excellent means of escape for the poor prisoner, and at
the same time assured him a livelihood. The same evening
the road by which the frontier should be reached was
agreed on, as well as the precautions to be taken during
the journey. It was also arranged that, in order to arouse
no suspicions, performances should be given in all the
towns they passed through, beginning with Toula, Ka-
louga, Smolensk, &c.
A month later, Worousky, now entirely recovered, gave
a first specimen of his marvellous skill to a numerous au-
dience at Toula. I possess a copy of the original bill,
which was given me by M. Hessler, nephew of Dr. Osloff,
who also supplied me with all these details. Worousky
won every game he played at Toula, and the papers were
full of praises of the automaton. Assured of success by
the brilliancy of their debut, M. de Kempelen and his
companion proceeded towards the frontier.
It was necessary that Worousky should be concealed
THE ESCAPE. 167
from sight somewhere even when travelling ; hence he was
literally packed up. The enormous chest in which the
automaton was conveyed only travelled very slowly, appa-
rently through fear of breaking the machinery, but in
reality to protect the skillful chess-player who was shut up
in it, while air-holes were made in the side of this singular
post-chaise to enable to enable Worousky to breathe.
The poor cripple endured all this inconvenience calmly,
in the hope of soon being out of reach of the Muscovite
police, and arriving safe and sound at the end of this
painful journey. The fatigue, it must be granted, was
considerably alleviated by the enormous receipts they
netted by the exhibition.
Our travellers had arrived at Vitebsk, on the road to
the Prussian frontier, when one morning Kempelen rushed
into the room where Worousky was concealed.
"A frightful misfortune hangs over us," the mechani-
cian said, in a terrible state of alarm, and showing a letter
dated St. Petersburg. "Heaven knows how we shall
escape it ! The Empress Catherine, having heard through
the papers of the automaton's wonderful talent, desires to
play a game with it, and requests me to bring it straight
to the imperial palace. We must hit on some plan to
evade this dangerous honor."
To Kempelen's extreme surprise, Worousky heard this
great news very calmly, and even seemed to be pleased
" Refuse such a visit ! by no means: the- wishes of the
Czarina are orders which cannot be infringed without
peril ; we must, therefore, obey her as quickly as possible.
Your zeal will have the double effect of gaining her favor,
and removing any suspicions that might arise about your
automaton. Besides," the bold soldier added, with a
168 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.
degree of pride, " I confess I should like to find myself
face to face with the great Catherine, and show her that
the head on which she set the price of a few roubles is,
under certain circumstances, as good as her own."
"Madman that you are !" M. de Kempelen exclaimed,
startled by the excitement of the impetuous insurgent.
" Remember, that we may be discovered, and you will lose
your life, while I shall be sent to Siberia."
" Impossible !" Worousky quietly replied ; "your inge-
nious machine has already deceived so many skillful per-
sons, that I am convinced we shall soon have one dupe
more. Besides, what a glorious reminiscence, what an
honor it will be to us, if we can say some day that the
Empress Catherine II., the haughty Czarina, whom her
courtiers proclaim the most intellectual person in her
vast empire, was deceived by your genius, and conquered
by me !"
Kempelen, though not sharing Worousky's enthusiasm,
was obliged to yield. Hence, they set off without further
argument ; the journey was very long and fatiguing, but
Kempelen did not quit his companion for a moment, and
did all in his power to ameliorate his position. At length
they reached their journey's end, but though they had
travelled as fast as they could, Catherine, on receiving
Kempelen, appeared rather angry.
" My roads must be very bad, sir, if you require fifteen
days to travel from Vitebsk to St. Petersburg."
" Will your majesty," the crafty mechanician replied,
" allow me to make a confession which will serve as my
" Do so," Catherine replied, " provided it be not a con-
fession of the incapacity of your marvellous machine."
" On the contrary, I would confess that, being aware
CATHERINE II. 169
of your majesty's skill at chess, I desired to offer you a
worthy opponent. Hence, before starting, I made some
additions which were indispensable for so important a
"Ah !" the empress said, with a smile, smoothed down
by this flatttering explanation. "And you fancy these
new arrangements will enable your automaton to beat
" I should be much surprised were it otherwise."
