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1677 Artificial Versifying / 1830 Eureka

July 21, 2013

While looking for evidence that the previous entry wasn’t some kind of hoax, I came across the following:

In 1677, John Peter published Artificial Versifying, A New Way to Make Latin Verses as a kind of entertainment for schoolboys. This explained a technique for composing Latin poetry automatically. Each verse was of an unvarying form:

Adjective Noun Adverb Verb Noun Adjective

The meter of each word was also fixed, forcing the line into metrically correct hexameter:

dactyl trochee iamb molossus dactyl trochee

For example, one of the lines the machine produced could be translated as “A gloomy castle sometimes shows a bright light.”

John Clark, an inventor and printer from Bridgewater, England, began in 1830 to build a machine to carry out the steps of John Peter’s process. He built a cabinet the size of a small bookcase that composed the poem while simultaneously playing “God Save the Queen.” His device consisted of six turning cylinders, one for each of the six terms in the line of poetry. If it had simply displayed six words, it would have been regarded merely as a clever plaything. But Clark encoded the words using pins in such a way that they would cause individual letters to fall into place, apparently at random. This gave the impression that the machine was somehow composing the poem letter by letter, which was much more impressive.

the above is in an article by one Douglas Summers-Stay called “Creative Machines”, which is on pages 23-27 of SteamPunk Magazine #9, which is available in pdf form online. The whole article is interesting, and includes more details about the Eureka. (Summers-Stay apparently also has a book called Machinamenta: The thousand year quest to build a creative machine, which I plan to purchase ASAP.)

More details about the Eureka on wikipedia, and also on the Loom of Minerva page, which includes an announcement from The Illustrated London News, and photos of an existing Eureka machine in a museum in England.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 4, 2013 1:32 pm

    Fascinating stuff! It’s amazing how far back the impulse to make generative poetry and art goes.

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