Monday, 5 June 2017

Johann Bessler's Dark Side

All that we know about Johann Bessler comes from documentary evidence    his own account, letters to and from and about him, newspaper reports and the testimonials – but much of this material throws up unanswered questions, so here are some reasonable - and some not so reasonable - speculations about the inventor.  Let us examine the dark side!

He mentions that he visited England and Ireland, why and how?  His headmaster was an excellent teacher but I doubt he taught his students to speak English, so how did a young German communicate during his journey?  He mentions that an Irishman was his travelling companion and since this was the era of the ‘Grand Tour’, he may have been a young aristocrat returning to his home in southern Ireland at the end of his own Grand Tour.  Often they would take along with them someone for entertainment value or as a general assistant, unpaid but fed. Bessler states that he learned to  speak various languages because of all his travels to different countries,  but not fluently, surely?

The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper class European young men of sufficient means and rank. The custom was associated with a standard itinerary. It served as an educational rite of passage. Though primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, similar trips were made by wealthy young men of several European nations, (Wikipedia)

The young men took full advantage of their freedom and although the tours began with an adviser and guide to broaden their education to include works of art and visits to centres of high culture, they sometimes deteriorated into a series of sexual and/or drunken  debaucheries. 

On a previous occasion Bessler mentioned that ‘one day a fine gentleman came along, and ... I went off with him into foreign parts’.  Was this another Grand Tour he was invited to join or perhaps it was the one which took him to England and Ireland?  He mentions that they visited a monastery so it could have been the Ireland trip, although there are monasteries all over Europe.  What was it about Bessler that persuaded a man of wealth to adopt him as his travelling companion?  'Sex, gambling and drinking were all part of the Grand Tour experience. Florence, for all its Medicean splendour, was viewed as a sodomitical hotbed where the ‘Italian vice’ of homosexuality was, as it were, rampant'. (Not my words!  See google and 18th C Grand Tour). 

I'm not suggesting that Bessler was gay, far from it.  In fact he got his wife preganant before he had even met her father, the mayor, then after she died several years later, he got his best friend the Court blacksmith's 16 year old daughter pregnant and had to marry her too. 

In his youth he describes how hot-tempered he was and how sometimes in fights, knives were wielded.  Also dancing, duelling and drinking were his popular past times, but either from his own conscience or from a councillor, he tried more than once to stick to the way of proper conduct and moral integrity, but strayed from time to time. It seems as though he enjoyed life to the full but suffered pangs of guilt after any particularly shameful episode..

Another question - in his Apologia Poetica, he writes ' At about this time I began to run short of money, and so I turned to doctoring again. Thank God I was never short of a Frenchman or suchlike whose good nature I was able to influence, with my high-flown style of speech, to help me broaden my purse in return for having his fires quenched'.  The word used in German is Frantzmann, which translates into Frenchman, but apparently in the 18th century it was a derogatory term, but I cannot find why or to whom it was applied.  It is dangerous to try to read between the lines but I assume he had some health condition which caused pain and soreness and which Bessler could alleviate with some kind of ointment - or what? Anyway Frantzmann is definitely pejorative and generally aimed at the nobility which would agree with Bessler's use of 'high-flown style of speech'.

One acquaintance described him as that 'foul unwanted guest,'  while he was making ready to leave Kassel castle for Karlshafen.  But Gottfried Leibitz spoke of Bessler thus, 'Bessler is my friend ...many things have already troubled that good man, and he has not accommodated to the rules of the communal life.'  Bessler's years of wandering abroad had made him independent and self-sufficient, preferring to make his own arrangement than settle for help from another and he was sometimes blunt to the point of rudeness; but probably fear of losing his invention had added paranoia to a mix of hot temper, poor judgement about his so-called 'friends', and a decade of stress from continuously striving to convince the wealthy to buy his machine.  I think he appeared to be conceited, moody, sanctimonious, rude and was probably a loud mouth, but he could act with apparent humility; something he had learned would sometimes get him what he wanted.  I regret to offer this picture of a man I have always regarded as a neglected genius, but so many of them have normal human faults, perhaps exaggerated by time and distance and repeated name-calling, but I suspect much of it may apply to Bessler.

His shameless confessions about tricking many tradesmen into revealing the secrets of their trades could be described as entrepreneurial, but only if he had sold his machine and been accepted as a genuine inventor imbued with great wealth.  He tells us about a trip to Dresden where, 'I got to hear about a craftsman that I felt I had to get to know. So I devised a plan to bring it about. I met one of the craftsman's apprentices, who was from Sorau and was called Sigismund, and put him in the picture over a few glasses of wine, which I treated him to. Over the next few nights we worked out the details in my room. He passed me off - I swear it - as a carpenter.  

So devious must be added to his personal repetoire, although to be fair, life was rough in those times and to get aywhere you had to be tough and resourceful.  Bessler was certainly that and he might just have made it to the top... unfortunately it didn't happen and he was judged a dispicable fraud and he disappeared into the fog of history, abandoned, in poverty and still designing machines, which bore slight similarities to his original perpetual motion machine.



