Encounter with „Romantic Medicine“

„First time in hospital seen a Sonnambule – doubt“ (diary from  21.12.1812)

Hoffmann visited the General Hospital in Bamberg several times under the direction of Adalbert Friedrich Marcus (1753-1816), the former personal physician of the prince-bishop.

Here he becomes a witness of new methods in the treatment of the mentally ill. Brownianism (after the Scottish physician John Brown) replaces bloodletting and various shock therapies. Following that concept everybody needs a balance of inner „excitability”  and outer stimulus.

Bamberg becomes the centre of this „romantic medicine”, that attracts famous people – for example Schelling, who gives the „Brownianismus“ a philosophical base (first draft of a system of natural philosophy, 1799). The thought that body and soul should be considered as a whole and that this is the only way to restore the lost balance is particularly progressive.

Hoffmann is deeply affected by the sight of the mentally ill. He has an enormous psychological feeling for the dark sides of the soul’s life. It is no coincidence that Sigmund Freud wrote a long essay about the Sandmann (The spooky, 1919). The poet deepens his intuitive knowledge through the reading of medical and natural history writings, especially G. H. Schuberts.                                                                                                           (views from the night side of science, 1808)

The literary results are case descriptions of hypochondriacs, melancholics, madmen, but also depictions of new therapies. Patients should not be kept in a closed institution, but should be allowed to move freely. Hoffmann had this in mind when he seemed to anticipate the demands of the so-called „open psychiatry” of the 20th century:

„They took him (the apparently mad hermit Serapion) to B*** in the insane asylum and here the methodical procedure based on deep psychological knowledge of the doctor, who was in charge of this institution at that time, really succeeded in saving the unfortunate at least from the raving madness into which he fell into. […] that doctor explained […] that one would not want to plunge him again into rage and frenzy, if one wanted to see him calm and happy in his way, one would have to leave him in the forest and at the same time completely free to arbitrarily switch and act.“                                                                                              (from: the hermit Serapion)

A rather fashionable healing method was the doctrine of „animal magnetism”, which F. A. Mesmer (1734-1815) wanted to have discovered. Healing magnetic currents flow from the physician’s hand over the patient. This method was also used in Bamberg for a short time under Marcus’; direction. Hoffmann also takes up this theme literarily (The Magnetiser, The Uncanny Guest, The Elementalist, The Dull House). However, he criticizes the therapist’s dangerous position of power – a possible temptation for „poetic or exalted minds” (Serapion brothers).