The French Commissions
The Commissions established by King Louis XVI in 1784 to investigate and examine Dr. Mesmer's claims on Animal Magnetism. Having left Vienna in 1778 and established himself in Paris, he quickly created a fever of excitement in the French capital to the point of being called Mesmeromania.
Eventually, the King was forced to nominate a Commission of academics and later another Commission of physicians to study animal magnetism. The historical record makes it clear that preconceived notions dominated the limited studies that the savants of the day made on the magnetism. But, the reader can study for him/herself a few of the key pamphlets written in the day on the Commissions.
The first Commission was called the “Franklin” Commission because of the venerable American's presence on it. Lavoisier, Bailli, and Guillotin were other prominent members. The recently-formed Royal Society of Medicine forced a second Commission to be named.
In close time to the French Commissions, M. Thouret, a member of the Royal Society, got his organization to support and publish his Résearches et Doutes sur le Magnétisme Animal. From the beginning, he made it clear that wasn't going to deal with FACTS. Rather did Thouret go over the historical records on magnetism from previous. After dismissing them because magnetism did not gain persistent footing among any European medical community, Thouret discusses a number of alternative explanations to the phenomenon called animal magnetism.
AL Jussieu was the only dissenter to the two Reports. Having studied animal magnetism beyond the minimum time and energy of other Commissioners, Jussieu wrote his own “minority report.”
Dr. Charles Deslon, a student of Mesmer, begged for such Commissions and nominally led them. He gave the Commissioners introductions to magnetism and endeavored to point them towards key parts of its action and potential. But, the Commissioners quickly took over and went in their own directions. Deslon wrote his heartfelt response to the Commissioners' Reports.
The attorney JMA Servan in Lyon wrote his own rebuttal to the Commissions based on personal experiences. Interestingly, Servan's pamphlet is the longest and maybe the most insightful of them all.
It took forty years for the Academicians of France to create a new Committee to observe and study “the phenomena of Animal Magnetism.” Stimulated by the work and interests of a young physician, a group of relatively open-minded scholars and doctors proceeded NOT to investigate healings as the result of magnetism but the phenomena associated with it. Which came through the form of the trance states and somnambulism produced by magnetic passes.
Along the way, the Committee men did record healing effects as well as phenomena. The casual reader may be satisfied with the reading of the cases of Villagrand and Cazot which are detailed in the second half of the report. Conclusions of the Committee appear at the end.
It is worth noting that the Committee appointed by the Royal Academy of Medicine took six years to produce a report – as opposed to the few months taken by the Commissions of 1784. Apparently there were many obstacles to producing their investigations and even getting cooperation from hospitals and physicians. Nine members signed the report. Two declined because they participated little or not at all. The Academy, quite possibly threatened by the work of their Committee, declined to publish its Report.