Researches of Baron Reichenbach

on the

"Mesmeric," Now Called the Odic Force *

It is not yet a hundred years since the grand discovery of the composition of water, and not twenty since the completion of the magnetic telegraph. We stand upon the threshold of science; we see before us a boundless prospect of discovery; the laws of the material universe are not yet fully investigated; upon those of life we have but just entered; facts have been observed, but the laws have thus far eluded us. The laws of electro-chemistry, of the composition of bodies, of temperature, (thermism,) and the mechanism of solids, fluids, and gases, have been detected through a haze of hypotheses; but for these the connecting links are, in many respects, deficient. It is known that all bodies, without distinction, are affected by magnetism and electricism, and that both magnetism and electrism depress and exalt the nervous energy of the human body. The relations of chemism (the decomposition and recomposition of bodies) were connected with electrism by Davy, and by many European savans, and, in our day, by the researches of Faraday. The laws of atomic mechanism, of elasticity, of solidity, and gravitation, were reduced to mathematical formulas, but remain, in many respects, together with the phenomena of temperature, entirely separated from chemism and magnetism. The effects of light upon the human eye were reduced, by Sir David Brewster, to three elements, the red, yellow, and blue; otherwise we had no theory of light, and only an "undulatory hypothesis" of its motion, disconnected from all other hypotheses. We know, indeed, that chemical action (chemism) elicits all other physical phenomena; that thermal changes, in fact, all changes and motions of bodies, are attended with electrical and magnetic phenomena; in a word, that every particle of matter lies in universal equilibrium with every other particle, and the least motion of an atom disturbs all its physical relations. It has been observed that the heating of a bar of iron not only affects its chemical relations and affinities, increasing its disposition to combine with the oxygen of air and all other negative substances, but that it destroys its magnetic power, causes it to emit light, and alters its electrical relations at the same time with its volume and hardness. In a single experiment, the heating of a bar of iron, all the physical laws of matter are illustrated. Philosophers foresaw the final connection of all physical phenomena, but cannot yet give a name to that connection.

Meanwhile, a class of phenomena more immediately important than those of magnetism, or light itself, have remained uninvestigated. The effects of the magnet, of the human hand, and of various physical operations, upon the nervous system, have been consigned over to empirics, and treated by the learned as a mass of inextricable absurdity or of superstitious delusion. Empiricism has ruled, without invasion, a vast domain of knowledge. The limits of the senses are still uncertain; have hardly been made a subject of inquiry. Whether the effects of the magnet were a delusion or a reality, or whether, by the exaltation of the senses of sight and touch, phenomena might not appear to some persons that remained imperceptible to others, were questions even unasked.

Simultaneously with the great discoveries of [486] Liebig regarding the laws of animal and vegetable growth and decomposition, Baron Reichenbach of Vienna commenced a series of observations upon the physiological effects of the magnet, in order to understand and reduce to certainty the pretended sensibility of certain persons to the power of the magnet and of crystals. The series of papers illustrating the observations of the Baron were composed for the periodical of Liebig, the Annalen.

These observations were begun in 1844, and continued, almost without intermission, for a series of years upon a vast number of subjects, under the advice and criticism of some of the most learned and judicious savans of Germany. Their results are contained in the volume before us, translated in England, and republished, a few months since, in New York.

The old observation of the effects of a magnet upon certain highly nervous and sensitive temperaments was repeated by the Baron, whose laboratory and scientific apparatus allowed him to pursue all the necessary investigations without hindrance or interruption. He soon discovered that great numbers of persons — in fact, a much larger proportion than would be supposed, of the healthy as well as of the sick, and of males as well as females, many of them robust persons, who had hardly known illness — were susceptible to an influence then called "magnetic," because it was supposed to have its residence in the magnet.

The magnet, which ought to be a large one, capable of supporting at least ten pounds, is drawn downwards from the face to the knees, and produces peculiar sensations of cold or warmth, "resembling a cool or a gently warm breath of air." Sometimes this feeling is attended with sensations of pricking or creeping in the skin. In men more rarely, in women and children very frequently, these sensations are strongly perceived. Nervous depression from any cause, especially among women and men of sedentary habits, produces the most vivid susceptibility. These sensations, in extreme cases, where there is a disposition to catalepsy and somnambulism, or to any variety of hysteria, sometimes rise to an extraordinary intensity, and throw the subject into rigid spasms.

By these experiments, the Baron satisfied himself, and those who followed his researches, that cold and heat, electricity, medicines, and food, are not the only material agents that react upon the human nervous system. He was enabled to detect remarkable and uniform effects from magnets upon a very large number of persons. He gives a list of not less than sixty individuals, some of high standing in the scientific and social world, and of all ages, sexes, and conditions, affected by the magnet, and who felt its approach and movement over their bodies, without contact.

This point established, he proceeded to an examination of the lights seen by the sensitive over magnets. His first experiment was upon a person confined to a dark room with illness, who saw a phosphorescence or luminosity upon the furniture of the chamber. With this subject, he was enabled to detect fiery bushes and clouds of light issuing from the poles of an open magnet; and by a repetition of the experiment upon fifty or sixty different individuals, during several years of investigation, he established the luminosity of the magnet beyond a doubt or question.

This luminosity presented phenomena to the more sensitive class of subjects, especially to somnambulists and the cataleptic, when awake and observant, of a brilliant and regular character; and the Baron finally discovered, not only that all the subjects whom he tested in his dark chamber agreed in their representations, but that the perfection in which they saw the lights (called by him "odic lights") was in proportion to their natural sensibility of sight, heightened only, in some instances, by nervous illness. His final and most satisfactory series of experiments enabled him to analyze these lights, reducing them to the prismatic colors, and assigning the places of each at the poles of excited bars of iron, according to the points of the compass.

The appearance of the "odic flames," "glow," and "smoke," was more delicate and pure than that of common fire, and the colors like those of steely iridescence, or sometimes of the rainbow; not that they actually varied, but were seen more or less perfectly, according to the varying susceptibility of the eyes that beheld them. The differences were only of more or less. When great flames were seen rising from the poles of powerful magnets, or other [487] bodies, "odically" excited, rising sometimes to the height of five or six feet, and illuminating the chamber, their descriptions were the same by different observers. The entire magnet appeared in a state of incandescence or translucent glow, and the long flames shot out from the poles and curved upwards, showing a force that threw them out, and a tendency upwards. These flames fluctuated when one of them was made to rush against another; they moved also with the currents of air, showing their connection with particles of air.

It was found that the magnetic poles must be separated and distinct, for, when joined, the great flames disappeared, and only the glow remained. Electro-magnets presented the same appearances.

The next series of experiments was made with crystals. The crystal has always been a tool of magic and delusion; we have now one at least of its "magical" properties brought within scientific limits.

