The written record of the development of the flute in the nineteenth century is replete with treatises and other writings devoted to various aspects of the subject.  The majority of these writings were generated by the various competing flute designers of the day, each wishing to demonstrate the superiority of his particular concepts over those of his rivals.

In general, these early writings on the subject of flute development are found today only in major libraries or private collections and are thus generally inaccessible to the interested public.  Indeed, even the serious researcher faces an uphill battle in trying to gain access to the more obscure examples, since a number of them exist in copies which are too fragile to lend out or even copy.  Our  research into the development of the flute as an instrument in the nineteenth century has brought us face to face with this reality.

One of our objectives in undertaking this exhaustive research is to make information on the subject more widely accessible to the flute-playing public in general.  When we ourselves manage to obtain access to a rare work on this topic, our desire is to share the information as widely as possible, thus sparing others the trouble that we ourselves have had to undergo.  In keeping with this philosophy, we have provided transcripts elsewhere in this web-site of a number of rather obscure yet often highly informative papers on the subject.  We present herein yet another literary gem unearthed from the dust of decades in the remote archives of musical history.

Our author this time is neither a flute designer nor a manufacturer, but is instead an amateur dilettante of the flute who approaches his subject from what he himself conceives to be an unbiased and disinterested standpoint.   Once having read the work in question, the reader may form his or her own opinion on this matter, but suffice it to say that a work on this subject by an individual who is not professionally involved with the flute in any capacity yet is sufficiently interested and well-informed to develop and present his own considered judgments, whether objectively or no, is a real find because it is more or less unique for the period.

The work which we present herein is the little book entitled “The Flute in its Transition State  by the Hon. and Rev. T. C. Skeffington, M.A.  This book was completed in May, 1862 immediately following the author’s visit to the International Exhibition of that year in London, at which all of the then-current flute designs were on display.   The book has been largely ignored by subsequent authors, being quoted to any degree in only one major work, namely H. Macaulay Fitzgibbon’s 1913 work entitled “The Story of the Flute”.  This may well be due in large part to the fact that Skeffington’s book was omitted from Rockstro’s otherwise exhaustive bibliography prepared for his famous 1890 treatise on “The Flute”.  It would appear that this omission was likely motivated by the fact that Skeffington expresses  positive views of both Boehm and Clinton, two of Rockstro’s pet aversions.  Rockstro had an unfortunate habit of suppressing evidence when it ran counter to his own views – Christopher Welch and W. S. Broadwood were both similarly ignored by Rockstro, apparently for similar reasons.

Thomas Clotworthy (!!) Skeffington was born in Ireland into the family of Viscount Massereene, formerly of Antrim Castle in Northern Ireland.  This aristocratic connection explains the honorific prefix to his name.  He has been variously reported to have been born in either 1816 or 1819, and died on the 20th of December, 1862, at the age of 46 or 43 years depending on which birthdate is correct.  Regardless of his true age at the time, his premature death occurred only seven months after the completion of the work presented here.   At some point he had obtained an M.A. degree from an unknown college and had taken Holy Orders, accounting for his use of the title Reverend.  He was clearly of the Protestant faith, since he is recorded as having married Henrietta C. Blackwood in 1841 in Ireland.  But he did not remain in Ireland; at the time of the completion of this book he was living near London, England at West Drayton in Middlesex. 

It is clear that, while Skeffington was not a professional flautist, he was a genuine music-lover and flute enthusiast.  Indeed, this was not Skeffington’s only work on musical subjects – he also published a book entitled  Handybook of Musical Art; with some Practical Hints to Students”, which was published in London in 1859.  He makes oblique reference to this earlier work in the opening sentence of the present book, and hints pretty clearly that he was intending to write more.  His premature death obviously put paid to that idea.

We are pleased to have had this opportunity to re-acquaint the present generation of flute students and enthusiasts with the work of this long-forgotten kindred spirit.  To render the text more approachable by the modern reader, we have taken a few editorial liberties;  we have broken up some of the page-long sentences and two-page paragraphs, for instance!!  We have also corrected some of the rather convoluted punctuation of the original as well as rendering a few archaic spellings into more familiar forms.  Otherwise, we have kept every word of the original text exactly as Skeffington himself wrote it.  

We do warn that there are some historical errors of fact and some bold assertions of opinion in the text.  We felt that correcting these errors and challenging the assertions would detract too much from the value of the piece as a statement of its time.




Being a review of the changes it has experienced during the past fifty years


The Hon. And Rev. T. C. Skeffington, M.A.


London; William Walker & Co.

194, Strand


Chapter I

As one of a series of works I have lately taken in hand to write on the subject of Musical Art, the present is intended to give as fair a view as I can get of the transitions to which a very valuable, and a very favourite instrument of my own - the Flute - has been subjected of late years, and of the condition in which it now is. To many persons the subject will be of small interest, but to those who love the advancement of musical appliances generally, it cannot fail to be interesting, while to those who use the instrument, whether for recreation or professionally, the subject will assume a value sufficient to excuse all that may be said upon it.

