5. Robert-Houdin and the Vogue of the Automaton-Builders
§ 1. Predecessors of Robert-Houdin: Vaucanson, Jaquet-Droz, Kempelen, Maelzel
The vogue of the automaton-builders, that period when the public showed its greatest interest in automata and mechanicians built the most elaborate models, began with a contemporary of Philidor and ended with a contemporary of Liszt. The chronology of this chapter, therefore, retraces the chronology of the preceding four chapters, running from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. Like each of the preceding chapters, this chapter treats a new field of activity, but as it retraces the familiar chronology, familiar names reappear.
An automatic machine is a machine that “acts by itself,” that is, a machine that has its own engine as part of its machinery. If it also looks like an animal or a human being and acts like one, it is called an automaton. The more skilled the activity an automaton imitates, the more skilled must be the automaton-builder. In the preceding chapters, particularly in the immediately preceding one, we observed the prodigious progress of the cultivation of technical skill. We also heard complaints from critics of the cultivation of technical skill that its ultimate goal seemed to be to turn people into machines. When automaton-builders began to make mechanical imitations of skilled human beings, they were simultaneously demonstrating their own supreme technical skill as mechanicians and parodying the technical skill of those professionals whom their machines imitated. Thus, these automaton-builders pushed the cultivation of technical skill to the sublime and to the ridiculous at the same time, in a trick of deception.
The three automata built by Vaucanson. Courtesy of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Photograph by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.
Automaton-builders began to make imitations of skilled human beings only late in the history of automata, during the period of their vogue that preceded their decline into near extinction, and it is no accident that this was the same period when magic shows, which often featured automata, also had their vogue. Automaton-building goes back to ancient times and down through the centuries has generally been associated with clockmaking. Ctesibius of second century B.C. Alexandria constructed water clocks and also water-powered automata. Water entering a sealed compartment beneath a carved figure of a bird, for example, forced the air in the compartment up through a tube inside the figure and across a sound hole to produce in the bird’s mouth something like a whistle. Sometime around the fourteenth century medieval craftsmen started to install weight-powered clocks on church towers. Shortly thereafter they added jaquemarts or “jacks-of-the-clock” or simply “jacks,” hammer-wielding human figures that pivoted to strike a large bell, marking the hour, and driven by the same weight that drove the clock. The Renaissance contributed spring-powered clocks and watches that gave the impulse to wind-up toy automata originating in the seventeenth century. Around 1730 one of the many clockmakers of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany, perhaps Franz-Anton Ketterer, had the idea of marking time’s progress with a mechanical cuckoo, in which he was much imitated. In fact, toward the middle of the eighteenth century the creative spirit began to reveal itself in makers of automata with increasing frequency. They constructed more complex works, which in appearance and action more closely resembled animals and humans, and which more and more often were independent of timekeeping. Some of the new artisans were no longer or had never been clockmakers. And some of their masterpieces were such as to entitle us to call the period from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century the “sixth day” in the Genesis of automata.
The transcendent moment in the life of the mechanician Jacques Vaucanson (1709–1782) came in 1738 when he amazed the savants and the curious of Paris with a display of his three mechanical marvels, the Flûteur (Flute Player), the Canard (Duck), and the Tambourinaire (Drummer). The Flûteur, in its outward appearance, duplicated in wood an Antoine Coysevox marble sculpture, well known at the time, prominently displayed in the Tuileries Gardens, and representing a life-size faun sitting on a rock and playin-g a transverse flute. This kind of flute, similar to our present-day concert instrument, was something of a novelty in the first half of the eighteenth century, when what we call a recorder was still the standard concert flute. What was inside Vaucanson’s Flûteur was even more novel: a complicated arrangement of axles, cords, pulleys, levers, chains, bellows, pipes, and valves. When activated by his creator, the faun’s mechanical musculature caused his fingers to move up or down, uncovering or covering the airholes of the flute; his mouth to emit a stream of air, blowing with greater or lesser force across the mouth of the flute; his tongue to go up or down, interrupting the stream of air or allowing it to continue; and his lips to open or close or push out or pull back, forming different embouchures. The mechanician had perfectly harmonized all of these movements so that the Flûteur played the notes exactly as a human or faun flautist would. Because the transverse flute was still relatively unknown, little had been written concerning its technique, requiring Vaucanson, who was not a musician, to discover it for himself, for his satyric creation, and for future generations of flute teachers. The Flûteur played not just individual notes, of course, but whole pieces of music. “Indeed,” reported the Mercure de France,
In order to produce the successive notes of a piece, Vaucanson employed a rotating cylinder studded with pegs, each of which triggered a particular movement of the automaton’s anatomy. Such cylinders, on a larger scale, had been used in carillons and mechanical organs since the fifteenth century and, on a smaller scale, were to be used in music boxes from the late eighteenth century onward. The whole apparatus was driven by a weight, as clocks had been driven since the fourteenth century.
One has the pleasure of being able to listen to this mechanical figure for more than a quarter of an hour, as it performs like a master fourteen airs, each of them different in character, in range of notes, and in tempo.
Variations, so attractive on this instrument, have not been omitted, and everything, including crescendi, diminuendi, and even sustained notes, is executed with the most perfect good taste.
Vaucanson’s Canard, likewise life-size, raised itself up on its legs, flapped its feathered wings, moved its head from side to side, extended its neck, and quacked. It also dabbled realistically with its bill in water, drank, and took seed out of one’s hand. The mechanical viscera inside this automaton, however, heralded an advance in naturalism over that in the Flûteur. It produced an imitation not just of outward bodily movements but also of the processes of digestion. Shortly after swallowing food and water, the Canard expelled its waste with an authenticity that could only have been admired by the visitors to the exhibition hall.
The third figure, the Tambourinaire, represented a shepherd of Provence playing two instruments indigenous to that region of southern France. With one hand, the shepherd beat a tambourin, or small drum, while with the other he held to his mouth a galoubet, a kind of small recorder, or old-style flute. In the exhibition prospectus, Vaucanson justified his construction and presentation of this second mechanical flute player:
At first glance one would imagine that the difficulties to overcome were less than in the Flûteur; but, without wanting to overrate the one at the expense of the other, I would ask the reader to recall that the instrument in question is among the most intractable and the most inherently out of tune; that it was necessary to give expression to a flute with only three holes, in which the holes are sometimes half-covered, and in which everything depends on the force of the air passing through them; that it was thus necessary to produce a variety of windspeeds, in such rapid succession that the ear can barely follow them, and to give tongue articulation to every note, even sixteenth-notes, without which this instrument has no appeal.
Vaucanson’s automata struck a major chord with the public. After he had exhibited them in a rented hall in the Hôtel de Longueville, one long block south of the Café de la Régence, and perhaps at the annual Saint-Germain Fair on the Left Bank, he took them on a tour of France and Italy. A few years later, in 1743, he sold them to some entrepreneurs from Lyon, who toured with them for nearly a decade, showing them throughout Europe. Admission was always charged at these exhibitions and the automata appear to have brought in considerable revenue.
They also brought recognition to Vaucanson from the scientific community. The Académie Royale des Sciences sent an official delegation to the exhibition hall and following the delegation’s report voted to award him a certificate of commendation. The Académie was not only a prestigious group of scientists but also a quasi-governmental body. Its coveted commendations frequently led to an official position or pension, as happened in Vaucanson’s case. To crown his success, King Louis XV also saw and admired his masterpieces.
Thus, in 1740 Vaucanson was appointed inspector general of silk works, the silk industry being a logical place for him to put his mechanical talents to good use. Even though textile production in the eighteenth century was still labor-intensive, differences in technology already contributed significantly to differences in quality and efficiency, and because of its inferior machinery the French silk industry had fallen behind its English and Piedmontese rivals. Vaucanson spent the next forty years striving valiantly, but for the most part vainly, to help it catch up. He fulfilled his early promise of genius, inventing the first automatic loom (later perfected by Jacquard), the first automatic mechanism for weaving patterns, a new type of silk reeler and a new silk thrower (two machines involved in spinning silk thread), and a new calender (a kind of mangle to smooth finished cloth). But he lacked an attendant power of persuasion, and for a while the only thing he succeeded in conveying to either masters or workers in the French silk industry was that his machines threatened their livelihoods. The radically conservative canuts of Lyon, the industry’s capital, chased him out of their city in 1744 and probably would have killed him if they had been able to catch him. On the whole, the attempt he made to reform the silk industry proceeded very slowly and remained incomplete.
But Vaucanson’s fame and fortune survived the vicissitudes of his career as inspector general. Voltaire praised him in his long poem Discours en vers sur l’homme (Discourse in Verse on Man, 1738):
Tandis que, d’une main stérilement vantée,La Mettrie also compared him to Prometheus in his landmark of materialist philosophy, L’Homme machine (Man a Machine, 1748). The Académie Royale des Sciences inducted him into its ranks in 1746 and frequently called upon him to pass judgment on the inventions of others. Jean-François Marmontel asked him to construct a mechanical asp for his play Cléopâtre (1750). The play was not a success, but the automaton was: Its hiss prompted a member of the audience to remark approvingly, “I agree with the asp.” 
Le hardi Vaucanson, rival de Prométhée,
Semblait, de la nature imitant les ressorts,
Prendre le feu des cieux pour animer les corps.
With a hand on which all praise falls sterile,
Vaucanson the bold, Prometheus’ rival,
Took, while imitating nature’s projects,
Heaven’s fire to animate cold objects.
The marquis de Condorcet’s official eulogy of Vaucanson to the Académie predicts that his name “will be famous for a long time.” At the time of his death in 1782, and for many years previous, his home had been the opulent Hôtel Mortagne on the outskirts of Paris, where he also had a large workshop. As Condorcet explained, “He believed that works useful to the nation should be paid for by it, and he used to say this frankly; if someone raised the objection that he already had a respectable fortune, he responded that others who did nothing useful were much better paid.” He bequeathed to the government the contents of his workshop: his inventions, including many unrelated to silk production; his drawings, such as one set representing the gearing for a differential; and his tools, some of which themselves were inventions. This collection was one of three gathered together during the Revolution to furnish the new Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers (Arts and Crafts Conservatory), still in existence today.
In his ascent, Vaucanson never got entirely beyond the reach of the three automata he had constructed in his twenties. Condorcet’s prediction that his name “will be famous for a long time” concluded: “among the vulgar, for the ingenious productions that were his youthful amusements; among the enlightened, for the useful works that were his lifelong occupation.” And a friend, whose letter to the editor the Journal de Paris published as an obituary notice of Vaucanson, complained on behalf of his memory: “I was surprised to read, Messieurs, in a periodical dated 23 November, the strange and laconic eulogy of the late M. de Vaucanson. The editor had reduced it to this: ‘He immortalized himself through his automata.’ When one knows nothing else about a man so famous, one should limit oneself to giving the date of his death, and pass over the rest in silence.” It is clear that Vaucanson’s contemporaries regarded his automata as masterpieces, but whether they were early or mature masterpieces, and whether masterpieces of imagination or of craftsmanship or of learning, was debatable. In its report on their exhibition the Mercure de France referred equivocally to “this curious branch of mathematics.”  How did Vaucanson himself regard them?
There is evidence to suggest that when he began working on them he had something a little different in mind from what he eventually produced. While still a child in Grenoble he had constructed a clock, and, according to Condorcet, “some automaton-priests that duplicated a few of the ecclesiastical offices,” but his parents steered him toward more intellectual pursuits, sending him first to Lyon to study theology, then to Paris to study medicine. It was probably as a medical student that he discovered and became interested in anatomies mouvantes. “Moving anatomies” were working models of parts of the human body whose use many seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century physicians advocated for purposes of instruction and research. Some physiologists believed that if one constructed an accurate working model of a bodily organ, one could learn things about how the organ functioned in a living being by experimenting on the model. In the early 1730s, before he exhibited his soon-to-be-famous automata in Paris, Vaucanson showed one or two of them in the towns of Brittany and Normandy, together with “a machine containing several automata in which the natural functions of several animals are simulated through the action of fire, air, and water.” This oracular description appears in a contemporary contract and lacks further elaboration. In 1741, the year Vaucanson became involved with the silk industry, the Académie des Beaux-Arts of Lyon recorded in its minutes that “M. Vaucanson…informed the Académie of a project that he had conceived, to construct an automaton figure that simulated in its movements the animal functions, the circulation of the blood, respiration, digestion, the operation of muscles, tendons, nerves, etc.” In 1762, he began to work on the more modest project of a machine that would simulate just the circulation of the blood, using rubber tubes for veins. But this project, too, remained unrealized, because of inadequacies in contemporary rubber technology.
Thus, Vaucanson may have originally conceived his celebrated automata as anatomies mouvantes. He borrowed heavily to fund his work on them. Persistent financial difficulties may have led him eventually to alter his course away from the purely scientific and toward something with greater popular appeal. The finished automata certainly had popular appeal, but their builder, in his exhibition prospectus, emphasized the science. The twenty-three-page prospectus began with five pages describing the physics of sound generation in the transverse flute. Apropos of the Provençal flute, the galoubet, he boasted, “I have also made discoveries that one would never have suspected.” For example: “The muscles of one’s chest make an effort equivalent to fifty-six pounds of pressure, since I had to produce this same force of air, that is, a stream of air pushed by this force or this pressure, in order to generate a high B, which is the highest note this instrument can reach.” Joining a debate among contemporary physiologists, Vaucanson explained of his Canard that “the food is digested there as it is in real animals, by means of dissolution and not by trituration, as some doctors claim.”  But as we have seen, for example in the remarks of Condorcet and in the attitude of the periodical press, Vaucanson’s own claim that his automata represented a contribution to science was only partly digestible.
The purpose of Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz (1752–1791) in constructing and exhibiting his three famous automata of the 1770s was frankly commercial.
His father, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, had already gained a small measure of fame as a master clockmaker in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel, on the French border, where clockmaking, including watchmaking, had grown in the course of the eighteenth century to become the major industry. It was practiced throughout the canton but was concentrated particularly in the two principal towns, after the town of Neuchâtel itself, of Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds, where the elder Jaquet-Droz lived. Although in the third quarter of the century those two towns still contained only a few thousand inhabitants apiece, more than three hundred of them in Locle and more than four hundred in La Chaux-de-Fonds were clockmakers, and uncounted hundreds more were metalsmiths, jewelers, gilders, enamelers, engravers, cabinetmakers, and workers at other crafts tributary to the principal industry. Johann Bernoulli, astronomer at the Academy of King Frederick the Great of Prussia and a relative of the famous Bernoulli mathematicians who lived in Switzerland, visited Neuchâtel and reported that “every year in Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds combined, approximately 40,000 gold and silver watches are prepared for export, not counting a large quantity of plain and fancy clocks.” 
King Frederick was also prince of Neuchâtel, for Neuchâtel was under Prussian suzerainty from the early eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth. Frederick practiced the cosmopolitanism preached by the Enlightenment philosophes: He welcomed Philidor and his blindfold chess to Berlin; he invited Vaucanson, who declined, however, to join the many other foreigners at his academy; and he appointed an eccentric Scotsman governor of Neuchâtel in 1754. The Scotsman, likewise cosmopolitan, had been employed previously by the king of Spain, and he encouraged the elder Jaquet-Droz, furnishing him with letters of introduction and recommendation, to go to Madrid to offer some of his luxury clocks to Ferdinand VI, whose tastes we have already become acquainted with in the context of his patronage of the castrato Farinelli. Jaquet-Droz made the trip in 1758 and returned to Neuchâtel a year later with a small fortune and the beginnings of a continental, and eventually worldwide, reputation.
The most elaborate clock bought by the Spanish king was described in detail by Bernoulli, who undoubtedly received the description from Jaquet-Droz himself when he visited the latter’s workshop; the piece is generally referred to as the Berger (Shepherd), because of the figure that surmounts it.
It should be explained that there were two windows in the housing of the clock below the dial: In one stood the mechanical lady holding a book of music in her hand; in the other was the canary, perched on the fist of a cupid. The largest figure, the shepherd, sat on top of the clock housing next to a tree; he actually played his recorder, his mouth blowing air into it, his fingers covering and uncovering the sound holes. At the feet of the shepherd two cupids oscillated on a small see-saw; and next to the shepherd, for good measure, sat a lamb that bleated and a dog that barked. Style Louis XV.
It indicates hours, minutes, and seconds, sounds the hours and quarter-hours, and will also rehearse as desired the hours and quarter-hours. In the middle of the clock face one sees these equivalent time measurements: the day of the year and month (taking into account the different lengths of the months); the phase of the moon; the sign of the zodiac, which appears at the time when the sun begins to traverse it; the season of the year; and an artificial sundial with an apparent shadow, that indicates the hours with the same irregularity as other sundials. Above this one sees the vault of the heavens, where the stars appear and disappear at the same time that they do in the sky.…A set of bells plays nine pieces…while a lady moves to the rhythm of the pieces.…After the bells play an artificial canary sings eight pieces…after which a shepherd plays various pieces on the flute.
Encouraged by this success, the elder Jaquet-Droz began to conceive more ambitious projects in which he would apply his mastery of clockwork to other purposes. We see from the description of the Berger that some of his luxury clocks were already sprouting mechanical figures and mechanical music devices. His new idea was to evolve these offshoots into autonomous entities. In 1769 Pierre Jaquet-Droz was joined by his seventeen-year-old son, Henri-Louis, just returned from two years’ study of mathematics and physics at Nancy. By 1773 they had constructed three androids—automata representing human beings, often in life size, and du-plicating one or more human functions—the Écrivain (Writer), the Dessinateur (Sketcher), and the Musicienne (Musician), as well as a piece four feet square called La Grotte (The Grotto), which contained a multitude of small mechanical figures, celestial, human, and animal. The exhibition prospectus credited the Écrivain to the father and the other three pieces to the son, but it seems likely that they were all to some degree creations of both of them.
