Didier Brothers, Alexis & Adolph (mid-nineteenth century)

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Didier Brothers, Alexis & Adolph (mid-nineteenth century)

The best-known clairvoyants of the age of animal magnetism. In hypnotic state they apparently could read closed books, recover lost objects, play billiards blindfolded or cards face downward, and achieved feats of traveling clairvoyance.

For Pierre Seguier, president of France, Alexis described his room and mentioned that there was a handbell on the table. The President found the description correct, but was unsure about the bell. On arriving home he found, to his surprise, that during his absence a handbell had been placed on his table.

In 1847, at the request of Marquise de Mirville, Robert Houdin, the famous conjurer, paid two visits to the Didier brothers. He drew a book from his pocket and asked Alexis to read a line eight pages back at a certain height which he marked by sticking in a pin. When Alexis did so correctly Houdin signed a declaration: "I affirm that the above facts are scrupulously accurate."

Lord Adare attended a sitting in the company of a Col. Llewellyn on July 2, 1844. According to his notes, Alexis took from the skeptical colonel a morocco case, placed it on his stomach and said, "The object is a hard substance, not white, enclosed in something more white than itself; it is a bone from a greater body; a human bone; yours. It has been separated and cut so as to leave a flat side." Alexis opened the case, took out a piece of bone wrapped in silver paper and said, "The ball struck here; it was an extraordinary ball in effect; you received three separate injuries at the same moment; the bone was broken in three pieces; you were wounded early in the day whilst engaged in charging the enemy." He also described the dress of the soldiers and was right in all respects.

Alexis Didier was always accompanied by his hypnotist Marcillet. He never claimed assistance from spirits. His views are outlined in Le Sommeil Magnétique expliqué par le somnambule Alexis en état de lucidité (1856). His brother Adolph wrote Animal Magnetism and Somnambulism (1856); Mesmerism and Its Healing Power (1875), and Clairvoyance (1876).

A long series of experiments conducted by Dr. Edwin Lee in 1849 at Brighton and Hastings is recorded in Lee's Animal Magnetism (1866). H. G. Atkinson also subjected the Didier brothers' gift to careful scrutiny. E. W. Cox noted:

"A party of experts was planned to test M. Alexis. We prepared a packet containing a single word of twelve letters and enclosed it in six envelopes of thick brown paper, each of which we carefully sealed. Handing him this packet he placed it, not before his eyes which were bound with handkerchiefs and wool, but upon his forehead, and in three minutes and a half he wrote the contents correctly, imitating the very handwriting. The word was by arrangement placed in the first envelope by a friend in a distant town, who was not informed of the object and who did not inform us what the word was; and none of us knew until the envelopes were opened and the word found to be that which the Somnambule had written."

Frank Podmore reflects on Alexis's work in The Newer Spiritualism (1910): "Many of these feats are so precisely recorded and so well authenticated that it is difficult to doubt their genuineness. They stand on the same evidential level as many of the similar incidents recorded in the Proceedings of the S.P.R." He observed that Alexis was in an abnormal state of consciousness during his performances, a conclusion he reached from reference to the fact that as a rule, he did not speak the answers but preferred to write them. From this he concluded that Alexis was an automatic writer and that his feats of clairvoyance were genuine and that they involved no conscious deception on his part.


Cox, E. W. What Am I? A Popular Introduction to Mental Physiology and Psychology. N.p., 1874.