Saturday, 27 October 2012

Renaissance Electric Telegraph

No reason for blogging this except -- well, it's just really interesting.
"Note on a Curious Allusion of a Writer of the 17th Century to a supposed Property of the Magnetic Needle, since verified in the Invention of Telegraphy," by Harry Grimshaw, F.C.S.  [The Electrical Engineer. A Weekly Journal of Electrical Engineering, June 1890]
Some little time ago my friend, the Rev. G. W. Reynolds, M.A., of Cheetham Hill, directed my attention to a paragraph in an old volume in his possession of some 250 years. of age, which struck me as a peculiarly interesting one; so much so, in fact, that I have taken the liberty of bringing it before the notice of this Society. The work in question is entitled, An Apologie of the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World, or An Examination and Censure of the Common Error touching Nature's perpetual and Universal Decay, Divided into Four Books.' The author is one "G. H.," D.D. (Doctor of Divinity), and the work is printed at Oxford by John Litchfield and William Turner, "Printers to the famous University." Anno Domini 1627, being therefore exactly 250 years old. The third book of the four into which the work is divided treats of " The pretended decay of mankind in regard and duration, of strength and stature, of arts and wits." The tenth chapter of this third book is said to be "Touching diverse artificiall workes and usefull inventions, at leastwise matchable with those of the ancients, namely and chiefly the invention of Printing, Gunnes, and the Sea-Card or Mariners Compass." This tenth chapter again, for such is the orderly division of the subjects, is sub-divided into four sections, and the fourth of these is headed "Of the use and invention of the Mariners Compasse or sea-card, as also of another excellent invention sayd to be lately found out upon the Load-stone, together with the conclusion of this comparison touching Arts and Wits, with a saying of Bodius, and another very notable one of Lactantius." It is in the account of this " excellent invention sayd to be lately found out upon the loadstone" that the curious prevision or dream, so to speak, of the application of electricity as a means of communication occurs, and there is small wonder that the old philosopher called it as he does further on, "an excellent and secret conclusion upon the stone," for, whilst perusing his description, one can hardly imagine that the writer has not in his mind's eye one of our most modern telegraphic instruments. I quote the paragraph in its entirety: "Another excellent and secret conclusion upon this stone, pretended to be found out in these latter times, is that by touching two needles with the same stone, they being severally set so as they may turne upon two round tables, having on their borders, the Alphabet within circlewise, if two friends agreeing upon the time, the one in Paris, the other in London (having each of them their table thus equally fitted) be disposed upon certayne dayes and at certaine houres to conferre, it is to bee done by turning the needle in one of the tables to the Alphabet, and the other, by Sympathie will turn itself in the same manner in the other table though never so farre distant: which conclusion if infallibly true, may tikewise proove of good and great consequence; howsoever I will set it down as I find it described by Famianus Strada in imitation of the stile and value of Lucretius." 
Magnesi genus est lapidis mirabile, etc etc
Then follows the extract in Latin, with the English translation in verse attached.
It's the Strada quotation that interests me (Coleridge mentions Strada in the Biographia). So this follow up article is particularly intriguing:
"Note on a Passage in Strada containing a Prevision of the Electric Telegraph," by William R. A. Axon, M.K.S.L., F.S.S. 
The interesting quotation from Hakewill's Apology brought by Mr. Grimshaw before the last meeting of this Society, seems to need an additional word of comment. Hakewill, it will be remembered, quotes a passage of Latin verse from Strada in which he supposes the loadstone to have such virtue that "if two needles be touched with it, and then balanced on separate pivots, and the one be turned in a particular direction, the other will sympathetically move parallel to it. He then directs each of these needles to be poised and mounted on a dial having the letters of the alphabet arranged round it. Accordingly, if one person has one of the dials and another the other, by a little prear range me nt as to details, a correspondence can be maintained between them at any distance by simply pointing the needles to the letters of the required words." The date of the first edition of Hakewill's Apologie or Declaration of the Power and Providence of God in the Government of the World is 1627; but the work of Strada's from which he quotes was published ten years earlier. Famianus Strada was born at Rome in 1572, and his Prolusionos Academecise et Paradigmata Eloquentise appeared at Rome in 1617. Several editions of his Prolusiones have been printed in this country. The particular poem referring to the loadstone has been translated into English and is printed in "The Student or Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany," 1750.


mahendra singh said...

That is pretty interesting … perhaps it will furnish you with the germinal idea for a blockbuster nivel in the yet-to-be invented baroque-punk SF genre? Perhaps something along the lines of Baltasar & Blimunda?

mahendra singh said...

nivel of course being the baroque portmanteau of a nice novel

Adam Roberts Project said...

This is sheer nivel-gazing. Still, baroquepunk has, ads a word, a nice combination of 'q' and 'k' ...