Elliotson, John (1791-1868)
Elliotson, John (1791-1868)
President of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London and the first great exponent of animal magnetism in England. Elliotson was born October 29, 1791, in London. He later studied medicine at Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities, continuing after his M.D. degree with studies at Guy's Hospital, London. He became a professor of principles and practice of medicine at University College Hospital, which he helped to establish and where he lectured and served as a physician for a brief period (1834-38). In 1837 he became president of the Medico-Chirurgical Society, London, and was also a fellow of the Royal Society, Royal College of Physicians.
He was introduced to the subject of animal magnetism in 1837 by Baron Du Potet, whom he allowed to experiment at University College Hospital. His curiosity aroused, he himself began to study the phenomena and in 1838 found two wonderful somnambules in the O'Key sisters, Jane and Elizabeth. The success of his experiments created a stir. When he applied for a demonstration in one of the theaters of the college, he was refused permission, and he was finally requested to discontinue mesmeric practice in the hospital. Following this, in the autumn of 1838, he resigned his professorship and severed his connections with the hospital.
Elliotson's enthusiasm sustained the first serious blow when Thomas Wakeley, the editor of the medical journal The Lancet, invited the O'Key sisters to his own house and demonstrated that the violent convulsions into which the patients were sent were produced when, unknown to Elliotson and the patients, the mesmerized piece of money that was supposed to call forth the phenomena was resting in the waistcoat pocket of one of the company. He also proved that if the subjects were kept in ignorance, unmesmerized water could produce sleep, whereas mesmerized water had no effect.
After this the O'Keys were considered exposed and The Lancet closed its columns to mesmerism. Elliotson, nevertheless, was not discouraged. The year 1843 witnessed the birth of the journal The Zoist, which continued under the direction of Elliot-son and one Engledue until 1856. It was a journal of mesmerism and phrenology, Elliotson being also an enthusiastic phrenologist. In 1824 he founded the Phrenological Society of London and was its president until 1843.
In mesmerism he saw a powerful means for phrenological research. Nevertheless, The Zoist was mainly concerned with the therapeutic aspects of mesmerism. With the advent of Spiritualism, it opened its columns to many critical articles on the phenomena. Elliotson himself attended a few sittings with Maria Hayden and described his experiences in an article, "The Departed Spirits." He was somewhat skeptical and attributed everything to the agency of the medium. Table-turning, however, meant something different to him. It fitted into the magnetic effluence theory, and Elliotson, on the basis of observations of others alone, concluded that: "there probably is true movement of the table independent of muscular force."
In 1863 he was introduced at Dieppe, France, to the famous medium D. D. Home, with the result that, according to the Morning Post of August 3, 1868 "… he expressed his conviction of the truth of the phenomena, and became a sincere Christian, whose handbook henceforth was the Bible. Some time after this he said he had been living all his life in darkness and had thought there was nothing in existence but the material."
Elliotson's first step after his conversion was to seek a reconciliation with John Ashburner, from whom he had become alienated by the latter's advocacy of Spiritualism. In 1867 Ashburner had published Notes and Studies on Animal Magnetism and Spiritualism. Elliotson now advocated what he saw as the truth of Spiritualism with the same zeal that he had formerly opposed it. Both Elliotson and Ashburner are of importance as representing the transition from animal magnetism to Spiritualism by the British. Elliotson died the next year on July 29, 1868, in London.