
therefore, went no farther than some discourse on the subject of "animal
magnetism," and a little practical by-play, that shall be related in its

M. C - - did not attempt ascending to first principles, in his
explanations. Animal magnetism was animal magnetism - it was a fact, and
not a theory. Its effects were not to be doubted; they depended on
testimony of sufficient validity to dispose of any mere question of
authenticity. All that he attempted was hypothesis, which he invited us
to controvert. He might as well have desired me to demonstrate that the
sun is not a carbuncle. On the _modus operandi_, and the powers of his
art, the doctor was more explicit. There were a great many gradations in
quality in his _somnambules_, some being better and some worse; and
there was also a good deal of difference in the _intensity_ of the
_magnetiser's_. It appears to be settled that the best _somnambules_ are
females, and the best _magnetisers_ males, though the law is not
absolute. I was flattered with being, by nature, a first-rate
magnetiser, and the doctor had not the smallest doubt of his ability to
put me to sleep; and ability, so far as his theory went, I thought it
was likely enough he might possess, though I greatly questioned his
physical means.

I suppose it is _primâ facie_ evidence of credulity, to take the trouble
to inquire into the subject at all; at any rate it was quite evident I
was set down as a good subject, from the moment of my appearance. Even
the _somnambule_ testified to this, though she would not then consent to
be put into a trance in order to give her opinion its mystical sanction.

The powers of a really good _somnambule_ are certainly of a very
respectable class. If a lock of hair be cut from the head of an invalid,
and sent a hundred leagues from the provinces, such a _somnambule_,
properly magnetised, becomes gifted with the faculty to discover the
seat of the disease, however latent; and, by practice, she may even
prescribe the remedy, though this is usually done by a physician, like
M. C - - , who is regularly graduated. The _somnambule_ is, properly,
only versed in pathology, any other skill she may discover being either
a consequence of this knowledge, or the effects of observation and
experience. The powers of a _somnambule_ extend equally to the _morale_
as well as to the _physique_. In this respect a phrenologist is a pure
quack in comparison with a lady in a trance. The latter has no
dependence on bumps and organs, but she looks right through you, at a
glance, and pronounces _ex cathedrâ_, whether you are a rogue, or an
honest man; a well-disposed, or an evil-disposed child of Adam. In this
particular, it is an invaluable science, and it is a thousand pities all
young women were not magnetised before they pronounce the fatal vows, as
not a few of them would probably wake up, and cheat the parson of his
fee. Our sex is difficult to be put asleep, and are so obstinate, that I
doubt if they would be satisfied with a shadowy glimpse of the temper
and dispositions of their mistresses.

You may possibly think I am trifling with you, and that I invent as I
write. On the contrary, I have not related one half of the miraculous
powers which being magnetised imparts to the thoroughly good
_somnambule_, as they were related to me by M. C - - , and vouched for by
four or five of his patients who were present, as well as by my own
companion, a firm believer in the doctrine. M. C - - added that
_somnambules_ improve by practice, as well as _magnetisers_, and that he
has such command over one of his _somnambules_ that he can put her to
sleep, by a simple effort of the will, although she may be in her own
apartment, in an adjoining street. He related the story of M. Cloquet
and the cancer, with great unction, and asked me what I thought of that?
Upon my word, I did not very well know what I did think of it, unless it
was to think it very queer. It appeared to me to be altogether
extraordinary, especially as I knew M. Cloquet to be a man of talents,
and believe him to be honest.

By this time I was nearly magnetised with second-hand facts; and I
became a little urgent for one or two that were visible to my own sense.
I was promised more testimony, and a sight of the process of magnetising
some water that a patient was to drink. This patient was present; the
very type of credulity. He listened to everything that fell from M.
C - - with a _gusto_ and a faith that might have worked miracles truly,
had it been of the right sort, now and then turning his good-humoured
marvel-eating eyes on me, as much as to say, "What do you think of that,
now?" My companion told me, in English, he was a man of good estate, and
of proved philanthropy, who had no more doubt of the efficacy of animal
magnetism than I had of my being in the room. He had brought with him
two bottles of water, and these M. C - - _magnetised_, by pointing his
fingers at their orifices, rubbing their sides, and ringing his hands
about them as if washing them, in order to disengage the subtle fluid
that was to impart to them their healing properties, for the patient
drank no other water.