Here is how the prospectus described the Écrivain:
A figure representing a child of two years, seated on a stool and writing at a desk.
This automaton moistens his pen himself [in an inkwell], shakes off the excess, and writes distinctly and correctly everything one cares to dictate to him, without anyone touching him either directly or indirectly. He places the capitals appropriately and leaves a suitable space between the words he writes. When he has completed one line, he moves on to the next, maintaining an appropriate distance between the lines. While he is writing, his eyes are fixed on his work; but as soon as he has finished a letter or a word, he glances at a writing primer, as if he wanted to imitate the model.
One could “program” the Écrivain ahead of time to write any message composed of up to forty letters and spaces. Or, more impressively, one could “dictate” to him messages of any length, selecting the letters for him to write one at a time. Programming the Écrivain necessitated opening up his body; dictation could be conducted from outside, apparently by means of a hidden wire or wires. The second piece, the Dessinateur, was quite similar to the Écrivain, likewise representing a two-year-old, but wielding a pencil instead of a pen, and producing only a very limited number of drawings in contrast to the limitless possibilities of the writer, who benefited from being able to combine at will the twenty-six letters of the alphabet.
It should be added that all the figures were carved, painted, dressed, and wigged so as to resemble human beings as closely as possible. Their machinery was hidden inside their bodies and could be accessed through a door built into their backs.
The third figure represents a girl of ten to twelve years, seated on a stool and playing a harpsichord.
This automaton, whose body, head, eyes, arms, hands, and fingers make various natural movements, performs on her harpsichord, by herself, various pieces of music in two or three parts, with considerable precision. Since her head has complete mobility, as do her eyes, she glances equally at her hands, at her music, and at her spectators; her flexible body bends forward from time to time in order to look more closely at her music; her breast alternately swells and falls, in order to show her breathing.
It is not clear whether or not the Jaquet-Drozes had planned initially to exhibit their androids. Quite possibly they had intended to follow the course the father had taken fifteen years earlier, that is, to offer their creations as luxury items to one or another of the crowned heads of Europe, preferably one with a taste for unique works of artifice and a treasury to match. But as word spread of their mechanical offspring, a steadily mounting stream of visitors arrived at their door asking to see them. This despite the fact that they lived in out-of-the-way La Chaux-de-Fonds, ten miles from Neuchâtel, not exactly a metropolis itself, in mountains of the Jura, and not on the road to any other capital. The governor of Neuchâtel, who happened to be in Berlin in the summer of 1774, received this account in a letter:
If it had not been before, the commercial potential of an exhibition was now obvious. Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz shepherded his young charges to Paris. Vaucanson saw the automata there and was extremely impressed, although he declined the offer of an explanation of how they worked; the venerable academician did not want to be lectured to by a twenty-two-year-old. Jaquet-Droz was invited to court, where his Dessinateur sketched the portraits of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette. Later that same year, 1775, the automata traveled to London, whence they embarked on a tour of Europe, revisiting Paris many times and finally returning to Switzerland about a decade after their departure. In 1789 they were sold to some French speculators.
People came from everywhere, as though on a pilgrimage. Every day the yard and the road were filled with carriages; the rains deterred very few of them. It began at six o’clock in the morning and lasted until eight in the evening. The Jaquet-Drozes, aided by two of their workers, took turns presenting the automata. Among those parading through were the nobility of the surrounding lands and the bailiffs of the cantons with their families; the ambassador of France himself went there incognito.
The fortunes of the Jaquet-Droz family imitated the fortunes of the mechanical family. Requests for products came to the creators after requests for demonstrations came to the world’s most sophisticated creatures; the renown of the progenitors followed on the heels of the renown of the progeny; the gains of the artisans reflected the gains of the little artists. The Jaquet-Drozes established ateliers in Geneva and London to supplement the output of their original workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds. The son revolved regularly from one to the next. He also communicated directly with agents scattered around the globe eager to participate in his family’s business, and sent things to them in Paris, Madrid, Constantinople, and Canton.
The Jaquet-Drozes designed, constructed, and sold luxury goods. Commercially, they were to the late eighteenth century what Benvenuto Cellini had been to the sixteenth century and what Carl Fabergé was to be to the turn of the twentieth century; artistically, they were perhaps a notch below those two master craftsmen. They produced “admirable watches, snuff-boxes, toiletry boxes, and decanters, leaved with gold, ornamented with precious gems and pearls, and concealing in their interiors small automata with incredibly tiny mechanisms; wonderful birds which even today spring up out of their boxes and sing their sweet melodies; richly decorated clocks with the most unexpected complexities, astronomical timepieces of real scientific value.” 
Among their products, then, some were essentially frivolous, some combined the ornamental with the practical, and some, such as artificial limbs, had great utility. Probably the most celebrated of these were the hands fabricated for Grimod de La Reynière, the gastronome whose Jury Dégustateur awarded certificates of commendation for culinary concoctions in imitation of the certificates awarded by the Académie Royale des Sciences for inventions. Grimod had been born with deformed hands that were almost totally dysfunctional, but fortunately his family was wealthy. The artificial hands designed by the younger Jaquet-Droz while he was in Paris in 1775, and then constructed by his craftsmen, allowed Grimod to lead a normal life. Vaucanson saw this new mechanical masterpiece of the Swiss artisan and reportedly said to him, “Young man, you start where I would like to finish.” 
It does not appear that the Jaquet-Drozes ever mounted another exhibition or took any of their creations on tour again. Even on that unique tour, the younger Jaquet-Droz only accompanied the androids as far as Paris and London, at that point leaving them in the hands of several of the family’s employees for the rest of their long journey. But the Jaquet-Drozes did construct at least four more androids in the 1780s when their fortunes were climbing toward the heavens. They made two replicas of the Musicienne, one of which played sixteen or eighteen pieces instead of just five as the first one had. And they made two combination Écrivains-Dessinateurs, that is, two androids each of which both wrote and sketched. His Celestial Majesty the Emperor of China bought one of them and perhaps one of the Musicienne replicas as well.
The construction of androids must have presented a challenge to the skill and ingenuity of the Jaquet-Drozes, and it brought them a renown that did not seem to be unwelcome. But it was above all a commercial venture. It wound up their family business to spirited activity in the 1770s and 1780s, with orders for their expensive luxuries coming in from courts all over Europe and beyond, driving an expansion of their operations. In 1789, however, around the time they sold their last android, the mechanisms of commerce came unsprung. They had advanced too much credit to their agents and associates and were forced to liquidate a large portion of their holdings to cover their debts. Pierre Jaquet-Droz died a year later; his son Henri-Louis, the following year at the age of thirty-nine.
Vaucanson and the Jaquet-Drozes inspired many imitations of their imitations of animals and humans engaged in characteristic activities. That is, the success of their exhibitions of their automata encouraged others to build and exhibit similar automata. While neither Vaucanson nor the Jaquet-Drozes were in the first instance showmen, many of their imitators were.
In 1746 a mechanician named Defrance exhibited at the Tuileries several automaton flute players and mechanical birds of his making, the latter of which, he announced in the Affiches de Paris (Paris Advertiser), “sang several airs with a marvelous delicacy.” A sculptor-physicist named Lagrelet acquired them subsequently and presented them in 1750 at the Saint-Germain Fair on the Left Bank, advertising with a more detailed description,
Among the entertainments offered by the Palais Magique in 1748 were three automata: a peasant woman with a pigeon on her head that rendered red or white wine as desired through its beak into a glass presented by the woman; a grocer seated at his counter who got up to fetch merchandise requested of him; and a Moor who played a tune by striking a bell with a hammer. It was probably in the 1750s that the inventor Abbé Mical, who two decades later was to exhibit to much acclaim a pair of mechanical talking heads, constructed two mechanical flute players he called Annette and Lubin. He was reported to have followed this up with “an entire orchestra in which the figures, large as life, played music from morning till evening; and those who have seen it attest to the superiority of this work over everything else of the sort that has appeared. It would, by virtue of its size, the beauty of its sculptured figures, and the perfection of its highly varied execution, grace the largest hall.” Friedrich von Knauss, working in Vienna in the 1750s, built a mechanical musician that played the flageolet, a kind of recorder, and, before the Jaquet-Drozes built their Écrivain, a series of four automaton writers. The latter, however, were much smaller than life-size and did not attempt to imitate the motions of a human being in the act of writing, aspiring only to produce a good script, which they did. Knauss had a prestigious post as K.-K. Hofmechaniker (Imperial and Royal Court Mechanician) and does not seem to have presented any of his works to the public. Returning to Paris, we find that another ensemble of automaton musicians was exhibited around 1770 by Robert Richard, whose Concert Mécanique consisted of a harpsichord player, a violinist, and a cellist. At the turn of the nineteenth century François Pelletier had a small science museum containing an automaton that played the galoubet and the tambourin.
two life-size figures representing a shepherd and a shepherdess playing thirteen different airs in two parts on the transverse flute. The shepherd beats time with his feet; both figures move their lips, through which passes the variable-strength wind that they blow into their flutes, producing the notes; they provide articulation and rhythm by using their tongues and by altering the positions of their fingers on the flute, just as living persons do; they are accompanied by several birds that add their chirping to the little concert.
The foregoing all seem to have been more or less, directly or indirectly, inspired by Vaucanson. Others, beginning in the 1780s, clearly followed the example of the Jaquet-Drozes. Like the latter, the Maillardets were a family of talented clockmakers, and for a while they also worked in La Chaux-de-Fonds. In fact, the two families worked together on some projects, and the atelier that the Jaquet-Drozes established in London in 1774 became in 1783 the atelier Jacquet-Droz-Maillardet. This atelier, under the direction of Henri Maillardet, completed the two Jaquet-Droz Écrivain-Dessinateurs (Writer-Sketchers) and at least one of the two replica Musiciennes, projects that had been started in Switzerland. It is possible that Henri Maillardet also made a third Écrivain-Dessinateur and another Musicienne, for two such pieces ascribed to him alone formed part of an exhibition of automata that he and an impresario mounted in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The exhibition had in addition a small automaton rope-dancer and a small automaton magician that displayed the appropriate answer to a question chosen by a spectator from among a prepared set. The group passed through the hands of one impresario after another and continued to be shown intermittently until at least 1833. In the 1840s in La Chaux-de-Fonds, two later Maillardets presented some of the automata made by members of their family; they had no Écrivain-Dessinateurs or Musiciennes but they did have one of the magicians, for there were several of these too. Meanwhile, in China, a French missionary constructed for the emperor a replica of the Jaquet-Droz Écrivain-Dessinateur that had been sent there. Both could write Chinese.
Another mechanical masterpiece made in the 1780s was the Joueuse de Tympanon (Dulcimer Player) of David Roentgen and Pierre Kintzing. The mechanism in this two-foot-high musician who actually played the dulcimer, striking its strings with hammers she held in her hands, was similar to that in the Jaquet-Droz Musiciennes, whose fingers really depressed the keys of their instruments. And she too moved her head and eyes in a lifelike manner. The Joueuse de Tympanon had a repertoire of eight tunes. Her creators were craftsmen whose secluded atelier lay in a tiny principality on the lower Rhine, but they were well known in the world at large. In fact, Roentgen held the title of Ébeniste-Mécanicien de la Reine de France (Cabinetmaker-Mechanician to the queen of France). Perhaps Marie-Antoinette thought of commissioning the Joueuse de Tym-panon from him after seeing the original Jaquet-Droz Musicienne in 1775. In any case, the commission was executed and when the queen had enjoyed the piece sufficiently she offered her to the Académie Royale des Sciences for examination and inclusion in its collection. After the Revolution, together with much of the rest of the Académie’s collection and the contents of Vaucanson’s workshop, the piece ended up in the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers.
One did not have to be quite a queen to own canaries in France in the eighteenth century, but they were luxury items. They had to be imported, as their name suggests, from the Canary Islands. Among the birds’ attractions was their ability to learn new songs. It could be taxing for an owner, however, to play a tune over and over on a flageolet—the usual mode of teaching—until a canary learned it. This led to the invention of the flageolet organisé, or organ-ized flageolet, an instrument with a keyboard and bellows that one could play, and before that, learn to play, more easily than the ordinary flageolet. To teach one how to teach one’s pet, J.-C. Hervieux de Chanteloup wrote his Nouveau traité des serins de Canarie (New Treatise on Canaries from the Canaries), which first appeared in 1705 and went through more than a dozen editions before the end of the century.
Around mid-century there appeared a new labor-saving device for canary owners called the serinette (little canary). The serinette was a small table-top machine with a crank that one had only to turn to play popular melodies for the songbird to imitate. This saved its owner from having to learn anything, if not quite from having to do anything. The early serinettes were relatively simple even in eighteenth-century terms, relying on miniature organ pipes or small whistles to produce the notes.
Mechanicians, therefore, did not find them very interesting to make. Furthermore, the focus of attention in the whole affair remained the canary; the performance was given by the canary; the artist was the canary. But this subhuman competitor might be eliminated by applying a little ingenuity to the new invention. After all, Black Forest craftsmen had been building cuckoo clocks since the 1730s. Any reasonable clockmaker could replace the serinette’s crank with a wind-up mechanism. Any reasonable sculptor could duplicate the appearance of a canary or other avian species, and certain mechanicians could duplicate the natural staccato movements of a bird’s head, beak, wings, and tail. For the song, one could use instead of a set of pipes a single pipe with a sliding piston and a valve, which occupied less space, produced just as wide a range of notes, and in addition reproduced the roulades, trills, and tremolos that made birdsong particularly attractive. One could do this, all this, and put it into production, if one were named Jaquet-Droz.
Beginning in the late 1770s or early 1780s, the Jaquet-Droz ateliers constructed hundreds of wobbling warblers, popping up out of clocks, snuffboxes, and decanters, and, most spectacularly, hopping from perch to perch inside of proverbial, but absolutely literal, gilded cages. Birds of a feather, the Maillardets flew after them into this branch of the trade as well, and continued to produce such luxury pieces until they fell out of fashion, around 1840. So did quite a few other master craftsmen, for there were many more imitators of the Jaquet-Drozes’ line of singing and dancing canaries, nightingales, finches, and hummingbirds than of their line of androids.
Of course, the one was much easier to duplicate than the other. In the avian pieces, the mechanical singing bird did not actually contain the singing mechanism. This was located elsewhere in the piece, in a compartment in the snuffbox or decanter or clock separate from the compartment out of which the bird sprang. The body of the bird contained the mechanism that effected its movements but not its song. Furthermore, the singing mechanism only imitated the sounds of a bird singing, not the bird’s own manner of producing these sounds. By contrast, the Jaquet-Droz Musiciennes, like the Flûteur and the Tambourinaire of Vaucanson and the Joueuse de Tympanon of Roentgen and Kintzing, produced music by actually playing an instrument in the manner of a human being. Thus, the Jaquet-Droz singing birds were only quasi-automaton musicians, while their keyboard-playing androids were true automaton musicians, requiring greater mechanical skill to produce. Similarly, the writing automata of Knauss, which produced a fine script but did not reproduce the motions of a human being in the act of writing, were quasi-automaton writers, while the Jaquet-Droz Écrivain, which did both of these things, was a true automaton writer.
Many of the pieces exhibited in the eighteenth century as automaton musicians should be categorized as quasi-automaton musicians rather than true automaton musicians. That is, they consisted of a representational sculpture that gestured automatically and a music machine that played automatically, but there was no organic connection between the two. We can be reasonably certain that Richard’s Concert Mécanique was of this sort: The right arms of his violinist and his cellist may have drawn real bows, but it is unlikely that their real bows drew real music from the strings of real instruments. The same might have been the case for Abbé Mical’s mechanical orchestra, although one source indicates that it was an ensemble of flutes rather than an orchestra, in which case he might “simply” have made many copies of Vaucanson’s mechanism or one of his own and thereby produced a true automaton concert.
And many of the pieces exhibited in the eighteenth century as automaton writers or sketchers should not be counted as automata at all. They were articulated sculptures of human beings whose hands grasped a pen or pencil and traced words or drawings, but they were activated and guided by a human being. That human being, the real writer, hid behind the wall or beneath the floor against which rested the pseudo-automaton. The wood-and-wire figure wrote exactly what his flesh-and-blood counterpart did, their two pens being connected by a simple mechanical contrivance called a pantograph, the levers of which were concealed in the body of the sculpture.
It was logical that some of the imitations of the imitation animals and humans of Vaucanson and the Jaquet-Drozes would turn out to be fake imitations. For the makers of these pseudo-automata were not endeavoring to imitate the actions of living beings with machinery, as Vaucanson and the Jaquet-Drozes had done, but rather to imitate in turn the machinery that imitated the actions of living beings. Given what this machinery did, the natural short cut for those endeavoring to imitate it was to employ living beings. The makers of pseudo-automata were more exhibitors than builders, since their purpose in making imitations was not to demonstrate their expertise in science or technology, expertise they often did not have, but merely to put on a good show.