First, however, we must direct the attention of the reader upon another property of magnets, by which their analogy with crystals was powerfully confirmed. It had been observed by the older physicians, that the hands of cataleptic patients adhered to magnets. This adhesion was wholly unexplained. Preparatory to his investigation of the odic force in crystals, the Baron undertook to elucidate the phenomena of physiological attraction. The subjects upon which he experimented experienced an irresistible desire to grasp the poles of powerful magnets with their hands. In the state of catalepsy or rigid spasm, the hands moved powerfully toward the magnet, (the patient being in a state of unconsciousness,) and grasped their poles with unnatural force, the fingers closing over, and seeming to adhere to the metal bar. These phenomena were the same when the subject was awake and fully conscious. The subject seemed to be impelled by an irresistible and agreeable attraction, as if the hands were drawn by a thousand fine threads, to approach and seize the poles of the magnet, from which a gentle, cool wind seemed to flow, playing over and enveloping the hands. The hand adhered to the magnet, as though it were a piece of it, and could be moved in any direction; but did not exert the slightest power over the magnet, to affect it in any discoverable way. The attraction was not reciprocal. Other experimenters have carried this to much greater lengths than the Baron; subjects have been operated upon, who would rush, forward the moment the magnet was brought within forty feet of them, and grasp its poles, falling, at the same moment, into a state of sleep, or of cataleptic spasm. Reichenbach's experiments upon a variety of subjects having fully satisfied him of the power exercised by the odic force in magnets over the nerves of the human body, he entered next upon an examination of the "force residing in crystals."

To ascertain whether the odic force might not reside also in other substances, the Baron undertook an experiment which absolutely shocks "the scientific mind," as he remarks, which was no other than the magnetization of water!

His subjects, however, without the slightest consideration for the feelings of the scientific societies, and of the "scientific mind" in general, did not fail to distinguish immediately a glass of water which had been immersed in the odic flames (in other words, a glass over which a powerful magnet had been held for a few minutes) from common water. The glass of magnetized water exercised the same, but a much feebler attraction upon the hand of the subjects, and gave them peculiar pricking and warm sensations in the act of drinking.

The Baron having thus developed a new fact of the ancient "magic," immediately prepared a number of substances, minerals, metals, and animal matters, including the human hand itself, by simply rubbing them with, or placing them in, the odic flame or sphere of a powerful magnet. Forty or fifty different substances, taken out of his cabinet without arrangement or choice, were treated in this way; and the magnetized were invariably and instantly distinguished from the unmagnetized, by the more susceptible patients. These experiments were made with singular care and perseverance, and yielded always the same results. Regular crystals and groups of crystals, with some exceptions, were found susceptible of receiving odic force in a greater or less degree. Not a single confused uncrystallized substance was among those that received the force. In general, the more regular and perfect the crystallization, the more decided was the effect upon [488] the subject. The general conclusion was, tbat the property of retaining and originating this force did not belong as much to the substance as to the form of bodies.

Finally, it was discovered that this force resides permanently in regular and perfect crystals, and appears at their poles. Its manifestations are different at opposite poles of the same crystal. More than half the persons examined by the Baron, among his acquaintances, were found sensitive to crystals. On these being drawn perpendicularly along the inside of the hand, they invariably communicated the sensation of a warm or cool wind blown through a quill: the sensation delicate and fine, but in cataleptic subjects powerful, and causing the hand to close upon the crystal.

Further investigation showed that this property was transiently communicated to various substances by merely passing the crystal over them with the point downward. The power that was permanent in the crystal and magnet was transient in other masses of matter.

The effect of the crystals and magnets upon the susceptible cataleptic patients was not impeded by the interposition of other substances, but passed through them; requiring, however, a short period of time for transmission, whereas magnetism permeates instantly. In all respects, the odic force was found to differ entirely from magnetism, though the magnetic condition of iron was found favorable to its development. The odic poles, distinguished by the color of their light, and by the cold and hot sensations produced by them, could be reversed in the same magnet by change of position, an effect which sufficiently distinguished the new force, to say nothing of its permanent residence in crystals, where magnetism has no place. The crystallic or odic force was found to have no attractive power over any besides living substance, the organized human body, principally upon the hands, slightly upon the feet. The mouth was very sensitive to the odic effects.

An examination of these crystals in a dark room, after the eyes of the subjects had become thoroughly accustomed to the darkness by a confinement of several hours, established the existence of odic flames shooting from the points of crystals. The base of the crystal gave cool sensations, (called negative.) The points gave sensations of warmth, usually pleasurable. The points and bases of crystals are, therefore oppositely endowed with this force: the evidences of polarity given by the Baron are complete.

The next series of experiments undertaken by Baron Reichenbach enabled him to discover certain laws of the operation of the odic force upon the human system, which the phenomena hitherto imperfectly observed have given rise to the author's hypotheses of "Animal Magnetism." It was already known to him that the new force was strictly polar, and that it was referred regularly to certain quarters of the heavens. He now found that the earth itself polarizes the human body, odically, from north to south, and from east to west. A conjecture, which was afterwards strongly corroborated, had presented itself, that the Aurora Borealis is in fact an odic light arising from the odic polarity of the earth. He found that many of his susceptible patients were painfully affected by lying with the head toward the west or south; some of them becoming violently ill in these positions, sitting or lying for any length of time, but that a change of position relieved these symptoms, and that they were entirely obviated by placing the head to the north or north-east. The symptoms are minutely detailed, but we must hasten on to the more important and interesting observations which follow; observing only that the Baron dwells much upon the importance of keeping the north and south position in the treatment of nervous diseases; more especially with the bed-ridden. He considers, indeed, that it is important for all delicate and sedentary persons to sleep with the head to the north.

The experiments on the effect of human hands are, perhaps, the most interesting and important of the series. At these the very learned and excellent botanist, Professor Endlicher, was often present Professor Endlicher found, that after he had passed the magnet over his own person, the hand of the cataleptic subject attached itself to his, just as it had done to the magnet, to the crystals, and to the glass of water. He, on the other hand, perceived no attraction in his own hand toward that of the subject. A great variety of experiments followed, all demonstrating the communicability of the odic force, not only to inorganic matter, but to the human body, by [489] the passes of a crystal, or of a magnet; i.e., by causing the odic aurora to play over the surface, and penetrate the substance of the body.

An examination was now made in the dark chamber, and the sensitive eyes of the subject perceived the hand of the operator surrounded and penetrated by a luminosity, and streams of light (odic flames) issuing from the tips of the fingers. Above water "magnetized" there was also a visible luminosity, and above all substances that could be made to receive and retain the odic force.

It was found, further, that the human hand, without odization, produced the well-known and now familiar effects upon the susceptible; and, what was still more remarkable, that these effects passed along and through rods of glass and iron, and other materials serving as conductors of odic force. And further, to reduce all these phenomena to a single law, bodies touched with the hand were found to be magnetized; and if any thing had been held in the hand of the operator, it was immediately distinguished from another that had not been thus treated. In these experiments, every precaution was, of course, taken to avoid error and delusion, as might be expected from so skilful and practised a savan as the Baron Reichenbach.

Next follows the remarkable discovery of the same odic polarity in the human body as in magnets and crystals. An odic circle was established that was powerfully felt by the patients, by merely grasping both the hands in left and right, and holding them, while the operator stood face to face with the subject. In fine, all the phenomena of the new power, previously observed in crystals and in magnets, were now found in the human body. The two hands, presented crossed to a susceptible patient, produced illness after a time; the right hand odically opposing the right, and the left hand the left.

