Edgar Allan Poe.

The complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 10) online

. (page 1 of 21)
Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 10) → online text (page 1 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook





This edition of the Complete Works of
Edgar Allan Poe is limited to Five Hundred
Signed and Numbered sets, of which this is




The Imp of the Perverse.

"There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient,
as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice,
thus meditates a plunge."


Z&be ftnicfeecbocfcer press

arfr to qml srfT

02 BIUJBH m noiaaaq on 21 919/iT"
,3oiqio9iq B io a^ 9 9 ^^ noqu ^nhsbbi/ria ,orfw mirf lo Isd^ z&






Ube fmfcfcecbocfcer press

Copyright, 1902
(For Introduction and Designs)


TTbe ftnicfcerbocfcer prees, flew fork


Maelzel's Chess-Player

Prefaces to " The Conchologist's First Book " .

Philosophy of Furniture


A Chapter on Autography

Anastatic Printing

Eureka An Essay on the Material and Spiritual

Title Index



. 162


List of Illustrations


The Imp of the Perverse . . . Frontispiece

" There is no passion in nature so demoniacally
impatient as that of him who, shuddering upon
the edge of a precipice thus meditates a plunge."

Poe's Cottage at Fordham ..... 36

Washington Irving ...... 86

Etched by Jacques Reich from the painting by
C. R. Leslie.

Edward Everett ....... 108

From a steel engraving.

William Ellery Channing ..... 128
Dante Gabriel Rossetti ..... 140

Ralph Waldo Emerson ..... 160

From the painting by A. E. Smith. Reproduced
by permission of Foster Brothers, Boston.

List of Illustrations


Hop-Frog 200

" Waited patiently until midnight ... be
fore making their appearance."
(See vol. vi., page 267.)

Mrs. Clemm's House in Carmine St. . . . 240
Poe's first home in New York.

Lander's Cottage 300

" Suddenly . . . and as if by the hand of
magic, this whole valley and everything in it be
came brilliantly visible.'*
(See vol. vi., page 311.)



MaelzePs Chess-Player

ERHAPS no exhibition of the kind has ever
elicited so general attention as the Chess-
Player of Maelzel. Wherever seen it has
been an object of intense curiosity to all persons who
think. Yet the question of its modus operand! is still
undetermined. Nothing has been written on this
topic which can be considered as decisive, and, accord
ingly, we find everywhere men of mechanical genius,
of great general acuteness and discriminative under
standing, who make no scruple in pronouncing the
Automaton a pure machine, unconnected with human
agency in its movements, and consequently, beyond all
comparison, the most astonishing of the inventions of
mankind. And such it would undoubtedly be, were
they right in their supposition. Assuming this hy
pothesis, it would be grossly absurd to compare with the
Chess-Player any similar thing of either modern or

Maelzel's Chess-Player

ancient days. Yet there have been many and wonder
ful automata. In Brewster's Letters on Natural Magic
we have an account of the most remarkable. Among
these may be mentioned, as having beyond doubt ex
isted, firstly, the coach invented by M. Camus for the
amusement of Louis XIV. when a child. A table,
about four feet square, was introduced into the room
appropriated for the exhibition. Upon this table was
placed a carriage six inches in length, made of wood,
and drawn by two horses of the same material. One
window being down, a lady was seen on the back seat.
A coachman held the reins on the box and a footman
and page were in their places behind. M. Camus now
touched a spring; whereupon the coachman smacked
his whip and the horses proceeded in a natural manner
along the edge of the table, drawing after them the
carriage. Having gone as far as possible in this direc
tion, a sudden turn was made to the left, and the
vehicle was driven at right angles to its former course
and still closely along the edge of the table. In this
way the coach proceeded until it arrived opposite the
chair of the young prince. It then stopped, the page
descended and opened the door, the lady alighted and
presented a petition to her sovereign. She then re-
entered. The page put up the steps, closed the door,
and resumed his station. The coachman whipped his
horses, and the carriage was driven back to its original

Maelzel's Chess-Player

The Magician of M. Maillardet is also worthy of
notice. We copy the following account of it from the
Letters before mentioned of Dr. B., who derived his
information principally from the Edinburgh Ency*
clopxdia i

