Instruments by which the voice could be so strengthened as to be heard at a much greater distance than would otherwise have been possible, were known in the earliest ages; for of all musical instruments, wind instruments were first invented, and their use in war to give the signal of battle, we find mentioned in Job 224. It had been remarked, even in Pliny's time, that the least touch of a beam of wood could be heard when the ear was applied to the other end 225. It was known likewise that the larger trumpets emitted a louder and stronger sound. The Grecians had a wind instrument with the bellowing noise of which the people who were placed to guard the vineyards frightened away the wild animals 226. All these wind instruments however were little in comparison with the monstrous trumpets of the ancient Chinese, a kind of speaking-trumpets, or instruments by which words could not only be heard at the greatest distance possible, but could be also understood 227. This invention belongs to the 17th century, though some think that traces of it are to be found among the ancient Grecians.

Kircher, as far as I have been able to learn, was the first person who made known, from a very ancient manuscript of Aristotle, De Secretis ad Alexandrum Magnum, preserved in the Vatican, that Alexander had a prodigious large horn with which he could assemble his army at the distance of a hundred stadia, or eight Italian miles. It was, according to the manuscript, five cubits in diameter; and Kircher, who gives a figure of it, which he says he found in the manuscript, thinks that, on account of its size, it must have been suspended from a beam by a ring. This horn has by many been considered as the oldest speaking-trumpet 228 , but in my opinion without reason. Aristotelis Secretum Secretorum ad Alexandrum Magnum I have never had an opportunity to see. It appears to have been printed only once, and is, like all the other works ascribed to that philosopher, extremely scarce; for they have all had the fate of being little regarded after it became the unanimous opinion of the learned that they were forged. These works, however, are old; some of them indeed very old: and, if some one would take the trouble to fix their antiquity, they might be used with advantage on many occasions. Morhof had in his possession the edition of that book published by Alexander Achillinus, a physician at Bologna, in 1516, which is a Latin translation from the Arabic 229. If we compare what is said there and by Kircher, we may make the following conclusion:—

In the first place, it is certain that the book itself, as well as the whole account, is not the production of Aristotle, for in all the writers who relate the actions of Alexander we do not find the least mention of such a horn. Secondly, it is not expressly said in that work that Alexander spoke through this horn, but only that he assembled his soldiers by it, which in past times was done by the sound of a trumpet, and at present is done both by trumpets and drums. It appears also that the author of the book, perhaps an Arabian, intended to give the reader an idea of a horn that had an uncommonly strong and loud sound. Thirdly, Kircher's account and figure of the horn do not agree with that which Morhof found in the edition of Achillinus 230. Lastly, none of these descriptions are such that an instrument to serve as a speaking-trumpet could be constructed from them.

Wolf and other mathematicians are of opinion that the most advantageous form of a speaking-trumpet would be found with more certainty by experience than by theory. It may then be asked, whether any one ever caused such an instrument to be made from these descriptions. Kircher, who attempted things much more improbable, says he never tried it. Duhamel however relates that a Frenchman tried it, and discovered the real instrument 231 ; but this information is of little weight, as it is much to be doubted that this Frenchman caused it to be made sufficiently exact according to the ancient description. I am as little acquainted with Bettini as Morhof; but I suspect that Duhamel meant Mar. Bettini, who, without making the smallest mention of Alexander's horn, proposes only a tube, the one end of which should be applied to the mouth of a person who speaks, and the other to the ear of one who is dull of hearing 232. This was rather an ear-trumpet than a speaking-trumpet, and it is certain that the former was invented before the latter.

What we read in Porta, and what many think alludes to a speaking-trumpet, alludes evidently to an ear-trumpet only. That author infers, very justly, from the form of the ear, and particularly from that of the ears of those animals which are quick of hearing, that to hear at a distance one must apply to the ear a kind of wide funnel, as people to strengthen the sight use spectacles 233. He asserts also, with equal truth, that one, through a long tube, can convey a whisper to the ear of another person at a very great distance 234 ; an experiment which he himself made at the distance of two hundred paces. Schwenter, who wrote before the speaking-trumpet was known, proposes, from the hint of Porta, an ear-trumpet, one end of which should be applied to the ear 235.

Sir Samuel Morland, an Englishman, and the jesuit Kircher, have in later times contended respecting the invention of the speaking-trumpet. The former, in 1671, published a particular description of one, after he had made many experiments upon it the year preceding. This instrument, shaped like a wide-mouthed trumpet, he caused first to be constructed of glass, and afterwards of copper, with various alterations, and performed several experiments with it in presence of the king (Charles II.), prince Rupert, and other persons, who were astonished at its effects 236.

