mise à jour du
15 juillet 2009
European Neurology 2009;62(4):193-199
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The forgotten face of Gilles de la Tourette: practitioner, expert, and victim of criminal hypnotism at the Belle Époque
Julien Bogousslavsky , Olivier Walusinski
Living his writings :
the example of neurologist Georges Gilles de la Tourette
(version complète pdf)
Living His Writings:
The Example of Neurologist G. Gilles de la Tourette
 Walusinski O, Duncan G. Movement Disorders in press
G. Gilles de la Tourette 1857-1904 in english
G. Gilles de la Tourette interne de JM. Charcot
Gilles de la Tourette is known for the disease which now bears his name, but his activities in the management of hysterics and in hypnotism, which gained him most of his lifetime reputation, are now largely forgotten. As one of the closest followers of Jean-Martin Charcot, he always remained faithful to his mentor's views, and was one of the most vehement defenders of La Salpêtrière school during the quarrel with the Nancy school. This was critical during medico-legal controversies on the issue of crimes committed under hypnotic suggestion. His involvement in criminal hypnotism was striking, as shown by his own experiments, the most famous of which is his suggested poisoning of a colleague by Blanche Wittman, the celebrated Charcot's hysteric patient. He also acted as expert in murder trials, and his Épilogue in the Gouffé's trunk case, where he affirmed that no murder in real life could be due to hypnotism, and considered that Gabrielle Bompard, the murderer's accomplice, was not under hypnotic suggestion, had a considerable impact. Finally, he was confronted to the issue of murder under hypnotism in his private life, since in 1893, a former patient, Rose Kamper, came and shot him in his home, claiming that hypnotism sessions had changed her own person, and also that she had been hypnotized "at distance". These events highlight the Salpêtrière's theories on hypnotism and their inner contradictions in the fin de siècle ambiance, a few years before Joseph Babinski renewed the concepts on hysteria.

Charcot introduced hypnotism in the management of hysterics around 1878, at a time when esoteric practices using hypnosis were gaining a considerable interest in the public (). Georges Gilles de la Tourette (1857-1904), who had started to work with Charcot in 1884, became one of his closest disciples. He is best remembered for his 1885 paper on the disease which now bears his name (), but during his lifetime, he was mainly known for his work on hysteria and hypnotism, which he summarized between 1887 and 1895 (). He developed medico-legal interests (), which were critical during the well-known dispute between the Salpêtrière and Nancy schools, the latter being mainly represented by Hippolyte Bernheim and Jules Liégeois, who contested that susceptibility to hypnotism was a feature of hysteria (). They also sustained that murders could be committed under hypnosis (Liégeois had done experiments using fake weapons), while La Salpêtrière members claimed that rape was the only crime associated with hypnosis (). Gilles de la Tourette's involvement is well demonstrated in the following stories of criminal hypnotism in three famous women at the time.