" One of the most popular pieces of mechanism
which we have seen is the Magician constructed by M.
Maillardet, for the purpose of answering certain given
questions. A figure, dressed like a magician, appears
seated at the bottom of a wall, holding a wand in one
hand and a book in the other. A number of questions,
ready prepared, are inscribed on oval medallions, and
the spectator takes any of these he chooses, and to
which he wishes an answer, and, having placed it in a
drawer ready to receive it, the drawer shuts with a
spring till the answer is returned. The magician then
arises from his seat, bows his head, describes circles
with his wand, and, consulting the book as if in deep
thought, he lifts it toward his face. Having thus ap
peared to ponder over the proposed question, he raises
his wand, and, striking with it the wall above his head,
two folding-doors fly open and display an appropriate
answer to the question. The doors again close, the
magician resumes his original position, and the drawer
opens to return the medallion. There are twenty of
these medallions, all containing different questions, to
which the magician returns the most suitable and
striking answers. The medallions are thin plates of


Maelzel's Chess-Player

brass, of an elliptical form, exactly resembling each
other. Some of the medallions have a question in
scribed on each side, both of which the magician an
swers in succession. If the drawer is shut without a
medallion being put in it, the magician rises, consults
his book, shakes his head, and resumes his seat, the
folding-doors remain shut, and the drawer is returned
empty. If two medallions are put into the drawer to
gether, an answer is returned only to the lower one.
When the machinery is wound up, the movements con
tinue about an hour, during which time about fifty
persons may be answered. The inventor stated that
the means by which the different medallions acted
upon the machinery, so as to produce the proper an
swers to the questions which they contained, were
extremely simple."

The Duck of Vaucanson was still more remarkable.
It was of the size of life, and so perfect an imitation of
the living animal that all the spectators were deceived.
It executed, says Brewster, all the natural movements
and gestures, it ate and drank with avidity, performed
all the quick motions of the head and throat which are
peculiar to the duck, and like it muddled the water
which it drank with its bill. It produced also the
sound of quacking in the most natural manner. In
the anatomical structure the artists exhibited the high
est skill. Every bone in the real duck had its repre
sentative hi the automaton, and its wings were


Maelzel's Chess-Player

anatomically exact. Every cavity, apophysis, and cur
vature was imitated, and each bone executed its proper
movements. When corn was thrown down before it,
the duck stretched out its neck to pick it up, swallowed,
and digested it. 1

But if these machines were ingenious, what shall we
think of the calculating machine of Mr. Babbage ?
What shall we think of an engine of wood and metal
which can not only compute astronomical and naviga
tion tables to any given extent, but render the exacti
tude of its operations mathematically certain through
its power of correcting its possible errors ? What
shall we think of a machine which can not only accom
plish all this, but actually print off its elaborate results,
when obtained, without the slightest intervention of
the intellect of man ? It will, perhaps, be said in reply,
that a machine such as we have described is altogether
above comparison with the Chess-Player of Maelzel.
By no means, it is altogether beneath it, that is to say,
provided we assume (what should never for a moment
be assumed) that the Chess-Player is a pure machine,
and performs its operations without any immediate
human agency. Arithmetical or algebraical calcula
tions are, from their very nature, fixed and determinate.
Certain data being given, certain results necessarily
and inevitably follow. These results have dependence

1 Under the head " Androides " in the Edinbutgh Encyclopaedia may be found
a full account of the principal automata of ancient and modern times.

Maelzel's Chess-Player

upon nothing, and are influenced by nothing but
the data originally given. And the question to be
solved proceeds, or should proceed, to its final deter
mination by a succession of unerring steps liable to no
change and subject to no modification. This being the
case, we can without difficulty conceive the possibility
of so arranging a piece of mechanism, that upon
starting it in accordance with the data of the question
to be solved, it should continue its movements regu
larly, progressively, and undeviatingly toward the
required solution, since these movements, however
complex, are never imagined to be otherwise than finite
and determinate. But the case is widely different with
the Chess-Player. With him there is no determi
nate progression. No one move in chess necessarily
follows upon any one other. From no particular dis
position of the men at one period of a game can we
predicate their disposition at a different period. Let us
place the first move in a game of chess in juxtaposi
tion with the data of an algebraical question, and their
great difference will be immediately perceived. From
the latter, from the data, the second step of the ques
tion, dependent thereupon, inevitably follows. It is
modelled by the data. It must be thus and not other
wise. But from the first move in the game of chess
no especial second move follows of necessity. In the
algebraical question, as it proceeds toward solution, the
certainty of its operations remains altogether unim-


