27th November 1841

Hypnotism demonstrated for the first time

Kinross-born surgeon James Braid made the first public demonstration of hypnotism in 1841. Having watched a demonstration of mesmerism, in which a subject is put into a sleep-like condition, he devised an alternative process of reliably inducing a hypnotic state. His usual method of achieving this was to have his subject focus on a small, close object, slightly above their usual line of sight.

nce in the hypnotic state, they were more receptive to suggestion and, he discovered, circulation in their extremities was reduced so that more blood could be sent to the brain.


Braid performed several experiments on himself to see if he could reliably induce a hypnotic state and, once he’d achieved this, he repeated the process with third-parties in his own home. The first public demonstration of his method occurred in Manchester, where Braid was by then resident, on 27 November 1841.

Braid had been inspired in his experiments by Charles Lafontaine, who himself had been demonstrating his ability to induce a mesmeric state in others while touring Britain, and had invited Braid on stage to examine his mesmerised subjects.

However, Lafontaine’s method of inducing the state was unreliable, and relied on him having physical contact with his subjects, at least in the initial stages. He claimed that this was because it involved the transmission of some form of animal magnetism from himself to the mesmerised subject.

Animal magnetism disproved

While Braid didn’t deny that Lafontaine’s subjects were in some kind of altered state, his ability to hypnotise himself proved that no transmission of animal magnetism was taking place. This was confirmed by his ability to induce a hypnotic state in third parties without having any direct contact.

The Hereford Times of 11 December 1841 described Braid’s process, as demonstrated on 27 November.

“Mr Braid first placed on a table a common black wine bottle, in the mouth of which was a cork having a plated top. The individual on whom the experiment was to be performed was seated on a chair, and directed to gaze intently at the cork, without winking or averting the eyes. The cork was about two feet from the person operated upon whose head was inclined backwards, forming with the object an angle of about forty-five degrees. In this position he remained for about five minutes, when profound sleep was produced.”

He repeated the process four further times (although one attempt failed) with various amendments and, continued the paper, “demonstrated that the phenomena were perfectly independent of animal magnetism, as in no one instance was there the least approach to personal contact or manipulation.”

Braid explained that artificial sleep was being induced through strain of the rectus and levator muscle of the eye, and “owing to their proximity to the origin of the nerves of respiration and circulation, affect them through sympathy, and enfeeble the action of the heart and lungs.”



Other events that occured in November

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.