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84 Poe StudiedDark Romanticism enlightensus about manyliteraryoffspringof Poe and hiswritings.Poe’soutreachisgargantuan,and doubtless others will build on Pollin’sdiscoveries conveniently marshaled here. Moreover, writers will continue to mine Poe’s writingsand accounts of his life (or what they imagine as revelatory of his life) to swell the outpouringsof materialsakin to those Pollin assesses. Benjamin F. Fisher Uniwmsity o f MississipPi Mesmerism’sUnifjmg Appeal in Poe and Fuller Bruce Mills. Poe, Fulk and theMesmericArts: Transition States in the Am‘canRenaissance.Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2006. xx,202 pp. $39.95 cloth. Duringmuch of the nineteenth century,scientists and/or natural philosophersbelieved in the idea of “vitalism,”which held that no living phenomenon could be defined or described according to purely physical or chemical principles. In this view, some unknown force, distinctly different fromother naturalforces,conditionedand permeated every organic action. Franz Anton Mesmer (17341815) namedthisforce“animalmagnetism” and describedit asan extremelysubtle,electrically charged fluid that pervaded and influenced all things-distant planets and human psychology alike-ebbing and flowing in a kind of magnetic tide. Thistheory,the most popular ofvariousnineteenthcentury pseudosciencesthat originated in Europe, took Americaby storm:it was in America that business-mindedpractitionersand performers found successin these fields by way of promotions ,exhibitions,and lectures.Animalmagnetism held strongappeal in part becausewhoevercould control this fluid as it entered the human body, its proponents insisted, could control illness and cure various diseases. The public clamored for immediate remedies, and the agenda of popular scienceincludedhealing and curingby avarietyof questionablemeans,from the use ofwatercuresto eatingGrahamcrackers.In fact,from the 1830sto the 1850s,the mostpopularlecturersand performers on the lyceum circuit were such promoters of scientific wonders as mesmerists, phrenologists, hawkers of magic elixirs, con artists selling the latestmiracle drugs,andvariousfaithhealers.The high point of such popular science probably occurred on 12February 1850,when the noted UniversalistministerJohn Bovee Dods gave a seriesof lectureson what he called “electricalpsychology” in the Hall of Representativesin Washington,DC. Dodsdescribedphrenologyand mesmerismasthe most relevant sciencesof human psychologyand attempted to show that the connection between body and soul was electromagnetic. Why was America so susceptible to mesmerism , phrenology, spiritualism, and other “isms” in the antebellum period? Perhaps it had to do with the general optimism of the times and the continuing drama of personal salvation founded on a belief in the perfectibilityof men and women. (In addition, the United Stateswas stillvery much a rural countrywithoutanyhighlyinstitutionalized authoritiesto mediateevery fad and fashion.) In a major last-ditch attempt to cling to a vision of the soulwhileincorporatingthe latestscientificdiscoveries , thesevariouspseudoscienceshoped both to spiritualizematter and to materializespirit.While science soon discredited Mesmer’s contribution to this endeavor-hypnotism proved to be real, the concept of mesmerism flawed-his notion of a single animating force nevertheless percolated through romanticliterary theory,although one is hard pressed to suggestwhich came first,Mesmer or romanticism. The concept of nature as one organicwhole that is ultimatelyharmonious and unified served as the very foundation of romantic theory. In his well-written,perceptive, and thought- 85 ful book, Bruce Mills explores and analyzes the influence of mesmerism on the literary critical and self-animatingtheories of Edgar Allan Poe and Margaret Fuller, discussing in depth how these writersemployedmesmeric theory for their own literaryends. In the interest of transparency, Ishouldacknowledgethat earlyon Millsfavorably refers to my related study, Mesmerism and Hawthorne : Mediums of American Romance [Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama,19981,and uses it as a stepping stoneto “reinforceFoucault’snotion of achanging episteme”[171,movingon to his assessmentof that shiftin termsof Poe andFuller.Millsjugglessome very slippery terms-as did both Poe and Fuller while moving easily, almost recklessly, back and forth among “science,”the self,and literarytheories and practices-but he managesat all times to get to the heart of the matter.Animal magnetism, or “the ‘electric,”’he suggests,“couldbe seen as synonymouswith the magnetic and was often explored in relation to the vitalfluidfromwhichthe mind partook in times of higher consciousness” [1651.By “bringingtogether the materialand the spiritual,”Millslateradds,“themesmericliterature appealed to unifylng laws in an age of profound divisions”[1731. Mills remindsus that, asawriter,Poewasvery interested in the psychology behind his literary need to create a single effect in his short stories andpoems.Hewasintenton the author’sestablishing a clear focusfor the reader: “Duringthe hour of perusal, the soul...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 84-86
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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