A number of pamphlets and prospectuses have already been written, apparently to the same end, but one and all have failed to convince or to teach - for the obvious reason, that those who wrote were biased in favour of some one or more improvements of their own, whose claims they were advancing.  For the most part, there was a professional concern in the matter and, even supposing these accounts to have come from independent sources, it was clearly impossible, while so nice and difficult a matter was in the fluctuating state of change or transition from  year to year and month to month, that any calm unprejudiced view could be adopted. 

I must confess (that) after a perusal of all these different publications I can get little more than this - that the Flute was attracting a great deal of musical attention, and that a great deal of talent, energy, and zeal was being expended in various endeavours to improve it.  One writer has taken us back in historical points hundreds of years, as if it could be of any interest to know that in the days of Apollo the Flute had six finger holes, one mouth-piece and an unconquerable aversion to being played in tune.  Another seriously informs us that some cane Flutes had been found in a pyramid in Egypt, but he could not tell how they were sounded!  Another states the important fact that a cylindrical fife was really adopted in the French army in the time of Francis the First, circa 1530.  Another laments with genuine pathos the extinction of the old Flute-a-bec, which was simply a bad flageolet, and discourses gravely and judiciously upon the large advantages we have gained from the Flute traversiere of the French and Germans. All this is exceedingly droll; it may be useful at times to remind the public that we have read and explored the secrets of antiquity, but to my thinking such notices are practically absurd.

I will not fall into such a path, but will candidly tell the reader what I do, and what I don't, think in the matter of the present practical use and condition of the Orchestral Flute.  It is unquestionably a modern instrument; its infancy was passed in ignorance and barbarism.  The Egyptians had no diatonic scale, and Francis the First no Flute concertos.  For all practical ends I date its era from about fifty years back,  and I have no hesitation in saying that it was then an instrument as bad as bad could be; and that now it is as good as any musician could desire, indeed as perfect as from its intractable nature it ever will become.

The fathers of the modern Flute undoubtedly were the Nicholsons.  Charles Nicholson came to London in 1820 with a Flute of an improved bore and large holes.  For years he held his ground, and though his system is now all changed, his services and his success, both as a maker and a player, will not soon be forgotten; even now, certain effects in certain keys are unattempted, and unattainable, which on his improved large-holed eight-keyed Flute had a novel and a peculiar charm. To account for the advantage of large holes is almost unnecessary; the subject has been dished up in almost every possible form for the enlightenment of Flute players generally.

It will be sufficient for me to show that if we construct so simple a thing as a Pandean pipe, each pipe gradually diminishes in size and length in diatonic or chromatic order. The Organ is an instrument of pipes; each one yields a fixed sound in proportion to its size and length, but the Flute has to give thirty-seven sounds from one pipe alone and the effect of opening holes upon it is the same as if so much of the instrument below the hole opened were cut off.  Hence it becomes like a number of pipes united in one.

This applies to the first, or fundamental octave, from which the other two are derived.   It is plain then that the larger the opening of the hole, the freer is the sound produced; but as tune or intonation interfered with this arrangement in some of the notes, it was found necessary to adopt a scale of holes varying in size, so as to suit the requirements of the modern diatonic system.  But here as one evil was got rid of, another presented itself - the holes were unequally placed, (and) it was plainly seen that the fingers were not long enough to act upon them. Thus to equalize the position of the holes became the study and discovery of those who succeeded Charles Nicholson as Flute reformers.

A professor of Munich, Herr Boehm, was the first to reduce the thing to a general and practical form in 1831.  It is true that a Captain Gordon, two years before, had laid the foundation of that mechanism which is applied to modern wind instruments, chiefly in this, - that by a key which covered a distant hole, the lever or handle of which was brought in a half-moon shape round the edge of the next finger-hole, a power was gained of stopping two holes by one action of the finger alone.  To him is due the merit of the invention, but to Boehm is due its practical development; and without going into a needless discussion about the relative value of the shut and open system of keys, whether the open G# key of the Boehm Flute compensated for the toil it imposed on the player, whether good results obtained in one octave were not counter-balanced by evils in another, it may be laid down as a fact that the origin of all the improved modern Flutes with their various well-contrived and cleverly-adjusted systems of mechanism sprung from that one idea of Captain Gordon in Paris, somewhere about the year 1828.

Then again, in order to get greater equality in the break that occurs between the three octaves, the fingering was changed and all was altered.  This to the whole Flute playing community, who had hitherto learned but one acknowledged mode of fingering, became a very serious objection; and it was with a great deal of truth asserted that complications and difficulties increased exactly in proportion to the amount of departure from the old system of the eight keys.

Mons. Dorus of Paris changed the open G# key into a shut one, which change was adopted by Mr. Clinton of London in 1843.  Then a Mr. Ward constructed a new Flute, and wrote a treatise which announced the mysterious fact that facility had been gained upon his system by sundry cross or back fingerings and by the application of five keys for the work of the left-hand thumb.  Then Mr. Card had a modification of the Boehm system, by which the right-hand part was altered and the left-hand part remained as before.  Next, Mr. Siccama of London reverted to the old fingering, and sacrificed his third octave and middle C natural for a few questionable advantages elsewhere.  Then Mr. Tulou of Paris provided two thumb keys, one for Bb, and one for C natural, which were subsequently adopted by English players and professors and which only led to still greater difficulty and complication. 

