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1617 __ « Prolusiones Academicæ »
Famianus Strada (1572-1649)
Comment : Famianus Strada, an Italian author and Jesuit priest, published his curious “Prolusiones Acadmicæ” wherein he describes (Lib. II, Prol. 6) a contrivance consisting of two magnetic needles attached to two dials each bearing a circle of letters so arranged that when one needle made to point any letter on one dial, the other needle points to the same letter upon the other dial. The description is best given in his own words taken from the original Latin (Stradæ, “Prolusiones Academicæ”, Oxoniæ, 1662, “Magnes cur ferrum aut aurum trahat”, pp. 326-335). This work contains the account in question, the purport being, that correspondence might be carried on between two individuals widely separated by means of a certain magnetic agency. According to Strada, it was not a new idea ; he ascribes it to Cardinal Bembo, who died at Rome in 1547, and explains" that it came to him by hearsay from several eminent persons, through whom it could be traced back to its reputed originator. Without attaching undue importance to this statement, it seems nevertheless to carry us back to a date earlier than any yet recorded for the inception of a project for rapid communication to long distances. (Compiled from various sources)The idea of long-distance communication appeared in scientifico-utopian literature of the seventeeenth and eighteenth centuries. Father Strada, in his "Prolusiones Academicæ" of 1616, suggested that 'lovers separated by the severity of their families turn to account the sympathy manifested for each other through two compass needles' to communicate (Cazenoble, 1981). Through this 'magnetic action' the aim was less to transmit messages than to communicate thoughts or feelings. Long-distance communication was telepathic. The English poet Mark Akenside, in "Pleasures of Imagination", 1744, gave an interpretation of this magnetic action : 'Two faithful needles.from the informing touch of the same parent stone, together drew its mystic virtue :.And though disjoined by kingdome, .... yet preserved their former friendship and remembered still the alliance of their birth.". (Patrice Flichy, p. 83)
French comment : L’idée de communiquer à distance est présente dans la littérature scientifico-utopique du XVIIième et XVIIIième siècle. Ainsi le Père Strada, dans les “Prolusiones Academicæ” de 1616, propose « aux amants séparés par les rigueurs de leurs familles de mettre à profit la sympathie manifestée l’une pour l’autre par deux aiguilles de boussole » pour communiquer. Le poète anglais Mark Akenside donne dans “Pleasures of Imagination”, 1744, une interprétation de cette action magnétique : « Deux fidèles aiguilles issues de la même matrice rocheuse sont attirées par une commune vertu mystique. Séparées par des royaumes ou des océans tumultueux [...] elles préservent toujours leur ancienne amitié et se souviennent de leur naissance gémellaire. » (Cité par William Taylor, “An Historical Sketch of Henry’s Contribution to the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph”, Washington, 1879). A travers cette “action magnétique”, l’objet est moins de transmettre des messages que de communiquer sa pensée, ses sentiments. La communication à distance est télépathique. (Patrice Flichy, “Une Histoire de la Communication Moderne)Espace public et vie privée”, p. 17).
Original excerpt : « Now, then, if you wish your distant friend, to whom no letter can come, to know anything, take a disk (or dial), then write round the edge of it the letters of the alphabet, in the order in which children learn them, and in the centre place horizontally a rod which has touched the magnet, movable, so that it can touch whatever letter you wish.' A similar instrument is to be made, which ' disk let the friend about to depart take with him, and agree beforehand at what time, and on what days he will examine whether the rod trembles, and what letter it points to Avith its index. These matters being thus arranged, if you desire privately to speak to the friend whom some shore of the earth holds far from you, lay your hand on the globe, turn the movable iron there you see disposed along the margin all the letters which are required for words ; hither turn the indicator, and the letters, now this one, now that one, touch with the style ; and while you are turning the iron through them again and again, you separately compose all the ideas in your rnind. Wonderful to relate, the far-distant friend sees the voluble iron tremble without the touch of any person, and run now hither, now thither ; conscious he bends over it, and marks the teaching of the rod, and follows, reading here and there the letters which are put together into words ; he perceives what is needed, and learns it by the teaching of the iron. And moreover, when he sees the rod stand still, he, in his turn, if he thinks there is anything to be answered, in like manner, by touching the various letters, writes it back to his friend. [...] Oh may this mode of writing prove useful ! Safer and quicker thus would a letter speed, 'nor have to encounter the snares of robbers or impediments of retarding rivers. A prince might do the whole business (correspondence) for himself with his own hands. We children of scribes, emerging from the inky flood, would then hang up our pens in votive offering on the shores of the magnet. » (unknown translator)
Source : Fleury Mottelay, Paul (1922), “Bibliographical History of Electricity and Magnetism, Chronologically Arranged”, Read Books (2008), p. 98.
Source : White, Walter (1850-51), "Papers on Railway and Electric Communications, artic and antarctic explorations, and the sanitary movement : Chambers's Papers for the People", Edinburgh, pp. 10-11.
Source : Strada, Famiano, and Jacob Fletcher (Famiani Stradae), (1617), “Prolusiones academicae”, E Theatro Sheldoniano, impensis' Jac. Fletcher, Oxonii : 1745.
Source : Flichy, Patrice (1993), “The Birth of Long Distance Communication. Semaphore Telegraphs in Europe (1790-1840)”. In: Réseaux, 1993, volume 1 n°1. pp. 81-101.
Source : Flichy, Patrice (1991), “Une Histoire de la Communication Moderne — Espace public et vie privée”, Paris : La Découverte, 1997.
Source : Cazenoble, Jean (1981), “Les origines de la télégraphie sans fil”, Cahiers d'histoire et de philosophie des sciences, n° 15, CNRS, Centre de documentation des sciences humaines, Paris, pp. 96-97.
Source : Gespach, Edouard (1860), “Histoire administrative de la télégraphie aérienne en France”, in Annales Télégraphiques, T. III, Paris : Éditions Dunod, p. 48.
Urls : http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/reso_0969-9864_1993_num_1_1_3272 (last visited ) http://cnum.cnam.fr/CGI/fpage.cgi?P84.8/266/100/572/0/0 (last visited )

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