Many late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Europeans knew of Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734–1804) as a mechanician employed at the Court of the Holy Roman Empire in Vienna. He was this in fact and perhaps also in spirit, but not in name or in substance. For he did not hold the title of K.-K. Hofmechaniker—Knauss had that—but the title of K.-K. Hofrat (Imperial and Royal Court Councillor) and his principal occupation consisted of helping to administer the Hungarian portion of the polyglot Hapsburg empire. Equally polyglot himself, Kempelen spoke Latin, German, Magyar, French, Italian, English, Romanian, and one or more Slavic languages. His official duties included such things as translating Empress Maria Theresa’s legal code from Latin into German, supervising the operation of the Hungarian salt mines, directing the construction of a royal palace in Ofen (now Budapest), and organizing a campaign against brigandage in Hungary. When he was not engaged in state business he was likely to be writing drama or poetry or painting landscapes. In his spare time he was a mechanician.
Nevertheless, despite Kempelen’s status as a senior official in the Hungarian government, despite the production of his plays at the Hoftheater (Court Theater), and despite his membership in the Akademie Bildender Künstler (Academy of Pictorial Artists), the substantial fame that descended upon him in the 1780s and what little of it that has survived came to him through his mechanical inventions.
His potentially very useful printing press for the blind gained him little attention. The eighteenth century saw the beginnings of mass literacy in Western Europe, but the blind were left behind. Touched in particular by the plight of a sightless musician of his acquaintance who had already devised a system of musical notation for herself, Kempelen designed a press that printed German Fraktur type in relief and had it built for her. Louis Braille did not develop his more efficient system of patterns of raised dots until 1829.
Kempelen’s civil engineering projects contributed more to the advancement of his career than to making his name known in the wider world. Ever since the Renaissance, European princes great and small had adorned their palace grounds with fountains, engaging in a low-pressure competition in which each sought to dampen the splendor of his rivals by making his own jets and cascades more impressive than theirs. Kempelen stepped into a waterfall project on the grounds of the palace at Schönbrunn (pretty spring), the Austrian monarchy’s response to Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles, and devised a recycling apparatus for it. The falling water turned a wheel, which drove pumps that returned the fallen water back to the top of the falls. A contemporary praised the system to the skies, calling it “one of the most important and extraordinary inventions of this century” and describing it as if it were a kind of perpetual motion machine.
Kempelen also tinkered with the new steam engine, known to his compatriots as the englische Feuermaschine (English fire machine). He constructed one that was used successfully to help dig canals in Hungary. He constructed another, it was reported, that he “started up, and it did what K. intended it to do, but only for a few minutes, and then broke down or exploded, which sounds a bit like a fairy tale.”
In 1769 there appeared in Vienna a Frenchman named Pelletier, probably the same Pelletier who later in Paris operated a small museum of scientific curiosities containing an automaton galoubet player. He performed before the Imperial and Royal Court some tricks that depended on magnetism, which seem to have impressed Empress Maria Theresa but not Kempelen, who was also present. Kempelen boasted to the empress that he could create something far more impressive, and she encouraged him to do so. Six months later he produced his Chess Player.
The Chess Player was a life-size sculpture of a man dressed as a Turk, or at least as the Western stereotype of a Turk, complete with turban, drooping moustache, and flowing robe, and holding in his left hand a two-foot-long pipe. He sat in permanence behind a cabinet approximately four feet wide, two and a half feet deep, and three feet high, which rested on four casters and had a chessboard fixed to the top. The side of the cabinet facing the spectators had built into it at the bottom a shallow drawer that was almost as wide as the cabinet itself, and above the drawer two doors of equal height but of unequal width, corresponding to a larger compartment on the right and a smaller one on the left; on the opposite, that is the Turk’s, side of the cabinet, there were two more doors, one to his right and one to his left. Kempelen developed a ritual of presentation: He wheeled the Turk-and-cabinet into the room; opened and closed the doors of the cabinet in turn, showing that the smaller compartment contained a mass of machinery while the larger compartment contained much less of it; pulled out the drawer, extracted a set of chessmen and a cushion, and pushed it in again; wheeled the cabinet around, lifted the robe of the Turk to reveal the machinery in his incompletely enclosed body and wheeled the cabinet back again; removed the pipe from the Turk’s playing hand, placed the cushion under that hand’s arm, and set up the chessmen.
Like a spring-driven clock, the Chess Player’s mechanism had to be periodically wound up, after which it functioned by itself. The Turk raised his arm, extended it over the board, grasped a piece with his hand, and moved it to a new square. He waited for his opponent to move before moving again, nodded his head twice to indicate a check to his opponent’s queen, three times for a check to the king, and shook his head when his opponent made an illegal move. He always played first and usually won. Sometimes when he closed his hand while reaching for a piece he failed to grasp it, if it was not precisely in the middle of the square, but he moved his arm anyway as if he held it, opening his hand again over the destination square. In such cases the Turk’s intention was clear and Kempelen intervened to move the piece. Otherwise the creator kept himself stationed several paces away, standing at a little side table and looking secretively into a small box placed there, except when he had to rewind the machinery.
The empress congratulated him on making good on his boast, and the entire court expressed its admiration. Kempelen first began to show the Chess Player in Vienna and then at his home in Pressburg (now Bratislava), attracting a certain amount of attention, in 1769. Several newspapers, including the Mercure de France, ran reports, and several speculators wanted to buy the piece. Kempelen judged his own creation as “not without merit as regards the mechanism, the effects of which, however, appear so marvelous only because of the boldness of the conception and because of the fortuitous choice of means that are used to create the illusion.”  His interest in it gradually declined, and after a few years of increasingly infrequent exhibitions he partially disassembled it and put it into storage.
The piece that he considered his masterpiece, or at least his greatest contribution to knowledge, was his speaking machine. Curiously, three mechanicians working independently constructed speaking machines almost simultaneously: Kempelen in 1778, a Kratzenstein of Copenhagen in 1780, and Abbé Mical in 1778. Mical, the same Parisian who had previously built automaton flute players, gave his two speaking machines human form, or, to be exact, heads. These talking heads alternately spoke several sentences flattering to the king in clearly comprehensible French. The royalist journalist Antoine Rivarol heaped praise on them. He argued that the proliferation of such heads would preserve the perfect spoken French of the eighteenth century for all time and prevent its degradation by epigones. When Kempelen brought his speaking machine to Paris in 1783, Rivarol reported, “M. Kempelen also had a box from which a few words escaped, it is said; but this worthy traveler paid true homage to M. the Abbé Mical: As soon as he learned of the talking heads, he withdrew.” Another Paris observer, however, judged the talking heads inferior: “Their pronunciation is not by some distance as clear, as distinct, as that of M. de Kempelen’s machine.” Kempelen, too, had planned to bestow a head on his speaking machine, but it seems always to have remained a bare assembly of wires, hinges, tubes, reeds, funnels, and bellows, sometimes covered with a cloth. He was able to make it say several hundred individual words and a few whole sentences. Kempelen’s anatomie mouvante formed a part of his linguistic researches, the results of which he published in a book entitled Wolfgangs von Kempelen Mechanismus der menschlichen Sprache nebst der Beschreibung seiner sprechenden Maschine (Wolfgang von Kempelen’s Mechanism of Human Speech Together with a Description of His Speaking Machine, 1791). His twofold aim was to identify the phonemes of the European languages and to determine how human beings produce those sounds, by specifying the contributions of the lungs, windpipe, vocal cords, glottis, nose, tongue, teeth, lips, etc.
In 1782, while still occupied with his speaking machine, at least in the intervals between his official responsibilities and his artistic relaxations, Kempelen was induced by Emperor Joseph II to resuscitate his Chess Player. The absolute monarch of Austria was expecting a visit from the next absolute monarch of Russia and his wife and wanted to prevent their boredom from becoming absolute. The Turk enchanted the foreign dignitaries to such a degree that they insisted his maker take him on a tour of Europe and prevailed upon Emperor Joseph to decree a leave of absence. The obedient Kempelen accompanied both Chess Player and speaking machine to Paris.
A pamphlet first published in German in 1783 heralded the start of the Turk’s tour that same year; French, English, and Dutch editions of 1783, 1784, and 1785, respectively, marked his triumphal progress. Written by a friend of Kempelen, the pamphlet described what the Turk did, how Kempelen came to create him, and gave a sketch of his life. Thus spurted the first few drops of what was to become a recycling fountain of ink, lasting well into the nineteenth century and staining a multitude of private and public letters, newspaper and magazine articles, and opuscules of every sort, all devoted to explaining the secret of the Turk’s abilities, a secret known to almost none of the authors.
Hence when the Turk arrived in Paris, his first destination, the literate public was already well informed about him. As for the Turk, he knew enough to find his way to the Café de la Régence. The attorney Bernard, who was to become Philidor’s successor as champion and already a leading player, defeated the Turk after a long and difficult game. Bernard rated his skill equal to that of the marquis de Ximenès, at which the latter took offense, not liking to be compared to a literal blockhead. Philidor also defeated the Turk, at an exhibition in front of the Académie Royale des Sciences. Kempelen is reported to have approached the champion beforehand in private to ask him to let the Turk win, so as not to jeopardize the success of the tour. Philidor agreed in principle but told Kempelen that it was in both their interests that he maintain a certain level of play; otherwise, suspicions would be aroused. The consensus of the spectators was that Philidor won in spite of playing below his usual level. He often said afterward that this game had fatigued him more than any other.
The Turk enjoyed Paris in the spring of 1783 and then crossed to London in the late summer or fall. The recent revelation that he was not a player of the top rank did not seem to affect his reputation or his ability to attract attention. Returning to the continent in 1784, he gave exhibitions in Leipzig, Dresden, several towns in southern Germany, Amsterdam, and probably many other places. He retired to Pressburg in 1785, while the letters, articles, and pamphlets continued to gush forth unabated.
After having extended a leave of six months into two years, Kempelen returned to government service and worked until 1798, when he too retired. But he did not cease to set up his easel in the countryside and paint landscapes, since he continued to be able to see perfectly without glasses. He died in 1804 at the age of seventy without having let the world see the secret of his Chess Player.
The purposes behind Kempelen’s mechanical inventions seem to have been almost as various as the inventions themselves. Simple benevolence undoubtedly motivated in large part his invention of type for the blind. The speaking machine grew out of his interest in linguistics, and he intended it to be a contribution to science. The personal satisfaction of meeting challenges to his ingenuity probably also encouraged him in both projects. His adaptation of the steam engine was done for the utilitarian, even mundane purpose of digging canals. His purpose in this case was the government’s, or the monarchy’s, which was appropriate to him as a royal servant. The recycling waterfall of Schönbrunn he likewise conceived in his role as servant of the monarchy. The Chess Player as well he invented to impress his sovereign, and its accomplishment of that aim was what brought about its tour of Europe, its fame, and his.
Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (1772–1838) spent his life inventing and reproducing and acquiring machines that facilitated or imitated or simulated great human skill, and exhibiting his machines.
Maelzel was born and grew up in Regensburg, the imperial city on the Danube where the Holy Roman Emperors were elected. His father taught him how to build organs, read music, and play the piano. By the age of fourteen he had gained a reputation as the best pianist in town. After giving piano lessons for a few years there, he headed downriver to Vienna, the imperial city where the Holy Roman Emperors resided, but for unknown reasons turned his attention back from making music to making music-makers. In 1805 he completed a gigantic organ-like instrument of his own invention that he called a Panharmonicon. This machine incorporated a large variety of orchestral instruments, woodwinds, brass, percussion, but no strings, simulating an ensemble of forty-odd musicians, which a system of levers animated and into which a system of bellows breathed life. Each individual instrument could play only a single note, so that in order to be able to play a whole trumpet passage, for example, the machine contained eight trumpets. The Panharmonicon played at all dynamic levels, from a primal explosion to a dying breeze, and reproduced much of the symphonic universe. Its creator programmed it in advance rather than actively manipulating it while it played. For this purpose, he equipped it with the same sort of rotating pegged cylinder that carillons and music boxes had.
Maelzel set out on tour with his recently built Panharmonicon and his recently bought Chess Player, which he acquired from Kempelen’s son soon after the latter had inherited it. In 1807 he arrived in Paris for an extended sojourn. There the expatriate Italian composer Cherubini received the Panharmonicon more sympathetically than he was to receive young Franz Liszt a few years later, going so far as to write expressly for the machine a piece of music, “The Echo.” Maelzel sold his creation for the large sum of sixty thousand francs so that he could immediately begin work on a new, improved model, which he quickly completed. He also constructed at about the same time a life-size automaton trumpeter, perhaps the first true automaton musician to play this instrument, with moving lips and tongue and a variable volume of wind. He presented his Trompeter to Napoleon’s Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, the organization that had staged the Expositions des Produits de l’Industrie in 1802 and 1806; unfortunately for Maelzel and his chances for a medal, the next exposition was not to take place until 1819.
He left Paris in 1808 for another tour, taking with him the Chess Player, the second Panharmonicon, and the Trompeter. Another automaton trumpeter was constructed independently and almost simultaneously by a Saxon inventor named Kaufmann, to high praise from the composer Carl Maria von Weber. Kaufmann had already built a Belloneon, a mechanical drum and bugle corps for which he had used real drums and possibly real trumpet bells but no humanoids, just bare machinery. Legend has it that one night when Napoleon was occupying the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin after the Battle of Jena (1806), one of his staff officers switched it on, setting off a loud performance of a Prussian cavalry march and throwing the French general staff into confusion. Legend also has it that when Napoleon was occupying Vienna (1809), he sat down to a game with the Chess Player, and it does seem that Maelzel was there around that time. Napoleon supposedly insisted on making illegal moves, eventually provoking the Turk to sweep the men off the checkered battlefield. Another story, more plausible, is that Maelzel’s Trompeter blew a chronogram in honor of Napoleon’s marriage to the Austrian Archduchess Maria Luisa (1810). During one of Maelzel’s frequent but brief stops in the Austrian capital, he received the title of K.-K. Hofmechaniker in recognition of his ingenuity. Passing through Milan in 1809 or 1810, he sold the Chess Player to Napoleon’s stepson, Prince Eugène, who could not bear to allow it to leave without learning its secret. In Amsterdam in 1812 he met a mechanician named Diederich Winkel and joined him in his work on a pendulum chronometer for musicians.
Back in Vienna the following year he became friends with Beethoven. He constructed a series of ear trumpets for the composer, who used the last model for a decade until his hearing gave out altogether. For his part, Beethoven agreed to write a piece for the Panharmonicon in honor of Napoleon’s defeat in Spain. It is a little-known fact that the famous battle symphony entitled Wellington’s Victory was originally written for this equally little-known mechanical instrument. What is more, Beethoven composed the piece around Maelzel’s musical ideas. According to Ignaz Moscheles, a pianist, composer, music teacher, and music chronicler then resident in Vienna:
Maelzel then urged Beethoven to reconstruct his symphony for human musicians, while he himself welded together an orchestra out of the best such individuals available. He also placarded Vienna. The promised concert consisted of the premiere of Beethoven’s seventh symphony, two marches for automaton trumpeter with orchestral accompaniment, and the premiere of Wellington’s Victory. The audience and the press went into raptures and the composer’s already lofty reputation ascended into the next heaven. He returned the favor by lending divine authority to the inventor’s crusade to convert European musicians to the use of his new pendulum chronometer.
I witnessed the origin and progress of this work, and remember that not only did Maelzel decidedly induce Beethoven to write it, but even laid before him the whole design of it; himself wrote all the drum-marches and the trumpet-flourishes of the French and English armies; gave the composer some hints, how he should herald the English army by the tune of “Rule Britannia”; how he should introduce “Malbrook” in a dismal strain; how he should depict the horrors of the battle, and arrange “God save the King” with effects representing the hurrahs of a multitude.
Maelzel’s new chronometer? To Winkel’s original invention of a double pendulum—a vertical metal bar, with a fixed weight at the bottom end, a sliding weight more or less near the top end, and a pivot in the middle attached to a spring-driven oscillating mechanism—Maelzel had added a scale of values, the name “metronome,” patents in four countries, and workshops in Paris, Vienna, and London to reproduce it. He successfully solicited endorsements from dozens of the most esteemed musicians in Europe so that within a few short years the machine was in widespread use. Winkel protested vociferously, and committees of scientists and editors of music journals pronounced in his favor; meanwhile Maelzel minted money. Winkel made one last grasp at success. Integrating some of the features of organs with some from looms, he contrived a machine that, given a theme, could compose variations on it ad infinitum—well, 14,513,461,557,741,527,824 variations anyway. He exhibited his Componium in Paris, where the Académie des Sciences reported favorably on it, but he received no awards, no pensions, no offers. Winkel died destitute at the age of forty-six, forgotten. Maelzel died a millionaire at sixty-six, known to posterity as the inventor of the metronome.
Maelzel did not acquire all that money by assembling craftsmen and salesmen to produce and distribute his metronome. In fact, the Chess Player had always been his most productive worker, so he bought it back in 1818 for the same thirty thousand francs he had received for it from Prince Eugène, the latter’s fortune having fallen as it had risen, as an arm of the fortune of the nepotic Napoleon. Again he arrayed his mechanical men and set out to reconquer the imagination of Europe.
And again he punctuated his travels with extended sojourns in Paris, where he made new humanoids. In 1818 he added an automaton slack-rope acrobat:
So wrote a contemporary authority in a treatise on organ building and builders, a person by no means inexperienced in mechanics. He also described in detail Maelzel’s invention of talking dolls, mentioning en passant that the Chess Player “pronounced very distinctly the word ‘check.’” Maelzel exhibited the dolls, whose vocabularies were limited to “papa” and “mama,” at the 1823 Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie. It does not seem that he won a medal.
The most surprising thing about this little masterpiece of mechanics is the impossibility of figuring out how all of its various movements can be produced, because the automaton suspends itself now by one hand, now by the other, now by its knees, now by its toes, then it straddles the rope and twirls its body around it, thus abandoning one by one all of its points of contact with the rope, through which must necessarily pass whatever communicates movement to it.
