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Chapter 10 The Telephon

  • Arrived at my hotel, I was at once struck with its extreme quietness, more s_s the apartments were all but taken by some thousands of travellers. Th_ause of this, however, I soon discovered on entering the elegant and spaciou_onversation room. Methought I heard a kind of music, feeble, yet melodious i_he extreme. The sound approached as near as possible that of the human voice
  • ; but still the quality was altogether different. Besides, no artist, male o_emale, was to be seen in the room. The only cue that I could get to th_ystery was through a box of small dimensions; this instrument was placed on _able right in the centre of the room, and thence the sound appeared t_roceed. Taking the affair to be an ordinary musical-box, worked in the usua_ay, I gazed with no little contempt and surprise upon the crowd of serious-
  • looking, enthusiastic men and women who had clustered round the table. As soo_s the music ceased, I ventured to approach the spectators, at the same tim_sking one among the crowd for some information with regard to the musica_nstrument in which they all seemed to be so much interested.  Oh the numbe_f pairs of eyes that stared at me, full of amazement, if not of indignation !
  • At last one of the enthusiasts condescended to break the silence, '' What,
  • sir, a musical instrument! where did you ever know such tones to proceed fro_ musical instrument ? Surely, sir, as a gentleman you must have heard of th_elephon ?"
  • I now remembered that a machine bearing that name, and answering tha_escription, had been invented as far back as 1861 by a certain Reis ; als_hat it was based upon the following law, as discovered and laid down by Page;
  • namely, that when an electric current passes through a wire coiled round a_ron bar, and the current is continually interrupted, there arises a sound o_ tone, the height or depth of which is entirely dependent on the number o_ibrations produced by the interruptions of the current, according to thei_ucceeding each other with more or less velocity. This recurring to my mind, _ow replied that the telephon was indeed not quite unfamiliar to me, in proo_f which I went back to the history of its first invention; I also gave _escription of Reis' little instrument, by which the sound of the human voic_ould be transmitted through very great distances; and finally, I added m_urmise or natural conviction that such an instrument must have bee_onsiderably improved upon in the course of more than two centuries.
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  • I was happy to notice the excellent impression visibly produced by my words;
  • there now arose a tolerably general murmur of "whoever now would have take_he telephon to be so old an affair?" As for me, I was complimented on m_ntiquarian knowledge, and, thanks to the amiable disposition of the visitor_owards me, I was not long in discovering what had been going on. That whic_very one now was so anxious to explain to me amounted, in a few words, t_his. The North-American papers had of late been indulging in the mos_xtravagant terms of praise with regard to a lady singer who, according to th_ankee critics, was possessed of a voice such as no mortal had ever yet hear_f, surpassing in compass and quality everything that could be imagined; _alent whereby all the artists of former ages —if history could be relie_n—ladies like Catalani, Malibran, Henriette Sonntag, Jenny Lind, or th_attis, were really no more in comparison than a cricket to a nightingale. O_ourse, as might be imagined, these reports from across the Atlantic ha_reated an immense stir in the musical world of Londinia. From all direction_he managers of concerts and operas had been induced to negotiate with thi_arvellous talent, so that it should no lonorer be hidden from the musica_nhabitants of Londinia. But, then, all these reports emanated from th_tates, the fons et origo of humbug; and, probably taught by experience, th_anagers had all clubbed together, and, at their joint expense, despatched _elegram to the gifted artist, requesting her to allow her marvellous power t_e tested by means of the telephon. That would, at all events, enable them t_udge of the compass and quality of her voice. To this the lady had consented,
  • and thereupon the managers had hired one of the transatlantic telegrap_ables, on which the experiment had been made.
  • As a clear indication of the compass of the voice, I was shown sundry slips o_lack paper on which could be seen numerous curved white lines; the latter ha_een traced upon the paper by the phonautographer standing behind th_elephon, and were supposed to mark the musical scales within compass of th_ady's voice. An impression of these slips of paper was to appear, on th_ollowing morning, in the musical journal, Panharmonia, in order that " th_yes of the inhabitants of Londinia might anticipate the glorious treat i_tore for the musical ears of the great metropolis." "For," added the edito_f the Panharmonia, "all connoisseurs in music know the meaning of thes_ittle waves. Won't they be astonished when they see a tone like this !"
  • Saying this, he pointed with his finger to the very extreme line where th_ittle curves met as near as possible. Of course I was longing to examine th_onstruction of the telephon. I was just about to ask one of the gentleme_resent to give me some explanation on the subject, when there was a genera_emand for silence. The American lady was to afford us another treat. Thi_ime she sang an air from Mozart's Don Giovanni, and I was delighted to fin_hat this masterpiece of the great maestro was not forgotten even thre_enturies after the composer's death.
  • At the close of her examination, the lady was unanimously declared worthy t_ppear before the critical public of Londinia, and she received what we migh_erm a musical ovation by means of another telephon working in opposit_irection. And here the matter was allowed to rest, it being left to th_ifferent managers to endeavour to engage her services. All and each of thes_entlemen looked as if they were in possession of some secret or othe_herewith to outvie their competitors. They parted, however, on the best o_erms, and I retired to my room.
  • The following morning I was down very early, and, having enjoyed my breakfast,
  • I walked slowly towards the place where I expected to meet my companions o_he preceding day. No guide was required in this apparently immense labyrinth,
  • for nothing indeed was easier than to find one's way. All the streets,
  • squares, etc., were namely marked, not by names as formerly, but by _articular set of figures, which, with the assistance of a map, directed me t_ny given spot; all that was required to know was two figures, indicating th_oint of destination pretty much as with the latitude and longitude at sea.