Presently a young man came in, of a good countenance and certainly of a
very respectable exterior. As the _somnambule_ had left us, and this
person could not consult her, which was his avowed intention in coming,
M. C - - proposed to let me see his own power as a magnetiser, in an
experiment on this patient. The young man consenting, the parties were
soon prepared. M. C - - began by telling me, that he would, by _a
transfusion of his will_, into the body of the patient, compel him to
sit still, although his own desire should be to rise. In order to
achieve this, he placed himself before the young man and threw off the
fluid from his fingers' ends, which he kept in a cluster, by constant
forward gestures of the arms. Sometimes he held the fingers pointed at
some particular part of the body, the heart in preference, though the
brain would have been more poetical. The young man certainly did not
rise; neither did I, nor any one else in the room. As this experiment
appeared so satisfactory to everybody else, I was almost ashamed to
distrust it, easy as it really seemed to sit still, with a man
flourishing his fingers before one's eyes.

I proposed that the doctor should see if he could pin me down, in this
invisible fashion, but this he frankly admitted he did not think he
could do _so soon_, though he foresaw I would become a firm believer in
the existence of animal magnetism, ere long, and a public supporter of
its wonders. In time, he did not doubt his power to work the same
miracle on me. He then varied the experiment, by making the young man
raise his arm _contrary_ to his wishes. The same process was repealed,
all the fluid being directed at the arm, which, after a severe trial,
was slowly raised, until it pointed forward like a finger-board. After
this he was made to stand up, in spite of himself. This was the hardest
affair of all, the doctor throwing off the fluid in handfuls; the
magnetised refusing for some time to budge an inch. At length he
suddenly stood up, and seemed to draw his breath like one who finally
yields after a strong trial of his physical force.

Nothing, certainly, is easier than for a young man to sit still and to
stand up, pretending that he strives internally to resist the desire to
do either. Still, if you ask me, if I think this was simple collusion, I
hardly know what to answer. It is the easiest solution, and yet it did
not strike me as being the true one. I never saw less of the appearance
of deception than in the air of this young man; his face, deportment,
and acts being those of a person in sober earnest. He made no
professions, was extremely modest, and really seemed anxious not to have
the experiments tried. To my question, if he resisted the will of M.
C - - , he answered, as much as he could, and said, that when he rose, he
did it because he could not help himself. I confess myself disposed to
believe in his sincerity and good faith.

I had somewhat of a reputation, when a boy, of effecting my objects by
pure dint of teasing. Many is the shilling I have abstracted, in this
way, from my mother's purse, who, constantly affirmed that it was sore
against her will. Now, it seems to me, that M. C - - may, very easily,
have acquired so much command over a credulous youth, as to cause him to
do things of this nature, as he may fancy, against his own will. Signs
are the substitutes of words, which of themselves are purely
conventional, and, in his case, the flourishing of the fingers are
merely so many continued solicitations to get up. When the confirmation
of a theory that is already received, and which is doubly attractive by
its mysticisms, depends, in some measure, on the result, the experiment
becomes still less likely to fail. It is stripping one of all
pretensions to be a physiognomist, to believe that this young man was
not honest; and I prefer getting over the difficulty in this way. As to
the operator himself, he might, or might not, be the dupe of his own
powers. If the former, I think it would, on the whole, render him the
more likely to succeed with his subject.

