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We withdraw momentarily from this horror to collect our wits. One is not dealing here with unsanitary, illiterate peasants , abandoned, starving, destitute in the Austrian countryside, such as one might possibly found in the neighborhood of, say , the grand estate of Esterhaza. There, one can imagine, even as Franz Josef Haydn sits at leisure composing imperishable string quartets for an eminently over-civilized Baron, the impoverished populace are being carried off by epidemics and famines like micro-organisms massacred by bucketfuls of carbolic acid. In such a setting one would not be surprised to find atrocious heroic therapies applied by brutish quacks with some sort of license acquired, perhaps, from a few years apprenticeship to someone as ignorant as themselves.

Not at all! Herr von Paradis belongs to the Habsburg nobility; his daughter is therefore also a member of the nobility. There is no want of money: Herr von Paradis is a respectable civil servant with privileges of seniority and tenure, his daughter the beneficiary of a scholarship awarded expressly for her education and medical care. Anton van Stoerck is also from the nobility, personal doctor to the Empress, no less. Mesmer , who will be taking her case in a few years is rich and (through marriage) also a member of the nobility. Baron de Wenzel is nobility.

It is within the drawing-rooms of this caste of privilege, at the very summit of the aristocracy of one of the great European powers, that we read of a 12-year old blind girl who is to have her head encased in plaster for two months , so that the pus and blood will dribble down her cheeks and chin and into her mouth , climbing up to her temples before surrendering to universal gravitation to run in rivulets over the ridges and gulleys of her ludicrous blindfold, seeping into the passages of her ears and trickling through her hair, so that she will scream in agony, succumb to seizures and exhibit “mad behavior” !


The lesson to be gained from this is one of the universals of history: that the victims of ignorance and stupidity aren’t concentrated in a single social class, that wealth and birth are but paltry defenses against their implacable dominion.

One can also hazard the hypothesis that the psycho-physical decadence of the European royalty, the Habsburgs in particular, had a role to play in this tale. Even in that advanced age the pampered nobility were notoriously incapable of looking after themselves. The hideous farce is to repeat itself in just a few years time, with many embellishments, in the madness of George III. The cycles of therapy administered to him by a whole family of quacks, the Willises, constitute little more than aggravated torture over three decades (1788 -1820) (See [16] ) . The authority of a medical quack with the right recommendations and credentials, evidently carried more weight with these enfeebled lords than any amount of native common sense. It is difficult to imagine a capable crafstman, blacksmith, merchant or financier of this bustling era ever allowing a man like Anton van Stoerck anywhere near his daughter.

Somehow, by what means one knows not, even a van Stoerck realized that this radically innovative form of therapy wasn’t working; yet he didn’t give up. A good doctor never does. Do we ever read of Hippocrates giving up? Did Christ give up when his disciples deserted him? Did Paracelsus give up, when the children of ignorant peasants stoned him as he wandered from village to village? Did Isaac Newton give up, when he thought so long and hard about the rotation of the moon that he developed hallucinations and migraine headaches?
Don’t give up! Persist, until you get it right! That’s the first rule in the lexicon of every enlightened scientist

Thereupon Stoerck directed his attention to ever more radical innovations in his medical arsenal: electroshock therapy. Electroshock is not a new therapy. It was proposed by John Wesley, praised by Benjamin Franklin, and experimented with by many faculty members of the Medical school of the University of Vienna: van Stoerck, van Haan, and Ingenhousz among others. No more was known then about the effects of frequent and violent shocks on the human psyche than is known today, despite the widespread use of ECT. One harbors the suspicion that Stoerck was using Marie-Therese von Paradis as a guinea pig for gathering statistics for forth-coming papers in the prestigious medical journals.

Altogether, Anton van Stoerck administered 3,000 powerful shocks from a Leyden jar to the eyeballs of Marie-Therese von Paradis.
This caused agonizing pain and a return of the former cycle of fits and delirium. To counter these anomalous side effects, battalions of leeches were marshalled into combat, fixed bayonets at the ready, and she was bled to within an inch xxi of the grave.

