By Timothy W Kneeland
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Extra info for PUSHBUTTON PSYCHIATRY: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF ELECTRIC SHOCK THERAPY IN AMERICA, UPDATED PAPERBACK EDITION
On the list of twenty electrical wonders displayed by Ebenezer Kinnersley in Boston in 1751 was “The Salute repulsed by Ladies Fire; or Fire darting from a Lady’s Lips, so she may defy any person to salute her” (Morse, 1934: 369). During the Abbe Nollet’s journey through Italy “to rout out quacks and fakers,” Veratti electrified a young woman for Nollet and his companion, a cardinal. She did not perform as advertised. Veratti’s explanation of the failure must have piqued their curiosity: “ ‘Monsignors,’ he said to the cardinal, ‘it is because we could not electrify her in your presence as she should be electrified’ ” (quoted in Heilbron, 1979: 354).
By November 1756, Wesley had purchased an electrical “apparatus” from Ben Franklin, and had opened a clinic (eventually he had three) for the provision of electrical treatment to the poor of London (Wesley, 1958). As a cleric, Wesley was interested in the relationship of electricity to the divine. Like many eighteenth-century thinkers (and their predecessors), he came close to identifying electricity with the life force, and with God and the universe. In an oft-quoted passage, he referred to electricity as: the general instrument of all the Motion in the Universe.
The Abbe Nollet traveled from France to Italy to investigate Pivati’s claims, finding them to be invalid although perhaps not deliberately fraudulent (Rowbottom 8 The Electrotherapeutic Origins of Pushbutton Psychiatry and Susskind, 1984: 18). Despite the aura of potential quackery, physicians, electricians, and others continued to experiment with medical electricity throughout the century. Electrical physicians staked their claim to legitimacy on the grounds of diagnostic expertise, which could be acquired only through medical education.