Then Mr. Carte, associated with those eminent Flute makers Rudall and Rose, brought out two new Flutes, and in a written sketch laid down an opinion, hitherto undisputed by all makers and players, that the instrument still needed a reforming hand.  The body of the Flute was now to change its form from a cone to a cylinder; the head joint was to be slightly curved, similar to the tubes of an organ, and to it was assigned the high-sounding name of Cylinder Flute, with parabola head.  From his treatise I get the following passage: "Numerous are the Flutes which have been made and discarded during the last two years (that is 1848 and 1849); Messrs. Rudall and Rose alone as manufacturers have made not less than ten Flutes for different contrivers during this period."  From these facts, will any reasonable person expect an unprejudiced writer to examine into the merits of each?  Is it not apparent that all these investigations and theories tended to show but one thing - the imperfection of the Flute of that day, and the singular value of an instrument which could recompense men for such labours?

I confess without hesitation that after having heard, seen and read all that has been advanced upon the subject, I am driven to conclude that all these anxious efforts have been purely experimental, based on no sound theory; in short, that they were a search after great effects where the causes of the existing evil had not been sufficiently investigated.  The cylindrical form of Flute was thought to be new; clearly it was not new, for the same form had been applied to military fifes for years previous(ly).  The curve in the head joint was said to be new also; but it was by no means a new thing to have a curve or belly in a musical tube.   The truth is, there was a general seeking after new applications of old things, and the exchequer of the country was benefited to a large extent by the patents granted for these and similar contrivances.

I have not yet alluded to the exertions made by a professor in London who has done more than any other to regenerate the Flute - I mean Mr. Clinton, because, in my judgment, his views and opinions, if not consistent with his early writings, were at least directed to a right  point.

The defects of the Nicholson or old Flute lay in the cramp(ed) fingering for F natural, in the difficulty of passing freely from the one octave to the other, in its use of numerous cross or back fingerings and in its general inequality of tone - some notes were very fine, some very feeble.   Could these defects be removed, even in part, a fine Flute would be the result.   I had all along thought, and still think, that makers and inventors who hitherto had done evil to effect good, in other words, who had gained the removal of old defects in the Flute by the strange process of engrafting upon it new ones, had gone to work in the wrong way.  I find in one of the numerous Flute treatises this view very fairly laid down by Mr. Clinton; and whatever be the general opinion as to the practical results he has obtained, his theoretical views on the subject appear to me both sound and convincing.  His Equisonant Flute has the obvious advantage of retaining the old or natural system of fingering with all its imperfections removed, while the equality of the tone and the freedom of passing from one octave to another without disturbing the flow of sound, are at once apparent to both player and listener.

As to the discrepancies we meet with in the various statements and errors propounded on the subject of Flute manufacture, it is not my intention to speak a single word.  While the instrument was passing through this fire of change and development, it was clearly unfair to expect any calm views upon the subject.  Flute players were divided and Flute makers were worked up to a great pitch of rivalry and contention.  Systems of mechanism were advocated which had really nothing at all of system in them; and theories were hastily laid down which were untenable on the commonest principles of science.   It is now, and now only, when the rage and passion has ceased, that we can hope to obtain any fair and impartial view of the so-called systems.

The time, in my judgment, has arrived for a candid summing up of the labours of the past fifty years in Flute manufacture.  We have seen what the workshop has produced during that time, and we now see how very small is the practical result of the whole.  We have seen Flutes sent forth with flaming titles, and explanations based on acoustical theories, and all sorts of scientific nostrums which were to astonish the orchestras of Europe, and we look round now in vain to see a single trace of their existence - their once boasted perfections had no power to rescue them from oblivion -  their very name is lost, and they are no more.

Chapter II


Plain it is that the anxiety shown by all lovers of the flute to effect its regeneration indicated in spite of repeated failures that the instrument contained within itself the germ of musical excellence and was worthy of the attention paid it.  It had been used in the days of the great masters as an appendage to the orchestra, but was not honoured with a place within the sacred circle of chamber music.  The reason was clear; the instrument was rough, rude and imperfect; and although its compass and quality of tone were all that could be desired, its means of effect were as yet undeveloped.

Up to and during the days of Charles Nicholson, the written music for the Flute was very feeble - Kuhlau was but little known, and the contributions of Tulou and Berbiguier were not sufficient to stamp the character of the instrument with any high or classic fame; but as new effects sprung forth, new music was written to embody these effects.  The popular nature of the Flute as a drawing room and concert instrument had long been acknowledged; the young efforts of musical amateurs were generally directed in this quarter; and in the palmy days of its existence, while Charles Nicholson was feeding and charming the musical public with his fine Flute and his fine playing, astonishing and delighting his audiences with bold and new effects, the love and mania for Flute playing became as general as the suspicion and disregard that is now commonly shown towards it.

