The Phonograph as Toastmaster (October 5, 1888)

The latest round of additions to the National Recording Registry for 2016 has recently been announced, and if you’d like to celebrate the occasion with a toast or two, some of the newly inducted recordings might just be able to guide you through the process.  I’m thinking here of the first item on the list, the “1888 London cylinder recordings of Col. George Gouraud,” a collection that includes the audible remains of an impressively interactive phonographic event carried out over a century and a quarter ago.  Today, with a little creativity and adaptation, the same recordings could be made to coordinate the ultimate steampunk drinking game, for which I’ll give instructions at the end of my article.

George Edward Gouraud (1842-1912)—whose title of Colonel dated from his service during the American Civil War—was Thomas Edison’s resident agent in London.  He had named his home there “Little Menlo” in reference to Edison’s own laboratory and home in Menlo Park, New Jersey, although Edison had just relocated to West Orange in 1887, rendering Gouraud’s tribute slightly obsolete.  Little Menlo, which was reportedly brimming with both technological gadgetry and Civil War relics, had undergone some renovations and additions earlier in 1888, and it was to be the site of many of the first concerts and recording sessions to use Edison’s cylinder phonograph in England.

A few years ago, I wrote that some of the cylinders recorded under Gouraud’s auspices

have attracted interest as specimens of the speech of famous individuals, notably Sir Arthur Sullivan and William Gladstone. Gouraud had announced his intention of compiling a “‘Phonogramic Album’ of the voices of the great of all nations; to include alike, some day, the voices of the living and the dead,” and latter-day commentators have usually framed his spoken-word recordings in terms of that project, as fruits of an effort to document historic voices for posterity. At the time of their making, however, these recordings were anchored to novel social events designed to impress the merits of the phonograph upon contemporaneous audiences, and this aspect of their significance has not received due attention. While it is often noted that Sullivan spoke his recorded lament “that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever” during a dinner party at Gouraud’s home on 5 October 1888, for example, the innovative way in which this event incorporated phonography is generally overlooked: pre-recorded speeches were played to coordinate live after-dinner toasts, after which Sullivan and other prominent guests conveyed messages to Edison via phonograph in response to a final toast to the inventor’s health….  The focus of the event, then, was not the mediation of voices into the distant future, but the viability of introducing phonographic talk into all levels of contemporary social life.  (Patrick Feaster, “Phonographic Etiquette; or, ‘The Spirit First Moves Mister Knowles,’ Victorian Review 38.2 (Fall 2012): 18-23, at 18-19, online here and here; emphasis added).

One reason why the structure underlying the event of October 5, 1888, may have escaped notice is that the original sequence of the cylinders hasn’t been maintained in modern-day presentations.  The cylinders preserved today at Thomas Edison National Historical Park can be identified by the numbered pegs they occupy in box E-2439.  Since 2004, they’ve typically been presented in the order 11, 16, 8, 7, 18, 14, 13, 17, whether in whole or in part (see e.g., here, here, here, and here).  That sequence isn’t arbitrary; it represents a solid effort to place introductory material first and to link beginnings and ends of cylinders that refer to the same people.  However, it ends up intermixing the two successive parts of the event: namely, the prerecorded toasts and the messages recorded to Edison afterwards.  Meanwhile, a contemporaneous seven-page typescript of the cylinders in the Edison Papers provides further evidence about the original sequence.  It too can be somewhat confusing at first glance, since the pages are shuffled out of order, but fortunately there are some numbered headings (e.g., “Gram No. 2”), and some of the cylinders also span page breaks, while some of the pages span breaks between cylinders.  By comparing the cylinders and typescript, we can thus reconstruct the sequence of the cylinders pretty definitively as 11, 14, 13, x, 17, 16, 8, 7, 18 (where x represents a missing cylinder), and the sequence of pages in the typescript as 1, 5, 6, 7, 2, 3, 4, numbered according to current order.

I suspect many people would assume the final three cylinders are the highlight of the group, since they’re the ones that actually document the voices of Gouraud’s famous guests, with Arthur Sullivan among them.  But I would argue that the prerecorded part of the program is equally significant, if not more so.  The heading at the beginning of the typescript reads: “The Phonograph’s first appearance in the ‘role’ of Toast-master and Speech-maker.”  As this heading suggests, the six prerecorded cylinders—of which five are still available for listening—contain recorded speech that was intended not for passive listening, but to coordinate a complex, interactive social event.  This was an ambitious experiment in what I call performative fidelity:

In the context of phonography, I will define performative fidelity as the extent to which the socially situated playback of an indexically recorded action is accepted as doing whatever the original would have done in the same context.  So, for instance, while audio fidelity would pertain to the technically accurate reproduction of the sound of the words “I hereby place you under arrest,” performative fidelity might instead pertain to the use of the playback for making an arrest in lieu of a live declaration by a police officer.  Granted, it might be difficult to imagine a plausible set of circumstances under which such an arrest could occur, but it’s easy to find familiar and widely accepted cases of the same principle in action: consider the prerecorded utterances “mind the gap” as heard on train platforms and “please place the item in the bag” as heard in self-service checkout lanes, both of which function in practice as real directives. (Patrick Feaster, “‘Rise and Obey the Command’: Performative Fidelity and the Exercise of Phonographic Power,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 24.3 (September 2012): 357-395, at 358, online here).

