American Philosophical Society, History, Lafayette, Mesmerism, Pantheon, Philadelphia, Philly, Uncategorized

The “Mesmerizing Marquis” de Lafayette — Animal Magnetism comes to Philadelphia

 

1780 silh

The mesmerizing marquis. 1780 silhouette of Lafayette, Library of Congress.

 

Ben

An Archive of Discovery

This past summer, I had a C. V. Starr Center internship and worked with some great folks in the archives of the American Philosophical Society, in Philadelphia, which has been promoting science, history and culture for over 250 years.

Wait!  “Philosophical” may send some of you running — but this is used in an archaic sense from the 18th century – – “Natural Philosophy” meant science and technology.

The APS is all about “useful knowledge.”  Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Rush, etc. were all interested in practical applications of scientific discoveries — not just intellectual conversations, although it’s certainly a place for that, but also to promote research, science, exploration — discovery.

This post is less-than-serious, but I really do mean it as a tribute to one of my favorite members of the Society, one of America’s first friends in France.  I am re-running my summertime blog, because I found some great pictures to add, and because it is nearing Thanksgiving, and this insightful historical vignette involves a turkey.

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Lafayette “Citizen of the World”

One function of the APS is to serve as “America’s Pantheon of Smart People”.

It says “American”, but membership in this very select company is international.  And since someone mentioned Pantheon, and since Lafayette was in the APS and is back in the news this summer (more about that later), let us talk of French people.

 

Lafayette women by the boatload

Lafayette, like me, drawing women by the boatload

Well, before we talk of the French, actually we should start with Romans.

Do not worry.

This won’t take long.

Paris Pantheon

Paris Pantheon LOC

The original Pantheon was in Rome –and the beautiful version you see today, has survived for almost 2,000 years — put up by the same guy who built Hadrian’s Wall.  Hadrian loved to travel all over the empire, building things, and was reckoned to be one of the “Five Good Emperors” (I guess five good ones, out of something like 264, is probably typical odds for emperors and presidents.)  A Pantheon is basically a circular temple to honor all your gods, idols, heroes, etc.

If you have never seen or heard of the Pantheon in Paris, it helps to know that it was completed in 1790, just a year after the APS building in Philadelphia, and is exactly like it.

Except the Pantheon is French, is a former church, is neoclassical, is a mausoleum, and only honors French people.

IMG_3394-2The APS, an American Pantheon of sorts, honors brilliant people of all nationalities, was never a church, is Georgian-style, and it has no dead people in the building of whom I am aware.  Other than that, pretty identical concepts.

The APS has honored many Frenchmen of course, including the Marquis de Lafayette.  Actually, he was just one of seven marquises on the membership rolls.  (Or marquesses, if you prefer.  Although that is the English spelling, and none of them were English.  And if you’re interested in boxing, you know how the British pronounce “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” — it’s not pretty.)

At least one Frenchman made it into both the APS and the Pantheon — the Marquis de Condorcet. Although he may not be a good one to bring up, since he was buried in the Pantheon, but they seem to have misplaced his body.  Modern science has no patience with this sort of carelessness.

Washington & LafayetteTalk about Women

George & the Marquis, just chilling and talking about women

But we don’t want to talk about the misfiled Condorcet anyway.  Our favorite Frenchman, Lafayette, was in the news again this summer, because of Hermione currently visiting the U.S.

To anyone of my generation, there is only one “Hermione” and I am not embarrassed to admit my love for the Harry Potter series.  But this other Hermione is also beautiful – – a recreation of the frigate that brought Lafayette back to the U.S. during the Revolution, with the news that the French would help us fight the British.   The ship arrived at Yorktown, and then visited Baltimore and Philadelphia, and on up the East Coast this summer.  It is an absolutely beautiful tall ship.  But where was I?  Back to the APS.

L'Hermione Max Mudie photographer 2015 BEF 0728_websize

L’Hermione, a recreation of the French frigate that brought Lafayette to America during the Revolution. Photo with the kind permission of Max Mudie, a photographer in Southampton, England. My blog is not commercial, but I enthusiastically direct people to his sites, TallShipStock.com and Maxphotographer.com, because his pictures of tall ships under sail are just outstanding.

Lafayette LOCIn 1824, Lafayette sailed across the Atlantic once more, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United States.  He took a  triumphant year-long tour of the 24 states, with countless veterans’ reunions, dinners, parades and ceremonies in city after city.

Including even a stop in my humble hometown, Waterloo, NY. – – where an ancient cannon, actually a swivel-gun off a slave-ship, was fired in his honor.   Unfortunately, it exploded, killing the local militia captain. (When Lafayette learned of the accident, and the absence of a pension for the captain’s family, since he wasn’t killed in action, he graciously sent a thousand dollars for their support.)