From 1818 to 1821 Maelzel showed the Chess Player, second Panharmonicon, automaton trumpeter, and automaton acrobat in London and throughout Great Britain. He spent most of the period from 1821 to 1825 in Paris, dividing his time between the exhibition hall and the workshop. He occasionally forayed abroad with his inverse mime troupe, which made a great deal of noise mimicking human beings. Late in 1825, Maelzel sailed away from the Old World.
No sooner did he arrive in the New World than he sold his Panharmonicon for the stupendous sum of four hundred thousand dollars. He kept the other showpieces he had brought over with him, however, and these may have included, in addition to his own trumpeter and two acrobats and Kempelen’s Chess Player, a Jaquet-Droz writer-sketcher. One such, at least, was discovered at the Franklin Museum in Philadelphia in the mid-twentieth century with an ascription to Maelzel. Over the next dozen years the curious European automata saw New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston, Washington, Pittsburg, Cincin-nati, Louisville, New Orleans, and doubtless many other American cities before embarking for Havana. They may also have traveled in Canada. In Boston, the twenty-five-year-old P. T. Barnum “had frequent interviews and long conversations with Mr. Maelzel. I looked upon him as the great father of caterers for public amusement, and was pleased with his assurance that I would certainly make a successful showman.” 
The Chess Player continued to be Maelzel’s main attraction. But a year or so after his arrival in America a couple of enterprising Yankees began to exhibit an imitation of the imitation chess player. And they refused his offer of a thousand dollars and employment to surrender this compounded copy. For some reason, even though both chess players continued to perform in public, the original imitation prevailed. Later another enterprising American produced another imitation chess player, but this time the game ended with money changing hands, the latest imitator converting his imitation chess player into an imitation whist player, and both imitator and imitation joining Maelzel’s entourage.
The Chess Player, built by Kempelen. Courtesy of the John G. White Collection, Special Collections, Cleveland Public Library. Photograph by the Cleveland Public Library Photoduplication Service.
The increasing diffusion of the knowledge of the Chess Player’s secret had probably determined Maelzel to depart the Old World when he did. Various observers had divined various aspects of the deception almost from the beginning, and the most skeptical observers had immediately penetrated the most important aspect: A human being was hidden inside the cabinet. But many people wanted to believe, and within the multitude who stood between skepticism and faith the enlightenment proceeded slowly.
The movements of the Turk were governed by a modified pantograph, such that he simply duplicated on the outside of the cabinet the movements made by his guiding spirit on the inside. Who directed the Turk in his early years remains a mystery. After he passed from Kempelen to Maelzel the latter employed a series of Café de la Régence masters: Alexandre, Boncourt, and Weyle for short spells in Paris, Jacques-François Mouret for most of the British tour, and Wilhelm Schlumberger for most of the American tour. Thus during the periods when the Turk had Maelzel for his prophet he played first-rate chess, which undoubtedly contributed a great deal to his continuing success. In 1834 Le Magasin pittoresque and in 1836 Labourdonnais’s periodical Le Palamède published the secret, which had been revealed by Mouret, the great-nephew of the great Philidor.
Maelzel himself had talent in the art of chess as well as in the art of music, but he was a better artisan than artist, and a better artificer than artisan. Maelzel died on board ship between Havana and Philadelphia in 1838; the Turk perished in Philadelphia’s Chinese Museum when it burned in 1854. But as an automaton is only the shell of a human being, and the Chess Player only the shell of an automaton, what was destroyed was only the shell of the Chess Player. Its spirit survived into future generations; indeed, it proliferated.
§ 2. The Mechanician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin (1805–1871)
The automaton-builders who made imitations of skilled human beings had a variety of purposes. Vaucanson probably conceived his automata, at least originally, as scientific projects. The Jaquet-Drozes conceived theirs as lux-ury products. Kempelen conceived his to impress his sovereign. But gradually the conception of automata as exhibition pieces, Maelzel’s conception, prevailed over all others. And gradually the show prevailed over the machinery, so that many builders exhibited quasi-automata and pseudoautomata in place of true automata. Although the pseudo-automaton seems degenerate, a soulless copy of the true automaton, it retained two of the most attractive charms of the true automaton: imitation and deception. The pseudo-automaton, just like the true automaton, imitated something else and in doing so deceived people into believing it could do what that something else did. Automata were a kind of magic trick, and they and magic shows had their vogue together.
Portrait of Robert-Houdin. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Photograph by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service.
If the name Robert-Houdin is familiar at all to Americans, it is because America’s most famous magician, Harry Houdini, born Ehrich Weiss, renamed himself after this most famous magician of France, born Jean-Eugène Robert. “When it became necessary for me to take a stage-name, and a fellow-player, possessing a veneer of culture, told me that if I would add the letter ‘i’ to Houdin’s name, it would mean, in the French language, ‘like Houdin,’ I adopted the suggestion with enthusiasm.” From the very beginning of his career Houdini strove to imitate Robert-Houdin: “My interest in conjuring and magic and my enthusiasm for Robert-Houdin came into existence simultaneously. From the moment that I began to study the art, he became my text-book and my gospel.” As of the late nineteenth century, when Houdini was growing up, not many first-class magicians had written books about conjuring techniques, as Robert-Houdin had; fewer still had written an autobiography describing their experiences, as Robert-Houdin had; and none of their lives had been as fascinating as Robert-Houdin’s had been. Houdini in turn wrote books about conjuring techniques, one of which he called The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin: “In the course of his ‘Memoirs,’ Robert-Houdin, over his own signature, claimed credit for the invention of many tricks and automata which may be said to have marked the golden age in magic. My investigations disproved each claim in order.”  But Robert-Houdin’s claims were no more exaggerated than those of the other stage magicians discussed by Houdini, whose inventiveness generally consisted of reworking or reclothing old tricks. Houdini eventually came to realize that the real deceptions in his book were his, not his model’s, although he could only bring himself to acknowledge one: “The only mistake I did make was to call it the name I did when it ought to have been ‘The History of Magic.’”  Everything having to do with stage magic, even writing about it, comes down to imitation and deception.
Robert-Houdin remains today one of the revered masters of the “tricks and automata which may be said to have marked the golden age in magic,” to use Houdini’s phrase, which reflects the consensus of historians of magic on the advanced state of that art in the early and mid-nineteenth century. So was the Frenchman essentially a magician and only incidentally a mechanician? Houdini’s phrase implies the answer: Legerdemain and automaton-building were considered two branches of the same tree of magical knowledge. From the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, most conjurers worth their saltpeter presented mechanical humans or animals in their shows. After all, both sleight-of-hand tricks and mechanical marvels demonstrated manual dexterity. And both legerdemain and automata featured deception: The power of the former depended on the implication that something supernatural was happening; the power of the latter on the implication that a machine could do what a human being or an animal can do. Watching a feat of legerdemain, the spectator’s mind was not persuaded of the presence of something supernatural, but the spectator’s senses were baffled. Watching an automaton, the spectator’s senses were not persuaded of the presence of a living being, but the spectator’s mind was perplexed by the thought that a living being might be no more than a very complicated machine. In neither case was the implication demonstrated, but in both cases it seemed to have been. As for Robert-Houdin, he built machines of one sort or another throughout his life and gave magic shows for only around a decade.
Jean-Eugène Robert was born in 1805 in the small town of Blois, which lies on the Loire River about a hundred miles south-southwest of Paris. His father, Prosper Robert, who had his own business, practiced clockmaking and related arts: “an excellent engraver, a jeweler of taste, he could even if need be sculpt an arm or a leg for a mutilated statue.” So boasted the son, anyway, who as a child wanted nothing more than to imitate his father. “I am tempted to believe that I came into the world with a file, a compass, or a hammer in my hand, because from my earliest childhood, these instruments were my toys, my playthings.” His early inclinations notwithstanding, his father sent him to Orléans, a large town nearby, to attend its collège, a secondary school designed to prepare its students for either higher education or direct entry into a professional career. Prosper Robert had the normal ambition to push his child at least one rung further up the social ladder from his own position. Jean-Eugène studied diligently if unenthusiastically and returned to Blois a graduate at the age of eighteen. His father, pleased by this success, allowed him to idle away a few months doing whatever he wanted, during which time he saw a sleight-of-hand artist perform on the street. “It was the first time I ever attended such a spectacle: I was amazed, stupefied, dumbfounded.” Finally Prosper asked his son to choose a profession and found that Jean-Eugène stubbornly clung to his desire to become a clockmaker.
The equally stubborn father placed his son in a notary’s office. A notary in nineteenth-century France was a kind of second-class attorney, handling a lot of routine legal documents; the occupation was low in the ranks of the professions, but it was a profession. “I leave the reader to imagine how this automaton’s labor suited my nature and my mind: pens, ink, nothing was less appropriate to the execution of the inventions for which I ceaselessly generated ideas.” Jean-Eugène suffered a notary copyist’s boredom for three years, spending much of his free time and some of his work time building mechanical gadgets. Finally, whether because his son had bowed to his wishes for so long, because his son’s stubbornness had proven superior to his own, or because he had ceded all further resistance in ceding his business to his nephew—Jean-Eugène’s cousin—the retired clockmaker agreed to allow his son to apprentice in his old shop under the supervision of its new owner.
Jean-Eugène Robert had found his way to half of his vocation. The other half, at least according to his autobiography, Confidences et révélations, found its way to him. Going out to a bookstore one day to buy a book on clockmaking, he returned with a book on conjuring that the bookseller had wrapped up for him by mistake. This “wrong book” enchanted him, so he set out to learn legerdemain.
After completing his apprenticeship under his cousin, Jean-Eugène went to work for a clockmaker in nearby Tours. Whenever he had a free hand, sitting at his workbench, he continued to practice card and coin manipulation.
I had often been struck by the facility with which pianists were able to read and execute, even at first sight, a melody and its accompaniment. It was clear to me that through practice one could create both an ability to see at a glance and a skill at the keyboard that allowed an artist to read several different things simultaneously while at the same time his hands were doing something very complicated. Now it was a similar ability that I wanted to acquire in order to apply it to prestidigitation; however, as music could not provide me with what I needed, I had recourse to the art of juggling.
I placed a book in front of me, and while my four balls flew in the air, I accustomed myself to reading without hesitation.
In conformity with the style of the period, I had on each side of my frock coat, called a frock coat à la propriétaire, pockets large enough so that I could easily move my hands around inside them. This was advantageous to me in that whenever one of my hands was not occupied with something outside, I could slide it into one of my pockets and begin to work with cards, coins, or one of the other objects that I have mentioned.
The wrong-book episode in Robert-Houdin’s autobiography is followed by the still less believable Torrini episode, which takes up almost a quarter of his book but not even a year of his life. Once, he writes, he fell sick from food poisoning. He became feverish, delirious, possessed by the idea that he was going to die and then by the desire to die at home in Blois. He managed to get into a public coach, fortunately empty, but the jolting of the vehicle gradually made the ride more and more unbearable to his rebellious intestines, and he finally jumped out, rolling unconscious to the side of the road. He came to himself after an unknown period of time in an unknown moving vehicle. It turned out to be a large wagon that when closed up served as living quarters and when opened out served as a small stage for an itinerant magician who gave performances in provincial towns and villages. The magician, named Torrini, and his assistant, Antonio, had picked him up out of the road and were now nursing him back to health. He repaired an automaton for Torrini, proved himself generally useful with his mechanical skills, toured with the pair for an unspecified number of months, and was gradually initiated into the secrets of professional conjuring. Torrini told him many stories of his travels and of other magicians, including an absurd tale involving Giuseppe Pinetti, whom he claimed to have driven out of business with his superior magic. Pinetti had been the most famous magician in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, surpassing even “Comus,” Vidocq’s childhood employer. Eventually Torrini confided that his real name was Edmond de Grisy; that his father had been a count; that he himself was a doctor turned magician; that the young clockmaker he had found half-dead in the road reminded him of his dead child; that he had accidentally killed the latter on stage doing a William Tell trick; that his wife—Antonio’s twin sister—had died of grief soon thereafter; and that Torrini was really Antonio’s surname, the whole implying that he, Grisy, was doomed to wander aimlessly for the rest of his life in a state of self-alienation. Finally returning to his own story, Robert-Houdin tells us that he substituted for Torrini/Grisy on stage after the latter was hurt in a crash of his wonderful all-purpose vehicle. The young clockmaker quickly earned enough to pay for the restoration of both the magician and his wagon. Bodies and souls healed all around, Torrini/Grisy drove off into the sunset and Robert-Houdin returned to Blois. “I found my father quite calm with respect to me. The reason was that, in order not to arouse his anxiety, I had used a ruse: A clockmaker of my acquaintance had forwarded my letters to him as though they came from Angers, and this friend likewise took the responsibility of sending me his responses.” 
The many improbabilities in the Torrini episode tell the reader that it is a deception. The episode’s final story of how Robert-Houdin deceives his father, both by its extreme improbability and by the fact that it says outright that Robert-Houdin is a deceiver, drives the point home. There are undoubtedly elements of truth in the episode, but no one has yet succeeded in finding a historical trace of Torrini/Grisy. The Torrini episode is the wrong-book episode writ large. In both episodes, destiny, or at least events outside the young clockmaker’s control, lead him to the study of magic. That is, he cannot be blamed for any inconstancy toward the career he had insisted to his father so stubbornly on pursuing. Besides, magic is something he practices under the table or inside his pocket, in the wrong-book episode, or while recovering from an illness or on leave from his job, in the Torrini episode; in short, it is not to be counted as part of his real life. It is only a dream: a secret life, an imaginary life, an ideal life. He will continue to satisfy his duty toward his father, represented by his father’s nephew, under whom he serves his apprenticeship in the wrong-book episode, and by Torrini/Grisy, in the Torrini episode. But he will also satisfy his own desire to have a successful career as a magician. Both episodes are deceptions, but like those of a stage magician they are harmless, entertaining deceptions: The audience experiences the comfort both of seeing the conventions of society observed and of being informed that a deception is taking place, while at the same time it experiences the excitement of knowing it is being deceived without being able to figure out exactly how. For Robert-Houdin, the entertainer’s goal is to arouse wonder in his audience, or, put negatively, to avoid boring it with humdrum reality on the one hand or shocking its sensibilities on the other. An autobiography, like an automaton, should be a transparently deceptive, but still deceptive, copy of life.
His adventure having arrived at its happy conclusion, the young mechanician is placed by his older self back into his former position as a cog in a clockmaker’s workshop. Back to the boredom of the daily round of cleaning and repairing clocks. Back to familial Blois. But soon he was to meet a local clockmaker who had moved to Paris and built up a thriving business there, and who had a daughter. In 1830, the year of the July Revolution, of which there is no mention in his autobiography, Jean-Eugène Robert married Mademoiselle Houdin and went to work for Monsieur Houdin. In order to distinguish himself from the many other people in Paris named Robert—some of them also clockmakers—he appended his bride’s name to his own, an addition he later legalized, becoming Robert-Houdin.
While still a notary’s copyist, Robert-Houdin had spent many spare moments outfitting a birdcage that he found in the office waiting room with mechanical amusements for the resident birds and their human spectators. In one part of the cage, to which a bird was attracted by food, the avian resident unexpectedly found himself in the shower room rather than the dining room. In another, the imaginative copyist had contrived things such that a bird in approaching some seed pushed a lever that actually moved the food farther away. One could almost measure the two vectors, mechanical inventiveness and theatrical illusionism, determining the future course of Robert-Houdin’s life.
The same incident also showed that, as a result of these two forces acting on his life, Robert-Houdin would never make a good employee: “I could not resolve to limit my imagination to the execution of other people’s ideas; I wanted at all costs to invent or to perfect. All my life I have been ruled by this passion, or, if you like, by this mania.” Thus he continued to work on his own projects as well as those of his employer after being hired by his father-in-law, who apparently indulged him. We know little more than this about Robert-Houdin’s activities from 1830 until 1837, when he took out his first patent, for a Réveil-Briquet (Alarm Clock-Lighter). Before the invention of the electric light, when one arose before dawn one had to fumble around in the dark for matches to light the lamps or candles. Robert-Houdin’s device lit a candle at the same time that it sounded an alarm bell to awaken the sleeper, thus obviating fumbling. Other inventions soon followed, a timely development for Robert-Houdin, since in 1838 Monsieur Houdin was bankrupted by the bankruptcy of his notary. The father-in-law lost his business but soon found employment with a leading clockmaker of Paris; the son-in-law decided to go it alone. The Réveil-Briquet awakened Robert-Houdin from the nightmare of working for others. Indeed, as a result of improvements to it patented in 1840, he became an employer himself. He hired several workers to increase production and to give himself the free time to realize new ideas.