This was a result to have been looked for; the Flute was practically new in the hands of Nicholson; he first developed its resources and first drew forth its capabilities as a fine concert instrument.  Everyone with a turn for music desired to possess the secret of such sweet melody, his teaching became almost incredible in extent, and scarcely could a well-bred family be found who had not either one or more of the celebrated Nicholson Flutes, or Flute players, within its domestic circle. True it is that the power of playing just sufficiently well so as to please the ear melodiously, was on no instrument so easily acquired as on the Flute; more than this, scarcely any one instrument, if we except the violin, approached so near in quality of tone to the human voice, which when well managed is the acknowledged pattern and perfection of pure musical sound.  Besides, it was an orchestral instrument, its compass was of good extent, its diatonic and chromatic progression was pretty just and equal, sufficiently so as to allow of its being played in every key; while as an adjunct to the voice, or in conjunction with the piano-forte, scarcely any one instrument could be found that was more suitable for a drawing room performance.

All these causes combined, it is no matter of astonishment that popular favour should have been so largely shown to the Flute; but, as with many other things we could name, this repose was not suffered long to continue; the eye of the critical objector had begun its evil work.  Certain defects were pointed out and enlarged upon, its sanitary state was pronounced to be far from satisfactory; the usual course of re-construction was hinted at and indeed very shortly after begun; its simplicity, its novelty, its charm vanished in the recesses of the workshop, and it came forth before the world shorn of its popularity and favours, though increased in its powers, in its complication, in its resources and in its general importance.

The first revolution, as it may be called, in the Flute's history, led by Boehm, introduced a large number of new players, who began as upon a new instrument, while a great majority of the Nicholson school either abjured the system or despondently retired from the field.  Equality and fullness of tone was then the one thing sought after; and it was thought under this (the Boehm) system to have been obtained.  Players of moderate capacity discovered a certain ease in producing the sound; in the lowest octave the notes came out full and free, and they thought all was right.  At the same time, the advanced and intelligent player soon discovered the amount of complicated evils with which he had to deal - there was an undisguised sharpness in the upper octave - there were several new and awkward cross fingerings - there was a great amount of work imposed upon several fingers, owing to the complication of its key arrangements - lastly, there was a new scale of fingering to be learned; the old system had to be forgotten, while the new had to be studied; and the music already written for the instrument was found to be ineffective upon the new Flute.

Hundreds of amateurs seceded from the body of Flute players; they were not prepared to re-learn the instrument, and a very natural and just suspicion was entertained that what had been so far complicated and changed already would undergo still further modifications to suit either the convenience or the interest of contending parties.  It is now seen how justly the suspicion arose, and how truly the fears of many who were attached to the old form of Flute, as to the injury it would suffer under this remorseless handling, were realized.  The answer is ready enough, that this was but a necessary consequence of the Flute's regeneration, that all instruments, like other mechanical inventions, have at one time or other to undergo the penalty of disfavour and disgrace while they are being brought through the several stages of experimental improvement.

To this I reply, that the Flute has had more than its due share of reproach and much less than its fair amount of treatment, for the plain reason that each successive change of form or mechanism involved some change in the system of fingering.  In each case the player was compelled to re-learn as well as to forget something.

The only instrument I know of that bears any analogy to the Flute in point of general use and popularity is the piano-forte; to it none of these objections applied.  In the different stages of its development no such change or difficulty was imposed upon the player - it merged successively from and through its different stages of Virginal, Spinet, Clavichord, and Harpsichord to the modern perfect piano-forte; yet the system of its key-board, arranged so as to suit the human hand, remained practically the same.  Each step in its renovation involved the player in no new perplexity; each improvement to its tone or change in its internal structure served but to draw forth the consent and approval of all players, inasmuch as the point gained created no new difficulty but was an obvious development of the natural resources of the instrument.

Nothing at all similar to this can be found in the late flute improvements.  The greater part of those who appeared as flute reformers had really no established principles on which to work; each one set up a theory of his own and saw, or thought he saw, a chain of brilliant results likely to arise: one staked his reputation upon the open keyed system, and found to his cost that in its practical working it became to all intents a closed, shut up, or veiled system; another relieved a weak finger at the expense of a strong one; a single note was improved at the sacrifice of two or three others; certain passages were rendered easy, but the difficulty was distributed elsewhere.  All the fine theories as to fingering, tone, and tune, were blown to the winds by the searching test of practice; experiment was heaped upon experiment, conjecture upon conjecture; opinion was waged against opinion; imagination and dreams of success helped to keep up all this enthusiasm and in his failure served to sustain the disheartened essayist.

The results, as we find them, were such as might have been expected - the amount of players not professionally interested in the flute gradually decreased - from being an unfailing source of the evening's amusement, the ornament and the charm of every drawing-room, the flute became the tenant chiefly of the orchestra and the workshop; it ceased to occupy a place as before in the domestic concert; its sweet vocality was remembered and regretted, but its sound was no longer heard.  It must be evident to all readers that an instrument of such importance in the orchestra as this could not possibly suffer annihilation, that its services in concerted music were being professionally called upon each day in the week, and therefore the only point in which it could suffer was in that of its popularity as a chamber instrument; it was also clear that a time would sooner or later arrive when all possible experiments having been made and tried, some sort of general and sound agreement would be come to as to its form, structure, and mechanism.

