Globalization Poverty Development Sustainability
It seems to me that imagination and reasoning have reached magnificent heights with some writers, especially poets. Among them, I strongly believe, the highest ever was Edgar Allan Poe. With Baudelaire I state that "le poete est souverainement intelligent, qu'il est l'intelligence par excellence, -et que l'imagination est la plus scientifique des facultes, parce que seule elle comprend l'analogie universelle...". One of those poets was Edgar Allan Poe. I reproduce here "The Works of Edgar Allan Poe" as a gesture against what Baudelaire called "la ferocite de l'hypocrisie bourgeoise", and what I personally call mediocrity, imbecility, and comprehensive intellectual dishonesty, all of which is presented as "realistic thinking". And, as we know, contemporary development studies are full of  "realistic thinking". So, let us learn something from Edgar Allan Poe!.  (Róbinson Rojas)
The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe V. 1
Volume 1 of the Raven Edition  #6 in our series by Edgar Allan Poe

VOLUME II  Contents
The Purloined Letter
The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherezade
A Descent into the Maelström
Von Kempelen and his Discovery
Mesmeric Revelation
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
The Black Cat
The Fall of the House of Usher
Silence -- a Fable
The Masque of the Red Death
The Cask of Amontillado
The Imp of the Perverse
The Island of the Fay
The Assignation
The Pit and the Pendulum
The Premature Burial
The Domain of Arnheim
Landor's Cottage
William Wilson
The Tell-Tale Heart
Eleonora                                       BACK TO MAIN INDEX
AFTER THE very minute and elaborate paper by Arago, to say nothing of
the summary in 'Silliman's Journal,' with the detailed statement just
published by Lieutenant Maury, it will not be supposed, of course,
that in offering a few hurried remarks in reference to Von Kempelen's
discovery, I have any design to look at the subject in a scientific
point of view. My object is simply, in the first place, to say a few
words of Von Kempelen himself (with whom, some years ago, I had the
honor of a slight personal acquaintance), since every thing which
concerns him must necessarily, at this moment, be of interest; and,
in the second place, to look in a general way, and speculatively, at
the results of the discovery.
It may be as well, however, to premise the cursory observations which
I have to offer, by denying, very decidedly, what seems to be a
general impression (gleaned, as usual in a case of this kind, 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 seen at pp. 53 and 82, that this
illustrious chemist had not only conceived the idea now in question,
but had actually made no inconsiderable progress, experimentally, in
the very identical analysis now so triumphantly brought to an issue
by Von Kempelen, who although he makes not the slightest allusion to
it, is, without doubt (I say it unhesitatingly, and can prove it, if
required), indebted to the 'Diary' for at least the first hint of his
own undertaking.
The paragraph from the 'Courier and Enquirer,' which is now going the
rounds of the press, and which purports to claim the invention for a
Mr. Kissam, of Brunswick, Maine, appears to me, I confess, a little
apocryphal, for several reasons; although there is nothing either
impossible or very improbable in the statement made. I need not go
into details. My opinion of the paragraph is founded principally upon
its manner. It does not look true. Persons who are narrating facts,
are seldom so particular as Mr. Kissam seems to be, about day and
date and precise location. Besides, if Mr. Kissam actually did come
upon the discovery he says he did, at the period designated -- nearly
eight years ago -- how happens it that he took no steps, on the
instant, to reap the immense benefits which the merest bumpkin must
have known would have resulted to him individually, if not to the
world at large, from the discovery? It seems to me quite incredible
that any man of common understanding could have discovered what Mr.
Kissam says he did, and yet have subsequently acted so like a baby --
so like an owl -- as Mr. Kissam admits that he did. By-the-way, who
is Mr. Kissam? and is not the whole paragraph in the 'Courier and
Enquirer' a fabrication got up to 'make a talk'? It must be confessed
that it has an amazingly moon-hoaxy-air. Very little dependence is to
be placed upon it, in my humble opinion; and if I were not well
aware, from experience, how very easily men of science are mystified,
on points out of their usual range of inquiry, I should be profoundly
astonished at finding so eminent a chemist as Professor Draper,
discussing Mr. Kissam's (or is it Mr. Quizzem's?) pretensions to the
discovery, in so serious a tone.
But to return to the 'Diary' of Sir Humphrey Davy. This pamphlet was
not designed for the public eye, even upon the decease of the writer,
as any person at all conversant with authorship may satisfy himself
at once by the slightest inspection of the style. At page 13, for
example, near the middle, we read, in reference to his researches
about the protoxide of azote: 'In less than half a minute the
respiration being continued, diminished gradually and were succeeded
by analogous to gentle pressure on all the muscles.' That the
respiration was not 'diminished,' is not only clear by the subsequent
context, but by the use of the plural, 'were.' The sentence, no
doubt, was thus intended: 'In less than half a minute, the
respiration [being continued, these feelings] diminished gradually,
and were succeeded by [a sensation] analogous to gentle pressure on
all the muscles.' A hundred similar instances go to show that the MS.
so inconsiderately published, was merely a rough note-book, meant
only for the writer's own eye, but an inspection of the pamphlet will
convince almost any thinking person of the truth of my suggestion.