" Well, we shall see, sir," the empress continued, nod-
ding her head ironically. " But," she added, in the same
tone, " when will you bring my terrible opponent before
" Whenever your majesty may please."
"If that is the case, I am so impatient to measure my
strength with the conqueror of the most skillful players
in my country, that I will receive him this very evening
in my library. Put up your machine there, and at eight
o clock I will join you. Be punctual !"
Kempelen took leave of Catherine, and hastened to
make his preparations for the evening. Worousky was de-
lighted at the prospect of amusing the empress ; but al-
though Kempelen was resolved to risk the adventure, he
wished to take all possible precautions, so that he might
have a way of escape in case of danger. Hence, he had
the automaton carried to the palace in the same chest in
which it travelled.
When eight o'clock struck, the empress, accompanied by
a numerous suite, entered the library and took her place
at the chess-board.
I have forgotten to say that Kempelen never allowed
any one to pass behind the automaton, and would not con-
sent to begin the game till all the spectators were in front
of the board.
170 MEMOIRS OF KOBERT-HOUDIN.
The court took their places behind the empress, unani-
mously predicting the defeat of the automaton. The chest
and the Turk's body were then examined, and when all
were perfectly convinced they contained nothing but the
clockwork I have already mentioned, the game began. It
proceeded for some time in perfect silence, but Catherine's
frowning brow speedily revealed that the automaton was
not very gallant towards her, and fully deserved the repu-
tation it had gained. The skillful Mussulman captured a
bishop and a knight, and the game was turning much to
the disadvantage of the lady, when the Turk, suddenly
forgetting his dignified gravity, gave a violent blow on his
cushion, and pushed back a piece his adversary had just
Catherine II. had attempted to cheat ; perhaps to try
the skill of the automaton, or for some other reason. At
any rate the haughty empress, unwilling to confess her weak-
ness, replaced the piece on the same square, and regarded
the automaton with an air of imperious authority. The
result was most unexpected the Turk upset all the
pieces with a blow of his hand, and immediately the clock
work, which had been heard during the whole game, stop-
ped. It seemed as if the machinery had got out of repair.
Pale and trembling, M. de Kempelen, recognising in this
Worousky's impetuous temper, awaited the issue of this
conflict between the insurgent and his sovereign.
" Ah, ah ! my good automaton ! your manners, are
rather rough," the empress said, good humoredly, not
sorry to see a game she had small chance of winning
end thus. " Oh ! you are a famous player, I grant ; but
you were afraid of losing the game, and so prudently up-
set the pieces. Well, I am now quite convinced of your
skill and your violent character."
A LUCKY ESCAPE. 171
M. de Kempelen began to breathe again, and regaining
courage, tried to remove the unfavorable impression which
the little respect shown by the automaton must have pro-
duced. Hence he said, humbly,
" Will your majesty allow me to offer an explanation of
what has just happened?"
"By no means, M. de Kempelen," Catherine said,
heartily "by no means; on the contrary, I find it most
amusing, and your automaton pleases me so much that I
wish to purchase it. I shall thus always have near me a
player, somewhat quick perhaps, but yet able to hold his
own. You can leave it here to-night, and come to-mor-
row morning to arrange the price."
There is strong reason to believe that Catherine wish-
ed to commit an indiscretion when she evinced a desire
that the figure should remain at the palace till the next
morning. Fortunately, the skillful mechanician managed
to baffle her feminine curiosity by carrying Worousky off
in the big chest. The automaton remained in the library,
but the player was no longer there.
The next day Catherine renewed her proposition to pur-
chase the chess-player, but Kempelen made her under-
stand that, as the figure could not perform without him,
he could not possibly sell it. The empress allowed the
justice of these arguments; and, while complimenting the
mechanician on his invention, made him a handsome pre-
Three months after the automaton was in England, un-
der the management of Mr. Anthon, to whom Kempelen
had sold it. I know not if Worousky was still attached
to it, but I fancy so, owing to the immense success the
chessplayer met with. Mr. Anthon visited the whole of
Europe, always meeting with the same success; but, at
172 MEMOIRS OF KOBERT-HOUDIN.
his death, the celebrated automaton was purchased by
Maelzel, who embarked with it for New York. It was
then, probably, Worousky took leave of his hospitable
Turk, for the automaton was not nearly so successful in
America. After exhibiting his mechanical trumpeter and
chess-player for some time, Maelzel set out again for
France, but died on the passage of an attack of indiges-
tion. His heirs sold his apparatus, and thus Cronier ob-
tained his precious relic.
