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necessary to repeat what we have before stated, that
the machine is rolled about on castors, and will, at the
request of a spectator, be moved to and fro to any por
tion of the room, even during the progress of the game.
The supposition of the magnet is also untenable, for
if a magnet were the agent, any other magnet in the
pocket of a spectator would disarrange the entire
mechanism. The exhibitor, however, will suffer the
most powerful loadstone to remain even upon the box
during the whole of the exhibition.

The first attempt at a written explanation of the
secret, at least the first attempt of which we ourselves


Maelzel's Chess-Player

have any knowledge, was made in a large pamphlet
printed at Paris in 1785. The author's hypothesis
amounted to this that a dwarf actuated the machine.
This dwarf he supposed to conceal himself during the
opening of the box by thrusting his legs into two hollow
cylinders, which were represented to be (but which are
not) among the machinery in the cupboard No. i,
while his body was out of the box entirely and covered
by the drapery of the Turk. When the doors were
shut, the dwarf was enabled to bring his body within
the box, the noise produced by some portion of the
machinery allowing him to do so unheard, and also to
close the door by which he entered. The interior of
the Automaton being then exhibited, and no person
discovered, the spectators, says the author of this
pamphlet, are satisfied that no one is within any por
tion of the machine. The whole hypothesis was too
obviously absurd to require comment or refutation,
and, accordingly, we find that it attracted very little

In 1789 a book was published at Dresden by M. I. F.
Freyhere, in which another endeavor was made to un
ravel the mystery. Mr. Freyhere's book was a pretty
large one, and copiously illustrated by colored engrav
ings. His supposition was that " a well-taught boy,
very thin and tall of his age (sufficiently so that he
could be concealed in a drawer almost immediately
under the chess-board) " played the game of chess and

VOL. X. 2. j ij

Maelzel's Chess-Player

effected all the evolutions of the Automaton. This
idea, although even more silly than that of the Pa
risian author, met with a better reception, and was in
some measure believed to be the true solution of the
wonder, until the inventor put an end to the discussion
by suffering a close examination of the top of the box.
These bizarre attempts at explanation were followed
by others equally bizarre. Of late years, however, an
anonymous writer, by a course of reasoning exceed
ingly unphilosophical, has contrived to blunder upon
a plausible solution, although we cannot consider it
altogether the true one. His essay was first pub
lished in a Baltimore weekly paper, was illustrated by
cuts, and was entitled An Attempt to Analyze the
Automaton Chess "Player of M, Maelzel This essay
we suppose to have been the original of the pamphlet
to which Sir David Brewster alludes in his Letters on
Natural Magic, and which he has no hesitation in de
claring a thorough and satisfactory explanation. The
results of the analysis are undoubtedly, in the main,
just; but we can only account for Brewster's pro
nouncing the essay a thorough and satisfactory ex
planation by supposing him to have bestowed upon it
a very cursory and inattentive perusal. In the com
pendium of the essay, made use of in the Letters on
Natural Magic, it is quite impossible to arrive at any
distinct conclusion in regard to the adequacy or in
adequacy of the analysis, on account of the gross mis-


Maelzel's Chess-Play er

arrangement and deficiency of the letters of reference
employed. The same fault is to be found in the
Attemptf etc., as we originally saw it. The solution
consists in a series of minute explanations (accom
panied by wood-cuts, the whole occupying many
pages), in which the object is to show the possibility
of so shifting the partitions of the box as to allow a
human being, concealed in the interior, to move por
tions of his body from one part of the box to another
during the exhibition of the mechanism, thus eluding
the scrutiny of the spectators. There can be no doubt,
as we have before observed, and as we will presently
endeavor to show, that the principle, or rather the
result of this solution is the true one. Some person is
concealed in the box during the whole time of exhibit
ing the interior. We object, however, to the whole
verbose description of the manner in which the par
titions are shifted to accommodate the movements
of the person concealed. We object to it as a mere
theory assumed in the first place, and to which cir
cumstances are afterward made to adapt themselves.
It was not, and could not have been, arrived at by any
inductive reasoning. In whatever way the shifting is
managed, it is, of course, concealed at every step from
observation. To show that certain movements might
possibly be effected in a certain way is very far from
showing that they are actually so effected. There may
be an infinity of other methods by which the same