Our village green was re-named Lafayette Park, just like the park in front of the White House, and our public school has served French fries ever since, continuing to cook them in the original vat of hot tallow to this day.

The parade honoring the Marquis in Philadelphia was four miles long, and took over an hour to pass by.

L0000483 Portrait of F. A. Mesmer Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Portrait of Franz Anton Mesmer Franz Anton Mesmer Rudolf Tischner Published: 1928 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Franz Anton Mesmer. Wellcome Library, London.

And of course, when in Philadelphia, he visited the American Philosophical Society (he’d been a member since 1781).

During his visit, he shared his interest in the experiments of Franz Anton Mesmer.

This was the fascinating German doctor who basically invented hypnotherapy, and is commemorated by the word “mesmerize”.

 

M0018514 French satire: 'Les Effets du Magnetisme.....animal'. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 'Les Effets du Magnetisme.....animal'. Die Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin Hollander Published: 1921 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Animal Magnetism run amok. Wellcome Library

 

The Marquis had already turned 67, but was after all, a Frenchman — widowed, footloose and fancy-free — and he thought Mesmer’s theory of “Animal Magnetism” sounded pretty promising.  (Especially in French:  magnétisme animal seems just the thing for chatting up les coquettes).

V0017306 Mesmeric therapy. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Mesmeric therapy. A group of mesmerised French patients Oil 1778/1784 after: Claude-Louis DesraisPublished: [between 1778 and 1784?] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Mesmeric therapy. Wellcome Library

The APS was open to a demonstration, because in that day and age, Mesmer was considered to be a scientific investigator.

Even though everyone already knew he was mostly nuts.

(Mesmer was not invited to be a member of the APS.)

V0011095 A practioner of mesmerism performing animal magnetism therap Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A practioner of mesmerism performing animal magnetism therapy on a seated male patient. Pen and ink drawing. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Mesmerism. Wellcome Library

His process involved dim lighting, magnets, hypnotism,  water armonica music, and a lilac-colored robe, and is no longer accepted as real medicine anywhere outside of southern California.

(If you’re interested, there is a flattering bio-pic where he’s played by Alan Rickman, in his pre-Harry Potter days.)

L0000477EA Le doigt magique ou le magnetisme animal' Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org 'Le doigt magique ou le magnetisme animal'. The doctor, having discarded his wig and cloak hypnotises the woman in the guise of Bottom from 'Midsummer Might's Dream'. One hand strokes the patient while with a finger of the other she is hypnotised. Engraving De arts in de caricatuur / Cornelis Veth Published: [ca. 1925] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Apparently Mesmer aroused a few doubts, as well. Wellcome Library

M0006352 "Le Baquet de Mesmer" Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org "Le Baquet de Mesmer" Engraving Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Mesmer’s “baquet” – – a kind of washtub filled with iron filings and broken glass. Wellcome Library

The APS had fun at Lafayette’s Mesmerism demonstration, trying to tap the human body’s energy to generate a “artificial tide” of “animal magnetism.”  The members held onto metal rods, mounted on a sort of washtub contraption, to see what came up.

In Vienna and Paris, the apparatus was reputed to generate health-giving convulsions, animal magnetism and a general loosening of purse strings and possibly dress strings, among well-to-do hystericals, but Philadelphians, then and now, are immune to such things as electricity, emotions and sex.  (Franklin was the exception, of course).

When Franklin discovered there would be no kites involved, he declared the electro-magnetic bathtub was not real science, but everybody liked Lafayette immensely and had a good time.

V0016530 A large gathering of patients to Dr. F. Mesmer's animal Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Patients in Paris receiving Mesmer's animal magnetism therapy. Coloured etching. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Parisians swooned, but Philadelphians proved immune to animal magnetism. Wellcome Library.

Ben Franklin, not averse to women’s company, as long as it wasn’t his wife’s,  had already checked out Mesmerism forty years before, when he was ambassador to France.  Louis XVI appointed him to a royal panel examining this invention.  The panel included the Mayor of Paris, and Lavoisier, the famous chemist and biologist, who of course, was a fellow  APS member, and also a doctor you may remember, named Guillotin.

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L0011369 Apparatus used by Galvani - three Leyden jars Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Apparatus formerly used by Luigi Galvani - three Leyden jars 18th Century Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Galvani’s Leyden Jars. courtesy Wellcome Library

It seems likely that scientific  guys like this would have discussed Franklin’s attempt to electrocute and electrically roast a turkey on Christmas Day 1750.  Despite the warning labels on every “Leyden jar” (basically a large capacitor, that sends out a mini-lightning bolt), Franklin first zapped himself instead of the bird, causing numbness in his limbs and a need for bifocals.

