Science and Art, a Farce, in Two Acts
Edited by Rebecca Nesvet
Figure 1: Science and Art in the Queen’s Magazine 1, no. 5 (August 1842): 190. Photograph courtesy of the Rare Book Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, 2016.
On July 24, 1820, an advertisement in the London Morning Post announced “The Triumph of Mechanism.” In an exhibition room in the Western Exchange, Bond Street, a man-shaped machine called “PROSOPOGRAPHUS, the AUTOMATON ARTIST” was reportedly drawing perfect silhouettes of astonished visitors and strategically placed portrait busts. European spectators had seen other automata write their inventor’s name, play music, or make sounds, but Prosopographus was different. This automaton’s output seemed neither predetermined by its inventor nor limited to a narrow range of options. “[T]he only Automaton in the world that takes Likenesses,” Prosopographus could complete “a Profile Likeness in one minute.” By 1825, the advertising presented Prosopographus as an existential threat to the human artist. An ad placed in the Theatrical Observer and Daily Bills of the Play claimed that the “Automaton Artist [. . .] draws Likenesses with more certainty,” or accuracy, “than is in the power of the living hand to execute.”
These ads played upon widespread fears. In 1815, during the Luddite rebellion against the imposition of labor-saving machines upon the weaving industry, the utopian reformer Robert Owen had condemned the emerging factory economy and the machines that made it possible. The son-in-law of a Scottish industrialist, Owen saw firsthand the effects of the “manufacturing system” upon the children who constituted much of his father-in-law’s workforce. “Is it to be imagined,” Owen asked, “that the British Government will ever put the chance of a trivial pecuniary gain of a few, in competition with the solid welfare of so many millions of human beings?” The answer was affirmative. The Luddites were suppressed, and Prosopographus warned middle-class Londoners that even skilled artists could find themselves replaced by machines.
A similar warning is issued in an obscure playscript of 1820. Science and Art, A Farce, in Two Acts concerns a young London lawyer, Jack Freeman, who falls in love with Maria, the ward of an inventor of automata, Peter Patent. This industrial-age Pantalone intends to save the British nation a great deal of money by replacing various entire professions with his patent automata. Freeman gains access to Patent’s home by masquerading as an automaton, in a performance choreographed by his friend Dick Lobby, another unscrupulous lawyer. When Lobby brings the pseudo-automaton to Patent, the confusion of machine with human creates comic mayhem, and forces Patent to question his previous dismissal of the human in favor of the machine. Meanwhile, the denouement hints that Freeman is not a self-acting individual, or free man, but a part of a social machine, for he has unwittingly pursued Maria in accordance with a plan designed by others.
Written by the critically neglected working-class London novelist, poet, and engraver Malcolm Rymer (ca. 1775–1835), Science and Art is here republished for the first time since the nineteenth century. It deserves scholarly attention not only for its commentary on the Industrial Revolution but also for the story of the editor who facilitated its initial publication, the author’s son, James Malcolm Rymer (1814–1884). In the 1840s through the ‘60s, James Rymer achieved considerable literary success by prolifically penning “penny bloods,” or cheap fiction serials, targeting working-class readers. His bloods included the Dracula precursor Varney, the Vampyre; or, the Feast of Blood and The String of Pearls; or, the Barber of Fleet–Street, the earliest tale of the fictional entrepreneur, machine inventor, murderer, and food-processing magnate Sweeney Todd. Before these triumphs, Rymer published his late father’s play, Science and Art, without attribution, in the August 1842 fifth and final number of the Queen’s Magazine.
This edition aims to reveal Science and Art’s place in the neglected history of the Rymers of London. Scholars of nineteenth-century literature are familiar with prominent literary families such as the Shelleys, Brontës, Brownings, and Wildes. Whereas these luminaries are all upper- or middle-class families, the Rymers were working-class men and women. Furthermore, the Rymers’ creative activity spanned the Romantic and Victorian eras, presenting a challenge to the long-standing periodization of nineteenth-century British literature. Advocating for scholars of nineteenth-century poetry to read across period boundaries, Charles Laporte (2003) has pointed out that “highbrow Romantic theory tended . . . to shape Victorian poetic practice” and that “its influence entered all facets of Victorian high culture.” However, Romantic-era writing that was not considered “highbrow” also shaped the generation that followed it. For instance, Gregory Dart (2012) has traced the development of “Cockneyism” from Leigh Hunt (and Keats and Hazlitt) to Dickens. A similar process informs the overlooked journey to print of Science and Art. Its composition by Malcolm Rymer and its publication by his son both contribute to a century-spanning discourse about industrialization, labor, and human dignity. I hope that widening access to the text of Science and Art and some of its contexts will help to facilitate greater understanding of Malcolm Rymer and James Malcolm Rymer’s shared and individual contributions to nineteenth-century literature and will expedite their incorporation into the canon and curriculum.
“By Mr. M. Rymer—1820”
It has very recently become possible to identify Malcolm Rymer as the author of Science and Art and the composition date as 1820. The play was unattributed and undated until October 2016, when the Rare Book Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, acquired from the London antiquarian book dealer Jarndyce and Company an incomplete copy of the first and only volume of the Queen’s Magazine (1842), edited by James Malcolm Rymer. Bound into this book are the five numbers of the volume, dated April through August 1842, and the magazine’s prospectus. However, some components are missing. The first number has no contents page. An engraved portrait of Rymer has been excised from the second number. From the fourth, the pages containing one complete article (“Why is the Queen’s Life Attempted?”) are missing. It is unknown who defaced the volume or at what point(s) in its history it was defaced.
According to Jarndyce cataloger and penny bloods scholar Helen R. Smith, this particular copy of the Queen’s Magazine had once been in James Malcolm Rymer’s possession. Smith also points out that some of its contents bear handwritten corrections or annotations, and one hand is Rymer’s. In the first number, his signature adorns a review of the play Acis and Galatea, which the celebrated actor–manager William Macready was then mounting at the theater at Drury Lane. In the third, a handwritten annotation identifies Rymer as the poet of “Love’s Fables,” correcting the printed attribution to “George Hillier Fantome.” This pseudonym combines the name of the publisher George Hillier (1815–1866) with the French word for ghost. In the fifth number, at the top of the first page of Science and Art, another handwritten note reads “By Mr. M. Rymer—1820” (see Figure 1).
