A Hundred Years of Psychology, 1833-1933

By J. C. Flugel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
MESMERISM AND ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY

BEFORE We close this survey of psychology as it presented itself to our student a hundred years ago, we must take an extremely brief glance at one other aspect of the subject, the aspect that has since come to be called abnormal psychology. Not that there is much to chronicle. One of the most striking differences between the psychology of to-day and that of 1833 is that at the earlier date psychologists had as yet scarcely realized that they could learn anything of value from the study of the disordered mind. At that particular time the abnormal was indeed under an especially dark cloud, for Mesmerism had just been once again exposed, as not due to "animal magnetism" but to "imagination", and psychologists did not realize that what had failed to be a problem for the physicists might be a very important problem for themselves. Mesmer himself, after a stormy career, had died in 1815. He had in his lifetime enjoyed all the popularity of a healer who has new and occult methods at his disposal, had refused an offer of 20,000 francs from the French Government to reveal his "secret" (which indeed he did not understand himself), had been ignored or reported on unfavourably by the medical profession and had finally been denounced as an impostor. Mesmer was too firmly wedded to the theory of "magnetism" to envisage anything like the modern theory of "suggestion", and indeed the modern discovery (if it can be called a discovery; in a sense it had been known right down the ages) of enhanced suggestibility during a special

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