Von Kempelen and his Discovery

Right after the very minute and elaborate paper by Arago, to say practically nothing of the summary in ‘Silliman’s Journal,’ with the specific statement just posted by Lieutenant Maury, it will not be supposed, of program, that in giving a handful of hurried remarks in reference to Von Kempelen’s discovery, I have any design to glance at the topic in a scientific point of check out. My item is basically, in the initial location, to say a couple of words of Von Kempelen himself (with whom, some years ago, I had the honor of a slight individual acquaintance), given that everything which fears him ought to always, at this instant, be of curiosity and, in the second put, to search in a common way, and speculatively, at the success of the discovery.

It may well be as well, nevertheless, to premise the cursory observations which I have to give, by denying, extremely decidedly, what looks to be a normal impact (gleaned, as standard in a case of this type, from the newspapers), viz.: that this discovery, astounding as it unquestionably is, is unanticipated.

By reference to the ‘Diary of Sir Humphrey Davy’ (Cottle and Munroe, London, pp. 150), it will be viewed at pp. 53 and 82, that this illustrious chemist experienced not only conceived the thought now in query, but experienced in fact made no inconsiderable developmentexperimentally, in the very similar examination now so triumphantly brought to an issue by Von Kempelen, who, though he makes not the slightest allusion to it, is, without having doubt (I say it unhesitatingly, and can show it, if expected), indebted to the ‘Diary’ for at minimum the very first trace of his very own enterprise. While a little technological, I are not able to chorus from appending two passages from the ‘Diary,’ with a single of Sir Humphrey’s equations. [As we have not the algebraic signs necessary, and as the ‘Diary’ is to be found at the Athenæum Library, we omit here a small portion of Mr. Poe’s manuscript. — ED.]

The paragraph from the ‘Courier and Enquirer,’ which is now likely the rounds of the press, and which purports to claim the creation for a Mr. Kissam, of Brunswick, Maine, appears to me, I confess, a minor apocryphal, for many reasons even though there is almost nothing both unachievable or incredibly unbelievable in the assertion manufactured. I want not go into aspects. My viewpoint of the paragraph is launched principally upon its method. It does not appear true. Men and women who are narrating facts, are rarely so individual as Mr. Kissam seems to be, about day and day and specific spot. Moreover, if Mr. Kissam actually did come on the discovery he suggests he did, at the period of time specified — virtually 8 years in the past — how comes about it that he took no techniques, on the quick, to reap the immense positive aspects which the merest bumpkin have to have recognised would have resulted to him individually, if not to the globe at significant, from the discovery? It looks to me really remarkable that any person, of widespread knowing, could have identified what Mr. Kissam claims he did, and nevertheless have subsequently acted so like a child — so like an owl — as Mr. Kissam admits that he did. By-the-way, who is Mr. Kissam? and is not the full paragraph in the ‘Courier and Enquirer’ a fabrication acquired up to ‘make a communicate?’ It need to be confessed that it has an surprisingly moon-hoax-y air. Very small dependence is to be put upon it, in my humble belief and if I were not effectively conscious, from practical experience, how incredibly quickly males of science are mystified, on factors out of their normal vary of inquiry, I should really be profoundly astonished at getting so eminent a chemist as Professor Draper, speaking about Mr. Kissam’s (or is it Mr. Quizzem’s?) pretensions to the discovery, in so severe a tone.

But to return to the ‘Diary’ of Sir Humphrey Davy. This pamphlet was not designed for the community eye, even upon the decease of the author, as any particular person at all conversant with authorship may well satisfy himself at when by the slightest inspection of the design. At webpage 13, for instance, in close proximity to the middle, we read, in reference to his researches about the protoxide of azote: ‘In much less than 50 percent a moment the respiration currently being continued, diminished steadily and had been succeeded by analogous to light force on all the muscular tissues.’ That the respiration was not ‘diminished,’ is not only crystal clear by the subsequent context, but by the use of the plural, ‘were.’ The sentence, no doubt, was as a result intended: ‘In much less than 50 percent a minute, the respiration [being continued, these feelings] diminished little by little and were being succeeded by [a sensation] analogous to gentle tension on all the muscles.’ A hundred equivalent occasions go to show that the MS. so inconsiderately printed, was basically a tough observe-book, meant only for the writer’s very own eye but an inspection of the pamphlet will influence just about any thinking person of the real truth of my recommendation. The simple fact is, Sir Humphrey Davy was about the very last person in the world to dedicate himself on scientific subjects. Not only had he a much more than regular dislike to quackery, but he was morbidly worried of appearing empirical so that, even so completely he might have been certain that he was on the suitable track in the issue now in dilemma, he would hardly ever have spoken out, right up until he had every thing completely ready for the most functional demonstration. I verily feel that his very last times would have been rendered wretched, could he have suspected that his wishes in regard to burning this ‘Diary’ (total of crude speculations) would have been unattended to as, it seems, they were. I say ‘his wishes,’ for that he meant to incorporate this observe-e book amongst the miscellaneous papers directed ‘to be burnt,’ I feel there can be no way of question. No matter whether it escaped the flames by great fortune or by negative, yet stays to be found. That the passages quoted previously mentioned, with the other very similar ones referred to, gave Von Kempelen the trace, I do not in the slightest degree concern but I repeat, it but stays to be noticed no matter if this momentous discovery itself (momentous under any conditions) will be of service or disservice to mankind at big. That Von Kempelen and his rapid good friends will enjoy a loaded harvest, it would be folly to question for a instant. They will scarcely be so weak as not to ‘notice,’ in time, by substantial purchases of houses and land, with other residence of intrinsic value.

