Though his work is certainly one of the most comprehensive and detailed treatises on the hand of its time, Benham shows some influence from D'Arpentigny and Desbarolles. But many of the ideas and methods he presents are original. Unfortunately, it is some of these original ideas, which are the most incorrect. For instance, he makes extensive use of the mounts and astrological symbolism, developing a whole new system of hand shape classification around the typologies of the seven major planets. This in itself will perhaps be enough for some readers to pronounce this book entirely unscientific. However, his 'mount theories' still play a very strong part in the approach to the hand of many palmists - and this despite the fact that the mounts have been entirely dispensed with by the modern analytical chirologist. It has been shown time and time again that the mounts are one of the most unreliable indicators of personality from the hand.
Nevertheless, this did not discourage William Benham! On the basis of his personality theories as assessed from the mounts of the hand, he proposed a complete system for profession assessment from the hand, which is the subject of his only other book 'How to Choose Vocations from the Hand', published in 1932. Evidently he managed to have some success with this method as he founded a school of palmistry in New York, along with an institute for occupational guidance which seems to have still been active even as today. It seems that he was a sincere and genuine man. For instance, in an appendix to 'The Laws of Scientific Hand reading', he provides a copy of the text of Aristotle's Masterpiece, which he believes was authored by Aristotle himself c350BC. Actually it was not, as it was published in London in 1738AD. But then Benham is not the only person who was inexperienced about hand reading history.
Within his main book, Benham spends considerable time on the morphognomy of the hand and makes some particularly useful sections on analyzing the fingers and the thumb. In some ways these are developments of the ideas of D'Arpentigny, but he never fails to support his observations with some quite unusual photographs of some of the most extreme chirognomical formations one is ever likely to see. The section on the thumb is one of the most comprehensive and well-illustrated chapters ever written on this one digit. Benham was one of the first to collect handprints and hand photographs from the inmates of prisons and some of the most interesting hands he presents are from residents of America's State Penitentiaries. His section on the morphognomy of the hand is undoubtedly the better half of the book.
The second part of the 'Laws' concerns itself with the lines of the hand, which are also dealt with in exacting detail. In one respect he was in advance of many other hand readers of his day in that he was particularly concerned that no one feature of the hand should be read in isolation, but should always be considered in relation to all other features. He emphasized that this was especially true of the lines of the hand and as such he is the first author to abandon any remnant of the mediaeval 'fixed sign' approach and develop a more organic and synthetic methodology. Whilst this claim holds true in some respects, he did not, of course, apply this rule of his to interpreting 'signs' and 'marks' on the mounts!
With regard to the lines in general, as with so many palmists before him, what we are presented with is a huge collection of little drawings of the most strange, unlikely and never-seen-before line formations. Unfortunately, there are absolutely no handprint illustrations of the line formations that he describes, which only leads one to suggest that this part of the book is, at best, purely theoretical. As a result of his 'synthetic' approach to the hand, he spends a great deal of time describing various combinations of lines (rather then fixed signs) - and then coming up with a very specific 'meaning' for this combination which is entirely unlikely! The unlikelihood of the explanation is compounded by the fact that the line combination in itself is one that would never, ever be seen. For the beginner, this is very confusing as these totally impossible line combinations are interspersed between illustrations of perfectly feasible formations of the palmer lines. It take a long time to realize that Benham is not perhaps as accurate as his generally serious and sober approach would lead you to believe. An obvious example of this is Benham's views on the Heart line.
One of the most unscientific ideas that Benham presents, and which is the underlying 'philosophy' for his interpretations of various features of the hand, is his idea that the lines are expressions of a 'flow of energy' within the palm, presumably taking inspiration from Michaelangelo's painting of God giving life to Adam on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel in Rome. Benham views the 'life-force energy' entering the hand through the index finger of the person and then 'traveling' down the three main lines of the hand to the wrist, returning back up the hand through the secondary lines. This idea is obviously quite without any empirical substantiation whatsoever, and yet it has influenced generations of hand readers ever since. It is purely this view, which has led Benham to believe that the course of the Water line (or Heart line) runs from the index finger to the ulna edge of the palm. Nearly all palmists have followed him in this erroneous interpretation of the line. As is quite clear from the form and structure of the line itself, it 'runs' from the edge of the hand towards the index finger.
This is one of the most unique contributions Benham has made to the study of the hand - going against the traditions of many centuries of hand reading and it is one of those that has seemed to have 'stuck' into modern times primarily, due to the uncritical adulation that Benham's work has generally received. Whilst it is true that his book is refreshing for its originality, clarity of written presentation and thoroughness and accuracy, it should no longer be held up as the 'bible' of hand reading as it has been for so long. The book contains far too many fundamental errors of judgment and entirely omits any discussion of the fingerprints or medical dermatoglyphics. Many of the ideas are simply out of date, unsurprisingly for a book written over 100 years ago.
When the book was reprinted in 1946, (in other words, after the works of at least Jaquin and Wolff had been published) Benham writes in the introduction " I have found no reason to change or correct any statement or indication contained in the book as originally published." For someone allegedly so open and innovative in his approach to hand reading, this is a very surprising statement to make indeed.
Point Of View
Benham adheres to the concept of the left hand being what you are born with and the right hand being what you have made of yourself. I have not found this to be the case. Sequential handprints of both hands show major changes over time. If the left hand is what you are born with, why does it keep changing? The fingerprints, unique and unalterable from approximately five months prior to birth, are what you are born with; both hands are what you have made of yourself.
have not found Benham's timescales to be accurate. For example, using the
Fate Line, Benham has the mid-point between the Head and Heart Lines as
age 36. My experience indicates age 45 would be more accurate. Perhaps
things have changed in the 100 years, after all, people are living
significantly longer today.