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Ingenious Pieces of Mechanism

IN a French periodical paper, entitled, “Nouvelles Litteraires,” published at the Hague, 1715, there is an account of an English gentleman then resident at Dresden, whose happy genius for mechanism had formed the following curious machines. It is noticed, that he had been a director of mines for the space of fifteen years; and some reader may perhaps discover the name of our ingenious artist.

I. A MACHINE to make a hole in the earth of six inches diameter, and of whatever depth shall be wished, even to a profundity of fifteen hundred feet, if necessary. Two men will be sufficient to manage it with facility. He proposes this as useful for labourers in mines, to give them air; to discover mines, and other similar purposes.
II. A MIRROR OF WOOD highly polished, and covered with gold, which gives a gentle warmth, by which all swellings and stagnations in the muscles may be dissipated.
III. The model of a HOUSE, so constructed that the walls, partitions and floors, cannot be burnt. The fire could only consume the furniture.
IV. A MILL with wings; a single person could grind with one hand, although there should be a mill-stone, as is usual, of four to eight hundred weight.
V. The model of AN OCTAGON CHURCH which can contain six times as many persons as any other building of the same magnitude. All the auditors should front the minister.
VI. An OVEN which draws the air in an extraordinary manner; while all the wood which is necessary to heat it for a whole day may be put in at once.
VII. A light wooden MARTIAL MACHINE, which every soldier may push before him when he mounts a trench, so as perfectly to cover himself from the enemy, while the shield is invulnerable to any gunshot.
VIII. A CHAIR, which may be made to move about easily with the hand, while the person is seated either in the house or garden.
IX. A mode of sounding a BELL without moving it, by shaking only the clapper.
X. A CHAIR to ascend or descend from one story to the other of the highest house.
XI. A GLOBE which easily turns on a pivot, from the top to the bottom, and on all sides.
XII. Another MARTIAL MACHINE, to throw at once a great number of grenadoes.
XIII. The model of a THEATRE, which can immediately be turned by six men, although it held three hundred persons; so that the scenery and other decorations may be instantly changed.
XIV. The model of a COACH, in which a person can conduct himself without horses, or the assistance of any animals.

The ninth ingenious invention was well known to Tycho Brahe, who appeared to perform magical tricks by a variety of such bells, which were understood by his servants. In Mr. Coxe’s biographical sketch of this great man, the reader will find this circumstance detailed at large.

The tenth was also practised by a Mr. Thonier. The following anecdote concerning it is to be found in the Fureteriana, p. 108. “Thonier contrived a chair, which was placed by the side of the window, and which was made in the form of a balcony: this curious machine sunk or rose with great velocity, by means of a counterpoise. Being frequently indisposed, it was inconvenient to him to conduct his friends to the door of the street; and he invented this machine, to the no small astonishment of strangers, who were surprised, while they were descending the stair-case, to see Thonier appear at the door waiting for them. When they enquired, how it was possible for him to have come there, he answered their inquiry with pleasantry or mysteriously. Nor was the mode discoverable, for the chair always ascended with greater velocity than it had descended.” I am sorry to add, that our ingenious mechanic dreadfully suffered from his machine breaking; so that he afterwards preferred the usual mode of conducting his friends to the door, to that of his curious machinery.

Another ingenious instrument is that called the meridien sonnant (sounding meridian). It is said to have been invented by Rousseau. Mr. Twiss thus describes it in his “Trip to Paris,” p. 44. “It is an iron mortar which holds four pounds of gunpowder; it is loaded every morning, and exactly at noon the sun discharges the piece by means of a burning-glass, so placed that the focus at that moment fires the powder in the touch-hole.” Small meridians of this sort are sold in the shops.

The celebrated Pascal invented a singular arithmetical machine, by which all kinds of calculations can be made, not only without pen, and without counters, but even without a knowledge of arithmetic. It is unlucky that this ingenious machine is too voluminous to be employed in common use; as it is composed of a multiplicity of wheels and other pieces; and it could not have been otherwise.

In the preceding article we have noticed natural productions resembling artificial ones; we now notice artificial compositions resembling natural productions.