As an account of this discovery was soon spread all over Europe, Kircher asserted that he had constructed speaking-trumpets before Sir Samuel Morland, and supported his assertion by referring to his former writings, and by the testimony of other authors. I shall first take notice of the former. His Ars Magna Lucis et Umbræ was first printed in 1643. I at least conclude so, because, in the preface to his Phonurgia, printed in 1673, he says that work had been published thirty years before. The second edition is of 1671, in which I find only the already-quoted passage respecting Alexander's horn, and the figure of a tube, which, like that proposed by Bettini, should be applied to the ear of a person who hears, and to the mouth of the speaker. The Musurgia, printed in 1650, contains better grounds for supporting the assertion of Kircher. In the second part he describes how a funnel can be placed in a building in such a manner, that a person in an apartment where the narrow end is introduced can hear what is spoken without the building, or in another apartment, where the wide end may be. To this description a figure is added, and the author acknowledges he was led to that idea by the construction of a well-known building of Dionysius 237. He does not however say expressly that he had ever tried the experiment; but in the last page of the preface to the Phonurgia, he pretends that so early as the year 1649 he had caused such a machine to be fixed up in the Jesuits' college. But, supposing this to be true, it can only be said that he then approached very near to the invention of the speaking-trumpet, by an instrument, which, in reality, however, was calculated to strengthen the hearing, and not the voice; and therefore only the half is true of what he advanced in his preface in 1673, that twenty years before he had described in his Musurgia the trumpet invented in England.

In the Phonurgia, however, written after Morland's publication was everywhere known, Kircher certainly treats of the speaking-trumpet, and says that, from the similarity of the progress of sound to that of the rays of light, he was led to the idea of conveying the former, in the same manner as the latter, to a great distance, by means of an instrument. For this purpose, about twenty-four years before, he had caused to be constructed, in the Jesuits' college at Rome, an ear-trumpet, through which the porter could communicate anything he had to say to him when he was in his apartment in the upper story. This apparatus attracted the notice of many strangers, who were astonished at its effect. He here represents it as a proper speaking-trumpet, and adds, that it excited much surprise, on account of the uncommon strength which it gave to the voice. For this reason he was very desirous of trying to what distance words could be distinctly conveyed by such a tube; and an opportunity occurred of doing this the same year that he wrote his Phonurgia. From a convent, situated on the top of a mountain, he assembled twelve hundred persons to divine service, at the distance of from two to five Italian miles, and read the Litany through it. Soon after, the emperor caused a tube to be made according to Kircher's description, by which, without elevating the voice, he could be understood from Ebersdorf to Neugebeu. But though Kircher came so near to the invention of the speaking-trumpet, it does not appear certain by his works that he attempted or constructed it before Sir Samuel Morland. I shall now examine the evidences he adduces in his favour.

The most important of these is Schott, because he published his Magia Naturalis 238  in 1657, before the invention of Sir Samuel Morland. All that is to be found in this work, however, relates alone to the ear-trumpet, a figure of which is added from the Musurgia; but we learn, with certainty, that Kircher then had the before-mentioned funnel or tube in his apartment. It is also not improbable that he had tried to answer the porter from his apartment, and that he had thereby remarked that the voice was strengthened; for it is not proved by Schott that he at that time was acquainted with and had in his possession a portable speaking-trumpet.

Another author by whom Kircher endeavours to support his claim is Harsdorfer; who, however, speaks only of tubes to be closely applied to the mouth and to the ear, and who refers to the Musurgia, without mentioning the real speaking-trumpet, though the second part of his Mathematical Recreations was first printed in 1677, and the third in 1692. Besides these testimonies, Kircher quotes also Eschinard concerning sound 239. With that work I am not acquainted; but as the information it contains is taken from the Musurgia, it is of as little importance as that of Derham 240 , who refuses the invention to his countryman, and gives it to Kircher. When I unite all the evidence in favour of Kircher, it appears to be certain that he made known and employed the ear-trumpet earlier than the portable speaking-trumpet; that he, however, approached very near to the invention of the latter, but did not cause one to be constructed before Sir Samuel Morland, to whom the honour belongs of having first brought it to that state as to be of real use. Such, at least, is the manner in which this dispute is decided by the Jesuit De Lanis 241.

When Morland's invention was made known in France, it was pretended that Salar, an Augustine monk, had seven or eight years before caused such tubes or trumpets to be made, in order to strengthen the voice of a weak bass-singer; but he himself acknowledges that he never had an idea of speaking with them at a distance 242.

