Wednesday 9 December 2020

Tiverton's Mesmeric Mania

"The magnetic pass, the Mesmeric sleep" - Wellcome Collection gallery / CC-BY-SA
"The magnetic pass, the Mesmeric sleep"
Wellcome Collection Gallery / Public Domain

Tiverton was well and truly swept up in the early Victorian "Mesmeric Mania". Mesmerism (named after Franz Mesmer) was an important specialty in medicine for about 75 years from its beginnings in 1779, and continued to have some influence for another 50 years. Hundreds of books were written on the subject between 1766 and 1925, but it is almost entirely forgotten today. Mesmerism is still practised as a form of alternative medicine in some countries, but magnetic practices are not recognized as part of medical science now.

On page 165 of the 1850 volume of the specialist mesmerism journal, The Zoist, it describes a meeting in Tiverton in the Mayoralty Room on 5 October 1848, with an incredible number of very well known Tiverton names in attendance:

A MEETING was held in the Mayoralty Room of Tiverton, on Thursday, October 5th last, for the purpose of investigating many extraordinary cures effected in various diseases by Mr. Thomas Capern with mesmerism. A hundred and twenty ladies were present, and, besides them, John Heathcote Esq. M.P., S. Amory Esq., of London, F. Hole, Esq., George Coles, Esq., John Barne, Esq., H. Dunsford, Esq., A. Brewin, Esq., nearly the whole of the clergy and the dissenting ministers, and the greater part of the members of the medical profession, who had been especially invited to attend.

The Mayor, John Snell, having kindly consented to take the chair, Mr. Capern made some remarks upon various branches of mesmerism, and then introduced successively about thirty individuals, all of whom had received more or less benefit from his manipulations. Each stated in his or her own simple language the nature and extent of the disease, and the amount of improvement, or the duration of perfect cure. Among the diseases removed, and many in a space of time so incredibly short that only the direct evidence of the patients themselves could have sufficed to establish the facts, were tic douloureux, chronic rheumatism, fits, spinal affection, paralysis, and palpitation of the heart; some of the cases having been discharged as incurable from the Devon and Exeter Hospital. At the conclusion of the investigation, which lasted nearly three hours, the Rev. John Spurway moved, and the Rev. Mr. Madgin seconded, a vote of thanks to Mr. Capern, the reverend gentlemen speaking in the highest terms of the able manner in which Mr. C. had treated his subject, and also of the candour and honour of the proceeding, by which every individual case had been thus boldly subjected to the trying ordeal of a hearing in the presence of so large a number of well informed and professional gentlemen.

The entire company, a considerable portion of which consisted of ladies connected with the principal families in the neighbourhood, expressed their satisfaction by frequent bursts of applause.

We understand that Mr. Capern received a most flattering letter from Lord Palmerston, expressing the deep interest felt by his lordship in the progress of the science, and earnestly requesting a report of the proceedings connected with the meeting. Mr. Capern intends publishing all these cases, with a large number of others.

Thomas Capern did indeed go on to publish his book of 150 cases in 1851 entitled The Mighty Curative Powers of Mesmerism. It features many stories of people from Tiverton, their ailments, and their seemingly miraculous cure. GENUKI has listed out all the people referred to in the book.

The Royal Societry of Medicine library had an exhibition on mesmerism in 2017. You can read the booklet therefrom (in PDF format) where Thomas Capern gets a mention on page 37.

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