Maelzel's Chess-Play er

results may be obtained. The probability of the one
assumed proving the correct one is, then, as unity to
infinity. But, in reality, this particular point, the
shifting of the partitions, is of no consequence what
ever. It was altogether unnecessary to devote seven
or eight pages for the purpose of proving what no one
in his senses would deny, viz., that the wonderful me
chanical genius of Baron Kempelen could invent the
necessary means for shutting a door or slipping aside
a panel, with a human agent, too, at his service in
actual contact with the panel or the door, and the
whole operations carried on, as the author of the essay
himself shows, and as we shall attempt to show more
fully hereafter, entirely out of reach of the observa
tion of the spectators.

In attempting, ourselves, an explanation of the Au
tomaton, we will, in the first place, endeavor to show
how its operations are effected, and afterward describe,
as briefly as possible, the nature of the observations
from which we have deduced our result.

It will be necessary for a proper understanding of
the subject, that we repeat here, in a few words, the
routine adopted by the exhibitor in disclosing the in
terior of the box a routine from which he never de
viates in any material particular. In the first place,
he opens the door No. i. Leaving this open, he goes
round to the rear of the box and opens a door pre
cisely at the back of door No. i. To this back door


Maelzel's Chess-Player

he holds a lighted candle. He then closes the back
door, locks it, and, coming round to the front, opens
the drawer to its full extent. This done, he opens the
doors No. 2 and No. 3 (the folding-doors), and dis
plays the interior of the main compartment. Leaving
open the main compartment, the drawer, and the front
door of cupboard No. i, he now goes to the rear again
and throws open the back door of the main compart
ment. In shutting up the box no particular order is
observed, except that the folding-doors are always
closed before the drawer.

Now, let us suppose that when the machine is first
rolled into the presence of the spectators a man is
already within it. His body is situated behind the
dense machinery in cupboard No. i (the rear portion
of which machinery is so contrived as to slip en masse
from the main compartment to the cupboard No. i, as
occasion may require), and his legs lie at full length
in the main compartment. When Maelzel opens the
door No. i, the man within is not in any danger of
discovery, for the keenest eye cannot penetrate more
than about two inches into the darkness within. But
the case is otherwise when the back door of the cup
board No. i is opened. A bright light then pervades
the cupboard, and the body of the man would be dis
covered if it were there. But it is not. The putting
the key in the lock of the back door was a signal, on
hearing which the person concealed brought his body


Maelzel's Chess-Player

forward to an angle as acute as possible, throwing it
altogether, or nearly so, into the main compartment.
This, however, is a painful position and cannot be long
maintained. Accordingly, we find that Maelzel closes
the back door. This being done, there is no reason
why the body of the man may not resume its former
situation, for the cupboard is again so dark as to defy
scrutiny. The drawer is now opened, and the legs of
the person within drop down behind it in the space it
formerly occupied. 1 There is, consequently, now no
longer any part of the man in the main compartment,
his body being behind the machinery in cupboard No.
i, and his legs in the space occupied by the drawer.
The exhibitor, therefore, finds himself at liberty to dis
play the main compartment. This he does, opening
both its back and front doors, and no person is dis
covered. The spectators are now satisfied that the
whole of the box is exposed to view, and exposed, too,
all portions of it at one and the same time. But, of
course, this is not the case. They neither see the
space behind the drawer nor the interior of cupboard
No. i, the front door of which latter the exhibitor
virtually shuts in shutting its back door. Maelzel, hav
ing now rolled the machine around, lifted up the dra-

1 Sir David Brewster supposes that there is always a large space behind this
drawer even when shut in other words, that the drawer is a " false drawer,"
and does not extend to the back of the box. But the idea is altogether un
tenable. So commonplace a trick would be immediately discovered, espe
cially as the drawer is always opened to its full extent, and an opportunity
thus offered of comparing its depth with that of the box.


