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29-9-2022, 05:22 UTC

Prokop Divis

Prokop Divis (by his own name Vaclav Divisek), Premonstratensian priest, natural scientist, researcher in physics, particularly in electricity, and the constructor of the lightning rod, was born on 26th March 1698 in Helvikovice near Zamberk. Divis began his studies in 1716; being provided for by the famous Premonstratensian Monastery in Louka near Znojmo. He finished his studies in 1719, and a year later he took his monastic vows at the Louka Monastery and adopted the monastic name Prokop. As a Premonstratensian, he studied philosophy and theology at the church school. Having successfully sustained his doctorate dissertation, the University of Salzburg appointed Divis Doctor of Theology in 1733. In the same year he became sub-prior of the Louka Monastery, and in 1736 he took over for the first time the administration of the parish in Primetice near Znojmo. There he stayed till 1741, when the Abbot of the Louka Monastery, Antonin Nolbek, appointed him Prior of the Monastery on the 7th April. During the time of Nolbek's internment in Prussia in spring 1742, he paid a high ransom to the Prussians, which the Abbot disliked, and that is why, on 10th July of the same year, he was sent back to the parish house at Primetice. There he stayed, carrying out his priest's activities, till the end of his life (he died on 25th December 1765), and there also the period of his research work began.
The administration of parochial farm made Divis turn his attention first to hydro-technical works, and in the years 1742-1744 he built several water-conduits. Then his attention was drawn to the field of constructing musical instruments, which was related to monastic musical culture. This interest was crowned by the construction of a unique cabinet-like musical instrument with metal strings, called "Denisdor" (Denis d'or - Golden Divis) that imitated the sound of various musical instruments (it is unequivocally attested to the year 1753). After 1748, under the influence of the current wave of general interest, Divis developed his experiments with electricity. He used frictional electricity and Leyden jars of his own production, and he was able to work successfully with basic electrostatic phenomena. He even had an opportunity to demonstrate them before the Imperial Court in Vienna. The news on the death of Georg Wilhelm Richmann, professor in St. Petersburg, who was killed by a lightning in 1753 during his attempt at measuring the intensity of electric field in the atmosphere, caused Divis to become interested in atmospheric electricity, and to the decision to construct a "weather-machine" at Primetice.
Its basis was a metal cross, horizontally laid on a 15-metre (later 41.5-metre) high pole, with the ends of the cross intercrossed with shorter metal bars lying in a right angle. The 12 bar ends were equipped with 12 metal boxes, filled with metal filings and penetrated with some 400 sharp metal spikes. The whole construction was grounded to the earth using three conductive chains. Under the influence of the ideas of his time, Divis conceived the function of metal boxes as Leyden jars in which the electricity "sucked" from the atmosphere was to be collected. This was supposed to prevent lighting discharges and the occurrence of storms themselves. Even though the function ascribed by Divis to his "weather-machine" principally differed from that of a lightning rod, it basically was a lightning rod by its construction. Divis erected it for the first time in June 1754; however, having been considered the cause of a big drought in 1759, the Louka Monastery had it removed. Divis had a second construction placed onto the spire of the Primetice church after 1761.
Another field of Divis's research was the effect of electricity on living bodies and consequently also electrotherapy; Divis was intensely involved in this subject from 1754. During his research work, Divis was in close contact with the representatives of contemporary science: Joseph Franz, Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Vienna University, Jan Antonín Scrinci, Professor of Experimental Physics at Prague University, Leonhard Euler, Professor at the Medical Faculty of Prague University, Jan Krtitel Bohac, etc. He also knew about Benjamin Franklin's experiments. He generalised his findings in the theoretical paper Magia Naturalis (Natural Sorcery), published in German translation in at Tübingen (1765), and in Frankfurt-am-Main (1768). The publication significantly influenced the circle of German pietistic philosophers and evangelical theologists around Friedrich Christoph Oetinger.

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