Granted, there had already been some noteworthy episodes of performative fidelity before October 1888, as I describe in the article just cited: for example, listeners to a tinfoil phonograph exhibition ten years before had remained standing for a playback of “God Save the Queen.”  But to the best of my knowledge, Gouraud’s dinner of October 5, 1888, marked the first time anyone had ever tried to control the behavior of a group of people so intensively for such a long period of time using prerecorded speech.  The fundamental question here was whether people could be made to respond to prerecorded instructions and speeches as they would have responded to the “real thing.”  And an important practical corollary to that question was how to go about recording a set of talks ahead of time so that they could later sustain an extended interactive event of the desired type.

Two key speaking roles that were ordinarily performed live were carried out in mediatized fashion through the phonograph.  One of these was Gouraud’s own speaking role as host of the dinner: all the speeches he would customarily have been expected to make in person had instead been recorded beforehand for playback at the correct moments.  The other role—that of toastmaster—was similarly voiced ahead of time by Alexander Meyrick Broadley, a.k.a. “Broadley Pasha” (1847-1916).   Broadley was a lawyer, author, and socialite who had a close personal association with two of Gouraud’s other dinner guests: he was a financial advisor to Augustus Henry Glossop Harris, a.k.a. “Druriolanus” (1852-1896), manager of the Drury Lane Theatre since 1879, and he edited the society newspaper The World on behalf of the journalist, author, and dramatist Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-1894).  Years later, an unsympathetic commentator wrote that Broadley had used his connection with Yates “to worm himself into society as a recorder of its doings, and all sorts of people attended his really most artistic musicals at his house in the Regents park district.”  Given his behind-the-scenes role as phonographic toastmaster of Gouraud’s dinner, I suspect he may also have helped to organize it and draw up the guest list.  Broadley was also a prominent member of London’s gay community; having previously fled India in 1872 to avoid arrest for homosexual acts, he had to leave England in turn in 1889 after being swept up in the Cleveland Street Scandal.  Gouraud’s other dinner guests were Henry Cecil Raikes (1838-1891), Postmaster General (since 1886) and Member of Parliament for Cambridge University (since 1882); Joseph Charles Parkinson (1833-1908), an author and journalist who had accompanied the Atlantic Cable expedition as a special correspondent in 1866; and Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900), the composer half of the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership.

It’s unclear how far ahead of time Gouraud, Broadley, and the cheering section prepared the prerecorded parts of the program.  Maybe they had recorded their parts earlier in the day, or maybe they excused themselves for several minutes while the dinner itself was winding down.  As nearly as I can make out, however, the intended pattern of the after-dinner toasts seems to have gone something like this:

  • Broadley (through the phonograph) would call for silence, and the guests would accordingly fall silent.
  • Gouraud (through the phonograph) would introduce a toast to something like “literature” or “music,” associating it with one of his guests who would shortly be expected to “answer.”
  • Broadley (through the phonograph) would formally announce the toast and ask everyone present to fill their glasses, the expression “bumpers” meaning “to the brim.”  The guests would fill their glasses and drink the toast.
  • Meanwhile, a group of people (through the phonograph) would begin cheering the health of the named guest, probably prompting the other guests to join in.
  • The phonograph would be stopped to give the designated guest time to speak.
  • This whole sequence would then be repeated for another toast.

But this pattern wasn’t followed uniformly, and the variations we encounter from toast to toast are part of what make this group of cylinders so interesting as a media-historical source: we can hear Gouraud and Broadley struggling in real time with daunting communicative challenges they were among the first people in the world ever to have faced.  Let’s now work our way through the whole event, piece by piece, and see if we can make sense of its details.  I’ve provided a transcription below with audio and links to the pages of the typescripts both inserted in the appropriate places.  Underlining in the transcription indicates heightened uncertainty about wording.  The audio comes from a set of CD-Rs I bought from Mike Loughlin years ago based on transfers he had obtained from the Edison site, made in 1995 and described here; I’ve normalized the files, trimmed the beginnings and ends, and removed repeats, but haven’t made any other alterations.  By measuring the time between repeating clicks, we can establish the speed of the transfers as approximately 123.5 rpm (although the transfer notes indicate 120 rpm).  This speed sounds about right for the prerecorded part of the program, but it’s too fast for the follow-up messages to Edison, which must have been recorded at a slower speed.  That said, I haven’t adjusted the speed here because the change in speed is itself a significant data point, and I don’t want to conceal it.  We begin with the descriptive text at the beginning of the typescript:

[Page 1 (TAED D8850ADW image 1, TAEM 124:793)]

The Phonograph’s first appearance in the “role” of Toast-master and Speech-maker.

