Faraday’s Anti-Clerical Automaton

Libia [pseudonym], “The Principles of Nature: Wonderful Invention, a Talking and a Thinking Machine,” Spiritual Telegraph (New York), March 3, 1855.

The above machine being exhibited and experimented upon by Sir M. Faraday, at a meeting of the Royal Society, January 18th, 1855, we will endeavor to give a general description of the same.

Suffice it to say, that Sir M. Faraday had been solicited to describe this machine, or these automatons, in the fall of 1854, by most of the scientific and literary gentlemen then residing in London.

This was done on condition that the same should be kept secret until the inventor be ready to make it known publicly.

The audience before him was not only composed of the above-named gentlemen but also of the Queen, Prince Albert, and Cabinet, the bishops of London, Canterbury, and Winchester, together with a large number of aristocracy and clergy.

At a reading-desk near the upper end of the lecture-room, sat a figure, like a man, in a plain but fashionable dress, apparently in deep thought. In the orchestra sat four figures, two like females, and the other two like males.

Sir M. Faraday then gave the audience a minute description of these automatical machines, which would be tedious were I to give it in detail. As a basis for the wonderful phenomena he was about to explain to his hearers, he should adopt the following new but simple theory of electricity.

That electricity is an elementary principle pervading all matter; that its various phenomena are produced by the various physically constituted agents in which it resides, actively and passively, and upon or through which it vibrates dynamically.

He then gave a concise history of electricity, galvanism, etc., etc., from the earliest ages down to the present time, and concluded the historical part by saying, that although much had been done by the aid of these sciences, it would appear as nothing when compared with the future. “I believe,” said he, “the time will come that these chemical and these philosophical principles and agents will be so well understood in their application and operations upon the physical and mental properties of man, that by an electric and magnetic sympathy they will be able to converse with each other from one side of the Atlantic to the other, without the use of the present batteries or conducting wires. That I do not too highly color this picture, will be clearly shown by the experiments I now intend to perform before you.”

He then described a small galvanic battery, about the size of a quart measure, with four compartments. To each compartment were two wires attached, called the positive and negative poles. These wires were continued under the floor to the feet of the automaton in the reading-desk, who sat upon a chair, composed of copper and zinc, being perfectly insulated by four three-inch glass globes.

Then showed us a similar battery and similar wires, which he said were connected with the automatons in the orchestra; these he termed his choir, and the gentleman in the reading-desk his lecturer or preacher. “The sciences,” he observed, “had done much for the arts and manufactures, but little for the development of the MIND.”

Placing his batteries before him on a small insulated table, he then asked his audience what kind of performance his automaton should give—they were at liberty to choose for themselves; by so doing they would be better satisfied in relation to the truth and real merits of the invention.

The three bishops then present now suggested that, if it were practicable, the Church service might be performed. After some general conversation this was adopted.

The prayer-book, the Bible, a sermon by the Bishop of Winchester, and some notices relating to the clergy were, by the Bishop of London, placed upon the four separate wires, one upon each wire. The same process was observed with the automatons in the orchestra, only the music and hymn books were laid upon the conductors instead of the Bible, etc.

“Now,” says Sir M. Faraday, “we are ready. When I lay my hand upon the prayer book, the figure in the reading-desk will rise and read the necessary portion of the service, or such portions that I may will to be performed. And when I remove my hand, by which means the circuit will be broken, the reading will cease. Again; when I lay my hand upon the music-book, etc., the automatons in the orchestra will rise and sing. And when my hand is removed from the music-book, etc., the music will cease. So with the service throughout.” Here the curiosity of the brilliant audience was most intense. Never in my life have I seen any thing to compare with it, neither can I in any way describe such.

I presume the feast of Belshazzar, when MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN was written over against him on the wall, by an isolated hand, must have been similar to the consternation here manifested. His hand is now laid upon the prayer-book, and behold! the metallic preacher rises with a solemn gravity, and putting on a pair of gold spectacles, in a distinct and mellow voice pronounced the service: “When a wicked man turneth from his wickedness,” etc.

Sir M. Faraday now removes his hand and lays it on the music-book. Now you see the four automatons in the orchestra rise, and each one sounding his own note, produce a prelude of harmony by thirds, fifths, and sevenths that thrilled to the very soul. Oh that I was able to portray this harmony, this sublimity!