The Baron found the left side of the body, in general, negative, and producing sensations of cold; while the right side communicated warmth. The miscalled "Animal Magnetism" was finally identified, in these experiments, with the force residing in magnets and crystals, and in the earth itself.

In the fourth treatise or book of this truly extraordinary work, we find experiments upon sunlight and moonlight, and other sources of heat and light, and all of them were found to be powerful sources of odic force.

The subject was placed in the usual dark chamber, and a long wire conducted from the outer air to the hand. When the sunlight acted upon the wire, or upon a plate of copper or other metal to which it was attached in the outer air, a stream of odic flame issued from the end in the hand of the subject in the dark chamber. A sensation of cold was also communicated by the wire in the hand, showing that the sunlight communicates a negative odic polarity. When, on the other hand, moonlight, instead of sunlight, fell upon the outer end of the conductor, a sensation described as "heat" (the positive odic quality) was communicated in the same manner. Iron, laid in the sunshine, became odic, and acted upon the subject like odized water or a crystal, though it showed no sensible magnetic property. It was found that the odic power of the magnets used in these experiments was quickly and perfectly restored by laying them in sunshine. In fine, substances of every kind, including the human body, were thus affected by the sun's rays, though in various degrees, and made powerful exhibitions of odic light in a dark chamber, or through a conductor carried from out of doors. This conduction through a wire forty feet in length, required some time to develop itself, the flame requiring a minute or more to rise from the end of the wire in the dark chamber.

It is impossible to follow all the experiments of Reichenbach on the conduction of the odic force; it was found that all substances were capable, in different degrees, of receiving it; that it was generated more especially by sunlight, by the moon's rays, by the stars; the planets giving sensations of heat, like the moon, and the fixed stars of cold, like the sun, to the eyes of odically susceptible persons.

After several hundreds of experiments, it was finally established that all the internal changes of matter, by friction, heat, electricity, galvanism, magnetism, crystallogenic force, and especially chemism, generated an odic influence which could be felt by conduction through wires of any length, through glass rods, and through the human body; in fine, that all bodies were odic conductors, [490] though in different degrees, and communicated the polar sensations, and gave rise to the luminous appearances.

The odic influence enabled the susceptible subject to classify all substances by the sensation they produced when held in the hand; all the electro-positives creating one sensation, and the negatives its opposite; the right and left hands of the subject being also affected with opposite polarities. The classification given by the touch of the sensitive established a correct electro-chemical arrangement. The odic power and light generated by the human body is attributed by the Baron to the chemism of digestion, assimilation, &c., and that of plants and trees, also, to the process of internal growth. By the mere dissolving of common salt in water, odic sensations were communicated through a long thread, a glass rod, or a wire. The same produced odic flames, visible in darkness to great numbers who investigated this new power in conjunction with the Baron.

The famous "tub of Mesmer," a collection of crudities thrown promiscuously into a vat of water, from which an influence ("mesmeric") was communicated through rods of iron, was found, in the course of these experiments, to owe its power over the human nervous system to irregular decompositions and solutions, which odized the water. Small animals laid upon a plate of copper sent an odic influence through a long wire, perceptible to the sensitive person by light and the sensation of warmth.

All decompositions gave rise to an odic light and current. It was therefore naturally inferred that the ghostly appearances in graveyards were, in part, odic lights issuing from corpses in a state of decomposition. Susceptible patients were accordingly taken to the graveyards, and saw luminosities over graves. One of these subjects, it was found, had customarily seen them from infancy, but had been instructed by her parents to conceal the fact, for fear of exciting superstitious prejudice.

The latter half of Baron Reichenbach's work is occupied with his researches upon the odic lights of magnets, which he has succeeded in identifying, in all particulars, with the Aurora Borealis. By an artificial hollow globe of iron, containing a powerful electro-magnet, he was enabled to produce all the appearances of the Northern Light, and to ascertain the law of terrestrial odism independently of magnetism, but excited or developed by it. The appearances produced upon the north and south poles of his iron terrelle or little earth were described, by several witnesses, as an iridescence of the most brilliant colors, arranged in polar series, the reds appearing at the south, the yellows at the west, and the blue at the north; the east and north-east gave only cold gray tints. The ball itself, like all other objects giving out or receiving powerful odic lights, became incandescent and almost transparent, and the auroral flames sprang from its poles and bent over like a tree on all sides, every thread or branch having a different and splendid iridescence.

The above very meagre and imperfect sketch will give the reader some idea of the new phenomena observed by Baron Reichenbach; but it would be impossible in the limits of a review to allude even to the fiftieth part of the conclusions to which this discovery must lead. The work itself is one of the most brilliant examples of the application of the Baconian method of induction to a class of phenomena hitherto looked upon as inexplicable, and given over to magicians and charlatans.

The author of these brilliant discoveries does not open a controversy on the nature of the source of odism. Sometimes he insists very strongly upon its substantiality, but with the advance of his own knowledge inclines rather to regard it as a force; that is to say, a peculiar endowment or property of motion inherent in the atom, or in substance. That the reader may be prepared for a philosophical examination of the experiments of Reichenbach, we propose to enter upon the general subject, and lay before him a brief statement of the present condition of material philosophy.

Savans recognize at present only four distinct forms of activity in matter devoid of life. (The powers of life itself are recognized only by their concrete results; but as yet we have no scientific idea of them.)

1. Mechanical conditions of matter, static or dynamic: repulsion, (hardness); attraction of nearness, (cohesion); attraction of distance, (gravitation); elasticity, (vibration); internal condition, (crystalline, liquid, aeriform); all the merely external relations of one particle of matter to another, [491] without regard to differences of kind, or of polar or temperatural condition.

The statics and dynamics of the solar system, under the law of gravitation, occupied the attention of the most powerful calculators and acute logicians the world has ever known. Their labors resulted in the establishment of an almost perfect system of dynamical astronomy. It is considered that we understand very well the motions of the solar system, both in itself and in relation to other systems like itself. More recent investigations have added the knowledge of aerolites, or "falling meteors," and has tenanted the interstellary spaces with crowds of planetary bodies from the size of grains of dust to the dimensions of Jupiter.

Geology has made known to us the structure of the earth's surface, and offered reasonable conjectures in regard to its interior condition. It has also originated a history of the earth, anterior to the creation of man, and carried that history backward even to the "vortical epoch" and first crude extrication of the sun and earth from the original aeriform chaos.

Mechanical science, in some degree aided by calculation, has explained the laws of persistence, hardness, and elasticity, in gases, liquids, and solids. By the investigations of Wollaston, and, in our own country, of Dana, we have achieved a very exact theory of the interior structure of solids, and the laws of crystallization. The laws of motion and elasticity in liquids and gases have also been painfully investigated, with complete success, by European experimenters.

In a word, we are quite familiar with all the permanent and mobile conditions of matter: our human intelligence harmonizes in its thoughts with the hidden mechanism of the universe.