In 1839 he showed two inventions at the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie, which had become a regular, quinquenniel event. One of them, perhaps his first automaton, represented that archetypal sleight-of-hand artist, the cups-and-ball manipulator. The second made Robert-Houdin’s name as a clockmaker. The Pendule Mystérieuse (Mysterious Clock) had a dial that consisted of two parallel clear-glass disks of the same size joined by a metal band at their circumferences; that is, one could see all the way through the clock, which sat on a table rather than hanging on a wall. The minute and hour hands rotated between the two glass disks, pivoting around a peg that joined the centers of the two disks, the minute hand extending to their circumferences. The dial perched atop a narrow clear-glass cylinder, whose bottom end fit into the housing of the clockworks. Thus, there seemed to be nothing to communicate movement from the works to the hands of the clock, a transparent deception. In fact, a second glass cylinder rotating inside the narrow glass cylinder that held the dial aloft connected the clockworks to a second metal band, just inside the first one, the one that joined the circumferences of the glass disks. This second band rotated almost invisibly, hidden by the fixed outer band. The pointer end of the clock’s minute hand was connected to the second band, so that the minute hand rotated as the band rotated. Tiny gears connected the minute hand to the hour hand at the pivot in the center of the dial. In its report on the exposition the Moniteur universel called the Pendule Mystérieuse “the most remarkable” of the many clocks exhibited there. “We render full justice to the inventive skill of M. Robert-Houdin in acknowledging that he has made a truly remarkable piece; but we can only regret that he has expended so much talent with the sole purpose of torturing the minds of his colleagues, when he could have employed the resources of his fertile imagination more usefully.” The judges of the exposition awarded him a bronze medal.
The goal of mounting the stage one day always remained in the back of Robert-Houdin’s mind. During the late 1830s and early 1840s he applied much of his inventive energy to automata. In addition to the cups-and-ball manipulator, he built a mechanical orange tree that produced first flowers and then fruit in a short space of time, some singing birds à la Jaquet-Droz, a trapeze acrobat à la Maelzel, a writing and sketching figure à la Jaquet-Droz, and two clowns; he also rebuilt the Componium of a German mechanician named Koppen. This machine did not compose, like Winkel’s Componium, but imitated a full orchestra, like Maelzel’s Panharmonicon.
Robert-Houdin made his mechanical orange tree look as much like the real thing as possible. It represented a fully foliated, dwarf tree and sat on a table. Some of its “branches,” in reality hollow metal tubes, held concealed within their ends folded-up paper or silk “flowers” and, just behind the flowers, deflated “oranges.” Air secretly pumped into the tubes forced the flowers to gradually emerge and open up, or “blossom.” More air pushed the oranges out, causing the flowers to flutter down, and then swelled the oranges in a simulation of growth.
He named his two mechanical clowns after two well-known human clowns of the time, Auriol and Deburau: “The latter held firmly above his head a chair, on which his happy comrade gamboled, did gymnastics, and executed feats of strength, just like the artist of the Champs-Élysées circus. After these exercises, my Auriol smoked a pipe and finished the session by accompanying on a small flageolet a melody played by the orchestra.” 
Koppen’s Componium had been disassembled sometime after its exhibition in Paris in 1829, Robert-Houdin writes, and its pieces bought by someone he refers to as D***. The new owner had advertised for a mechanician to reassemble it, and Robert-Houdin had presented himself. “They brought me, in a vast room that was to serve as my workshop, all the boxes containing the pieces of the Componium and emptied them pell-mell onto some bedsheets that had been laid out on the floor for this purpose.” He relates that it took him a year to do it, but that he put all the pieces back together again and made a working machine.
Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur (Writer-Sketcher) brought him more recognition than any other creation of this period of his life. In order to produce it and one other automaton, a singing and fluttering night-ingale for which he had an order from Russia, he secluded himself for eighteen months in an apartment in the quiet suburb of Belleville, leaving his Paris workshop under the supervision of one of his employees and seeing his family just twice a week. The Écrivain-Dessinateur represented a nobleman whose dress, chair, and writing table were all in the style of the period of Louis XV. Thus, it harked back to the days of the Écrivain, Dessinateur, and Musicienne of the Jaquet-Drozes. It seems likely that Robert-Houdin had at least read about these three if he had not actually seen them. After they were sold by the Jaquet-Drozes in 1789, they reappeared in Paris intermittently in exhibitions and magic shows, as did one or two of the Jaquet-Droz-Maillardet combination Écrivain-Dessinateurs. Robert-Houdin may have gotten the idea for his automaton from one of these pieces, or he may have copied the mechanism, or he may even have bought and reworked an existing Écrivain-Dessinateur. Some of the sketches made by the Robert-Houdin piece are quite similar to those made by the original Jaquet-Droz Dessinateur. In any case, Robert-Houdin showed his Écrivain-Dessinateur at the exposition of 1844 and won a silver medal. King Louis-Philippe, on his tour of the exhibits, stopped to see the mechanician put the figure through its paces and expressed his admiration. One of the judges at the exposition, however, repeated the admonition of five years earlier: “It is really too bad, M. Robert-Houdin, that you have not applied to serious works the mental effort that you have expended in such whimsical objects.” He sold the automaton that same year or the next to P-T. Barnum for “a good round price,” probably to help finance the construction of a theater of magic. Barnum, who was touring Europe, sent it back to his American Museum, located in New York City, where it could be seen until the museum burned down in 1865.
Robert-Houdin’s nightingale is also reminiscent of the works of the father and son Jaquet-Droz, a name that does not appear in any of his writings. In his autobiography he tells how he used to go out to the woods and climb trees so as to be able to hear the bird’s song more clearly, listening carefully and then trying to imitate it. Next he had to contrive a whistle mechanism that would reproduce the sounds he heard. Finally, “I had also to animate this bird: I was supposed to make it move its beak in time with the sounds it emitted, beat its wings, jump from branch to branch, etc.” He sold this piece, too, for a large sum.
If Robert-Houdin had done nothing more than duplicate or reinvent automata that had been first created a half-century earlier, he would not be entitled to a prominent place in the history of their evolution. But finally his turn came to be a true creator in the art of automaton-building.
He hit upon one novel idea so striking that he used it as the basis of at least three different mechanical pieces. Each piece was sized to sit on a table. Each had its works in a large ornate base on which was posed a small interior scene containing a human figure. In one, the figure represented a young woman in Turkish costume seated on an ottoman and shaded by a fringed parasol. In another, a woman in a mid-nineteenth-century dress sat on a Louis XV chair at a Louis XV table, on which rested an ornate clock of the same vintage. In the third, another woman in contemporary clothes stood at the railing of a landing at the top of a short flight of stairs. Each mechanical woman held a serinette. Each addressed a mechanical canary sitting on a perch arising from a base appropriate to the decor of the scene. The woman cranked the serinette, which played a tune. The canary imitated it imperfectly. The woman cranked again and this time the canary imitated it more accurately. The lesson continued until the canary, from “hearing” it repeatedly, “learned” the tune.
We have seen that the eighteenth-century vogue for canaries, and for teaching canaries to sing human songs, led to the invention of organized flageolets, then to serinettes, and finally to mechanical singing birds. But in this last phase the learning process had disappeared. Robert-Houdin restored it, and without sacrificing any of the previous mechanical advances, indeed adding an advance of his own, by combining a serinette, a mechanical bird, and an android into a single complex mechanical masterpiece. In the century and a half since, there have been no more advances. To a machine that imitates song, and a machine that imitates a singer of a song, he added a machine that imitates a teacher of a song, but still there is no machine that imitates a creator of a song
While working as a clockmaker and building automata, Robert-Houdin attended magic shows often and watched the magicians closely. He criticized their deceptions in Confidences et révélations, just as Houdini would later criticize his deceptions in The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin.
there is no machine that imitates a creator
there is no machine
Robert-Houdin employs here a somewhat dated vocabulary, current in the second half of the eighteenth century, when scientists and popularizers of science performed tricks illustrating such little-understood phenom-ena as magnetism. The tricks were called “experiments” (expériences), the performers “physicists” (physiciens), and the performances “scientific amusements” (physique amusante). This terminology was adopted by conjurers who had no particular interest in recent discoveries in physics and whose acquaintance with science went no further than a practical psychology of deception. Whether or not Comte’s program was dated, he had other things to recommend him. He excelled at ventriloquism. And his way of flattering the women in the audience in his patter taught Robert-Houdin a lesson, in what to avoid as well as in what to imitate. “Just as Comte was friendly toward the ladies, he was merciless toward the gentlemen.” Robert-Houdin learned that gallantry toward the members of the audience could gain a performer many adherents, and he himself resolved to be gallant toward all.
My first care, upon arriving in Paris, had been to attend some performances of [Louis-Apollinaire] Comte, who had reigned for a long time in his theater in the Choiseul Arcade. This famous physicist was already resting on his laurels, and only performed once a week.…Comte’s experiments were almost all drawn from a repertoire with which I was perfectly familiar: It was that of Torrini and of all the conjurers of the period.
He also saw the well-known Italian conjurer Bartolomeo Bosco and appears to have been somewhat mystified by his popularity. He found him still doing the old cups-and-ball routine: “I would never have thought that in the year of grace 1838 one would have dared to perform it inside a theater. This was all the more improbable in that every day one saw in the streets of Paris two outdoor artists, Miette and Lesprit, who had no fear of rivals.” Perhaps Bosco’s most celebrated trick consisted of decapitating two pigeons, one white and one black, putting the corpses in a box, and retrieving from the same box two live pigeons, one with a white body and a black head, the other with a black body and a white head. Robert-Houdin was offended by this cruelty toward animals and concluded that the audience must have believed Bosco did not really kill the pigeons he appeared to decapitate.
Philippe Talon, billed simply as Philippe, arrived in Paris in 1841 and had his own theater, the Palais des Prestiges (Palace of Prodigies), built soon thereafter. Robert-Houdin describes Philippe’s entrance: “An orchestra, composed of six musicians of debatable talent, performed a symphony with the help of a Mélophone.” Then the magician appeared, barely visible on the darkened stage, and fired a pistol, whereupon dozens of candles instantly blazed to light, thanks to an almost invisible electrical wire with gaps across the candle wicks and hidden jets of hydrogen gas just behind the wicks. Philippe exhibited several automata:
In a celebrated trick that Robert-Houdin later adopted for his own use, Philippe made appear from under a shawl a large glass bowl of water, open on top, in which goldfish could be seen swimming.
the Cossack, which one could equally well have called the Grimacer, on account of the comical contortions he underwent; what’s more, this Cossack was a very skillful conjurer, because he adroitly slipped into his pockets various pieces of jewelry that his master had borrowed from the spectators;
the Magic Peacock, which emitted an unmelodious warble, and which displayed its sumptuous plumage and ate out of one’s hand;
and finally a Harlequin, like that which Torrini had had.
Robert-Houdin finally opened his own theater of magic, built to his design. Its two hundred seats filled up and stayed filled from almost the first performance, on 5 July 1845. On 6 July the Moniteur universel gave the “Soirées Fantastiques” a warm, if brief, recommendation. On 10 July, the Charivari told its readers: “You will wonder whether M. Robert-Houdin deserves to be burned or worshipped.…It’s the science of Vaucanson, Maelzel, and Stévenard combined with the art of Bosco, Comte, and Philippe; it’s mechanics and prestidigitation united, and all that in a charming hall decorated with taste.” Style Louis XV, of course. By 19 July, he rated almost an entire page, with engraving, in the weekly Illustration. An invitation the following year to give a performance in the palace at Saint-Cloud for the family of King Louis-Philippe put the royal seal on his success.
Several of the automata Robert-Houdin presented in his Soirées Fantastiques have already been mentioned. In addition to the cups-and-ball manipulator, the orange tree, the clowns Auriol and Deburau, and the trapeze acrobat, he also showed a Garde-Française (National Guardsman) and his celebrated Pâtissier du Palais-Royal (Pastry Cook of the Palais-Royal). The fully uniformed Garde-Française stood about two feet tall on a small base. From his place on a table, he saluted the spectators, “blew several kisses to the children he saw in the hall,” and appeared to shoot onto a crystal column standing on another table several rings borrowed from women in the audience and loaded into his musket by Robert-Houdin.
The Palais-Royal, whose long wings had been partitioned into spaces for retail shops and whose large courtyard sheltered more dubious enterprises under wooden arcades, had functioned as a sort of year-round fair since the 1780s. By the 1840s many pleasure-seekers had deserted it for the Grand Boulevards, though its restaurants and pastry shops still maintained their superior savor, among them Gendron’s, where Carême had worked. An attached building still housed the Comédie-Française, and the Palais-Royal itself housed several other theaters. Robert-Houdin chose to build his own small theater there and thus called his new automaton the Pâtissier du Palais-Royal. His mechanical pastry cook bustled in and out of a large rectangular cabinet, about the same size as the cabinet of Kempelen’s Chess Player, that is, about four feet wide, two and a half feet deep, and three feet high, decorated to look like a pastry shop. “Warm brioches just out of the oven, cakes of all sorts, syrups, liqueurs, ices, etc., are brought by him as soon as the spectators have asked for them.” In addition to bringing the particular items ordered by the spectators, Robert-Houdin’s pastry cook also gave them the correct change when they paid him. The Pâtissier could think as well as the Chess Player.
A year before Robert-Houdin opened his theater,
In short, there was no connection between the seed ingested by Vaucanson’s duck and the excreted waste. The latter had been prepared in advance simply to look its part and be expelled at the appropriate time. “This artifice, far from changing the high opinion that I had conceived of Vaucanson, on the contrary inspired me with a double admiration for his knowledge (savoir) and his savoir-faire.” Some doubt whether Robert-Houdin ever saw the real Canard of Vaucanson; they suspect he may have seen a copy, of which at least one is known to have existed. No matter, for Vaucanson’s canard was real enough and had been exposed as early as 1783 by C.-F. Nicolaï. Nicolaï had seen the Canard in Nuremberg, where it had been left by one of the Lyon entrepreneurs who had bought it from Vaucanson in 1743. He published his description of the deception in a travel book. Furthermore, the Canard had been restored and exhibited in Milan if not also in Paris, and written up, around the time Robert-Houdin claimed to have seen it.
The Canard of Vaucanson himself was exhibited at Paris in a hall in the Palais-Royal. I was, as one can imagine, among the first to attend, and left struck with admiration at the numerous and skillful devices in this masterpiece of mechanics.
Some time later, one of the wings of the automaton having been rendered inoperable, the repair was entrusted to me and I was initiated into the celebrated mystery of the digestion. To my great astonishment, I saw that the illustrious master had not disdained to have recourse to an artifice that I would not have disowned in a conjuring trick. The digestion, the tour de force of his automaton; the digestion, so pompously trumpeted in his memoir, was only a mystification, a true canard. Decidedly, Vaucanson was not only my master in mechanics; I had also to bow before his genius at conjuring.
Nor had the punctilious Swiss mountain dwellers the Jaquet-Drozes been entirely above deception. Johann Bernoulli had described a perplexing feature of the Écrivain: “The mechanism of the writing automaton is inconceivable, especially because it can write any word of French and can even, after it has begun to write a word that has been dictated to it, as soon as one orders it to leave off this word and write another, break off and begin to write the other.” According to a biopsy of the Écrivain performed a century and a quarter later:
Robert-Houdin’s Garde-Française was likewise controlled from outside by means of hidden wires and pedals, and thus not a true automaton. And the magician’s young son was hiding inside his miniature pastry shop and serving as the pâtissier’s indispensable assistant.
There have survived down to this day some quite delicate levers, with eyelets for attaching wires to, levers which are no longer in use. One likewise sees numerous holes and notches into which must have been placed pieces now missing. The base, covered with velours, is riddled with holes and furrowed with converging grooves; one of the legs of the table is pierced through its entire length, and little mortises, cut into the corners, must have held tiny pulleys serving to guide the wire(s) and to lead them down to the floor. These wires must have been operated by one or two pedals.
Robert-Houdin’s most renowned and most imitated trick, Seconde Vue (Second Sight), his new version of an old routine, also involved his son. In this case, the audience was hidden from his son, rather than vice versa. His son sat blindfolded on stage while Robert-Houdin himself roamed through the audience asking the spectators to hand him any object whatsoever and having his son describe the object in detail after “seeing” it with “second sight.” 
The success of Seconde Vue notwithstanding, Robert-Houdin was much better known for his mechanical than for his nonmechanical tricks. One of the newspaper accounts of the opening of his theater reported that,
The demand for his machines among other magicians continued. A few years later the Moniteur universel reported in its column of lawcourt news: “No sooner had Legrand left him [Robert-Houdin] than he heard from all quarters that this worker had committed the greatest acts of betrayal toward him, that he had copied and sold most of his mechanical pieces. A search of Legrand’s residence uncovered a large number of objects belonging to M. Robert-Houdin or reproduced from originals invented by him.” Legrand was convicted of fraud, or illegal imitation and deception.
M. Robert-Houdin, the high priest of this temple, walking in the footsteps of Vaucanson and Maelzel, is less a physicist than a skillful mechanician, who, tired of building for every magician past and present the ingenious devices that have made their whole reputation, believes it is high time for him to bring directly before the public a series of entertainments all the more perfect in that he has prepared them for his own use and in order to demonstrate his talent as a mechanician.
Considering his subsequent stature among professional magicians, Robert-Houdin’s stage career did not last very long. From 1845 to 1848 he performed mostly in his own Soirées Fantastiques, sometimes also doing a few tricks at one or another variety theater in Paris. In 1846 he gave a short series of performances in Belgium. The Revolution of 1848 drove him across the Channel to Great Britain. He began at the Théâtre Français in London in May 1848, and success following success, performed twice for Queen Victoria, toured extensively in England, Ireland, and Scotland, and did not return to France until October 1849. Upon the resumption of his Soirées Fantastiques, Robert-Houdin conceived the idea of training a successor, who began to spell him as early as the summer of 1850 and in January 1852 bought his theater. The not-quite-retired magician performed intermittently in England, Belgium, and France from the summer of 1852 to the summer of 1853; made a tour of the spas of Germany in the fall of 1853; and concluded his career with a three-month run in Berlin in the winter of 1853–54.