In the brief account of Von Kempelen which appeared in the ‘Home Journal,’ and has considering that been thoroughly copied, various misapprehensions of the German primary seem to be to have been created by the translator, who professes to have taken the passages from a late number of the Presburg ‘Schnellpost.’ — ‘Viele’ has evidently been misconceived (as it normally is), and what the translator renders by ‘sorrows,’ is in all probability ‘lieden,’ which, in its accurate model, ‘sufferings,’ would give a entirely diverse complexion to the complete account but, of training course, substantially of this is simply guess, on my portion.

Von Kempelen, having said that, is by no implies ‘a misanthrope,’ in appearance, at minimum, whatsoever he may possibly be in reality. My acquaintance with him was casual altogether and I am scarcely warranted in stating that I know him at all but to have viewed and conversed with a guy of so prodigious a notoriety as he has attained, or will attain in a couple of days, is not a modest make any difference, as situations go.

‘The Literary World’ speaks of him, confidently, as a indigenous of Presburg (misled, maybe, by the account in the ‘Home Journal,’) but I am delighted in getting capable to state positively, considering that I have it from his individual lips, that he was born in Utica, in the Condition of New York, while equally his parents, I think, are of Presburg descent. The relatives is linked, in some way, with Mäelzel, of Automaton-chess-player memory. [If we are not mistaken, the name of the inventor of the chess-player was either Kempelen, Von Kempelen, or something like it. — ED.] In man or woman, he is shorter and stout, with significant, extra fat, blue eyes, sandy hair and whiskers, a wide but pleasing mouth, fine tooth, and I believe a Roman nose. There is some defect in a person of his ft. His deal with is frank, and his complete fashion obvious for bonhommie. Altogether, he looks, speaks and functions as small like ‘a misanthrope’ as any guy I at any time observed. We ended up fellow-sojouners for a week, about 6 yrs ago, at Earl’s Lodge, in Providence, Rhode Island and I presume that I conversed with him, at different times, for some a few or four hours entirely. His principal subject areas ended up these of the working day and nothing that fell from him led me to suspect his scientific attainments. He left the lodge ahead of me, intending to go to New York, and thence to Bremen it was in the latter city that his terrific discovery was very first produced general public or, rather, it was there that he was initially suspected of owning made it. — This is about all that I personally know of the now immortal Von Kempelen but I have thought that even these few particulars would have fascination for the community.

There can be small problem that most of the marvellous rumors afloat about this affair are pure innovations, entitled to about as considerably credit history as the tale of Aladdin’s lamp and yet, in a case of this variety, as in the situation of the discoveries in California, it is crystal clear that the truth could be stranger than fiction. The subsequent anecdote, at minimum, is so well authenticated, that we might obtain it implicitly.

Von Kempelen experienced under no circumstances been even tolerably very well off in the course of his home at Bremen and frequently, it was perfectly acknowledged, he had been set to severe shifts, in order to elevate trifling sums. When the wonderful excitement transpired about the forgery on the household of Gutsmuth & Co., suspicion was directed toward Von Kempelen, on account of his acquiring ordered a appreciable home in Gasperitch Lane, and his refusing, when questioned, to make clear how he turned possessed of the acquire funds. He was at size arrested, but nothing decisive showing up from him, was in the finish established at liberty. The police, however, retained a demanding look at upon his movements, and consequently found out that he still left property regularly, having usually the very same highway, and invariably offering his watchers the slip in the neighborhood of that labyrinth of slim and crooked passages recognized by the flash-identify of the ‘Dondergat.’ At last, by dint of excellent perseverance, they traced him to a garret in an outdated property of seven stories, in an alley identified as Flätzplatz and, coming on him suddenly, located him, as they imagined, in the midst of his counterfeiting functions. His agitation is represented as so extreme that the officers experienced not the slightest doubt of his guilt. After hand-cuffing him, they searched his room, or somewhat rooms for it seems he occupied all the mansarde.