All our investigations end in the discovery of forces, or rather, of modes in which forces act. The universe is no where found to be at rest; every atom is in motion and in vibration; and the motions of each part affect and are affected by those of the whole. We banish the idea of chance, or fortune, as an empty phantasm; and in every law and every atom, or concentration of forces, we discover the immediately active and expressed Creative Power. Thus much we have learned, that there is a Creative Power, an infinite and eternal Will, the original substratum and source of what we call physical force, or more largely, of the infinitely extended physical universe. To this eternal Will we have not as yet ascribed a moral nature; no, not even a highly intellectual one: our attention has been occupied with the lowest expression of the eternal Will, with rigid, blind, unthinking force. We have not "looked through nature up to nature's God," nor can we; since it is not through nature, but through spirit, that we behold Him.

2. Next in the usual and necessary order of discovery, we are interested in the phenomena of Temperature.

Because the investigators of the last century devoted themselves almost entirely to the laws of weight, or of mechanical resistance, they were forced, for want of better knowledge, to give the name of "imponderable" or that which cannot be weighed, to those phenomena which lay beyond the circle of their studies; and made thereby a very uncouth division of all things into "ponderable and imponderable;" meaning to say that there were other laws besides gravitation, and that all things could not be compared by heaviness and lightness. When modern savans talk of light and heat as "imponderables," they merely use an antiquated phrase, for the convenience of it. Wherever we discover the effects of gravitation or of elasticity, we can measure those effects by weight, and these are ponderable phenomena; whereas the temperature or the electrical attraction of bodies is not measurable by weight, and is consequently not ponderable. All substances are indeed elastic or ponderable, but that is not their entire history: they are also chemically related, and the forces of chemism cannot be measured by the ounce or by the pound.

All bodies, without distinction, tend together, and move toward a common centre; and this we call gravitation. The effect is general and reciprocal. They are subject also to another law, equally universal: they tend to occupy certain spaces, or to have a certain relative dimension; and this we call their temperature, or, in the awkward phrase of the last century, one of the forms of their imponderability, or unweighableness.

The laws of thermal expansion and contraction have been very imperfectly investigated; and to reduce them to a consistency, [492] it will be necessary at some future time to clear away a huge mass of cumbersome hypotheses, which it is painful even to name, and which at the present day throw the most patient investigators into a silent despair.

Dynamical and statical science observed only the permanent conditions of matter, as liquid, solid, or aeriform: the study of temperature begins where that of ponderability and elasticity is exhausted. The first observation is, that the space occupied by a solid body varies continually; that is to say, it expands and contracts: further, that these changes are strictly reciprocal, with compensatory changes in other bodies. A perpetual struggle for a general equilibrium of size, i.e., of the space that each particle of matter shall occupy, goes on without intermission through the entire universe. The different kinds of substances behave differently; it was observed, in this general struggle for space. One body being taken for a measure of all the rest, (quicksilver,) scales of relative expansions and contractions were established for each kind. The present condition of this part of science is the disgrace of the scientific world. Even the thermal equilibriums of solids, liquids, and gases — the three conditions which every atom of matter voluntarily assumes to sustain its special relationship to surrounding atoms — are only grossly investigated, and lie almost disconnected.

The ponderable relations of matter showed all the atoms, without distinction, striving to occupy a certain relative position in space, approaching and receding according to certain unchangeable values and relations, called laws of motion:

Their thermal relations, on the other hand, show them striving to occupy, not a certain position, but a certain size or sphere of space, with a total disregard of their position in space.

The observation of these "struggles" of the particles to maintain their proper dimensions, individually, in equilibrium with others, (thermism,) gives rise to the science of temperatures.

If through "ponderability" alone we could discern an infinite Creative Force, are not our ideas of that Force, merely as such, wonderfully exalted by the view of an universe composed of an infinite multitude of active atoms, ail in a state of mutual understanding (if we may so speak) with each other as to what space each and all of them shall occupy, whether in immediate contact or removed upon the utmost verge of the universe, if it have a verge? And yet to this idea we are led, by observing the three conditions of solid, liquid, and gaseous, and the laws of their equilibriums, remote and near.

3. We have studied, and think we understand, the weights of substances — the forces that rule their relative motions in space; we will suppose that temperatures, the relations and changes of size, are also well understood: we now come upon Affinities, or relations of combination; we enter upon the vast domain of Chemism. Here we are presented with a general fact, that while two particles of matter, of the same kind, insist upon occupying different spaces, and are regulated only by their ponderability and their temperature, two that differ in kind, or that have different measurable ponderabilities and temperatures, are "willing" to occupy the same space, under certain conditions, and to act for the time as if they were one and identical. In general, all chemical combinations are the union of two or more substances in the same space, so as to perform the part of one.

Immediately on observing the combinations of bodies, which usually take place when they are in a liquid or gaseous condition, we are struck with the observation that some prefer others; that there are affinities, and that those which are strongly opposed in their specific traits combine eagerly, to the exclusion of the others, or drag these with them in a system of subordinate combinations.

By a careful study of affinities in solutions, combustions, triturations, and mixtures, chemists have detected the several kinds of atoms; catching them alone, and studying their individual traits, their peculiar ponderability, temperature, &c., or noting their secret effects in combination with others, or on the way from one to another.

During these researches, the chemists established the affinities, compatibilities, and complements of the species of atoms; as, in the researches of temperature, they had discovered their individual opposition and independence. By the study of ponderability alone, they could arrive only at the idea of matter in general, of particles and masses. By thermism and chemism, they were now [493] st able to individualize and finally to classify them in species and genera. From the relations of masses and particles, they had advanced to those of single indivisible atoms. These continued to occupy them until the opening of the fourth field of observation, that of electrism and galvanism.

4. Three kinds of forces had become known; but a fourth kind remained to be investigated.

The science of ponderability began with a common observation of heaviness and lightness in the human hand: resistance to the forces of the muscular system, and perception of motion by the hand and the eye. Temperature was studied at first by the sense of heat and cold; chemism by the facts of caustics, by taste, and by all the senses. Strictly speaking, all the senses are employed in every department of science, but some much more than others.

Masses of matter, whether liquid, solid, or gaseous, were found to exercise a peculiar attraction and repulsion, which, after flashes of light, followed by sharp sounds, we found to have disappeared.

These phenomena took the general name of electrical. Soon it was discovered, further, that bodies affected by chemical changes, and those whose temperature was relatively lowered or raised; finally, that every change, of whatsoever nature, affecting the internal condition of bodies, generated fractions and repulsions, which disappeared suddenly and with violence under certain conditions. It was at length established that a general equilibrium of attraction and repulsion exists between all particles and masses of matter, whether near or remote; and that the disturbance of this equilibrium by changes of combination among the atoms, or by changes of temperature, or any description of change, propagated through all surrounding bodies, according to certain laws of intensity and distance, a disturbance and a readjustment of the universal equilibriums.

