Some of the most widespread myths and misconceptions about the Bessler mystery can be attributed to Frank Edwards.
In his 1956 article entitled "Bessler's Wonderful Wheel," Edwards wrote:
When the oiled cloth was stripped away, said Count Karl, he found himself gazing upon a very simple arrangement of weights and levers. Orffyreus explained that he had conceived a system whereby the weights on one side of the wheel were farther from the axle than the weights on the other side of the wheel, creating an imbalance which caused the wheel to move.
The secret, if there was a secret, lay in the ingenious manner in which the weights on the ascending side of the wheel were prevented from following their normal path next to the rim.
Count Karl said that these weights were blocked by small pegs which swung back out of the way as the weight passed the zenith.
The Count prudently hastened back to his quarters and wrote an account of what he had seen.
In fact, this account was most likely fabricated by Frank Edwards. Here are some comments from over the years:
...the records pertaining to Bessler are, mostly, held at Kassel. There are lots of additional pieces of record elsewhere, such as the UK, France and Russia and of course in other museums and universities in Germany (east and west).
The existing records, particularly those which were Karl's, give the strongest evidence both directly and circumstantially, that what Frank Edwards wrote of the description of Bessler's wheel is completely fabricated. His descriptions make a nonsense of the records which indicate the history of the progress of the attempted sale of the wheel - records which were made over a period of some twenty years and include numerous letters both to and from as well as about Bessler. These letters include references to Karl and his comments about the wheel as well as about, and by, many others who examined it.
Ignore the Frank Edwards connection - it won't help solve this puzzle.
- John Collins
The information you refer to is from Frank Edwards 1956 account of "Bessler's Wonderful Wheel". To the best of my knowledge, Frank Edwards description of the inner workings of Bessler's wheel is not supported by any historical document. This obviously makes the accuracy of the information very suspect at best.
The evidence, or lack thereof, suggests that Frank Edwards wheel mechanism description has either been derived from highly speculative sources or that he added these details to 'spice up' his story. It would not be the first time that historical accuracy has taken a back seat to 'artistic license'.
The available historical evidence suggests Karl never betrayed his agreement with Bessler and he never described what he saw - beyond his general statements about the secret being very simple.
- Bill McMurtry
Karl's court diary is still available and yes I have seen it and have copies of what is in them. Yes Frank Edwards invented his piece about the "pegs", and there are no records anywhere which describe what Edwards describes.
In fact you don't need to even know that there is nothing in the records such as Frank Edwards describes, to realise that his description was his own invention. Firstly there was no "hurry" to note down the things Karl is supposed to have seen, because he paid for the privilege of seeing the internal workings and was able to examine them at leisure.
Secondly, access to the internal workings was a condition of the contract to sponsor Bessler in his attempt to sell the secret - in other words, Karl gave Bessler a job and a home so that he could exhibit his machine and get a buyer, just as Karl did for Denis Papin earlier. But he had to make sure that Bessler wasn't a fake, because he had a highly important reputation to maintain.
Those of you who don't know may not realise that Karl held a unique position in Europe at that time as an honest broker among the many warring factions of the time and held conferences at which the kings of England, Sweden, Germany, Poland and others gathered. Any trace of trickery or fraud connected to him would have resulted in loss of face at least and possibly far worse. His small country had just emerged from a thirty year war and was trying to establish a reputation for sponsorship of the arts and sciences as well as providing a haven for the huegenots from France. All this may seem irrelevant to our quest but it is important to appreciate the background to Karl's position and to understand why he can be relied upon as the chief witness.
Thirdly it is on record that sometime later (years) that Karl mentioned that wheel was so simple he was amazed that no one before had discovered the secret and also on another occasion that a carpenter's boy could make it given a chance to examine the machine.
To me this suggests that a) Karl understood the design completely and therefore had no need to dash off quickly to note down the design before he forgot it (as Edwards suggested)and b) that the design was so simple that the same as a) applies.
I long ago dismissed the description by Frank Edwards as poetic license and so I ignore all reference to "pegs" as he described.
- John Collins