My Victorian Book on Palmistry Says a Lot About Modern-Day Quackery

Edited by Peter & Ben

One thing a lot of people don’t know about me is that I like to collect quack crap. My bedroom seems to slowly be turning into a monument to all the stupid and half-baked dangerous ideas people have had over the past two centuries. For example, on my desk I have a phrenology bust, on one of my shelving units I have a homeopathic first aid kit, and on another I have amassed a collection of unusual books. The subjects covered in these books ranges from claims that the World Trade Centre was actually destroyed by some sort of particle beam weapon, to ‘psychic to the stars’ Sally Morgan’s autobiography. As you can imagine, it can be a little on the embarrassing side having to explain my collection to guests who are, quite naturally, bewildered at why I would waste my money on such things, but the truth is that I find them fascinating. My books and trinkets are windows into a world I can’t enter. A world of pseudo-science, the paranormal, and the flat out bat-shit crazy. Over the years I have collected some gems including my pride and joy – a copy of Liam Scheff’s ‘Official Stories’ – which i have talked about in great detail in the past. There is yet another book that is equally as fascinating – not for its subject matter, but for its outlook on the world. That book is called ‘Palmistry and its practical uses’.


My copy of the book was published in 1890 when palmistry was having something of a renaissance in Victorian London. As you can imagine, the majority of its content is about the idea that a person can tell a great deal about another by just looking at the lines on their palms. The book even claims that the colour of your skin can say a lot about you. Apparently, my pale freckly hands are a sign that I have an egotistical and unsympathetic nature; yet my short, well kept nails contradict this – indicating that I have a sensitive nature. Most of you reading this will also know that palmistry not only claims that your palms tell your past, but they also can say a great many things about your future – even including when you are going to die, by looking at something called your ‘Line of Life’.

“The Line of Life commences at the side of the hand about half-way between the first finger and the thumb, and extends between the first finger and the thumb, and extends around the mount of the latter (Venus), generally reaching to the wrist. This line shows the state of the health, the time of illnesses or accidents, and the length of life.”

You will be happy to know that my line of life is deeply cut with good colour and has no breaks in it, as it goes around my thumb, so I am apparently going to have a long life with no serious illnesses and I should have a good disposition. However, if you are one of the unfortunate people to have a pale or broken line, that’s a sign that you are unwell and do not have long left in this world. If you have breaks in both of your hands this means “death”. I’m not sure what that means there – if death is coming soon, or this is what the palms of a dead person look like, because the book kinda just stops there and does not go into any further detail. Directly under this paragraph, we get our first glimpse at why this book is so fascinating – when it says the following with regard to the use of palmistry in detecting illness and looming death.

“Here I would particularly remark how extraordinary it is that physicians and doctors in general so completely ignore, and fail to avail themselves of, the very valuable aid of this science.”

This is where the book starts to go off the rails – and considering this is a book about about palmistry, that’s saying a lot! The rest of the content is receptively punctuated by little snippets like the one above aimed towards the medical and scientific community as well as the press, which the author believes is unfairly persecuting her profession. This paranoia and detachment from reality climaxes towards the end when the author also begins to talk about divining rods, among other things.

“One may look in vain for any really useful and practical results which, for many years past, might reasonably have been expected from some of the learned societies of England, more especially those dealing with occult subjects. On the contrary, it is found, in the very publications where a genuine interest and studious search would have appeared likely that there is nearly always an inclination to sneer at such subjects as the Divining Rod, Palmistry, Physiognomy, Phrenology, &c., which meet with almost universal detractors among “The Press” of this country; and if an idea, of anything bordering on a proof, that these allied sciences are traceable to Astrology, is suggested, no words seem too sarcastic and condemnatory for the generality of speakers and writers to use.”

This is why my victory book on palmistry says a lot about modern-day quackery. It has not, as you may have hoped, given me the ability to read the palms of these frauds and charlatans and prove once and for all that they are phoneys. What it has done is given us a window into this Victorian authors paranoia, rejection of the scientific consensus, and anger at not being taken seriously – which perfectly mirrors what peddlers of woo are still doing to this very day. Nowadays you would have to look very hard to find someone who is promoting palmistry, phrenology and divining rods in your local town, but I am guessing you would not have to go to out of your way to find a homeopath, traditional Chinese medicine store, or even a crank online claiming to have a ‘cure all types of cancer’ remedy. These people, like the author of this book, can’t back up any of their claims – which is why it’s always the press that is conspiring against them and trying to suppress the truth. That’s why it’s always that the medical and scientific community are purposefully ignoring their findings for unknown reasons, and not that they have been looked into and shown to be utter bollocks.

As they say “the more things change the more they stay the same”.

About Myles Power (757 Articles)
Hello Internet! My name is Myles Power and I am a chemist from the North East of England, who loves to make videos trying to counter pseudoscience and debunk quackery in all of its various forms! From the hype around GMOs through to Atrazine turning the freakin’ frogs gay, I’ll try to cut through the nonsense that’s out there!

1 Comment on My Victorian Book on Palmistry Says a Lot About Modern-Day Quackery

  1. Here’s another ‘good’ read for your curiosity shelve:

    I pick it up every time I want to get a bit angry.


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