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Mesmerism

Title page of James Esdaile's "The Introduction of Mesmerism."

Included in portion of Yale University’s Cushing/Whitney Medical Library anesthesia collection uploaded to the MHL, is an intriguing selection of materials regarding mesmerism in medicine, or the act of putting patients in a hypnotic state before a medical procedure and forgoing the use of anesthesia.

For example, James Esdaile’s pamphlet The introduction of mesmerism (with the sanction of the government) into the public hospitals of India printed in London, 1856, discusses his experiences with mesmerism while performing surgery in India. Esdaile, a Scottish physician who was appointed to the East India Company, traveled to India in 1831 and preformed his first operation on a patient under the effects of mesmerism in 1845. His first surgery was declared a success and he was sought after by many patients hearing of his painless procedures. After his writings on the subject were rejected for publication, Esdaile presented his Introduction of Mesmerism, where in the dedication he speaks directly to his colleagues in the medical profession. He asks that they read his account of experiences and the facts he presents on mesmerism, and then decide for themselves if they approve of the practice.

Other interesting books on mesmerism from the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library collection include:

John ElliotsonCure of a true cancer of the female breast with mesmerism (London, 1848)

William Topham. Account of a case of successful amputation of the thigh, during the mesmeric state, without the knowledge of the patient : Read to the Royal medical and chirurgical society of London, on Tuesday, the 22d of November, 1842 (London, 1842)

John Elliotson. Numerous cases of surgical operations without pain in the mesmeric state; with remarks upon the opposition of many members of the Royal medical and chirurgical society and others to the reception of the inestimable blessings of mesmerism… (Philadelphia, 1843)  

George Sandby. Mesmerism and its opponents : with a narrative of cases (London, 1844)

To date, the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library has contributed over 3,500  volumes to the Medical Heritage Library, with another 1,500 items in the process of being scanned.  The majority of scanned items are from the library’s 19th and early 20th century collections.   Items were chosen for digitization because of their strengths to the collection, their out of copyright status, and that they pose a high risk of embrittlement and deterioration because of the materials, such as poor quality wood pulp paper, that were used in their production.

Additions include volumes in the subject areas of pediatric medicine, gynecology, obstetrics, homeopathy, phrenology, anesthesia, hygiene, asylums to name a few.

As always, for more from the Medical Heritage Library, please visit our full collection!