1902 Encyclopedia > White Magic

White Magic




WHITE MAGIC. Under this head is included the art of performing tricks and exhibiting illusions by aid of apparatus, excluding feats of dexterity in which there is no deception, together with the performances of such auto-maton figures as are actuated in a secret and mysterious manner. Conjuring by prestidigitation, or sleight of hand, independently of mechanical apparatus, is referred to under LEGERDEMAIN.

Whether or not the book of Exodus makes the earliest historical reference to this natural magic when it records how the magicians of Egypt imitated certain miracles of Moses "by their enchantments," it is known that the Egyptian hierophants, as well as the magicians of ancient Greece and Rome, were accustomed to astonish their dupes with optical illusions, visible representations of the divinities and subdivinities passing before the spectators in dark subterranean chambers. From the descriptions of ancient authors we may conjecture that the principal optical illusion employed in these effects was the throwing of spectral images of living persons and other objects upon the smoke of burning incense by means of concave metal mirrors. But, according to the detailed exposure of the tricks of the magicians given by Hippolytus (Ref. Om. Haer., iv. 35), it appears that the desired effect was often produced in a simpler way, by causing the dupe to look into a cellar through a basin of water with a glass bottom standing under a sky-blue ceiling, or by figures on a dark wall drawn in inflammable material and suddenly ignited. The flashes of lightning and the rolling thunders which sometimes accompanied these manifestations were easy tricks, now familiar to everybody as the ignition of lycopodium, and the shaking of a sheet of metal. The ancient methods described by Hippolytus (iv. 32) were very similar.

Spectral pictures or reflexions of moving objects, similar to those of the camera or magic lantern, were described in the 14th and 16th centuries. Thus, in the House of Fame, bk. iii., Chaucer speaks of "appearances such as the subtil tregetours perform at feasts"—pictorial representations of hunting, falconry, and knights jousting, with the persons and objects instantaneously disappearing; exhibitions of the same kind are mentioned by Sir John Mandeville, as seen by him at the court of "the Great Chan" in Asia; and in the middle of the 16th century Benvenuto Cellini saw phantasmagoric spectres projected upon smoke at a nocturnal exhibition in the Colosseum at Rome. The existence of a camera at this latter date is a fact ; for the instrument is described by Baptista Porta, the Neapolitan philosopher, in his Magia Naturalis (1558). And the doubt how magic lantern effects could have been produced in the 14th century, when the lantern itself is alleged to have been invented by Athanasius Kircher in the middle of the 17th century, is set at rest by the fact that glass lenses were constructed at the earlier of these dates,—Roger Bacon, in his Discovery of the Miracles of Art, Nature, and Magic (about 1260), writing of glass lenses and perspectives so well made as to give good telescopic and microscopic effects, and to be useful to old men and those who have weak eyes. Towards the end of last century Comus, a French conjuror (the second of the name), included in his entertainment a figure which suddenly appeared and disappeared about 3 feet above a table,—a trick explained by the circum-stance that a concave mirror was among his properties; and a contemporary performer, Robert, exhibited the raising of the dead by the same agency. Early in the present century Philipstal gave a sensation to his magic lantern entertainment by lowering unperceived between the audience and the stage a sheet of gauze upon which fell the vivid moving shadows of phantasmagoria.