Maelzel's Chess-Player

paired. The second step having been a consequence
of the data, the third step is equally a consequence
of the second, the fourth of the third, the fifth of the
fourth, and so on, and not possibly otherwise, to the
end. But in proportion to the progress made in a
game of chess is the uncertainty of each ensuing move.
A few moves having been made, no step is certain.
Different spectators of the game would advise different
moves. All is then dependent upon the variable judg
ment of the players. Now even granting (what should
not be granted) that the movements of the Automaton
Chess-Player were in themselves determinate, they
would be necessarily interrupted and disarranged by
the indeterminate will of his antagonist. There is,
then, no analogy whatever between the operations of
the Chess-Player and those of the calculating machine
of Mr. Babbage, and if we choose to call the former a
pure machine we must be prepared to admit that it is,
beyond all comparison, the most wonderful of the in
ventions of mankind. Its original projector, however,
Baron Kempelen, had no scruple in declaring it to be
a " very ordinary piece of mechanism, a bagatelle
whose effects appeared so marvellous only from the
boldness of the conception and the fortunate choice of
the methods adopted for promoting the illusion." But
it is needless to dwell upon this point. It is quite cer
tain that the operations of the Automaton are regulated
by mind and by nothing else. Indeed, this matter is


Maelzel's Chess-Player

susceptible of a mathematical demonstration, a
The only question, then, is of the manner in which
human agency is brought to bear. Before entering
upon this subject it would be as well to give a brief
history and description of the Chess-Player for the
benefit of such of our readers as may never have had
an opportunity of witnessing Mr. Maelzel's exhibition.
The Automaton Chess-Player was invented in 1769
by Baron Kempelen, a nobleman of Presburg, in Hun
gary, who afterward disposed of it, together with the

secret of its operations, to its present possessor. 1 Soon
after its completion it was exhibited in Presburg, Paris,
Vienna, and other continental cities. In 1783 and
1784 it was taken to London by Mr. Maelzel. Of late
years it has visited the principal towns in the United
States. Wherever seen, the most intense curiosity was
excited by its appearance, and numerous have been the
attempts, by men of all classes, to fathom the mystery

1 This was written in 1835, when Mr. Maelzel, recently deceased, was ex
hibiting the Chess-Player in the United States. Editor.


Maelzel's Chess-Player

of its evolutions. The cut on opposite page gives a
tolerable representation of the figure as seen by the
citizens of Richmond a few weeks ago. The right arm,
however, should lie more at length upon the box, a
chess-board should appear upon it, and the cushion
should not be seen while the pipe is held. Some im
material alterations have been made hi the costume of
the player since it came into the possession of Maelzel
the plume, for example, was not originally worn.

At the hour appointed for exhibition, a curtain is
withdrawn, or folding-doors are thrown open, and the
machine rolled to within about twelve feet of the near
est of the spectators, between whom and it (the ma
chine) a rope is stretched. A figure is seen habited as
a Turk, and seated, with its legs crossed, at a large box
apparently of maplewood, which serves it as a table.
The exhibitor will, if requested, roll the machine to
any portion of the room, suffer it to remain altogether
on any designated spot, or even shift its location re
peatedly during the progress of a game. The bottom
of the box is elevated considerably above the floor by
means of the castors or brazen rollers on which it
moves, a clear view of the surface immediately beneath
the Automaton being thus afforded to the spectators.
The chair on which the figure sits is affixed perma
nently to the box. On the top of this latter is a chess
board, also permanently affixed. The right arm of
the Chess-Player is extended at full length before him,


