Andreas Elias Büchner – “the deaf person may hear very well, on holding, by the lower rim, a beer-glass, to the upper teeth”
By H Dominic W Stiles, on 27 November 2015
Andreas Elias Büchner was a German doctor, born in Erfurt in 1701 and who died in Halle in 1769. He was educated at the protestant school, then went on to study at the universities of Erfurt, Halle and Leipzig. He became a member of the Prussian Academy of Science in 1738, and a professor at Halle University in 1744. He was a follower of the Halle doctor and chemist, Friedrich Hoffmann.
Büchner’s book is on “An easy and very practicable method to enable deaf persons to hear: together with a brief account of, and some reflections and observations upon, the several attempts formerly made for the benefit of such persons.”
I shall relate the several means devised, in order to amend this sense, when impaired, or retrieve it, when intirely lost ; or by help of the other senses, and a tolerable degree of understanding in the patient, to render its loss, in some measure, more tolerable : and lastly, I shall select, among the several methods proposed, that, which to me appears, to be the easiest and most simple. But, previous to this, I shall briefly explain the reasons of the principal defects of the sense of hrearing, both from their causes, and from the structure of the outer and inner ear ; and then more accurately determine the greater or less utility of the methods hitherto employed, in order to amend these defects. (p.iii-iv of English translation)
He discusses Amman’s oral method –
indeed, the accurate attention to, and careful imitation of, all the particular motions requisite to the articulation of sounds, constitute the whole of Amman’s method. As in this, or in any other method of the same kind, the organs of hearing contribute nothing to the effect, it may indeed, be employed in all the defects and imperfections of the auditory organs, by which either deafness or a difficulty of hearing is produced. This method, is however, subject to several considerable imperfections, which render it greatly inferior to the following methods, by which the auditory nerve itself is made at the same time to be affected. (p.20)
He discusses Sebastian Truchel’s ‘acoustic drum’ that he had demonstrated to the Royal Academy of Science in Paris in 1718 -“A person hard of hearing in both ears, may, by means of a semicircle of brass or silver, which goes round the hinder part of the head, under the hair or peruke, fasten two such drums to his ears” (p. 24-5). He talks of other methods of ‘hearing’ vibration – “Conrad Victor Scheider, so celebrated for his description of the mucose glands of the nose, in his book, De ossibus temporum, published at Wittemburg in 1653, in 8vo, p. 43, relates the same thing of some peasants, who sticking their staves in the earth, held one end in their teeth” (p. 28). Further on he says, “the deaf person may hear very well, on holding, by the lower rim, a beer-glass, to the upper teeth” (p.42).
His method of getting someone to ‘hear’ seems to have involved feeling vibrarions via some material – essentially using bone conduction. The German original is much longer than the English version, so there may well be much more to it.
Andreas Büchner had a correspondence with Linnaeus. In 1760, just after the book here was published, he wrote saying that he had not answered Linnaeus earlier as at the beginning of August, Austrian troops had invaded Halle and the surrounding country. The summary of the letter tells us that they
“extorted a heavy tax, more than 300,000 imperial thalers, from the inhabitants, even the professors, before they left at the end of October. About then, the painter and engraver Gottfried August Gründler had been taken ill and lain in bed for several weeks so that Büchner could not get the delineation of a Cancer [presumably a crab] that he wanted to send to Linnaeus.”
On this page he discusses the history of deaf education, covering Peter Pontius, Paul Bonnet, John Wallis, and so on.
I found very little on Andreas Elias Büchner on a brief search. Perhaps he is a forgotten figure in the history of science, or perhaps he is only marginal. If you have had an opportunity to read the original book in full, please make a comment.
Curiously there is a modern Andreas Büchner who works on hearing – an onomastic nominative determinism? http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/lary.23214/abstract
An easy and very practicable method to enable deaf persons to hear: together with a brief account of, and some reflections and observations upon, the several attempts formerly made for the benefit of such persons. London, MDCCLXX. . Available from Eighteenth Century Texts, online.
Abhandlung von einer besonderen und leichten Art, Taube hörend zu machen : Nebst noch einigen andern vormals besonders bekannt gemachten Medicinischen Abhandlungen. Published in Halle in two parts, 1759 & 1760
Zelle, Carsten, Experiment, Observation, Self-observation. Empiricism and the ‘Reasonable Physicians’ of the Early Enlightenment. Zelle / Early Science and Medicine 18 (2013) 453-470.