A new era in optical tricks began in 1863 when John Nevil Maskelyne, a Cheltenham artist in jewellery, invented a wood cabinet in which persons vanished and were made to reappear, although it was placed upon high feet, with no passage through which a person could pass from the cabinet to the stage floor, the scenes, or the ceiling; and this cabinet was examined and measured for concealed space, and watched round by persons from the audience during the whole of the transformations. The general principle undoubtedly was this:—if a looking-glass be set upright in the corner of a room, bisecting the right angle formed by the walls, the side wall reflected will appear as if it were the back, and hence an object may be hidden behind the glass, yet the space seem to remain unoccupied. This principle, however, was so carried out that no sign of the existence of any mirror was discernible under the closest inspection. Two years later the same simple principle appeared in "The Cabinet of Proteus," patented by Tobin and Pepper of the Polytechnic Institution, in which two mirrors were employed, meeting in the middle, where an upright pillar concealed their edges. In the same year Stodare exhibited the illusion in an extended form, by placing the pair of mirrors in the centre of the stage, supported between the legs of a three-legged table having the apex towards the audience; and as the side walls of his stage were draped exactly like the back, reflexion showed an apparently clear space below the table top, where in reality a man in a sitting position was hidden behind the glasses and exhibited his head ("The Sphinx") above the table. The plane mirror illusion is so effective that it has been reproduced with modifications by various performers. In one case a living bust was shown through an aperture in a looking-glass sloping upward from the front toward the back of a curtained cabinet; in another a person stood half-hidden by a vertical mirror, and imitation limbs placed in front of it were sundered and removed; and in another case a large vertical mirror was pushed forward from a back corner of the stage at an angle of 45 degrees, to cover the entrance of a living "phantom," and then withdrawn. Maskelyne improved upon his original cabinet by taking out a shelf which, in conjunction with a mirror, could enclose a space, and thus left no apparent place in which a person could possibly be hidden. He introduced a further mystification by secretly conveying a person behind a curtain screen, notwithstanding that, during the whole time, the existence of a clear space under the stool upon which the screen is placed is proved by performers con-tinually walking round. And the illusion reached its height when he revealed or "vanished" a succession of persons out of a light shell obelisk or "Cleopatra’s Needle," with a sheet of paper interposed between this cover and the stool it stood upon, thus intercepting the apparently only avail-able avenue of approach. The principle of reflecting by means of transparent plate-glass the images of highly-illu-minated objects placed in front, so that they appear as if among less brilliantly lighted objects behind the glass, was employed in the "ghost" illusions of Sylvester, of Direks and Pepper, of Robin, and of some other inventors,—the transparent plate-glass being, in some cases, inclined for-wards so as to reflect a lime-lighted object placed below the front of the stage, and in other arrangements set vertically at an angle so as to reflect the object from a lateral position.

Among the acoustic wonders of antiquity, fabled or real, were the speaking head of Orpheus, the golden virgins, whose voices resounded through the, temple of Delphi, and the like. Hippolytus (iv. 4) explains the trick of the speaking head as practised in his day: the voice was really that of a concealed assistant who spoke through the flexible gullet of a crane. Towards the close of the 10th century Gerbert (Pope Sylvester II.) constructed (says William of Malmesbury) a brazen head which answered questions; and similar inventions are ascribed to Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, and others. In the first half of the 17th century the philosopher Descartes made a speak-ing, figure which he called his daughter Franchina; and the superstitious captain of a vessel had it thrown over board. In the latter part of the same century Thomas Irson, an Englishman exhibited at the court of Charles II. a wooden figure with a speaking-trumpet in its mouth; and questions whispered in its ear were answered through a pipe secretly communicating with an apartment wherein was a learned priest able to converse in various languages. Beckmann, in his History of Inventions (about 1770), relates his inspection of a speaking figure, in which the words really came through a tube from a confederate who held a card of signs by which he received intelligence from the exhibitor. Somewhat later was shown in England the figure of an infant suspended by a ribbon, having a speaking-trumpet in its mouth,—an illusion in which two concave mirrors were employed, one of them concentrating the rays of sound into a focus within the head of the figure; and the mirror nearest the figure was hidden by a portion of the wall-paper which was perforated with pinholes. In 1783 Giuseppe Pinetti de Wildalle, an Italian conjuror of great originality, exhibited among his many wonders a toy bird perched upon a bottle, which fluttered, blew out a candle, and warbled any melody proposed or improvised by the audience,—doing this also when removed from the bottle to a table, or when held in the performer’s hand upon any part of the stage. The sounds were pro-duced by a confederate who imitated song-birds after Rossignol’s method by aid of the inner skin of an onion in the mouth; and speaking-trumpets directed the sounds to whatever position was occupied by the bird. About the year 1825 Charles, a Frenchman, exhibited a copper globe, carrying four speaking-trumpets, which was sus-pended in a light frame in the centre of a room. Whispers uttered near to this apparatus were heard by a confederate in an adjoining room by means of a tube passing through the frame and the floor, and answers issued from the trumpets in a loud tone. And of late years have appeared more than one illusion of a similar order, in which the talking and singing of a distant person issue from an isolated head or figure by aid of ear-trumpets secretly contained within parts in which, from their outside form, the presence of such instruments would not be suspected. It is probable that the automaton trumpeters of Kaufmann and of Maelzel were clever deceptions of the same kind. As described in the Journal de Mode, 1809, Maelzel’s life-size figure had the musical instrument fixed in its mouth ; the mechanism was wound up, and a set series of marches, army calls, and other compositions was performed, accompaniments being played by a real band. Mechanical counterparts of the human lips, tongue, and breath, both in speech and in playing certain musical instrnments, have, however, been constructed,—as in Vaucanson’s celebrated automaton flute-player, which was completed in 1736; the same mechanician’s tambourine and flageolet player, which was still more ingenious, as, the flageolet having only three holes, some of the notes were produced by half~stop-ping; Abbé Mical’s heads which articulated syllables, and his automata playing upon instruments; Kempelen’s and Kratzenstein’s speaking-machines, in the latter part of last century; the speaking-machine made by Fabermann of Vienna, closely imitating the human voice, with a fairly good pronunciation of various words; the automaton clarionet-player constructed by Van Oeckelen, a Dutchman, and exhibited in New York in 1860, which played airs from a barrel like that of a crank-organ, and could take the clarionet from its mouth and replace it; and, lastly, Maskelyne’s two automata, "Fanfare" (1878) playing a cornet, and "Labial" (1879) playing a euphonium, both operated by mechanism inside the figures and supplied with wind from a bellows placed separately upon the stage.