I do not know how far the several manufacturers or proprietors of flutes are prepared to concede the point, but this I do know, that the number of new inventions and experiments upon the instrument have almost ceased; I know that all players, professional and non-professional, have tacitly come to some sort of understanding as to the flute of their adoption.  I also know from experience that it must now be a man's own fault if he do not possess an instrument of a very fine quality, and therefore I draw the obvious conclusion that the flute, after being experimented upon in every possible way, has at length arrived to as high a state of perfection as from its nature it can ever reach.

It may be inquired which flute then, among so many, is the best?  The question often has been asked me, and my answer in a general sense would still be that one which is the most practical; but this is vague; some advocate this quality for one, some for another. The worst of the matter is that any experimentalist, should he invent or alter but a  single key, calls such invention a theory or system, and he attempts to show that the acoustical properties of the flute demand this key, or this alteration. Such statements are hardly worth the ordinary trouble of refutation, nor can it be supposed that any unprejudiced person would sit down calmly and gravely to discuss the point. 

For my own part, I am not inclined to put much faith in any of the so-called flute theories I have read; nothing approaching to a sound or legitimate theory have I ever seen laid down -  all has been what the ancients might have called "vox et praeterea nihil."   I think it will be found that the theory of acoustics, as applied to the flute, has in the abstract but small weight, and that the principle upon which a single tube is formed to produce a succession of sounds is much more simple than what has been generally believed.

It is true that, in order to derive a number of notes harmonically from a given number fundamentally, a certain skill of adjustment in keys and holes is necessary; but to say that the science of acoustics interferes to guide or regulate the judgment in such matters is as idle as to say that the tides regulate the phases of the moon, or that the sun governs the diurnal revolution of the earth.  There is beyond question a certain principle laid down to us in the construction of all musical instruments, but this will generally be found in the plain law of nature who, having established a diatonic scale as the basis of all musical sound, has given us likewise the power of producing the same by simple and natural means: nothing in nature will be found complicated or difficult; ease and facility form the basis of all her handiwork, and whether by string, pipe, or reed, I believe the principles of producing sound are identical.

Such being the case, I am at liberty to go on and state what, in my opinion, is the groundwork of a correct flute, why so many failures have occurred and what path out of so many is likely to lead to a satisfactory result.

Chapter III.


In the few remarks I have yet to make upon the flute's construction generally, I shall not stop to inform the reader, as others have done before me, of certain acoustical requirements, theories and what not, nor shall I tell him that I have submitted the flute to diverse experiments, but shall at once proceed in plain language to give, from practical experience, a free and independent opinion upon the matter.

The old fingering is decidedly the best, under certain modifications, because it is formed upon the pure and simple law of nature; the passing from one octave to the other was difficult, and in the upper octave some cross fingerings were of necessity awkward, but mechanism has overcome these few objections, and I submit again, with all deference, that nothing but difficulties and complications arose in every case where the principle of the old or natural fingering was departed from.  

In the second place the system of equal sized holes, which has been so strongly insisted on, cannot be laid down as a fixed one because the form of the flute will not in every case admit of it.  It appears to be an established fact that every tube which is made for the conveyance of sound shall contain within itself a medium of resistance, so as to give an additional impulse to the vibrations of air as they pass through it.  This has been done from time immemorial by means of a conical shape in the flute; at the same time the long shape of the cone offered rather more resistance than was needed, and prevented, as an organ builder would say, the notes from speaking with sufficient freedom.  A cylindrical form of flute, it was thought, would remedy this evil, and has now been for some years in general use.  The idea was no doubt taken from the form of the old metal fife, but this is of little consequence; it is sufficient that Boehm of Munich sent a practical model of the instrument into this country (though not the first of its kind), and that patents were taken out for its manufacture.  

I am not going to discuss the relative merits of cone and cylinder, metal and wood, but I shall show upon what principles the first of these two agree.  I have said that tubes for the delivery of sound require a certain graduation within themselves, so as to increase the intensity of the vibrations of air; the cylindrical tubes of an organ are slightly curved in the centre for this purpose, so as to give a resistance at the apex.  The difficulty experienced in the cylindrical flute was that, being a tube for the conveyance of more than one sound, any curve or belly in the centre of the instrument would hopelessly interfere with its general tone.  This, however, was overcome by the invention of a head-joint, into which a curve was introduced a little below the embouchure, and it served the purpose named; it was the simplest of all inventions; it was merely the carrying out of nature's laws, and it can be seen now in practical use on all organ pipes.