The fact is, Sir Humphrey Davy was about the last man in the world to
commit himself on scientific topics. Not only had he a more than
ordinary dislike to quackery, but he was morbidly afraid of appearing
empirical; so that, however fully he might have been convinced that
he was on the right track in the matter now in question, he would
never have spoken out, until he had every thing ready for the most
practical demonstration. I verily believe that his last moments would
have been rendered wretched, could he have suspected that his wishes
in regard to burning this 'Diary' (full of crude speculations) would
have been unattended to; as, it seems, they were. I say 'his wishes,'
for that he meant to include this note-book among the miscellaneous
papers directed 'to be burnt,' I think there can be no manner of
doubt. Whether it escaped the flames by good fortune or by bad, yet
remains to be seen. That the passages quoted above, with the other
similar ones referred to, gave Von Kempelen the hint, I do not in the
slightest degree question; but I repeat, it yet remains to be seen
whether this momentous discovery itself (momentous under any
circumstances) will be of service or disservice to mankind at large.
That Von Kempelen and his immediate friends will reap a rich harvest,
it would be folly to doubt for a moment. They will scarcely be so
weak as not to 'realize,' in time, by large purchases of houses and
land, with other property of intrinsic value.
In the brief account of Von Kempelen which appeared in the 'Home
Journal,' and has since been extensively copied, several
misapprehensions of the German original seem to have been made by the
translator, who professes to have taken the passage from a late
number of the Presburg 'Schnellpost.' 'Viele' has evidently been
misconceived (as it often is), and what the translator renders by
'sorrows,' is probably 'lieden,' which, in its true version,
'sufferings,' would give a totally different complexion to the whole
account; but, of course, much of this is merely guess, on my part.
Von Kempelen, however, is by no means 'a misanthrope,' in appearance,
at least, whatever he may be in fact. My acquaintance with him was
casual altogether; and I am scarcely warranted in saying that I know
him at all; but to have seen and conversed with a man of so
prodigious a notoriety as he has attained, or will attain in a few
days, is not a small matter, as times go.
'The Literary World' speaks of him, confidently, as a native of
Presburg (misled, perhaps, by the account in 'The Home Journal') but
I am pleased in being able to state positively, since I have it from
his own lips, that he was born in Utica, in the State of New York,
although both his parents, I believe, are of Presburg descent. The
family is connected, in some way, with Maelzel, of
Automaton-chess-player memory. In person, he is short and stout, with
large, fat, blue eyes, sandy hair and whiskers, a wide but pleasing
mouth, fine teeth, and I think a Roman nose. There is some defect in
one of his feet. His address is frank, and his whole manner
noticeable for bonhomie. Altogether, he looks, speaks, and acts as
little like 'a misanthrope' as any man I ever saw. We were
fellow-sojouners for a week about six years ago, at Earl's Hotel, in
Providence, Rhode Island; and I presume that I conversed with him, at
various times, for some three or four hours altogether. His principal
topics were those of the day, and nothing that fell from him led me
to suspect his scientific attainments. He left the hotel before me,
intending to go to New York, and thence to Bremen; it was in the
latter city that his great discovery was first made public; or,
rather, it was there that he was first suspected of having made it.
This is about all that I personally know of the now immortal Von
Kempelen; but I have thought that even these few details would have
interest for the public.
There can be little question that most of the marvellous rumors
afloat about this affair are pure inventions, entitled to about as
much credit as the story of Aladdin's lamp; and yet, in a case of
this kind, as in the case of the discoveries in California, it is
clear that the truth may be stranger than fiction. The following
anecdote, at least, is so well authenticated, that we may receive it
Von Kempelen had never been even tolerably well off during his
residence at Bremen; and often, it was well known, he had been put to
extreme shifts in order to raise trifling sums. When the great
excitement occurred about the forgery on the house of Gutsmuth & Co.,
suspicion was directed toward Von Kempelen, on account of his having
purchased a considerable property in Gasperitch Lane, and his
refusing, when questioned, to explain how he became possessed of the
purchase money. He was at length arrested, but nothing decisive
appearing against him, was in the end set at liberty. The police,
however, kept a strict watch upon his movements, and thus discovered
that he left home frequently, taking always the same road, and
invariably giving his watchers the slip in the neighborhood of that
labyrinth of narrow and crooked passages known by the flash name of
the 'Dondergat.' Finally, by dint of great perseverance, they traced
him to a garret in an old house of seven stories, in an alley called
Flatzplatz, -- and, coming upon him suddenly, found him, as they
imagined, in the midst of his counterfeiting operations. His
agitation is represented as so excessive that the officers had not
the slightest doubt of his guilt. After hand-cuffing him, they
searched his room, or rather rooms, for it appears he occupied all
the mansarde.
