what is the meaning of "brace or scale" and "tier" in this context?

"He was next asked: "Do you perceive any plan by which to expedite the art of writing?" "Yes; I am almost moved to invent an automatic psychographer—that is, an artificial soul-writer. It may be constructed something like a piano, one brace or scale of keys to represent the elementary sounds; another and lower tier to represent a combination, and still another for a rapid re-combination; so that a person, instead of playing a piece of music, may touch off a sermon or a poem."

1 Answer 1


Tier is straightforward. Dictionary definition: each in a series of rows or levels of a structure placed one above the other. This church organ has four tiers of keys, whereas a piano has only a single tier.

A scale in music is any set of musical notes ordered by pitch. In context this would refer to a single "row" of keys.

The usage of brace in this context is less clear-cut to me. As a noun, it has two main meanings which could potentially fit. Firstly, it could refer to a structural element of this machine - brace: something that transmits, directs, resists, or supports weight or pressure - but in this case it seems slightly strange to me to use "brace or scale", because brace is a physical/concrete element whereas scale is a conceptual one, so they would not seem naturally interchangeable.

Secondly, a brace is a pair, or two of something. In contemporary English this is not commonly used outside of specific contexts - footballers scoring a brace of goals, or hunters shooting a brace of pheasants. But in Conan-Doyle's day it was perhaps more commonplace to use it to mean two of anything. So "brace or scale" could be equivalent to saying "two or several keys". However, this also seems slightly unlikely to me because two keys would be a uselessly small number in the context of a keyboard which could produce all the elementary sounds of speech.

So, I am not entirely sure of what he means by "brace", but the overall meaning is fairly clear - he is envisaging something like the previously linked church organ, or a typewriter, with multiple rows of keys stacked above and below each other.

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