The only thing that saved her was the intervention of another doctor, the Baron de Wenzel. By declaring her case incurable he spared her further suffering. Now she was free, at the onset of adolescence, to inaugurate her coming-out in the world with a face that for many years would look as if it had come fresh from the butcher’s block.

Bibliography


[1] Lieder by Woman Composers; 3 lieder by M.T. Paradis, sung by Yoshie Tanaka ; CD Musical Heritage Society MHS 512350Z 1989; program notes on M.T. Paradis by Rosario Marciano ( unreliable, full of errors. Author’s Note )
[2] The New Grove Dictionary of Music , 1980 ; article on Maria Theresia von Paradis; Rudolph Angermuller; pg. 175
[3] The Virtuosi: Classical Music’s Great Performers from Paganini to Pavarotti; Harold C. Shonberg; VINTAGE; 1988
[4] Schubert’s Songs, A Biographical Study; Dietrich Fischer - Dieskau; translated by Kenneth S. Whitten; KNOPF; 1977
[5] “ Maria Theresa Paradis in London”; Hermann Ullrich; MUSIC & LETTERS, 1962, pg. 16

[6] “ Maria Theresa Paradis and Mozart”; Hermann Ullrich; MUSIC & LETTERS, 1946, pg. 225

[7] Raising The Young Blind Child: A Guide for Parents and Educators; Kastein, Spaulding & Scharf; HUMAN SCIENCES PRESS, 198

[8] Suzuki Violin School;Shin’ichi Suzuki :SUMMY- BRICHARD;1970
[9] The Psychology of Musical Ability; Rosamund Shuter; in Methuen’s Manuals of Modern Psychology; METHUEN & CO.; 1968
[10] Mental Healers: Mesmer, Mary Baker Eddy, Freud; Stefan Zweig; UNGAR 1932; trans. Eden & Cedar Paul, 1962
[11] The Medical Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century; edited by Andrew Cunningham & Roger French; CAMBRIDGE PRESS; 1990
[12] History of Medicine; Dr. Fielding H. Garrison; W. H. SAUNDERS , 1929 pgs. 365 - 431
[13] Mesmerism: A Translation of the Original Scientific and Medical Writings of F.A. Mesmer; trans. by George Bloch; intro by E.R. Hilgard; WILLIAM KAUFMANN, Ltd; Los Altos , CA. 1980
[14] Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena: A Survey of Nineteenth Century Cases - Volume I: France. Eric J Dingwall; J A CHURCHILL; 1967
[15] The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control; John D. Marks ; NY TIMES BOOKS; 1979
[16] George III & the Mad Business; Ida MacAlpine & Richard Hunter; PANTHEON; 1969

Chapter 5


Between Fact and Fiction


  1. Introduction


The author of this historical account now finds himself face up against a singularity.xxii The problem is this :the author’s immersion in materials related to the age of Mozart, Salieri, Mesmer, Maria- Theresa, Joseph II, Louis XVI, the two Georges ( Washington and III ), Benjamin Franklin, etc. - including histories , letters, biographies , analyses, essays, and other accounts, factual or fictional of the same events - has inflamed his normal tendencies to ditch his obsessive concern for historical accuracy to begin work on a play,movie script or novel.

The temptation to turn from a commitment to accuracy, or at least to credibility – not being a historian trained in this area of specialization he cannot hope to make a contribution at the professional standard - to the manufacture of a historical romance (in which he will be limited only by his talent for creating an aura of verisimilutude) is easily sympathized with. In fact one can go further: historical fiction worthy of the reading ought to be based on the principle that good fiction will be , in important respects, closer to fact than fact itself . How, indeed, is one to communicate the twilight ambience of the late Enlightenment,(the Aufklärungdämmerung ? ) through the mere compilation of dates, deeds doings, death and data?

