The “pasilalinic-sympathetic compass,” or snail telegraph, was the misguided invention of a charismatic 19th-century French occultist named Jacques Toussaint Benoit. Benoit was convinced that any two snails that had once mated remained forever in telepathic contact, no matter the distance between them. Touch one, and its mate would move. Based on this principle, Benoit devised a pair of contraptions consisting of 24 snails glued to the bottom of a bowl, each representing a different letter of the alphabet. Each snail’s mate was affixed, with a corresponding label, to a receiving device that could be installed anywhere in the world. “Space was not considered by snails. Place one in Paris, the other at the antipodes, the transmission of thought along their sympathetic current as complete, instantaneous and effective as in his room on the troisieme,” writes Sabine Baring-George in the 1889 book Historic Oddities and Strange Events.In 1850, with the help of his friend Jules Allix, Benoit offered to demonstrate the snail telegraph to a noted journalist using transmitters at opposite ends of a room:

Under one pretext or another, the inventor ran from one apparatus to the other, the whole time, so that it was not very difficult, with a little management, to reproduce on his animated compass the letters transmitted by M. Jules Allix. The transmission, moreover, was not as exact as it ought to have been. M. Jules Allix had touched the snails in such order as to form the word gymnase; Benoit on his compass read the word gymoate. Then M. Triat, taking the place of the inventor, sent the words lumiere divine to M. Jules Allix, who read on his compass lumhere divine. Evidently the snails were bad in their orthography. The whole thing, moreover, was a farce, and the correspondence, such as it was, was due to the incessant voyages of the inventor from one compass to the other, under the pretext of supervising the mechanism of the two apparatuses.


* More on other means of long-distance communication: the Optical Telegraph, Acoustic Mirrors, Odd Sympathy.

Source article from the always fascinating:Athanasius Kircher Society

The Athanasius Kircher Society was chartered to perpetuate the spirit and sensibilities of the late Athanasius Kircher, SJ. Our interests extend to the wondrous, the curious, the singular, the esoteric, and the sometimes hazy frontier between the plausible and the implausible — anything that Father Kircher might find inspiring if he were alive today. Records of our proceedings are maintained for the public’s edification.

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