Lucian tells of the magician Alexander in the 2d cen-tury that he received written questions enclosed in sealed envelopes, and a few days afterwards delivered written responses in the same envelopes, with the seals apparently unbroken; and both he and Hippolytus explain several methods by which this could be effected. In this deception we have the germ of "spirit-reading" and "spirit-writing," which, introduced in 1840 by Anderson, "The Wizard of the North," became common in the répertoire of modern conjurors,—embracing a variety of effects from an instan-taneous substitution which allows the performer or his confederate to see what has been secretly written by the audience. The so-called "second-sight" trick depends upon a system of signalling between the exhibitor, who moves among the audience collecting questions to be answered and articles to be described, and the performer, who is blindfolded on the stage. As already stated, the speaking figure which Stock showed to Professor Beckmann, at Göttingen, about 1770, was instructed by a code of signals. In 1783 Pinetti had an automaton figure about 18 inches in height, named the Grand Sultan or Wise Little Turk, which answered questions as to chosen cards and many other things by striking upon a bell, intelligence being communicated to a confederate by an ingenious ordering of the words, syllables, or vowels in the questions put. The teaching of Mesmer and feats of alleged clair-voyance suggested to Pinetti a more remarkable performance in 1785, when Signora Pinetti, sitting blindfold in a front box of a theatre, replied to questions and displayed her knowledge of articles in the possession of the audience. Half a century later this was developed with greater elaboration, and the system of telegraphing cloaked by intermixing signals on other metbods, first by Robert--Houdin in 1846, then by Hermann in 1848, and by Anderson at a later period. Details of the system of indicating a very large number of answers by slight and unperceived variations in the form of question are given by F. A. Gandon, La Seconde Vue Dévoilée, Paris, 1849.

Fire tricks, such as walking on burning coals, breathing flame and smoke from a gall-nut filled with an inflammable composition and wrapped in tow, or dipping the hands in boiling pitch, were known in early times, and are explained by HippolytuS (iv. 33). At the close of the 17th century Richardson astonished the English public by chewing ignited coals, pouring melted lead (really quicksilver) upon his tongue, and swallowing melted glass. Strutt, in Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, relates how he saw Powel the fire-eater, in 1762, broil a piece of beefsteak laid upon his tongue,—a piece of lighted charcoal being placed under his tongue which a spectator blew upon with a bellows till the meat was sufficiently done. This man also drank a melted mixture of pitch, brimstone, and lead out of an iron spoon, the stuff blazing furiously. These per-formers anointed their mouths and tongues with a pro-tective composition.