I propose that this author is Malcolm Rymer. As I have shown in a contribution to Notes and Queries (2017), Malcolm Rymer, born in Edinburgh, was active in the London literary community of the early nineteenth century. He used the abbreviation “Mr. Rymer” for the bylines of two poems he published in the Monthly Magazine in 1815 and 1818. On the title page of his 1806 novel The Spaniard; or, the Pride of Birth: A Tale, he styled himself “M. Rymer.” As he was the only male imaginative writer called “M. Rymer” who was active during the Regency or the early Victorian era, it is highly unlikely that a “Mr. M. Rymer” published by Malcolm Rymer’s son could be anybody else.
The manuscript attribution of Science and Art to Malcolm Rymer is likely accurate because it apparently was scrawled by his son. The hand differs significantly from James Malcolm Rymer’s signature on the review of Acis and Galatea, but it closely resembles another of his signatures, that with which he solemnized his marriage to Caroline Huttly in the St. James, Clerkenwell, parish record on April 27, 1839. This signature and the Queen’s Magazine inscription share similar capital and lowercase m’s and large, loose lowercase er’s that appear somewhat like uppercase letters. In each example, a strikethrough nearly bisects at least some of the letters horizontally. This evidence, combined with James Malcolm Rymer’s connection to the UNC copy of his magazine, suggests that the attribution is his holograph annotation.
Could Science and Art actually have been written in the 1840s by James Malcolm Rymer and misattributed to his father? This is improbable, as the play seems indeed to have been written in 1820, when James Malcolm Rymer was only six years old. It appears to allude to topical events of 1820. In that year, Prosopographus was on display. The play also includes a recurring topical joke that involves Lobby’s claim that Patent, the London-based inventor of automata, is famous in Asia and particularly celebrated in China. This joke would have made sense in the early years of the nineteenth century because in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, London was the global export center for automata, largely on account of the activity of a few automaton makers. They included James Cox and the Swiss expatriates Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz and his foster brother Frédéric Leschot. Although some Jaquet-Droz-Leschot wares were produced in their London workshop and some in Switzerland, Leschot confessed that eventually, all new ones were “engraved as though [made] in England, because it is the general opinion that every thing of this kind [automata] made in that country is of better workmanship.” It was also a common belief that the most zealous appreciators of such things were Chinese. In the 1770s–‘90s, the Qianlong Emperor (d. 1799) was a frequent client of this community of artisans. He became famous in Europe for his “apparently insatiable” desire for automata and other mechanical “toys” Long before 1842, the deaths of the Qianlong Emperor and the inventors here named had evaporated this international trade network.
Additional circumstantial evidence that Science and Art dates to the early nineteenth century is the reference to “those who march into the field at the arbitrary pleasure of a despot.” In 1820, Napoléon’s Grande Armée was a vivid living memory, but in 1842, Britain demonized no singular martial despot. Also, the elderly Patent seems more likely to have been a child of the eighteenth century than the nineteenth, as he wears a wig long enough to appear to be caught up by the fake “automaton.” Wigs were worn by upper-class men throughout the eighteenth century, but, after the 1795 imposition of a tax on the white powder with which the wigs were adorned, the style fell out of favor. “Cropped, natural” hairstyles then predominated, while “wigs were increasingly stigmatized as old-fashioned.” An old man in 1820, as Patent is, could be accustomed to wigs, but not so a Victorian. These details suggest that Science and Art was more likely composed in 1820, as the inscription claims, than in 1842.
“Those Self-Moving Machines”
Science and Art deserves contemporary attention for its contribution to the nineteenth-century British conversation about the increasing automation of industry. Malcolm Rymer seems to have been concerned throughout his career about conflicts between man and machine, science and art. His novel The Spaniard shows an industrious, honest sixteenth-century Madrid barber persecuted by the Inquisition. Temperamentally unsuited to the tonsorial trade on account of his aversion to shedding blood or causing pain, Pedrosa de Leandrez eventually finds refuge in a more liberal country: either England or Holland. A closer look at this tale reveals a timely political agenda. In a significant departure from its source, Richard Cumberland’s The History of Nicolas Pedrosa (1798), Rymer’s novel pits a feeling artisan against the theory-driven proverbial machine of the Inquisition, with its literal instruments of torture, suggesting a criticism of the nascent Industrial Revolution.
In Science and Art, Malcolm Rymer more clearly represents
conflict between mechanical ingenuity and traditional labor. “One would imagine
that [Patent] thought nothing right in this world, as his invention,” or
ingenuity, “is continually on the rack to make it better,” Lobby says. “I don’t
know how many machines he has invented” nor “how many schemes he has proposed
for the good of the public.” In
practice, Patent’s “machines” and “schemes” seem unlikely to improve most
people’s lives. Instead, they threaten human labor, dignity, thought, and
creativity. The first example of Patent’s ingenuity introduced in the script
seems capable of disenfranchising quite a lot of human labor and also of rapidly
industrializing warfare. In the first scene, Lobby tells Freeman that Patent
[. . .] not long ago [. . .] published proposals for an automaton manufactory, in which he explained the variety of uses those self-moving machines might be put to, and what an immense saving of expense to the nation to employ them. In the first place he contended, that the business of an army, according to the system of modern tactics, might as well be managed by automatons as real soldiers; this would be a wonderful saving, as it would render [. . .] unnecessary almost the whole host of army agents, army contractors, and barrack masters.
In this monologue, Lobby concedes that an automaton army would save lives, as its soldiers would not die and could be “repaired.” However, Patent’s rhetoric is primarily economic. He rejoices in the “saving of expense to the nation,” the “wonderful saving,” and is not concerned for the livelihoods of the “whole host” of men rendered “unnecessary” by his innovation.
