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means laid down in the immortal authors before mentioned, and when they failed, the ingenious Mr. P—d—l, with his mercurial wand and magnet, I have still failed in my purpose. This therefore I send, to propose and desire an acquaintance with you; and I do not doubt, notwithstanding my repeated ill fortune, but we may be exceedingly serviceable to each other in our discoveries; and that if we use our united endeavours, the time will come when the Busy-Body, his second-sighted correspondent, and your very humble servant, will be three of the richest men in the province. And then, Sir, what may we not do? A word to the wise is sufficient. I conclude, with all demonstrable respect, yours and Urania's votary, “TITAN PLEIADES.”*
* Titan Pleiades was not the only man in the colonies, who had faith in the virtues of the Divining Rod. The following extract will show that there were persons of intelligence and high official rank, who could solve their doubts only by assenting to its marvellous properties. The passage is taken from a manuscript letter, written by Mr. Peter Oliver, (for many years Chief Justice of Massachusetts,) to the Reverend Jared Eliot, of Killingworth in Connecticut, a man much devoted to philosophical studies, and an intimate friend and correspondent of Dr. Franklin.
“For the present I desist from experiments in natural philosophy,” said Chief Justice Oliver, “and perhaps shall not displease you by relating an experiment in what I call Praeternatural Philosophy. It is by what is called the Virgula Divinatoria, long since exploded. Two or three persons have lately been found in Middleborough, and, I suppose, may be found elsewhere, who, by holding a twig of a tree (with some prepared matters in it) in their hands, can find copper, silver, or gold, either in the mine or in substance. When I first heard the fact I disbelieved it, as doubtless you will take the same liberty on my relating it; but at last I was induced to make the experiment critically, which exceeded what I had heard. The person holds the twig by its two branches in both hands, and grasps them close, with the upper part erect. If any metal or mine is nigh, its fibres, though never so fast held in the hand, will twist till it points to the object; and if the metal or mine is under, it will twist to a perpendicular situation. I have seen it point to a single dollar under ground, at sixty or seventy feet distance; and to a quantity of silver at a mile distance; and, what is more remarkable, when it is in motion to its
VOL. II. 6 D *
In the evening, after I had received this letter, I made a visit to my second-sighted friend, and communicated to him the proposal. When he had read it, he assured me, that, to his certain knowledge, there is not at this time so much as one ounce of silver or gold hid under ground in any part of this province; for that the late and present scarcity of money had obliged those, who were living, and knew where they had formerly hid any, to take it up, and use it in their own necessary affairs; and as to all the rest, which was buried by pirates and others in old times, who were never like to come for it, he himself had dug it all up and applied it to charitable uses; and this he desired me to publish for the general good. For, as he acquainted me, there are among us great numbers of honest artificers and laboring people, who, fed with a vain hope of growing suddenly rich, neglect their business, almost to the ruining of themselves and families, and voluntarily endure abundance of fatigue in a fruitless search after imaginary hidden treasure. They wander through the woods and bushes by day, to discover the marks and signs; at midnight they repair to the hopeful spots with spades and pickaxes; full of expectation, they labor violently, trembling at the same time in every joint, through fear of certain malicious demons, who are said to haunt and guard such places. At length a mighty hole is dug, and perhaps several cart-loads of earth thrown out; but, alas, no keg or iron pot is found! No seaman's chest crammed with
object, upon the person's closing his eyes, it will make a full stop, but, if the eyes are turned from the twig and open, it will continue its motion. It is owing to what I call the idiosyncracy of the person's body, who holds the twig, for I believe there is not one in five hundred in whose hands it will move. I am apt to think it will occasion as much speculation as electricity, and I believe will tend to public benefit." - Middleborough, March 31st, 1756. – EDITOR.
Spanish pistoles, or weighty pieces of eight! Then they conclude, that, through some mistake in the procedure, some rash word spoke, or some rule of art neglected, the guardian spirit had power to sink it deeper into the earth, and convey it out of their reach. Yet, when a man is once thus infatuated, he is so far from being discouraged by ill success, that he is rather animated to double his industry, and will try again and again in a hundred different places, in hopes at last of meeting with some lucky hit, that shall at once sufficiently reward him for all his expense of time and labor.
This odd humor of digging for money, through a belief that much has been hid by pirates formerly frequenting the river, has for several years been mighty prevalent among us; insomuch that you can hardly walk half a mile out of the town on any side, without observing several pits dug with that design, and perhaps some lately opened. Men, otherwise of very good sense, have been drawn into this practice through an overweening desire of sudden wealth, and an easy credulity of what they so earnestly wished might be true; while the rational and almost certain methods of acquiring riches by industry and frugality are neglected or forgotten. There seems to be some peculiar charm in the conceit of finding money; and if the sands of Schuylkill were so much mixed with small grains of gold, that a man might in a day's time, with care and application, get together to the value of half a crown, I make no question but we should find several people employed there, that can with ease earn five shillings a day at their proper trades.
Many are the idle stories told of the private success of some people, by which others are encouraged to proceed; and the astrologers, with whom the country
swarms at this time, are either in the belief of these things themselves, or find their advantage in persuading others to believe them ; for they are often consulted about the critical times for digging, the methods of laying the spirit, and the like whimseys, which renders them very necessary to, and very much caressed by, the poor deluded money-hunters.
There is certainly something very bewitching in the pursuit after mines of gold and silver and other valuable metals, and many have been ruined by it. A seacaptain of my acquaintance used to blame the English for envying Spain their mines of silver, and too much despising or overlooking the advantages of their own industry and manufactures. “For my part,” says he, “ I esteem the Banks of Newfoundland to be a more valuable possession than the mountains of Potosi ; and, when I have been there on the fishing account, have looked upon every cod pulled up into the vessel as a certain quantity of silver ore, which required only carrying to the next Spanish port to be coined into pieces of eight; not to mention the national profit of fitting out and employing such a number of ships and seamen.”
Let honest Peter Buckram, who has long without success been a searcher after hidden money, reflect on this, and be reclaimed from that unaccountable folly. Let him consider, that every stitch he takes, when he is on his shopboard, is picking up part of a grain of gold, that will in a few days' time amount to a pistole; and let Faber think the same of every nail he drives, or every stroke with his plane. Such thoughts may make them industrious, and, in consequence, in time they may be wealthy. But how absurd is it to neglect a certain profit for such a ridiculous whimsey; to spend whole days at the George, in company with an idle
pretender to astrology, contriving schemes to discover what was never hidden, and forgetful how carelessly business is managed at home in their absence; to leave their wives and a warm bed at midnight (no matter if it rain, hail, snow, or blow a hurricane, provided that be the critical hour), and fatigue themselves with the violent exercise of digging for what they shall never find, and perhaps getting a cold that may cost their lives, or at least disordering themselves so as to be fit for no business beside for some days after. Surely this is nothing less than the most egregious folly and madness.
I shall conclude with the words of my discreet friend Agricola, of Chester county, when he gave his son a good plantation. “My son,” said he, “I give thee now a valuable parcel of land ; I assure thee I have found a considerable quantity of gold by digging there; thee mayst do the same; but thee must carefully observe this, Never to dig more than plough-deep."