Maelzel's Chess-Player

pery of the Turk, opened the doors in its back and
thigh, and shown his trunk to be full of machinery,
brings the whole back into its original position and
closes the doors. The man within is now at liberty to
move about. He gets up into the body of the Turk
just so high as to bring his eyes above the level of the
chess-board. It is very probable that he seats himself
upon the little square block or protuberance which is
seen in a corner of the main compartment when the
doors are open. In this position he sees the chess
board through the bosom of the Turk, which is of
gauze. Bringing his right arm across his breast, he
actuates the little machinery necessary to guide the
left arm and the fingers of the figure. This machin
ery is situated just beneath the left shoulder of the
Turk, and is consequently easily reached by the right
hand of the man concealed, if we suppose his right
arm brought across the breast. The motion of the
head and eyes, and of the right arm of the figure, as
well as the sound " echec" are produced by other mech
anism in the interior, and actuated at will by the man
within. The whole of this mechanism, that is to say,
all the mechanism essential to the machine, is most
probably contained within the little cupboard (of about
six inches in breadth) partitioned off at the right (the
spectators' right) of the main compartment.

In this analysis of the operations of the Automaton
we have purposely avoided any allusion to the manner


Maelzel's Chess-Player

in which the partitions are shifted, and it will now be
readily comprehended that this point is a matter of
no importance, since, by mechanism within the ability
of any common carpenter, it might be effected in an
infinity of different ways, and since we have shown
that, however performed, it is performed out of the
view of the spectators. Our result is founded upon
the following observations taken during frequent visits
to the exhibition of Maelzel. 1

1. The moves of the Turk are not made at regular
intervals of time, but accommodate themselves to the
moves of the antagonist, although this point (of regu
larity), so important in all kinds of mechanical con
trivance, might have been readily brought about by
limiting the time allowed for the moves of the antag
onist. For example, if this limit were three minutes,
the moves of the Automaton might be made at any
given intervals longer than three minutes. The fact,
then, of irregularity, when regularity might have been
so easily attained, goes to prove that regularity is un
important to the action of the Automaton; in other
words, that the Automaton is not a pure machine.

2. When the Automaton is about to move a piece,
a distinct motion is observable just beneath the left

1 Some of these observations are intended merely to prove that the machine
must be regulated by mind, and it may be thought a work of supererogation
to advance further arguments in support of what has been already fully de
cided. But our object is to convince, in especial, certain of our friends upon
whom a train of suggestive reasoning will have more influence than the most
positive a priori demonstration.


Maelzel's Chess- Player

shoulder, and which motion agitates in a slight degree
the drapery covering the front of the left shoulder.
This motion invariably precedes, by about two sec
onds, the movement of the arm itself; and the arm
never, in any instance, moves without this preparatory
motion in the shoulder. Now, let the antagonist move
a piece, and let the corresponding move be made by
Maelzel, as usual, upon the board of the Automaton.
Then let the antagonist narrowly watch the Autom
aton until he detect the preparatory motion in the
shoulder. Immediately upon detecting this motion,
and before the arm itself begins to move, let him
withdraw his piece, as if perceiving an error in his
manoeuvre. It will then be seen that the movement
of the arm, which, in all other cases, immediately
succeeds the motion in the shoulder, is withheld, is
not made, although Maelzel has not yet performed, on
the board of the Automaton, any move corresponding
to the withdrawal of the antagonist. In this case, that
the Automaton was about to move is evident; and
that he did not move was an effect plainly produced
by the withdrawal of the antagonist and without any
intervention of Maelzel.

This fact fully proves (i) that the intervention of
Maelzel, in performing the moves of the antagonist
on the board of the Automaton, is not essential to the
movements of the Automaton; (2) that its move
ments are regulated by mind, by some person who


Maelzel's Chess-Player

sees the board of the antagonist; (3) that its move
ments are not regulated by the mind of Maelzel, whose
back was turned toward the antagonist at the with
drawal of his move.