My fortunate star again furnished me with an excellent
occasion for continuing my studies. A Prussian of the
name of Koppen exhibited at Paris, about the year 1829,
an instrument known as the Componium. It was a per-
fect mechanical orchestra, playing operatic overtures with
remarkable precision and effect, and it owed its name to
the circumstance that, by means of truly marvellous ar-
rangements, this instrument improvised charming varia-
tions without ever repeating itself. It was asserted to be as
difficult to hear the same variation twice, as to find two
similar quaternes drawn in succession at a lottery.
The Componium was enormously successful, but at last
public curiosity was exhausted, and it was withdrawn,
after bringing in the owner one hundred thousand francs
clear profit in a year. This amount, whether correct or
not, was adroitly published, and some time after the in-
strument was put up for sale. A speculator by the name
of D , seduced by the hope of obtaining equally large
receipts in a foreign country, bought the instrument, and
took it to England. Unfortunately for D , at the moment
when this goose with the golden eggs arrived in London,
George IV. died ; the court went into mourning, and no
one visited the instrument. In order to avoid useless ex-
pense, D thought it prudent to give up a scheme com-
THE COMPONIUM. 173
menced under such evil auspices, and determined on re-
turning to Paris. The Componium was consequently taken
to pieces, packed up and carried to France.
D , hoped the instrument would enter duty free, but,
on leaving France, he had omitted some formality indis-
pensable before obtaining this favor. The Customs stopped
it, and he was obliged to refer the case to the Minister of
Trade. While awaiting his decision, the chests were de-
posited in damp ware-rooms, and it was not till the end
of the year, and after numberless formalities and difficul-
ties, that the instrument returned to Paris.
This will give an idea of the state of disorder, confusion
and damage in which the Componium was left.
Discouraged by the ill success of his trip to England,
D resolved on selling his mechanical improviser, but,
before doing so, he cast about for a mechanician who
would undertake to put it in working order. I have for-
gotton to state that, on the sale of the Componium, M.
Koppen had handed over with it a very clever German
workman, who was, as it were, the driver of this gigantic
instrument. This person, finding he must sit with his
hands before him during the interminable formalities of
the French Customs, thought he could not do better than
The repair of the Componium was a tedious business
a work of perserverance and research for, as its ar-
rangement had always been kept secret, no one could
supply the least information. D himself, having no
notion of mechanism, could not be of the slightest use, so
the workman must only depend on his own ideas.
I heard the matter talked about, and, urged by a pro-
bably too flattering opinion of myself, or rather dazzled
by the glory of executing such a splendid job, I offered
to undertake the immense repairs.
174 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.
I was laughed at : the confession is humiliating, but
perfectly truthful. I must say, too, that it was justifiable,
for I was only known at that time as an humble workman,
and it was feared that, far from making the instrument
act properly, I should cause still greater injury, while try-
ing to repair it. However, as D met with no better
offer, and I offered to deposit a sum, to be forfeited in the
event of my doing any injury, he eventually yielded to
It will be allowed that I was a very conscientious work-
man ; but, in reality, I acted for my own benefit, as this
undertaking, by supplying me with an interesting object
of study, would prove a perfect lesson in mechanism for
As soon as my offer was accepted, all the boxes in which
the componium was packed were carried into a large room
I used as workshop, and emptied, pell-mell, into sheets,
spread for the purpose, on the ground.
When alone, and I saw this heap of rusty iron, these
myriads of parts, whose meaning I did not understand,
this orchestra of instruments of every size and shape, such
as cornets, bugles, hautboys, flutes, clarionets, bassoons,
organ pipes, big drum, triangle, cymbals, &c., all arranged
in sizes, according to the chromatic scale, I was so fright-
ened by the difficulty of my task, that I was quite annihi-
leted for several hours.
To better understand my mad presumption, which only
my passion for mechanics and my love of the marvellous
can excuse, I must add that I never even saw the com-
ponium performing ; hence, all was an unknown country
for me. Add to this, that the greater portion of the
works were covered with rust and verdigris.