The principle once understood and practically carried out left little more to be desired - as one would think - but not so.  The flute was found to be wanting in the one great feature of equality - no two notes were alike, some were free and full, others uncertain and feeble.  The low C natural, for example, was a fine note, the D above it weak. As might be expected, this radical defect has, in spite of all endeavours, served for years to lessen its general and popular use; it is not to be supposed but that every possible kind of experiment has been tried for the purpose of reducing the cylinder to a just and equal temperament.  And the inventor himself appears to have been quite as much puzzled as everybody else in arriving at the true causes of the evil; the so-called principle of large and equal-sized holes having struck such deep root into the fancy of modern makers, very great attention was paid to this particular, and all improvements, alterations and experiments appear to have been chiefly directed not to where the evil really lay, in the body of the flute, but to the head-joint alone. 

I have already hinted at the necessity there is that tubes which are made to produce successive musical sounds should have a relative graduation, both in size and length; if we would construct a chain of pipes intended to give out the musical scale, each pipe according to the note assigned it would have to be shorter and smaller, or longer and thicker than its neighbour; in plain words, the diameter of the pipe would have to be changed in proportion to the length.  

A very simple and convincing experiment will prove this.  Let a pipe of any given length be placed in the wind-chest of an organ, whose length and diameter shall be in such a true corresponding ratio, each to other as is necessary for the production of a pure sound; the pipe will then deliver its note, or speak with accuracy and freedom.  Divide this same pipe or tube at its centre in order to get the octave above; the length is now reduced by one-half, but the diameter still remains the same. Adjust this same portion of pipe, as before, in the wind chest, and it will require a double force of wind to make the note speak, and even then the quality of sound elicited will be impure and uncertain.

The result of this experiment is very easily explained.  When the pipe was shortened, it ought at the same time to have been narrowed or constricted in size, in order to have carried out the same conditions as the first one.  Precisely the same principle obtains in all tubes, whether flutes or otherwise, and herein lies the real cause of the failure above mentioned.  

In the first patentee's explanation of the Cylinder Flute, I find the following statement:  " It is also clear that the nearer the holes are in size to the diameter of the tube the freer and finer must be the tone."   Had he said, "divide an organ tube at its centre, and it will give you the octave above," he would have been just as near the truth as he is in the opinion I have quoted; if you cannot by natural means vary the diameter of a cylinder flute, which it is plain you cannot, the statement he hazards as to the propriety of making the holes extend to the edge of the diameter, in order to get a full and freer tone, is plainly contradicted by the organ experiment I have just given. 

Perhaps no greater folly was ever so perversely held by flute makers generally as the supposition that the more equal were the holes the more equal must be the tone.  I will use their favourite term for once and say that it is decidedly contrary to theory, and also of course to practice.  In the case of stringed instruments we see another instance of this fallacy; as the strings become shorter so do they lessen in size or thickness, in order that the vibrations of sound may be rapidly produced.  Indeed, it is hardly necessary, were it not for the surprising neglect of this principle shown in the old cylinder flute, to dwell further on a matter so obvious to common sense and daily practice.

Within the last few weeks, I have seen a newly constructed cylinder flute which I believe has been invented and patented by Mr. Clinton, in  which these requirements, so long overlooked, are substantially carried out. To save the trouble of a long explanation I herewith give a drawing of the position and size of the holes.

The idea has evidently struck him of effecting the object of the cone and so to reduce the diameter of the tube with each successive note by the very simple process of graduating the holes, not as in the old flute by a variable scale, but equally and regularly.  Thus the small opening of the holes, or the partial excision at the top of the instrument, serves practically to shut up or lessen the diameter of the tube, and therefore, as each note rises, the orifice becomes smaller through which the sound is delivered and the closing up of the diameter becomes gradually less and less, proportionate to the end required.  The theory (I will use the term once more) seems to me a sound one, but in flute manufacture, practical results are the all-important tests.  To these tests I have submitted it and, in conjunction with many other players, am satisfied that a most important end has been gained.

If perfection can ever be looked for in so restricted and complicated a piece of mechanism as a flute, I think we shall find it here, because there seems to be a practical reason and a sensible foundation for all I have seen in this new improved cylinder flute. Unquestionably a principle founded on nature's laws has been ingeniously carried out in it and, so far as my judgment leads, it is and will be the principle and model of all future instruments of the same class.  

I do not, speaking of this Flute, lay any stress at all upon the nature of the fingering used, for this must be an after consideration for those who make and those who play, but I do say with confidence that it is as yet the only flute I have ever seen to which the often vaunted terms of theory, system, acoustical science, &c., &c., seem to have the smallest application. Certain effects and defects peculiar to each instrument must remain - the one its pride, the other its weakness, but both acting as a wise provision to enable us to regulate our judgment as to its value.  It would, on the one hand, be as unjust to refuse praise to the excellence of an invention as it would be unwise, on the other, to shut our eyes to the defects  inseparable from it.  It is right, however, to form a fair and candid estimate of the whole by both of these in conjunction, and to ask ourselves whether the combined efforts of years of patient and too often of unrewarded experiments in flute manufacture, have not led at last, as I think they have, to as fair and satisfactory a result as can ever be expected in the nature of things.