3. The Automaton does not invariably win the
game. Were the machine a pure machine, this would
not be the case it would always win. The principle
being discovered by which a machine can be made to
play a game of chess, an extension of the same prin
ciple would enable it to win a game ; a further exten
sion would enable it to win all games, that is, to beat
any possible game of an antagonist. A little considera
tion will convince any one that the difficulty of mak
ing a machine beat all games is not in the least degree
greater, as regards the principle of the operations
necessary, than that of making it beat a single game.
If, then, we regard the Chess-Player as a machine, we
must suppose (what is highly improbable) that its in
ventor preferred leaving it incomplete to perfecting it,
a supposition rendered still more absurd when we
reflect that the leaving it incomplete would afford an
argument against the possibility of its being a pure
machine, the very argument we now adduce.

4. When the situation of the game is difficult or
complex, we never perceive the Turk either shake his
head or roll his eyes. It is only when his next move
is obvious, or when the game is so circumstanced that
to a man in the Automaton's place there would be no


Maelzel's Chess-Player

necessity for reflection. Now, these peculiar move
ments of the head and eyes are movements custom
ary with persons engaged in meditation, and the
ingenious Baron Kempelen would have adapted these
movements (were the machine a pure machine) to
occasions proper for their display, that is, to occasions
of complexity. But the reverse is seen to be the case,
and this reverse applies precisely to our supposition of
a man in the interior. When engaged in meditation
about the game he has no time to think of setting in
motion the mechanism of the Automaton by which are
moved the head and the eyes. When the game, how
ever, is obvious, he has time to look about him, and,
accordingly, we see the head shake and the eyes

5. When the machine is rolled round to allow the
spectators an examination of the back of the Turk,
and when his drapery is lifted up and the doors in the
trunk and thigh thrown open, the interior of the
trunk is seen to be crowded with machinery. In
scrutinizing this machinery while the Automaton was
in motion, that is to say, while the whole machine was
moving on the castors, it appeared to us that cer
tain portions of the mechanism changed their shape
and position in a degree too great to be accounted for
by the simple laws of perspective; and subsequent
examinations convinced us that these undue altera
tions were attributable to mirrors in the interior of the


Maelzel's Chess-Player

trunk. The introduction of mirrors among the ma
chinery could not have been intended to influence, in
any degree, the machinery itself. Their operation,
whatever that operation should prove to be, must
necessarily have reference to the eye of the spectator.
We at once concluded that these mirrors were so
placed to multiply to the vision some few pieces of
machinery within the trunk so as to give it the appear
ance of being crowded with mechanism. Now, the
direct inference from this is that the machine is not
a pure machine. For if it were, the inventor, so far
from wishing its mechanism to appear complex, and
using deception for the purpose of giving it this
appearance, would have been especially desirous of
convincing those who witnessed his exhibition, of the
simplicity of the means by which results so wonderful
were brought about.

6. The external appearance, and, especially, the de
portment of the Turk, are, when we consider them as
imitations of life, but very indifferent imitations. The
countenance evinces no ingenuity, and is surpassed, in
its resemblance to the human face, by the very com
monest of waxworks. The eyes roll unnaturally in
the head, without any corresponding motions of the
lids or brows. The arm, particularly, performs its
operations in an exceedingly stiff, awkward, jerking,
and rectangular manner. Now, all this is the result
either of inability in Maelzel to do better, or of inten-


Maelzel's Chess-Player

tional neglect, accidental neglect being out of the
question, when we consider that the whole time of
the ingenious proprietor is occupied in the improve
ment of his machines. Most assuredly we must not
refer the unlife-like appearances to inability, for all
the rest of Maelzel's automata are evidences of his full
ability to copy the motions and peculiarities of life with
the most wonderful exactitude. The rope-dancers, for
example, are inimitable. When the clown laughs, his
lips, his eyes, his eyebrows, and eyelids indeed, all
the features of his countenance are imbued with
their appropriate expressions. In both him and his
companion, every gesture is so entirely easy and free
from the semblance of artificiality, that, were it not
for the diminutiveness of their size and the fact of their
being passed from one spectator to another previous
to their exhibition on the rope, it would be difficult to
convince any assemblage of persons that these wooden
automata were not living creatures. We cannot,
therefore, doubt Mr. Maelzel's ability, and we must
necessarily suppose that he intentionally suffered his
Chess-Player to remain the same artificial and un
natural figure which Baron Kempelen (no doubt also
through design) originally made it. What this design
was it is not difficult to conceive. Were the Autom
aton lifelike in its motions, the spectator would be
more apt to attribute its operations to their true cause
(that is, to human agency within) than he is now,


