"John Joseph MERLIN was born September 17, 1735, at St. Peter's, in the city of Huys, between Namur and Liege [Belgium], five leagues from Maestricht.
After residing six years at Paris, he was recommended from the Royal Academy there, to come over to England with the Spanish Ambassador Extraordinary, Count de Fuentes, who resided in Soho-square.
He arrived in England, May the 24th, 1760. Soon after this he became the first or principal mechanic employed at Cox's Museum in Spring Gardens, which he left in 1773.
He also professed himself a maker of engines, mathematical instruments, and a watch and clock-maker in general.
After leaving Cox, he lived in Little Queen Ann-street, Mary-le-Bone, and there obtained a patent for his Rotisseur, or roasting-screen; and also a second patent for another invention, combining the harpsichord and piano-forte in one, which answered every expectation.
Respecting this invention, we have heard that the opposition that he met with from a number of teachers of music, who refused to recommend his instruments without a bribe, induced him to decline making any more.
After some years he removed from Queen Ann-street to his late residence, No. 11, Princes-street, Hanover-square, when he gave up all thoughts of obtaining patents, but trusted entirely to his own superior ingenuity, and to his exertions in the line of mechanism.
Respecting his abilities in general, we are constrained to confess, that nothing but ocular demonstration can possibly convey any thing like a tolerable idea of his Museum, all his own work.
- Among many, we shall only enumerate a few instances, to detail in our Miscellany, the whole being too numerous; and first, his gouty-chair is certainly a master-piece.
It is easily and readily convertible into a sopha, an easy-chair, &c. &c.; and by the addition of two small iron handles easily put upon the elbow, the patient can run the vehicle any where at pleasure.
He also had a curious dial or regulator, which never required winding up, as that is done only by the door opening.
He had likewise a great number of large and small pieces of mechanism, resembling various things, and a number of many curious musical pieces.
But what surpasses every thing that can be imagined, is two particular figures, yet unfinished, representing women about 15 inches high, one in the attitude of dancing, and the other walking.
They are made in brass, and clock-work, so as to perform almost every motion and inclination of the human body; viz. of the head, the breasts, the neck, the arms, the fingers, the legs, &c. even to the motion of the eye-lids, and the lifting up of the hands and fingers to the face.
The dancing figure is still more astonishing than the walking figure.Besides these, he is possessed of the model of himself, with his carriage in clock-work, which are made of brass, to go and perform every natural motion resembling life peculiar to the man or the horse, being made to run round about an artificial garden.
He has also two different models of what he intended to erect at Paddington, and to give it the name of Merlin's Cave.
These must have been curious in the extreme, had he lived to have executed them. In what he calls his unrivalled mechanical chariot, he was to be seen, for many years past, very frequently riding about Hyde Park and various parts of the town, particularly on Sundays.
In the front of this carriage, something resembling a dial was placed.By a
His general course, unless on particular business, was about eight miles in and out. In his carriage he never had the trouble to open the doors or windows, and even the horse was whipped, if necessary, by his pulling a string to which a whip was attached by a spring.
From this curious carriage and his portrait, we have presented our readers with an exact engraving. To have this carriage painted with various emblematical figures of Merlin, the ancient British Magician, it cost Mr. Merlin last summer the sum of eighty guineas.
He had his favourite horse thirty years, and to prevent any ill usage of this animal after his death, he ordered him to be shot, which was done accordingly. He was not only an extraordinary genius, but amazingly eccentric in his private pursuits.
He had made himself a wheel resembling that of Fortune; and as the Goddess Fortune used to attend at almost all the masquerades, rolling along in the car, which he moved by the motion of his feet, and at the same time distributing his favours, particularly to the ladies.
He was not less fond of representing the character of Cupid at these places of public amusement; and as he at the same time imitated the character of Vulcan, in forging his own darts, for which he had a fire and a forge, and these he likewise very successfully aimed against the fair sex.
He was also in the habit of appearing as a bar-maid in these public places, where he had a bar of his own fitting up, with all the appendages of glasses, &c. &c.
And in fine, was so much esteemed for his inexhaustible ingenuity in these
divertisements, that he was frequently employed by the Prince of Wales, the
Margrave of Anspach, the late Marquis of Rockingham, and several of the
Underneath this chair, as it was always charged with an electrical apparatus,
many have repented of their temerity in coming to consult him as patients,
through the frequent electrical shocks they received, and of which not
having the least conception, they found themselves completely caught in his
The world is thus not only deprived of the abilities of one of the most extraordinary characters, but may also very soon lose the gratification of contemplating the various instances of this great mechanic's ingenuity, unless some patron of the arts should purchase the whole, this ample collection must go to the hammer.
For ingenuity and workmanship, we can take upon ourselves to affirm, that a parallel collection is not to be found in the United Kingdom. Having died a single man, he has left his property to two brothers and a sister, who are abroad.
His fortune was but small, owing to his great expenditure during his life, inaking experiments in mechanism.
Our limits not being sufficient to admit a description of every article which he has represented in machinery, &c., we have only to notice, that they are enumerated in a catalogue, which is distributed at his Museum near Hanover-square.
We conclude the life of this extraordinary genius, with a poetical sketch of the contents of his most scientific collection. [...][...]" Kirby's Wonderful and Eccentric Museum; Or, Magazine of Remarkable ..., 1820, p. 274-279
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