Rochas d'Aiglun, Albert de, 1837-1914Alternative names
A military engineer and one of the leading psychic scientists in fin de siècle France, Albert de Rochas was involved in research into a wide range of esoteric topics, from the spirit mediumship of Eusapia Paladino to telepathy and telekinesis, hypnosis, human magnetism, somnambulism, reincarnation, and physical unfolding.
Born into an old Provencal family at Saint Firmin (Haute-Alpes) on May 20, 1837, Rochas entered the Lycée de Grenoble with the intention of studying literature, assuming that he would follow his father and grandfather into the law. When he discovered, however, that the law was less than intellectually stimulating, he switched to mathematics -- a subject at which he excelled -- and set his sights on a career in engineering. After winning the school's prix d'honneur in 1856, he entered the École Polytechnique in Paris to continue his education and to prepare for a career in the military.
In 1861, Rochas was commissioned as Lieutenant de Genie at Montpelier and quickly distinguished himself for his knowledge of the engineering and for his superb administrative abilities. Rising quickly through the ranks to Captain (1864), he was assigned to series of increasingly important assignments after the Franco-Prussian War, culminating in a stint as inspector of studies at the École Polytechnique and a short period as interim director. After earning a promotion to battalion commander in 1880, Rochas was made chief of engineers in 1887 and was given responsibility for updating and strengthening the fortifications around Grenoble.
A scholar at heart, Rochas first became interested in the technology of ancient and medieval engineering while working on the construction of fortifications in the Jura in 1865. His initial attempt at academic writing was a translation of Veterum Mathematicorum Opera (1693), an 11th century Alexandrian treatise on fortification and machines of war, after which he took detours into Hellenism and into the physics and mechanics used by Egyptian priests in constructing their temples. His research and writing were well respected by his scholarly peers, his translations of Greek texts earning him a medal from the Société des Études Grecques.
The work for which Rochas was best known, however, evolved out of an encounter in the mid-1860s with a young man who was susceptible to being magnetized. Even as he plunged into his research on ancient sciences and military history, Rochas applied himself with increasing vigor to the psychic and occult sciences. His first important book on psychic science, Les Forces non Definiés (Paris: Masson, 1887), defined the terms of much of his later research in seeking a scientific basis for occult phenomena. From the mid-1880s into the 1910s, Rochas produced a steady stream of articles and monographs to establish the basic principles behind the exteriorization of sensibility and presented what he was convinced was empirical proof for the existence of a magnetic fluid capable of acting directly on the central nervous system. In 1888, he declined a further promotion in the military to become civilian director at the École Polytechnique, probably because he wished to devote more time to his studies.
Eclectic and evolving, tinged with the Orientalist currents running through contemporary Theosophy and Spiritualism, Rochas touched upon a wide range of topics. Following his widely read work on ancient science, La Science des Philosophes at l'Art des Thaumaturges dans l'Antiquité (Paris: Masson, 1882), he turned to topics such as hypnotism ( L'État Profond de l'Hypnose ), death and reincarnation ( Les Vies Successives, 1911; La Suspension de la Vie, 1913), telekinesis ( Extériorisation de la motricité, 1896), and the physical basis of psychic experience ( Les Fluides des Magnétiseurs, 1891; Extériorisation de la Sensibilité, 1895; Les Frontières de la Physique,1898; and Les Frontières de la Science, 1902-1904). He was particularly renowned for a series of experiments conducted with his friends General Thomassin, John Maxwell, De Watteville, and A. de Gramont on the famous Italian medium Eusapia Paladino in which they reported the materialization of spirit hands. His detailed study of the hypnotic subject, Maria Mayo (Mlle Lina), was part of an attempt to assess the influence of music upon human emotions and to measure the human physical response ( Les Sentiments, La Musique, et les Gestes, 1900).
Rochas believed firmly that the scientific study of psychic phenomena would allay people of the fear of death and, by replacing faith with scientifically sound reason, would bring them into closer connection to God. He was named an honorary member of the Académie Delphinale, the Académies of Savoie, Blois, and Aix, and the Sociétéde Psychologie Scientifique of Munich, and was made a Chevalier in the Legion d'Honneur in 1875 and an officer in 1889. He died on September 2, 1914.
From the guide to the Albert de Rochas Papers, Bulk, 1882-1908, 1845-1921, (American Philosophical Society)