Maelzel's Chess-Player

at right angles with his body, and lying, in an appa
rently careless position, by the side of the board. The
back of the hand is upward. The board itself is eight
een inches square. The left arm of the figure is bent
at the elbow, and in the left hand is a pipe. A green
drapery conceals the back of the Turk and falls par
tially over the front of both shoulders. To judge from
the external appearance of the box, it is divided into
five compartments three cupboards of equal dimen
sions, and two drawers occupying that portion of the
chest lying beneath the cupboards. The foregoing
observations apply to the appearance of the Automaton
upon its first introduction into the presence of the

Maelzel now informs the company that he will dis
close to their view the mechanism of the machine.
Taking from his pocket a bunch of keys, he unlocks
with one of them a door marked i in the cut on page
8, and throws the cupboard fully open to the inspec
tion of all present. Its whole interior is apparently
filled with wheels, pinions, levers, and other machinery,
crowded very closely together, so that the eye can
penetrate but a little distance into the mass. Leaving
this door open to its full extent, he goes now round to
the back of the box, and, raising the drapery of the
figure, opens another door situated precisely in the
rear of the one first opened. Holding a lighted candle
at this door, and shifting the position of the whole


Maelzel's Chess-Player

machine repeatedly at the same time, a bright light is
thrown entirely through the cupboard, which is now
clearly seen to be full, completely full, of machinery.
The spectators being satisfied of this fact, Maelzel
closes the back door, locks it, takes the key from the
lock, lets fall the drapery of the figure, and comes
round to the front. The door marked i, it will be re
membered, is still open. The exhibitor now proceeds
to open the drawer which lies beneath the cupboards
at the bottom of the box, for although there are ap
parently two drawers there is really only one, the
two handles and two key-holes being intended merely
for ornament. Having opened this drawer to its full
extent, a small cushion and a set of chessmen, fixed
in a framework made to support them perpendicu
larly, are discovered. Leaving this drawer, as well as
cupboard No. i, open, Maelzel now unlocks door No.
2 and door No. 3, which are discovered to be folding-
doors, opening into one and the same compartment.
To the right of this compartment, however (that is to
say, to the spectators 1 right), a small division, six
inches wide and filled with machinery, is partitioned
off. The main compartment itself (in speaking of that
portion of the box visible upon opening doors 2 and 3
we shall always call it the main compartment) is lined
with dark cloth and contains no machinery whatever
beyond two pieces of steel, quadrant-shaped, and
situated one in each of the rear top corners of the


Maelzel's Chess-Player

compartment. A small protuberance about eight
inches square, and also covered with dark cloth, lies
on the floor of the compartment near the rear corner
on the spectators' left hand. Leaving doors No. 2 and
No. 3 open, as well as the drawer and door No. i, the
exhibitor now goes round to the back of the main
compartment, and, unlocking another door there, dis
plays clearly all the interior of the main compartment
by introducing a candle behind it and within it. The
whole box being thus apparently disclosed to the scru
tiny of the company, Maelzel, still leaving the doors
and drawer open, rolls the Automaton entirely round
and exposes the back of the Turk by lifting up the
drapery. A door about ten inches square is thrown
open hi the loins of the figure, and a smaller one also
in the left thigh. The interior of the figure, as seen
through these apertures, appears to be crowded with
machinery. In general, every spectator is now thor
oughly satisfied of having beheld and completely
scrutinized, at one and the same time, every individ
ual portion of the Automaton, and the idea of any
person being concealed in the interior, during so com
plete an exhibition of that interior, if ever entertained,
is immediately dismissed as preposterous in the ex

M. Maelzel, having rolled the machine back into its
original position, now informs the company that the
Automaton will play a game of chess with any one