I have but one more word to say in closing these remarks: no position is much less to be envied than that of one who, without partiality, endeavours to take a collective glance at the different rival systems of past years in any branch of art, and who seeks, as it were, to pass judgment upon them.  It clearly would be impossible for such a reviewer to gratify, or even hope to convince, one-tenth part of those who have been engaged in such contentions.  Whatever be their worth, I have openly and, I hope, clearly expressed my own views on the subject.  Should any one who has himself added his share of industry and experience towards the regeneration of the flute conceive offence from any of the above remarks, I must distinctly beg to disclaim, on my part, any such intention; should the conclusions I have drawn be in opposition to any one's private views or interests, I have only to plead that they are the necessary consequences of premises which they themselves have helped to establish, and will be found to be but the natural results of a fair, free, and open investigation of all matters under dispute.

Lastly, I beg my readers, one and all, to believe that I have endeavoured to arrive at the truth of this much vexed question by the legitimate road of research and reasoning, and that I have earnestly desired to examine all its various points with discretion and good temper.

WEST  DRAYTON, Middlesex, May, 1862.


The Publisher of this work has the pleasure to add the following critique from The Age we Live in, July 26th, 1862.  It will be read with considerable interest by all Flautists, and will prove the correctness of Mr. Skeffington's views.

"CLINTON'S PRIZE MEDAL FLUTE. - The decision of the jury upon the long vexed question of Flutes will be hailed with great satisfaction by all Flautists.  During the last fifteen years the instrument has been undergoing a series of changes in its fingering and construction, which has proved most perplexing to amateurs. Each Inventor or Manufacturer earnestly insisting that his own Flute was the best, and that all others were mere abortions, it became almost impossible to decide which was really the most perfect instrument. All possible contrivances for new Flutes being exhausted, it was desirable that some competent and disinterested judgment should be pronounced upon this bewildering subject. 

Nothing could happen more opportunely than the International Exhibition of 1862, where a jury consisting of the most eminent men in Europe, unbiased by the party feeling of rival manufacturers, had all the new Flutes explained to them and played upon by the best performers.  Upon referring to the list of awards published by the Royal Commissioners, we find that the firm of Clinton & Co. have received the only Medal for improvements upon the system of Boehm, which is the acknowledged standard or groundwork of all the modern Flutes.

The improvements effected by Clinton & Co. refer to the three most important parts of the Instrument, namely Tone, Tune, and Fingering.  On Boehm's Cylinder Flute, the holes are professedly equal, by which the same amount of opening is obtained at each length of the Tube. That system is manifestly wrong, being a violation of nature's first principle.  The gradual opening of the holes upon the Flute gradually shortens the Tube, and the Flute has been correctly compared to a series of organ pipes which are gradually reduced in length for the ascending scale.  In that respect, Boehm's Cylinder Flute is correct, but it must not be forgotten that, in a series of organ pipes, the diameter of each must be reduced as well as the length, otherwise equality of tone could not be obtained. A reference to any set of organ pipes will clearly demonstrate this.

When the holes of a Flute are equal in size, and the tube (or body) of the Instrument equal in diameter (i.e., Cylindrical), it would be impossible to have the tones equal, because no change of diameter, nor any substitute, could be obtained; it therefore becomes necessary to make the notes equal by the skill of the performer, as upon the ordinary flute. Clinton & Co. have overcome this defect in the most simple and natural manner, thus: the lowest or C sharp hole is nearly as large as the diameter of the Cylinder, reduced in the same proportion as the C sharp organ pipe. The other holes are reduced upon the same principle, hence the Instrument is named the Cylinder Flute with graduated holes.

It needs but a small portion of musical knowledge to perceive the soundness of that theory, it being in strict consonance with nature's law, and is carried out upon all other musical instruments, whether made by a series of tubes, strings, or tongues.  If reference be made to a pianoforte or harp, it will be seen that as the strings decrease in length, they also decrease in diameter.  The same principle is found in all organ pipes; in short, a reduction in diameter is quite as necessary to obtain equality of tone as reduction of length is to obtain correct tune; they must be co-existent, and it would be sheer nonsense to admit one and deny the other.  Nothing but gross ignorance or interested prejudice could attempt to deny the superiority of graduated holes.

That principle being secured to Clinton & Co., by Her Majesty's Royal Letters Patent, it may possibly meet with some opposition from rival manufacturers or their dependents; but the soundness of its theory, and the palpable improvement in the tone and tune of the improved cylinder, especially in the extremes of the Instrument, will render opposition of no avail eventually. The public care not an atom about rival inventors or manufacturers.  Like the jury of the International Exhibition, they will award their prize, namely, their patronage, to the best flute.  

Upon the subject of fingering, the jury have notified their award to Clinton & Co., as a modification of Boehm's system.  This flute has long been known as the 'Equisonant.' It is free from all difficulties of fingering throughout the whole register. Considerable ingenuity has been displayed in some of the new flutes, by the introduction of facilities in one or two points in the first and second octaves; but alas, when too late, the purchaser discovers that the third octave or upper notes are out of tune and that the boasted facility is a myth and a barrier to perfect, certain or easy performance. The fingering of the Equisonant is alike easy in all passages and in all keys, and is, moreover, so near to the fingering of the ordinary flute, it can be readily adopted.