Robert-Houdin engaged in several duels of magic. He boasts that when he opened his show in London in May 1848 he stole the audience of John Henry Anderson, a Scottish magician who had been performing there for some time. While the Frenchman continued to give essentially the same program he had been giving in Paris, the Scot’s program changed dramatically and many of his new tricks were obvious copies of or responses to Robert-Houdin’s. Anderson had his revenge in 1853, however, when the Frenchman’s second sojourn in England consisted of only a few scattered shows, a sojourn he does not even mention in his autobiography.
Robert-Houdin relates that the “physicist” Comte once came to see him perform at his theater in the Palais-Royal. Comte stayed after the show to chat, after which Robert-Houdin escorted his guest down the stairs to the outside door. At that point he heard what sounded like one of his cashiers calling him from the top of the stairs. His guest offered to wait until the presumably minor problem was taken care of before saying good night. The host ascended the stairs again but could find no one around and finally realized that Comte had duped him with ventriloquism.
So saying, Robert-Houdin returned the handkerchief and snuff box he had picked from Comte’s pocket when they had descended the stairs together earlier. That is how Robert-Houdin tells it in his autobiography, anyway. There is a French idiom, avoir l’esprit de l’escalier, “to have staircase wit,” which means to think of good responses belatedly, as one is descending the staircase to depart, whether from a soirée, from a career, or from life.
I calmly descended.
“What did that person from your ticket office want?” Comte asked me, sounding well-satisfied with his deception.
“Can’t you guess?” I responded, imitating his intonation.
“Then I will tell you: It was a repentent thief, who begged me to return these objects that he had taken from you. Here they are, my mentor!”
In 1856 the French colonial government in Algeria persuaded Robert-Houdin to step temporarily out of retirement and travel there on a quasi-official mission. The government’s problem was an insurgency movement among Arabs, fomented by marabouts, Muslim religious leaders, who demonstrated their divine protection by eating nails and crushed glass with impunity and performing other miracles. Robert-Houdin’s mission was “to show them we are their superiors in all things and that when it comes to sorcerers there is nothing to compare with the French.” The French governor invited a group of Arab chieftains to a theater, furnished them with translators, and turned the stage over to the magician. Robert-Houdin asked for volunteers from the audience for several of his tricks. One was in the tradition of physique amusante: He made a muscular Arab appear strong or weak at will by asking him several times to lift up a wooden box resting on the floor, which the Arab sometimes could and sometimes could not do, thanks to an iron plate inside the box and an electro-magnet directly beneath it just under the floorboards. Another, a variation on the William Tell trick, was strictly legerdemain: He had a marabout mark a bullet, load it into a pistol, and shoot it at him while he held up an apple on the end of a knife; after the shot he removed the marked bullet from inside the apple. The show seems to have impressed the chieftains, for they afterward gave him a placard-sized poetic homage in Arabic and French calligraphy, richly ornamented, and affixed with the seals of their tribes. The poet Baudelaire, less impressed, delivered this epithet: “It was appropriate that an unbelieving society should send Robert-Houdin to the Arabs to turn them away from miracles.”  Oddly, France’s avant-garde amoralist deplored the campaign to demoralize Algeria that he believed his country was engaged in, and he believed that the unbelieving magician had been engaged in the avant-garde of the campaign. Robert-Houdin criticized the deceptions of North African marabouts in the final pages of his autobiograpy, just as he had criticized the deceptions of European conjurers earlier in the same work.
During his retirement, when he worked as hard as ever, Robert-Houdin occupied himself with a lot of inventions and a lot of writing, writing about himself, some of which he invented, and writing about his inventions, some of which he also invented.
He produced four full-length books: his autobiography, Confidences et révélations (first published in 1858); a systematic study of the techniques used by cheaters at cards, called Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées (Tricks of Cardsharpers Exposed, 1863); a systematic exposition of sleight-of-hand techniques and tricks, called Comment on devient sorcier (How to Become a Magician, 1868); and an explanation of some of the more complicated magic tricks performed by professionals, called Magie et physique amusante (Magic and Scientific Amusements, published posthumously in 1877).
In Magie et physique amusante, Robert-Houdin tells a story about a device he contrived for a count who had once bought a clock from him and then gradually become a regular visitor to his workshop. Several times the count had had money taken from his desk drawer, which he kept locked, and he could not discover the culprit. Robert-Houdin outfitted the drawer with a trap, such that when someone opened it a pistol fired, presumably a blank, to alert the count, and “a kind of cat’s claw” sprang out to scratch the hand of the person opening the drawer. By means of this, the count caught one of his servants literally red-handed. In gratitude the count insisted that Robert-Houdin accept a personal loan in order to be able to build his long-desired theater of magic. Well-executed deceptions, whether by a thief or a detective, by sleight of hand or machinery, in a private home or a public theater, in a live performance or a book, all produce money.
Robert-Houdin’s cat’s claw was not the first such device; Houdini traced the invention back as far as the mid-seventeenth century. And in writing a detective story Robert-Houdin may have been imitating the detective writer Émile Gaboriau, whose novels, serialized in newspapers and also sold in book form, were extremely popular during the time Robert-Houdin was at work on Magie et physique amusante. Gaboriau was influenced not only by Vidocq’s Mémoires but also by Poe’s short stories, or at least by the French translations of them, which had been made by Baudelaire in the 1850s and have been repeatedly praised ever since as models “so excellent that they seem to be original works.”  Well-executed imitations are also rewarded.
Robert-Houdin did do some real-life detective work. In Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées he mentions two occasions on which examining magistrates asked him to inspect decks of playing cards to determine whether they were marked; in both cases they were. One magistrate reported that Robert-Houdin gave a courtroom demonstration of how cardsharpers cheat at the game of écarté, executing unperceived, right under the noses of the judge, the attorneys, and other onlookers, a fraudulent cut of the deck so as to give himself a high card.
Robert-Houdin’s Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées is reminiscent of Vidocq’s Les Voleurs. A large portion of each is devoted to cataloguing swindling techniques. Robert-Houdin’s book catalogues card swindles specifically; Vidocq’s catalogues swindles more generally. Both also contain many anecdotes, some based on first-hand knowledge and some from unknown sources. Among the anecdotes told by Robert-Houdin are tales of swindles unrelated to cards. A long series of his anecdotes has the same protagonist, a gambling addict named M. Raymond, and, taken as a whole, amounts to the insertion of a novella into his treatise. This is reminiscent of another of Vidocq’s books, his Mémoires. One of Vidocq’s ghostwriters actually did insert a previously published novella, having no connection to Vidocq’s life, into that work. Robert-Houdin makes brief personal appearances from time to time in his novella of M. Raymond, thus maintaining at least the semblance of a connection to reality. But it is mostly, if not entirely, fiction. It is there to balance the dry catalogue of card swin-dles and to take advantage of the recent surge of interest in crime writing. Some have suggested that the Confidences, like Vidocq’s Mémoires, was ghostwritten, but unlike the latter, no candidates for ghostwriter have been named and no real evidence produced. It is indeed unexpected that Robert-Houdin’s first book would have turned out to be as well written and engaging as it is, or as successful as it was. Like Vidocq’s Mémoires, it went through several editions and appeared in translation within a few years of its initial publication.
The last chapter of Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées is entitled “Petites tricheries” (Little Tricks). Robert-Houdin writes that “one knows very well where cheating ends, but one has great difficulty saying where it begins.” To prove his point he says he is going to enumerate a series of card-table irregularities, “beginning with the most innocent,” such as accidentally seeing cards held by an opponent, upon which, according to strict justice, one should acknowledge it and allow the cards to be redealt; “then I will advance along this path all the way up to swindling, asking the reader to establish for himself where the limit of honesty lies.”  His novella of M. Raymond earlier in this same book should probably be counted as a petite tricherie.
Robert-Houdin’s Comment on devient sorcier is considered by some to have been the first systematic treatment of the art of conjuring. In that work, he divides conjuring into its various branches, enumerates its principles, describes sleight-of-hand techniques in detail, explains a large number of coin and card tricks, and concludes with a variety of other kinds of legerdemain involving feathers, corks, cannon balls, interlocking rings, cups-and-ball manipulation, etc. Finally, he promises to explain the most complex conjuring tricks in a sequel.
Magie et physique amusante was the posthumous sequel. After telling in the story of the count and the mechanical cat’s claw how he acquired the money to build his theater, Robert-Houdin describes that theater and how he furnished it to conform to his proposed “complete regeneration of prestidigitation shows.” His program consisted of the elimination of “plants” in the audience; of lighting so bright as to dazzle the eyes of the audience; of bizarre magician’s costumes in favor of a standard black tuxedo; of long, suspicious tablecloths in favor of bare tabletops; and of “boxes with false bottoms, and all apparatus of polished brass or tin,” in favor of glass containers. The rest of the book is devoted to explaining some of the nineteenth century’s most celebrated conjuring tricks, his own and others’, but not including automata. One sees the detective spirit reemerge periodically in his treatments of others’ tricks, where his explanations are often based on induction rather than inside knowledge. Some of them may in fact be incorrect. In others, however, he thoroughly elucidates the obfuscating devices of conjurers masquerading as mediums and spiritualists, a numerous and highly successful group in the second half of the nineteenth century.
During his retirement Robert-Houdin worked with machinery as well as words. He did pioneering work in electrical technology. The heavy-and-light-wooden-box trick that he used in Algiers he first performed in Paris in 1845 when, as he knew better than anyone, “the phenomena of electro-magnetism were wholly unknown to the general public.” More important, he patented an inexpensive electric clock, an electric bell for clocks, a battery, a current regulator, a current interruptor, and a current distributor. The highly respected science journal Cosmos reviewed several of these inventions very favorably. The journal’s editor wrote: “M. Robert-Houdin, who has centupled his power with his distributor, is today the sole person who can solve, if it can be solved, the greatest of the problems still facing us and realize at last the electro-magnetic motor. If we were on the jury, we would vote him a medal of honor for the distributor, and it would be one of the most deserved.” The jury at the 1855 Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie, France’s first international industrial exposition and Europe’s second, after Great Britain’s 1851 extravaganza in the Crystal Palace, withheld the medal of honor but did award him a “first-class” medal, the equivalent of a gold. The medal and the praise vindicated him for the criticisms of frivolity that had been made of his work at the expositions of 1839 and 1844. Robert-Houdin also pioneered in electric lighting. He made and successfully tested an incandescent bulb as early as 1851, an achievement that places him among the first producers of such lights. His bulbs may have been the very first to use a vegetal filament, as Edison’s bulbs later did. For the celebration of his daughter’s first communion in 1863 he lit up a room of his house electrically. But he seems to have abandoned this line of experimentation on account of its apparent economic infeasibility.
Robert-Houdin never entirely disengaged himself from automata. In 1866, for example, the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers called on him to repair a recently donated piece, Kintzing and Roentgen’s Joueuse de Tympanon (Dulcimer Player), the automaton that had been commissioned in the 1780s by Queen Marie-Antoinette. After he finished work on it, he attached to the piece a handwritten note describing the circumstances of his involvement and affirming that he had made no improvements, having limited his role to that of a restorer.
Two years later, he built a replica of Kempelen’s Chess Player. In his autobiography, Robert-Houdin claims to have seen the original Turk in 1844 in the workshop of a mechanician in Belleville, the quiet suburb of Paris where he had secluded himself for eighteen months in order to work undisturbed on two of his most intricate automata. He also claims to have the story of the origins of the Chess Player: Kempelen built it in Russia where he was visiting a Doctor Osloff. Osloff had saved the life of a wounded Polish soldier named Worousky but had had to amputate both his legs. Kempelen built the automaton in order to provide Worousky, a good chess player, with employment and to smuggle him out of Russia in it. But first they gave exhibitions inside Russia, eventually finding their way to the court of Catherine the Great, who challenged the Turk to a game and lost. Finally they succeeded in escaping and continued their tour in Europe. Robert-Houdin claims to have learned all this from a nephew of Osloff.
This story, contained in his very popular autobiography, seems to have revived interest in the Turk. Two playwrights built a theater piece out of it and hired the old magician to do the special effects. The piece, entitled La Czarine (The Czarina), was really about Catherine the Great. It played at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique in 1868. Robert-Houdin created a spectral illusion for the last scene, using a light, a mirror, and a glass plate to project the ghost of Czar Peter III onto the stage to haunt Catherine. He also built a replica of the Turk for a long scene depicting its victory over the enlightened czarina.
Thus we have arrived at the end of the hall of mirrors. Just before the magician’s organic life vanished for all time behind the self-construction of his autobiography, he constructed a copy of a fake automaton made a century earlier that simulated a chess player. He constructed it for a dramatic representation, that is, a work of fiction, that was based on his own fictional retelling of the history of the simulacrum chess player. In other words, he made a counterfeit of a counterfeit of a counterfeit chess player for a counterfeit account of his own counterfeit account of the story of the counterfeit of a counterfeit chess player. And then he was gone.
It is curious that the demise of Robert-Houdin should be associated with the demise of the automaton. For he was both a talented mechanician and a talented experimenter in the development of electricity as a controllable source of power, and the combination of machinery and electric motors eventually produced the next avatar of the automaton, the robot. But this was not until a half-century after his death, and by that time aspirations had changed. Just when the appearance of the robot brought the wildest dreams of mechanicians within reach, mechanicians became engineers and dreamed differently. Engineers have been less interested in how well a machine imitates a human being than in how well it performs a certain function that human beings have been accustomed to performing. Automaton piano players gave way to player pianos, to gramophones, to tape recorders, to synthesizers. The advent of the electric motor seems in fact to have contributed to the decline of the automaton. Although it greatly facilitated the imitation of human actions by machinery, it came bound together with a utilitarian attitude that has to a large extent precluded its use for automata. People expect an electrically powered machine to accomplish something, and admire it on the basis of what it accomplishes. They do not admire it any more if in accomplishing its task it also looks or acts like a human being.
Today’s automatic chess players, which are currently attracting more public attention to chess than at any time since the intermittent reincarnations of the Turk, are so far from resembling human beings that they do not even move the chessmen. They only think of the moves, which are then physically made by human beings. Computer chess programs thus represent the Turk turned inside out. They really are automatic. And today’s Philidors have real reason to fear them. In 1997, Gary Kasparov lost a six-game match to IBM’s Deep Blue, the first loss of a reigning world chess champion to a machine. Is this the outcome of the systematic analysis of chess begun by Philidor and his followers? Of the ever-widening gap, as in the case of what people eat, between people and nature? Of the persistent use of the inductive method so widely disseminated in detective stories? Of the reconstitution of so many activities, such as the performance of music, into physical challenges? Of the series of automata and pseudo-automata built by Robert-Houdin and his predecessors?
Or is it the outcome of a perpetual craving on the part of audiences for entertaining spectacles? Of a limitless drive among experts to better their technical skill? Of an extreme and ultimately paradoxical assertion of the individual self?
All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.