Patent’s subsequent scheme attacks the livelihood of members of an institution even more deeply revered than the army: the Royal Navy. “When Old Patent went down to the fleet at Portsmouth to publish his proposals,” Lobby relates, “our brave tars [sailors] would have him thrown overboard for a rascal who wanted the enemy to get all the fighting to themselves.” Patent then tries to market his automata to “a few wealthy noblemen [. . .] who told him that if he could conceive to make them say aye and nay, they would probably take a dozen or two, as they might have use for them upon the dissolution of Parliament.” In other words, the aristocracy wants automated voters and representatives, whom they could control more easily than the already small and privileged pre-Reform electorate. This anecdote suggests that Patent’s automata cannot improve society, so long as the power to commission, purchase, and operate them remains with those who resist humane reform.
Malcolm Rymer reinforces this idea by making Patent wrest technological power away from the upper class, although only for a moment. Rymer’s lawyer characters are unconcerned about Patent’s disruptive potential until they realize that his inventions could threaten their own livelihoods. When Patent tells his friend, Freeman’s lawyer uncle (“Old Freeman”), that he intends to develop a “scheme” to settle law cases “without delay or expense,” thereby making lawyers unnecessary, Old Freeman erupts in self-concerned outrage. “What? where would be the traffic, if all mankind were to settle their disputes themselves? I say, where would be the cash?” Lawyers would need to become Luddites were the professions to become the targets of industrial improvement.
The play’s comic resolution implies that mechanical innovation is not inherently evil and that the boundary between human and machine is quite hazy. Young Freeman and his uncle each don the automaton costume and, by the art of acting, persuade Patent that they are the wondrous machine. Art triumphs over mechanical genius, but when the ruse is exposed, Patent happily accepts his ward’s marriage to Young Freeman, as it is the exact match he had intended for her. This resolution uncomfortably implies that the rebellious young innamorati ultimately behave as their elders designed, like machines. As the characters commemorate the nuptials by dancing, Patent offers to accompany them on his “newly invented hurdy-gurdy,” a traditional Welsh musical instrument that contains a wheel mechanism reminiscent of clockwork. When Patent has learnt the pseudo-automaton’s secret—that “the most perfect machine the world ever saw” is the human being—he is able to use his powers of invention to celebrate love. He learns to rejoice that two humans might appreciate each other more than all other living and nonliving machines.
Audience and Actors
Who, if anyone, was expected to perform Science and Art, and what was its target audience? Malcolm Rymer appears to have designed Science and Art for domestic consumption, not professional performance. It seems never to have been produced in the commercial theater, as periodicals from 1819 to 1860 record no notices for any public performance. It also was not published in its author’s lifetime, for reasons that I do not know. However, Regency Britain had a culture of home theatricals, such as those described in Austen’s novel Mansfield Park (1814). Science and Art appears suited by design to this performance mode. The specified settings are all either vague and featureless or domestic. For instance, the first scene takes place in the high-living Freeman’s “lodgings at the Temple.” This impressive landmark is represented by merely a “two chairs and [a] table.” Likewise, Freeman meets Maria at the Opera at Covent Garden, but we do not see this momentous meeting. Instead, it is described in retrospect in Freeman’s dialogue with his servant, Tom.
The play’s depiction of Patent’s premises also suggests authorial acquiescence to the limitations of domestic theatricals. The home of an eccentric inventor of anthropomorphic automata would seem ripe for scenographic creativity. Many of us have grown up entranced by the uncanny clutter of the ersatz automaton workshops in films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), or Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990). Conversely, Science and Art calls for only “The House of Mr. Patent.” No automata, parts, or tools are explicitly prescribed, excepting the pseudo-automaton, and even the automaton costume seems amateur-proofed. It consists of a “mask and domino,” and the automaton’s mechanical nature appears merely via his stilted walk. Regency home thespians would have been able to realize this simple effect.
Nineteenth-century domestic performers would also have been able to cope with the musical requirements of the piece. The script calls for Maria’s song to be performed by or as a “symphony.” In the early nineteenth century, this word did not necessarily imply a full orchestra. Another common meaning was “music in parts,” involving multiple performers, or simply “concerted or harmonious music.” A few members of a family and their guests could easily provide this incidental music. Intended for such a domestic setting, the play encourages households and families to consider the plight of artisans and other workers disenfranchised by the automation of their trades.
The Editor’s Tale
Figure 2: Thomas Onwhyn, “The Spirit of the Age,” Queen’s Magazine 1, no. 2 (May 1842): 76. Photograph by Cambridge University Library, 2016. Onwhyn’s initials appear on the cover of one of the books on the floor.
As Malcolm Rymer never saw Science and Art published, what
alignment of the proverbial stars permits us to read it now? The solution to
that mystery is itself noteworthy. As the historian James P. McClure observed in
his 2014 presidential address to the Association for Documentary Editing, scholars
need to pay attention to how manuscript sources find their way into print. To do
so, we must understand the lives, contexts, and motivations of editors,
especially documentary editors. As McClure explains:
There is always a second story about a published primary text [... and] it always involves at least one textual scholar or documentary editor (whether or not so–called) [...] As far as the users of the texts are concerned, the second story is often invisible, and its creators [...] are anonymous.
One “second story” of Science and Art is mine. My previously explained objectives in choosing to transcribe, contextualize, and circulate this text to a new generation of readers, along with the priorities of Scholarly Editing’s editors, bring Science and Art to your screen today. Also critical to its appearance there is the twenty-first-century digital revolution, with its cataclysmic renegotiation of the relationships between science and art, machine and human. This renegotiation helpfully democratizes the production and consumption of knowledge and story, yet presents the navigators of the digital world with unprecedented challenges—demanding exploration of the very questions that are central to Science and Art. However, this is not that play’s only “second story.” I could not have read the script had an earlier editorial process not taken place: that of Science and Art’s first editor, James Malcolm Rymer.
