Vomiting Lobsters & Other Automata: The Machines of Athanasius Kircher - With the Earliest Published Description of von Guericke's Air Pump - An Exceptional Copy

Schott, Gaspar (1608-1666)

Mechanica Hydraulico-Pneumatica Ad Eminentiss: S.R.I. Principem Joannem Philippum Electorem Mogunt: Auctore. P. Gaspare Schotto. Soc. Jesu.

Wurzburg: Henricus Pigrin for J. G. Sch├Ânwetter, 1657


Quarto: 22 x 18.3 cm. 14 lvs. (lacking half title), 488 pp., [8] lvs.


An exceptional copy in contemporary blind-stamped pigskin over beveled wooden boards, covers framed by multiple foliate rolls, upper cover with coat of arms surmounted by the miter of a bishop or abbot at center, the initials R. W. A. T. stamped in black above the central panel, the date 1663 stamped beneath it, raised bands, original clasps. Title page with partially effaced ink ownership inscription of "Bibliotheca T . . " dated 1663, minor worming to pastedowns. A fine, remarkably fresh copy.

First and Only Edition of Schott's First Work, With Descriptions of Kircher's Machines and the First account of von Guericke's Vacuum Pump. Illustrated with an engraved title page, 46 full-paged engraved plates of instruments, machines and experiments; 13 pages of printed music, and 77 woodcut illustrations of mechanical devices and instruments. The images numbered XXXIX and XL are on one plate.

Originally intended to serve as a guide to the hydraulic and pneumatic instruments in Athanasius Kircher’s Roman museum, in its final form the "Mechanica" also includes descriptions of other instruments, such as water clocks, and musical instruments.

Among the musical instruments are the water organs at the Villa Aldobrandini at Tivoli and in the Quirinal Palace. The latter was constructed by Kircher and Matteo Morione to replace the original by Luca Blasi.

The Quirinal organ still functions. Water is made to enter a long vertical tube, usually with a funnel-shaped opening. In doing so, the water forms a gyre, and sucks air into the tube as well, forming an air-water mixture. At the end of its descent through the tube, the water is separated from the mixture in a special container ("Aeolian chamber"), and may be used to drive a paddle-wheel, as in the case of this organ. The air is allowed to exit via another tube which is connected to the windchest. No bellows are involved - the pressure is regulated by controlling the flow of water into the system.

Schott include examples of the music played by these instruments.

This book also includes Schott’s reports on von Guericke’s vacuum pump, of which von Guericke himself did not publish an account until 1673. It includes a folding plate depicting von Guericke's Magdeburg Experiment. This report was instrumental in stimulating Boyle, Hooke, and Huygens to conduct experiments in air pumps of their own." (Barchas Collection p. 47) 

Schott promises to give his readers detailed instructions on how to make instruments, 

'for garden pleasures, for the utility of houses, for the commodities, and ornaments, particularly of Princes, who derive greater pleasure of their eyes and souls from these things than they might expect profit for their estate. Neither will we be satisfied with delighting only the eyes, we also prepare a feast for the ears, with various self-moving and self-sounding organs and instruments, that we will excite to motion and sound only by the flow of water and the stealthy approach of air, with no less ease than skill.'

"Schott’s association with Kircher had begun in 1630, when he was studying in Würzburg, a city that both Schott and his master had to abandon with the onslaught of the Swedish troops of Gustavus Adolphus in 1631. Schott made for Tournai, and then began a series of wanderings through Sicily, where he completed his studies and taught in a number of Jesuit colleges. Between late 1652 and 1654, Schott was finally reunited with Kircher in Rome for an extraordinarily intense period of activity centered around the recently founded museum, a period that was to fuel his prolific output in the years that followed.

"As well as working as Kircher’s editor, Schott was deeply involved with the machines of the museum. He published his 'Mechanica Hydraulico-Pneumatica'in 1657, shortly after his return to Germany but had composed the book while he was still in Rome with Kircher, as he explains in a "Notice to the Reader", where he excuses himself for often writing as if he was still living in Rome. The work consists in an exhaustive description of the hydraulic and pneumatic machines found in Kircher’s museum. As Schott writes in the preface to the work:

‘There is, in the much-visited Museum of the Most learned and truly famous [Kircher], a great abundance of Hydraulic and Pneumatic Machines, that are beheld and admired with enormous delight by those Princes and literati who rush from all cities and parts of the world to see them, and who hungrily desire to know how they are made. So that I can satisfy their desire to know the construction of the machines, I have undertaken to show the fabric, and almost the anatomy of all of the Machines in the said Museum.’

"The wonders described in Schott’s work give us a vivid picture of how Kircher and his disciples went about satisfying the remarkable thirst for hydraulic and pneumatic curiosities of a Catholic elite on a daily basis. In one instance, Schott describes an incident in which the two Jesuit companions came across the marvelous spectacle of a "water-vomiting seat" in a Roman villa:

‘Lately Father Kircher and I were wandering through the fields of Rome to take the air, and we went into a suburban villa, on the facade of which an elegantly made sciatheric sundial was painted. While we were looking at this curiosity, we were invited by a Noble Frenchman to inspect the building and garden more thoroughly. We entered, and first saw a most delightful pleasure-garden, filled with flowers and fruit, and ornamented with statues of all kinds. We then entered a most elegant house, ornamented with paintings, emblems, epigrams, and epigraphs in Latin, Greek and Arabic, and thoroughly filled with statues and artificious machines, so that even Pope Innocent X, as he was being carried through the same fields with the delight of his soul, entered the same house and garden, and was not reluctant to honor it with his presence. The villa belongs to Jean Laborne, a French Presbyter and Knight of the same Pope. Amongst the other things, by which I was most delighted, was a seat known as hydratic or water-vomiting because of its effect.’

 Vomiting Automata:

If we are to take De Sepibus’s list of machines [in the Musaeum Kircheriana] as a guide, we are forced to conclude that the predominantly German princely audience of the productions of Kircher and Schott had a peculiar fascination with regurgitation. From the two-headed Imperial Eagle belching water copiously from its twin gullets, to the ‘water-vomiting hydraulic machine, at the top of which stands a figure vomiting up various liquids for guests to drink’, not to mention the various birds and snakes ingesting and throwing-up water from goblets, the spectacle of retching, puking, and spewing seems to have been the very epitome of good taste and noble amusement for the visitors to Kircher’s museum. Schott further confirms this impression of an "emetophiliac" Catholic elite. One of the most endearing machines of his Mechanicais a "cancer vomitor" illustrated as a nauseous lobster, bending forlornly over the edge of a goblet in its unhappy state." (From "Athanasius Kircher and the Baroque culture of machines" by Michael John Gorman in "The Great Art of Knowing: The Baroque Encyclopedia of Athanasius Kircher", ed. Daniel Stolzenberg, Stanford: Stanford University Libraries, 2001, pp. 59-70)

STC German S-1246; Norman 1910; Sommervogel VII 940; Baillie, Clocks and Watches ,I p.51; Dibner p.67; Wheeler Gift 142; Eitner IX, 66. Wheeler Gift 142. DSB XII, 210. D├╝nnhaupt 3