Carte’s Credibility – A Summary
In the previous articles in this series regarding Richard Carte’s various contributions to the historical record as far as the flute is concerned, we have for the first time (to our knowledge) subjected his writings to the same level of detailed scrutiny from a credibility standpoint as that to which those of his more prominent contemporaries such as Theobald Boehm, John Clinton, and Richard S. Rockstro have been subject in the past. In doing so, we have presented evidence to suggest that Carte was no more immune from the promulgation of error, whether intentionally or otherwise, than any of his contemporaries, and indeed was more prone to error than some.
For the benefit of those who may not feel inclined to wade through the considerable body of written material which has resulted from this exercise, we have prepared the following summary of the matters discussed. If anyone reading this summary wishes to examine a particular case in more detail, the articles themselves are there to be read and considered in their entirety.
As a preliminary step, we will draw attention to our companion article on the general subject of historical veracity. In that piece, we advocate the principle that statements made in the past by long-dead nineteenth century commentators must necessarily be taken as true unless and only unless there is some very good reason to suggest objectively that they may legitimately be questioned. This amounts to the application of the presumption of innocence, to which we believe our departed colleagues are fully entitled given their inability to speak today in their own defense – we cannot accuse them of uttering falsehoods unless we can back up such a contention with some hard objective evidence. We have applied this principle throughout our work on the history of the flute in the nineteenth century.
In that same article, we also suggested a system for classification of any errors which may be identified in the work of nineteenth century commentators (and indeed any and all commentators up to the present day). For convenience, we repeat the suggested categories here:
It must be clear that the application of one category or another to the comments of a given individual may be significantly affected by our understanding of the true state of his or her knowledge of the topic in question. Since we cannot now interview the individuals concerned, we must to a large extent rely upon our own awareness of the opportunities which they enjoyed to become informed and hence the reasonably expected state of their knowledge of the matters upon which they commented. There can be no hard and fast determination on this point, but it is perfectly reasonable to assign a degree of expectation to an individual’s knowledge based upon the opportunities to become informed which he or she undoubtedly enjoyed.
In that regard, there can have been few people associated with the flute during the middle years of the nineteenth century who were better placed than Richard Carte to remain well informed regarding the development of the instrument during that period. As a prominent player and later designer and manufacturer in his own right, and having enjoyed a long and close friendship with the eminent George Rudall, founding partner of the firm of Rudall & Rose, there could (or at least should) have been few men in England better placed to remain current regarding such matters.
Carte’s writings and his later business success also show him to have been a very intelligent man. In addition, he kept a diary in which he recorded many aspects of his professional life, thus freeing himself from reliance on memory. He refers to this diary in a number of instances. One wonders where it is today – it would constitute a priceless record if it could be located…
Given the opportunities which he enjoyed, coupled with his obvious intelligence and his predilection for recording what went on, we feel that it is quite legitimate to assume that Carte was (or should have been) unusually well-informed regarding the true state of affairs with respect to the various flute-related matters upon which he commented. The only alternative to this would be to assume that for some reason Carte failed to avail himself of his ongoing opportunities to remain informed and hence continued in a state of ignorance bordering on the incredible for a man in his position. The present authors are most reluctant to attribute such a failing to Carte, and hence we have approached our study of his writings on the basis that he was in fact fully and accurately informed and understood his business very well indeed. Respect for his memory demands no less.
With the above as a background, we may now proceed to summarize those aspects of Richard Carte’s contribution to the literature of the flute which may in our view be legitimately questioned. In doing so, we will attempt to place the various errors into the appropriate category taken from the list above.
The Major Issues
1. The Suppression of Boehm’s “Essay”
In our own article on this topic, we have shown that Theobald Boehm himself accused Carte directly of “refusing in a shameful manner” to return the English-language manuscript of Boehm’s 1847 “Essay on the Construction of Flutes” after Rudall & Rose had declined to publish the work. It is clear from this that Boehm had attempted to recover the manuscript, presumably to seek alternative avenues for publication, and had been refused by Carte in a manner which angered Boehm considerably and continued to irk him until his death. There appears to be no other reasonable interpretation of Boehm’s very clear statements on this topic. In our view, this amounts to outright suppression of the document by Carte, and falls into our Category 4 above. Although it is not possible to precisely pinpoint the motive for Carte’s action, it must have seemed compelling to Carte at the time. A sufficiently compelling personal motive is not apparent, and this makes it most probable that Carte’s action was commercially motivated.
2. Carte’s Claims in relation to the 1851 Exhibition
Our article on this topic clarifies the criteria for the main award categories at this event, in which flute designs by both Carte and Boehm appeared as exhibits. We have shown that Boehm won the prestigious Council Medal for design innovation, while Rudall & Rose won a Prize Medal for the workmanship displayed in their rendition of Carte’s Boehm-based 1851 design. These awards are accurately reflected in the official List of Awards published after the conclusion of the judging. Carte subsequently applied the Council Medal to his own 1851 flute, thus overturning the published finding of the Jury, and also claimed that the Prize Medal was won by Rudall & Rose for the design of his 1851 flute as opposed to the workmanship displayed in it. Both claims were blatantly false, as Carte was (or should have been) well aware. Hence both claims fall into Category 2 as outright lies. The commercial motivation for these statements appears obvious.