A vast and admirable system of analogies was built upon the first original observations of electricians, ending in the general fact, that the electrical, as well as the chemical, mechanical, and thermal relations of substances, are inherent in them, and do, in fact, confer upon them all their characteristics; that, in a word, substances are composed of these forces, and have no other distinguishable existence until they become a part of a vital organism. As a consequence, every atom stands in absolute equilibrium with all other atoms in the universe, near or remote, at all times, and under conditions regulated by all the properties of the atom.

At this point, the idea of polarity was developed. Certain substances were found permanently disturbed by the electrical force operating on their surfaces. These substances were called magnetic. They exhibited an attraction toward each other, and also affected all other bodies (diamagnetism). This condition was limited to their surfaces, like the electrical. The earth itself was found to be a magnet. The atom itself was conceived to be capable, like the mass, of a superficial polarity, with two powers, opposed to each other, superficially affecting it, which powers rushed always into a state of equilibrium, and so remained until disturbed by change of temperature or some other physical alteration.

Polarity itself, the idea of two forces complementary and necessary to each other, was only a finer application of the idea of equilibrium.


(a) Every atom had a certain ponderability, or tendency toward others, which was relative and reciprocal in all.

(b) Every atom had a certain relative size, which was its temperature, and also strictly relative and reciprocal.

(c) Every atom was willing to occupy, and hastened to fill, the same point of space with others that were specifically different from it. This tendency was also purely relative and reciprocal.

(d) Every atom had a certain superficial attraction or repulsion for every other, until the conditions of all were balanced, and the forces opposing and concentrated had distributed and equalized themselves through circles and spheres of all the neighboring particles.

Finally, not one of these conditions but was found to be intimately related to all the others. The individual atom was then conceived to be a point, or perhaps a minute sphere, or spheroid, made up entirely of forces, (Herschell,) which extend themselves through all the spaces of the universe, and maintain the intimate oneness, wholeness, [494] concentaneity, and perfect mechanical equilibrium of the so-called "material world," but of which the mechanism appears no longer dead and sullen, but to be the instant and present fiat and sustaining will of the Creator, operating in this way to form a basis for the higher creations of life and spirit.

After achieving this prodigious conquest over the original gross materialism of the atomists, and having disencumbered itself of the dull and awkward "hypotheses," as they were called, of later days, modern science stood and now stands free, and ready to grapple with the more potent delusions of ignorance and superstition in the regions of empirical physiology.

While the chemists, the geologists, and the astronomers were investigating laws, the physiologists were limited to the knowledge of forms; in other words, to the study of comparative natural history and the characteristics of species. Until chemistry had exhausted itself upon the laws and properties of inorganic matter, it was almost hopeless to attempt any investigation of the laws of life.

The ideas of Ohen first, and, afterward, of the vegetable morphologists, raised the study of anatomy from a mere detail of particulars to a system of analogies and harmonies, both of internal and external structure. The same formative power began now to be recognized in the development of an insect and a man, of a hand and a foot. Owen, the English anatomist, in conjunction with many others on the continent, following, one after another, in the footsteps of Ohen and Cuvier, established the unity of animal nature, as to the laws of its growth and propagation, by finding in all the same organs, developed in regular series and corresponding organs in the same body. The study of the tissues reduced the entire organism to a few simple elements, the nervous, the glandular, the muscular, and the varieties of the cellule.

A parallel series of investigations, carried on by the microscopic botanists, made all plants to be composed upon a single system of vegetable growth, from the same elements.

Liebig, meanwhile, had demonstrated the absolute conformity of the laws of life with those of chemism, and made it appear that the elementary substances do not lose their inferior properties when they are so combined as to compose a basis of vegetable or animal species. He did not fail to show that every law of chemism is fulfilled in the animal and vegetable body; both in the assimilation of food, the process of growth, and the process of decay. By his researches, our ideas were carried to the verge, and touched the lower stratum of the really vital processes. They did not introduce m into the midst of those processes, but showed only the last stage of preparation to which dead matter must be raised before life can seize upon and transmute it, and the first descending grade upon which it falls in death. All above that remained unknown, a region without ideas, almost without facts. Beyond and above, superstition and charlatanry have ruled a wilderness of wonders and delusions; the realm of magic, of mesmerism, of phrenology, of clairvoyance, and the entire accompanying crowd of vital phenomena, the scandal and the horror of savans, and the profitable spoil of travelling empirics.

It is perhaps impossible for any but the experienced to appreciate the position of a savan like the Baron Von Reichenbach, entering, with the torch of observation, into this spectral region; nor does the entire history of modern science offer a more brilliant instance of discovery by the method of induction.

Mechanical attractions are, as we have seen, invariably and immediately reciprocal. We venture to assert that, by the discovery of attractions that are not immediately reciprocal, Baron Reichenbach has taken the first step in the establishment of a science of life. Not that others have not observed the same phenomena, but that Reichenbach was the first to apply the method of induction, by which they are reduced into a scientific order.

The power exerted by the magnet, by crystals, and by other bodies in the odic state, over the nervous system of sensitive persons, has been separated by the researches of Reichenbach, not only from magnetism, but from all other forces hitherto known to the scientific world.

Its effects upon the eye, in the odic lights; its effects upon the nervous and muscular systems, in the attractions described by him;

Its effects upon taste, in the odized water: all these effects have been analyzed and [495] classified by the results of more than ten years of experiment, with all the necessary apparatus, and witnessed by persons of all degrees of judgment and knowledge.

The effects of the new force were not, in any case, reciprocal, in the experiments of Reichenbach; i.e., the human body was affected by, but did not affect other bodies odically. Two material substances were not found, in any instance, moving or changing each other odically, but only receiving, one from another, the power of affecting the human body.

The odic force was not found to be reciprocal between living and dead, but only between living substances alone, as between the right and left sides of the human body; therefore it cannot be classed among mechanical forces, in the category of gravitation and magnetism. It does not belong to any one of the four orders of physical forces above described and classified; all of these orders being strictly reciprocal.

All chemical changes elicited the odic force; but in no instance was it shown [by Reichenbach) that the odic force directly elicited them.

Electrical, magnetic, thermal, in a word, all internal changes in matter, operate odically upon the human body; but in no case was there a reciprocal effect established or even suspected. Odism is consequently not proved by Reichenbach to be a phase of magnetism, electricity, or of any other physical force.

The similarity of two natures is proved by their reciprocity.

The effects of rays from incandescent bodies upon the eye are not reciprocal; the effect of medicines upon the nervous system are not reciprocal, the medicines acting upon the nerves without being acted upon, as far as we know, in their turn; witness the effects of alcohol, or of a narcotic rubbed upon the skin: the sensations of the nervous system, and the interior physiological and mental changes resulting therefrom, are not reciprocal in the order of a magnetic, electrical, chemical, or thermal equilibrium. The physiological does not reciprocate directly with mechanical nature, but only with its own kind. Living organized bodies have reciprocities and balances of their own, proper to their spheres; but these are not physical reciprocities.