At a dinner given by Colonel Gouraud at his residence Little-Menlo, Beulah Hills, Upper Norwood, England, on the evening of October fifth, 1888, his guests being Her Majesty’s Postmaster General, Mr Cecil Raikes, Sir Arthur Sullivan, Mr Edmund Yates, Mr A. M. Broadley, Mr J. C. Parkinson, The Emperor Augustus Harris, “Drureolanus” and Acting Grand Chamberlain, Mr. H. de C. Hamilton.

The Phonograph standing upon a table behind the Host gave forth aloud the following toasts and speeches with perfect distinctness and fidelity to nature especially as regards the tones and mannerisms of the professional British Toastmaster, as to so paralyize [sic] the company that the electrical energy of a Schanschieff primary battery had to be applied to the guests to restore their mental and physical equilibrium.

Commentary:  Hugh de Coursey Hamilton was the resident technical expert in the use of the phonograph, so the role of “acting grand chamberlain” presumably consisted of operating the machine.  The report given at the start of the typescript appears somewhat ambivalent if we interpret it in terms of performative fidelity.  The phonograph had apparently done well when it came to audio fidelity: Broadley’s “tones and mannerisms” were given forth “with perfect distinctness and fidelity to nature.”  But if the result of this had been to “paralyze” the company, such that they had to be jolted back into “equilibrium” by a shock from a Schanschieff Battery, that suggests that the prerecorded instructions might not have had the intended effect.  After all, the company weren’t supposed to be paralyzed; they were supposed to drink toasts and give live speeches in response to them.

18881005-1.mp3  First cylinder, E-2439 peg #11, labeled “After dinner toast at Little Menlo”

Broadley: [very quiet] My Lords and Gentlemen.  [louder] My Lords and Gentlemen, pray silence for our host, Colonel Gouraud!

Gouraud: [Clears throat.]  My Lords and Gentlemen, I confess to some embarrassment upon this occasion [clears throat] speaking as I do for the first time in public, and in the presence of so distinguished a company.  [Clears throat.]  I feel greatly honored by your presence here tonight.  A company distinctly representative in its character. Her Majesty’s Postmaster General, Mr. Cecil Raikes is here to speak not only for politics in its highest sense, but for that great department over which he so worthily presides, and to whose administrative abil— ability we confidently look for the means of sending innocent phonograms from point to point throughout the world without their being opened en route or being otherwise tampered with by over-inquisitive officials.  There is in the association with the name of the Postmaster General the name of Mr. Edmund Yates, a peculiar fitness, he having served with distinction for no less than a quarter of a century in the same important department of the public service.  In welcoming Mr. Yates at Little Menlo, my English home, for the first time, I feel that I am meeting an old friend, for it was my pleasure and my honor to be one of that vast army of Americans who welcomed him in America now some twenty years ago.  Nobody can better answer than Mr. Yates for literature, and who better could answer for music than that distinguished composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, and to whom the phonograph takes this earliest opportunity of expressing its delight at the great success achieved but a few nights since by that distinguished composer’s latest production,  [Page 2 (TAED D8850ADW5 image 2, TAEM 124:797)] The Yeomen of the Guard.  Mr.  J. C. Parkinson’s interest of many years since and his identification with the Atlantic cable make a fit beginning to so appropriate and interesting, and insofar as we have gone, as is presented by this latest achievement in connection with electricity [phonogram ends on hung groove].

Commentary: The Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Yeomen of the Guard had premiered on October 3, 1888, just two nights before.  It’s unclear to me where Gouraud is headed in his final sentence, and the hung groove certainly doesn’t help our comprehension.   The typescript concludes with “in so far as we have gone,” with those words struck out by hand and the phrase “an event as the present” substituted.  Could there have been some additional technical glitch here, either during recording or transfer?

18881005-2.mp3  Second cylinder, E-2439, peg #14, labeled “After dinner toast at Little Menlo,” headed “Gram No. 2” in the typescript.