Galen speaks of a person in the 2d century who relighted a blown-out candle by holding it against a wall or a stone which had been rubbed with sulphur and naphtha; and the instantaneous lighting of candles became a famous feat of later times. Baptista Porta gave directions for perform-ing a trick entitled "many candles shall be lighted pre-sently." Thread is boiled in oil with brimstone and orpiment, and when dry bound to the wicks of candles ; and, one being lighted, the flame runs to them all. He says that on festival days they are wont to do this among the Turks. "Some call it Hermes his ointment." In 1783 Pinetti showed two figures sketched upon a wall, one of which put out a candle, and the other relighted the hot wick, when the candle was held to their mouths. By wafers he had applied a few grains of gunpowder to the mouth of the first, and a bit of phosphorus to that of the other. A striking trick of this conjuror was to extinguish two wax candles and simultaneously light two others at a distance of 3 feet, by firing a pistol. The candles were placed in a row, and the pistol fired from the end where the lighted candles were placed; the sudden blast of hot gas from the pistol blew out the flames and lighted the more distant candles, because in the wick of each was placed a millet-grain of phosphorus. A more recent conjuror showed a pretty illusion by appearing to carry a flame invisibly between his hands from a lighted to an unlighted candle. What he did was to hold a piece of wire for a second or two in the flame of the first candle, and then touch with the heated wire a bit of phosphorus which had been inserted in the turpentine-wetted. wick of the other. But in 1842 Louis Döbler, a German con-juror of much originality, surprised his audience by lighting two hundred candles instantaneously upon the firing of a pistol. This was the earliest application of electricity to stage illusions. The candles were so arranged that each wick, black from previous burning, stood a few inches in front of a fine nozzle gas-burner projecting horizontally from a pipe of hydrogen gas, and the two hundred jets of gas passed through the same number of gaps in a con-ducting-wire. An electric current leaping in a spark through each jet of gas ignited all simultaneously, and the gas flames fired the candle wicks. Robert-Houdin, who opened his "Temple of Magic" at Paris in 1845, originated the application of electro-magnetism for secretly working or controlling mechanical apparatus in stage illusions. He first exhibited in 1845 his light and heavy chest, which, when placed upon the broad plank or "rake" among the spectators, and exactly over a powerful electromagnet hidden under the cloth covering of the plank, was held fast at pleasure. In order to divert suspicion Houdin showed a second experi-ment with the same box, suspending it by a rope which passed over a single small pulley attached to the ceiling ; but any person in the audience who took hold of the rope to feel the sudden increase in the weight of the box was unaware that the rope, while appearing to pass simply over the pulley, really passed upward over a winding-barrel worked as required by an assistant. Remarkable ingenuity was displayed in concealing a small electromagnet in the handle of his glass bell, as well as in his drum, the electric current passing through wires hidden within the cord by which these articles were suspended. In one of Houdin’s illusions—throwing eight half-crowns into a crystal cash-box previously set swinging—electricity was employed in a different manner. Top, bottom, sides, and ends of an oblong casket were of transparent glass, held together at all the edges by a light metal frame. The coins were con-cealed under an opaque design on the lid, and supported by a false lid of glass, which was tied by cotton thread to a piece of platinum wire. Upon connecting the electric circuit, the platinum, becoming red-hot severed the thread, letting fall the glass flap, and dropping the coins into the box.

Down to the latter part of last century no means of secretly communicating ad libitum motions to apparently isolated pieces of mechanism had superseded the clumsy device of packing a confederate into a box on legs draped to look like an unsophisticated table. Pinetti placed three horizontal levers close beside each other in the top of a thin table, covered by a cloth, these levers being actuated by wires passing through the legs and feet of the table and to the confederate behind a scene or partition. In the pedestal of each piece of apparatus which was to be operated upon when set loosely upon the table were three corresponding levers hidden by cloth; and, after being examined by the audience, the piece of mechanism was placed upon a table in such a position that the two sets of levers exactly coincided, one being superimposed upon the other. In one "effect" the confederate worked a small bellows in the base of a lamp, to blow out the flame; in another he let go a trigger, causing an arrow to fly by a spring from the bow of a doll sportsman; he actuated a double-bellows inside a bottle, which caused flowers and fruit to protrude from among the foliage of an artificial shrub, by distending with air a number of small bladders shaped and painted to represent them; he opened or shut valves which allowed balls to issue out of various doors in a model house as directed by the audience; and he moved the tiny bellows in the body of a toy bird by which it blew out a candle. Other conjurors added more complicated pieces of apparatus,—one being a clock with small hand moving upon a glass disk as required by the audience. The glass disk carrying the numbers or letters was in reality two, the back one being isolated by ratchet teeth on its periphery hidden by the ring frame which supported it, and, though the pillar-pedestal was separated into three pieces and shown to the spectators, movable rods, worked by the table levers, were in each section duly covered by cloth faces. Another mechanical trick, popular with Torrini, Houdin, Philippe, and Robin, and worked in a similar way, was a little harlequin figure which rose out of a box set upon the table, put his legs over the front of the box and sat on the edge, nodded his head, smoked a pipe, blew out a candle, and whistled a one-note obbligato to an orchestra. Robert-Houdin employed, instead of the table levers, vertical rods each arranged to rise and fall in a tube, according as it was drawn down by a spiral spring or pulled up by whip-cord which passed over a pulley at the top of the tube and so down the table leg to the hiding-place of the confederate. In his centre table he had ten of these "pistons," and the ten cords passing under the floor of the stage terminated at a keyboard. Various ingenious automata were actuated by this means of transmitting motion ; but the most elaborate piece of mechanical apparatus constructed by Houdin was his orange tree. The oranges, with one exception, were real, stuck upon small spikes, and concealed by hemispherical screens which were covered with foliage; and the screens, when released by the upward pressure of a piston, made half a turn, and disclosed the fruit. The flowers were hidden behind foliage until raised above the leaves by the action of another piston. Near the top of the tree an artificial orange opened into four portions; while two butterflies attached to two light arms of brass rose up behind the tree, appeared on each side by the spreading of the arms, and drew out of the opened orange a handkerchief which had been borrowed and vanished away.