The turkeys were eventually zapped and suffered violent convulsions.  Then at some point during the dinner preparations, they were found to be merely stunned, and required another shock before they were killed.

You have to wonder if some guests felt uncomfortable with this resurrected dinner on Christmas.

M0014508 Early experiments with the Leyden jar. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Early experiments with the Leyden jar. Lettres sur l'electricite' Antoine Nollet Published: 1753 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

18th Century Fun with Electricity. Wellcome Library.

Dr. Guillotin immediately abandoned his plans for executing people with an electric chair, and moved on to a more reliable invention.

guillotine LOC

Old King Louis “Take if you must, my old gray head, but spare your monarch’s stomach” LOC

(Technically, he didn’t invent the guillotine, and opposed capital punishment, but we needn’t cloud a good tale with facts.)

(I attempted to recreate Franklin’s Electro-Turkey Experiment with a bathtub, toaster, and turkey, but until the pending lawsuits with my landlord and PETA are resolved, I am not allowed to discuss them on advice of counsel).

But science marches on, and on a happier note, two of the panelists examining Mesmerism — the Mayor of Paris, and Lavoisier (who used his knowledge of chemistry to make better gunpowder to kill people) —  met up again years later, when they were both guillotined.

But I digress.

Foucault's Pendulum F.I.

a Foucault Pendulum in Philadelphia, a couple of miles from the APS. courtesy Franklin Institute

The Pantheon in Paris has some scientists too, of course, and was the site of Foucault’s pendulum, which demonstrated the scientific principle that, even if you are a terrible bowler, if you have

(a) a pendulum, and (b) lots of time, (c) you can still knock down all the pins.

It just takes longer.

When I say “lots of time”, you’re wondering, why are you so imprecise, when you felt free to criticize the Pantheon for misplacing a few bodies?  why not just say, “24 hours to knock down all the pins”.

Well, as Franklin said to the turkey, get stuffed.  You’re obviously not scientifically-inclined.

Because according to my extensive research (Wikipedia) it takes 32.7 hours in Paris, for scientific or cultural reasons, to knock down all the pins.  (“Latitude vs Attitude”)

Or 2 entire days, if you’re at 30 degrees latitude.  If the reason isn’t instantly apparent, you are clearly not headed for membership in the APS.

But perhaps you could take up bowling.

OK, I have totally lost track of Lafayette.  Sorry.  C’est la vie.  My lunch break is over, and back to the archives!

 

P.S.  Apparently the “guillotine” was actually a medieval gadget, perfected by a German harpsichord-maker — who understood it was to be used on cabbages for making sauerkraut.  And yet most people making sauerkraut, use a cabbage-slicer called a “mandoline,” not a “guillotine-harpsichord.”

I have always been baffled by this interface between (a) musical instruments, (b) kitchen appliances, and (c) methods of execution.  Leonardo da Vinci invented some sort of organ gun (aren’t most organ recitals deadly enough?), and Lincoln was impressed by the Coffee Mill Gun (also called the Agar Gun, although it did not shoot coffee beans or gelatin) of the Civil War.

I know some pastry chefs use a cornet for icing, and flute a pie crust somehow, and I’ve seen the percussive kettledrums of course, but I’ve fretted over news of Cuisinart-related deaths, and wondered if they’re really accidental, as most people believe?

We’re always told that the bathroom is the most dangerous room in your home, maybe so, but the kitchen is pretty scary, too.  Don’t we talk about being battered, pancaked, grilled, smothered and skewered?  Isn’t spatula derived from the Latin for broadsword?  If you like crusty bread, a baguette is basically a baton – used for conducting music, playing a carillon, and clubbing rioters.  Mace is also used on rioters, and by knights on recalcitrant peasants, and by my grandmother for pumpkin pies.

And look up the pasta called strozzapreti sometime.

On a related note, did you ever notice, that American  appliances hum at a higher pitch, B flat, I think, than European ones, humming along at G?

I know it’s due to each continent’s different electrical systems, 50Hz vs 60Hz – – but who chose these notes??  I don’t think a convection oven humming “B flat” is appropriate for making a souffle, for example.  And I’ve often wished, as I dance along with my washing machine, that it would vary the beat a bit, and just for once, hum a Middle C instead.

L0000476 L.L. Boilly, Le magnetisme Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Caricature: Le magnetisme. Lithograph 1826 By: Boilly, Louis LeopoldDie Karikatur und Satire in der Medizin (Reproduction) Hollander, E. Published: 1921 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

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