What aspects of Malcolm Rymer’s play could have persuaded his son to publish it? What external factors might have made its recovery appealing? The manuscript may have spoken to James Malcolm Rymer on a thematic level. From early adulthood, he evidently found himself torn between vocations in applied science and imaginative art. As I have noted, he was raised by a creative family. Malcolm Rymer wrote literature and produced engravings. Malcolm’s wife, Louisa Rymer (née Dixon), James Malcolm’s mother, worked as a milliner, making hats and accessories. Several of their children were artists, too. James Malcolm Rymer’s brothers Chadwick and Gavin (or Gaven) were visual artists and engravers. Three original engravings signed by Gavin Rymer (1834) reside in the collection of the Guildhall.
Another engraver brother, Thomas, James Malcolm’s junior by two years, achieved considerable artistic fame on two continents. In 1838 he stood trial for forgery at the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court. He was accused of engraving a one-pound banknote to create a fiver—a considerable sum in those days. He was found guilty and transported to Van Diemen’s Land for life. There, and on the Australian mainland, he intermittently practiced engraving and forgery for decades. Repeatedly convicted of using his engraving knowledge to forge banknotes, he essentially dared the authorities to catch and keep him. In 1865, during his final criminal trial, Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle facetiously called him “an artist of great note,” but this was not far from the truth, given his oft-tested ingenuity. Via criminal creativity, Thomas Rymer fit into the artistic, fiction-making family that he would never again see.
Like Malcolm, Chadwick, Gavin, and Thomas Rymer, James Malcolm Rymer initially learned the art and science of engraving. In 1839 he further entrenched himself in the Rymer clan by marrying a paternal cousin, Caroline Huttly, but he was also carving out a new path. He became a civil engineer, and in 1840 registered a patent for engraved furniture castors. Engraving the castors, he argued, would increase their friction, making it harder for the furniture to shift about the floor. In this patent, Rymer demonstrates his knowledge of engraving but distinguishes himself from his father and brothers by fashioning himself an inventor. He devises a new purpose for a traditional artistic process, refusing to let it become obsolete.
Rymer’s patent castor did not take off, but he soon entered a new vocation: literature. In 1842 the twenty-eight-year-old Rymer embraced his father’s calling by founding the Queen’s Magazine. He wrote much of the content himself, under his own name, and under the alias “the Editor” and several less transparent pseudonyms. The second number includes an engraving of him as a man of letters (Figure 2). Provided by the illustrator Thomas Onwhyn, this portrait shows Rymer sitting in a wing chair before a pile of books, including a volume of Shakespeare, and conversing with an ethereal hovering female “Spirit of the Age,” perhaps in homage to William Hazlitt’s 1825 literary caricature series of the same title. In this image, Rymer is a well-read writer and canny editor: a Leigh Hunt type for a new generation of London readers and writers. He also presented himself as an imaginative writer, as the magazine includes his original fiction. Each number features an installment of one of his earliest bloods, Jane Shore, an Historical Romance, credited to him as “the Editor.”
In compiling this periodical, Rymer followed in his father’s footsteps by
championing reform. Although Rymer fils ultimately
achieved literary fame and some degree of financial solvency by supplying
fiction to newspapers priced at one penny, an expense affordable to
working-class readers, the Queen’s Magazine cost a
shilling per number, as its title page advertises. Its textual contents
corroborate that Rymer envisioned it as middle-class aspirational
literature that also reached out to other demographics. The prospectus
identifies it as “A Family Magazine of the Highest Class” and informs
“respectable Advertisers” that it will have
a certain large circulation in a high class of society, quite independent of the popular patronage it is fairly presumed it will receive from a Public, who at no period of English history were so fitted as now to judge of sterling literary pretensions.
In the magazine’s first number, Rymer exhorts his middle-class readers to pursue reform and oppose aristocratic tyranny. In the first installment of Jane Shore, he contends that “with an intelligent and educated people,” the “incessant petty jealousies” and “eternal feuds” of the “nobility [. . .] would [. . .] ensure [. . .] their extinction as a class.” This sort of rhetoric renders the shilling periodical a tool of general political reform, which was needed in the run-up to the May 1842 presentation of the Second Chartist Petition (the “National Petition of the Industrious Classes”) to Parliament. The title of Queen’s Magazine hints that Victoria herself supported the periodical and its agenda, though in fact she has no discernible connection to it.
The Queen’s Magazine also examines the impact of mechanical innovation on existing vocations and industries, which may help to explain why James Malcolm Rymer chose to publish the play in that periodical. As the published prospectus of the Queen’s Magazine states, he intended a regular column on “Useful and Important Inventions.” In the first number, Rymer reports that he “feel[s] much pleasure in commencing this feature of our Miscellany with the admirable invention of Mr. Palmer,” the “Patent Electrotint.” With this technology, which enlisted electricity to transfer images directly to metal plates for printing, “the process of engraving or etching is wholly superseded.” This might be perceived as a threat to the livelihood of engravers, but only if they fail to innovate. Rymer presents the electrotint process as an “[i]nvention which is calculated to confer the greatest benefit upon the Fine Arts.” By embracing new technologies, artists might advance their medium and engravers might avoid obsolescence.
More worrying than Palmer’s Patent Electrotint to the British workers of the
1840s was the automation of vast industries. This fact makes Science and Art’s concern with the displacement of the human worker by
machines as immediate in James Malcolm Rymer’s time as it had been in his
father’s. On March 16, 1839, an editorial in the Chartist newspaper The Northern Star articulated the widely held conviction
that “the progress of machinery has been so rapid, so unchecked, and so
self-protecting [. . .] that those who have been engaged in the pursuit
have, as if by magic, become the monied aristocracy of the country.” On February 21, 1846, the same
newspaper looked back across the 1840s and pronounced that “machinery had
pounced upon us with such an unexpected hop, step, and jump that society was
compelled to submit to such laws as regulations that its owners thought proper
to impose.” The aforementioned
Chartist National Petition, signed by over three million people, explicitly
blamed automation (among other ills) for the workers’ dispossession, condemning
“monopolies of suffrage, of paper money, of machinery, of
land, of the public press . . . all arising from class legislation” (emphasis mine). After the petition’s May 1842 rejection by Parliament, a wave of general
strikes saw workers defend their livelihoods by sabotaging machinery. In June,
Staffordshire coal miners
rak[ed] out the fires of colliery engines and pull[ed] out the plugs from the steam chambers. As boiling water cascaded onto engine-room floors, steam engines were rendered instantly inoperable—a dramatic form of protest but without risk of permanent damage to the plant.
