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power and vivid intuitions of nature; and the form even is often nearer than you think :—but this excursiveness will never do; so, to begin again.
Among the novels of Scott-I intended to say—there is not one more wins upon us than the Antiquary. Nowhere has the great author more gently and indulgently, never with happier humour, portrayed the mixed web of strength and infirmity in human character ; never, besides, with more facile power evoked pathos and terror, and disported himself amid the sublimity and beauty of nature. Yet gentle as is his mood, he misses not the opportunity-albeit, in general, he displays an honest leaning towards old superstitions—mercilessly to crush one of the humblest. Do you remember the Priory of St Ruth, and the summer-party made to visit it, and the preparations for the subsequent rogueries of Dousterswivel in the tale of Martin Waldeck, and the discovery of a spring of water by means of the divining rod ?
I am inclined, do you know, to dispute the verdict of the novelist on this occasion, and to take the part of the charlatan against the author of his being; as far, at least, as regards the genuineness of the art the said charlatan then and there affected to practise. There exists, in fact, strong evidence to show that, in competent hands, the divining rod really does what is pretended of it. This evidence I propose to put before you in the present letter. But, as the subject may be entirely new to you, I had best begin by describing what is meant by a divining rod, and in what the imputed jugglery consists.
Then you are to learn that, in mining districts, a superstition prevails among the people that some are born gifted with an occult power of detecting the proximity of veins of metal, and of underground currents of water. In Cornwall, they hold that about one in forty possesses this faculty. The mode of exercising it is very simple. They cut a hazel twig, just below where it forks. Having stripped the leaves off, they cut each branch to something more than a foot in length, leaving the stump three inches long. This implement is the divining rod. The hazel is selected for the purpose, because it branches more symmetrically than its neighbours. The hazel-fork is to be held by the branches, one in either hand, the stump or point projecting straight forwards. The arms of the experimenter hang by his sides; but the elbows being bent at a right angle, the fore-arms are advanced horizontally; the hands are held eight to ten inches apart; the knuckles down, and the thumbs outwards. The ends of the branches of the divining fork appear between the roots of the thumbs and fore-fingers.
The operator, thus armed, walks over the ground he intends exploring, in the full expectation that, if he possess the mystic gift, as soon as he passes over a vein of metal, or an underground spring, the hazel-fork will begin to move spontaneously in his hands, rising or falling as the case may be.
You are possibly amused at my gravely stating, as a fact, an event so unlikely. It is, indeed, natural that you should suppose the whole a juggle, and think the seemingly spontaneous motion of the divining fork to be really communicated to it by the hands of the conjuror --by a sleight, in fact, which he puts in practice when he believes that he is walking over a hidden watercourse, or wishes you to believe that there is a vein of metal near. Well, I thought as you do the greater part of my life ; and probably the likeliest way of combating your scepticism, will be to tell you how my own conversion took place.
In the summer of 1843 I dwelt under the same roof with a Scottish gentleman, well informed, of a serious turn of mind, fully endowed with the national allowance of shrewdness and caution. I saw a good deal of him ; and one day, by chance, this subject of the divining rod was mentioned. He told me, that at one time his curiosity having been raised upon the subject, he had taken pains to ascertain what there is in it. With this object in view he had obtained an introduction to Mrs R., sister of Sir G. R., then living at Southampton, whom he had learnt to be one of those in whose hands the divining rod moved. He visited the lady, who was polite enough to show him in what the performance consists, and to answer all his questions, and to assist him in making experiments calculated to test the reality of the phenomenon, and to elucidate its cause.
Mrs R. told my friend that, being at Cheltenham in 1806, she saw, for the first time, the divining rod used by Mrs Colonel Beaumont, who possessed the power of imparting motion to it in a very remarkable degree. Mrs R. tried the experiment herself at that time, but without any success. She was, as it happened, very far from well. Afterwards, in the year 1815, being asked by a friend how the divining rod is held, and how it is to be used, on showing it she was surprised to see that the instrument now moved in her hands.
Since then, whenever she had repeated the experiment, the power had always manifested itself, though with varying degrees of energy.
Mrs R. then took my friend to a part of the shrubbery where she knew, from former trials, the divining rod would move in her hands. It did so, to my friend's extreme astonishment; and even continued to move, when, availing himself of Mrs R.'s permission, my friend grasped her hands with sufficient firmness to prevent, as he supposed, any muscular action of her wrists or fingers influencing the result.
On a subsequent day my friend having thought over what he had seen, repeated his visit to the lady. He provided himself, as substitutes for the hazel-fork which he had seen her employ, with portions of copper and iron wire about a foot and a half long, bent something into the form of the letter V. He had made, in fact, divining forks of wire, wanting only the projecting point. He found that these instruments moved quite as freely in Mrs R.'s hands as the hazel-fork had done. Then he coated the two handles of one of them with sealing-wax, leaving, however, the extreme ends free and uncovered. When Mrs R. tried the rod so prepared, holding the parts alone which were covered with sealing-wax, and walked on the same piece of ground as in the former experiments, the rod remained perfectly still. As often, however, as—with no greater change than adjusting her hands so as to touch the free ends of the wire with her thumbs— Mrs R. renewed direct contact with the instrument, it again moved. The motion ceased again as often as the direct contact was interrupted.
This simple narrative, made to me by the late Mr George Fairholm, carried conviction to my mind of the reality of the phenomenon. I asked my friend why he had not pursued the subject further. He said he had often thought of doing so, and had, he believed, mainly been deterred by meeting with the work of the Compte de Tristan, entitled Recherches sur quelques effluves terrestres, Paris, 1829, in which facts similar to those which he had himself verified were given, and a nuinber of additional curious experiments detailed.
At Mr Fairholm's instance I procured the book, and, at a later period, read it. I may say that it both satis
fied and disappointed me. It satisfied me, inasmuch as it fully confirmed all that Mr Fairholm had stated. It disappointed me, for it threw no additional light upon the phenomena. M. de Tristan had in fact brought too little physical knowledge to the investigation, so that a large proportion of his experiments are puerile. However, his simpler experiments are valuable and suggestive. These I will presently describe. In the meantime, you shall hear the Count's own narrative of his initiation into the mysteries of the divining rod.
“The history of my researches,” says M. de Tristan, “is simply this. Some twenty years ago a gentleman, who, from his position in society, could have no object to gain by deception, showed to me, for my amusement, the movement of the divining rod. He attributed the motion to the influence of a current of water, which appeared to me a probable supposition. But my attention was more engaged with the action produced by the influence, let the latter be what it might. My informant assured me he had met with many others in whom the same effects were manifested. When I returned home, and had opportunities of making trials under favourable circumstances, I found that I myself possessed the same endowment. Since then I have induced many to make the experiment, and I have found a fourth, or certainly a fifth, of the number capable of setting the divining rod in motion at the very first attempt. Since that time, during these twenty years, I have often tried my hand, but for amusement only, and desultorily, and without any idea of making the thing an object of scientific investigation. But at length, in the year 1822, being in the country, and removed from my ordinary pursuits, the subject again came across me, and I determined forthwith to try and ascertain the cause of these phenomena. Accordingly, I commenced a long series