After the prelude the VENITE, EXULTEMUS DOMINO was chanted. The rest of the services were proceeded with, but an unfortunate circumstance occurred that marred the harmony for a time. By some accident, or by some willful design of some wicked wag, or wags, the sermon had been removed from the conducting wire, and Tom Paine’s “Age of Reason” placed there instead thereof. This being rectified, the remainder of the services were concluded, and this, too, in the most precise and mechanical manner; still, I think, not more so than the present and popular mode.

Sir M. Faraday then proceeded to show how and in what manner the thoughts of persons, sitting in the various parts of the room, could be described by the automaton in the reading-desk; holding up two ends of separate wires, positive and negative poles, which he said encircled the room, and being connected with the head of the figure in the reading-desk, whose head he described as having inside two powerful magnets placed at right angles to each other, and to which the negative and positive wires were attached.

The former circuits being broken, he connected these wires to a small oblong battery. Seating himself calmly in the insulated chair, he then asked the audience, or any one of them, to think or write upon any subject they chose.

After some little talk, a committee of six gentlemen were selected by the audience to retire and write on some subject, seal it, and keep it so, until the thinking powers, etc., of the mysterious gentleman in the reading-desk had been thoroughly tested. This was strictly complied with. After the committee returned and became seated about fifty feet from the automaton, they were asked to join hands. The two outside gentlemen each taking the end of the separate wire, the other ends being then attached to the small oblong battery, the automaton rose, bowed to the audience, and proceeded to read or speak the following in a clear and distinct voice, viz.: “Man is a being compounded of three great principles—matter, mind, and spirit, in whom is concentrated magnetic and electric forces that, when fully developed, will create a new state of things in the moral world.”

Now the most intense silence prevailed, and the greatest anxiety was depicted upon every countenance.

The sealed paper was opened and read by one of the committee, and behold! it was the same, word for word, that had just been delivered by the automatical figure in the reading-desk.

Squads or circles were now formed in various parts of the room, and by the aid of batteries and conducting wires, thoughts and writings were reciprocated to the entire satisfaction of all concerned.

Sir M. Faraday spoke of electric and magnetic forces as connected with the human mind, and he thought by his automatical machines that he would be able to reform both church and state.

First, by one automaton as reader and four in the orchestra, the same services might be performed in several parishes at one time, the automatons in the other churches being connected with those in the principal church, or if the RECTOR, BISHOP, etc., thought proper, the batteries may be fixed in their STUDIES, and then they need not expose themselves to the inclemency of the weather. It would also save them much time in writing or copying from various authors, as they would only have to mark such and such passages in any particular author, and then lay the book upon the positive pole of the battery—willing at the same time that the automaton read such, so with the rest of the services, including the singing.

Besides these advantages there is another, viz., many of the curates may be dispensed with, the automatons being substituted instead thereof.

Statesmen, lecturers, lawyers, etc., etc., will also find much advantage from the same source.

The great philosopher then concluded by referring to the magnetic currents traversing through each, parallel and at right angles to its poles—their connection with the animal and vegetable worlds, etc., etc.

Secondly, on the Spirit-phenomena, so prevalent on the North American continent, etc. He would in his next lecture show that such were only performed by the same principles and same agencies that he had exhibited here to-night; that nothing could be more fallacious than to conclude that such were the communications of Spirits.

Thirdly, in connection with those phenomena, he had associated the decomposition of light—namely: that light being a compound, and modified by electricity, it is decomposed by matter in the vegetable, mineral, metallic, and animal worlds, in accordance with the physical construction of those bodies. Hence each material structure connects the one and the same light that falls upon itself to its own use, and reflects back a light peculiar to its own physical constitution. And this in a similar manner to the composition of air by the animal body, and of carbonic acid by the vegetable world; hence the great variety of colors in the landscape and all material objects.

Finally, that light does not travel, as stated in many theories. Such theories were in accordance with the age of their invention and adoption, and were approximations to the truth in a certain degree. But, in the present age of simple and progressive truths, they are not adequate to explain the peculiar simplicity manifested throughout the material creation and the present known phenomena of ITS LAWS.



Science and Bad Logic.—It will be perceived from the article on our first page [above], that Sir Michael Faraday is after the Spirits again. Whatever may reasonably be said respecting modern Spiritualists, it would seem that our philosophers are losing their wits. Faraday has invented an automatic machine, which may be operated by him or another person, and through which the church service or a passage from Thomas Paine may be read, and so he presumes that the several thousand mediums in the United States, who never saw such a machine, all produce the manifestations by means of mechanical forces and instruments. Such a conclusion from such premises would be likely to be criticised in any country debating-school within a thousand miles of the boundary of American civilization. But the writer may treat his subject ironically.

