From the remotest periods man has felt his way towards measuring that impalpable agent, ceaselesslyprogressing, neverresting time He has measured it by torches of pitch which should burn regularly He has invented the hourglass and the clepsydra, where grains of sand or drops of water falling from one vessel into another indicated its passage He has invented the sun dial What has he not imagined, from the time when, having discovered the mariner's compass in 1303, he perceived and applied the principle of gravity as it exists in the pendulum This was the great advance, the chief step forward which opened the door of discovery to the learned to the mysteries of astronomy By the exact measurement of time some of the greatest natural problems had been solved But that man who would ask of horology nothing more than the indication of the time for his repasts and Ms repose, is profoundly indifferent to its aim and object However, an inventive genius constructed the clock of the cathedral of Strasbourg which indicates a mass of things unrecorded in the almanacs of the period This was regarded with the veneration with which a saint was invested, speaking a dead language unknown to ttie multitude Since that time, mechanical invention has become so general that the clock of Alsace has ceased to be a mystery to all but the learned, the possession of a timekeeper being now common to most of us Something novel was further desired, and this novelty a clockmaker of Beauvais has given us But this is a little history Do you know the cathedral of Beauvais ? The span of its roof leaves a space of full 50 yards This is unfinished, and for 300 years nothing but an ugly wall saluted the eye as a blemish on this colossal monument To cover this defect the chief inhabitants (to the number of 10) met and clubbed together to place there an ornamental clock To accomplish this purpose, money and an horologist were required The clockmaker was at hand, a fellow townsman had just finished a splendid work for Besancon A sum of 1,600 having been collected, the work was begun Twenty workmen, ten of whom are clockmakers, have been at work for four years The accomplishment of this great work leaves far behind all previous attempts in this direction The result is a work composed of 14 different movements consisting of 90000 pieces, weighing over 35,000 pounds, and costing 5,600, or 4,000 more than the sum first collected, but against this excess is to be reckoned a chef d'muvre which future ages may well be debited with The body of the clock is 36 feet high, it is made of sculptured oak in columns, and measures 16 feet in breadth by nearly nine in depth; the whole is finished in the Byzantine style of decoration The figure of the Supreme Being from the summit of the clock, at every hour, by a solemn gesture, calls attention to the saints who are at their alcoves yielding attention to the sounds which accompany the crowing of a fine cock The main dial, there are 50 in all, is occupied by the figure of the Saviour enameled on copper, the largest work in enamel existing; it cost 130 Above their divine Master the 1SJ apostles, also in enamel, figure in a circle artistically expressive of devotion Two hands of steel covered by platinum, move over this dial through twentyfour divisions; it is pierced, as are all the others, and shows the pendulum, weighing nearly one cwt, which renews its impulse from a steel ball weighing a gramme, or about the 32d part of an ounce This impulse is thoroughly the product of mechanical inventiveness, and is, as it were, an allegory exhibiting the submission of brute force to intelligent direction This movement impels the 14 others, and is wound up weekly, being driven by weights in the usual way The other dials indicate : The days of the week The movements of the planetary bodies Sunrise Sunset The seasons The signs of the Zodiac The duration of daylight The duration of night The equation of time The dates The saints' days The months The phases of the moon The age of the moon The time at the principal cities of the world The solstices The movable feasts The age of the world The year of the eentury The bissextile years The longitudes The number of the century This portion of the machinery exaibits no indication more than once in 100 years, but nothing more is required than to wind the machine every eighth day Other dials show further: The tides The eclipses for all the world, both total and partial At the hour when the sun or moon is eclipsed in the heavens, to the minute even, the sun or moon suffers obscuration on the clock To form a correct appreciation of the enormous work and calculation in this great machine, unequaled anywhere, which h as its separate movement from that which shows seconds of time to those which indicat* events occurring not oftener than once in 100 years, it must be remembered that three centuries out of four the last year leaps its bissextile In these years the clock has to leap from February 29, and goes from the 28th to the 1st of March Here is a movement occurring only in 400 years What is left but to admire the inventive genius which has combined in one harmonious whole and subjected to a uniform direction 90,000 separate pieces, all united to measure and indicate the footsteps of time, showing the positions of the smaller and the greater heavenly bodies in both worlds; even those we see nothing of, which exist in the other hemisphere, and of which this clock faithfully records the rising and setting The inhabitants of Beauvais possess a wonder of the world, and we are indebted to them for showing it at the Exhibition of Paris, where its modest inventor explained its operations, and who by a remarkable coincidence bears a name strictly in harmony with his devotion to exact science His name is Verite Mr Steckelburger, of Strasbourg, jealosig for the honor of his native town, protests as follows against the assumption that the Beauvais clock is unequaled: " Mr Mauremont says that the astronomical clock of Strasbourg has no longer any secrets for anybody For a very good reason, indeed ! He is speaking i that which was constructed in 1574 by Isaac Haberecht How could this poor machine have any secrets for any one, since it was taken down 30 years ago, and the various parts placed in the religious establishment of Notre Dame, where it may still be seen But this is not the clock we have to do with ; the present clock dates from 1842 ; it is that constructed by Mr Schwilgue "I could not suppress a smile at the catalogue of indications said to be shown by the Beauvais clock, for our cathedral clock shows all these and some besides It shows all the wonderful things in the almanacs, and all the astronomical calculations possible and perpetual It contains an ecclesiastical computator with all its indications; the golden number, the epacts, dominical letter; solar cycle, etc; a perpetual calendar with the movable feasts, a planetarium on the Copernican system, showing all the mean equinoctial revolutions of every planet visible to the naked eye; the phases of the moon ; the eelipses ; apparent and sidereal time ; a celestial sphere showing the precession of the equinoxes, the solar and lunar questions for the reduction of the mean motion of the sun and moon to true time and place What else I hardly know The Beauvais clock makes a change in every fourth century; a great merit! The precise indication is exhibited here, but ask an astronomer what is meant by the precession of the equinoxes He will tell you it is a movement in the stars describing a complete revolution round the earth in the space of about 25,000 to 26,000 years Well, Sir, in the Strasbourg clock is a sphere following exactly this motion, and whose rotation is of that kind as to ensure one revolution in 25,920 years The thing can be measured and indicated ; it is unnecessary to await its accomplishment: it would be too remote"Mechanics' Magazine
This article was originally published with the title "The Great Clock of Beauvais Cathedral and the Strasbourg Clock"