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1803 __ The Invisible Girl
Comment : In June 1803 the artist Joseph Farington went to see “the extraordinary contrivance called « The Invisible Girl »” in a room in Leicester Square [in London] and jotted in his diary : « June 28 - Lady Thomond spoke so warmly of the extraordinary contrivance called ‘The Invisible Girl’ , at an apartment in Leicester Square, I went to see it. Four mouths of Trumpet shapes [suspended from a framework] to any persons place their ears & hear as from within a voice like that of a girl, which answers any question, - described your person & dress, sings plays on a pianoforte tells you what a Clock it is, etc. The effect of the voice a the music was surprising, and no conjecture that was made by persons present of the nature of the contrivance seemed satisfactory. - One thought that the sound passed from below through Tubes into the mouths of the Trumpets & seemed to the hearer to proceed from the inside of the Ball - The voice spoke English, French & German -. The admittance to hear is 2s. 6d. ». (Joseph Farington, “Farington Diary”.)« The Invisible Girl - Leicester Square. A globe of glass is suspended by a ribbon, under which four tubes are adapted, but they do not communicate therewith, and are likewise insulated, by these conversation is carried on with an invisible lady, who answers every question, breathes on you, and tells every visitor whatever they hold in their hands, in an instant. This exhibition is open from ten o’clock to six. Price of admittance two shillings and six pence. ». (Arthur Schopenhauer - The philosopher will here experience an uncommon result of the union of catoptric and acoustic principles.)« The Invisible Lady - being an Explanation of the Manner in which the Experiment in London, by Mr. Charles, and others, is performed. The visible part of the apparatus connected with the invisible girl is this : - First, a mahogany frame not very unlike a bedstead, having at the corners four upright posts, about five feet high, which are united by a cross rail near the top, and two or more cross rails near the bottom, to strengthen the frame : these cross rails are about four feet in length. - The frame thus constructed stands upon the floor, and from the top of each of the four pillars springs one of four strong bent brass wires, converging towards the top, where they are secured by a crown and other ornaments. From these four wires at a hollow copper ball, of a foot in diameter is suspended by slight ribbons, so as to cut off all possible communication with the frame. This globe is supposed to contain the invisible being, as the voice apparently proceeds from the interior of it : and for this purpose it is equipped with four trumpets, placed round it in a horizontal direction, and at right angles to each other, the trumpet mouths coming to within about half an inch of the respective cross rails of the frame surrounding them. When a question is proposed, it is asked from any side of the frame, and spoken into one of the trumpets, and an answer immedialtely proceeds from all the trumpets, so loud as to be distinctly heard by an ear addressed to any of them, and yet so distant and feebel that it appears from a very diminutive being. In this the whole of the experiment consists, and the variations are, that the answer may be returned in several languages, a kiss will be returned, the breath producing the voice may be felt, and songs are sung, accompanied by the pianoforte, etc. In this illusion the sound is really conveyed by a tube, in a manner similar to the old and well-known contrivance of the speaking bust; the invisible girl only differing in this circumstance, that an artificial echo is produced by means of the trumpets and hollow globe, in consequence of which the sound no longer appears to proceed in its original direction, but is completely reversed. In the present case, the beginning of the tube is one of the hand rails, just opposite the centre of the mouth of one of the trumpets, the orifice being concealed by reeds or other mouldings; the tube itself, which may be about half an inch in diameter, runs through half the hand rail, then down one of the corner posts, and from thence under the floor, till it reaches a large deal case almost similar to an inverted funnel, along the side of which it rises till it come nearly into contact with the ear of the confederate, who, with a piano-forte, etc. is concealed in this case. Any question asked by a voice directed into one of the trumpets, will be immediately reflected back by a concave interior surface of the globe to the orifice of the tube, along which it will be conveyed so as to be distinctly heard by the person in the deal case; and the answer returned, or a song or a tune from the instrument, will, in consequence of a similar reflection, be distinctly heard at the mouths of the trumpets, but no where else; and there is will appear to come precisely from the interior of the globe. A small hole closed with glass is left through the deal case and side-wall of the room, by means of which the concealed person has an opportunity of observing and commenting upon any circumstances which may take place in the room. ». (Mr. Charles, June 1807.)The sensation of 1803 in London was an exhibition known as 'The Invisible Girl'. A contemporary handbill promises that « From an Aerostatic Globe of Eighteen Inches Diameter, Suspended between two ornamental Hemispheres in the middle of the Room, the VOICE OF A LIVING FEMALE is distinctly heard as if originating in the Centre, and will answer questions put by any person present... the Lady of the Balloon, who, though herself invisible to the Keenest Eye, seems to be in the middle of the Assemblage, and sees everything that passes in the Room; she is distinctly heard to breathe, to sigh etc. and by her answers returned instantaneously to all proper Questions, this Mysterious Incognita seems to be in possession of every hint, thought and action of the Company. » The Invisible Girl was rumbled soon enough (she was in a basement observing the room through mirrors and whispering to her public through pneumatic tubes.) Monsieur Alexandre boasted of his greedy 'ubiquitarity'. Thomas Hood's poem 'To The Invisible Girl' celebrates the nonlocation, or nusquitarity of the Invisible Girl : « In the wearisome days I am fated to rove, To have you for ever invisibly nigh, Inhaling for ever your song and your sigh! 