Blanche Wittman: Gilles de la Tourette as practitioner of criminal hypnotism
In his 1887 book (), Gilles de la Tourette reported (pp. 131-135) a striking experiment of suggested murder under hypnosis in one of the most famous hysterics of Charcot's circle, Blanche Wittman (the woman fainting in Babinski's arms during Charcot's teaching in the 1887 painting by Brouillet). Previous reports of this experiment were inaccurate (), so that it is useful to summarize it. Gilles de la Tourette reported that in June, 1884 at La Salpêtrière, he hypnotized Blanche W… in front of colleagues and other people, including the playwright Jules Claretie. Then, he pursued a conversation with her, in which he soon introduced the command: "When you will be awake, you will poison Mr. G…". The conversation continued: "But why do you want me to poison Mr. G…? He has done nothing to me, he is a very nice chap. &endash; I want you to poison him. &endash; I will not poison him. After all, I am not a criminal. &endash; However, you know well that he is the cause of your dispute with Mrs. R… - Come on! &endash; For sure. &endash; I have no poison, perhaps I could stab him with a knife or shoot him with a gun? &endash; The gun is too noisy (…) here is a glass, I am pouring some beer and adding the poison, now you need to have Mr. G… absorb it, when you will be awake. Whatever happens, you will not remember, if questioned, that this is me who told you to poison Mr. G… (…) &endash; Alright, sir". Then the patient was waken by a soft air blow on the eyes. She said hello to the people, chatting with Claretie, before going to Mr. G…: "My God! How hot it is here, are you not thirsty? I am dying of it, I am sure you must be thirsty. Mr L…, don't you still have any bottles of beer? Please, give us one", and the conversation went on with Mr. G…: "Not necessary, I can assure you, Miss, that I am not thirsty. &endash; With this heat, this is impossible, you cannot refuse, by the way Mr. L… was kind enough to give us some beer a moment ago, and here we are, this is a full glass (she offered him the glass with the fictive poison), please accept it from my own hand, and drink. &endash; Thank you, but I am not thirsty, however, I can agree to take it, but not without a kiss". Gilles de la Tourette mentioned that the patient firstly went backwards, but since she "must" accomplish the fatal order, she smiled, and would even have given herself if necessary. She went on: "You are demanding, but… (he kissed her). Now, drink. Do you fear that there is anything bad in this beer? See, I drink some it myself (she put the glass to her lips, avoiding to take any beer). You kissed me, I drank in your glass: we are equal". Then, G… drank and fell on the floor, while the patient muttered: "This is done". After the body of Mr. G… was carried in the next room, the "experiment" continued with interrogations by an investigator. When questioned if she knew that there was poison in the glass, Blanche replied: "Sir, I can affirm that there was none, and the proof is that Mr. G… kissed me, and I had taken the liberty to drink in his glass, but you can see that I am perfectly alright". Gilles de la Tourette emphasized that she had created a counter-proof, and that it was impossible to obtain further information. But since she was getting hyperexcited, he put her asleep again, and told her that the scene had never taken place, in order to quieten her.
Gilles de la Tourette also quoted another hysteric, H. E…, who was told under hypnosis that she should shoot an interne, about whom she had been complaining for inefficient treatment. After being put awake, she was given a gun and shot the interne, subsequently explaining that she had done it because his treatment was poor. These "experiments" show the contradictions of the Salpêtrière school at the time of the quarrel with Bernheim and Liégeois: the facts were presented in a way highlighting that murders can be provoked by hypnotic suggestion, even though only in hysterics, while at the same time, it was claimed that rape was the only crime associated with hypnotism. Gilles de la Tourette contested Liégeois experiments of hypnotic crimes with weapons, but indeed his two cases are identical. He claimed that such suggestions could only be performed in a laboratory, with a set up scenario. However, one does not understand the reason why they could not also take place in real life.
Gabrielle Bompard: Gilles de la Tourette as criminal hypnotism expert
