Home >> Engineer's And Mechanic's Encyclopedia >> A Vacuous Space In to And Saw Mills Saws >> Automaton


figure, produced, machine, person, mechanism, concealed, succession, machinery and motions

AUTOMATON. In the strict sense of the word, a piece of mechanism in which the effects are produced by some inanimate force contained within it; the word is, however, more commonly used to signify a piece of mechanism made to resemble some animal, whose motions it imitates by means of internal machinery, which being concealed from the spectator, gives it an apparent power of acting by volition. Numerous descriptions automata of this class are to be found in the writings of various authors, amongst the most admirable of which may be ranked the automaton flute-player of M. Vaucauson, of which the ingenicus inventor published a very full description. It is to be regretted that this description was not, at least as far as we can find, accom panied by drawings, which were desirable for the better elucidation of the Imb ed. We are, on this account, induced to relinquish our desire to give place to it here, and must content ourselves merely by observing, that the figure was of the natural size, and that the different notes were produced by a current of air, urged by bellows contained within the pedestal on which it was placed, and passing through the lips into a flute, the holes of which were stopped by the motion of the fingers of the figure, whose tongue and lips were likewise movable, and aided in the modulation of the sounds. The same artist also subsequently produced another figure, representing a Provençal shepherd playing on a pipe, and beating a tabor, which he describes as attended with greater difficulty in the execution than the preceding one. But of the many inventions of this description, none have attained such celebrity as the automaton chess player of Baron de Kempelen, of Vienna. It was a figure, representing a Turk seated at a square table, or chest, the top of which formed the chess-board, on which the automaton made the various movements. It was exhibited in most of the leading cities of Europe, but the principles of its construction were never disclosed ; nor, although it had been frequently asserted by many persons that the whole was a trick, and that the motions were produced by an individual concealed within the figure, various ways in which this might be effected being pointed out, was any exami nation permitted sufficiently strict to lead to the exposure of the deception, if any was practised. The exhibiter affected great apparent openness in displaying the various machinery of wheel-work and levers which the interior certainly did contain ; but this might have been placed there as much for the purpose of aiding in a deception, as for any useful object. When the writer saw the figure, during its exhibition in the Haymarket, in 1816, it was shown in a manner which precluded any close examination ; the spectators were ranged upon a series of rising benches, at a considerable distance from the figure; the attendant first opened several doors in the machine in succession, to show that no person was concealed within it ; the doors being then closed, the machine was wheeled round the room, that it might be seen there was no connexion with the floor.

The game then commenced; the person who played against the figure was seated at a email table, railed off at some distance from it, and had before him a chess-board, with the full complement of black and white chessmen; the chess-board before the figure was furnished in a similar manner. When the player made a move, the attendant made a similar move upon the chessboard of the automaton; and when the latter moved, the attendant repeated the move upon the chess-board of the person playing. Without pretending to explain the manner in which the motions of the figure were produced, we think that from the very nature of the thing we may assert that they were not effected by the mechanism contained within it, for we consider mere machinery utterly incom petent to produce the requisite effects. We shall proceed to state the grounds on which we have come to this conclusion. Any variety of movements which are required to follow each other in a certain order of succession, may doubtless be produced by mechanism, as, for instance, the striking parts of a clock, or, more especially, in the calculating machine of Mr. Babbage ; nor is it necessary that the succession be in any regular order, provided, as in the kaleidoscope, the results may be altogether arbitrary, or the effect of accidental combinations; but the moves at chess, although they follow no regular order of succession, for they may be infinitely varied, may yet not be made indiscriminately, but depend upon circumstances beyond the control of the machine, such, for instance, as the moves of the antagonist, or the number and position of the pieces on the board. From these considerations, we conclude either that the motions are governed by some person from without, by means of some inge niously contrived and concealed mechanism, or by some person secreted within the machine. The author of a pamphlet on the subject, published in 1821, maintains the latter supposition to be the fact; and by the aid of several diagrams. shows that not merely a dwarf, as was at one time supposed, but even an or& nary-sized man, might be concealed; and this opinion is further corroborated by the proprietor refusing to exhibit the figure in action, with the several doors of the machine open, when requested to do so by a scientific gentleman, whose object was to satisfy himself and some friends that the movements were really produced by machinery.