Samuel Byron Brittan, “The Thinking and Speaking Automata,” Spiritual Telegraph, September 1, 1855.

In No. 44, Volume III, of the Telegraph, we published an article entitled “Wonderful Invention; a Talking and a Thinking Machine,” which set forth, ostensibly, that Sir M. Faraday had performed before the Queen, Prince Albert, and the members of the Royal Society, several remarkable experiments, by means of electrical apparatus, and wooden men, or automatical machines in the human form. According to the writer’s description the Church service was performed by these automata. In the process it became necessary to connect the prayer-book, Bible, a sermon from the Bishop, etc., with the wires leading from the electrical batteries to the automatic figures, and it then only remained for the learned savant to place his hand on the book or manuscript, and exercise his will, when, suddenly, these puppets, whether occupying the speaker’s desk or the orchestra seats, rose in their places and performed their several parts in a precise and effective manner.

Among the advantages which it was conjectured might be derived from this invention, the writer suggested that the Bishops might have the batteries in the studies, from which wires might radiate to a number of parishes, and that automaton figures might occupy the pulpits in the churches. By this most convenient arrangement the Rector or Bishop might remain at home in inclement weather, and not expose himself; and, moreover, the English Church might be enabled to dispense with the poor services of many of the perpetual and stipendiary curates. Finally, by these wonderful machines and these curious experiments, it was proposed to account for all the so-called spiritual manifestations in America, and to show that nothing can be more fallacious than the idea that they depend on the agency of departed Spirits.

It seems that the writer’s purpose, in the article here referred to, has not been clearly apprehended by all of our readers, and we have, therefore, deemed it necessary to publish the following letter, with the required explanation.

Roxbury, August 3, 1855


Respected Sirs.—I have taken your very valuable, and I was about to say, inspired paper, from its earliest infancy to the present time, and am happy to say that I have ever found its editors to be honest, frank and bold, always speaking the truth fearlessly, however unpopular it might be, and prompt to correct all errors when discovered, whether made carelessly or otherwise, and also ready to chastise where chastisement is deserved. But now there seems to be one exception; perhaps I am mistaken, however; I will submit, if found to be so.

You doubtless recollect of publishing an account of a very wonderful invention—a talking and thinking machine, about which I have heard nothing since. You will find it in a March number of your paper. I consider it a grand farce, and I, with many more readers of the TELEGRAPH, wish for some light upon the subject, either in confirming and explaining, or repudiating and chastising. The truth ought to be known, and where shall we go for an explanation on this point but to the TELEGRAPH.

Please give us your mind, if no more, and oblige your waiting servants.

Yours in the bonds of love,

CONCLUDING REMARKS.—The Editor has never questioned LIBIA, the author of the article under review, respecting his purpose, for the reason that no doubts were entertained as to the writer’s intention. That J. M. K. and others may be set right on this subject, it should be observed that Sir M. Faraday, some time anterior to the date of the alleged experiments before the Royal Society, had, by a simple mechanical contrivance, demonstrated—the opposers of Spiritualism were foolish enough to believe—that the Spiritual phenomena of this country are properly referable to “muscular pressure.” Many said, “Ah, yes, we knew that Spirits had nothing to do with the manifestations; we told you that the cause would be discovered.” But there were, at the same time, writing, speaking, and a variety of other media in this country, and we were quite too short-sighted to perceive how these were all moved by the philosopher’s machine, or operated by “muscular pressure.” Nevertheless, the philosopher himself, aided by the aforesaid machine—after a somewhat labored course of experiment—succeeded in accomplishing precisely what every kitchen-maid in this country does every day—he moved a table by the use of his muscles! When this astounding event was formally made known to the two continents, it came to pass that those who had been accustomed, from their youth up, to worship scientific masters and to despise the truth, said: “It is even so; as we expected, the secret is out, and science has explained the mystery.”

Under the circumstances already named, we could not but regard the article by LIBIA as an ingenious piece of irony, and, as a capital take off, we published it for the amusement of our readers. Moreover, in substituting wooden men or automatic figures for the clergy, the writer reflected with great severity on the cold, thoughtless, and mechanical character of the popular forms of religious worship, especially in the English Church. We have only to add that in giving place to that article, we trust we have done nothing to forfeit the respect and confidence of the esteemed correspondent whose letter has elicited this explanation.


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