In 1837, when 19-year-old Queen Victoria ascended the British throne, medicine was a bleak and brutal business. Operations were performed without pain relief while the standard medical therapies were bloodletting, purging and dosing with toxic potions. But that summer a promising medical innovation crossed the Channel from Paris: mesmerism. Most of the British medical establishment scorned this new-fangled French idea but one doctor, the highly esteemed physician John Elliotson, embraced mesmerism with zeal. For 18 months in 1837 and 1838 Elliotson staged dramatic demonstrations on his patients at University College Hospital which drew fascinated audiences, provoked sensational headlines and – ultimately – split the medical profession.
The Mesmerist: John Elliotson (1791-1868) is an exhibition at the Library of the Royal Society of Medicine.
1 Wimpole Street, LONDON W1G 0AE
This exhibition tells the story of John Elliotson and his battle to promote mesmerism – hypnotism as it was later renamed – in the face of furious opposition from the medical establishment and medical press. Elliotson was President of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London in 1833, and it was during his term of office that the Society was granted a Royal Charter to become, in 1834, the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society.
Robert Greenwood, Heritage Officer, The Royal Society of Medicine Library