It is remarkable how many of the illusions regarded as the original inventions of eminent conjurors have been really improvements of older tricks. Hocus Pocus Junior, The Anatomy of Legerdemain (4th edition, 1654), gives an explanatory cut of a method of drawing different liquors out of a single tap in a barrel, the barrel being divided into compartments, each having an air-hole at the top, by means of which the liquid in any of the compartments was withheld or permitted to flow. Robert-Houdin applied the principle to a wine-bottle held in his hand from which he could pour four different liquids regulated by the un-stopping of any of the four tiny air-holes which were covered by his fingers. A large number of very small liqueur glasses being provided on trays, and containing drops of certain flavouring essences, enabled him to supply imitations of various wines and liquors, according to the glasses into which he poured syrup from the bottle; while by a skilful substitution of a full bottle for an emptied one, or by secretly refilling in the act of wiping the bottle with a cloth, he produced the impression that the bottle was "inexhaustible." In 1835 was first exhibited in England a trick which a Brahman had been seen to perform at Madras several years before. Ching Lau Lauro sat cross-legged upon nothing,—one of his hands only just touching some beads hung upon a genuine hollow bamboo which was set upright in a hole on the top of a wooden stool. The placing of the performer in position was done behind a screen; and the explanation of the mysterious suspension is that he passed through the bamboo a strong iron bar, to which he connected a support which, concealed by the beads, his hand, and his dress, upheld his body. In 1849 Robert-Houdin reproduced the idea under the title, of ethereal suspension,—professedly rendering his son’s body devoid of weight by administering vapour of ether to his nose, and then, in sight of the audience, laying him in a horizontal position in the air with one elbow resting upon a staff resembling a long walking-stick. The support was a jointed iron frame under the boy’s dress, with cushions and belts passing round and under the body. Subsequently the trick was improved upon by Sylvester—the suspended person being shown in several changes of position, while the sole supporting upright was finally removed. For the latter deception the steel upright was made with polished angular faces, apex toward the spectators, and acted in a dim light on the same principle as the mirrors of a Sphinx table. Before lowering the light, the reflector bar is rovered by the wood staff set up before it.