Yet - ( the Dominant Seventh word! ) - Yet ( add a fermata)- Yet (full stop and a pause) ….I fondly muse (thank you, Milton) … once embarked upon the path of fictionalized biography, the author already anticipates the scrapping of the noose about his neck , ( woven by so many micron-thin strands of the moral fibers of the Scientific Method), which may hang him if he dare add even one more grab-bag of lies in an area where there is already so much junky scholarship; through contributing yet more manifold distortions of the character and works of Franz Anton Mesmer, already so maligned, vilified, deified or venerated out of all recognizable proportions; through loading more fertilizer into the dung-mound of Mozart-Salieri fiction; by still one more romantization of the already over sentimentalized, saccarinated tale of Dr. Mesmer and Fräulein Marie-Therese Paradis! xxiii


Despite the bad press it has received since the dawn of history, truth is deserving of our respect. It is not often that we can say exactly what it is; we usually have a fairly good idea of what it is not. For example: we cannot prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Salieri didn’t poison Mozart; yet we can show that he was actually in Paris, promoting his opera, Tarare, on the day that so many biographies tell us he was in Vienna sabotaging the first performance of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”.( Ironically, The texts of both works are adaptations of plays by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais.)

We cannot prove (beyond a doubt’s lurking shadow) that Mesmer did cure the blindness of Marie-Therese Paradis; but we can reproduce the detailed Memoir of her cure which her father, a highly suspicious man, wrote for German-language newspapers. Likewise, we cannot prove that the two French commisions that investigated and condemned the practice and ideas of Franz Anton Mesmer in 1784 were prejudiced against him. It is nonetheless true that that the French medical profession did not officially recognize the existence of the phenomena of hypnotism for more than a century afterwards, by which time it was being used by doctors all over Europe and the United States. And so on…..

Succinctly: the novelist in me is itching to supplant the historian; but the scientist will not permit the novelist to come out. My heart longs to discant upon the story of Franz Anton Mesmer and Marie-Therese von Paradis , perhaps entitled something like: “ The Magnetic Sympathies”, or “The Landstrasse Conspiracy” ; with John Gielgud and Juliette Binoche in the principal roles.

Concurrently it is his intention to supply an extended philosophical commentary. There is therefore a requirement that he invoke historical accuracy to the best of his ability.


The author therefore proposes an experiment. He will create accounts of 3 kinds, consecutively or, on occasion concurrently . At the beginning of each narrative he will indicate the mode in which he is operating: Fiction ; History; Commentary . The glaring errors which the writer of fiction is sometimes obliged to introduce into the film scripts at least, will be corrected in the footnotes.
I: Film Script
The sultry evening of July 29, 1776. Twilight over the Vienna glacis, that magnificent caraval of fortifications, warehouses, gates, magazines, casernes and stone ramparts which had protected the city so well during the Turkish siege in 1683, yet which is already useless for military purposes. 33 years later Napolean will brush it aside with the disdain of a maid for aglomerated cobwebs.

The flat walkways on the ramparts that encircle the Old City are filled with strolling crowds: people seeking relief from the summer heat in the evening’s breezes, perhaps to admire the glimmering sunset now bathing the spires of St. Stephens Cathedral, gazing at the gorgeous sculpted gardens of Schönbrunn Palace, watching the flocks of birds wheeling against the red sky. A street violinist doing a fair job with a Tartini sonata has put together enough coins for a visit later that evening to his favorite tavern.

On the ramparts to the right, just above the keystone of the Carinthian Gate, one’s attention is drawn to a group of distinguished persons, all medical doctors with their wives. Standing and walking about, they watch the arrival of the splendid horses and coaches of the Habsburg nobility as they cross a bridge over the Danube, go through the gate and halt at the entrance of the Stadts-Komödienhaus, also known as the Kärntnertor Theatre.

A new opera by the young Italian musical genius, Antonio Salieri, Delmita e Dalisoxxiv , will be having its premiere in an hour’s time. Though only 26, an age at which most composers are happy to be allowed in at the ground floor, Salieri is, in all but name, already the Imperial Royal Court Kapellmeister . There is a schmaltzy love story in his backgroundxxv which may have softened even the famously unmeltable heart of the Emperor . Since Salieri is aready the Kapellmeister of the Italian Opera and Imperial Court Chambermusic Composer, the vantage of hindsight causes us to feel that by 1776 he aready wields more power at the Viennese court than he would ever merit. But, in that year of revolution, how was one to know that he was destined to reign as unchallenged musical dictator of Vienna for a full half century, during which time Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Kozeluch, Moscheles, Hummel, and others of comparable attainments would arrive, do their life’s work, and pass on with little more than a few crumbs from the banquet tables of the Viennese royalty?