I must apologize to Mr. Parkinson for leaving him so long in connection and will now release him from his embarrassment by passing on to Mr. Gus— Augustus Harris, more popularly known as Augustus Druriolanus.  I— I confess that I had supposed that Mr Augustus Druriolanus thought that there remained to him no more worlds to conquer, but there can be no doubt that he has— in the launching of the Armada he has eclipsed all of his previous most brilliant efforts.  He has my most sincere congratulations, but his triumph will not be complete unless the good ship Armada finally drops her anchor in American waters.  Passing from the Drama we find ourselves where we always do in time, vis-à-vis with the law.  In our friend Mr. Broadley, we have a distinguished representative whose achievements I have not forgotten in connection with that most interesting event known in history as the defense of Arabi Pasha.  I beg his Pasha’s pardon, I should have said Arabi Pasha.  Our congratulations to Mr. Broadley would be incomplete if we were not to mention his more recent victory in the case of Ismael Pasha, which I hope has been as satisfactory to his pocket as I hear it has been to his clients.  Mr. Broadley has added to my personal obligations to him in consenting to act tonight as toastmaster, in which role he has again for the third time distinguished himself, to say nothing of the distinguished— the distinction he has thus conferred upon the phonograph in giving to it an entirely original and most useful role amongst its many.

Broadley:  My Lords and Gentlemen, pray silence for Her Majesty’s Postmaster General, Cecil Raikes, Esquire, Member of Parliament!  Charge your glasses, gentlemen!  Bumpers, if you please!

[Cheers for Cecil Raikes.]

Commentary: Gouraud apologizes for leaving Parkinson “so long in connection” during the transition between cylinders; this phrase might come from telegraphy or telephony, referring to keeping someone waiting on the other end of a line.  A spectacular drama called The Armada: A Romance of 1588 had just opened at the Drury Lane Theatre on September 22 (see here).  Broadley was well-known at this time for his legal defense of Ahmed ‘Urabi against a charge of rebellion in Egypt in 1882.  ‘Urabi’s name was typically given in English sources as “Arabi Pasha”; Gouraud corrects his initial Anglicized pronunciation of this with an attempt at something closer to the Arabic.  “Ismail Pasha” was the ex-Khedive of Egypt whom Broadley had returned to England a few years previously to represent as legal advisor and agent.  Over the course of the first two cylinders, Gouraud sets forth his entire intended sequence of toasts and respondents, as follows:

  • Cecil Raikes: Politics
  • Edmund Yates: Literature
  • Arthur Sullivan: Music
  • J. C. Parkinson (no topic)
  • Augustus Harris: Drama
  • A. M. Broadley: Law

Broadley then calls for silence on behalf of Cecil Raikes, who has been designated to answer for the first toast, and asks the guests to charge their glasses, followed by cheering.  I think this might have been a mistake, judging from the other cases that were to follow.  In three out of the next four toasts, Broadley (1) called for silence, (2) waited for Gouraud to introduce the toast, and then (3) formally announced the toast and ordered the guests to charge their glasses for it, followed by cheering while the toast was being drunk.  Here he seems to have skipped (2) while conflating (1) and (3) in a self-contradictory manner: he calls for silence but simultaneously instigates a toast accompanied by loud cheering.  Did he get confused this first time around by the novelty of the situation and mix up his lines?  If so, the guests might have gone ahead and drunk Raikes’s health anyway, but Gouraud would have lost his usual opportunity to provide a further introduction.  Raikes would then have had time to speak while the second cylinder was being taken off the phonograph and replaced with the third.

18881005-3.mp3  Third cylinder, E-2439 peg #13, labeled “After dinner toast at Little Menlo,” headed “Gram No. 3” in the typescript.  [Page 3 (TAED D8850ADW5 image 3, TAEM 124:798).]

Broadley:  Silence, gentlemen!  Silence, if you please!  Mister Edmund Yates!

Gouraud: My Lords and Gentlemen, being myself a complete failure as an after-dinner speaker, I, better than anyone else can appreciate the treat which you are about to enjoy in listening to the eloquence of one of England’s most famous after-dinner speakers, Mr. Edmund Yates, upon whom the phonograph now calls to speak in response to the toast to Literature which I now ask you to drink.

Broadley: Gentlemen, the toast is Literature, coupled with the name of Mister Edmund Yates!  Charge your glasses, gentlemen!  Bumpers, if you please!

[Cheers for Edmund Yates.]

Broadley:  Gentlemen, pray silence for our host, who will now submit another toast to your consideration.

Gouraud:  Gentlemen, the next toast is Music, and with what name could be more appropriately coupled
that toast than with the name of Sir Arthur Sullivan.  As a lover of music myself, and with a room dedicated to the muse, I may be permitted to say, and on this occasion it is my peculiar happiness to say, that at Little Menlo where we hear much music there is no music we hear so often or with more pleasure than that which comes from him.

Broadley:  Gentlemen, charge your glasses if you please!  The toast is Music, coupled with the name of Sir Arthur Sullivan, Doctor of Law!

[Cheers for Arthur Sullivan.]