In 1889-1890, a criminal affair with a famous trial captivated the public, "Gouffé's trunk". The body of the bailiff Gouffé had been found nearby Lyons on 13 August, 1889, and it was subsequently proven that it had been carried from Paris (where he had been killed on 26 July) in a huge trunk, which had been bought in London. The murder was particularly pervert, as Gouffé had been set up by a young woman, Gabrielle Bompard, who had invited him to her apartment and placed him on a chaise longue, where she playfully put the bell of her peignoir around his neck and discretely attached it to a hanging system, which had been installed by her accomplice Michel Eyraud. He was hidden behind the couch during the preliminaries between Gouffé and Gabrielle, and suddenly pulled on the end cord of the system, hanging the bailiff who died within two minutes () (fig. 1). The murderers found no money on Gouffé and at his office, and they flew away after having transported the corpse and left it nearby Lyons. Gabrielle finally gave herself up on 22 January, 1890, and since that time, it was repeatedly noted that she behaved like an unworried child, with her jokes, coquettishness and childishness being reported and commented upon in the press (). When she was taken by train to the place where Gouffé's body had been found, she behaved like an actress, sending kisses to the public in stations, and receiving flowers and sweets. Eyraud was subsequently arrested, and the trial took place on 16 December, 1890. Gabrielle's lawyer based her defense on the fact that she had been hypnotized by Eyraud, a possibility which was reinforced by Jules Voisins, who had had the opportunity to hypnotize her, as a prison doctor. Bernheim also supported that view, but because of a broken leg, he was unable to attend the trial. Liégeois replaced him, putting forward his own experiments of crimes under suggestion. However, he was ridiculed by the experts Paul Brouardel and Gilbert Ballet, who re-emphasized the Salpêtrière doctrine that no murder under hypnosis did exist, concluding that Gabrielle was not ill, but had an incomplete development of moral sense contrasting with good intellect (). The trial also somewhat inverted the roles in underlining the seducing, "hypnotizing", power of certain women on men. Eyraud was sentenced to death, and Gabrielle got twenty years to jail. On that occasion, Gilles de la Tourette wrote a famous, "definitive", Épilogue () destroying the Nancy school, and proclaiming the victory of Charcot's theories. However, this victory may have had a bitter taste, since the Salpêtrière school was also damaged, as he said three years later in an interview for L'Éclair (21 August, 1893) : "I remember that after the spectacular trial, in which Gabrielle Bompard was the heroin, my poor master told me: 'this is now done for ten years with hypnotism. We will have to leave it for a long time to those who have now put their hand on it' ".
affaire gouffe
Rose Kamper: Gilles de la Tourette as a victim of hypnotism
On 6 December, 1893, at 18:45, at Gilles de la Tourette's domicile, 39 rue de l'Université, a young woman asked for him, and since he was not back from the hospital, she said she would wait for him. When he arrived fifteen minutes later, she immediately followed him and told that she had been hypnotized many times, being now without resources and asking for 50 francs. He vaguely remembered to have seen her (and indeed she had participated to several hypnotism sessions), and told her to give her name and address. Since she asked for money again, he went to the door, when he heard a shot and felt a violent shock in the back of the head (fig. 2). Two new shots followed, but he could leave the room, feeling blood pouring down to his neck. This story shortly was reported in Le Progrès Médical by Georges Guinon, who arrived a few minutes later, and saw the woman quietly sitting in the waiting room, apparently satisfied (). Guinon's article was published with the purpose to stop the already spreading rumors of an assault perpetrated under hypnosis (). The wound was not severe, and the same evening, Gilles de la Tourette was able to write to his friend the journalist Montorgueil: "What a strange story" (). Previous mentions of the event inaccurately reported that it led to a famous trial (), while there was no trial at all. The woman, named Rose Kamper (born Lecoq, on 23 June, 1864, in Poissy) indeed was recognized to be insane. She had already spent time at the Sainte-Anne asylum, and was known to have written threatening letters to the administrator of the École Polytechnique Mr. Rochas. She later told that she suspected Gilles de la Tourette to be in love with her, but also that she had been hypnotized without her consent, with the consequence that her will had been annihilated. She reported that she had been hypnotized "at distance", and that there was another person in her, who had pushed her to shoot. She was examined by Brouardel, Ballet and Jules Falret, who concluded to what nowadays corresponds to paranoid schizophrenia, so that she was sent back to Sainte-Anne and other hospitals, from which she was intermittently released. Interestingly enough, a couple of days before the assassination attempt, Gilles de la Tourette and Montorgueil had published an article in L'Éclair on hypnotism contesting the Nancy school. It is not impossible that this had been a trigger for Rose Kamper's act.
le pays illustre
Gilles de la Tourette never changed his mind on the hysteric nature of susceptibilty to hypnotism, and in an 1897 letter to Montorgueil, he was still opposing Bernheim. In 1900, the first signs of general paresis developed, and he died in 1904. Contrary to another famous pupil of Charcot, Joseph Babinski, who spectacularly distanced himself from his mentor's views , we do not know whether he would also have modified his opinion on hysteria and hypnotism.
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