1. On the general history of automata: Alexander Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, trans. Iris Unwin (London: Batchworth, n.d. [1950s?]); Alfred Chapuis and Édouard Gélis, Le Monde des automates, étude historique et technique, 2 vols. (Geneva: Slatkine, 1984; reprint of Paris ed., 1928); Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Les Automates: Figures artificielles d’hommes et d’animaux (Neuchâtel: Griffon, 1949); Alfred Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique et de la musique mécanique (Lausanne: Scriptar, 1955); Pierre Devaux, Automates et automatisme (Paris: P.U.F., 1941); Pierre Latil, Il faut tuer les robots! ([Paris:] Grasset, 1957); Éliane Maingot, Les Automates (Paris: Hachette, 1959); Jean Prasteau, Les Automates (Paris: Grü–, 1968); Albert Protz, Mechanische Musikinstrumente (Kassel: Bärenreiter, ). For the particulars mentioned here: Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 1, chap. 2 (Ctesibius); vol. 1, chap. 7 (jaquemarts); vol. 1, chap. 11 (cuckoo clock). [BACK]
2. For a description of the Flûteur: [Jacques] Vaucanson, Le Mécanisme du flûteur automate (Buren, the Netherlands: Knuf, 1979; reprint of 1st ed., Paris, 1738), pp. 9–16; “Le Flûteur,” Le Mercure de France, April 1738, pp. 738–39 (incl. “fourteen airs” quotation); Académie Royale des Sciences report on Vaucanson’s exhibition, Le Journal des sçavans, April 1739, pp. 435–52 (which stated that the Flûteur played only twelve airs). Vaucanson does not say what powered his automata, but his biographers are fairly confident that it was weights; André Doyon and Lucien Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, mécanicien de génie (Paris: P.U.F., 1967), p. 75. For the historical context: Apel, “Flute,” in Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 322 (adoption of transverse flute as concert instrument); David Lasocki, pref. to Vaucanson, Mécanisme du flûteur automate, unpaginated (little written about transverse flute in Vaucanson’s day); Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, chaps. 1, 2, 12 (history of pegged cylinders in mechanical musical instruments); Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 1, p. 113 (origins of weight-driven clocks). [BACK]
3. Vaucanson, Mécanisme du flûteur automate, pp. 19–21. [BACK]
4. Ibid., p. 21. [BACK]
5. Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, pp. 23–33, 84–92. [BACK]
6. For the Académie Royale des Sciences report: Journal des sçavans, April 1739, pp. 435–52. On the king’s visit to the exhibition: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 23, p. 259. [BACK]
7. M. Imbert, “Nécrologie (mort de Vaucanson),” Le Mercure de France, 15 March 1783, pp. 116–19; Anon., “Vaucanson,” in Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, [1st ed.], ed. [Joseph-F. and Louis-Gabriel] Michaud, 52 vols. (Paris: Michaud, 1811–28), vol. 48, pp. 16–18; Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, chaps. 7, 8, 9, 11; Alfred Cobban, A History of Modern France, 3 vols. (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1957–65), vol. 2, pp. 45–46. [BACK]
8. On Vaucanson compared to Prometheus: Voltaire, Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire, 75 vols. (Paris: Baudouin, 1825–28), vol. 15, p. 363; La Mettrie, Man a Machine, pp. 70 (French version), 140–41 (English). On Vaucanson in the Académie Royale des Sciences: Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, marquis de Condorcet, “Éloge de M. de Vaucanson,” in Oeuvres, 12 vols. (Stuttgart: Fromann, 1968; reprint of Paris ed., 1847–49), vol. 2, pp. 657–58; Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, app. 2, pp. 443–54. On Vaucanson’s mechanical asp: [Jean-François] Marmontel, Mémoires de Marmontel, ed. Maurice Tourneux, 3 vols. (Paris: Librairie des Bibliophiles, 1891), vol. 1, pp. 247–48; Friedrich Melchior von Grimm et al., Correspondance littéraire, 16 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 1877–82), vol. 14, p. 72. Marmontel’s play had eleven performances; the playwright blamed Vaucanson’s snake for diverting attention from his dialogue. [BACK]
9. Condorcet, “Éloge de M. de Vaucanson,” in Oeuvres, vol. 2, pp. 660, 656. On Vaucanson’s bequest: Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, pp. 384–406. On the founding of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers: Tulard, Fayard, and Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution, pp. 673–74. [BACK]
10. Condorcet, “Éloge de M. de Vaucanson,” in Oeuvres, vol. 2, p. 660; M. Guichard de Meinieres, “Nécrologie,” Le Journal de Paris, 10 December 1782, p. 1399; “Le Flûteur,” Mercure de France, April 1738, p. 739. [BACK]
11. The source of Condorcet’s quotation: Condorcet, “Éloge de M. de Vaucanson,” in Oeuvres, vol. 2, p. 645. For the argument that Vaucanson may have originally conceived his three automata as anatomies mouvantes: Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, chaps. 1, 5 (the quotation is on p. 109). On Vaucanson’s later, unrealized anatomies mouvantes projects: Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, chap. 7 (the quotation is on p. 148). [BACK]
12. Vaucanson, Mécanisme du flûteur automate, pp. 4–8 (physics of transverse flute), 21 (quotation concerning the galoubet), 19 (quotation concerning the Canard’s digestion). On Vaucanson and the contemporary debate over the process of digestion: Doyen and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, chap. 5. [BACK]
13. Johann Heinrich Moritz [von] Poppe, Ausführliche Geschichte der theoretisch-praktischen Uhrmacherkunst (Leipzig: Roch, 1801), pp. 375–84; Johann Bernoulli, Johann Bernoulli’s Sammlung kurzer Reisebeschreibungen, 16 vols. and 2 suppl. vols. (Berlin: bei dem Herausgeber, 1781–85), 1st suppl. vol., p. 142. [BACK]
14. Charles Perregaux and F.-Louis Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot (Neuchâtel: Attinger, 1916), chaps. 10, 11. Neuchâtel was under Prussian suzerainty from 1708 to 1857, with the exception of 1806–15, when it formed part of the Napoleonic Empire; William L. Langer, ed., An Encyclopedia of World History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968), pp. 497, 641, 651, 715. [BACK]
15. Bernoulli, Johann Bernoulli’s Sammlung kurzer Reisebeschreibungen, 1st suppl. vol., pp. 154–56; Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 56–58; Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, pp. 49–51; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 1, pp. 241–44. The clock was still to be found in the royal palace in Madrid as recently as 1955, although most of its mechanisms were not in working order. [BACK]
16. Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 91–105. [BACK]
17. The prospectus is reproduced in full in Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 103–5. The machinery of the androids is discussed in varying degrees of detail in the following sources: ibid., pp. 185–89; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 233–49, 270–79; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 287–91, 301–3; Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, pp. 60–63. The ability of the Écrivain to “take dictation” is also discussed in C. Sivan, “Encore l’Écrivain de Jaquet Droz,” Le Journal suisse d’horlogerie et de bijouterie 31, no. 12 (June 1907): 412–15. The androids are still in existence and on display in the Musée d’art et d’histoire, Neuchâtel. [BACK]
18. On the automata’s attraction of visitors to La Chaux-de-Fonds: Letter of Isaac Droz of Locle to Governor de Lentulus, quoted in Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, p. 102 (“people came” quotation). On the automata’s travels to Paris and Versailles: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 7, pp. 273, 284. On the automata’s tour of Europe: Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 110–11; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 192. On the automata’s return visit to Paris: various issues of Le Journal de Paris, cited in Émile Campardon, Les Spectacles de la foire, 2 vols. (Geneva: Slatkine, 1970; reprint of Paris ed., 1877), vol. 1, pp. 276–77, and in Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 49, 262 <$f$>n. 125; exhibition prospectus cited in Maingot, Automates, p. 24. [BACK]
19. Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, p. 95, chap. 15. [BACK]
20. Ibid., p. 114. [BACK]
21. [First name unknown] Weiss, “Droz (Henri-Louis Jacquet)” [sic], in Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, [1st ed.], vol. 12, p. 39; Anon., “Droz (Henri-Louis-Jacquet),” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 14, col. 813; Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, p. 166. On Grimod, see chapter 2 above, p. 77. [BACK]
22. Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, pp. 110, 216–17; Alfred Chapuis, “Les ‘Répliques’ des androïdes Jaquet-Droz,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 13 (1926): 88–105; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 249–51, 278; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 291, 306–9; Alfred Chapuis, “Nouveaux documents sur les automates Jaquet-Droz et Maillardet,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 38 (1951): 33–42. [BACK]
23. Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, p. 119. [BACK]
24. On Defrance’s automata: Les Affiches de Paris, 1746, quoted in Campardon, Spectacles de la foire, vol. 1, p. 225. On Lagrelet’s automata: Les Affiches de Paris, 1750, quoted in Campardon, Spectacles de la foire, vol. 2, pp. 19–20. On the Palais Magique’s automata: [François-] Victor Fournel, Le Vieux Paris: Fêtes, jeux, spectacles (Paris: Valtat, 1979; reprint of Tours ed., 1887), pp. 321–22. On Mical’s automata: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 26, p. 215; [Antoine Rivarol], Lettre à M. le Président de *** sur le globe aérostatique, sur les têtes parlantes…(London: Cailleau, 1783), p. 29. On Knauss’s automata: Friedrich von Knauss, Friedrichs von Knauss selbstschreibende Wundermaschinen (Vienna: n.p., 1780), pp. 103–5 (flageolet player, completed 1757), 13–93 (writers, completed 1753, 1758, 17??, 1760). On Richard’s automata: “Concert mécanique,” Le Mercure de France, August 1771, pp. 152–54; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 289; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, p. 278. On Pelletier’s automaton: Fournel, Vieux Paris, p. 323; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 269; Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 2, p. 222. [BACK]
25. Léon Montandon and Alfred Chapuis, “Les Maillardet,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 3 (1916): 152–67; 4 (1917): 24–45; Chapuis, “‘Répliques’ des androïdes,” Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 13, pp. 88–105; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 161–64, 196–98, 251–58, 278–79; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 253–54, 268, 311–17; Chapuis, “Nouveaux documents sur les automates,” Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 38, pp. 33–42; A. Michaud, ed., “Un Prospectus des Maillardet,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, 1st ser., 39 (1902): 214–15. [BACK]
26. Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 279–86. Marie-Antoinette may have seen the Jaquet-Droz Musicienne again in the early 1780s; see note 18 above. Roentgen and Kintzing lived and worked in Neuwied, the capital of the autonomous Grafschaft (county) of Wied. [BACK]
27. The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints; The British Library Catalogue of Printed Books to 1975; Catalogue générale des livres imprimés de la Bibliothèque nationale (ouvrages publiés avant 1969). [BACK]
28. On canaries, flageolets, serinettes, and mechanical songbirds: Perregaux and Perrot, Les Jaquet-Droz et Leschot, chaps. 18, 19; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 1, p. 279; vol. 2, chap. 18; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 127, 199–202; Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, pp. 83–84. [BACK]
29. Knauss’s writers nonetheless constituted a great mechanical achievement. [BACK]
30. Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 289; Anon., “Mical,” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 5, p. 461. [BACK]
31. H[enri] Decremps, La Magie blanche dévoilée, 4 vols. (Paris: Desoer, 1789–91; first published 1784–88), vol. 4, Codicile de Jérome Sharp, chap. 12; Chapuis, “‘Répliques’ des androïdes,” Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 13, p. 96. On quasi- and pseudo-automata in general: Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, chap. 26, Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, chap. 18; Adolphe Blind, Les Automates truqués (Geneva: Eggiman, 1927). Payen’s automaton writer, exhibited in Paris in 1771, was probably a true automaton; “L’Écrivain automate,” Le Mercure de France, September 1771, pp. 175–76; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 254. [BACK]
32. The biographical sketch of Kempelen presented here is based on these sources: Charles Gottlieb de Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs de M. de Kempelen (Basel: Chrétien de Mechel, 1783; the German ed., Karl Gottlieb von Windisch, Briefe über den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempelen, bears the same imprint); J. Karl Unger, “Wolfgang von Kempelen,” in Zeitschrift von und für Ungarn, zur Beförderung der vaterlä–ischen Geschichte, Erkunde und Litteratur 5 (1804): fasc. 5, pp. 313–17; Anon., “Kempelen, Wolfgang Ritter von,” in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, ed. Constant[in] Wurzbach, 60 vols. (New York: Johnson, 1966; reprint of Vienna ed., 1856–91), vol. 11, pp. 158–63. Unless otherwise noted, all information on Kempelen in this section, including quotations, derives from these three sources. [BACK]
33. [Sébastien] Guillié, Essai sur l’instruction des aveugles; ou, Exposé analytique des procédés employés pour les instruire (Paris: n.p., 1817), pp. 96, 121; Anon., “Paradis, auch, jedoch unrichtig Paradies, Maria Theresia von,” in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, vol. 21, p. 288. [BACK]
34. L[ouis] Dutens, “Lettre…au sujet de l’Automate qui joue aux échecs,” Le Mercure de France, March 1771, pp. 153–56; Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs, pp. 38–40. [BACK]
35. Contemporary observers did not give mutually corroborative descriptions of Kempelen’s procedure. On this and other matters concerning the Chess Player, the present study follows for the most part, but not always or entirely, the definitive study of Charles Michael Carroll, The Great Chess Automaton (New York: Dover, 1975). On Kempelen’s procedure, see in that work pp. 54–55. The sketch of the automaton presented here is based on reports of contemporary observers, principally L[ouis] Dutens, “Lettre sur une Automate qui joue aux échecs,” Le Mercure de France, October 1770, vol. 2, pp. 186–90, and idem, “Lettre…au sujet de l’Automate” Le Mercure de France, March 1771, pp. 153–56; Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs (1783); Decremps, Magie blanche dévoilée (1784), vol. 1, pp. 65–69; Josef Friedrich, Freiherr zu Racknitz, Ueber den Schachspieler des Herrn von Kempelen und dessen Nachbildung (Leipzig: Breitkopf, 1789); [Robert Willis], An Attempt to Analyse the Automaton Chess Player, of Mr. de Kempelen (London: Booth, 1821). [BACK]
36. Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs, pp. 40–41. [BACK]
37. On late-eighteenth-century speaking machines: David Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic, Addressed to Sir Walter Scott, Bart. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1883; first published 1832), pp. 268–70; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, chap. 15; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, chap. 22; Thomas L. Hankins and Robert J. Silverman, Instruments and the Imagination (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995), chap. 8. Knauss apparently constructed four talking heads around 1770, but little is known about them; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 202. On Mical’s talking heads: “Mécanique,” Le Journal de Paris, 6 July 1783, p. 778; Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 26, pp. 214–16; Aoine] Rivarol, Discours sur l’universalité de la langue française, in Oeuvres choisies de A. Rivarol, 2 vols. (Paris: Librairie des Bibliophiles, 1880), vol. 1, pp. 79–82; idem, Lettre à M. le Président de *** sur le globe aérostatique, sur les têtes parlantes…, pp. 20–24, 29–30 (Rivarol’s quotation is on p. 30); L. Louvet, “Mical,” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 35, col. 312. Both Vicq d’Azyr, in his official report to the Académie Royale des Sciences (according to Louvet’s article), and Bachaumont found the pronunciation of Mical’s talking heads defective, but without making a comparison to Kempelen’s speaking machine. The source of the quotation rating Kempelen’s speaking machine above Mical’s talking heads: Grimm et al., Correspondance littéraire, vol. 13, p. 359. On Kempelen’s speaking machine: Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs, pp. 45–49; Wolfgang von Kempelen, Wolfgangs von Kempe-len Mechanismus der menchlichen Sprache nebst der Beschreibung seiner sprechenden Maschine (Stuttgart: Frommann, 1970; reprint of Vienna ed., 1791). [BACK]
38. The pamphlet of 1783 heralding the tour was Windisch, Lettres sur le joueur d’échecs. The various editions of it are mentioned in Carroll, Great Chess Automaton, p. 18. That same work, pp. 108–13, contains an excellent bibliography of the most important works on the Chess Player and explains: “A list of all the literature dealing with the automaton chess player, without a lifetime or two in which to trace all the periodical entries, represents a well-nigh impossible task.” [BACK]
39. For notices of the Paris exhibitions of the Chess Player: articles titled “Mécanique” in Le Journal de Paris, 18 April 1783, pp. 453–54; 24 April 1783, p. 477; 2 May 1783, p. 508; 12 June 1783, pp. 682–83; 23 June 1783, p. 718. On Bernard and the Chess Player: Bachaumont, Mémoires secrets, vol. 22, pp. 305–6; vol. 23, pp. 3–5; Grimm et al., Correspondance littéraire, vol. 13, pp. 354–58. On Philidor and the Chess Player: Lardin, “Philidor peint par lui-même,” Le Palamède, 2d ser., 7, no. 1, pp. 12–13; Twiss, Chess, vol. 1, pp. 186–87. [BACK]
40. Carroll, Great Chess Automaton, pp. 22–27. [BACK]
41. The present biographical sketch of Maelzel is based on these sources: Anon., “Maelzel (Léonard),” in Biographie universelle et portative, vol. 5, pp. 428–29; Anon., “Mälzel, Johann Nepomuk,” in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, vol. 16, pp. 248–50; George Allen, “The History of the Automaton Chess-Player in America,” in The Book of the First American Chess Congress, ed. Daniel Willard Fiske (New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1859), pp. 420–84; Carroll, Great Chess Automaton, pp. 42–51, 65–92; Fétis, “Maelzel (Jean-Népomucène),” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 5, pp. 396–97; Theodor von Frimmel, “Mälzels Kunstkabinett,” Feuilleton of the Wiener Zeitung, 26 July 1914, pp. 10–12; L. Louvet, “Maelzel (Léonard),” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 32, cols. 643–44. Leonhard Maelzel (1783–1855) was the brother of Johann and also a mechanician; their names were often confused with each other. [BACK]
42. An earlier version of the Panharmonicon is described in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 2, no. 23 (5 March 1800), cols. 414–15. On the Panharmonicon of 1805: Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 8, no. 44 (30 July 1806), cols. 701–2; “Arts Mécanique: Le Panharmonicon,” Feuilleton of Le Journal de l’Empire, 9 March 1807, pp. 1–3; Prudhomme, Miroir historique, vol. 5, pp. 156–59; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 289; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, p. 279; Chapuis et al., His-toire de la boîte à musique, pp. 91–92; Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, pp. 77–78. It was perhaps this instrument that ended up in Stuttgart’s Industrial Museum, which was destroyed during World War II, but not before two photographs of the instrument had been taken; they are reproduced in ibid., plates 131, 132. [BACK]
43. On Maelzel’s Trompeter: “Arts Mécaniques: Le Trompette Automate, par M. Maelzel, de Vienne, auteur du Panharmonicon,” Feuilleton of Le Journal de l’Empire, 12 October 1808, pp. 1–3; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 286. On the industrial expositions: Achille de Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits de l’industrie française (Paris: Guillaumin, 1855), chap. 2. [BACK]