It is also worth noting that if Carte viewed the transfer of Medals from one instrument to another as an acceptable tactic and if Rudall & Rose’s award-winning workmanship was uniformly applied to their entire range, then their standard Boehm model should have been equally entitled to have the Prize Medal citation attached to it. The most obvious alternative is that they did not apply a uniform standard of workmanship to their entire range, which would be a surprising finding for a firm with their reputation. But there is one more alternative – the notion that they made a “special effort” with respect to the production of a one-off “Exhibition” model of Carte’s 1851 flute which made it stand out from their other products. If this were the case, then the Prize Medal should have applied only to that particular flute and not to the production models. However, Carte applied the Prize Medal designation to the production version of his 1851 design, and also transferred the credit earned by Boehm to the 1851 Carte model without assigning credit for workmanship the other way. However one looks at it, there is a glaring inconsistency here, and Carte’s writings provide no clarification of this matter. But once again, the commercial and perhaps personal motivation in promoting Carte’s design over that of Boehm appears obvious.
3. Carte’s Comments on John Clinton’s “Extreme” Holes
In our article regarding this subject, we have shown that the “General Remarks” section of the Rudall, Carte & Co. catalogue contained a number of false and misleading statements regarding John Clinton’s initial 1862 application of large graduated holes to the cylinder flute. For example, the claim was made that Clinton had carried the enlargement of holes to an undesirable extreme, whereas the highly-touted Rockstro Model produced by Rudall Carte & Co. actually had even larger holes on average. Furthermore, the principle of graduation of the hole sizes along the flute body was also decried as unsound, even though several of Rudall, Carte & Co.’s own models exhibited this feature to some degree.
We have shown that this piece was almost certainly written by Carte or at least approved by him. What is really remarkable about the above statements is that in their criticisms of Clinton’s work they actually embody negative implications regarding some of the then-current products of Rudall, Carte & Co., since the company produced flutes featuring both of these characteristics. It appears that the originator of the passage in question failed to recognize this, evidently being blinded by an over-riding desire to discredit Clinton. It is difficult to believe that Carte could have been ignorant of the true state of affairs, and hence the statements to the effect that large graduated holes don’t work appear to constitute another example of a Category 2 lie.
It is worth noting that history has completely vindicated Clinton – the eminent Parisian flute-maker Louis Lot enthusiastically embraced Clinton’s new design direction and further developed it, as Clinton might have done had he lived. In fact, our article illustrates the fact that modern practice embodies the use of large graduated holes very much along the lines first introduced by Clinton in 1862. Although the holes sizes of modern flutes are marginally smaller, it is clear that Clinton’s 1862 designs pointed the way ahead for the more open-minded manufacturers such as Lot. Time has more than justified Clinton’s design concepts, Rudall, Carte & Co. notwithstanding!
As far as motivation goes, it would appear likely that Rudall, Carte & Co. recognized that Clinton had been on the right track with his 1862 model featuring large graduated holes but were unwilling to admit it. In any case, prior to 1876 they were prevented from openly utilizing these concepts themselves by the 1862 Patent taken out by Clinton, and were thus forced to go as far as they could in adopting these concepts themselves (as they undoubtedly did) while openly deriding Clinton to obscure the fact that they had done so! Deflection of any implications of Patent infringement may thus have been the primary motivation.
4. Carte’s Comments on Boehm’s 1847 Patent
In our article on this topic, we have shown that in his 1851 “Sketch” Carte chose to attempt to discredit what he saw as a false statement by Clinton by making a statement of his own which was itself flagrantly untrue in two key aspects. He claimed that the 1847 Patent relating to Boehm’s cylinder flute covered flutes only and did not extend to the material of which it was made. Reference to the actual wording of the Patent, which appears in our article, shows both of these statements to be completely untrue. Carte had been familiar with Boehm’s designs since the early 1840’s and had had the opportunity to try the prototype of the new cylinder-bored design beginning in 1847. He had also utilized elements of the 1847 Patent in the development of his own 1851 design. It is thus objectively impossible to see Carte as being uninformed on this matter, and these two inaccuracies must therefore be viewed as Category 2 lies. The motivation was presumably to discredit the comments of a rival designer, and it would seem that Carte was banking on the entirely plausible notion that few if any readers would take the trouble to go to the Patent Office and check his statements.