When the skin is destroyed by the touch of a hot iron, the thermal and chemical reciprocities and balances of the skin with the hot iron destroy the vital relationships of the particles of skin; and these particles are taken out of the sphere of organization, and fall into the lower sphere of the atomic equilibriums. One set of forces ceases to move them, under the too great intensity of another set Vital organisms continue their existence and maintain their equilibriums only in a certain range of temperature, and under certain chemical conditions; but these effects are not reciprocal between the vital forces, as such, and the forces of the atoms. Organized matter remains chemically and mechanically atomic, as before, and its reciprocities with dead matter are not vital, but only atomic.

A leaf of tobacco, or a few grains of morphine, in simple contact with the mucous membrane, will always produce a sensible derangement of the vital functions, and sometimes suspend them altogether; and so of all other medicines whose action is not chemical or mechanical; but the action is not atomically reciprocal, as far as we know; the medicines do not necessarily undergo atomic changes.

The effects of a crystal, or of a glass of water odized by a crystal, upon a susceptible human subject, do not seem near so wonderful, and are by no means so universal and powerful, as the contact of morphine or calomel with the mucous membrane of the body.

The contact of rattlesnake's poison with a great nerve will sometimes kill instantly, like a heavy blow upon the brain.

A thousand examples of relation without physical reciprocity might be given, as remarkable, in all respects, as the phenomena of odism. The odic light appeared only to persons of a certain susceptibility, as the odor of roses excites catarrhs only in constitutions apt to be affected by that odor, and in various degrees. The analogy of nature goes with us here, as in other deductions from the experiments of Reichenbach.

Odic phenomena have this peculiarity, however, to separate them from those alluded to, namely, that they are apparently incidental to the form only, and not to the matter; proceeding from nearly all kinds of regular crystals, as well as from chemical and electrical motions.

Animals and vegetables were shown, by [496] Reichenbach, to be a source of odism, or of the odic influences, not from the fact of their being organisms, but from the chemical changes going on within them, in the processes of respiration, solution, digestion, &c. Even in the human organism itself, odism betrays a relationship, without mechanical reciprocity, between the inorganic and vital forces. The form of the atoms, their arrangement and vibration in certain lines, as in the galvanic lines in fluids undergoing an electro-chemical decomposition; all arrangements that are analogous with those which develop galvanism in general, also develop odism, but independently, and under a different system of laws.

The earth itself, odized by the sun, by the moon, by solutions in its soil, by its magnetic currents, and by a variety of other causes, such as the crystalline structure of its crust, is shown to be the principal source of odic force. The odism of the earth has its poles analogous, but distinguished from the magnetic poles; and the magnetism of the earth giving rise to odic changes, and variations of the odic polarities, was for a long time supposed, by reason of this coincidence of two distinct orders of phenomena, to be the cause of the grand odic light, known as the Aurora Borealis. Magnetic disturbances in the earth affect the magnetic needle, while they also affect the Northern Lights; and the disturbances of the needle were consequently connected with the appearance of the lights, and these latter immediately classed with electrical and magnetic phenomena, until they were separated and distinguished by Reichenbach.

The classification of substances by their effects upon the nervous system of susceptible subjects, was found to be very nearly the same with the electro-chemical classification of Berzelius. They produced opposite sensations, resembling those of heat and cold; the negative producing cold. The odic rays from candles and wood-fires also produced an intense sensation of cold; a hint to all experimenters in this field, to beware of sensational analogies. Pepper on the skin produces all the effects of heat; another deceptive sensational analogy where there is no chemical action, no "burning."

Through the entire range of Reichenbach's experiments, not a single authenticated instance appeared of one inorganic body producing atomic changes or vibrations odically in another. All the phenomena of odism were physiological. But for this we were already prepared by the unreciprocal action of certain medicines, already noticed. The odic beams of the Aurora Borealis move across the heavens with enormous velocity, but they do carry streams of air with them. The odic flames that shoot upward from the poles of a magnet, and which formed a magnificent aurora about the poles of Reichenbach's artificial earth, do not carry currents of air: the odism of the earth itself combining with that of an artificial magnet, gave the artificial odic auroral beam an upward tendency, like flame issuing from the mouth of an oven, and curving upward. Yet there was no motion of air itself, but only a motion of the odic light, as of an auroral beam, like a beam of light traversing a cloud of dust. The entire atmosphere about the magnet, as about the human body, or a crystal, or any source of odism, but especially the earth itself, is odized; and, if our eyes were sufficiently delicate, would appear so. The odism communicated to the particles of air and other bodies, makes them faintly luminous; the odic condition passes over from one particle to another, by contact, like heat, but with much greater rapidity, and a luminosity, in most cases, accompanies it.

That these lights were actual luminosities, was shown by collecting them in foci by lenses.

Any source of odism, such as a crystal or magnet, communicated its physiological power to substances held near in the sphere of its influence; but all bodies were not equally susceptible. But the powers thus communicated were not magnetic, nor chemical, nor in any sense mechanical or reciprocal; they were those only of luminosity, and capable of affecting the odic susceptibility in the human nervous system. They were also transient, beginning to pass out of the bodies which had received them, as soon as the active source of the influences was removed.

The experiments of Reichenbach number several hundreds, and a complete analysis of these would occupy ten times the space assigned us for the present exposition. We must, therefore, hasten prematurely, and at the risk of offending our scientific readers, to conclusions that will be much agitated [497] and discussed before they are either accepted or refused.

1. The experiments of Reichenbach were sensational, and not physical.

Sensational science is in its infancy, and hardly distinguished from physical. There is no treatise of light, as a sensation, except the very crude one of Goethe, which has some good ideas. Wheatstone's beautiful experiments with optical delusions open a new field. There is not even the attempt at an investigation of sensational heat, taste, smell, &c.; and some senses, like that by which the body poises itself, have not even a name assigned to them, much less an investigation of their laws. No savan has ventured to ask himself, by what sense the somnambulist walks in the dark. Again we repeat, sensational science is as yet in its infancy. We have occupied ourselves entirely with the physical relations of matter; that is to say, with the reciprocal atomic forces of chemism, mechanism, &c.; and the first analytic inquiries made by any savan concerning the relationship of (physical) chemism, magnetism, thermism, &c., with the nervous organism, (as such, and not as mere physical matter,) have been instituted by Reichenbach, and are recorded in the volume before us.

2. The odic force operates primarily on the vital, not upon the physical organism. When the odic flame communicated a cool or hot sensation to the hand, it did not first "heat" or "cool" the hand, physically. The physical equilibriums were not disturbed in the human body acted on. The odic condition passes by contact from one particle to another, communicating luminosity, and moves through rods of glass and metal wires, and a variety of bodies, carrying with it luminosity, and a certain power of affecting the nervous organism alone.

3. It is also radiated as well as transmitted, as is shown by the effect of sunlight and moonlight odizing plates of copper.

4. Odism is known primarily only by its effect upon the human nervous system. The luminosity of odized air about crystals, over graves, &c., must be regarded as a secondary phenomenon: odism can no more be confounded with light than with heat or magnetism. Odism makes gases luminous, and so also does chemism, as in the combustion of hydrogen; and so also does the electric shock.

