Inanimate Reason - The Turk
A translation of Carl-Gottlieb von Windisch's 1783 compilation :
The great and deserved celebrity acquired by the Automaton Chess-Player, of Mr. De Kempelen, and the extraordinary interest excited by its performances at Spring Gardens, where it is now exhibiting by its present Proprietor, Mr. Maelzel, induce the Translator of the following Letters, to think that an authentic description, in English, of this wonderful machine would not be unacceptable to the Public.
The Letters which follow, have therefore been translated from the French Edition (which has long since been out of print), as they contain the most ample, accurate, and complete account which has ever been published, respecting this astonishing and unrivalled piece of mechanism.
The Plate which accompanies this Edition, has been engraved in outline, with the most scrupulous fidelity, from drawings made after the designs of Mr. De Kempelen himself.
London, Feb 1819
(BY THE FRENCH TRANSLATOR)
THE boldest idea that a Machinist has ever dared to conceive, was doubtless that of a machine, which would imitate by something, beyond mere form and motion, the master-piece of creation; nor only has Mr. De KEMPELEN conceived the thing, he has even executed it, and his Chess Player is indisputably the most surprising Automaton that has ever existed. In fact, has anyone ever before seen a figure, purely mechanical, unite to a moving power, a directing power? or, to speak more accurately, the self-acting faculty of moving here and there according to unforeseen circumstances; and which circumstances might be occasioned at the option of any person whatever? Has any one ever seen a wooden figure play the most difficult, and the most complicated of all games, frequently conquering the most skilful player, and even correcting him, if he deviated from the rules of the game?
It was too extraordinary a phenomenon not to cause great sensation immediately on its appearance; the Newspapers and Journals hastened to announce it, but not without exaggerating, more or less, the marvellous. Up to the present time, there has appeared but one accurate description, and divested of all exaggeration; it is that published in 1773, in some provincial Newspapers, by the estimable Author of the History and Geography of the Kingdom of Hungary, Mr. De Windisch, the intimate friend and countryman of Mr. De Kempelen. But this description, slightly detailed, and circulated, but in a very narrow sphere, was not sufficient to make it known (as it deserved to be) to enlightened Europe, an invention so surprising, and even so incredible.
The same author, whom we have just mentioned, has therefore acquired a title to the public gratitude, by his furnishing, in these Letters which we now publish, a full detail of this celebrated Automaton; he gives an account of all the parts which compose it, and describes it in such a manner, as leaves nothing to be wished for (unless it be the secret of the inventor), and adds some interesting traits, which are necessary to be known, in order to appreciate the superior merit of this man, so worthy of the highest celebrity.
The Editor, who has undertaken the publication of these Letters, having formed, during the long stay he made at Vienna, an intimate acquaintance with Mr. De Kempelen, and frequently seen his Automaton, felicitates himself that he enjoys, in the discharge of this undertaking, the double advantage of proving to the public his eagerness to please them; and to give at the same time to his illustrious friend, a convincing proof of his devoted esteem. The better to accomplish this object, he has annexed to these letters, three engravings, which represent the Chess Player in as many different positions; and their accuracy may be the more depended upon, as they were carefully engraved from Mr. De Kempelen's own designs. The first is a front view of the Figure as shewn previous to the commencement of the game. In the second, he is seen from behind, previous to the beginning of the game. The third represents him occupied in playing; the hand and arm raised. These engravings are of double utility: those persons who have not has an opportunity of seeing the Automaton, can, by their means, form an excellent idea of it; and they will recall to those who have enjoyed the pleasure of seeing it, the agreeable recollection of the most interesting master-piece that art has ever produced. May they also transmit to posterity the memory of the astonishing genius which this age has produced in the person of Mr. De Kempelen.
Presbourg, Sept. 7th 1783
DO not expect, my dear Friend, that I shall be able to resolve all the questions you put to me, respecting the celebrated Chess-Player, of Mr. De Kempelen.
The Ozanams, the Guyots, and all the authors of the same class, would succeed no better than myself in satisfying your enquiries. Make up your mind, therefore, to limit your curiosity; and be contented with what the most careful observation has enabled me to communicate to you on this subject.
