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Magnet therapy

Magnetic Cures

The external use of the magnet, to cure the tooth-ache and other disorders, is a remedy brought into fashion in modern times, but not a new discovery, as supposed by Lessing, who ascribes it to Paracelsus 93. It was known to Aëtius, who lived so early as the year 500. That author says, “We are assured that those who are troubled with the gout in their hands or their feet, or with convulsions, find relief when they hold a magnet in their hand 94.” He does not however give any proof of this from his own experience: and perhaps he doubted the truth of it. The above passage contains the oldest account known at present respecting this virtue; for the more ancient writers speak only of the internal use of the magnet.

It is evident therefore that this cure has not been discovered in later times, but that it has been preserved by the old physicians copying it from each other into their works. In like manner, many things are mentioned in the Materia Medica which were used or proposed by the ancients, but into the properties of which they never made sufficient inquiry.

Paracelsus recommended the magnet in a number of diseases, as fluxes, hæmorrhages, &c. Marcellus, who lived in the fifteenth century, assures us that it cures the tooth-ache 95. The same virtue is ascribed to it by Leonard Camillus 96 , who lived in the sixteenth century: and Wecker 97 , who was nearly co-temporary, says that the magnet when applied to the head, cures the head-ache; and adds that Holler had taken this cure from the works of the ancients 98. We read also in Porta 99 , that it was recommended for the head-ache; and in Kircher 100 , that it was worn about the neck as a preventive against convulsions, and affections of the nerves. About the end of the 17th century magnetic tooth-picks and ear-pickers were made, and extolled as a secret preventive against pains in the teeth, eyes and ears 101.

[In addition to these external uses of the magnet, in which it was supposed to act by a peculiar power over the nervous system, it has been employed on account of its true magnetic properties. Thus Kirkringius, Fabricius Hildanus, and subsequently Morgagni, have used it to remove particles of iron which had accidentally fallen into the eyes. Kircher employed it also to cure hernia. The patient took iron-filings internally; and the loadstone in the state of powder mixed with some vegetable substance, thus forming a magnetic plaster, was applied to the hernia. Even Ambrose Paré states on the authority of a surgeon, that several patients had been thus cured.

About the 16th and early in the 17th century, two cases occurred, one near Prague in Bohemia, the other in Prussia, in which a knife was swallowed, but it unfortunately got too far and passed into the stomach. By the application of these magnetic plasters, the point became attracted towards the surface, so that it could be removed by incision 102.

In the 18th century, after the properties of magnets had begun to be scientifically investigated, they were made of various forms and their effects studied in numerous parts of Europe, and many treatises were published on their supposed properties. Perhaps the most important and best authenticated, are those of MM. Audry and Thouret. These experimenters believed that they were effective agents.

Since that time, the use of magnets as remedial agents has been almost entirely laid aside and forgotten, it having been found that no constancy was exhibited in the results of their application, and that their occasional supposed efficacy depended upon other circumstances, which were overlooked from the sufferers' attention being engrossed by the magnet. The application of the magnet to remove small particles of iron or steel which have accidentally fallen into the eyes, has been lately revived. In some manufactories, where these minute particles are constantly thrown off in the grinding of hardware and driven into the eyes, large magnets are kept fixed at a proper height, so that the workmen can resort to them immediately. Such is the case for instance at Fairbairne in Belgium, and we believe the same has been adopted in some of our own manufactories to catch the floating particles, and thus to prevent their being drawn into the lungs during respiration. The reader may form some idea of the effective manner in which magnets can be applied, from the following incident which occurred to Prof. Faraday, whilst experimenting with a powerful (electro-) magnet; an iron candlestick which happened to be standing near its poles on the table at which he was at work flew to them, attracted with such violence as to displace or break everything in its way.

In the 18th century, a new supposed magnetic power was discovered, and with various success has continued to be applied to the delusion of the public. About 1770, Father Hehl, a jesuit, the Professor of Astronomy at Vienna, who had great faith in the influence of the loadstone on human diseases, and had invented steel plates of a peculiar form, which he impregnated with magnetic virtues and applied to the cure of diseases, communicated his discoveries to Anton Mesmer, who subsequently invented animal magnetism or mesmerism. Mesmer made use of his friend Hehl's plates to employ the magnet according to certain notions of his own. In his subsequent experiments magnets were gradually dispensed with, and as practised in modern times, they have been found unnecessary. Hence mesmerism or animal magnetism has no relation to the magnetism of the magnet, and may therefore form the subject of a future article.

About the year 1798, a man named Perkins invented a method of treating various diseases with metallic bars called tractors; these were applied to and drawn over various parts of the body, and were supposed to cure numerous maladies, such as ulcers, head-aches, &c. These instruments were patented. A few years afterwards, Dr. Falconer had wooden tractors made so exactly to resemble those of Perkins, that they could not be distinguished by the eye; on employing these on a large scale at the Bath hospital, he found that exactly the same effects and cures were produced by one as the other. Since that time these tractors have hardly been heard of, and are now forgotten.

Quite recently, a new means has been contrived in England for deluding the public, in the form of rings, which are to be worn upon the fingers or toes, and are said to prevent the occurrence of, and cure various diseases. They are called galvanic rings. But this invention may be with propriety classed with the real magnet, animal magnetism and tractation.

What has been stated relative to the metallic tractors, equally applies to the magnetic rings; for although by the contact of the two metals of which they are composed an infinitesimally minute current of electricity, hence also of magnetism, is generated, still from the absurd manner in which the pieces of metal composing the ring are arranged, and which displays the most profound ignorance of the laws of electricity and magnetism, no trace of the minute current traverses the finger or toe on which the ring is worn; so that a wooden, any other ring, or none at all, would have exactly the same effect, as regards the magnetism or galvanism.]


93  In his Kollektaneen. Berlin, 1790, ii. p. 117.

94  Aëtii Op. 1. ii. c. 25.

95  In Stephani Artis Med. Princip. ii. p. 253.

96  De Lapidibus, lib. ii. p. 131.

97  J. J. Wecker, De Secretis.

98  I took the trouble to search for this passage in Jac. Hollerii lib. de morbis internis, Parisiis 1711, 4to, but I could not find it, though the beginning of the book treats expressly of head-aches.

99  Magia Naturalis, lib. vii.

100  Kircheri Magnes, sive De Arte Magnetica, lib. iii. c. i.

101  P. Borrelli, Hist. et Observ. Medico-physic. cent. 4. obs. 75.

102  Observations sur l'usage de l'aimant en médecine, par MM. Audry et Thouret.