This conclave of respectable doctors include the aged and universally respected Gerard van Swietenxxvi , director of the medical school and Austria’s Minister of Education; Dr. Anton von Störck; Jan Ingenhousze, known as “The Great Inoculator”; and the man whose name would someday become a word in the vocabularies of most of the world’s languages, Franz Anton Mesmer.

Frau Mesmer and Frau Störck stroll about the ramparts together. Ingenhousze’s wife stays close by her husband’s side. Towering half a head over the rest of his colleagues, the appearance of Jan Ingenhousze is formidable. He is taller than the aged van Swieten, more upright than the corpulent Mesmer. He has swaddled his figure in a dark cloak of the kind that went out of fashion half a century before, and is now worn only by diplomats and attendees at a funeral. It gives him the air of an oldstyle professional man, vain and self-important. In his hands he holds a document which he has been showing to the others.

I received this just the other day. It was sent me from the American colonies by Dr. Franklin in Philadelphia. I am proud to be his friend. “



Mesmer takes it from his hands and examines it with great curiosity. Ingenhousze goes on, “ It’s some kind of declaration, signed in Philadelphia last July 4th. It’s filled with all sorts of radical and hackneyed rhetoric, but what it boils down to is that the American colonies wish to break away - from the rule of the finest monarch on this earth, George the Third ! ”

I don’t think its rubbish, Herr Ingenhousze. My English isn’t good, but there’s something here about”, Mesmer points, “ a ‘right to the pursuit of happiness’. I couldn’t agree more.” Mesmer hands the document back over to him.


Ingenhousze beats the ground with his cane: “ Seditious stupidity: a RIGHT to happiness!? Who ever heard of such nonsense? Why not - a right to fly like a bird? A right to get drunk every night? A right to smallpox? What nonsense!!”

I beg your pardon, Jan; but the document speaks of the pursuit of happiness as a basic right: that’s quite a different thing.”

A right to the pursuit of happiness? If you like. That would appeal to the kind of patients you have, wouldn’t it, Franz? All pursuing “happiness” like little children playing with toys. No wonder you’ve ended up playing nursemaid to a lot of neurotics!”

“ ‘Neurotics’? I haven’t heard that term before, Jan. What does it mean?”

It was invented by another friend of mine, Dr. Cullen of Scotland. I of course have professional associates in over a dozen countries. It means - well, your kind of patient. They are unhappy so they get sick and look for someone like you to tell them something’s wrong with their minds!”


“Did Mr. Franklin write it?”

“No. That’s the funniest part of it. It’s written by a Virginia planter, a slave-holder by the name of Thomas Jefferson!”

Störck is quick to interject: “I wonder if he’s told his slaves about the pursuit of happiness?” General laughter; even Mesmer is obliged to concede the point.

van Swieten quickly interjects: “Now gentlemen, please don’t quarrel tonight! All Vienna knows how much the two of you hate each other: Jan denounces all of Franz’s cures, while Franz threatens a new lawsuit against him for defamation every other day. We’re here to enjoy the opera, not to quarrel. Though I must say”, here van Swieten once again looks down at the manuscript, printed on Franklin’s press in far-away Philadelphia. He rubs the page between thumb and fingers: “Is this the stuff they use for paper over in the Americas?” He looks at it again before handing it back to Ingenhouze:

If the British colonies in North America succeed in breaking away, the world will never be the same.”



As he is speaking the royal coach, decorated with the coat-of-arms of the Habsburg dynasty and bearing the person of the co-regent, Joseph II , Roman Emperor, Perpetual Enlarger of the Empire, King in Germany, heir to Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slovenia, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Lorraine and Var, Grand Duke of Tuscany and King of Jerusalem , crosses over the wooden bridge spanning the Danube and disappears through the tunnel of the Carinthian Gate.

