When Charles Dickens wasn't busy writing works of social commentary or plagiarizing abolitionist pamphlets and making racist comments, he spent his time engaging in mesmerism (what we today call hypnotism). Dickens was so fascinated by hypnosis that he befriended the resident expert of the day and half-seriously thought about setting up a business in the field!
Dickens first became a big fan of the practice while attending demonstrations by a guy named John Elliotson, the premier hypnotist of the day, in 1838. Elliotson was a bit ahead of his time in some ways; for one, he was among the first docs to use a stethoscope, now a staple of the trade, and was a superb lecturer. Dickens was so taken with Elliotson that he made him his family doctor.
Ina letter, Dickens chronicled the time attempt he made to help a friend, a Mr. Leech. They hung out together on the Isle of Wight, and Leech had gotten knocked over by a wave and suffered brain trauma. After getting the approval of Mrs. Leech, Dickens got his pal to doze off; he wrote that "a change came on in the sleep, and he is decidedly better." Charles quipped that he should set up a business, with his nameplate reading, "Terms, twenty-five guineas per nap." Unfortunately for us, Dickens didn't say exactly what he did to make Leech "decidedly better," but it seems that it worked, at least for a time.
Charles Dicken's hypnosis caused tension in his marriage with his wife, Catherine, shown here.
Perhaps Dickens's biggest hypnotic episode came when he got involved (professionally, of course) with a Madame de la Rue in 1844. The Dickenses met the de la Rues while on vacation in Genoa; Madame was suffering from a whole host of problems, ranging from insomnia to headaches, and Dickens was convinced he could help her. He kept Monsieur de la Rue updated on his wife's progress; he was so confident in his abilities that he alleged, "When I think of all that lies before us, I have a perfect conviction that I could magnetize [hypnotize] a Frying-Pan."
In another letter to Monsieur de la Rue, Dickens said he couldn't wait to see her better: "When I picture her restored to peace and rest, with nothing lingering and cankering in her breast to make her nights hideous and her days weary, I feel such enthusiasm at work within me, that every hour's postponement is an hour of heaviness." But Dickens's obsession with the de la Rues wasn't all good. For one, it put some strain on his marriage. It didn't help that he kept hypnotizing his wife all the time.
Feature image via London Guided Walk.