Far from believing all the accounts that have been given to you or that have had opportunities of reading, concerning this machine, the reflections they have suggested to you, do (as you tell me) but excite your desire more and more, to be better informed on this subject; because, they increase your doubts as to the possibility of a thing so incredible. Do not wonder, my Friend; since I, who have too often seen this machine, who have examined and played with it, am reduced to the humiliating avowel, that I do not understand it better than yourself. However, what consoles my self-love is, that many other persons, although gifted with more profound knowledge, and a more acute penetration, have not been more successful than myself. Out of many thousand persons, of all classes, who have seen it, there is not one who has discovered the secret.
Notwithstanding say you, it can be but an illusion: that is what the Author himself, and every reasonable being will concede to you. But in what consists the illusion? There is the Gordian knot, more difficult to unravel, than that which was heretofore cut by Alexander.
It is an illusion; so be it! but an illusion that does honour to the human mind; an illusion more complete, more surprising, and more inconceiveable, than all those which are to be found in the different collections of mathematical recreations.
The first idea which occurs on a superficial examination of the Chess-player, is the suspicion that its movements are under the immediate guidance of some human being. From this error I was not myself exempt; when I saw, for the first time, the Inventor draw from a recess his Automaton fixed to rather a large chest, I could not, any more than the others, help suspecting that this chest certainly concealed a child, which I guessed by the dimensions taken at a glance, might be about ten or twelve years of age. Many among the visitors, were so convinced of this fact, that they mentioned their opinions aloud. I was satisfied with secretly coinciding in their opinions; but I was no the less confounded on seeing Mr De Kempelen turn up the garments of the Automaton, pull out the drawer, and all the drawers of the chest. Moving it about, thus opened, by means of the castors on which it is fixed, he turned it in all directions, and permitted everyone present, to examine it on all sides.
I was not, as you may imagine, one of the most backward in my scrutinizing inspection. I did not neglect the least corner: and nevertheless, finding no possibility of its concealing anything the size of my hat, my self-love was terribly hurt at seeing a conjecture vanish, which at first appeared to me so ingenious.
I know not whether all the spectators underwent the same impression; I, at least, thought I perceived on the faces of many of them, marks of extreme surprize. An old lady, above all the rest, who, without doubt, had not forgotten the tales with which her infancy had been amused, crossed herself, heaving a devout sigh, and went and hid herself in a distant window seat, that she might no longer remain so near a neighbour to the evil spirit, which she verily believed, must animate the machine.
But it is now midnight; and you know, that it is the hour, at which spirits are least tractable: I therefore cease my trifling, and wish you a good night.
I CANNOT find terms to express that idea I formed of you when I read in your last letter, all the whimsical fancies which your suspicious imagination had engendered.
You neither believe my eyes, those of others, nor even their spectacles. You imagine we could not see clearly, and you crowd together so many ifs and buts, that I am tempted to believe you are one of those who suspect the machine of Mr. De Kempelen to be the effect of magic. Have a little patience, and you shall know all, with the exception of the little Retentum, which apparently, the author will never confide to anyone.
In order to render my description clearer to you, and easier of comprehension, I affix, herewith, the copies of three drawings of the Automaton of Mr. De Kempelen, drawings which he himself made for Mr. De Mechel, and which, consequently, cannot be either more faithful or more correct.
The first of these designs represents the machine as Mr. De K. offers it to the examination of the curious, before it begins playing; that is to say, a front view, the doors of the chest opened and the drawers pulled forth.
The second shews it in the same state, but seen from behind; the dress of the Automaton being turned up to exhibit the mechanism of its body.
The third represents the Automaton in the act of playing.
By the assistance of these drawings, and the details I am about to give you, you will be enabled to form as complete an idea of the machine as if you had an opportunity of seeing it play.
According to the method I intend to follow, it appears to me, that I cannot adopt a more judicious plan than the one pursued by the author himself, in the course of his explanations, and which has become so familiar to me, by the great number of exhibitions I have witnessed, that I think I am capable of exhibiting the machine myself, with only the little difficulty of not knowing how to set about putting it in motion.
Mr De Kempelen resides here in Presbourg, and occupies, with his amiable family, the first floor of his house; his little workshop and study, in which is the Automaton, are on the second floor; when he exhibits his Automaton, the company assemble in the lower apartment, from which he conducts them to the one above.
