The Anthropoglossos

Compiled by Steven Connor as part of The Dumbstruck Archive, a continuing, online supplement to Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
The room in St. James's-hall, long enlivened by the Christy's Minstrels, is now devoted to a singular exhibition, bearing for its title the singular word printed above.

Entering the room the spectator finds his attention attracted by a large waxen head, bearing no slight resemblance to the late M. Jullien, with something like a silver funnel stuck into its mouth. This head does not stand on a pedestal, but is sustained by gilded chains suspended from the ceiling. At the first glance it might be taken for a very idealised "Aunt Sally," but on closer inspection the spectator will perceive below the bust a small glass case containing some sort of mechanical apparatus. To an aperture in this case the exhibitor applies a key, and after a winding-up process has been duly accomplished, a pair of little bellows are seen to work, and the sound of a human voice, singing the music and words of a song, quite as distinctly as any flesh and blood vocalist, issues from the mouth of the head. Six songs, terminating with "God Save the Queen," constitute the entire entertainment. Two other heads, likewise with funnels in their mouths, may be observed at the back of the room, but these are not yet brought into active operation. When their musical education is complete we may possibly be favoured with duets and trios.

If we remember right, it was Alexander the Great who played the lyre with such wondrous skill that the performance was too good for a future King. In the same manner, notwithstanding the assurance that the loss of "Polly Perkins" and the fascination of the "dark girl dressed in blue" are celebrated "by means of the nicest and most exquisitely constructed mechanism," we cannot help remarking that the articulation is almost too unexceptionable for a machine. There is nothing wooden or metallic, or squeaky or hitchy, in the whole performance, but the lyric effusions go off as glibly as though some artist of the Music Halls were singing them through one of those pipes that form a communication between the principal's parlour and the clerk's room in a merchant's countinghouse. Hence we fear wicked Pyrrhonists will arise who will doubt the connexion between the winding-up of the machine and the utterance of the melodies. Of course, they will be altogether wrong, but the presence of a voice less decidedly human would have incalculably increased the facility of refuting them.

However the sceptic and the believer will both agree that the exhibition is extremely ingenious. The head is not large enough to contain any human performer, nor does it communicate in any visible manner with any possible source of sound. There it hangs, in chains, in a state of defiant insulation, and if you will not believe that its voice proceeds from the little bellows it challenges you to point out another origin.

To most persons of the present generation, the "Anthropoglossos" will, we think, be an absolute novelty, but the older among us will, perhaps, recollect that at a time when the name of Madame  Tussaud was unknown in London there was, on the southern side of Fleet-street, a collection of wax figures, ostensibly belonging to one Mrs. Salmon. In one of the rooms of the edifice that contained this collection was the so-called "Invisible Girl," a small suspended box, from which issued a voice that answered questions and sang songs. Whether the old "Invisible Girl" was similar in principle to the "Anthropoglossos" we cannot say.

The Times, no. 24,932 (23 July 1864), p. 12