Opening into the garret where they caught him, was a closet, ten feet
by eight, fitted up with some chemical apparatus, of which the object
has not yet been ascertained. In one corner of the closet was a very
small furnace, with a glowing fire in it, and on the fire a kind of
duplicate crucible -- two crucibles connected by a tube. One of these
crucibles was nearly full of lead in a state of fusion, but not
reaching up to the aperture of the tube, which was close 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, Kempelen seized the crucibles with
both hands (which were encased in gloves that afterwards turned out
to be asbestic), and threw the contents on the tiled floor. It was
now that they hand-cuffed him; and before proceeding to ransack the
premises they searched his person, but nothing unusual was found
about him, excepting a paper parcel, in his coat-pocket, containing
what was afterward ascertained to be a mixture of antimony and some
unknown substance, in nearly, but not quite, equal proportions. All
attempts at analyzing the unknown substance have, so far, failed, but
that it will ultimately be analyzed, is not to be doubted.
Passing out of the closet with their prisoner, the officers went
through a sort of ante-chamber, in which nothing material was found,
to the chemist's sleeping-room. They here rummaged some drawers and
boxes, but discovered only a few papers, of no importance, and some
good coin, silver and gold. At length, looking under the bed, they
saw a large, common hair trunk, without hinges, hasp, or lock, and
with the top lying carelessly across the bottom portion. Upon
attempting to draw this trunk out from under the bed, they found
that, with their united strength (there were three of them, all
powerful men), they 'could not stir it one inch.' Much astonished at
this, one of them crawled under the bed, and looking into the trunk,
'No wonder we couldn't move it -- why it's full to the brim of old
bits of brass!'
Putting his feet, now, against the wall so as to get a good purchase,
and pushing with all his force, while his companions pulled with an
theirs, the trunk, with much difficulty, was slid out from under the
bed, and its contents examined. The supposed brass with which it was
filled was all in small, smooth pieces, varying from the size of a
pea to that of a dollar; but the pieces were irregular in shape,
although more or less flat-looking, upon the whole, 'very much as
lead looks when thrown upon the ground in a molten state, and there
suffered to grow cool.' Now, not one of these officers for a moment
suspected this metal to be any thing but brass. The idea of its being
gold never entered their brains, of course; how could such a wild
fancy have entered it? And their astonishment may be well conceived,
when the next day it became known, all over Bremen, that the 'lot of
brass' which they had carted so contemptuously to the police office,
without putting themselves to the trouble of pocketing the smallest
scrap, was not only gold -- real gold -- but gold far finer than any
employed in coinage-gold, in fact, absolutely pure, virgin, without
the slightest appreciable alloy.
I need not go over the details of Von Kempelen's confession (as far
as it went) and release, for these are familiar to the public. That
he has actually realized, in spirit and in effect, if not to the
letter, the old chimaera of the philosopher's stone, no sane person
is at liberty to doubt. The opinions of Arago are, of course,
entitled to the greatest consideration; but he is by no means
infallible; and what he says of bismuth, in his report to the
Academy, must be taken cum grano salis. The simple truth is, that up
to this period all analysis has failed; and until Von Kempelen
chooses to let us have the key to his own published enigma, it is
more than probable that the matter will remain, for years, in statu
quo. All that as yet can fairly be said to be known is, that 'Pure
gold can be made at will, and very readily from lead in connection
with certain other substances, in kind and in proportions, unknown.'
Speculation, of course, is busy as to the immediate and ultimate
results of this discovery -- a discovery which few thinking persons
will hesitate in referring to an increased interest in the matter of
gold generally, by the late developments in California; and this
reflection brings us inevitably to another -- the exceeding
inopportuneness of Von Kempelen's analysis. If many were prevented
from adventuring to California, by the mere apprehension that gold
would so materially diminish in value, on account of its
plentifulness in the mines there, as to render the speculation of
going so far in search of it a doubtful one -- what impression will
be wrought now, upon the minds of those about to emigrate, and
especially upon the minds of those actually in the mineral region, by
the announcement of this astounding discovery of Von Kempelen? a
discovery which declares, in so many words, that beyond its intrinsic
worth for manufacturing purposes (whatever that worth may be), gold
now is, or at least soon will be (for it cannot be supposed that Von
Kempelen can long retain his secret), of no greater value than lead,
and of far inferior value to silver. It is, indeed, exceedingly
difficult to speculate prospectively upon the consequences of the
discovery, but one thing may be positively maintained -- that the
announcement of the discovery six months ago would have had material
influence in regard to the settlement of California.
In Europe, as yet, the most noticeable results have been a rise of
two hundred per cent. in the price of lead, and nearly twenty-five
per cent. that of silver.
~~~ End of Text ~~~