A FLOCK OF ELECTRIC NIGHTINGALES
By Heimrich Graum
The nightingale is a bird that abounds in literary and poetic symbolism. It appears in Homer’s 'Odyssey' as early as the 8th century BC and Ovid’s 'Metamorphosis' 1600 years later. The nightingale materializes in the work of Chaser, Milton, T.S. Eliott, Oscar Wild, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Rilke and many others as a symbol of continuity and the immortality of nature in contrast to the utter mortality of man.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale 'The Nightingale" an emperor prefers the song of a jewel encrusted mechanized bird the sound of a real nightingale. When the emperor is dying and the mechanical bird no longer functions only the song of the true nightingale is able to restore his health.
Then we have Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam’s masterpiece of Symbolist science fiction; 'Tomorrows Eve' (also translated as 'The Future Eve'). This story, written between 1877 and 1879, is about a fictionalized 'Thomas Edison' who builds a beautiful female android named Hadaly to replace of the unattainable love object of his friend Lord Ewald.
Science is mythologized in this tale as Edison’s actual inventions; the telephone, electric light, microphone, and phonograph are intermixed with imaginary machines that capture human and animal souls and store them on recording cylinders, project advertising slogans into the sky, and make glass flowers sing. Chief among these inventions are Hadaly’s pets; A flock of mechanical nightingales!
” I though fit to give then human voices and human laughter instead of the old fashioned meaningless song of a normal bird – it seemed more in harmony with the spirit of progress.”