Just before the terror

Looking into the Clavecin Oculaire led to a broader view of French science just before the terrorist revolution turned “science” into the horrible unstoppable god of torture and war.

The clavecin was a PLAYFUL USE OF TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE. The musicians and scientists who tried it out were HAVING FUN. Several other scientists and writers tried to imagine or build similar devices. The one I animated was by Johann Kruger. Another variation, more toylike, was built by Gilles Guyot around 1773.

Seems to be an optical equivalent of a music box. It could have been paralleled with an actual music box.

There are many volumes of ‘recreations’ by Guyot in Googlebooks. Each includes a dozen specific games or devices, using electricity or water or fire or light or language (as in cryptography). Guyot’s workshop was building and selling most of the devices, and each book has a price list at the end. He also gave full instructions for building the devices, if the reader was so equipped.

Some of the electrical recreations:

Note especially the Sportsman. This device was built later by James Ferguson in England, and by Pike in NYC.

Reprinting my section on Ferguson:

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I’m going to slide into this sideways, starting from the junction point of entertainment and science exemplified by the Magic Lantern. Reminder: The magic lantern was an animated video system. Its slide-projector descendants were rigid.

James Ferguson was a highly unusual character in the aristocratic world of British science. His family was poor but smart. He was born in 1710 and immediately showed talent in mechanics, improving and inventing devices for the family farm. He was apprenticed out to a variety of farmers, millers, and aristocrats. Some mistreated him, others recognized his talents in math and astronomy and gave him room to develop. At age 30 he finally found his niche, the unique occupation that mixed math and mechanics and astronomy.

Orreries. Planet simulators. We’ll return to those in the next part. First some entertainment.

Ferguson joined the fashion for electrical entertainment, building and demonstrating gadgets that used electrostatic fields to form complex animation.

Polistra likes this one:

A static-powered mill.

The negative emitter of the static generator is brought near a delicate mill made of paper. The ‘electrical spray’ repels the paper vanes, causing the mill to rotate. As each vane rotates, it loses the charge it had acquired from the spray, returning to neutral. A neat parallel to the potential energy of gravity in an overshot water mill.

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The Electrical Sportsman is a more complex gimmick, perhaps not made by Ferguson.

The emitter from the static generator is connected to the center pole of the Leyden jar under the birds. As charge builds up, the birds tied to the pole repel each other, and float out and up on their wires. When the voltage is high enough to discharge to the gun, a spark shows at the end of the gun, and the bullet is repelled toward the birds. The center pole discharges, letting the birds fall back down as if shot.




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Footnote: I’ve already discussed what happened to French science AFTER the terror was over. French science and tech returned to the pre-terror entertainment mode with a vengeance. Science and invention became intensely practical, empathetic, and playful.