Monday, December 4, 2017

The Invalid Chair in A Duke in Shining Armor

Monday, December 4, 2017
Mechanical Chair
Loretta reports:

The basics of this post appeared a few years ago, as Merlin's Mechanical Chair. Clearly, the ingenious device stuck in my mind, because it ended up playing an important role in A Duke in Shining Armor.

The trick was figuring out how the thing worked. In the first place, early 19th century prose can be very hard to follow. It tends to be much less direct than our way of writing. In the second place, my brain is easily confused by physics and mechanics. Doubtless it took me a lot longer to learn how to drive this chair than it did the Duke of Ripley, in my book. I will leave it to you to read the instructions and make what sense of them you can.

Meanwhile, let us consider for a moment the commentary that follows the instructions. "Amusement"? Oh, yes, I figured that one out pretty quickly. But the suggestions for running the chair by means of a "very small and portable steam-engine" remind me of the way some people used to imagine us flying around on individual rocket-propelled devices in The Future. Having a 19th C steam engine powering my chair does not strike me as a safer prospect.

And then there's the idea of finding a way "to enable it to carry a small cannon, which should be, both for itself and its operators, completely unassailable by the enemy, as well as, by the singular rapidity of its evolutions, terribly and unusually destructive." Is your hair standing on end? Mine sure is. But let us remember that Great Britain was at war with Napoleon in 1811, and things weren't going so well. At home, people carried on with their lives, but that didn't mean they weren't aware of what was happening on the Continent, or didn't take seriously the possibility of invasion. As it turned out, Napoleon continued to be a danger until June 1815.

By the time of my story (1833), however, that's all in the distant past, and the chair is perfoming its dual functions of serving those with limited mobility as well as providing amusement.
Mechanical chair described

Mechanical chair described

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


KarenAnne said...

I would love an individual rocket propelled device, if it could hover. Imagine how easy it would be to paint your own house, wash windows, rescue cats in trees, etc,

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