Mesmerism is a key element in The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. We would call it hypnotism.
In nineteenth century literature, marvelous powers were associated with mesmerism. In The House of Seven Gables, a mesmerist was able to establish lifelong power over Alice Pyncheon. He even exercised his power at a distance. Whenever the spirit moved him, he could force Alice to do something foolish.
In addition, a mesmerist was supposedly able to endow his victim with clairvoyance. In a short story by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, an evil mesmerist was afraid that his luck would soon run out, so he used mesmerism to learn what would happen to him in the future. His victim became clairvoyant. He told the mesmerist about the crisis that would occur in his life but assured him that it lay in the distant future. [I cannot remember the name of this story. I read it long ago.]
In the story before us, the narrator is adept at mesmerism. He wonders how mesmerism will affect a dying man, so he looks around for a subject who is willing to participate in this bizarre experiment.
He thinks of his friend M. Ernest Valdemar, who is suffering from a terminal illness. The narrator has mesmerized him several times, and Valdemar has always been a cooperative subject. There are two problems, however. It has been impossible to establish complete control over Valdemar even when deeply mesmerized, and Valdemar never becomes reliably clairvoyant.
As the life of M. Valdemar draws to a close, the experiment begins. A medical student and two nurses serve as witnesses.
It is difficult to mesmerize the dying man. Two hours elapse without positive results. Then the two doctors of M. Valdemar arrive and serve as additional witnesses.
Finally the mesmerism succeeds. One of the doctors decides to stay with the patient all night. The other doctor goes home but promises to return in the morning. The other witnesses remain.
The mesmerist finds his subject more cooperative than he has ever been before. M. Valdemar moves his arm in whatever direction the mesmerist wishes.
The subject responds to the mesmerists questions. He says that he is asleep and dying. He asks the mesmerist not to wake him up. He wishes to die in his mesmerized state.
At sunrise, the second doctor returns. The mesmerist asks the same question, and the subject’s answer is similar to what he has said before.
When M. Valdemar dies, the death-bed horrors are far worse than usual. Even the two doctors shrink back from the bed.
There is no sign of vitality, and the mesmerist and the witnesses are about to leave. However, a remarkable phenomenon arrests their attention. The subject speaks with an unearthly voice that seems to come from a distance. He tells the assembly that he has been sleeping, but now he is dead.
The medical student faints. The nurses leave the chamber and refuse to return, so new nurses take their place.
The subject remains in a mesmerized state for seven months. There are no signs of life, but his body does not decay. During this time, the mesmerist and others question him. It seems as if the subject wishes to answer, but he does not have the power
Finally, they decide to wake him from his trance. When the subject begins to awaken, yellowish ichors ooze out of his eyes, and an offensive odor fills the room.
At the suggestion of one of the doctors, the mesmerist asks the subject what his feelings or wishes are at present.
The subject urges him to put him to sleep quickly or else wake him up without delay. He assures them that he is dead.
After some hesitation, the mesmerist endeavors to wake the subject completely. As M. Valdemar awakens, his body swiftly decays to a liquid mass of detestable putridity.
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar may be read online. It is presented by PoeStories.