Opening into the garret where they caught him was a closet, ten toes by 8, equipped up with some chemical apparatus, of which the object has not however been ascertained. In a single corner of the closet was a pretty smaller furnace, with a glowing fireplace in it, and on the fire a form of duplicate crucible — two crucibles linked by a tube. A single of these crucibles was nearly total of direct in a point out of fusion, but not achieving up to the aperture of the tube, which was near to the brim. The other crucible had some liquid in it, which, as the officers entered, seemed to be furiously dissipating in vapor. They relate that, on finding himself taken, Von Kempelen seized the crucibles with both fingers (which were encased in gloves that later on turned out to be asbestic), and threw the contents on the tiled ground. It was now that they hand-cuffed him and, just before proceeding to ransack the premises, they searched his particular person, but nothing abnormal was uncovered about him, excepting a paper parcel, in his coat-pocket, made up of what was afterwards ascertained to be a combination of antimony and some unidentified compound, in approximately, but not very, equal proportions. All tries at analyzing the unfamiliar substance have, so much, unsuccessful, but that it will in the end be analyzed, is not to be doubted.

Passing out of the closet with their prisoner, the officers went by means of a form of ante-chamber, in which practically nothing materials was located, to the chemist’s sleeping-area. They here rummaged some drawers and containers, but found only a several papers, of no value, and some great coin, silver and gold. At duration, seeking less than the bed, they saw a massive, frequent hair trunk, with no hinges, hasp, or lock, and with the major lying carelessly across the base part. Upon trying to attract this trunk out from underneath the bed, they located that, with their united energy (there ended up a few of them, all powerful guys), they ‘could not stir it 1 inch.’ A lot astonished at this, a person of them crawled underneath the mattress, and seeking into the trunk, mentioned:

‘No surprise we couldn’t go it — why, it’s total to the brim of outdated bits of brass!’

Putting his ft, now, from the wall, so as to get a fantastic obtain, and pushing with all his force, while his companions pulled with all theirs, the trunk, with a lot problems, was slid out from below the bed, and its contents examined. The supposed brass with which it was filled was all in small, smooth pieces, different from the sizing of a pea to that of a greenback but the pieces were irregular in form, although much more or less flat — looking, on the whole, ‘very significantly as lead appears to be when thrown on the ground in a molten state and there experienced to expand great.’ Now, not just one of these officers for a moment suspected this steel to be anything but brass. The strategy of its being gold never entered their brains, of class how could such a wild extravagant have entered it? And their astonishment may well be very well conceived, when the up coming day it turned acknowledged, all about Bremen, that the ‘lot of brass’ which they had carted so contemptuously to the law enforcement place of work, without the need of placing on their own to the problems of pocketing the smallest scrap, was not only gold — true gold — but gold considerably finer than any utilized in coinage — gold, in point, completely pure, virgin, with out the slightest considerable alloy!

I have to have not go in excess of the specifics of Von Kempelen’s confession (as significantly as it went) and launch, for these are common to the public. — That he has really recognized, in spirit and in influence, if not to the letter, the outdated chimæra of the philosopher’s stone, no sane particular person is at liberty to doubt. The opinions of Arago are, of training course, entitled to the biggest thought but he is by no suggests infallible and what he states of bismuth, in his report to the academy, need to be taken cum grano salis. The easy real truth is, that up to this interval, all analysis has unsuccessful and right up until Von Kempelen chooses to permit us have the critical to his very own published enigma, it is more than possible that the issue will keep on being, for years, in statu quo. All that as still can quite be reported to be identified, is, that ‘pure gold can be created at will, and quite conveniently, from direct, in link with specified other substances, in kind and in proportions, unidentified.’

Speculation, of study course, is active as to the speedy and supreme success of this discovery — a discovery which number of wondering folks will hesitate in referring to an amplified curiosity in the subject of gold generally, by the late developments in California and this reflection provides us inevitably to an additional — the exceeding inopportuneness of Von Kempelen’s investigation. If a lot of were prevented from adventuring to California, by the mere apprehension that gold would so materially diminish in price, on account of its plentifulness in the mines there, as to render the speculation of heading so far in search of it a uncertain one — what effect will be wrought now, upon the minds of those people about to emigrate, and especially upon the minds of all those basically in the mineral location, by the announcement of this astounding discovery of Von Kempelen? a discovery which declares, in so a lot of terms, that beyond its intrinsic worth for production reasons (whatsoever that really worth could be), gold now is, or at least before long will be (for it are not able to be meant that Von Kempelen can lengthy retain his secret) of no greater benefit than lead, and of much inferior price to silver. It is, indeed, exceedingly tough to speculate prospectively on the penalties of the discovery but a person matter may possibly be positively maintained — that the announcement of the discovery 6 months in the past would have had substance affect in regard to the settlement of California.

In Europe, as yet, the most recognizable effects have been a increase of two hundred for every cent. in the value of direct, and just about twenty-five for every cent. in that of silver.


Edgar Allan Poe

Initially Released in 1849