So this weekend I was running a module of my current monthly hypnotherapy practitioner diploma course. Whilst discussing strategies for helping clients stop smoking, we discussed and explored the technique championed by many NLP practitioners called the Dickens pattern, which you can read about somewhere else. (You can read this article on this website about that technique if you wish)
However, the tenuous links between Charles Dickens and the world of hypnosis does not actually end there…
If you have read the novels of Charles Dickens, you are unlikely to have detected that he had a high level of belief in and involvement with mesmerism. Oh yes, he had strong ties with Dr John Elliotson, the man who clashed with James Braid (man who coined the term hypnotism), championed magnetism, mesmerism, acupuncture and experimentation in medicine as well as being one of the first doctors in the UK to use a stethoscope.
Elliotson was actually the godfather to Charles Dickens’s son, Walter. Although no signs of this allegiance appear in Charles Dickens’ work, many of his letters have since been published and made public which have show his opinion on mesmerism . Here is one such extract from a letter the Charles Dickens wrote to Robert Collyer on the 27th of January 1842. It was published in many US newspapers of the day, including the Boston Morning Post;
With regard to my opinion on the subject of mesmerism, I have no hesitation in saying that I have closely watched Dr Elliotson’s experiments from the first – that he is one of my most intimate and valued friends – that I have the utmost reliance on his honour, character, and ability, and would trust my life in his hands at any time – and that after what I have seen with my own senses, i should be untrue both to him and myself, if I should shrink for a moment from saying that I am a believer, and that I became so against all my preconceived opinions.
Dickens watched many demonstrations of magentism and mesmerism performed by Elliotson and the two become friends in the early 1840s. Despite this level of belief that he openly stated he had, Dickens refused to be hypnotised himself. He stated that he did not want to liose control of himself. However, he did actually have a go at mesemrising others and even performed a public demonstration on his wife Catherine in 1842 in Pittsburgh. Such was the success of his demonstration that he continued to work with a wider circle of friends and family for the purposes of entertainment primarily.
many believe that it was because of his affinity with mesmerism and hypnotising people that his marriage to Catherine broke down. Dickens helped treat a lady whilst on holiday in Genoa and she became a frequent patient of his. During their meeting, when she was hypnotised, she often discussed many of her secrets and revealed a great deal of herself to Dickens. They became increasingly dependent upon each other through this relationship which became very intense and placed a great deal of strain upon the marriage of Charles and Catherine.
Imagine what Freud and his transference theories would have to say about this, eh? As it happens, this was the last person that Dickens used mesmerism with, and although his belief and advocacy of the subject remained strong throughout his life, Dickens relationship with mesmerism and hypnosis was put on the back burner somewhat.
Interesting stuff, eh? Who’d have thought it… ?