44. On Kaufmann’s trumpeter: Carl Maria von Weber, “Der Trompeter,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 14, no. 41 (7 October 1812), cols. 663–66. On Kaufmann’s Belloneon: Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, pp. 55, 80. On Napoleon and the Chess Player: Carroll, Great Chess Automaton, p. 43. On Maelzel’s chronogram for Napoleon: Anon., “Mälzel,” in Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, vol. 16, p. 248. The chronogram was “taCe, MVnDVs ConCors,” Latin for “silence, the world is united”; the capitalized letters when rearranged yield MDCCCVV, Roman numerals for 1810. [BACK]
45. Anton Schindler, Beethoven-Biographie, ed. A. C. Kalischer (Berlin: Schuster and Loeffler, 1909; first published 1840), pp. 237–43, 281–84; idem, The Life of Beethoven, trans. and ed. Ignace Moscheles, 2 vols. (Mattapan, Mass.: Gamut Music, 1966; first published 1841), vol. 1, pp. 143–56 (the quotation is on pp. 153–54, editor’s footnote); Thayer, Life of Beethoven, pp. 543–69, 579–80, 686–88, 1094–99 (app. G). The all-star orchestra for the Beethoven-Maelzel concert counted among its members Spohr, Dragonetti, Meyerbeer, Hummel, Salieri, and Moscheles, the last four on percussion. [BACK]
46. For a biographical sketch of Winkel: Fétis, “Winkel,” in Biographie universelle des musiciens, vol. 8, pp. 476–77. On the Winkel-Maelzel metronome controversy: J[ohann Nepomuk] Maelzel, Notice sur le métronome de J. Maelzel ([Paris:] Carpentier-Méricourt, ; first published 1816); “Maelzels Metronom,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 19, no. 25 (18 June 1817), cols. 417–22; “Zur Geschichte der musikal. Metronomen,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 20, no. 26 (1 July 1818), cols. 468–73; “Correspondance,” La Revue musicale, 1st ser., 6 (1830): 56–59; Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, chap. 10; Apel, “Metronome,” in Harvard Dictionary of Music, pp. 523–24; E. G. Richardson, “Metronome,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 12, pp. 222–23. On Winkel’s Componium: Buchner, Mechanical Musical Instruments, pp. 79–80; Chapuis et al., Histoire de la boîte à musique, chap. 9. Maelzel’s fortune at the time of his death was estimated at half a million thalers, or approximately two million francs. [BACK]
47. [Marie-Pierre] Hamel, Nouveau manuel complet du facteur d’orgues, 3 vols. (Paris: Roret, 1849), vol. 1, pp. lvi–lviii (Maelzel’s talking dolls); vol. 3, pp. 458–59 (Maelzel’s acrobat). Hamel says that the dolls were exhibited at the exposition of 1824, but there was none in that year; he probably meant 1823. Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, lists the gold and silver medal winners at each of the expositions from the first one in 1798 until that of 1849; Maelzel’s name does not appear. [BACK]
48. On Maelzel with a Jaquet-Droz writer-sketcher: Chapuis, “Nouveaux documents sur les automates,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 38, pp. 41–42. The source of Barnum’s quotation: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, p. 114. [BACK]
49. Allen, “History of the Automaton Chess-Player,” in First American Chess Congress, pp. 455–58. [BACK]
50. For some early skeptics: Rigoley de Juvigny, “Lettre au sujet de l’Automate qui joue aux échecs,” Le Mercure de France, December 1770, pp. 181–88; Vincent de Montpetit, “Lettre sur l’Automate de M. de Kempell” [sic], Le Mercure de France, March 1771, pp. 157–60; Grimm et al., Correspondance littéraire, vol. 13, pp. 354–58 (entry for September 1783); Decremps, Magie blanche dévoilée (1784), vol. 1, pp. 65–69; Racknitz, Ueber den Schachspieler (1789), passim. [BACK]
51. Anon. [perhaps Jacques-François Mouret], “Automate joueur d’échecs,” Le Magasin pittoresque 2 (1834), fasc. 20, p. 155; [Mathieu-Jean-Baptiste Nioche] de Tournay, “La Vie et les aventures de l’automate joueur d’échecs,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 1, no. 3 ([15 May] 1836): 85–87; “L’Automate joueur d’échecs,” Le Palamède, 1st ser., 4, no. 3 [late 1839 or early 1840]: 68–69; Allen, “History of the Automaton Chess-Player,” in First American Chess Congress, pp. 436–38. On Mouret’s kinship to Philidor: Louvet, “Maelzel,” in Nouvelle biographie générale, vol. 32, cols. 643–44. [BACK]
52. Allen, “History of the Automaton Chess-Player,” in First American Chess Congress, pp. 474, 483. [BACK]
53. All three quotations are from Harry Houdini, The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin (New York: Publishers Printing, 1906), pp. 7–9. [BACK]
54. Letter of Houdini to Harry Leat, 20 April 1926, cited in Maurice Sardina, Where Houdini Was Wrong: A Reply to “The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin,” trans. and ed. Victor Farelli (London: Armstrong, 1950), p. 119. Houdini said substantially the same thing to another magician as early as 1911; ibid., p. 17 <$f$>n. 1. [BACK]
55. For example: Henry Ridgely Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic (Kenton, Ohio: International Brotherhood of Magicians, 1928), p. 75; David Price, A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater (New York: Cornwall, 1985), p. 59. [BACK]
56. Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations; comment on devient sorcier (Geneva: Slatkine, 1980; reprint of Paris ed., 1868), chaps. 1, 2 (the quotations are on pp. 6, 7, 18). [BACK]
57. Ibid., chap. 2 (the quotation is on p. 24). [BACK]
58. Ibid., chap. 3 (the quotations are on pp. 37–40). [BACK]
59. Ibid., pp. 42–132 (the quotation is on p. 132). [BACK]
60. The interpretation of the Torrini episode presented here is original. For other commentary on it: Jean Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur de la magie blanche (Blois: Author, 1969), pp. 40–41; André Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science (Paris/Geneva: Champion/Slatkine, 1986), p. 19; Michel Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin (Paris: Fayard, 1971), pp. 48–51; Alain Sergent, Le Roi des prestidigitateurs, Robert-Houdin (Paris: Seuil, 1952), pp. 20–22; Bernard C. Meyer, Houdini: A Mind in Chains; A Psychoanalytic Portrait (New York: Dutton, 1976), chap. 2. [BACK]
61. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 132–36; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, p. 45. [BACK]
62. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 28–30. [BACK]
63. Ibid., pp. 32 (quotation), 136–37. [BACK]
64. Ibid., pp. 196–98; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, pp. 50–52; Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science, p. 81. [BACK]
65. “Exposition des produits de l’industrie française (Sixième article),” Le Moniteur universel, 10 June 1839, p. 930; Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 198–99; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, p. 52. For photographs of the Réveil-Briquet and the Pendule Mystérieuse: Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science, unpaginated section of plates. [BACK]
66. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 174–214. [BACK]
67. Ibid., p. 181 and unpaginated app., “Programme générale.” Robert-Houdin describes only how the trick looks to the audience, not how it is accomplished. The explanation given here is of Pinetti’s similar trick, as described by Decremps, Magie blanche dévoilée, vol. 1, chap. 19. Other magicians used pistons instead of air to push the folded-up flowers and fruit out of the hollow branches; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, p. 76. [BACK]
68. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, p. 181. [BACK]
69. Ibid., pp. 174–78. [BACK]
70. On the building of Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur: ibid., pp. 199–214. On the reappearances of Jaquet-Droz automata: Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 192–94. On the reappearances of Jaquet-Droz–Maillardet Écrivain-Dessinateurs: citations in note 25 above. On the relationship between Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur and Jaquet-Droz/ Jaquet-Droz–Maillardet automata: Chapuis, “‘Répliques’ des Androïdes,” Le Musée neuchâtelois, new ser., 1, pp. 99–103; Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, p. 259; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, chap. 3. On Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur at the exposition of 1844: Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 236–38, 354 (quotation); Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, p. 562. On Barnum and Robert-Houdin’s Écrivain-Dessinateur: Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, vol. 1, pp. 259–60; vol. 2, chap. 39. [BACK]
71. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 211–12. [BACK]
72. Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 132–34; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 212–16; Maingot, Automates, pp. 71–73. [BACK]
73. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 137–48 (the quotations are on pp. 137–38, 144). On Comte, see also Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic, p. 102. [BACK]
74. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 187–94. On Bosco, see also Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 302–7; Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic, pp. 118–20; Price, Pictorial History of Conjurers, pp. 45–47. Price says that Bosco used chickens, not pigeons; both he and Houdini suggest that Bosco may not really have killed the birds he apparently decapitated. [BACK]
75. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 225–35. On the pistol-shot lighting of candles, which may have been invented by Austrian magician Ludwig Döbler: idem, The Secrets of Stage Conjuring, trans. and ed. Prof. Hoffmann (London: Routledge, 1881; trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chap. 5. On Philippe, see also Evans, History of Conjuring and Magic, p. 103; Price, Pictorial History of Conjurers, pp. 65–67. [BACK]
76. “Nouvelles des théatres, spectacles, concerts, etc.,” Le Moniteur universel, 6 July 1845, p. 2064; “Soirées fantastiques de M. Robert-Houdin,” Le Charivari 14, no. 191 (10 July 1845), unpaginated; “M. Robert-Houdin,” L’Illustration; journal universel hebdomadaire 5, no. 125 (19 July 1845): 336; Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 240–57, 289–95; idem, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chaps. 1, 2. [BACK]
77. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, app., “Programme général.” [BACK]
78. Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique, vol. 2, pp. 219–24; Guillaume de Berthier de Sauvigny, Nouvelle histoire de Paris: La Restauration (Paris: Hachette, 1977), pp. 379–82; Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, chap. 8. [BACK]
79. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, app., “Programme général.” [BACK]
80. The source of the quotations: Ibid., pp. 158–59. See also Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 149–51; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 239–46; [Christoph] Friedrich Nicolaï, Beschreibung einer Reise durch Deutschland und die Schweiz im Jahre 1781, 6 vols. (Berlin: n.p., 1783–85), vol. 1, pp. 281–89; Doyon and Liaigre, Jacques Vaucanson, pp. 91–107. [BACK]
81. Bernoulli, Johann Bernoulli’s Sammlung kurzer Reisebeschreibungen, 1st suppl. vol., p. 164; Sivan, “Encore l’Écrivain de Jaquet Droz,” Journal suisse d’horlogerie 31, no. 12, pp. 413–14. [BACK]
82. Blind, Automates truqués, pp. 33–37; Chapuis and Droz, Automates: Figures artificielles, pp. 374–80. Robert-Houdin describes his use of pistons, wires, pulleys, and pedals to work his automata, but without naming any particular automaton; Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), pp. 41–43. [BACK]
83. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 262–66, 277–80, app., “Programme général”; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, chap. 7; Théophile Gautier, Histoire de l’art dramatique en France depuis vingt-cinq ans, 6 vols. (Bruxelles: Hetzel, 1858–59), vol. 4, pp. 163–65. [BACK]
84. “M. Robert-Houdin,” Illustration, 19 July 1845, p. 336; “Tribunaux,” Le Moniteur universel, 26 June 1850, pp. 2176–77. [BACK]
85. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 272–354; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, chaps. 3, 4 (dates). The 1846 trip to Belgium is described in a chapter excised from the “definitive” 1868 edition of Robert-Houdin’s autobiography, the last edition published in his lifetime, the edition that is the source for most of the later editions and translations, and the edition that has been cited heretofore. The excised chapter, entitled “Séductions d’un agent théâtral,” appears in these editions: Confidences d’un prestidigitateur (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1859); Confidences de Robert-Houdin (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1861). [BACK]
86. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 311–15; Sidney W. Clarke, “The Annals of Conjuring,” The Magic Wand and Magical Review 15 (1926): 34–38; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 44, 308–10; Sardina, Where Houdini Was Wrong, p. 104; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, pp. 102, 113–14; Milbourne Christopher, The Illustrated History of Magic (New York: Crowell, 1973), chap. 8; Price, Pictorial History of Conjurers, pp. 61–64. [BACK]
87. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 146–48. Thanks to psy-chologist Dr. Barbara A. Augusta for pointing out and elucidating this idiom. [BACK]
88. Ibid., pp. 354–419; article of Le Moniteur algérien 25, no. 1510 (5 November 1856), reprinted in Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, p. 13; “Faits divers,” Le Moniteur universel, 9 October 1857, p. 1108. A photograph of the calligraphic placard may be found in Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, p. 129. [BACK]
89. Charles Baudelaire, Fusées, in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Y.-G. Le Dantec and Claude Pichois (Paris: Pléiade, 1961), p. 1252. Baudelaire wrote this as a sort of aphorism, on which he did not elaborate. [BACK]
90. The titles of Robert-Houdin’s books vary a great deal from edition to edition. His autobiography, for example, appeared as: Confidences d’un prestidigitateur; une vie d’artiste (1858, 1859), Confidences de Robert-Houdin; une vie d’artiste (1861), and Confidences et révélations; comment on devient sorcier (1868), among other titles. Sometimes in bibliographies the subtitle is listed as the main title, which is particularly confusing in the case of the “definitive” 1868 edition of the autobiography, whose subtitle, comment on devient sorcier, is the same as the main title of Robert-Houdin’s third book, Comment on devient sorcier; les secrets de la prestidigitation et de la magie. The titles of the English translations also vary a great deal. The titles used here are those of the most commonly cited French editions. [BACK]
91. Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chap. 1. Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, p. 69, also treats the cat’s-claw story as a deception. [BACK]
92. For predecessors of Robert-Houdin’s cat’s claw: Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 280–81. For predecessors of Robert-Houdin’s detective story: Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, p. 69. Seldow writes: “Un esprit imprudent n’hésiterait pas à opérer un rapprochement entre le petit récit policier inventé par Robert-Houdin et Le Dossier no. 113 du génial Gaboriau. ” But there is no particular resemblance between Robert-Houdin’s little detective story and Gaboriau’s Le Dossier no. 113; for example, there is no mechanical thief-trap in Gaboriau’s novel. For predecessors of Gaboriau’s detective stories: Roger Bonniot, Émile Gaboriau; ou, La naissance du roman policier (Paris: Vrin, 1985), chap. entitled “Les Précurseurs,” esp. pp. 161–69; see also the discussion of the detective story in chap. 3 of this volume. For praise of Baudelaire’s translations of Poe: Théophile Gautier, Portraits contem-porains: littérateurs, peintres, sculpteurs, artistes dramatiques (Paris: Charpentier, 1874), p. 159. [BACK]
93. [Jean-Eugène] Robert-Houdin, Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées; ou, L’art de gagner à tous les jeux (Paris: Hetzel, 1863), pp. 243–44, 255–57; Victor DuBled, Histoire anecdotique et psychologie des jeux de cartes, dés, échecs (Paris: Delagrave, 1919), pp. 228–29. See also Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 220–25. [BACK]
94. Robert-Houdin, Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées, chaps. 5–12. Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, p. 138, calls this section of Robert-Houdin’s book “le premier ‘Roman d’un tricheur.’” [BACK]
95. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 544–81. The novella, written by Vidocq’s ghostwriter, L.-F. L’Héritier de l’Ain, was previously published as Les Malheurs d’une libérée (Paris: Tenon, 1829); see J.-M. Quérard, La France littéraire, 12 vols. (Paris: Maisonneuve and Larose, n.d.), vol. 11, p. 252. [BACK]
96. Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 8, 47, 235–36. For a refutation, see Sardina, Where Houdini Was Wrong, p. 84. [BACK]
97. Robert-Houdin, Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées, pp. 337–39. [BACK]
98. Edition consulted: [Jean-Eugène] Robert-Houdin, Comment on devient sorcier; les secrets de la prestidigitation et de la magie (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1878). For the claim that this book was the first systematic treatment of conjuring: Clarke, “Annals of Conjuring,” Magic Wand, vol. 15, pp. 128–29. [BACK]
99. Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), pp. 36–38; idem, Confidences et révélations, pp. 240–41. [BACK]
100. For Robert-Houdin’s perhaps erroneous explanations of other magicians’ tricks: Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, chap. 10. For Robert-Houdin’s explanations of spiritualists’ tricks: Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chaps. 8, 13. On Robert-Houdin and spiritualists, see also [Jules] Eudes, marquis de M[irville], Pneumatologie: Des esprits et de leurs manifestations fluidiques (Prais: Vrayet de Surcy, 1853), pp. 2–16. [BACK]
101. The source of Robert-Houdin’s quotation on the public’s ignorance of electro-magnetism: Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), p. 57. The source of the quotation from the Cosmos editor who praised Robert-Houdin: F. Moigno, “Exposition universelle,” Cosmos 7 (19 September 1855), p. 335. On Robert-Houdin’s “first-class” medal at the exposition of 1855: Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 354–55. On Robert-Houdin as an electrical inventor and experimenter: Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science, chap. 3; Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, pp. 158–65. For list of Robert-Houdin’s most important patents: Keime Robert-Houdin, Robert-Houdin, le magicien de la science, pp. 81–82. For articles on Robert-Houdin in Cosmos, revue encyclopédique hebdomadaire des progrès des sciences: Anon., “Nouvelles et faits divers,” Cosmos 6 (16 February 1855): 173–74; Anon., “Académie des sciences,” Cosmos 6 (25 May 1855): 578–80; F. Moigno, “Exposition universelle,” Cosmos 7 (19 September 1855): 328–40; idem, “Exposition universelle,” Cosmos 7 (23 November 1855): 619; M. Sylvester, “Société d’ couragement: Médailles d’argent,” Cosmos 8 (21 March 1856): 294–95; Anon., “Nouvelles et faits divers,” Cosmos 9 (11 July 1856): 37; Anon., “Nouvelles et faits divers,” Cosmos 9 (1 August 1856): 120; Anon., “Nouvelles et faits divers,” Cosmos 9 (22 August 1856): 203. [BACK]
102. For the complete text of the note: Chavigny, Robert-Houdin, rénovateur, p. 170. See also Chapuis and Gélis, Monde des automates, vol. 2, pp. 281–82. [BACK]
103. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 160–73. [BACK]
104. Jules Adenis and Octave Gastineau, La Czarine (Paris: Michel-Lévy, 1868); Robert-Houdin, Secrets of Stage Conjuring (trans. of Magie et physique amusante), chap. 6; Seldow, Vie et secrets de Robert-Houdin, chap. 14. [BACK]
105. See in the New York Times, vol. 146, no. 50, 790 (12 May 1997), the following articles: Bruce Weber, “Swift and Slashing, Computer Topples Kasparov,” pp. A1, A14; Robert D. McFadden, “Inscrutable Conqueror: Deep (RS/6000SP) Blue,” pp. A1, A14; Laurence Zuckerman, “Grandmaster Sat at the Chessboard, but the Real Opponent Was Gates,” p. A14; Robert Byrne, “How One Champion Is Chewed Up into Small Bits by Another,” p. A14. [BACK]