Nor were only collieries affected. Throughout the summer of 1842, strikers “marched from factory to factory, removing the boiler-plugs in order to bring steam engines to a stand,” and vowing to abstain from paid work until the passage of the rejected Charter. In consequence of this strike wave, prominent Chartists were arrested, to the obvious detriment of the movement. These events reveal Science and Art as a timely contribution to a periodical of August 1842.
James Malcolm Rymer might also have chosen to dust off Science and Art when he did on account of the script’s accidental germaneness to another topical controversy of the same summer. To Rymer, Patent might have recalled the inventor Charles Babbage (1791–1871), whose “calculating engines,” the “Difference Engine” and “Analytical Engine,” were then in development. In mid-1842 Babbage publicly faced the greatest challenge of his career, as the government considered whether to renew the funding of his calculating engines project, which they had begun to support financially in 1833. Notably, the engines were known as automata. In a letter of 1823, Home Secretary Robert Peel called the Difference Engine a “scientific automaton.” Therefore, Babbage and Patent invent the same sort of machine. Indeed, while Patent “invents the wheels” and “axes” and the pseudo-automaton Freeman walks as if “full of wheels,” the science popularizer Dionysius Lardner, describing the calculating engines in an Edinburgh Review article that Babbage helped him to prepare, claimed that the “project of a Calculating Engine” aimed to “substitute an automaton for a compositor” and to “throw the powers of wheel-work into thought,” which “could not fail to awaken the attention of the world.” In Babbage’s two major Difference Engine models, writes Allan G. Bromley, originator of the Science Museum’s 1985–91 construction of the first complete, functional Difference Engine, “the digits of numbers are represented by the positions of wheels (figure wheels) rotating on vertical axes.”
Babbage’s utopian dreaming and overtures to the government also distinguish Patent. His plans to make the army, navy, and legal system more efficient by replacing human labor with automata recalls the critic Tamara Ketabgian’s apt 2011 characterization of Babbage as an “technophilia[c]” who “idealizes the machine as an empowering prosthesis for humans.” Babbage’s On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, Ketabgian observes, problematically “bases its guiding principle on the substitution of machinery for human limbs.” We have seen that the sailors stationed at Portsmouth threaten to throw Patent “overboard for a rascal.” No doubt some early 1830s compilers of nautical tables would similarly have eagerly dunked Babbage. Rymer may have expected scientifically literate readers of the Queen’s Magazine to see Babbage in Science and Art. In this context, James Malcolm Rymer’s publication of his father’s work twenty-two years after its composition transforms that work, investing it with new meaning.
Of course, if we choose to read Science and Art’s pompous, bumbling Patent as an accidental doppelgänger of Babbage, the play might appear a shortsighted vision of scientific revolution. Patent stands in stark contrast to Babbage’s most famous literary doubling, in Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit (1857). This novel shows the genius inventor Daniel Doyce vanquished by the bureaucratic idiocy of the government's “Circumlocution Office,” which finds Doyce a “notorious rascal,” “guilty” of being “ingenious” and of “trying to turn his ingenuity to his country’s service,” which “makes him a public offender directly.” However, Babbage may have deserved the Patent treatment. The entire 1840s has long been known as the “Hungry Forties.” As Peter J. Gurney has pointed out, the term was coined only in the early twentieth century. Still, it is apt. Widespread working-class and indigent hunger preceded the Irish Potato Famine (1845–47), and dominated both the nation and the national consciousness throughout the period 1840–49. We cannot “underestimate the political centrality of the debate on hunger” throughout this decade, writes Gurney. Charlotte Boyce adds that it was not only the working–class and radical press that debated hunger in this decade, it was the entire nation. The causes were many: rural to urban migration that obliterated many workers’ and children’s access to homegrown food; the oppressive Poor Law and Corn Laws, the latter the target of the Anti–Corn Law League; a series of crop failures; and of course the three failed potato harvests of the mid-1840s.
The food crisis was impossible to ignore—unless, perhaps, one had designed a wondrous machine and was monomaniacally focused on getting it built. That was Babbage’s public image in many quarters, whether or not it was his reality. In Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer (1982), Babbage’s preeminent modern biographer, Anthony Hyman, claims that “Babbage’s industrial interests and the possibilities of commercial application of his calculating machines were quite unattractive” to Peel. This prime minister (1834–35 and 1841–46) had never liked the idea of a government-funded calculating engine project. His 1823 letter to Croker had derided Babbage as an inhabitant of “Laputa,” the levitating island of impractical mathematicians in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726).
This was a charitable interpretation of Babbage’s political outlook, for he was not a Laputian, but an outspoken political conservative. As Hyman points out, Babbage’s published writings demonstrate that his idea of the “manufacturing class [. . .] included factory workers and factory owners’ collaborating to form a “free market.” His Economy of Manufactures appeared “during the most widespread class struggles in England in the whole of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.” During those struggles, Babbage “insist[ed] that working men should realize that their interests and those of their masters were essentially in harmony.” Unsurprisingly, then, the government only encouraged Babbage’s completion of his engines, to the tune of £17,000 of public money, during relatively conservative periods. The Duke of Wellington proved his champion, but during the Peelite era, Babbage’s political backing vanished. In 1842, when Babbage requested more funding, it may have seemed that, surrounded by his fragmentary wheelwork, he could not see suffering humanity beyond. Neither can Science and Art’s Patent until he learns that the most “perfect machine” in history is the human.
Despite the urgency of this message, Science and Art and the periodical in which it appeared immediately vanished into obscurity. The play was not republished and the Queen’s Magazine folded after its fifth number, the one in which Science and Art had appeared. The critic Louis James (1963) states that the Queen’s Magazine “failed,” which would not have been unusual. Periodicals that were founded and terminated in 1842–43 include the Hackney Journal (1842), Journal of the Working Classes (1842),North of England Magazine (1842–3), and the ethical vegetarian magazine the Healthian (1842–43). It seems as if the Queen’s Magazine did in fact prove unsustainable, as it clearly faced unanticipated financial setbacks. The prospectus announces advertising rates, but the five numbers carry no advertisements, and we may assume that Rymer failed to bring in anticipated advertising revenue. Likewise, his failure to secure reviews of the Queen’s Magazine in any other periodical cannot have helped its circulation.