5. Odism does not pass, like magnetism, through all bodies without obstruction. A magnet operates as powerfully through a stone wall or a vacuum as through air. Odism, on the contrary, traced by the luminosity it confers upon them, moves from particle to particle. It is subject to certain laws of transmission and communication, differing entirely from those of thermism, of magnetism, and of electrism. Odism was proved to be communicable, like magnetism and heat, from one material substance to another; but the proofs of this communication, like the proofs of odism itself, were purely and strictly physiological, and, in that respect, entirely different from those physical and mathematical proofs which are looked for in the science of inorganic forces.

6. All that has been proved by the experiments of Reichenbach is the general fact, that physical changes and motions, electrical, thermal, and chemical, propagate through contiguous matter a certain condition or motion, called by him the odic; of which the effects discovered by him were purely sensational; but manifesting a distinct polarity, of positive and negative, by contrasted sensations, as of warm and cold; a luminosity of all the colors of the spectrum, having also a polar arrangement; and a positive and negative relationship with the elementary substances, as these are classified by Berzelius.

Thus far the experiments of the now illustrious Reichenbach, the first in this field. He has detained us in this volume along the verge, where sensational arose out of physical phenomena; he discovers effects, but not causes; he shows no physical reciprocity of forces, no equilibriums, no action and reaction of odic forces. From the field which he has cleared for us, we may go forward boldly and securely to the investigation of phenomena still more mysterious and repulsive to the physical mind than those explained and reduced into their order by his accurate and severe deductions. A general survey of the various orders of phenomena which must in future occupy the attention of the physiologist, and whose reduction to their laws will compose the hitherto desired but unattained science of dynamical physiology, will form an appropriate close to this article.


The attention of the curious in scientific matters, in this country as well as in Europe, is at present much more occupied with physiological than with physical phenomena. Physical researches have no longer the attraction of novelty, and the laws of mechanism and electro-chemism have become blended with the mass of ordinary knowledge, and valued for their practical use. Phenomena as singular and inexplicable as the motions of the heavenly bodies, or the vibrations of the magnetic needle, are rising up to notice, and demanding the undivided attention of the scientific mind. Only the first and lowest series of these have been scientifically studied by Reichenbach. The success of that illustrious experimenter has tempted others into the field. The phenomena which must occupy their attention may be rudely classified as follows:

1. "Odic lights," seen by susceptible persons. Sensations communicated by the magnet, by crystals, by the sun, moon, and earth, and by all bodies, whether solid, liquid, or aeriform, undergoing any species of physical change. Phenomena investigated by Reichenbach.

2. Phenomena of spontaneous sleep-walking. The earth itself, acting as a source of odic influence, like a powerful magnet, upon constitutions of a certain susceptibility, produces the condition of somnambulism. Effects of moonlight and sunlight upon the human nervous system and brain. The double state or condition of double consciousness, induced by physical causes hitherto unexplained, but now, by a rational hypothesis, attributed to what Reichenbach would call odic influences, intermediately physical and physiological. Induction of the "mesmeric" sleep, of catalepses, or rigid spasm, and of trance, by odic influences proceeding from various sources of odism; as from the human hand, or from a crystal.

3. Phenomena of cerebral communication without the intervention of the senses. Public exhibitions of these phenomena are given in all the great cities in all parts of the world. In these exhibitions, great numbers of persons have been found susceptible of trance and cerebral communication. By any cause that suspends thought, and fixes the attention of the subject; but especially by establishing through the nervous system the odic circle of Reichenbach, as by holding the right hand in the left, or by one person holding the hands of another, rigid in left, a condition of the brain is induced which enables it to communicate with, and subjects it to, another brain. The communication is established with the operator by the mere contact of his finger with the forehead, or, perhaps, with any portion of the body in which this condition has supervened. Immediately after contact, the brain of the subject is affected by that of the operator, and follows his will and his imagination; the brain of the operator being in its regular or normal state, and not conscious of its own power, except by observing its effects upon the behavior of the subject.

It was shown by Reichenbach that the odic force was communicated along the particles of matter, through air, water, glass rods, wires, &c., by a regular conduction of which the time was observed and measured. It was also shown by him that the human body was itself the most powerful and constant source of odic influence, because of the various processes of digestion, assimilation, circulation, &c., going on in every part of it. The sole evidences of this power given by him, were in certain effects upon the brain and nerves of susceptible patients, ending sometimes in mesmeric sleep and catalepsy, during which, as well as in the wakeful and sensible state, the nerves of the hand, and of other parts of the body, were under the absolute control of a magnet, a crystal, and of other sources of odic power.

When, on the other hand, it is remembered that the control of the entire nervous and muscular system is concentrated in the thinking organ or brain, we have all the conditions of probability to form an idea of the nature of the phenomena so commonly witnessed at public exhibitions. Thus:

A magnet or crystal can govern a hand or a foot, operating externally.

A brain already possesses this power over its own proper body, but in a degree infinitely greater than a magnet.

If a living brain were then to operate odically, like the magnet, the crystal, &c., it would display a much more complex and complete result, acting by all the powers with which it is naturally endowed.

If, then, the subject is in the state necessary for odic susceptibility, and is placed in communication, by contact or otherwise, the [499] brain of the operator should produce all the phenomena improperly styled "biological," as witnessed at public exhibitions. The existence of a force capable of nervous transmissions has been demonstrated by Reichenbach, but in his experiments only with the simple and physical sources of odism. If the brain itself becomes a source, as it clearly should in certain instances, the brain being the most active of all organisms, there is no conceivable reason why the phenomena spoken of should not occur; but they do occur; wherefore, &c.

When the connection (odic) has been once fairly established between one brain and another, we begin to comprehend the possibility of many extraordinary phenomena hitherto regarded as of a magical or spiritual nature; as when the motions of a very susceptible subject respond, at great distances, to the will of an operator, which is only an extended instance of what is daily witnessed by thousands at public exhibitions. It is unnecessary to say, that if the odic power can act through a distance of fifty feet, it may act through much greater distances. The communication once established by touch, we know not how far it is necessary for the operator to withdraw himself, in a given instance, to destroy it. It may remain unbroken for days and weeks, and act over miles of space. Reichenbach's experiments proved the excitability of subjects by a magnet forty or fifty feet distant, with walls intervening; but the force was sensibly weakened by such intervention, and required time to penetrate an obstacle.

4. The most remarkable of all the phenomena of sleep-walking is that of clairvoyance, or tight without vision. The sleep-walker rises in total darkness, and, without the aid of light, indites letters, completes elegant works of art, painting, drawing, needlework, mathematical calculations, &c. At other times, the sleep-walker traverses the most dangerous paths, moving without accident along the eaves of tiled roofs, and accomplishes feats of equilibrium which would intimidate a rope-dancer, while remaining in a state of unconscious somnolency. The brain of the sleep-walker is in perfect sensuous communication with the earth and all objects, but without the ordinary information of the external senses. He does not perceive any thing but the inanimate masses of bodies around and beneath, and is generally unconscious of the presence of living beings as such, avoiding them only as material obstacles. Sleep-walking, in various degrees, is one of the ordinary phenomena of nervous disease; but the real mystery of sleep-walking, namely, its clairvoyance, is passed over by savans with a discreet silence, at the moment they are covering with ridicule the far less wonderful phenomena of clairvoyance, exhibited by those susceptibles who, with bandaged eyes, read names through a card, or give the time in darkness from the odic lights on the dial-plate of a watch.

