At Passy, the king’s investigators knew they had glimpsed a phenomenon
that went beyond debunking Mesmer, even beyond the
healing arts. Their report lingered on imagination as an “active
and terrible power,” with otherworldly and spooky overtones.
“The effects strike all the world,” they wrote of it, while “the cause
is enveloped in the shades of obscurity.”
Ironically, these learned men balanced their aversion to imagination
with a hearty appetite for speculation. Imagination was
not just the enemy of reason, they concluded, but a fomenter of rebellion.
“The multitude are governed by the imagination,” they
wrote to the king. “It has been usual to forbid numerous assemblies
in seditious towns as a means of stopping a contagion so
*If the specter of a wild-eyed, imagination-addled citizenry wasn’t enough to scare the king
of a restive nation, the commissioners had a second, secret report guaranteed to unsettle
him as the husband of a restive wife. This secret report suggested that mesmerists were
bringing women to orgasm, which the commissioners considered a grave threat to
France’s moral fiber. Much like the threat of imagination- kindled rebellion, they warned,
“there is nothing to prevent the convulsions in this case from becoming habitual, from producing
an epidemic transmitted to future generations.”
"The muttering sounds rather impressive, with a lot of breathy snorts and puffs, possibly opening the way to an entire semiotics of mumbling."