However, no evidence confirms that Rymer was forced by financial difficulty alone to terminate it. Discontinuation might also have been wise given the suppression of Chartism that immediately followed the strikes and demonstrations of June–August 1842. Alternately, Rymer might simply have decided to shift his available time and energy to a more promising literary venture. By the end of 1843, he was vigorously churning out fiction serials and other compositions for the emerging publishing magnate Edward Lloyd, including his (Rymer’s) first bestseller, the penny blood Ada, the Betrayed. He also edited periodicals for Lloyd and, later, the sometime Chartist G. W. M. Reynolds. It is possible that in 1842, Rymer saw in Lloyd’s publishing firm a better opportunity than the editorship of the Queen’s Magazine provided, and consequently jumped ship. In any case, as Rymer’s debut publication, at least under his own name, the magazine served a vital purpose in his literary development.
After August 1842, in the penny bloods that Rymer produced for Lloyd, he continued to share literary imagery and sociopolitical concerns with his late father, while achieving a measure of success that Malcolm Rymer never enjoyed. In The Lady in Black; or, the Widow and the Wife (1847), when the ghostly heroine, Sarah Whitehead, is first introduced, “[h]er thoughts were far away from the busy, bustling crowd among which she moved, like some automaton that had been made to walk wonderfully well.” Her ambulation recalls that of Young Freeman when he portrays the automaton. Like the machine he pretends to be, Sarah is not a thinking, feeling member of the metropolitan community. She only impersonates one.
Rymer portrays technology producing superfluous commodities and threatening traditional culture in Mazeppa; or, the Wild Horse of the Ukraine (1850). This work departs from its Byronic source by foregrounding a new character, a pompous London inventor reminiscent of Patent. Mr. Peter Lumpus of High Holborn, the self-described “original inventor of the royal patent no-lace-anti-tag stays” and “inflexible cravat” travels through Mazeppa’s exotic Eastern principality to peddle these wares to the rumored nine hundred wives of the Sultan of Turkey. Like Patent, Lumpus is distinguished by great confidence in his questionable inventions and a belief that they will captivate an Oriental market. As in Science and Art, this ideology is held up to ridicule and threatens traditional ways of life. However, Lumpus also repeatedly steps in to rescue the other characters, and invariably succeeds. He makes the traditional hero, Mazeppa, all but effectively redundant, yet also arguably presents British metropolitan innovation in a positive light. He rises to the opportunity to risk his life to save his new friends and, as he often points out, to bring glory to High Holborn.
Rymer’s most enduring penny blood, The String of Pearls
(1846–47, republished in an expanded edition in 1850), speculates upon the
effects of industrialization on society in general and the working population in
particular. We have seen that in Science and Art Patent
is willing to upend society and destroy many people’s livelihoods in the name of
“saving.” When he speaks of technological “improvements” to society, he means
that he will save the elite money. He feels no sympathy for the affected
population. Neither does The String of Pearls’s Sweeney
Todd. He invents a labor- and cost-saving “mechanical
arrangement.” Namely, he
customizes his shop to feature two identical barber’s chairs affixed to a
rotating section of the floor that move through a secret trap door, fatally
dumping victims into the space below. Their bodies are processed by a few
workers at Mrs. Lovett’s “pie manufactory.” This factory is so productive that
the retail part of Mrs. Lovett’s business which took place principally between the hours of twelve and one, was by no means the most important or profitable portion of a concern which was really of immense magnitude, and which brought in a large yearly income.
This great profit is monopolized by the factory owner (Todd), but his operation harms the employees. When they learn that the flesh they have been rendering is human, they go mad. While Patent’s automata threaten to take away British people’s livelihoods, Todd’s factory morally corrupts them, destroys their will to live, and proximately causes their deaths. Thirty years after Malcolm Rymer first wrote his ambivalence about industrialization into Science and Art, his son expressed related concerns in a new story, one that has outlasted their century—just as the debate over the ethics of automation of industry has done.
Like James Malcolm Rymer, twenty-first-century readers might find Science and Art worthy of dissemination to a new generation, one that has seen a technological revolution at least as exciting and troubling as that of the Rymers’ Britain. It is my hope that in 2017 the play will reach not only new reading audiences, but living, breathing, human performers. This development is essential to further scholarly exploration of Science and Art because much that can be learned about any play is more evident in performance than on the page. Consequently, this edition is intended to make the text published in the Queen’s Magazine more easily accessible to scholars and theater practitioners.
In service of these two audiences, my editorial method combines aspects of documentary and critical editing. I began by creating a faithful transcription of Science and Art as published in the UNC copy of the Queen’s Magazine. This transcription preserved the punctuation and formatting idiosyncrasies and the typographical errors of the original. Then, I introduced a few critical features to make the text easily legible, especially to theater practitioners reading it out loud without rehearsal, in what is known as a cold reading. I have emended those typographical errors that interfere with the meaning or smooth oral delivery of the material. In all cases, these emendations are annotated and the original, erroneous text is supplied in note form. Obviously missing words are inserted, marked as such using the “supplied” tag, and distinguished in red font with broken underline.
I have also standardized the playscript format. In the source text’s stage directions and dialogue headers, characters' names are abbreviated and “Freeman” used to indicate only “Young Freeman,” but I have silently emended this for clarity’s sake. While the original includes the isolated word “Scene” at the top of each scene, I omit it, replacing it with a numerical act–scene header. Brief character descriptions are added to the “Dramatis Personae” to enable readers easily to visualize the characters and distinguish them from each other. These new descriptions are presented in square brackets to indicate that they were not part of the source text.
The more discursive footnotes support the critical work of this introduction by relating the play to its nineteenth-century cultural contexts. By reconstructing these contexts, I aim to advance a conceptualization of the nineteenth century that foregrounds discourse on technological innovation and automation of industry, that is not artificially disrupted by period boundaries, and that recognizes the literary achievement of the Rymers of London.