Seated in the midst of this musical chaos, with my head
I AM SUCCESSFUL. 175
resting in my hands, I asked myself a hundred times this
simple question, "Where shall I begin?" and then my
imagination was quite paralysed. One morning, however,
finding myself well disposed, and feeling the influence of
the Hippocratic axiom, "Mens sana in corpore sano," I
felt disgusted at my long sloth, and rushed headforemost
at my immense task.
If my readers were only mechanicians, how willingly
would I describe to them all my trials, attempts, and
studies ! With what pleasure I would explain the skillful
and ingenious combinations that arose successively from
this chaos ! But as I fancy I can see my readers turning
over my pages to seek the end of a chapter that is growing
too serious, I will check my inclination, and content my-
self with stating that, for a whole year, I proceeded from
the known to the unknown, in solving this inextricable
problem, and one day I had the happiness of seeing my
labors crowned with complete success. The componium
a new phoenix had risen from its ashes.
This unexpected success gained me the greatest praise,
and D bade me name my own price ; but I would not
accept anything beyond my actual outlay, feeling amply
repaid by such a glorious result. And yet, however high
my reward might have been, it would not have repaid me
what this task, which overtasked my strength, eventually
176 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN..
An Inventor's Calculations One Hundred Thousand Francs a Year by
an Inkstand: Deception My new Automata The First Magician
in France: Decadence I meet Antonio Bosco The Trick with
the Cups An Execution Resurrection of the Criminals Mistake
in a Head The Canary rewarded.
MY sleepless nights, my incessant toil, and, above all,
the feverish agitations resulting from all the emotions of
such an arduous undertaking, had undermined my health.
A brain-fever attacked me, and though I recovered from
it, it was only to pass five long years in listlessness and
vacuity. My mind seemed quite gone : I felt no passion,
no love, no interest, even in the arts I had so delighted in :
conjuring and mechanism only existed for me in the shape
But this illness, which had mastered the faculty of Paris,
could not resist the refreshing air of the country, where I
retired for six months, and when I returned to Paris, I
was a new man. With what joy I saw again my beloved
tools ! With what ardor I reassumed my work ! for I had
to regain not only the lost time, but also the enormous ex-
penses incurred by my long illness.
My modest fortune was for the moment sensibly dimin-
ished, but on this point I was case-hardened ; for would
not my future performances fill up all these losses, and
insure me a handsome fortune ? Thus I discounted an
uncertain future ; but, after all, do not all inventors like
to convert their schemes into ingots ?
AN INVENTOR. 177
Perhaps, too, I unconsciously yielded to the influence
of one of my friends, an extraordinary projector, whom
mistakes and deceptions never hindered forming fresh
schemes. Our manner of calculating the future had con-
siderable affinity. But I must do him this justice : how-
ever high my estimate might be, he was far superior to
me in that respect. Here is an instance to judge by.
One day this friend called upon me, and showing me an
inkstand of his invention, which combined the double
merit of being safe from upset, and of always keeping the
ink at the same level, said,
" At last, my lad, I have hit it ; this invention will
make a revolution in the writing world, and allow me to
walk about like a gentleman, with a hundred thousand
francs a year at the very lowest, understand me. But
you can judge for yourself, if you follow my calculations
closely. You know, there are thirty-six millions of in-
habitants in France?"
I nodded an affirmative.
" Starting on this basis, I do not think I err if I assume
that at least one-half can write, eh ? or, say we take one-
third, or, to be still more sure, the round sum of ten mil-
lions. Now, I hope I shall not be charged with exaggera-
tion, if, out of these ten millions, I take one-tenth, or a
million, as the number of those looking after what may be
useful to them."
And my friend stopped here and looked at me, as much
as to say, "Am I not reasonable in my estimates?"
" We have, then, in France one million men capable of
appreciating the benefits of my inkstand. Well, of this
number how many will you allow who, during the first
year, hear of my inkstand, and consequently will purchase
178 MEMOIES OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.
"Well," I replied, "I confess to a difficulty in giving
you an exact answer."
" Good Heavens ! who spoke about exactness ? I only
want an approximation, and that must be the lowest pos-
sible, that there may be no mistake."
