The Turk - from the Diary of Robert Gilmor

Jan 27, 2009, 1:22 PM |

I stumbled across this diary in the Maryland Historical Archives.  The first part vouches for Robert's Gilmor's righteousness and propriety and the second part gives an interesting view into a well-connected man's perspective of Maelzel's Turk in 1826.  The actual dates of each entry were somewhat muddled and I didn't try to figure them out, but the time frame was only between 1826-27 and I listed the appropriate entries (those referring to chess) in chronological order.


from the Introduction to the Diary of Robert Gilmor:

The Baltimore American of December 2, 1848, carried the following notice:

"Died on Thursday morning, the 30th of November, in the 75th year of his age, Robert Gilmor, the last Representative of a commercial house, which, during half a century, maintained a widespread reputation for honorable and successful enterprise. Himself a virtuous and public minded citizen—a liberal and enlightened Merchant—a munificent patron of the arts, with the tastes and acquirements of an accomplished gentleman—honored by all—affectionately beloved by kindred and friends— after a long life, without stain or blemish on his name, he left the world in peace, with all the hope of a believing Christian."

The author of this diary was the son of Robert Gilmor [1748- 1822] and Louisa Airey [1745-1827] and became one of the most distinguished and useful citizens of Baltimore, justifying completely the brief eulogy quoted. He was President of the Library Company of Baltimore; President of the Maryland Academy of Sciences and.Belles Lettres; President and one of the Managers of the Washington Monument; Vice-president of the American Geological Society; Honorary member of the Belles Lettres Society of Dickinson College; Corresponding member of the Royal Bourbon Academy of Science of Naples; Member of the Agricultural Society of Maryland; Member of American Colonization Society; Member of American Philosophical Society; Honorary Member of South Carolina Academy of Arts; Corresponding Member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia; Member American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres; Corresponding Member of Gale Natural History Society of New Haven; Member of Maryland Association for the Promotion of Fine Arts; and one of the Founders of the Maryland Historical Society.

Mr. Gilmor's residence was originally at 34 Water St., next to the house of his father, and later, at 57 Lombard St.

Mr. Gilmor was married 1st June, 1802, to Elizabeth Susan Cooke, third daughter of William Cooke, Esq. She died of consumption May 1st, 1803, just eleven months after her marriage. On the 9th April, 1807, Mr. Gilmor married Sarah Reeve Ladson, daughter of Major James Ladson, of Charleston, S. C. There was no issue by either marriage.

Readers may recall the " Recollections of Baltimore," read before the Society by Mr. Gilmor, 9th May, 1844, and published in this magazine, Vol. 7, page 233.

The diary is a small leather-bound volume, 5x8 inches, containing 91 numbered leaves. The journal is written on the right hand page only, the other side being used for notes concerning the individuals mentioned in the text.

The notes appear as they are in the manuscript. Additions are indicated by brackets.



from the THE DIARY OF ROBERT GILMOR 1826-1827


entry 1 
In my way home took tea at Meredith's and was prevailed upon to go to the Exhibition of the Automaton chess player, which is a wonderful piece of mechanism, which beats everybody. Maelzel also exhibited some rope dancing automata, and a trumpeter as large as life, who accompanied him on the trumpet in excellent time. Also a small fiddler whose motions were in perfect time with Maelzel's playing on the piano. All the ladies had gone to the Country to a party at General Steuart's, which my cold would not permit me to attend.

note from the Archives
[Maelzel's advertisement in the contemporary papers etates that the performance will commence with " the amusing little Bass Fiddleb, Automaton Tbitmpeteb, Automaton Slack Rope Dancebs. The AutoMaton Chess Player will be exhibited only to private parties on application to Mr. Maelzel."]

entry 2
The mystery of the Automaton chess player next came on the table, and we had a long and unsatisfactory discussion; most of them insisting against my opinion and in the face of Maelzel's great mechanical skill, that there must be a man concealed in the table or desk at which the automaton sits. I contended that there is not room for one, even if so poor a trick was resorted to, and that Mr. Maelzel himself played the game through the figure by touching certain concealed keys, which by combination, might be made to work the machine. Time or accident alone can solve the mystery, which at present puzzles every body.


entry 3
At night took the whole family and Mrs. Harper to see the Automaton chess player. Was more and more confounded in endeavoring to account for its movements. Notwithstanding the general opinion, I cannot conceive the possibility of a man being concealed within the desk at which the figure sits and plays. It would be a contemptible trick, and unworthy of the ingenuity of the inventor of the machine.  I have always believed that Maelzel himself played the game by means of keys, placed under.


entry 4
The morning as usual. Went to Mr. Charles Carroll Jr's at Hottnewood to dine. All the ladies of the party to meet his cousin Charles Harper and his bride. Old Mr. Carroll was there and Mrs. Caton the mother of the Marchioness of Wellesley sat between her and the lady of the house, whom I handed in to dinner. After dinner the conversation turned upon the automaton of Maelzel, now exhibiting, and Mr. Carroll, having never seen it, was prevailed upon by one to go tomorrow and play a game of chess with this celebrated automaton. We returned to town in the evening and the ladies went to Mrs. Charles Harper's, while I went to the play for an act or two.


entry 5
Wednesday. At half past 11 o'clock old Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the surviving signer of the declaration of Independence, called on me at my house in his carriage with his daughter Mrs. Caton and her husband, to go to see the Automaton chess player. I got into the carriage and we drove to tlhe Fountain Inn in Light street, where the exhibition takes place. Mr. Maelzell soon found out Who Mr. Carroll was.


entry 6
Charles Carroll of Carrollton Esq., the last surviving signer of the declaration of Independence was one of the mission to Canada with Saml.  Chase, Archbishop Carroll (his cousin) and Doctor Franklin. He mentioned to me often in conversation anecdotes of the party. This day, he told me that he was in the Senate of the U. States at Philada when Doctor Franklin's death was announced, and that he rose and moved that the Senate should wear mourning on their left arms (as usual) for 30 days. Mr. Jay seconded the motion, but no others voted for it and it was lost. Ralph Izard (one of the signers also) came round to his seat and exclaimed "why what the Devil, Carroll, got into you to vote to pay honors to such a damned old rascal as Franklin." So much for party spirit, and the opinions which prevailed at that time of the Doctor's conduct in France, as well as his religious opinions.

. . . and paid him every attention; he requested him to play, and the old gentleman, who in his time was a good chess player, consented to play against the Automaton. We saw from the first, that Maelzell intended that Mr. Carroll should win the game; and as the old man had lost some of his play, it cost the Automaton a great deal of trouble to avoid winning the game. Once when the Automaton could not, from the position of the pieces avoid checking the King on the square next to him with his Queen, supported hy a bishop and which in fact was checkmate, the moment Maelzell saw the inevitable consequence of the move, and fearing to win the game, he made a pretence of adjustment of the Machine, and taking a light, went to examine and put to rights the interior of the Turk. He no doubt at that time communicated to his assistant the error he had made of forcing a game on his antagonist, and the consequence was a move of his queen on the line of the Castle of Mr. Carroll, which of course took her, and then it was with great difficulty he could force the old gentleman to win the game. Indeed it was so obvious that Mr. Carroll at last said, I think you have favored me in this game. He however appeared satisfied with his victory, and Mrs. Caton (his daughter) and Mr. Caton were equally well satisfied of the trick played on him by the Automaton.