Open main menu

Page:Notes and Queries - Series 12 - Volume 10.djvu/213

This page needs to be proofread.

12S. X. MAR. 4, 1922.] NOTES AND QUERIES. 171 was first shown at the Egyptian Hall in 1875, ^nd, as is usually the case, imitations of it began to appear after a few years had elapsed. I saw the original figure as a mem- ber of the public and afterwards handled the beautiful mechanism of the hand and arm of a similar figure that was being made in my friend's workshop for dispatch to the Cape. The full mechanical details would take too much space to describe here. Suffice to say it was really a mechanical device containing no human figure. A spring-driven clock- work provided the motive power. Of two separate trains of . mechanism, the first worked the sweep of the hand and head side- ways through a quarter circle, and the second train actuated, by a single cord, the closing of the thumb so as to grip one of the cards arranged in the quadrant spoken of by MB. ACKEBMANN, and, by still further tension on the cord, to raise the hand, wrist and fore -arm into such a position as showed the face of the card to the audience. The secret of the control of the apparatus lay in the fact that behind the stage an air-pump was used to raise or lower the pressure of air in a pipe which passed under the stage and up one leg of the lower wooden base. The green baize covering of this base allowed the variations of pressure to be conveyed to the inside of the upright glass cylinder and to the mechanism inside the figure where, I believe, a simple piston arrangement was raised or lowered by the high or low pressure, and switched the driving power of the clock- work on to either of the trains of gearing mentioned above, or stopped midway, when no motion took place. The man who played " Psycho's " cards controlled the air-pump unseen. The cards of the other players could be overlooked from behind the curtains at the sides of the stage, so that the chances of winning were well in favour of " Psycho." Full details of both Kempelen's and Maskelyne's machines, with illustrations of the mechanism, are given in ' The Old and New Magic," by Mr. Henry Ridgeley Evans, published by the Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago, 1906, and probably obtainable from Messrs. Kegan Paul, Trench and Co., London. ABTHUB BOWES. A full account and satisfactory explana- tion (presumably correct) of the automaton and its inventor, Wolffgang de Kempelen, a Hungarian, appears in a book by the well- known chess writer, George Walker, entitled ' Chess and Chess-Players ' (1850) ; the article is headed ' The Chess Automaton,' and is the first in the book, occupying 37 pages. It was suggested to the author by finding on I his shelves a thick volume containing six or more tracts on the subject. The important parts are too lengthy to quote in full, but the following notes may be given. The invention appeared first at Vienna in 1770. Mr. Walker, in English, first quotes from a work by M. Windisch, ' Briefe iiber den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempeleii,' &c. (Basle, 1783), giving a full description of the appearance of the automaton : The chest to which it is fixed is three feet and a half long, two feet wide, and two feet and a half high ; and is, by means of the aforesaid castors, moved ^ith facility from place to place. Behind this chest is seen a figure the size of life, dressed in the Turkish costume, seated upon a wooden chair fastened to the body of the Automaton, and which of course moves with it, when rolled about the apartment. The figure leans its .'ight arm on the table, holding a long Turkish pipe in his left hand, in the attitude of a person who ceases to smoke. It plays with its left hand ; which M. de Kempelen informed me was an oversight on his part. . . . When the lurk is about to play, M. de Kempelen, as pipe-bearer, takes the pipe from his hand. Before the Automaton is a chess-board, screwed on the table, or upper surface of the chest, on which the eyes of the figure appear to be constantly fixed. Then follows a description of the para- phernalia accompanying the figure and clockwork in the chest, and the doors to be opened to exhibit these, . before playing, I and a description of how the figure moves his | hands and head while playing. De Kempelen was a modest man and did not at first care for the notoriety of his " toy," and, pestered from all quarters to exhibit it, actually took it partly to pieces and stored it, giving out that it was damaged. But it was brought to light again by request when the Grand Duke Paul of Russia visited the Emperor Joseph II. at Vienna. De Kempelen now decided to reap the financial harvest promised by his invention, and it went to Paris in 1783 and was an instant success ; from Paris it proceeded to England. In 1785, Philip Thicknesse (1719-1792 this seems to have appeared anonymously in 1784, see ' D.N.B.') printed a pamphlet der nouncing the chess-player as a hoax, and touching perilously near to the secret. After this the inventor was invited to go to Berlin ; eager to solve the mystery, Frederick the Great purchased the figure, and when he held the clue, banished it to " an obscure lumber room," where it remained for 30 years, until the advent of Napoleon, when it once more set out on its travels and