On passing through the workshop, which serves as an anti-chamber to the study, nothing is to be seen, but the tools of a joiner, a locksmith, and a watchmaker, thrown together in the careless kind of confusion which characterises the abode of a machinist. The walls of the study are partly furnished with large presses, in some of which, books are contained, in others antiques, and lastly, a small collection of subjects of natural history. The vacant spaces between the presses are ornamented with paintings and engravings, all executed by the master of the house; the upper parts of the presses are glazed, the lower parts are enclosed by folding doors, which as well as the presses themselves, are of oak; the floor is of deal.
I thought it best to begin with these details to avoid a question, which you would not have failed to put, in case your imagination after being fatigued with fruitless conjecture, should find itself, (as well as my own) reduced to the necessity of finally having recourse to communications with some adjoining apartment.
The first object which strikes the view, on entering the study, is the Automaton; which is placed opposite the door; the chest to which it is fixed, is three feet and a half long, two feet deep, and two feet and a half high, it runs upon four castors, by means of which, it can easily be removed from one place to another. Behind this chest is seen a figure as large as life, dressed in the Turkish costume, seated upon a wooden chair, fastened to the body of the Automaton, and which moves with it when it is rolled about the apartment. The figure leans its right arm on the table, with its left hand it holds a long Turkish pipe, in the attitude of a person who has been smoaking, it is with this hand it plays, as soon as the pipe is removed. Before the Automaton is a Chess-Board screwed to the table, and from which he never turns his eyes.
Mr. De Kempelen opens the front doors of the chest, and pulls out the drawer which is underneath. The chest is divided by a partition into two unequal parts, that to the left is the narrower; it scarcely occupies a third part of the length of the chest, and is filled with wheels, levers, cylinders, and other pieces of clockwork. In the division to the right, are seen some wheels, some spring barrels, and two horizontal quadrants; the remainder is filled with a casket, a cushion, and a small board, on which are traced letters in gold.
The inventor takes out the casket, and places it on a small table, situated near the machine; he does the same by the board with letters, of which the destination is to be placed on the chess-board after the game is finished, to enable the Automaton, by this means, to answer questions which are put to him, of which I will speak to you another time. I wish you a good night with all my heart.
I must now retrace my steps, and add some observations, which I ought, doubtless, to have previously made; but I know, my dear Friend, you do not require that my relation should be as formal as a mathematical solution; what signifies the precision of the order, provided I succeed in satisfying your extreme impatience?
To return to the chest. In the drawer which I mentioned to you, are found chess-men, of red and white ivory, on a board, with which they are taken out to be placed on the side of the chess board, there is likewise a small box, rather long, which contains six little chess-boards, each of which indicates a different termination of some difficult game, which the automaton plays as soon as the pieces are placed in that form on his chess-board, and which he will certainly win, whether they give him the red or the white ones to play with.
I had forgotten also to observe, that the Inventor not only opens the front doors of the chest, but also those behind, by which means all the wheels are clearly seen, so as to give the most perfect conviction that no living thing could be hid therein; to render it even more complete, the Inventor usually places a lighted taper in the interior of the chest, in order to shew still clearer, every corner.
Finally, he lifts up the robe of the Automaton, and throws it over his head, in such a manner, as completely to shew the structure of the interior; where are also only seen levers and wheels, which so entirely occupy the body of the Automaton, that there would not be room enough to hide a cat. Even the Turkish trowsers are furnished with a small door, which he likewise opens, to remove the most remote shadow of a doubt. On this subject see the second drawing.
But do not imagine, like many others, that the inventor shuts one door as he opens another; the entire Automaton is seen at the same time uncovered, his garments turned up, and the drawer opened, as well as all the doors of the chest. It is in this state that he rolls it from one place to another, and that he presents it to the inspection of the curious.
After having given sufficient time to examine it thoroughly, he shuts all the doors of the chest, and places it behind a bullustrade, which is for the purpose of preventing the spectators from shaking the machine, by leaning on it when the Automaton plays, and to keep clear for the Inventor, a rather spacious place, in which he occasionally walks approaching the chest sometimes, on the right, and then on the left, nevertheless without touching it, until it is time to wind up the springs. Finally he passes his hand in the interior of the Automaton, to arrange the movements in their suitable order, and finishes by placing a cushion under the arm, with which the Automaton plays.