To retain the old fingering in every particular would be to perpetuate the well-known difficulties of  F and C natural, and to render the third octave more difficult than formerly, while the adoption of such an instrument would involve a much greater amount of study than the trifling deviation of the Equisonant, and still fail to realize the object sought, namely, a perfect flute. There can be no doubt that the fingering of the Equisonant, united to the improved cylinder with graduated holes, will become the universal flute.  We congratulate Messrs. Clinton & Co. in having obtained so distinguished and well-merited a reward from the jury."


So ends our rendering of the complete text of Skeffington’s work.  A number of points arising from a reading of the above document appear worthy of comment.  Skeffington amply confirms the notion which has been presented before that the plethora of different flute designs which were being promoted during the three decades from 1832 to 1862 (when Skeffington was writing) had had a very adverse effect upon the general popularity of the instrument.  He becomes a valuable witness to this phenomenon.  He also provides confirmation that even in 1862 there was still considerable resistance to the new fingering system introduced by Boehm in connection with his 1847 cylinder flute.   He provides a very clear sense of the frantic pace at which competing evolutions of the flute were being brought out and promoted in the years leading up to 1862.  Against this, he provides us with a further valuable insight by reporting that the general impression at the time of writing was that the era of intensive development of the flute had passed and there was now something of a breathing-space for flautists to take stock of what was on offer and choose what was for them the best instrument.  In this, he was correct – the next major evolution did not come until 1867 when Richard Carte brought out his famous and very successful 1867 model.  

There are a number of factual errors and “sins of omission” in the text, which, as we have warned in the preface, we have allowed to remain unchallenged.  But these do not in any way detract from the interest of this long-forgotten little work.  As a testament to the views of an amateur practitioner of the flute on the efforts of the various flute reformers of his day, Skeffington’s little monograph fully deserves its place in the bibliography of the flute.  

When it comes to Skeffington’s views on Clinton, we are on more speculative ground.  It is difficult to escape some degree of suspicion that Skeffington’s shared nationality and religious affiliation with Clinton (they were both Irish-born Protestants) may well have influenced these views.  But there is a thread of sincerity that runs through the text in our assessment – while he may have been predisposed towards a favourable review of Clinton’s work by the cultural kinship of the two men, such a pre-disposition does not appear to be of itself sufficient to account for the effort expended to marshal what Skeffington appears to see as genuinely-persuasive arguments in favour of Clinton’s line of development.   In the end, Skeffington was clearly a proponent of the old system of fingering which Clinton as trying to preserve with his “Equisonant” designs, and appears to have been genuinely impressed with Clinton’s efforts to combine the old fingering with Boehm’s new bore allied to the graduated holes to recover some of the acoustical characteristics of the old conical bore.  Skeffington thus provides confirmation that, like all of his rivals, Clinton had his advocates as well as his detractors.  

One of the more interesting features of the above work is the addendum included by the publishers in the form of a transcript of an article in the publication "The Age We Live In" from July 26th, 1862.  The inclusion of such an addendum is a most unusual step for the publisher to take. It will not escape the notice of serious students of this period that the style of this article is very reminiscent of the style of John Clinton himself when writing about his own flutes under his own name in earlier publications.  To the present researchers, it certainly appears possible that this highly laudatory article was written by Clinton himself or at least based by an anonymous critic upon Clinton's own now-lost writings in praise of his own new flute. 

If Clinton wrote it himself,  he must have submitted it to the magazine through an intermediary or under a nom-de-plume. The repeated references to "Clinton & Co." add support to this possibility, as do a number of elements of the writing style and use of terminology. However, this would be a significant departure from Clinton's previous track record - he had never been the least bit shy about advocating his own instruments under his own name in the past.  But he may have felt on this occasion that an apparently independent appraisal such as this article would be more persuasive than yet another paper issued in his own name.  As Skeffington points out in the main text, the primary weakness of most earlier texts upon the subject of flute development was their openly partisan source.  Clinton may have wished to break away from this perception when praising his latest creation. If true, this supposition would of course have no effect whatsoever upon any objective evaluation of Clinton's efforts to improve the flute - it would merely confirm that he was a hard-nosed businessman who was willing to do whatever he could to ensure the success of his new flute.  

Whoever wrote it, one thing is true -  the article uses Clinton-style flute terminology very freely and with familiarity.  It does not read like the work of a reporter-at-large, who would not be expected to have a close familiarity with the design and language of the flute.   However, it could well have been assembled by such an individual using a promotional pamphlet of Clinton's as a guide to the more technical aspects.  This would explain the similarities to Clinton's writing style and use of terminology.  Although no writings of Clinton's on the subject of the 1862 flute have survived (to our current knowledge), it was the practise at Exhibitions of the sort in question to feature promotional materials in conjunction with exhibits, as Clinton and Carte had both done at the earlier 1851 Exhibition.  It seems highly unlikely that Clinton would not have written something similar for dissemination from Clinton & Co.'s stand at the 1862 Exhibition.  This would have been freely available to the critic who wrote the article under this entirely plausible scenario.

Adrian Duncan, Terry McGee

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