M. Vaucanson, by his fluting automaton, first delighted and surprised the ingenious in Paris and in London. It was a human figure which played on the German flute. He invented a similar image which played on the pipe and tabor. To these little miracles of art, he accomplished another, more singular. It was an artificial duck; inwards he formed all the intestines which are employed in eating, drinking, and digestion. He says, in his letter to the Abbé de Fontaines, “The duck stretches, out its neck to take corn out of the hand; it swallows it, digests it, and discharges it digested by the usual passage. The duck drinks, plays in the water with her bill, picks her feathers, and makes a garrulous noise like a living duck.” A more particular account of these singular automata may be found in a pamphlet translated by J. T. Desaguliers; 1742. In that year these figures were exhibited in the Hay Market. Other curious automata, imitative of the human form, are noticed in Vol. I. p. 500, 3d edition, to which I add what follows. The Greeks in one of their festivals had a ship equipped with sails, and a thousand oars, which passed through the streets, to the Eleusinian temple: certain springs, concealed in the bottom of the ship, gave motion to the oars, and glided on the vessel. The statue of Nysa, the nurse of Bacchus, was twelve feet in height; seated in a car, it rose of itself, and after having poured libations of milk from a golden phial, it seated itself again. In the article “Magical Superstitions;” p. 332, are noticed other curious automata, which resemble animal life.

The famous glass sphere of Archimedes, in which it is said the motions of the heavenly bodies were represented, is probably fictitious; it is one of those popular errors at which the ancients had not sufficient knowledge to perceive the improbability. His other celebrated invention of burning-glasses, which destroyed the ships of Marcellus, at the siege of Syracuse, is more credible; although this has not been treated with more respect by philosophers than his glass sphere. Buffon has proved the probability of such a wonderful force in burning-glasses. He had one made similar to that of Archimedes. It was composed of near four hundred plane glasses, of half a foot square. It melted lead and tin at the distance of one hundred and forty feet, and kindled wood at a far greater distance. The burning-glasses of Archimedes are certainly not to be regarded as chimeras; and shew, with other machines which his imagination and his science produced, that of all men he had most a right to exclaim, as he did to Hiero, his king and his kinsman, “That if he had another earth on which to fix his machines, he would move this which we inhabit.”

It is most gratifying to the curious to observe the earliest attempts of those ingenious artists, who by the force of their own genius first sketched plans which appeared incredible to their cotemporaries; and which at length have been perfected. In Robert Hooke’s Philosophical Collections, 1682, p. 14, will be found an account of the Sieur Besnier’s mode of flying in the air; this indeed has been frequently attempted, but never brought to any degree of perfection. The danger is so great; that it will be sufficient to impede every human exertion. Besnier began first by springing from a stool, then from the top of a table, next from a pretty high window, then from a window in the second story, and at last from a garret, from whence he flew over the houses of his neighbours.

The succeeding article is far more worthy of our admiration. It is taken from an Italian book called Prodromo, by P. Francesco Lana, of which some account is given in the Philosophical Transactions. He calls it; “A Demonstration, how it is practically possible to make a Ship, which shall be sustained by the Air, and may be moved either by Sails or Oars.”

The author says, “I, whose genius hath always prompted me to endeavour to find out difficult inventions, do hope at length, I have light upon a way of making such an engine, as shall not only by its being lighter than the air raise itself in the air, but together with itself, buoy up, and carry into the air, men, or any other weight.” He confirms his scheme by experiments, and demonstrations drawn from the eleventh book of Euclid. Our ingenious father, after having concluded his explanations, and felicitated himself on his success, is terribly alarmed at the dreadful consequences which may ensue from this discovery. No city can be secure against the attacks of aerial warriors, and nations of barbarians may disturb, uninjured themselves, the civilized world. He says that this ship may discharge soldiers into a city by night unobserved; destroy by artificial fires the sails and men of other ships, while the aerial enemy shall be out of the reach of gunshot. Mr. Hooke is however of opinion that our author need not feel such pious alarms, and attempts to overturn his scheme by some philosophical arguments, for which I refer the curious to the original.—What would Hooke have thought had he lived to see our modern AIR-BALLOONS?

There is one moral observation I shall make.—When our inventor persuaded himself he had discovered so diabolical a machine, why did he reveal it to the world? He preferred his own glory, to its happiness. The great Roger Bacon acted more nobly in his discovery of gunpowder, for he concealed it.