The mysterious vanishing or appearing of a person under a large extinguisher upon the top of a table, and without the use of mirrors, was first performed by Cornus, a French conjuror very expert in the cups-and-balls, sleight-of-hand, who, appearing in London in 1789, an-nounced that he would convey his wife under a cup in the same manner as he would balls. The feat was accom-plished. by means of a trap in a box table. Early in the present century Chalons, a Swiss conjuror, transformed a bird into a young lady, on the same principle. In 1836 Sutton varied the feat by causing the vanished body to re-appear under the crust of a great pie. Houdin "vanished" a person standing upon a table top which was shown to be only a few inches thick; but there was a false top which was let down like the side of a bellows, this distension being hidden by a table-cloth hanging sufficiently low for the purpose, and the person, when covered by the extinguisher, entered the table though a trap-door opening upwards. Robin, in 1851, added to the wonder of the trick by vanishing two persons in succession, without any pos-sibility of either escaping from the table,—the two persons really packing themselves into a space which, without clever arrangement and practice, could not hold more than one. The sword-and-basket trick was common in India many years ago. In one form it consisted in inverting an empty basket over a child upon the ground ; after the child had secreted himself between the basket-bottom and a belt concealed by a curtain painted to look like the actual wicker bottom, a sword was thrust through both sides of the basket, the child screaming, and squeezing upon the sword and upon the ground a blood-coloured liquid from a sponge. When the performer upset the basket, the child could not be seen; but another child similarly costumed suddenly appeared among the spectators, having been up to that time supported by a pair of stirrups under the cloak of a confederate among the bystanders. In another form an oblong basket is used large at the bottom and tapering to the top, with the lid occupying only the central portion of the top, and the child is so disposed round the basket that the sword plunged downward avoids him, and the performer can step inside and stamp upon the bottom to prove that the basket is empty. In 1865 Stodare introduced the trick into England, but in a new manner. Upon light tressels he placed a large oblong basket; and after a lady attired in a profuse muslin dress had composed herself and her abundance of skirt within, after the lid had been shut and the sword plunged through the sides, the basket was tilted towards the audience to show that it was empty, and the lady reappeared in a gallery of the hall. The basket was formed with an outer shell to turn down, leaving the lady with- her dress packed together lying upon the basket bottom and behind what had formed a false front side,—the principle being the same as in the clown’s box, which, when containing a man, is rolled over to display the inside empty. The reappearing lady was a double, or twin sister.

Among the most meritorious and celebrated mechanical illusions have been automaton figures secretly influenced in their movements by concealed operators. In the 17th century M. Raisin, organist of Troyes, took to the French court a harpsichord which played airs as directed by the audience; but, upon opening the instrument, Louis XIV. discovered a youthful performer inside. In 1769 Baron Kempelen, of Pressburg, in Hungary, completed his chessplayer, which for a long time remained the puzzle of Europe. It was an illusion,—the merit consisting in the devices by which the confederate player was hidden in the cabinet and body of the figure, while the interior was opened in successive instalments to the scrutiny of the spectators. The first player was a Polish patriot, Worousky, who had lost both legs in a campaign; as he was furnished with artificial limbs when in public, his appearance, together with the fact that no dwarf or child travelled in Kempelen’s company, dispelled the suspicion that any person could be employed inside the machine. This automaton, which made more than one tour to the capitals and courts of Europe, and was owned for a short, time by Napoleon I., was exhibited by Maelzel after the death of Kempelen in 1819, and ultimately perished in a fire at Philadelphia in 1854. A revival of the trick appeared in Hooper’s "Ajeeb," shown a few years ago at the Sydenham Crystal Palace and elsewhere. Still more recently a chessplaying figure, "Mephisto," designed by Gumpel, has been on view. No space exists for the accommodation of a living player within; but, as there is no attempt at isolating the apparatus from mechanical communication through the carpet or the floor, there is nothing to preclude the moving arm and gripping finger and thumb of the figure from being worked by any convenient connexion of threads, wires, rods, and levers. In 1875 Maskelyne and Cooke produced at the Egyptian Hall, in London, an automaton whist-player, "Psycho," which, from the manner in which it is placed upon the stage, appears to be perfectly isolated from any mechanical communication from without; there is no room within for the concealment of a living player by aid of any optical or other illusion, and yet the free motions of both arms, especially of the right arm and hand in finding any card, taking hold of it, and raising it or lowering it to any position and at any speed as demanded by the audience, prove that the actions are directed from without. The arm has all the complicated movements necessary for chess or draught playing; and Psycho calcu-lates any sum up to a total of 99,000,000. What the mysterious means of connexion are has not been dis-covered ; or, at any rate, down to the time of writing this article there has appeared no correct imitation of this joint invention of John Nevil Maskelyne and John Algernon Clarke. Perhaps a still more original automaton is Maskelyne’s figure "Zoe," constructed in 1877, which writes and draws at dictation of the audience, yet cannot have a living person within, and could not be more completely severed from all conceivable means of control without. "Zoe," a nearly life-size but very light doll, sits loose upon a cushioned skeleton-stand, of which the solid feet of the plinth rest upon a thick plate of clear glass laid upon the floor-cloth or carpet of the stage. "Psycho," a smaller Oriental figure, sitting cross-legged on a box, is supported by a single large cylinder of clear glass, which, as originally exhibited, stood upon the carpet of the stage, but was afterwards set loose upon a small stool, having solid wood feet; moreover, this automaton may be placed in almost any number of different ways. Thus, from the precautions observed in the isolation of Maskelyne’s automata, no current of electricity, no magnetic attraction, no hydraulic or pneumatic force can reach them, or, if it could, would not account for the many and delicate movements which they execute; and there can be no wires, threads, or hairs, passing in any direction away from the figures, seeing that persons from the audience admitted close around the figures while they are in operation could not fail to observe them. It may be mentioned that, in the saine year in which "Psycho" appeared, the joint inventors patented a method of con-trolling the speed of clock-work mechanism by compressed air or gas stored in the pedestal of an automaton, this compressed fluid acting upon a piston in a cylinder and also upon a rotating fan when a valve is opened by "an electrical or other connexion worked by the foot of the performer or an assistant." But it is not known whether the principle obscurely described in the speci-fication was applicable in any way to the invisible agency employed in "Psycho" or in "Zoe," or whether it had reference to some other invention which has never been realized. The whist-playing automaton is affirmed to be the only one of Maskelyne’s many subtle inventions in which he received suggestions from another person.