This instrument was soon made for sale at Nuremberg in Germany, particularly by that well-known artist Grundler, mentioned by Becher, who imagined that two persons, by means of a speaking-trumpet and an ear-trumpet, could converse together at a great distance, without any one in the neighbourhood, or in the intermediate space, hearing what they said.

Of those who employed their ingenuity in improving this instrument I shall mention the following. Cassegrain, known on account of his optical instruments, published some hints for that purpose in 1672 243 ; as did Sturm 244 ,Conyers 245 , Hase and others afterwards. The last who investigated the theory of the speaking-trumpet was Lambert 246 ; according to whose ideas the figure of a shortened cone, if not the best, is at least as good as any other that might be employed.

[It would appear, however, from the experiments of Hassenfratz (Journ. de Phys., t. xxvi.) that neither the shape of the instrument nor the material of which it is composed is of much consequence. He ascertained the power of the trumpet by fixing a small watch in the mouth-piece, and observing the distance at which the beats ceased to be audible, and thus found that the effects were precisely the same with a trumpet of tinned iron, whether used in its naked form, or tightly bound round with linen to prevent vibration, or when lined with woollen cloth whereby reflexion was entirely prevented; he also found that the range of a cylindrical trumpet was as great as that of a conical one.

Leslie supposes the effect of the trumpet to be owing to the more condensed and vigorous impulsion given to the air from its lateral flow being checked. He observes, “that the tube, by its length and narrowness, detains the efflux of air, and has the same effect as if it diminished the volubility of that fluid, or increased its density. The organs of articulation strike with concentrated force, and the pulses, so vigorously thus excited, are, from the reflected form of the aperture, finally enabled to escape and to spread themselves along the atmosphere 247.”]


224  Goguet. i. p. 326.

225  Plin. lib. xvi. c. 38, p. 32.

226  Septalii Comm. in Aristotelis Problem. Lugd. 1632, fol. p. 206. There is also a passage to the same purpose in Seneca, Epist. 108.

227  See Anciennes Relations des Indes et de la Chine, de deux voyageurs Mahometans, qui y allèrent dans le neuvième siècle. Par Renaudot. Paris, 1718, 8vo, p. 25.

228  Ars magna lucis et umbræ. Amst. 1671, fol. p. 102. Kircher repeats this account with some new circumstances in his Phonurgia, p. 132.

229  Morhofii Diss. de vitro per vocis sonum rupto, in Dissertationibus Academicis. Hamburgi 1669, 4to, p. 381.

230  Morhof quotes the following passage:—“With this brazen horn, constructed with wonderful art, Alexander the Great called together his army at the distance of sixty miles. On account of its inestimable workmanship and monstrous size, it was under the management of sixty men. Many kinds of sonorous metals were combined in the composition of it.”

231  “Among many things which the celebrated D'Alance caused to be made for this purpose, the trumpet ascribed to Alexander, and with which he called together his army, ought not to be omitted. As the figure of it was represented in an old manuscript in the Vatican library, and had been described by Bettini, that learned man was desirous of trying whether it could be proved by experience, and the attempt succeeded; for that kind of trumpet, if it does not excel, seems undoubtedly to equal the other instruments constructed for that end.”

232  Bettini Apiaria univ. Philosophiæ Mathemat. Bonon. 1642, fol. p. 38.

233  Magia Natural. lib. xx. c. 5.

234  “To communicate anything to one's friends by means of a tube. This can be done with a tube made of earthenware, though one of lead is better, or of any other substance, but very close, that the voice may not be weakened; for whatever you speak at the one end, the words issue perfect and entire as from the mouth of the speaker, and are conveyed to the ears of the other, which, in my opinion, may be done for some miles. The voice, neither broken nor dispersed, is carried entire to the greatest distance. We tried it at the distance of two hundred paces, not having convenience for a greater, and the words were heard as clearly and distinctly as if they had come from the mouth of the speaker.”—Lib. xvi. c. 12.

235  Mathematische Erquickstunden, i. p. 243.

236  An Account of the Speaking-trumpet, as it hath been contrived and published by Sir Samuel Morland, knight and baronet, together with its use both at sea and land. London, 1671. An extract from it may be seen in the Phil. Trans., No. 78, p. 3056.