I must also add, with regard to the casket, that Mr De Kempelen places it on a small table near the machine, without, however, there being any apparent communication either between the machine and the table, or between the machine and the casket; to which however the Inventor has frequent recourse during the game of the Automaton, for he opens it from time to time to look into the inside, which remains a secret to the spectators.
It is generally believed, hat this casket is simply a device, employed merely to attract attention; nevertheless, I have received from the inventor, the most positive assurances, that it is so indispensably necessary to him, that without it the Automaton could not play; and he adds, that whenever he publishes his secret, every one will be convinced of the truth of what he asserts. With respect to the letters traced in gold, on the board, of which I have already spoken to you, it serves as a new recreation, when the game of chess is concluded. It is then placed on the chess-board, and the Automaton answers the questions of the visitors, by pointing with his finger successively to the letters necessary to express his replies.
To prepare for this recreation, the Inventor arranges certain movements in the interior of the machine, and that is the only occasion on which I have ever seen him apply his hands, which never happens during the game of chess.
We are now arrived at the moment when the machine is on the point of beginning to play. I ought to premise, for the sake of regularity, that this Automaton plays with his left hand; I enquired the reason, and learned, that it was originally an oversight of the author, of which he was not aware until his work was too far advanced to render an alteration possible of this little defect, very immaterial of itself; in fact of what consequence is it to us, whether Titian painted his pictures with his right or his left hand?
The automaton, when he has to make a move, slowly rises his arm, and directs it towards that part of the board where his piece is situated, which he wishes to move; he suspends his hand over the piece, spreads his fingers to lay hold of it, takes it, carries, and laces it in its destined situation, draws back his arm, and again rests it on his cushion; if he have occasion to take one of his adversaries pieces, he follows the same process to take hold of it, places it on the outside of the board,---returns---takes up his own piece, and places it on the square of that which he has just removed.
At each move which he makes, is heard a slow sound of wheels, nearly similar to what is perceived when a clock is striking; this noise ceases when the move is made, and the arm of the Automaton is replaced on the cushion, and it is not until then, that his adversary can begin a new move.
The Automaton always has the first move, but we can easily excuse this incivility, and allow this slight advantage to an antagonist made of wood.
At every move of the adversary, the figure lifts his head, and overlooks the whole of the chess-board.--- When he gives check to the queen, he bows his head twice; he bows three times in giving check to the King. He shakes his head when a false move is given to a piece, which frequently occurs, because his adversary, or the spectators are curious to see, how he will behave on such an occasion; but he does not confine himself to a mere shake of the head; and if for example, the move of the knight is given to the bishop, the Automaton replaces the bishop on the square from whence he was taken, and continues his own move, which occasions his adversary to lose his turn, as a punishment for his inattention or voluntary error. This is also a little advantage which the Inventor has reserved to himself, to facilitate as much as possible, the means of winning the game, his attention being so much divided that he can give but a small portion of it to playing the game with more or less skill; a circumstance which in reality ought to be of little importance to every reasonable spectator; indeed of what consequence is it whether the Automaton win or lose the game, provided the moves which it makes are just, regular, and appropriate?
The inventor requests those who undertake to play against the Automaton to have the goodness to pay strict attention in placing the pieces exactly on the centre of the square, this precaution being necessary in order that the Automaton in opening his hand to to take one of the pieces, may not be liable to lay hold of it improperly, or even to be damaged if one or other of its fingers should be pressed upon the piece instead of taking it by the side; when the move is played it is not allowed to be altered, this rule is strictly observed by the Automaton, and is equally rigorous for his adversary.
The machine can play but ten or twelve moves without being wound up; but you will allow my Friend that the simple operation of winding up the springs of the Automatons arm, can produce no other effect than restoring its moving power, without having any connection with its directing power, or rather with its faculty of acting according to the circumstances here and there; that faculty, however, in which consists the greatest merit of the machine; and you will doubtless find as well as myself, that of all the circumstances relative to this famous machine, the most inconceiveable is that this trifling operation is the only one that the Inventor visibly makes, and that this is the only time he ever touches the Automaton.