"Well," I went on, continuing my friend's decimal cal-
culations, "take a tenth."
"Now, mind, you said a tenth, or, in other words, one
hundred thousand. But," the inventor continued, charmed
at seeing me share his brilliant calculations, " do you know
what the sale of these one hundred thousand inkstands
will produce me in a year ?"
" I can form no idea."
" I will then tell you. I have reserved myself one franc
on each inkstand sold. This gives a profit then "
" Of one hundred thousand francs, of course."
" You see, there is no difficulty in making the calcula-
tion. You must bear in mind, too, that the other nine
hundred thousand writers we left on one side will end by
appreciating my inkstand : they will also buy it. Then
what will the nine millions we omitted do ? And notice,
too, that I am only speaking of France, which is a mere
dot on the globe. When foreign countries know its merits,
when the English and their colonies order it Oh, it
would require a mathematician to reckon all this up !"
My friend wiped his brow, which had grown quite damp
during the heat of his address, and he ended by repeat-
ing, 4 " Remember, we established our estimate on the low-
Unfortunately, that was the place where my friend's
calculation broke down. His inkstand, being much too
dear, was not purchased, and the inventor ended by add-
ing this gold mine to his many other deceptions.
MY AUTOMATA. 179
I, too, I confess, based my calculations on the census,
or, at least, on the approximative number of visitors to the
capital, and even at the lowest figure I arrived at a most
satisfactory result. But I do not regret having given
way to these fancies, for though they occasioned me vari-
ous disappointments, they served to keep up some energy
in my mind, and enabled me to wrestle against the num-
berless difficulties I encountered in making my automata.
Besides, who has not, once in his life at least, indulged in
the gilded calculations of my friend the inkstand inventor ?
I have already repeatedly mentioned the automata I
made, and it is high time to describe the nature of the
articles intended to be used in my performances.
The first was a small pastrycook issuing from his shop
door at the word of command, and bringing, according to
the spectator's request, patties and refreshments of every
description. At the side of the shop assistant pastry-
cooks might be seen rolling paste and putting it in the
Another specimen represented two clowns, Auriol and
Debureau. The latter held out at arm's length a chair,
on which his merry comrade performed acrobatic tricks,
like his namesake at the circus in the Champs Elyse'es.
After these performances Auriol smoked a pipe, and
ended by accompanying on the flagolet an air played by
The next was a mysterious orange-tree, on which flowers
and fruit burst into life at the -request of the ladies. As
the finale, a handkerchief I borrowed was conveyed into
an orange purposely left on the tree. This opened and
displayed the handkerchief, which two butterflies took by
the corners and unfolded before the spectators.
Lastly, I made a dial of transparent glass, which
180 MEMOIRS OF ROBERT-HOUDIN.
marked the hours at the Trill of the spectators, and struck
the time on a crystal bell.
At the time I was most deeply engaged in these labors,
I made a very agreeable rencontre. While walking along
the Boulevards, full of thought, according to my usual
habit, I heard some one calling me. On turning round,
an elegantly-dressed man pressed my hand.
"Antonio!" I exclaimed, as I embraced him, "how
glad I am to see you ! But why are you here what are
you doing and Torrini?"
Antonio interrupted me. " I will tell you all about it.
Come to my apartments, where we shall be more at ease.
I only live a few doors off."
In fact, within two minutes we stopped in the Rue de
Lancry, before a very handsome house.
" Go up," Antonio said: "I live on the second floor."
A servant opened the door. " Is your mistress at
home?" Antonio asked.
"No, sir; but I was to tell you she would be in soon."
After leading me into a pretty drawing-room, Antonio
made me sit down by his side on a sofa.
"Now, my friend, let us talk, for we must have a great
deal to tell each other."
" Yes, let us talk ; for I confess that my curiosity is
strongly excited. I fancy, at times, I am dreaming."
" I will bring you back to real life," Antonio continued,
" by telling you what has happened to me since we parted.
Let us begin with poor Torj*ini."
I made a movement of pained surprise.
"What do you say, Antonio? Can our friend ?"
" Yes, it is only too true. Death struck him at the
moment we had every reason to hope a happier fate. On
leaving you, Torrini intended to return as quickly as pos-