Many readers will incline with us to believe that the sense which guides the sleep-walker, and enables the susceptible subject, in a clairvoyant condition, to read through a card, is a connection established by the odic power of all bodies between themselves and the brain of the subject; an odism, in short, communicated, like normal magnetism, by the earth itself. And as we know, from the experiments of Reichenbach, that each material substance has its own specific odism in relation to the human organism, we need not be surprised to find the susceptible subject distinguishing the forms and qualities of substances one from another, by a sensuous perception wholly independent of the ordinary external senses.

Savans have not dared to examine the common phenomena of sleep-walking, under which all the disputed "facts" of "mesmerism" are included, and their laws indicated; because, in applying themselves to such an examination, they have found that it would be necessary to originate new ideas of forces, for which the physical sciences have no category. Had they had the courage to do this, Reichenbach's elaborate experiments would not have been needed for the discovery of the only physiological force at present known. Reichenbach must be, consequently, regarded as the Newton of physiology, as he first gave us the idea of a force or law controlling the operations of life, on the basis of the physical forces, but without their immediate intervention.

5. We have no accurate selection and arrangement of facts upon which to establish a scientific idea of catalepsy, or of the "mesmeric" or odic sleep, induced by the mesmeric or odic influence. The one well-established and general fact of all these phenomena may be stated as follows: that [500] the nervous organism, in parts and an a whole, may be placed in connection with the earth and all surrounding bodies, at distances not yet ascertained, so as to have an immediate and sensuous knowledge of their forms and qualities; and to act, in regard to them, without the regular information of the senses. This general proposition covers all the sensuous experiments of Reichenbach; all the phenomena of somnambulism, and of genuine clairvoyance; all the commonly exhibited wonders of the "mesmerizers," self-styled "biologists," or "physiological alchemists," together with a vast variety of well-known but hitherto unexplained physiological and psychological phenomena, which the physical philosophers, from inability to explain them by chemism, &c., have studiously shut their eyes upon, or consigned over to the empirics and dealers in humbug. These phenomena, together with the astounding and incomprehensible effects of alcohol, the narcotics, and other physico-physiological wonders, have now to be examined, the first step being already taken by Reichenbach.

Having established the existence of at least one new power, much more universal than gravitation, since it accompanies and is elicited conjointly with all the physical forces, and places the nervous organism in immediate sympathy with every motion and change in the material universe, we are not now to busy ourselves with the invention of a quantity of new powers, of whose existence we have no proofs; but only to observe how far the one discovered can be carried in explanation of the mysteries of life. The discovery of gravitation harmonized the entire system of the heavens. The discovery of the odic force has already led us to important conclusions, in regard to the connection between life and matter. We can now understand that the nervous organism, in a perfectly healthy condition, is isolated and protected from the influence of the earth and planetary bodies, and that the connection established between the brain and outward nature by the senses, is of a secondary, intermediate kind, so adjusted as to be broken off at will, when the safeguard and convenience of the vital system require it. If the peculiar repulsive and isolating power of the nerves of sense (the periphery of the nervous system) can be abated or suspended, (as it can in a great number of persons,) and the defenses of the brain removed, it falls under the nearest external influence; as of a magnet, a crystal, a chemical process, a human hand, or a human brain; and is subjected by this external force, and made to conform to it, whatever be the nature or extent of that force. Among ignorant barbarians, the effects of a dose of morphine or alcohol are as mysterious as the sympathy of two magnets. Magnets act upon each other, not only through spaces devoid of air, but through heavy walls, without regard to the nature of the intervening substance. Nothing is more inexplicable than this, nothing less likely to have been predicted. That a human brain, an organ infinitely more powerful, complicated, and extended in its sphere than a magnet, should be able to affect another brain and nervous system, is, on the contrary, a thing highly probable and predictable. We need not torment ourselves with the improbability of any such phenomena, when we see a simple piece of iron not only giving motion to another piece, at great distances, but throwing the human organism itself into spasms resembling death, by its mere presence.

Unwearied study and observation will be required to separate the facts of physiological science from the mass of delusions that have gathered over it, through the interested frauds of mesmerizers and charlatans. Alexis, in Paris, who was able in his youth, in a state of partial somnambulism, to read names through a bandage and several thicknesses of card, by a simple odic perception, now tells fortunes like a common soothsayer in Paris. Savans who occupy themselves in these important researches must either engage secretly, as Franklin did, with his paper kite, when he identified lightning with electricity, or they must patiently endure the stigma of credulity and superstition.

Hitherto we have spoken of a force operating upon the nervous system of the human organism, and not of a reciprocal action of the converse of that force (the odic) operating upon inanimate nature. Odism of nature, acting upon the nerves and brain, is a scientific fact, demonstrated by the most elaborate and extended researches that have, as yet, conferred honor upon the name of a physiologist Odism upon inanimate nature, the power of the brain acting [501] reciprocally, to produce physical phenomena, should be esteemed among scientific possibilities, but at present holds no higher title to our confidence. It is not, however, without a powerful body of analogies, and a host of crude, disconnected observations to sustain it.

Many experimenters claim, that persons of a certain susceptibility have power to excite magnetism in steel by the touch. If this is true, odism, like light, is indirectly and secondarily reciprocal with the electric currents. Odically excited subjects occasionally give out electric sparks.

Odic subjects are able to produce sounds of a very remarkable character, at a distance from themselves, resembling percussion with the fingers upon resonant bodies; an effect for which various explanations have been offered, none in the least degree satisfactory. It is said that Reichenbach has himself undertaken an examination of these sounds or knockings, to ascertain the law of their production.

The process of assimilation and digestion is certainly a reciprocal action of the animal organism upon the chemical forces, and we see no reason why the chemical forces alone should be subject to this reciprocity. We have entered upon a field of analogies: let us beware of conjecture, lest we identify ourselves with the pretentious and the ignorant. Let us have a body of well-substantiated facts, collected by the intelligence of a true savan, who knows how to distinguish physical from physiological phenomena, and upon these step cautiously and modestly upward toward that glorious consummation of knowledge which awaits, if not ourselves, then (let it be) the more fortunate of future generations, who will not confound the modest caution of their predecessors with the dull skepticism of incapacity and envy.


  1. * Physic-Physiological Researches on the Dynamics of Magnetism, Electricity, Heat, Light, Crystallization, and Chemism, in their Relation to Vital Force by Baron Charles Von Reichenbach. The complete work, from the German second edition, with the addition of a Preface and Critical Notes, by John Ashburner, M D. First Americas edition. New York: J. S. Redfield, Clinton Hall; Boston: B. B. Mussey & Co. 1851.

Originally published in "The American Whig Review" (Vol. IX, No. VI, 1852).

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