  1. John,
    just a thought, to me, the best way to communicate while traveling through Europe in those days would be to find the local Roman Catholic church and talk to the priest in Latin, and ask him if he knew of any one suitable to be a guide/translator, who also spoke Latin.
    Someone like an out of work teacher, impoverished/ disenfranchised low rank nobleman etc.

    1. Good thinking Stevo, but Bessler and Karl were Protestants. Karl provided a haven (Karlshafen) for the Huguenots who were fleeing France to settle in Protestant countries in those times. Good idea and it might work with the many monasteries around in those days.


    2. I would have kept quiet about the religion bit!
      A guy I used to work with was a merchant seaman, he couldn't speak any other languages, unless a broad Geordie accent counts. From the stories he used to tell, whatever foreign port he went to, he had no problem finding wine , wimmin and song!

    3. Oh yes, and quite possibly applicable to Bessler!


  2. I've seen so many of these now I am beginning to think they are legitimate:

  3. Here's what really happens:-


  4. They all have been terrific, John, but this one seems still better than most.

    ("Practice makes perfect.")

    Although not related directly to The Great Search itself, still these more human dimensioned aspects of our fellow as they are now up for consideration, certainly are relevant to the picture's whole, I believe. (Although I think Vibrator might not agree, even if he were dispositionally able to consider it.)

    The terminology used in our day to refer to any one or other of amorous/lustual preferences, as according with gender matching or no, simply did not exist back then. This was to come later, as needed.

    Reality back in Bessler's day was rough-hewn thing, and much wink-wink, nod-nod type personal business had to and did transpire on account.

    (Consult Carl Orff's Carmina Burana for hints-various as to this. The feel as imparted by it to one, will serve to convey effectively in a positively massive way, MUCH of the positively Germanic feeling for this era and place, as it was back then. and, hear it on YouTube.)

    Rather much research and observation of Nature's habits and ways (directives), as seen and studied from a dispassionate distance, indicate positively for the proposition that said amourous interests, be they bestial or celestial, are in demonstrated fact, intended to be 'to-purpose, equal opportunity pursuits' - ones that as potentialities ARE REQUIRED for the needed maintenance of balanced human existence, and peaceable interchange and, that wherever found upset or destroyed by human-imposed prohibitions*, tiresome old human misery of one ugly form or another is SURE to be seen following.

    (*Much if not most of it as being derived of that very minutely human dimensioned mysticism, with their invariably accompanying dusty books of authorities, commanding that faith alone is to be the be-all and end-all of all things, complete with called out penalties being made the reward for any daring dissenters, such as stake-burning for one, as it was practiced not too long before Bessler's time. So much for coming to faith as according with and to 'free will.')

    No, Bessler's era was not all that far removed from Boccaccio's Decamaron days, where lustiness was to be satisfied by myriad's of most creative ways.

    For some, Nature is to be fought as in a deadly battle done by will but to be never conquered, if this might be noticed, for this is Her realm, not ours. She's the boss and where we conform and comply as our wits best allow, all really is well but where not, TROUBLE without exception of one form or another can be counted upon to follow for such transgressors.

    With all of that as might be considered, it is of no wonderment to me that Bessler likely would have visited in-and-out many rooms, in his lifetime, whether as naturally or will originated, purpose directed.)

    Whatever it all might have looked like to we curious onlookers back then, we know that Nature smiled upon his efforts, and granted to him knowledge-certain as to how to transcend by Her natural means, her Earthly ordinariness.

    Most evocative of thought and consideration, John.


    1. Whatever, James. Before you get carried away (too late?), the part that sounds vaguely like Bessler was having it away with French guys is an incorrect translation.

    2. Perhaps you saw what you wished to see, but I did not say that Bessler had it off with the Frenchman. If you think the translation is wrong then perhaps you can offer a more accurate one?


    3. Firstly, John, I was directing what I said at James and what seemed like his view of what you wrote, although there was IMO a slight implication, on your part, that Bessler was perhaps bisexual.

      Here is a better translation:
      “Praise God! I was never wanting, of someone to heal, who was 'a Frenchman' [had french pox] and since I was very highly discreet, I had many such people laid up, and extinguished their fire in a short space of time”

    4. Thanks anon. That seems a better translation and also clears up the ambiguity of my translation. There was that implication, but I did say right at the beginning there was some not so reasonable speculation, and that particular bit has now been corrected.

      I linked Frantzmann and French pox in google and there is no doubt that the two are well-known and refer to an outbreak of the pox (syphilis) in the French army of the time. That's why it was called the French pox or known as Frantzmann.


    5. Glad you enjyed it James. It's not easy to keep blogging about Bessler and just relying on the documentary evidence. Sometimes I think its worth a little speculation about his character, even if I take a step too far sometimes!

      Of course it would be good to talk about what I'm workng on but as there is nothing to indicate success yet there is nothing worth saying. But 'confidence is high', as you guys across the pond say (in movies anyway).


  5. Hello James!

    Well, I've got the basic shape of the wheel made. I'm currently building the weights and will install them just as soon as I have all of them made. It's looking very cool so far. I'll keep you updated!😁


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