Commentary: Broadley again calls for silence and then shouts: “Edmund Yates!”  He may still have been getting his bearings at this point, since the plan doesn’t seem to have been for Yates to speak quite yet; instead, Gouraud follows up with a further introduction of Yates and the upcoming toast.  Only then does Broadley formally introduce the toast and instruct the guests to charge their glasses in preparation for it, followed by cheering that was presumably meant to coincide with drinking.  The machine must have been stopped in playback to give Yates time to speak.  We then find the same pattern repeated a second time on the same cylinder for Arthur Sullivan, except that this time Broadley begins by calling for silence “for our host.”  My impression is that we’re listening to Gouraud and Broadley negotiate a division of labor between themselves through an awkward process of trial and error.  By the time they’ve wrapped up Sullivan’s toast, however, they finally seem to have hit upon a solid formula.

Fourth cylinder (missing), headed “Gram No. 4” in in the typescript.

Broadley: Pray silence for our host, who will submit to you another toast.

Gouraud: As writer, financier, Freemason and author, to say nothing of being bon camarade, Mr. Parkinson is so well known to all of us and so old a friend to many of us that the mere mention of his name is sure to secure for him the interest and attention which he always commands, even when addressing an assembly of bards in that beautiful and poetic language, the Welsh.  The Phonograph salutes you, Mr. Parkinson, in the sacred name of the bard of Avon.

[Cheers for J. C. Parkinson:] Mr. Parkinson, your very good health.  Joe Parkinson, Joe Parkinson, your very good health.  Hip hip Hurrah, hip hip hip hurrah, one cheer more.  Hip hip hip hurrah.

Broadley: Silence, gentlemen, if you please!  Silence for our host, Colonel Gouraud!

Gouraud: Gentlemen, in coming to our last toast, while it is the last, it must not be considered the least.  Our interest in the subject of this toast, Mr. Augustus Druriolanus, is only to be measured by the proportions of that noble structure from which he takes his title.  Long life and success to the Emperor Druriolanus, upon whom I call to answer for the Drama, of which he is so distinguished a chieftain.

Broadley: Gentlemen, the toast is the Drama, [Page 4 (TAED D8850ADW5 image 4, TAEM 124:799)] coupled with the health of Mr. Augustus Harris.  Bumpers, if you please.

[Cheers for Augustus Harris:] Hip hip hip hurrah, Mr. Harris, your very good health.  Your good health.  Hurrah, your very good health.  Long life to Druriolanus.  “Clapping” and “cheers.”   [Handwritten: “Encore.”]

Commentary: Since audio isn’t available for this segment, I’ve followed the typescript pretty closely except at two points: one illegible portion should presumably read “bard of Avon,” meaning Shakespeare (see here), and the name originally transcribed as “Geo” must actually have been “Joe” for Joseph Charles Parkinson.  Gouraud and Broadley twice repeat the same formula here which they had used for Sullivan, except that Broadley doesn’t formally introduce a toast for Parkinson, even though he calls for silence for “another toast”; instead, Gouraud’s introduction leads straight into cheering for his health.  It’s possible that Broadley spoke something on the cylinder that was omitted from the transcription for some reason, but Parkinson’s case is peculiar on other counts as well.  Every other guest was explicitly linked with a particular toasting subject: politics, literature, music, drama, law.  Parkinson wasn’t, and with no topic for him to “answer” for, it’s unclear what form a toast could even have taken.  As we’ll see, he was also treated unequally when it came time for the guests to speak their messages into the phonograph for Edison.  It’s true that he seems to have been the least famous of Gouraud’s guests, as evidenced by the fact that he’s the only one who doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, but it’s hard to imagine him being deemed unworthy of a toast on those grounds.  Had he shown up unexpectedly?  Was he morally opposed to drinking toasts?  The Welsh allusion probably refers to a well-received speech Parkinson had given on “Celtic genius” at the National Eisteddfod in Aberdare in 1885; this seems to have been given in English but later to have been translated into Welsh.

18881005-5.mp3  Fifth cylinder E-2439 peg #17, labeled “After dinner speech at Little Menlo,” headed “Gram No. 5” in the typescript.

Broadley: [mangled opening of phonogram reconstructed from typescript as follows:] Gentlemen, it is the proud privilege of the toastmaster to bring these festivities to a conclusion by proposing a toast which I am perfectly sure will be drunk with the greatest enthusiasm by everyone who is present this evening. [Intact segment of phonogram:] It is the health of our host, Colonel Gouraud.  It has been my privilege during the past three or four years to see a certain number of celebrities at home, and I think you will agree with me that there are very few of these celebrities who can claim surroundings as interesting as those which we see at Little Menlo.  We have today assisted at an entertainment which is unique, and you have heard the wonderful operations of the instrument which might with great advantage be em— (?) employed in some of our public meetings.  If the day ever does come when a certain number of speeches can be superseded by the action of the phonograph, I think that Colonel Gouraud and Mr. Edison will have put the public at large very considerably in their debt.  As it is, it now only remains for me to ask you to show by the manner in which you receive this toast your appreciation of the kindly welcome which has been accorded to all of you in the English home of American science, in a home which by the beauty of its scenery recalls to [apparent mistracking] Mr. Edison and to Colonel Gouraud some, uh, of the picturesque features which surround the, uh, locality in America where this great invention was perfected.  Gentlemen, fill your glasses for the last time, I say, bumpers if you please.  For the last time, I call on you through the phonograph to drink the health of its pioneer in this country, our kind and genial host Colonel George Gouraud!