In the same context, Carte commented upon the design and function of the tapered head-joint which was a key feature of the acoustical design of the 1847 Boehm cylinder flute. He claimed incorrectly that it was internally contoured as a parabola, which might have been set down as nothing more than a “sales pitch” if he had stopped at using the term ”parabola” strictly and explicitly as a commercial label. But he then went on to directly compare the function of this head-joint configuration to that of a parabolic light reflector. Since the head-joint contour taken as a whole actually bore very little resemblance to a parabola, this comparison was clearly invalid, as Carte must surely have realized. This therefore falls into Category 2 as another lie, the only alternative being that Carte was almost unbelievably ignorant regarding the true configuration and function of the Boehm head-joint. The motivation was presumably to impart a pseudo-scientific cachet to the design of this head-joint (which Carte used in his own designs) and thus enhance its perceived value in the eyes of the flute-buying public.
5. Carte’s Claim to Priority as an English-born Player of the Boehm Flute
Our article on this topic summarizes the facts in this case. Both in 1845 and again in 1851, Carte claimed to have been the first “English player” and the first “native professor” to perform in public on the Boehm flute (referring in both instances to the 1832 ring-keyed conical-bore model). The odd thing about these claims was that in both cases they had been previously and publicly refuted. The flute-maker Cornelius Ward had noted in 1843 that William Card had been the first English performer on the conical Boehm instrument beginning in 1839, and Card himself responded to Carte’s 1845 claim by documenting his own use of the instrument for two full years beginning in the late 1830’s, thus confirming Ward’s earlier account. Despite this, Carte repeated his spurious claim in 1851. While it is just possible (albeit difficult) to believe that the initial 1845 claim was made through genuine ignorance of the true facts, such an excuse cannot be applied to the second claim of 1851, which must therefore be viewed as another Category 2 lie. The motivation was presumably to enhance Carte’s stature as an expert on the Boehm flute, about which he was writing at the time.
The Minor Errors – Some Examples
We have now summarized the more glaring inaccuracies in Carte’s writings – those which we felt deserved a full examination in the accompanying articles to which reference has been made. There are numerous other less significant errors in Carte’s writings, such as:
There was also the charge brought publicly against Carte in 1845 to the effect that when writing his 1845 tutor for the Boehm flute he had plagiarized a system of notation developed by Auguste Bertini, and had done so without acknowledgement. Bertini himself supported this allegation, and Carte’s rather lukewarm defense was that if he was guilty of plagiarism then so was Bertini, since others had preceded Bertini by some years! The pot and the kettle, in fact … at worst, a case of a simple omission, and nothing about which to get as steamed up as some contemporaries did!
If our conclusions drawn above are accurate, we find that Carte transgressed in our five categories with respect to the following topics:
1) Innocent Errors of Fact
3) Omission of facts
4) Suppression of facts
Not a good score, perhaps, for one previously assumed to be an upstanding pillar of flute history. Now, we say carefully “If our conclusions drawn above are accurate”, because at this distance in time and with the few resources we have left to us, it is impossible to guarantee total accuracy. Indeed, we look forward to other researchers delving into their own resources, re-examining our arguments and challenging or augmenting our interpretations about this important topic. Specifically, we look forward to the release soon of Robert Bigio’s major work involving Carte, in which we expect that these matters will be addressed further.
So here we are, back with the fundamental question – was Carte a saint or a sinner on this showing? Well, it should come as no real surprise to find out that he was neither – he was simply a human being like the rest of us, and subject to the same failings and temptations as we ourselves are. On the basis of the above analysis, it is clear that Carte was far from immune from the promulgation of error and misinformation, both intentionally and in all innocence. But why should we expect that it would be otherwise? To err is undoubtedly human, and Carte trod the same road of human experience and emotion as the rest of his contemporaries and indeed as ourselves. Add to that an overriding ambition to succeed at all costs in a highly competitive environment in which failure could spell total ruin, and we have all the ingredients for the temptation to “adapt” the facts in one’s own interests to become overwhelming.
If there is one trend that comes out of the above analysis, it is that Carte appears to have been an unusually unreliable commentator when dealing with any topic having some relation to his own business interests, in the pursuit of which he displayed a high level of single-mindedness and a certain level of ruthlessness. He appears also to lose track of reality in a number of instances where the name of John Clinton cropped up in some way. Carte’s writings and his actions clearly need to be interpreted in this light by anyone having an objective interest in the development of the flute in the nineteenth century.
Indeed, Carte comes to resemble his student Rockstro in the careful use of language to impart inaccuracies. Perhaps Rockstro learned more from Carte than just the flute?
The lesson to be learned once again from this is that there are no “sacred cows” in historical research. Established views, whether positive or negative, regarding the reliability or otherwise of any historical figure, whether connected with the flute or otherwise, require constant challenge and objective re-evaluation. Only in this way can prejudices or hidden agendas be filtered out and some nearer approximation of the objective facts be secured.
My thanks to Adrian Duncan, flute player and researcher, Vancouver, Canada for researching and assembling this analysis.
Created: 19 May 2007