Morselli, Enrico (1852-1929)

views updated May 17 2018

MORSELLI, ENRICO (1852-1929)

Enrico Morselli, an Italian psychiatrist, academic, and active promoter of the Italian positivist school of neuropsychiatry, was born in Modena on July 17, 1852, and died in Genoa on February 18, 1929.

A famous clinician and president of the Italian Society for Neurology and Psychiatry, he was director of various psychiatric hospitals and took an interest in many disciplines, ranging from anthropology to philosophy and biology to psychiatry. As an influential personage in Italian cultural circles at the beginning of the twentieth century, this Lombrosian organicist never missed an opportunity to vaunt the superiority of the "Italian Lombroso" over the "Austrian Freud."

His writings deal with a great variety of subjects: He discussed euthanasia and suicide, pathological psychology and animal psychology, psychiatry, traumatic neuroses, semiotics and anthropology, magnetism, spiritualism, forensic medicine, and blood transfusions.

He is also known as the author of a large two-volume work titled La Psicanalisi (Psychoanalysis), published in Milan by Boca in 1926. Reprinted many times and widely promoted in university circles, it would be impossible to underestimate its disastrous influence on psychoanalysis in Italy. An apparently well-documented work, it is a magnificent example of resistance to psychoanalysis, of incomprehension and the impossibility of comprehending. Just after it was published, Sigmund Freud wrote a letter to the author on February 18, 1926, in which he spoke of Morselli's "important" work while regretting that he could not give his "approval to our young science: what is referred to as psychoanalysisesteemed colleagueis not psychoanalysis!" (1960a).

Marked by Lombrosian thinking and paternalistic concepts, Morselli criticized all of Freud's theories from sex to religious questions. Horrified by homosexuality and so-called perversions of any kind, he adopted a moralistic attitude and delighted in the use of exasperating mockery. He repeatedly accused Freud of plagiarism, and tried at length to prove that all the foundations of Freudian research already existed in the work of the Italian positivist school. Freud's letter in response to La Psicanilisi is an interesting example of Freud's tact and tactical sense; making an effort to speak positively about Morselli's work, he nevertheless uses this foil to advance the cause of psychoanalysis.

Giancarlo Gramaglia

See also: Italy.


Contri, B. Giacomo. (1994). Il Pensiero di natura. Milan: Sipiel.

Freud, Sigmund. (1960a [1873-1939]). Letters of Sigmund Freud, 1873-1939. (Ernst L. Freud, Ed.; Tania and James Stern, Trans.). London: Hogarth.

Gramaglia, Giancarlo. (1992). Notes sur la psychanalyse italienne entre les deux guerres, 1915-1945. Revue internationale d'histoire de la psychanalyse, 5, 129-142.

Morselli, Enrico Agostino. (1926). La Psicoanalisi, Studii ed appunti critici, vol. I: La Dottrina, vol. II: La Practici. Milan: Fratelli Bocca.

Morselli, Enrico (1852-1929)

views updated May 18 2018

Morselli, Enrico (1852-1929)

Born July 17, 1852, Enrico Morselli was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Turin and after 1889 at Genoa University. He had been a bitter skeptic of psychic phenomena and had published several books including Il magnetismo animale; La fascinazione e gli stati ipnotici (1886) and I fenomei telepatici e le allucinazioni veridiche (1897). However, his encounter with the medium Eusapia Palladino (later revealed to have been falsified) completely convinced him of the reality of Spiritualist phenomena. He held some 30 sittings with Palladino in 1901-2 and 1906-7. He announced his change of thinking in 1907 in the Annals of Psychic Science (vol. 5, 1907, p. 322):

"The question of Spiritism has been discussed for over 50 years; and although no one can at present foresee when it will be settled, all are now agreed in assigning to it great importance among the problems left as a legacy by the nineteenth century to the twentieth.

"If for many years academic science has depreciated the whole category of facts that Spiritism has, for good or ill, rightly or wrongly, absorbed and assimilated, to form the elements of its doctrinal system, so much the worse for science! And worse still for the scientists who have remained deaf and blind before all the affirmations, not of credulous sectarians, but of serious and worthy observers such as Crookes, Lodge and Richet. I am not ashamed to say that I myself, as far as my modest power went, have contributed to this obstinate skepticism, up to the day on which I was enabled to break the chains in which my absolutist preconceptions had bound my judgment."

The next year he published an account of his sightings in the book Psicologia e Spiritismo. Here he presented his psychodynamic theory of materialization phenomena as a compromise between psychological orthodoxy and the spirit theory.

Morselli died February 18, 1929, in Genoa, Italy.


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Morselli, Enrico. I fenomei telepatici e le allucinazioni veridiche. N.p., 1897.

Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press, 1964.