Maelzel's Chess-Player

when the awkward and rectangular manoeuvres con
vey the idea of pure and unaided mechanism.

7. When, a short time previous to the commence
ment of the game, the Automaton is wound up by the
exhibitor as usual, an ear in any degree accustomed to
the sounds produced in winding up a system of ma
chinery will not fail to discover, instantaneously, that
the axis turned by the key in the box of the Chess-
Player cannot possibly be connected with either a
weight, a spring, or any system of machinery what
ever. The inference here is the same as in our last
observation. The winding up is inessential to the op
erations of the Automaton, and is performed with the
design of exciting in the spectators the false idea of

8. When the question is demanded explicitly of
Maelzel, " Is the Automaton a pure machine or not ? "
his reply is invariably the same : " I will say nothing
about it." Now, the notoriety of the Automaton, and
the great curiosity it has everywhere excited, are owing
more especially to the prevalent opinion that it is a
pure machine than to any other circumstance. Of
course, then, it is the interest of the proprietor to rep
resent it as a pure machine. And what more obvious
and more effectual method could there be of impress
ing the spectators with this desired idea, than a posi
tive and explicit declaration to that effect ? On the
other hand, what more obvious and effectual method


Maelzel's Chess-Player

could there be of exciting a disbelief in the Automaton's
being a pure machine than by withholding such ex
plicit declaration ? For people will naturally reason
thus : It is Maelzel's interest to represent this thing a
pure machine ; he refuses to do so, directly, in words,
although he does not scruple, and is evidently anxious,
to do so indirectly by actions; were it actually what
he wishes to represent it by actions, he would gladly
avail himself of the more direct testimony of words;
the inference is, that the consciousness of its not
being a pure machine is the reason of his silence ; his
actions cannot implicate him in a falsehood, his
words may.

9. When, in exhibiting the interior of the box,
Maelzel has thrown open the door No. i and also the
door immediately behind it, he holds a lighted candle
at the back door (as before mentioned) and moves the
entire machine to and fro with a view of convincing
the company that the cupboard No. i is entirely filled
with machinery. When the machine is thus moved
about, it will be apparent to any careful observer that,
whereas that portion of the machinery near the front
door No. i is perfectly steady and unwavering, the por
tion farther within fluctuates, in a very slight degree,
with the movements of the machine. This circum
stance first aroused in us the suspicion that the more
remote portion of the machinery was so arranged as to
be easily slipped, en masse, from its position when

3 1

Maelzel's Chess-Player

occasion should require it. This occasion we have
already stated to occur when the man concealed within
brings his body into an erect position upon the closing
of the back door.

10. Sir David Brewster states the figure of the Turk
to be of the size of life, but, in fact, it is far above the
ordinary size. Nothing is more easy than to err in our
notions of magnitude. The body of the Automaton is
generally insulated, and, having no means of imme
diately comparing it with any human form, we suffer
ourselves to consider it as of ordinary dimensions.
This mistake may, however, be corrected by observing
the Chess-Player when, as is sometimes the case, the
exhibitor approaches it. Mr. Maelzel, to be sure, is not
very tall, but upon drawing near the machine his head
will be found at least eighteen inches below the head
of the Turk, although the latter, it will be remembered,
is in a sitting position.

11. The box, behind which the Automaton is
placed, is precisely three feet six inches long, two feet
four inches deep, and two feet six inches high. These
dimensions are fully sufficient for the accommodation
of a man very much above the common size ; and the
main compartment alone is capable of holding any or
dinary man in the position we have mentioned as
assumed by the person concealed. As these are facts,

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