1. “The Triumph of Mechanism,” London Morning Post, July 24, 1820, 1. This article was located by Patrick Feaster, “Prosopographus, the Automaton Artist,” Griffonage-Dot-Com: Patrick Feaster’s Explorations in Historical Media (last modified February 13, 2015). [back]
2. “Prosopographus, the Automaton Artist,” Theatrical Observer and Daily Bills of the Play, 30 September 1825, 2. Feaster presents evidence from advertisements showing that the silhouette artist Charles Hervé invented and sometimes manipulated Prosopographus. See also “Prosopographus, the Automaton Artist” The Examiner 934, no. 87 (1826): 285. H.J. Exeter, “The Camera Lucida,” Mechanics’ Magazine 12 (1830): 335–36 speculates that Prosopographus must have a human operator, who “goes behind” the sitter and “traces the outline of the face [. . .] which is thrown upon the screen by a gas light.” Prosopographus “can only take profiles” because the operator must keep the sitter facing away from the evidence of his deception. [back]
3. Robert Owen, Observations on the Effect of the Manufacturing System, With Hints for the Improvement of Those Parts of it Which are Most Injurious to Health and Morals, 1815 (London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, 1817), 15. [back]
4. These facts about James Malcolm Rymer’s career were pieced together by Louis James, Fiction for the Working Man, 1830–1850: a Study of the Literature Produced for the Working Classes in Early Victorian Urban England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), 36–38; Robert Mack, The Wonderful and Surprising History of Sweeney Todd: The Life and Times of an Urban Legend (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 146–47; Helen R. Smith, New Light on Sweeney Todd, James Malcolm Rymer, Thomas Peckett Prest, and Elizabeth Caroline Grey (London: Jarndyce, 2002); and Dick Collins, ed.,The String of Pearls (Ware: Wordsworth, 2010), vii–ix. [back]
5. “Science and Art,” The Queen’s Magazine 1, no. 5 (August, 1820): 190–207. The volume is continuously paginated. In the source, the title is misspelled “Queens’” on each number’s title page. I have silently emended the error throughout this edition. References to numbers 1 through 5 of this magazine, excepting the no. 1 (April) title page and no. 2 (May), page 76, cite the copy in the Rare Book Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, unless otherwise indicated. Other references cite the Cambridge University Library copy. Citations of Science and Art provide only the page number. [back]
6. Charles Laporte, “Post-Romantic Ideologies: Victorian Poetic Practice, or, the Future of Criticism at the Present Time,” Victorian Poetry 41, no. 4 (2003): 521. [back]
7. Gregory Dart, Metropolitan Art and Literature, 1810–1840: Cockney Adventures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 25. [back]
8. The defaced page is no. 2, 76. The sequence of missing pages encompass no. 4, 163–70. [back]
9. These annotations are mentioned in the Jarndyce catalog entry for the Queen’s Magazine volume now at UNC. See Helen R. Smith, Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers: Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls: Catalogue No. 219 (London: Jarndyce, 2016), item no. 274. [back]
10. Science and Art, 190. [back]
11. Rebecca Nesvet, “The Spaniard and Sweeney Todd,”Notes and Queries n.s. 64, no. 1 (2017): 112–16, proposes that Malcolm Rymer composed The Spaniard; or, the Pride of Birth: A Tale (London: G. Robinson, 1806). Many library catalogs attribute this novel to James Malcolm Rymer, who in 1806 was not yet born. All discussion of The Spaniard cites the inscribed presentation copy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Libraries, Special Collections. The Malcolm Rymer holograph inscriptions I mention appear on the front pastedown and half-title page of this copy. [back]
12. For the James Malcolm Rymer signature that stylistically recalls the attribution, see London Metropolitan Archives, Saint James, Clerkenwell, Register of Marriages, P76/JS1, item no. 043 (1839), 240, in Church of England Parish Registers, 1754–1921, Ancestry.com: Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754–1921 (accessed January 7, 2017). [back]
13. Frédéric Leschot, quoted in Roger Smith, “The Swiss Connection: International Networks in the Eighteenth Century Luxury Trades,” Journal of Design History 17, no. 2 (2004): 132. [back]
14. Clare Le Corbeiller, “James Cox and His Curious Toys,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin n.s. 18, no. 10 (1960): 318–24. While Le Corbeiller recycles the Orientalist stereotype of the “insatiable” Eastern despot, Catherine Pagani, “Eastern Magnificence and European Ingenuity”: Clocks of Late Imperial China (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001), offers a more nuanced, carefully contextualized picture of the role of gift automata during the reign of the Qianlong (“Ch’ien-Lung”) Emperor (r. 1735–96; d. 1799). Pagani (1) introduces the Chinese concept of zimingzhong, or “self-sounding bells,” which encompassed clocks, automata, and other apparently self-acting clockwork devices. As Pagani (18–19, 37, 62–63) explains, in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, Western visitors presented Chinese emperors with zimingzhong as diplomatic gifts, and such objects came to be strongly associated with Europe, to the point of being called xiwu (“Western things”) or qiqi (“strange things”). From the early eighteenth century through at least 1879, the Chinese capital at Peking (Beijing) maintained an Office of Clock Manufacture (Zuozhongchu), but clocks continued to be imported from Europe. The Qianlong Emperor indeed embraced this tradition, collecting various clocks and mechanical animals and people and writing poems in praise of zimingzhong. Pagani’s research makes it clear that far from being an infantile toy collector, the Qianlong Emperor celebrated his diplomatic relations in the form of their ritual objects. [back]
15. Science and Art, 192. [back]
16. Science and Art, 197. [back]
17. Deirdre Dawson, Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714–1837: An Encyclopedia, ed. Gerald Newman (New York: Garland, 1997), 770–71. [back]
18. M. Rymer, The Spaniard, 193. [back]
19. Science and Art, 192. [back]
20. Science and Art, 192. [back]