After a visit or two, I was considered sufficiently advanced to be
scientifically examined. One of the very best of the _somnambules_ was
employed on the occasion, and everything being in readiness, she was put
to sleep. There was a faith-shaking brevity in this process, which, to
say the least, if not fraudulent, was ill-judged. The doctor merely
pointed his fingers at her once or twice, looking her intently in the
eye, and the woman gaped; this success was followed up by a flourish or
two of the hand, and the woman slept, or was magnetised. Now this was
hardly sufficient even for my theory of the influence of the
imagination. One could have wished the _somnambule_ had not been so
drowsy. But there she was, with her eyes shut, giving an occasional
hearty gape, and the doctor declared her perfectly lit for service. She
retained her seat, however, moved her body, laughed, talked, and, in all
other respects, seemed to be precisely the woman she was before he
pointed his fingers at her. At first, I felt a disposition to manifest
that more parade was indispensable to humbugging me (who am not the
Pope, you will remember), but reflection said, the wisest way was to
affect a little faith, as the surest means of securing more experiments.
Moreover, I am not certain, on the whole, that the simplicity of the
operation is not in favour of the sincerity of the parties; for, were
deception deliberately planned, it would be apt to call in the aid of
more mummery, and this, particularly, in a case in which there was
probably a stronger desire than usual to make a convert.

I gave the _somnambule_ my hand, and the examination was commenced,
forthwith. I was first physically inspected, and the report was highly
favourable to the condition of the animal. I had the satisfaction of
hearing from this high authority, that the whole machinery of the mere
material man was in perfect order, everything working well and in its
proper place. This was a little contrary to my own experience, it is
true, but as I had no means of seeing the interior clock-work of my own
frame, like the _somnambule_, had I ventured to raise a doubt, it would
have been overturned by the evidence of one who had ocular proofs of
what she said, and should, beyond question, have incurred the ridicule
of being accounted a _malade imaginaire_.

Modesty must prevent my recording all that this obliging _somnambule_
testified to, on the subject of my _morale_. Her account of the matter
was highly satisfactory, and I must have been made of stone, not to
credit her and her mysticisms. M. C - - looked at me again and again,
with an air of triumph, as much as to say, "What do you think of all
that now? - are you not _really_ the noble, honest, virtuous,
disinterested, brave creature, she has described you to be?" I can
assure you, it required no little self-denial to abstain from becoming a
convert to the whole system. As it is very unusual to find a man with a
good head, who has not a secret inclination to believe in phrenology, so
does he, who is thus purified by the scrutiny of animal magnetism, feel
disposed to credit its mysterious influence. Certainly, I might have
gaped, in my turn, and commenced the moral and physical dissection of
the _somnambule_, whose hand I held, and no one could have given me the
lie, for nothing is easier than to speak _ex cathedrâ_, when one has a
monopoly of knowledge.

Encouraged by this flattering account of my own condition, I begged hard
for some more indisputable evidence of the truth of the theory. I
carried a stop-watch, and as I had taken an opportunity to push the stop
on entering the room, I was particularly desirous that the _somnambule_
should tell me the time indicated by its hands, a common test of their
powers, I had been told; but to this M. C - - objected, referring
everything of this tangible nature to future occasions. In fine, I could
get nothing during three or four visits, but pretty positive assertions,
expressions of wonder that I should affect to doubt what had been so
often and so triumphantly proved to others, accounts physical and moral,
like the one of which I had been the subject myself, and which did not
admit of either confirmation or refutation, and often-repeated
declarations, that the time was not distant when, in my own unworthy
person, I was to become one of the most powerful magnetisers of the age.
All this did very well to amuse, but very little towards convincing; and
I was finally promised, that at my next visit, the _somnambule_ would be
prepared to show her powers, in a way that would not admit of cavil.

I went to the appointed meeting with a good deal of curiosity to learn
the issue, and a resolution not to be easily duped. When I presented
myself (I believe it was the fourth visit), M. C - - gave me a sealed
paper, that was not to be opened for several weeks, and which, he said,
contained the prediction of an event that was to occur to myself,
between the present time and the day set for the opening of the letter,
and which the _somnambule_ had been enabled to foresee, in consequence
of the interest she took in me and mine. With this sealed revelation,
then, I was obliged to depart, to await the allotted hour.

M. C - - had promised to be present at the opening of the seal, but he
did not appear. I dealt fairly by him, and the cover was first formally
removed, on the evening of the day endorsed on its back, as the one when
it would be permitted. The _somnambule_ had foretold that, in the
intervening time, one of my children would be seriously ill, that I

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 28 of 29)