[Cheers for George Gouraud.]

Commentary: According to the sequence of toasts and respondents which Gouraud had laid out in the first two cylinders, the final toast should have been to law, with a response from Broadley.  In the spirit of the occasion, Broadley’s reponse would presumably have been prerecorded.  However, the toast to law has actually been skipped altogether.  Instead, Broadley’s final act as toastmaster is to propose a toast to Gouraud.  This is the lengthiest and most elaborate introduction of a toast in the whole set, spanning an entire cylinder.  It’s hard to tell whether Gouraud participated in the prerecorded cheers at the end in his honor, but regardless of whether he did or didn’t, these must have put him in a curious position while the recording was being made.

18881005-6.mp3  Sixth cylinder, E-2439 peg #16, labeled “After dinner speech – Col. Gouraud – loud.”  [Page 5 (TAED D8850ADW image 2, TAEM 124:794)]

Gouraud: [Mangled opening, reconstructed from typescript:] Mr. Toastmaster [clears throat] and gentlemen, [Intact segment of phonogram:] I thank you very sincerely for the cordial manner in which you have received the toast just proposed, and for the very kindly expressions with which it was accompanied by its proposer, but I confess that in my reply I am thinking rather of another than of myself.  I am thinking of him, that great genius in whose real honor we have met here to night, and of whom I am but a feeble shadow in Europe.  I am but expressing aloud what I feel must be in the mind of each of you when I say how much I regret that he cannot be here in the flesh as well as he is in the spirit and, as you will presently see, in the voice.  I thank you in the name of Mr Edison first, and then for myself, and in conclusion I would say that I sincerely trust that this will be but the beginning of many more interesting meetings under similar interesting circumstances, and with your permission I should like to take this occasion to express my thanks to Mr. Hamilton and his assistants for their able cooperation in the preparation of the interesting matter with which we have been entertained and are yet to be.  I will now only ask you to drink to the health of Edison, standing, bumpers and cheers.  Those cheers, and any kind words you might like to say to Mr. Edison in response to this toast, will be recorded on another instrument in the adjoining room and will be sent to America through the kind agency of Her Majesty’s [phonogram ends on hung groove, but this was probably a reference to the postal system]

Commentary: Gouraud has recorded his “answer” to Broadley’s final toast in advance.  In it, he proposes a toast to Edison in turn, possibly ratcheting things up a notch in the process: not only is this to be a “bumper toast,” with glasses filled to the brim, but it’s also to be drunk while standing.  The other toasts may have been drunk standing too, but that hadn’t been specified, and it would have constituted a token of heightened respect and admiration, much like the difference between ordinary applause and a standing ovation.  Another difference is the lack of prerecorded cheers; Gouraud is instead proposing to record the cheers of the group in Edison’s honor and send them across the Atlantic.  Following the pattern set by the rest of the event, Edison himself should then theoretically have replied to Gouraud’s toast.  In fact, he probably was made to “speak” after a fashion, since Gouraud informs his guests that they would “presently” see that Edison was present “in the voice.”  This was probably an allusion to the inventor’s “first phonogram” to Gouraud, a scripted spoken message from June 16, 1888, which Gouraud played repeatedly for other distinguished visitors and would surely have brought out on this occasion as well.

18881005-7.mp3  Seventh cylinder, Box E-2439 peg #8, labeled “Mr. Raikes, Postmaster General to Mr. Edison.”  [Page 6 (TAED D8850ADW1, TAEM 124:795)]

Gouraud: Little Menlo, October the fifth, eighteen hundred and eighty eight.  Phonogram, Gouraud to Edison.  Dear Edison, I propose to conclude a most interesting and agreeable evening, so far as I am concerned, by introducing to you a few friends who have honored me this evening by their presence here.  Each of them has expressed a desire to say a few words to you, and I am sure you will be glad to hear their voices, as I am glad to be the medium of communicating them to you—need I say—through your marvelous phonograph.  First, the Right Honourable Cecil Raikes, Her Majesty’s Postmaster General.  Now listen to Mister Raikes’ voice.

