Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Eureka Machine

A century and a half before the Flarfists learned to Google there was the Eureka Machine, which composed Latin hexameters. Here's a story on the thing from The Illustrated London News of July 19, 1845:

It was designed and constructed at Bridgewater, in Somersetshire; was begun in 1830, and completed in 1843; and it has lately been brought to the metropolis, to contribute to the "sights of the season."

The exterior of the machine resembles, in form, a small bureau book-case; in the frontispiece of which, through an aperture, the verses appear in succession as they are composed.

The machine is described by the Inventor as neither more nor lees than a practical illustration of the law of evolution. The process of composition is not by words already formed, but from separate letters. This fact is obvious; although some spectators may, probably, have mistaken the effect for the cause — the result for the principle, which is that of Kaleidoscopic evolution; and, as an illustration of this principle it is that the machine is interesting — a principle affording a far greater scope of extension than has hitherto been attempted. The machine contains letters in alphabetical arrangement. Out of these, through the medium of numbers, rendered tangible by being expressed by Indentures on wheel-work, the instrument selects such as are requisite to form the verse conceived; the components of words suited to form hexameters being alone previously calculated, the harmonious combination of which will be found to practically interminable.

The rate of composition is about one verse per minute, or sixty in an hour. "Each verse remains stationary and visible a sufficient time for a copy of it to be taken; after which the machine gives an audible notice that the Line is about to be decomposed. Each Letter of the verse is then slowly and separately removed into its former alphabetical arrangement; on which the machine stops, until another verse be required. Or, by withdrawing the stop, it may be made to go on continually, producing in one day and night, or twenty-four hours, about 1440 Latin verses; or, in a whole week (Sundays included), about 10,000.

"During the composition of each line, a cylinder in the interior of the machine performs the National Anthem. As soon as the verse is complete, a short pause of silence ensues.

"On the announcement that the line is about to be broken up, the cylinder performs the air of "Fly not yet," until every letter is returned into its proper place in the alphabet. There is on the frontispiece of the machine, above the line of verse, a tablet, bearing the following Inscription:

" 'Full many a gem, of purest ray serene,
The dark, unfathom'd caves of ocean bear.
And many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its fragrance on the desert air."

Full many a thought, of character sublime,
Conceived in darkness, here shall be unrolled.
The mystery of number and of time
is here displayed in characters of gold.
Transcribe each line composed by this machine,
'Record the fleeting thoughts as they arise;'
A line, once lost, may ne'er again be seen,
'A thought, once flown, perhaps for ever flies.' "

The primum mobile, or first moving power of the machine, is a leaden weight of about twenty pounds, with an auxiliary weight of ten pounds, applied to another part of the movement: these are occasionally wound up, and the velocity is regulated in the usual manner, by a worm and fly.

"The entire machine contains about 86 wheels, giving motion to cylinders, cranks, spirals, pullies, levers, springs, ratchets, quadrants, tractors, snails, worm and fly, heart-wheels, eccentric-wheels, and star-wheels — all of which are in essential and effective motion, with various degrees of velocity, each performing its part in proper time and place. And in the front of the interior is a large Kaleidoscope, which regularly constructs a splendid geometric figure. This action is performed at the commencement of the operation, and at the precise time when the line of verse is conceived, previous to its mechanical composition."

You can see the Eurkea machine as it looks today, and read more about it here.


Anonymous said...

Oh, come on... Where's the link to the Museum of Jurassic Technology site?


Anonymous said...

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