deaf and dumb fortune-teller

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Occasional literary references in the 18th and 19th centuries indicate that deaf or dumb people were particularly sought after as fortune-tellers. This is confirmed in a Scottish example reported in N&Q (1s:12 (1855), 488), and in the 1718 Diary of Revd John Thomlinson (published in Six Northern Diaries (Surtees Soc., vol. 118), 1910), but most clearly in an entry in the Overseers account book of Wyke Regis (Dorset) for February 1754: ‘Gave to two dumb women with a pass being fortune tellers, 1s.’ (Dorset County Record Office). A trial reported in The Times (24 Sept. 1863), 4, 6) records how a deaf and dumb Frenchman known as ‘Dummy’, and feared for his powers, died at Hedingham, Essex, after being repeatedly ‘swum’ in the local river.

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