Raikes:  We thank you for a most interesting and delightful evening.  We feel that you are indeed become the inventor of a new magic.  [Clears throat.]  We regard this invention as destined almost to revolutionize the means of human communication, and we wish you all success in promoting a discovery which cannot fail to have the most beneficial results for the whole community of nations.  Cecil Raikes, Her Majesty’s Postmaster General.

Gouraud:  I next have the pleasure of introducing to you a name that is as familiar to you and all of our countrymen as it is, I am happy to say, to myself and my family: Mister Edmund Yates.

Yates:  This is the record of a most marvelous dinner transmitted to you by your most marvelous invention.  If I lack words to describe the dinner, it is because I am so enrapt and so enchanted by your invention that I find myself much more stupid than I ought to be after the grand excitement of our friend’s meats and wine.  Edmund Yates, not Her Majesty’s Postmaster General, but one who was a poor clerk under Her Majesty’s Postmaster General for five and twenty years.

Gouraud: We will now pass on to the next phonogram, which will begin with a record that I am sure you will receive with infinite delight.  Knowing your love for music, I need only say that the record will be the voice of the great composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose music is as well known in America as it is in England and as well loved by those who know it.

Commentary:  Note the change in speed.  If Gouraud recorded the cheers of the group in response to his toast to Edison as he’d said he would, we don’t get to hear it.  Perhaps things hadn’t gone quite as he’d planned, and his guests had gone ahead and drunk the toast before Gouraud could shepherd them into the adjacent room with the other phonograph in it.  In any case, he ends up opening this phonogram using the same formula he had adopted for his other spoken letters to Edison: place, date, identifier “phonogram, Gouraud to Edison,” salutation.  It’s worth bearing in mind that, if we take the many “bumper toasts” literally, Gouraud’s guests should each have drained a minimum of six full glasses of whatever it is they were drinking—Yates and Sullivan mention wine—by the time they were invited to speak their messages into the phonograph for Edison.  To refresh your memory, here are the six toasts:

  • Politics / Cecil Raikes
  • Literature / Edmund Yates
  • Music / Arthur Sullivan
  • Drama / Augustus Harris
  • George Gouraud
  • Thomas Edison

This might help explain why Yates found himself “much more stupid” than he ought to be.

18881005-8.mp3  Eighth cylinder, Box E-2439 peg #7, labeled “After dinner toast at Little Menlo,” headed “Gram No. ” in typescript, with a blank space left for the number.

Gouraud: Little Menlo, October fifth, eighteen eighty eight, from Gouraud to Edison, Continuation of introduction of friends.  Now listen to the voice of Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Sullivan: Dear Mister Edison, if my friend, Edmund Yates, has been a little [Page 7 (TAED D8850ADW4 image 2, TAEM 124:796)] incoherent, it is in consequence of the excellent dinner and good wines that he has drunk, therefore I beg you will excuse him.  He has his lucid intervals.  For myself, I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the results of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record for ever, but all the same I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery.  Arthur Sullivan.

Gouraud:  My next introduction is Mister Broadley, well-known English barrister, whose name will always be remembered by his distinguished defense of Arabi Pasha.  Now listen to his voice.

Broadley:  It would be difficult for me to convey to Mister Edison— [cylinder runs out]

Commentary: This cylinder was damaged through playback with an unsuitable stylus at some point, leaving a distracting echo that isn’t present in the other cylinders in the group—unfortunate, since it’s the one containing the voice of Arthur Sullivan, which has generally been perceived as the highest-stakes recording in the lot.  Gouraud again prefaces the messages with a version of his spoken-letter formula, including the date.  Sullivan next alludes to Yates having been “incoherent” a moment before on account of all those bumper toasts.  I don’t hear the “and” in his oft-quoted remark about “hideous and bad music,” but it’s in the typescript, so maybe it was there originally.  Broadley doesn’t fare well when his turn comes; not only is he abruptly interrupted when the cylinder runs out, but he also refers to Edison awkwardly in the third person when he’s supposed to be formulating a message to him.  Throughout the proceedings, Broadley seems to have experienced greater-than-average trouble in adopting a cognitive framework appropriate to phonography, although in his defense we should recognize that he was being asked—as phonographic toastmaster—to attempt a type of communicative acrobatics for which there was virtually no precedent.  Indeed, his occasional fumbles make these recordings far more historically interesting than they would be if he had carried out a fully proficient verbal performance.

18881005-9.mp3  Ninth cylinder, E-2439, peg #18, labeled “Mr. Broadley and Mr. Parkinson to Mr. Edison.”

