This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.

This is one of the most striking of Samuel’s articles. The vending machines in the illustrations were still in use for another eighty years, but it is only recently that some of Samuel’s most audacious suggestions have become plausible. Like any good satirist he brings his futuristic fantasy round to an attack on the institutions of his own day, the administration of the law in particular. It is not clear whether the mention of breach of trust by solicitors refers to a particular case at the time, but the reader night have been expected to have known about Dickens’s fictional case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Bleak House (1852-53). Actions for breach of trust were frequent, and for speedily dealt with following the Judicature Act of 1873. Anthony Trollope is mentioned as an example of the ‘automatic author’, following his revelation in his An Autobiography of 1883 that he wrote at the rate of 250 words in every fifteen minutes. Although we have come to expect Samuel to be routinely derogatory about women, as was the custom of the time, he doesn’t approve of wife-beating, and uses the device of the automatic justice to ridicule the feeble punishments routinely handed out for it. The topical debate ‘Is marriage a failure?’ is the subject of Samuel’s article n. 71 on 12th January 1889. The anti-semitic remark is unfortunately characteristic of the age. —David Skilton

What Samuel calls a very good suggestion.

Decorated initial M

PON my word, sir, I verily believe that we shall be a very idle lot some day (a good many of us are now) judging by the way in which everything is done for us nowadays by machinery, automatic or otherwise. Look at the railway station automatons – or automata (sounds too much like tomato, somehow, does that word), why, they do quite a lot of things one wants doing – when they act, which is not always. They conjure up quite a host of possibilities, don’t they? For instance, sir, it would be wonderfully convenient to me if you had an automatic cashier – a figure into the mouth of which I could put my bill and expect to receive the exact sum stated, minus all deductions such as flesh and blood cashiers are accustomed in the most sordid fashion to make. It strikes me that, in such a case, if anything went wrong with the automatic cashier's works, we should precious soon prize [sic] him open. Of course, sir, you might say that automatic authors would be of great service to you – figures that might be relied upon at any given moment to turn off so many folios of ‘copy’ about anything under the sun immediately you put a fee and a little drop of ‘oil’ for their works into their ‘slot,’ but in regard to this I should contend that we have rather too many automatic authors as it is – beings like Anthony Trollope, who succeeded in making £100,000 by automatically scribling [sic], on ‘system,’ so many hours a day some of the most consummate twaddle that ‘serious’ author ever perpetrated. Yes, sir, there are too many automatic authors already. But, in their general application, automatic machines are very wonderful things indeed. The automatic doctor already exists – in America. You put your coin in the slot and out come medicine and advice. What a glorious thing it would be if we could have automatic barristers on the same principle in England, for in that case we could, after paying our big fees, at least rely upon our automaton being present in court, and not immediately handing over our ‘brief’ to a junior doffing automaton, who would mull our case, as is the rule at present. And an automatic solicitor, too, would be an excellent institution, for we should at least know how much we were expected to put in the slot to make the figure move, which is not the case at present by any means. And there would be no fear of the automatic solicitor fingering trust moneys, which would be an immense advantage.

The automatic journalist.

I venture to assert, too, that automatic clergymen would come as a boon and a blessing to their parishioners. Take the sermons of such, for example. The automatic clergyman might be wound up, after being escorted to the pulpit, for a given time – ten minutes, say, and one could absolutely rely then upon getting home in time for dinner and not listening to the usual ‘lastly’ and ‘in conclusion’ and ‘finally’ that seem so interminable. And if the automatic clergyman could be wound up to see so many parishioners a day, what an excellent thing it would be, seeing how generally remiss in this regard the generality of our non-automatic parsons are. I speak feelingly, sir, in this matter, for I have lived in one parish for three years, and have never been visited by the clergyman yet. Perhaps he thinks me irredeemably bad – or I think him irremediably lazy.

The automatic Hamlet.

I admit, sir, that the universal application of automata would have its drawbacks. Thus, an automatic debt collector that called so many times a day upon one with diabolical persistency would be somewhat of a nuisance. But even in that case one would at any rate know by the regular working of the machine (for it would be bound to work on a regular system) when it would be likely to call, and one could contrive to be out at such times. And then again, one could disarrange its works and kick it downstairs without fearing a criminal prosecution when it becomes disagreeable. I really don't think that machinery would be needed in the case of actors and actresses, for they are about as automatic as flesh and blood can be made already, thanks be mainly to such organisations as that of D'Oyly Carte and other managers descended from the chosen people. The automatic actor is a living and a breathing reality, and so long as he is wound up with undue praise and a salary which he takes care to have exaggerated in the newspapers he can walk through as many parts like a veritable machine as it is possible to furnish him with. His slot for receiving flattery is always wide open. and a huge one it is. Perhaps It has not occurred to the many people who have been agitating themselves regarding such queries as, ‘Why don't the men propose?’ and ‘is marriage a failure?’ what an immense advantage to persecuted, gullible man automatic wives would be. The automatic wife would settle such questions at once. When you wanted her to talk you could wind her up for so long and no longer by putting a stated sum in her outstretched automatic hand, which hand would be the characteristic feature of the machinery of automatic wives and attorneys. In the case of wives as they are at present constituted it is generally absence of the oil of palms that sets her talking gear in motion, but the reverse would be the ease as regards the automatic wife, which you could wind up to go to sleep at a certain hour when you wanted to go to your club, and with the certainty that the machinery would all be perfectly at rest when you got back at 2 a.m say.

This gentleman would have no occasion to do this sort of thing if only he had an automatic wife.

The automatic restaurant.

Of course these ideas as to automata are but vague and undigested as yet. It may be urged by some that even the comparatively simple automatic machines of the present day are liable to go wrong and not to work. But then, if, say, your automatic wife doesn't act properly, you can at least knock her in bits, and sell her for scrap iron, which is not the case at present, for if you knock her in bits now-a-days you are quite liable to be fined a few shillings, and admonished.[i] That reminds me that automatic magistrates (there are a few now-a-days) would be an immense -- to certain living chairmen of justices — advantage. I daresay that our own Mr Blank, J.P., might vastly appreciate them, for he could sit as chairman and wind up all the automata to nod approval of his decisions and utterances, and this would save a lot of trouble in court, and prevent his being referred to by popular solicitors as a “plenipotentiary." In being charged before the automatic magistrate — minus Mr Blank, J.P. -- a “drunk” might just plead guilty, put 5s and costs into the automatic one's slot, and then it could say, "We are sorry to see a respectable man like you in such a position. You must not let this occur again, or we shall have to take a more serious view of the case." That is what the automatic justice of the present day always says, so of course the machine would have to follow suit.

Last modified 13 February 2022