That a mysterious and apparently elaborate mechanical movement may, after all, possess the utmost simplicity is illustrated by the familiar conjuring trick known as "rising cards." Four cards having been chosen by the audience and returned to the pack, this is placed end upwards in a glass goblet, or in a thin case not deep enough to hide the pack, upon the top of a decanter or upon a stick. At command, the cards rise, one at a time, out of the pack; one rises part of the way and sinks back again ; one rises quickly or slowly as directed; one comes out feet first, and, on being put back, rises head upwards like the others; and one dances in time to music, and finally jumps out of the pack. At the conclusion there remain only the goblet or the case and the cards, subject to the minutest examination of any one from the audience, without a trace of moving, mechanism visible. This was one of the chief jeux of Comte, the French conjuror and ventriloquist, at the end of last century, and in varied forms has been popular to the present day. Probably it was suggested by the earlier device of the golden head dancing in a glass tumbler, which is described in The Conjuror Unmasked, 1790. Several crown pieces were put in the glass, a small gilded head above them, and a plate or other flat cover laid upon the mouth of the glass; yet the head thus isolated jumped inside the glass so as to count numbers and answer questions. The secret communicator of motion was a fine silk thread attached to the head and passing through a tiny notch cut in the lip of the glass, and so to a confederate who pulls it. In the case of the rising cards the whole of the movements are effected by arranging a single silk thread in the previously prepared pack, passing over some cards and under others, and led behind the decanter or other support to the stage and thence to the confederate. As this infinitely simple mechanical agent is drawn altogether out of the pack after the last card has risen, liter-ally no trace remains of any means of communicating motion to the cards.

Oriental ingenuity, which furnished the original idea of the ethereal suspension trick, contributed the Chinese rings introduced into England in 1834 ; also the Chinese feat of producing a bowl of water with gold-fish out of a shawl, first seen in England in 1845, and the Indian rope-tying and sack feats upon which the American brothers Davenport founded a distinct order of performances in 1859. Their quick escape from rope bonds in which they were tied by representatives of the audience, the instantaneous removal of their coats in a dark séance, leaving themselves still bound, and their various other so-called "phenomena" were exposed and imitated by Maskelyne, who, in 1860, greatly surpassed any feats which they had accomplished. He proceeded to exhibit himself floating in the air, to show "materialized spirit forms," and to present a succession of wonders of the spirit mediums in novel performances down to the present time. One of Maskelyne’s cleverest inventions was the box which he constructed in 1860 ; it closely fitted when he packed himself in a cramped position within; it was enclosed in a canvass wrapper, corded with any length and complicated meshing of rope, and the knot sealed, yet his escape was effected in the brief space of seven seconds. Taking more time, he performed the converse of these operations except the sealing. Provided with the wrapper and the open box, himself standing outside, he drew a curtain before him to conceal the modus operandi, and in a few minutes was found in the box, which, though so small as to permit no limb to be moved more than a few inches, he nevertheless wrapped and corded as exactly as if he had operated from the outside. Partially imitated with trick boxes of larger size, this feat has never been executed under the same conditions by any other conjuror; and the process of escape and repacking has never been fully eluci-dated. (J. A. CL.)



The above article was written by John Algernon Clarke; edited Chambers of Agriculture Journal; author of Fen Sketches, and of many reports and articles on agricultural questions.




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