Mathematicians of all countries have examined the machine, with the most scrupulous attention, without being able to discover the least trace indicative of the manner in which it operates. I have frequently been on the spot where the Automaton played, surrounded by twenty or thirty persons, who kept their eyes incessantly fixed on the Inventor; we have always seen him scrupulously keep at the distance of three or four paces from the machine, doing nothing but occasionally looking in the casket which was before-mentioned, and never betraying himself by any movement, which could appear to us capable of having the least influence upon the machine.
Those who are familiar with the singular effects of magnetism in the mathematical recreations which made so much noise at Paris, believed that the magnet is the mean employed to regulate the movements of the Automaton's arm; but without staying to answer to all the objections that could be made against this conjecture, the author to destroy it at once, permits any one inclined to try the experiment to place the most powerful magnet on the machine and without fearing that its operation can undergo the least alteration.
The leap of the Knight, which this machine makes, traverse all over the board, is too remarkable not to be mentioned. It is this; as soon as all the chess-men are removed, one of the spectators, places a knight on any one of the squares he thinks proper; the Automaton immediately takes it, and commencing from that square, and strictly observing the move of the knight, he makes it traverse the sixty-four squares of the chess-board, without missing one, and without touching any of them a second time; this is proved by the counter, which the spectator himself places on each square which the knight has touched, observing to put a white counter on the one from which he first begins, and red counters on all those which he afterwards touches in succession. Try to do as much yourself with your chess-board, perhaps you will succeed better than I have done; all my attempts for that purpose have been unsuccessful.
I think I may now flatter myself with having satisfied your curiosity, removed your doubts, and anticipated all further objections; there remains for me but to make you acquainted with the personal qualities of Mr. De Kempelen to give you an idea of his merit, and to inform you of some particulars, which gave rise to the existence of the chess-player. This shall be the subject of some other letters.
To what height will the spirit of invention next take its flight! is it possible to conceive a bolder idea than this? I will make a figure of wood that shall play at chess; further reflection but adds to my astonishment, and I am persuaded, that you will experience the same surprize. The Automaton of Mr. De Kempelen, is for the mind and the eyes, but in a very superior degree) what the Automaton flute-player of Mr. De Vaucanson is for the ear.
In the year 1769, Mr. De Kempelen, being at Vienna, on some affairs relative to his official situation, was ordered to attend at Court, to assist as a connoisseur at some magnetic games, which a Frenchman, of the name of Pelletier, was to exhibit in the presence of her late Imperial Majesty. The familiar conversation which this august sovereign condescended to have with Mr. De Kempelen during these games, having led the latter accidentally to mention, that he thought himself capable of constructing a machine, the power of which would be much more surprising, and the deception much more complete, than all which her majesty had just seen; she eagerly availed herself of this hint, and manifested so ardent a desire to see this idea realized, that she drew from him a promise to begin it without delay. He kept his word, and in the space of six months, completed the intire formation of an Automaton, which surpasses every thing of the kind that has yet been seen.
Scarcely was this master-piece finished, when he carried it to Vienna, where it excited the surprize and admiration of her majesty, and her august family, of foreign and domestic ministers, of the learned of artists, and in a word of all those who played with this Automaton or who saw it play.
Its fame extended thro' a great part of Europe. The newspapers and journals hastened to announce its wonders, and the result was (what always happens when reports are repeated from mouth to mouth,) that the accounts became defective, contradictory and exaggerated. The Inventor was far from the ambition, of desiring this celebrity, and further still from wishing his machine to pass for a prodigy. He represented it for merely what it is; a machine, which is not without merit as to its mechanism, but the effects of which appear so wonderful, only from the boldness of the idea, and the fortunate choice of means which he employs to carry on the illusion.