Broadley:  Dear Mr. Edison, it would be very difficult for me to convey to you any idea of the impression which your invention has caused tonight upon the guests who assembled round the hospitable table at Colonel Gouraud’s.  The mysteries of the East and the mysteries of Egypt pale before an invention which is doubtless destined to effect a revolution in the means of communication throughout the civilized world.  I trust that one of the first outcomes of the dinner today will be a safer transmission of your phonogramic records to their destination, and as I am speaking to you the Postmaster General is holding a serious consultation with Colonel Gouraud upon the subject of the transmission of these records.  There is one other subject to which I think the phonograph may be very judiciously applied, and that is as a substitute for the great plethora of after-dinner speaking for, uh, from which we to some extent suffer in this country.  I have had the privilege tonight of officiating as phonographic toastmaster, and when this instrument is introduced for that purpose, I shall claim to be the ancestor of a long line of toastmasters who, instead of discharging their functions, uh, in the present manner, have recourse to the phonograph for the expeditious, uh, fulfillment of those duties, uh, with which in this country we are sufficiently familiar.  Uh, I can only express, uh, my great, uh, thanks to Colonel Gouraud for giving us the opportunity of witnessing your invention and express an earnest, an earnest hope that, uh, in the near future we may have again an opportunity of witnessing some further experimentation with the phonograph.  A. M. Broadley, Barrister at Law.  [Typescript ends here]

Gouraud: Our next guest to whom I will p— uh, intr— [laugh] whom I will present to you is Mister J. C. Parkinson, whose name you will remember, as an old telegraphist yourself, as having an early identification with that most important phase of telegraphy which now goes by the common name of Atlantic Cable.  Mister Parkinson will now speak.

Parkinson:  It is a great privilege to have— take— [pause] to have taken part this evening in this most interesting celebration.  You have heard from our friends previously how deeply were— we are indebted to our host tonight, Mister [end of cylinder]

Commentary: After getting cut off at the end of the preceding cylinder, Broadley launches straight into his message to Edison this time, with no spoken-letter opening from Gouraud by way of preface.  Then comes J. C. Parkinson.  Gouraud stumbles over his introduction, and then the cylinder runs out midway through Parkinson’s message, with apparently no effort made to let him continue his speech on another cylinder.  Neither Parkinson’s message nor Gouraud’s introduction to it was included in the typescript, although Parkinson’s name appears on the label of the peg holding the cylinder.  Had Gouraud and Hamilton simply run out of blank cylinders to use?  This seems possible.  Hamilton had recently written to Edison to report that they were running low.  Two hundred blanks had been promised by express from America in a letter of September 27, 1888, eight days before the dinner; but the record speed for a steamer crossing the Atlantic was then just over six days.  Osgood Wiley, who had reportedly left on the steamer Britannic on Wednesday, September 24th, only reached London on the day of Gouraud’s dinner with a new batch of recordings (but not blanks), which only reached Gouraud’s for a follow-up reception the next day.  (Wiley wrote back to Edison: “I attended a reception at Col Gourauds Saturday [October 6th] & put the phonograms on that I brought over.  They were a hit.  There were several musical people there Sir Arthur Sullivan and others.”)  If we hypothesize that Gouraud only had nine blank cylinders to work with, and chose to devote six of them to the prerecorded segment of the program, that would tell us something about his priorities for the event.

Based on the foregoing analysis, I believe we’re now in a position to use the same set of cylinders to coordinate the ultimate steampunk drinking game—a game that faithfully follows the structure of the event at Little Menlo on October 5, 1888.

  • Procure an appropriate selection of wine.
  • Convene a group of three participants and assign to them the fictional identities Cecil Raikes, Edmund Yates, and Arthur Sullivan.  Costumes are optional but recommended.
  • Have dinner together.
  • Play cylinders one, two, three, five, and six, in that order.  Someone should be appointed as “phonograph exhibitor,” and should have charge of the playback controls.
  • Whenever A. M. Broadley says to “charge your glasses, bumpers if you please,” fill your glasses to the brim.  When you hear cheering shortly thereafter, drain your glasses, and then join in the cheering.
  • For the toasts associated with Raikes, Yates, and Sullivan, the designated “phonograph exhibitor” should halt playback of the recording (if necessary), and the participant who has been assigned the corresponding role should then say something about the designated topic: politics for Raikes, literature for Yates, and music for Sullivan.  Then continue.
  • During the gap between cylinders three and five, take another drink in memory of all the many valuable sound recordings that have been lost to history, and in appreciation of those that remain to us.  Since the missing cylinder included the toast to drama, originally answered by Augustus Harris, this extra drink will ensure that your group keeps pace with the original participants.  We’ll assume there was no actual toast to J. C. Parkinson.
  • After Gouraud has proposed the concluding toast to Edison, record your cheers, followed by whatever it is you’d each like to say to Thomas Edison about his wonderful invention.  Then kindly upload the recording somewhere and provide a link in the comments section below, since inquiring ears want to hear!

NB. Edison Papers links updated September 29, 2022.

One thought on “The Phonograph as Toastmaster (October 5, 1888)

  1. Pingback: All Griffonage That On Earth Doth Dwell | Griffonage-Dot-Com

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