21. Science and Art, 192. [back]
22. Science and Art, 202. [back]
23. Science and Art, 207. [back]
24. Science and Art, 203. [back]
25. Science and Art, 190. [back]
26. Science and Art, 193. [back]
27. Science and Art, 197. [back]
28. Science and Art, 201. [back]
30. James P. McClure, “The Second Story," Presidential Address, Association for Documentary Editing Annual Meeting, Louisville, Kentucky, 2014, Scholarly Editing 36 (2015). [back]
31. Gavin Rymer, “Peep Show,” “Punch and Judy,” “Guy Fawkes’ Day,” 1834, Guildhall Library and Art Collection. These titles are identical to those of two of the six Scenes in London . . . by G. Rymer (London: Ackermann, 1834), advertised for sale as item no. 649 in the Maggs Brothers’ catalog English Literature of the 19th & 20th Centuries, being a selection of first and early Editions of the works of Esteemed Authors & Book Illustrators 443, no. 1 (1923): 133. [back]
32. See “Trial of Thomas Rymer (t18380514–1173), May 1838,” Old Bailey Proceedings Online, version 7.2 (accessed November 2, 2015). Dick Collins has persuasively identified this convict as James Malcolm Rymer’s brother. See Collins, September 2, 2012, comment on “Thomas Rymer,” British Convict Transportation Register, State Library of Queensland, Australia (accessed August 24, 2015). Public records corroborate Collins’s assertion, as James Malcolm Rymer’s brother and the convicted forger share an occupation (engraver), age, and origin; further, in the 1841 British census, Malcolm’s son Thomas is absent. Thomas Rymer’s individual post-transportation convictions for banknote forgery are too numerous to list. An indicative one is “Multum in Parvo,” Sydney Morning Herald, February 26, 1847, 2. [back]
33. “Forged Notes of the Week,” Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle, November 18, 1865, 3. [back]
34. Collins, The String of Pearls, viii; James Malcolm Rymer, Specification of James Malcolm Rymer: Castors for Furniture, &c., A.D. 1840, No. 8485 (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1857). [back]
35. As Rymer announced in the “Notices to Correspondents” on the verso of the unnumbered June 1842 (no. 3) contents page, he intended to complete Jane Shore “within the twelvemonth, so as to be all in vol. 1.” He did not keep his promise, for the serial was left unfinished when the magazine suddenly folded. Jane Shore was published in complete form by Edward Lloyd in 1846. It is not known when the later chapters were composed. [back]
36. Queen’s Magazine, no. 1 (1842), 7. [back]
37. Queen’s Magazine, no. 1, (1842), 31. [back]
38. Northern Star, March 16, 1839, quoted in Gareth Stedman Jones, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working-Class History, 1832–1982 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 151. Chartism was a national political movement aimed at working-class enfranchisement, primarily through universal male suffrage. It takes its name from the “People’s Charter” (1838), authored primarily by the London Chartist William Lovett, which set forth six “points,” or demands. Repeated attempts to induce Parliament to pass the People’s Charter (in 1839, 1842, and 1848) failed. [back]
39. Northern Star, February 21, 1846, quoted in Lucy Brown, “The Chartists and the Anti–Corn Law League,” in Chartist Studies, ed. Asa Briggs, 1959 (London: Macmillan, 1977), 343. [back]
40. For the number of petition signatories, see Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 205. I quote the petition from Chase, Chartism, 211. [back]
41. Chase, Chartism, 211. [back]
42. G. D. H. Cole and A. W. Filson, British Working Class Movements: Select Documents, 1789–1875 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1965), 396. [back]
43. Robert Peel to John Wilson Croker, March 8, 1823, in The Croker Papers: The Correspondence and Diaries of the Late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, LL.D., F.R.S., Secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, ed. Louis J. Jennings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 262–63. This letter is discussed in Doron Swade, The Cogwheel Brain: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer (London: Little, Brown, 1999), 36. [back]
44. Science and Art, 191–3; Dionysius Lardner, “Babbage’s Calculating Engine,” Edinburgh Review 120 (1834), quoted in Swade, Cogwheel Brain, 85. [back]
45. Allan G. Bromley, “Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, 1838,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 20, no. 4 (1998): 30. [back]
46. Tamara Ketabgian, The Lives of Machines: The Industrial Imaginary in Victorian Literature and Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011), 18. [back]
47. Science and Art, 192. [back]
48. Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit, ed. Peter Sucksmith, 1982 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 133–34. [back]
49. The origin of the phrase “the Hungry Forties” is The Hungry Forties: Life Under the Bread Tax: Descriptive Letters and Other Testimonies from Contemporary Writers, ed. Jane Cobden (London, 1904), as is explained in Peter J. Gurney, “‘Rejoicing in Potatoes’: The Politics of Consumption in England during the ‘Hungry Forties’” Past and Present 203, no. 1 (2009): 100–101. [back]
50. Gurney, “‘Rejoicing in Potatoes,’” 101. [back]
51. Charlotte Boyce, “Representing the ‘Hungry Forties’ in Image and Verse: The Politics of Hunger in Early-Victorian Periodicals,” Victorian Literature and Culture 40 (2012): 423. [back]
52. Anthony Hyman, Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 191. [back]
53. Peel to Croker, Croker Papers, 263. [back]
54. Hyman, Charles Babbage, 85. [back]
55. Hyman, Charles Babbage, 115–6 [back]
56. Hyman, Charles Babbage, 87. [back]
57. James, Fiction for the Working Man, 37. [back]
58. James Malcolm Rymer, The Lady in Black; or, The Widow and the Wife (London: Lloyd, 1847), 1. [back]
59. James Malcolm Rymer, Mazeppa; or, The Wild Horse of the Ukraine (London: Edward Lloyd, 1850), 85. The very loosely adapted source of the Mazeppa mythos is George Gordon, Lord Byron, Mazeppa, A Poem (London: John Murray, 1819). [back]
60. James Malcolm Rymer, The String of Pearls; or, the Barber of Fleet–Street, A Domestic Romance (London: Edward Lloyd, 1850), 616. [back]
61. Rymer, String of Pearls, 65. [back]
62. Rymer, String of Pearls, 58. [back]