James Tilly Matthews was a peace activist 200 years ago, during the Napoleonic Wars. He was confined to Bedlam asylum because he attributed the bloody conflict to a secret society using futuristic mind-control devices, which he illustrated in exquisite detail, rivaling the technical drawings of engineers.
The blueprints were published in an 1810 book, Illustrations of Madness, which was written by John Haslam, an apothecary at Bedlem who spent a decade observing and “treating” Matthews. As Mike Jay writes at the Public Domain Review, this account is cited as the first fully described case of what is now known as the “influencing machine”— a type of paranoid schizophrenia characterized by delusions that a covertly operated device is being used to control an individual’s mind and body.
Matthews named this device the “Air Loom,” which he believed was brainwashing European leaders:
The Air Loom worked, as its name suggests, by weaving “airs”, or gases, into a “warp of magnetic fluid” which was then directed at its victim. Matthews’ explanation of its powers combined the cutting-edge technologies of pneumatic chemistry and the electric battery with the controversial science of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. The finer detail becomes increasingly strange. It was fuelled by combinations of “fetid effluvia”, including “spermatic-animal-seminal rays”, “putrid human breath”, and “gaz from the anus of the horse”, and its magnetic warp assailed Matthews’ brain in a catalogue of forms known as “event-workings”. These included “brain-saying” and “dream-working”, by which thoughts were forced into his brain against his will, and a terrifying array of physical tortures from “knee nailing”, “vital tearing” and “fibre ripping” to “apoplexy-working with the nutmeg grater” and the dreaded “lobster-cracking”, where the air around his chest was constricted until he was unable to breathe.
To facilitate their control over him, the gang had implanted a magnet into his brain. He was tormented constantly by hallucinations, physical agonies, fits of laughter or being forced to parrot whatever words they chose to feed into his head. No wonder some people thought he was mad. The machine’s operators were a gang of undercover Jacobin terrorists, who Matthews described with haunting precision.
The 19th Century Blueprint For A Massive Mind-Control Machine.