The doctors all remove their hats and bow from the waist; van Störck actually gets down in the dust and kneels. A dozen more coaches of the royal entourage pass through the gate before the doctors can relax. It is time to walk down to the theatre.

Yes”, van Swieten repeats, “ A revolution in America will have serious consequences.” xxvii


Frau Mesmer turns to Frau Störck: “ I haven’t been to this theatre in over a dozen years. I don’t remember the Stadts-Komödienhaus as looking anything like this. Whatever happened to the elaborate Venetian style building that used to be here? “

Frau von Störck replies, “ You’re right. This building is has been built in the fashionable new style they’ve been calling ‘neo-classic’: a silly term if you ask me. They ought to call it Josephine Prudery since it’s much like the Emperor himself: everyone admires it but no-one likes it very much.”

Her husband smiles and addresses Mesmer : “Franz, I doubt that you had a chance to visit the old building. It burned down before you came to Vienna in the early 60’s.”

True”, van Sweten nods, “ A dreadful story.”


Both Franz and Frau Mesmer confess that they know nothing about it, even though she had been living in the city at the time. Staggering slowly down the hill and setting the pace for all the others, the venerable van Swieten, his silver grey hair falling over broad furrows of his brow, his chest covered with medals and decorations, fills them in on the details:

I’m rather surprised, Franz, that Christoph Willibald Gluck never mentioned it to you; he gyrates between your musical soirees and mine. He probably just wants to forget ; it was a terrible tragedy.

The date, to be exact, was November 9th, 1761. For the rest of you who may not know much about music, Gluck is our best opera composer. Salieri, whom you’ll be listening to tonight, has still to make his mark, although I can’t think of anyone else who’s better than he is except, perhaps, Haydn.”

Joseph or Michael?” asks Ingenhousze.

Oh, Michael. Certainly Michael! Joseph wastes his considerable talent on silly avant-garde experiments to titillate his ivory tower down there in Esterhaza. Well, Gluck’s latest ballet, “Don Juan ,or the Stone Guest” was being produced that night in the old theatre that used to stand here.”

An odd subject!” Ingenhousze comments, “Who would have any use for music in honor of a notorious libertine?”

Granted Jan: I’m totally in agreement with you. Naturally of course, the reprobate goes to Hell at the end. To increase the dramatic effect of the finale, the stage director asked that a real fire be built onstage. The ballet was already concluded and the audience out of the building before a workman noticed that the flames had reached the woodwork on the proscenium arch and were spreading through the theatre.

The audience was safe; but the box office manager and his wife unwisely ran back into the house in an attempt to rescue the evening’s receipts. A wall of flames blocked their return through the front door. They then tried to get out through the back, but found the wrought-iron doors were secured with massive chains. Th crowds struggled to break them but to no avail. Four horses were brought up and harnassed to the gates, but still they would not give .

By then the couple had almost succumbed to the smoke and heat. So a priest was sent for so that they might receive the last rites. The crowds watched in horror as they, and the entire building, were reduced to ashes.”

Well, look who’s here tonight! ”, Störck speaks up as they enter the theatre. He points to a tiny, stiff man who walks with the formal dignity of a seasoned civil servant. The young lady he is accompanying can only be his daughter: “That’s Herr Joseph von Paradis and his talented blind daughter, Marie-Therese.”

I’m not surprised they’ve come. ”, says van Swieten, “She’s Salieri’s most promising student. Not, mind you, that a woman has any business composing music . Still, since she’s blind I suppose she’s got to do something with her life.”

That’s the saddest part, Gerard”, Störck continues, “ She’s incurable. I know: I was the poor girl’s personal physician . For ten years I tried everything I could think of.”


While Ingenhousze coughs imperiously as if a wasp had just flown down his throat, Mesmer makes an exaggerated effort at re-adjusting the black silken bag at the back of his purse wig. Störck goes on, “ …her condition is impervious to the most advanced techniques of medical science.” Ingenhousze stares up at the heavens as if he’s just discovered a new planet.

Ah! But what a charming dress she’s wearing!”, cries Frau Ingenhousze, “A polonaise! The latest rage. Jan, you’ve got to let me get one for myself.”




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