'Mid the crowds of the world and the murmurs of care, I might sometimes converse with the nymph of the air, And turn with delight from the clamorous crew, To steal in the pauses one whisper from you. O! come and be near me, for ever be mine, We shall hold in the air a communion divine. ». (Steven Connor)Just after the beginning of the year 1800, the Parisian press trumpeted the opening of a bewildering new spectacle, the "expérience de La Femme Invisible": In the middle of a fully daylit room measuring 120 feet in periphery with a ceiling height of 12 feet, containing no furniture or decor, is suspended by a very thin rope a ball of Bohemian glass, fully visible from every angle. At each of the four angles of the horizontal circle of this ball four Acoustic horns are fit, forming a circle of more than 20 feet around which one can circulate freely without any obstacle since the ball is separated from each wall of the room by more than 18 feet. Speaking in a low voice through one of the mouthpieces of these four horns, a young person invisible to all the spectators, gives answers immediately in French or German through all four earpieces to the questions addressed to her, and carries on with them a perfectly logical conversation on an infinity of subjects. [...] But what astonishes and seems to derive from the marvelous is that nothing escapes the Invisible one: she sees and hears everything, positions herself amidst the spectators, seems to follow them and breathe at their sides; she reads, sighs, and makes her breath felt. [...]”. (Jann Matlock)
French comment : « [...] Dans les foires on était toujours sûr autrefois de rencontrer “l’Oracle de Delphes”, simple tête de turc qui répondait très bien aux demandes qu’on lui adressait en lui parlant à l’oreille. Ces effets étaient obtenus par l’emploi d’un tube acoustique caché dans le piédestal de l’appareil et communiquant avec une pièce où se tenait un compère. Ce qu’on a vu de plus ingénieux dans ce genre, c’est la “femme parlante” du gendre de M. de Kempelen. Une femme à tête de cire était assise sur une chaise que l’on plaçait tour à tour dans deux endroits différents de la salle où l’on recevait les curieux. On lui parlait à l’oreille, la réponse semblait sortir de la bouche. Voici comment s’obtenait ce résultat. Un tuyau acoustique qui débouchait dans le creux de la tête de cire traversait l’un des pieds de la chaise. Deux autres tubes qui partaient d’une pièce voisine débouchaient sous le plancher de la salle, en deux points marqués chacun par un petit clou. Dans le voisinage de ces points, le plancher avait été usé en dessous, de manière à ne plus former qu’une très mince cloison, et percé d’un très petit trou. On avait soin de placer la chaise de telle sorte que le pied qui était creux vînt se poser près de l’un des deux clous. La “femme invisible” qui excita, au commencement de ce siècle, une si grande sensation dans les principales villes du continent, s’explique d’une manière toute aussi simple. L’organe le plus apparent de cette machine était une sphère creuse, munie de quatre appendices en forme de trompettes, et suspendue librement à un support en fil de fer, ou bien au plafond de la chambre, par quatre rubans de soie. Cette sphère était entourée d’une cage en treillis soutenue par quatre piliers, dont l’un était creux et communiquait avec le sol. Le tube acoustique qui le traversait débouchait au milieu de l’une des traverses horizontales supérieures, où il y a avait une fente très étroite, à peine perceptible à l’œil, faisant face à l’orifice de l’une des quatre trompes. La voix semblait alors sortir de la sphère. Il est probable que la personne qui se tenait dans la pièce voisine et qui donnait les réponses, pouvait voir par une fente dans le mur ce qui se passait dans la salle. Les demandes se faisaient en parlant dans l’orifice de l’une des trompes. ». (R. Radau, p. 77-79)
Source : Mr. Charles (1807), “The Invisible Lady; being an Explanation of the Manner in which the Experiment in London, by Mr. Charles and others, is performed. (In a Letter from a Correspondent. Phil. Jour. n°. 65 and n°. 66), In “Retrospect of Philosophical, Mechanical, Chemical, and Agricultural Discoveries”, Vol. III, 1808, pp. 60-61; and first published In June 1807, Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literacy Miscellany : being a general repository of Literature, History, and Politics, for 1807, Vol. LXIX;
Source : Farington, Joseph, “The Farington Diary — 1793-1821”, Vol. II, London : Hutchinson & Co., 1923, p. 116;
Source : Bridgewater, Patrick (1988), “Arthur Schopenhauer’s English schooling”, Routledge Publisher, 1988, pp. 135-136.
Source : Matlock, Jann (1996), “The Invisible Woman and Her Secrets Unveiled”, In The Yale Journal of Criticism 9:2 (1996), pp. 175-221.
Source : Connor, Steven (2004), “Incidents of the Breath: In Pneumatic and Electric Ventriloquisms”, A lecture given in the series 'Artificial Others: Lectures on Ventriloquism and Automata' at the Ruskin School of Art and Drawing, Oxford, February 17 2004.
Source : Radau Rodolphe (1867). “L’Acoustique ou les Phénomènes du Son”. Coll. « Bibliothèque des Merveilles » sous la direction de M. Édouard Charton. Paris : Librairie Hachette.
Urls : http://www.bbk.ac.uk/english/skc/incidents/ (last visited ) http://www.archive.org/stream/lacoustiqueoule00radagoog/lacoustiqueoule00radagoog_djvu.txt (last visited )

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