It was this which determined me in the year 1773 to prepare a more accurate account, which I at that time published through the medium of some German publications and which I have since inserted in my Geography of the Kingdom of Hungary, Mr. De Kempelen thinking himself sufficiently re-paid by the praises which this machine had acquired for him, and wishing to enjoy still longer the pleasure of alone possessing the secret, rejected several offers which were made to him of considerable sums, by persons who founded upon its acquisition, various speculations of a pecuniary nature. He even went so far as to neglect this Automaton, to pursue new researches and new mechanical inventions, the object of which, was of a more serious kind, and more directed to public utility. He refused the intreaties of his friends, and of a crowd of curious persons from all countries, the satisfaction of seeing this far-famed machine, under the pretext, that it had been damaged by the different removals it had undergone. In fact, he had partly taken it to pieces, and had left it for many years in a state of decay, from which he would not perhaps have withdrawn it, for a long time to come, if his Majesty the Emperor, who allowed nothing to escape him, that could render their residence at his court agreeable to the Count and Countess Du Nord, had not fortunately recollected the machine of Mr. De Kempelen, who in compliance with the desire of his august master, employed himself with so much zeal and activity in the innumerable repairs, which so great a neglect had rendered necessary, that he succeeded in the space of five weeks, in so completely refitting his Automaton, as to allow of its being exhibited before these illustrious strangers, whose surprize and admiration it excited, and who, as well as most of the nobility of the court, advised him to travel with it in foreign countries. His Majesty the Emperor approved of this suggestion, and granted the Inventor permission to absent himself during two years for the purpose.
These circumstances induced him at last to yield himself to the wishes of an enlightened Public, who for so many years had testified with do flattering a constancy the most ardent desire to enjoy the pleasure of seeing and admiring this master-piece; but to put this machine in a proper state for a journey, it was necessary to make considerable alterations in order to facilitate the means of putting it together, taking it to pieces, and packing it up; and these alterations required so long a time as to prevent the Inventor from completing another machine much worthier of admiration, and which shall be the subject of the following letter. In the mean time endeavour to guess what this can be.
On what then think you is Mr. De Kempelen at present employed? On a machine that talks!--- Acknowledge that he must be gifted with a creative genius, bold and invincible, to undertake a project of this kind; and will it be believed, that he has every reason to hope for complete success? He has already succeeded so far as to prove the possibility of such a machine, and to deserve on the part of the learned, that they should dedicate their attention to this new and hitherto unknown invention. His machine answers clearly and distinctly enough to several questions. The voice is sweet and agreeable, there is but the letter R which it pronounces lispingly and with a certain harshness. When its answer is not perfectly understood, it repeats it slower, and if required to speak a third time, it repeats it again, but with a tone of impatience and vexation. I have heard it pronounce in different languages, very well and very distinctly, the following words and phrases:
Papa My husband Rome The King
Mama A propos Madam At Paris
My Wife Marianna The Queen Come.
Mama love me.
My wife is my friend, &c.
It is very likely you will say that this is also a deception; no my dear Friend, it is all the effect of art. I saw on a table a little box of the dimensions of a middle-sized cage and covered with a curtain; on the side was a small pair of Organ Bellows, and at each answer I remarked that the Inventor passed his hand under the curtain. But on this subject I must relate to you a pleasant anecdote to which this invisible speaker gave rise. A young lady of my acquaintance went into the room where this machine was, the Inventor who happened to be there quite alone, bowed and addressed her, but a different voice from his being heard at the same time, and calling this young Lady very distinctly by her christian name, she was seized with such terror, as to be on the point of running away with the utmost speed; and it was not without the greatest difficulty that he succeeded in re-assuring her, by explaining whence the voice came, and enabling her to convince herself of the fact, by shewing her the machine.
This Speaker has not yet receive the form of a human being; it is simply a square box with certain apertures, through which the Inventor places his hands, in order to put in motion several mutations, springs and valves, according to the words which the machine ahs to articulate. Not to augment the size of his baggage, during his journey, the Inventor has thought it best to defer, until his arrival at Paris, the exterior dress of this machine. He intends to give it the appearance of a child of five or six years old, because it has a voice analogous to that age; it is likewise more appropriate to the actual state of this machine, which is far from being brought to perfection. If it should happen to pronounce some words inaccurately, it will, from having the appearance of a child, the more easily obtain that indulgence which it yet requires.
Mr. De Kempelen himself regards this machine but as a sketch, and is far from believing or announcing it as finished. He is the first to say, that it will still cost him infinite pains to bring it to perfection; in the mean time he is contented with having arrived, by means of experiments and discoveries, at the point of convincing himself, and with being able to convince scientific persons, of the possibility of constructing a speaking machine. What new lights will not the learned receive one day or other from this novel invention, to establish, on more certain principles, the theory of speech! I already enjoy, by anticipation the dissertations to which this machine will give rise at Paris, where it will be first exhibited.*
*This extraordinary machine is now at Vienna, and is the property of Mr. Maelzel.---T.