Maelzel's Chess-Player

disposed to encounter him. This challenge being ac
cepted, a small table is prepared for the antagonist and
placed close by the rope, but on the spectators' side of
it, and so situated as not to prevent the company from
obtaining a full view of the Automaton. From a
drawer in this table is taken a set of chessmen, and
Maelzel arranges them generally, but not always, with
his own hands, on the chess-board, which consists
merely of the usual number of squares painted upon
the table. The antagonist having taken his seat, the
exhibitor approaches the drawer of the box and takes
therefrom the cushion, which, after removing the pipe
from the hand of the Automaton, he places under its
left arm as a support. Then, taking also from the
drawer the Automaton's set of chessmen, he arranges
them upon the chess-board before the figure. He now
proceeds to close the doors and to lock them, leaving
the bunch of keys in door No. i. He also closes the
drawer, and, finally, winds up the machine by apply
ing a key to an aperture in the left end (the specta
tors' left) of the box. The game now commences, the
Automaton taking the first move. The duration of
the contest is usually limited to half an hour, but if it
be not finished at the expiration of this period, and the
antagonist still contends that he can beat the Autom
aton, M. Maelzel has seldom any objection to con
tinue it. Not to weary the company is the ostensible
and, no doubt, the real object of the limitation. It


Maelzel's Chess-Player

will, of course, be understood that when a move is
made at his own table by the antagonist, the corres
ponding move is made at the box of the Automaton,
by Maelzel himself, who then acts as the representa
tive of the antagonist. On the other hand, when the
Turk moves, the corresponding move is made at the
table of the antagonist, also by M. Maelzel, who then
acts as the representative of the Automaton. In this
manner it is necessary that the exhibitor should often
pass from one table to the other. He also frequently
goes in the rear of the figure to remove the chessmen
which it has taken, and which it deposits, when taken,
on the box to the left (to its own left) of the board.
When the Automaton hesitates in relation to its move,
the exhibitor is occasionally seen to place himself very
near its right side, and to lay his hand now and then,
in a careless manner, upon the box. He has also a
peculiar shuffle with his feet, calculated to induce sus
picion of collusion with the machine in minds which
are more cunning than sagacious. These peculiari
ties are, no doubt, mere mannerisms of M. Maelzel,
or, if he is aware of them at all, he puts them in prac
tice with a view of exciting in the spectators a false
idea of the pure mechanism in the Automaton.

The Turk plays with his left hand. All the move
ments of the arm are at right angles. In this manner,
the hand (which is gloved and bent in a natural way),
being brought directly above the piece to be moved,


Maelzel's Chess-Player

descends finally upon it, the fingers receiving it, in
most cases, without difiiculty. Occasionally, however,
when the piece is not precisely in its proper situation
the Automaton fails in his attempt at seizing it. When
this occurs, no second effort is made, but the arm con
tinues its movement in the direction originally in
tended, precisely as if the piece were in the fingers.
Having thus designated the spot whither the move
should have been made, the arm returns to its cushion,
and Maelzel performs the evolution which the Au
tomaton pointed out. At every movement of the
figure machinery is heard in motion. During the
progress of the game, the figure now and then rolls its
eyes as if surveying the board, moves its head, and
pronounces the word " echec" (check) when necessary. 1
If a false move be made by his antagonist, he raps
briskly on the box with the fingers of his right hand,
shakes his head roughly, and, replacing the piece
falsely moved in its former situation, assumes the next
move himself. Upon beating the game, he waves his
head with an air of triumph, looks around compla
cently upon the spectators, and, drawing his left arm
farther back than usual, suffers his fingers alone to
rest upon the cushion. In general, the Turk is vic
torious once or twice he has been beaten. The game
being ended, Maelzel will again, if desired, exhibit the

1 The making the Turk pronounce the word " echec " is an improvement
by M. Maelzel. When in possession of Baron Kempelen, the figure indicated
a check by rapping on the box with his right hand.


Maelzel's Chess-Player

mechanism of the box in the same manner as before.
The machine is then rolled back, and a curtain hides
it from the view of the company.

There have been many attempts at solving the mys
tery of the Automaton. The most general opinion in
relation to it, an opinion, too, not unfrequently adopted
by men who should have known better, was, as we
have before said, that no immediate human agency
was employed, in other words, that the machine was
purely a machine and nothing else. Many, however,
maintained that the exhibitor himself regulated the
movements of the figure by mechanical means, operat
ing through the feet of the box. Others, again, spoke
confidently of a magnet. Of the first of these opin
ions we shall say nothing at present more than we
have already said. In relation to the second it is only

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryEdgar Allan PoeThe complete works of Edgar Allan Poe (Volume 10) → online text (page 1 of 21)