JF Ptak Science Books Post 1963
Here’s a interesting piece of thinking communicated on the construction of a rapid recorder for musical composition, written by John Freke in 1753 to the Royal Society, and published as A
Letter from Mr. John Freke F. R. S. Surgeon to St. Bartholomew’s
Hospital, to the President of the Royal Society, Inclosing a Paper of
the Late Rev. Mr. Creed, concerning a Machine to Write Down Extempore
Voluntaries, or Other Pieces of Music ( on January 1, 1753) in the
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London; Philosophical Transactions
of the Royal Society, volume 44, pp 445-450. (John Freke, 1688-1756, was a prominent and important early surgeon, served at St. Barts from 1729 to 1755 and was a Governor of the hospital from 1736 to 1756, and was perhaps the first ophthalmic surgeon). The device was proposed by the Rev. John Creed, a machine that was supposed to catch the delicacy and greatness of improvisation, of the moments of creation of music that would could normally be lost to memory or inexactitude. It was not the first of its kind, though it was an early attempt at finding the box of aether.
It was a very interesting idea, especially given the time 260 years ago. I wonder if this was influenced at all by the construction of mathematical machines? Blaise Pascal (1623-1662–I don’t have any idea how he did what he did and live to be only 39) constructed his machine that was capable of doing addition and subtraction problems more than 110 years before this machine, and perhaps there was this hopefulness in the mechanically-reasoned approach to saving lost memories of composition. Perhaps there was the belief that since calculations seemingly so impossible as the Earth’s (periodic 304-day that turned out to be 428-day) wobble (by Leonhard Euler, or the illustrated collection of human knowledge in the vast and controversial Diderot/d’Alembert encyclopedia, or the capturing of nature iin the systematic binomial nomenclature of the Swedish Carl Linnaeus–all taking place in this year or so brought something to bear on this seemingly inescapable problem of recording quick and complicated thought?