Yes, my dear Friend, I am now about to make known to you this man, whose merit, talents, and rare qualities, have rendered so justly celebrated, intimately connected with him, and honoured by his friendship for many years, it would be easy for me to give you his personal biography; but I think it my duty to restrict myself solely to what concerns him as an artist.
Mr. Wolfgang De Kempelen, about forty six years of age, is a Hungarian Gentleman, and Aulic Counseller of the Royal Chamber of the Hungarian States. His taste led him from his tenderest years to the study of physics and mathematics, and caused him to make an astonishing progress in the department of mechanics. His predominant passion is invention, in which he employs almost every moment which the duties of his situation leave at his disposal. His perseverance has been crowned with repeated success, and I have myself seen several inventions which owe their origin entirely to him, and some of which owe their origin entirely to him, and some of which are doubtless already known to you.
He has sacrificed the greatest part of his fortune in the research of means to bring to perfection, and to simplify the English fire-engine; and he has acquired, by repeated experiments upon a small as well as a large scale, so complete a theory of this masterpiece of human knowledge, that he is enabled to submit it to the capacity of any person, by the most luminous explanations, which he gives with an astonishing fluency. He has shewn me several experiments of this novel kind, very important, and which certainly have never been before attempted. That which most surprizes me is, that it is very rare to hear him speak of mechanism, notwithstanding it is his predominant passion, and upon which nevertheless, if the conversation be led to this subject, he becomes so communicative, and affects so little mystery respecting his inventions, particularly when he meets with a connoisseur.
One of the most important and extraordinary inventions of the present age, is that which he has carried into effect at the cascade of the Imperial Castle at Schænbrun, by which in employing, (by means of a horizontal cylinder), the re-action of the water which comes from the mountains through conducting pipes, he succeeds in putting in motion a number of Pumps, sufficiently large to restore to the Cascade a part of the water which had been drained off, equal in quantity to that which gives motion to the cylinder. But as he is too modest to make known his inventions in the literary world, by giving a description of them himself, I propose as soon as I have the requisite leisure, to revise and publish a regular analysis of the last one mentioned.
The invention of the Automaton Chess-Player, is that on which he prides himself the least; he often mentions it as a mere bagatelle; and although considering it simply as a machine, whatever be the method of putting it in motion, it certainly has a very great mechanical merit, yet he is the first to declare, with singular modesty, that a great part of the reputation it has acquired, is solely due to the happy means he employs to carry on the deception. For my own part, I am persuaded, that even if Mr. De Kempelen, in exhibiting his Automaton, were at the same time to disclose the secret influence whereby its movements are controuled, there would not be found the less real merit in the invention, and that the successful accomplishment of so old and idea, would alone excite in the spectators as much admiration as satisfaction. The inventor of a mechanical arm, of which all the movements are so natural; which takes, removes, and place all with so much grace; this arm were it openly guided by the two hands of the Inventor, would of itself offer so many difficulties, as to be alone sufficient to insure the reputation of many Artists.
He is at present preparing for his intended journey, through Germany, France, and England. His first design was to have sent the machine under the management of confidential persons, without accompanying it himself, but more mature reflection, and his own experience having convinced him, that if any accidents (inevitable in so Long a journey) should cause some derangement in the machine, he would be reduced to the necessity of trusting the repairs to Foreign Artists, or of loosing the fruits of his voyage. This consideration obliges him always to accompany it himself, to superintend the repairs, without, however being subject to exhibit the machine, which will be done by persons he has chosen for that purpose. It is to be feared that his countrymen will never again have the satisfaction of seeing amongst them these master-pieces of Hungarian genius, to which, nevertheless, they have so much right, and of which they have so much reason to be proud.
I can anticipate the eager desire you will feel to see for yourself all which I have just detailed concerning this machine; there is merely required a journey of about a hundred leagues, and your desires will be gratified. I embrace you, and am entirely yours.
C. G. DE WINDISCH