In view of the attention now being paid to translation machines, it is of interest to recall a composition machine which was made over a hundred years ago and is still functioning. When wound up and set in motion this remarkable machine is capable of producing over 26,000,000 different Latin hexameters. With rare exceptions each line scans and makes sense. Typical lines are:
MARTIA CASTRA FORIS PRÆNARRANT PROELIA MULTA
PESSIMA REGNA DOMI PRODUCUNT VULNERA MIRA
TURPIA TEMPLA FERE PROMITTUNT JURGIA DENSA
The inventor (Fig. 1) was an eccentric genius named John Clark, who was born at Greinton in Somerset in 1785. After leaving school he lived for a time with his uncle at Glastonbury until about 1809, when he settled in Bridgwater. At first he was a grocer, and then about 1817 he became a printer. In his spare time he invented a pneumatic mattress and also patented a water-proof cloth. To his great financial loss he later sold this patent to a certain Mr. Mackintosh, who developed the Mackintosh raincoat and made a fortune. His own fortune (such as it was) came from his Hexameter Machine.