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1558 __ « Magiae Naturalis » — Sympathetic telegraph
‣ In “The Seventh Book of Natural Magick”, Chapter 1.
Giambattista della Porta (ca 1535-1615)
Comment : During the dark ages the mystical virtues of the lodestone drew more attention than those of the more precious amber, and interesting experiments were made with it. The Romans knew that it could attract iron at some distance through an intervening fence of wood, brass, or stone. One of their experiments was to float a needle on a piece of cork, and make it follow a lodestone held in the hand. This arrangement was perhaps copied from the compass of the Phoenician sailors, who buoyed a lodestone and observed it set towards the north. There is reason to believe that the magnet was employed by the priests of the Oracle in answering questions. We are told that the Emperor Valerius, while at Antioch in 370 A.D., was shown a floating needle which pointed to the letters of the alphabet when guided by the directive force of a lodestone. It was also believed that this effect might be produced although a stone wall intervened, so that a person outside a house or prison might convey intelligence to another inside. This idea was perhaps the basis of the sympathetic telegraph of the Middle Ages, which is first described in the MAGIAE NATURALIS of John Baptista Porta, published at Naples in 1558. It was supposed by Porta and others after him that two similar needles touched by the same lodestone were sympathetic, so that, although far apart, if both were freely balanced, a movement of one was imitated by the other. By encircling each balanced needle with an alphabet, the sympathetic telegraph was obtained. Although based on error, and opposed by Cabeus and others, this fascinating notion continued to crop up even to the days of Addison. It was a prophetic shadow of the coming invention. In the SCEPSIS SCIENTIFICA, published in 1665, Joseph Glanvil wrote, 'to confer at the distance of the Indies by sympathetic conveyances may be as usual to future times as to us in literary correspondence.' (The Rosicrucians also believed that if two persons transplanted pieces of their flesh into each other, and tattooed the grafts with letters, a sympathetic telegraph could be established by pricking the letters.). (John Munro)
Original excerpt : « Chapter XI."That the force of this stone will pass into other stones, that sometimes you may see as it were a rope of stones.".The stone with us is commended for another property; for when it has taken hold of another stone, it not only holds that fast, but it sends into the body of it an efflux ion of its forces. And that having got more forces, draws another, and gives it the like faculty. The third made to partake of the same Virtue, draws others that are near or far off, and casts forth and brandishes the same Virtue. And this draws another. And so, by a reciprocal ejaculation, by the same force it is held, by the same it holds others. And from each of them to the other, are their darts flying as it were endowed with the Virtue of them. And if you lift them up on high, they seem to hang in links like a chain, that they will not easily be drawn one from the other, that we must wonder exceedingly, how that internal and invisible force can run from one to the other, and pass through them. And the more Virtue it has, to the more it does communicate it. Yet I though fit to forewarn you that you fail not in your trial, that the stones must stick the one to the other by the parts that agree, and not by contrary parts. For so would not one impart his Virtues to another, but by the meeting with an opposite part, would be held back, and cease from doing its office. Namely, that the North point of the one, must stick to the South point of the other, and the North point to the North point is contrary and the faculty will faint and decay at the presence of its adversary. Nor yet will we omit to remember those that are curious to try this, that the stones must successively be proportion able, that the great one must draw a less, and a little one must draw one less then itself. For so they will hang the faster, and not be so easily pulled asunder. » (Transcribed from 1658 English edition.)
Source : Porta, Giambattista della (1558), “Natural Magick (Magiae Naturalis) - A Neapolitane in Twenty Books (1584 A.D.), Wherein are set forth All the Riches and Delights of the Natural Sciences”, Printed for Thomas Young and Samuel Speed, at the Three Pigeons, and at the Angel in St Paul’s Church-yard, English edition of Latin original, Magiae Naturalis, Naples, 1558 (Published on the web by Scott Lincoln Davis).
Source : Munro, John (1891), “Heroes of the Telegraph”, Published by BiblioBazaar, 2008, Chapter 1, pp. 13-14, and Published by Icon Group International Inc (Webster’s French Thesaurus Edition), pp. 5-6.
Urls : http://homepages.tscnet.com/omard1/jportac7.html (last visited )

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