237  Among the antiquities of Syracuse in Sicily, one beholds with wonder chambers and galleries which are hewn out in the solid rock, and particularly a grotto, from which arises a winding passage, that becomes upwards still narrower. Ancient tradition says that this was a prison, which the celebrated tyrant Dionysius caused to be built for state prisoners, that in an apartment of his palace, which stood over the narrow end of the passage, he might hear everything the prisoners said, or what plots they formed against him. This grotto therefore is called Orechio di Dionysio, or la grotta della favella auris Dionysii, the ear of Dionysius. Many travellers and others formerly imagined that this passage was an ingenious imitation of that part of the human ear called the helix, which was first remarked by Alcmaon the Pythagorean. This is the account given by Kircher, who was there in the year 1638. See his Phonurgia (published 1673), p. 82, where there is a figure of it. In later times, however, this grotto has been examined with more skill and acuteness by people less subject to prejudice, and since that period the supposed wonder has been lessened. The rock consists of limestone, at least I conclude so from what is said by Brydone, who found it everywhere full of cracks and fissures. The stones of which Syracuse was built were hewn from the rock; and hence have been formed these chambers or openings, like those found in the neighbourhood of other ancient and modern cities, such as Rome, Naples, and Maestricht. Many of these, in the course of time, have been employed as prisons, or used as burying-vaults. The above-mentioned passage, which has excited so much wonder, is not properly spiral, and is of such a figure that it may have been produced either by accident or through the whim of the workmen employed to hew out the stones. The double echo which Kircher assures us he heard in the grotto was not remarked by Schott, who was there in 1646, as he expressly says, in opposition to his brother jesuit, in his Magia Naturalis. In the accounts still remaining of Dionysius we find mention of an astonishing prison, which is well described by Cicero in his fifth oration against Verres: “You have all heard of,” says he, “and most of you know the prison (lautumias) of Syracuse. It is an immense and magnificent work, executed by kings and tyrants; the whole is sunk to a wonderful depth in the rock, and has been entirely cut out by the labour of many hands. No place so secured against an escape; no place so enclosed on all sides; no place so safe for confining prisoners can be either planned out or constructed.” But it cannot be proved, and according to D'Orville's opinion it is improbable, that this grotto was the work of that tyrant, who, as Plutarch tells us in his Life of Dion, employed very different means to learn the intention of dangerous persons. “The common people attacked the tyrant's friends, and seized those whom they called his emissaries (προσαγώγιδας), worthless men, detested by the gods. These went about the city, mixed with the citizens, and, prying into everything, gave an account to the tyrant of what they thought and what expressions they made use of.” It was merely for its strength, and the labour employed in building it, and not on account of its ingenious construction, that the ancients admired the prison of the tyrant. At present the upper end of the winding passage is closed up; and it is so narrow, that some years ago the captain of an English vessel found great difficulty to clamber up it. It cannot, however, be denied that this grotto may have been used for the service ascribed to it; and I can readily believe that it may have led Kircher to the invention of the ear-trumpet. See the Travels of P. de la Valle, Ray, and Brydone; Delle antiche Siracuse, da G. Bonanni, &c., 2 vols. fol. Palermo 1717. Dan. Bartolo del suono e de' tremori harmonici, Bonon. 1680, who examined this grotto as a naturalist. D'Orville, Sicula. Amst. 1764, pp. 182, 194.

238  This machine was invented by Kircher, in imitation of the ear of Dionysius; nor is it a vain and empty speculation, for the machine produces an infallible effect. Kircher caused to be made at Rome, of tin plate, a very large and straight tube, like a funnel, and placed it in an apartment next to his chamber, in such a manner that the large end projected into the garden of the college, and the less entered his chamber. When the porter of the college had occasion to call him to the gate, that he might not be obliged always to go up stairs, or to bawl out, he went to the broad end of the funnel, and communicated what he wished to Kircher.—Schotti Magia Universalis, ii. p. 156.

239  Eschinardi Discursus de Sono Pneumatico, p. 10.

240  Physico-theology.

241  Our Kircher, in his Phonurgia, justly claims that invention, as it was several years ago exhibited by him in the Jesuits' college at Rome, and an account of it printed. That this is true I myself was an eye-witness; though I must acknowledge that no one before the above-mentioned Englishman ever applied this speaking instrument, at least in so perfect a manner, to that use for which it was afterwards employed.—Magisterium Naturæ et Artis. Brixiæ, 1684–92, fol. ii. p. 436.

242  Journal des Sçavans, tome iii.

243  Ibid. p. 131.

244  J. A. Sturm, Collegium Experimentale, ii. p. 146.

245  Philosophical Transactions.

246  Mémoires de l'Acad. des Sciences à Berlin, 1763, p. 97.

247  Experimental Inquiry into the Nature, &c. of Heat, p. 225.