Henry Ridgely Evans.

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[Illustration: MIEUSEMENT, phot. à Blois LECESNE, éditeur





D’rum hab’
ich mich der
Magie ergeben!






“Henry Ridgely Evans, journalist, author and librarian, was born in
Baltimore, Md., November 7, 1861. He is the son of Henry Cotheal and
Mary (Garrettson) Evans. Through his mother he is descended from the
old colonial families of Ridgely, Dorsey, Worthington and Greenberry,
which played such a prominent part in the annals of early Maryland.
Mr. Evans was educated at the preparatory department of Georgetown
(D. C.) College and at Columbian College, Washington, D. C. He
studied law at the University of Maryland, and began its practice
in Baltimore City; but abandoned the legal profession for the more
congenial avocation of journalism. He served for a number of years
as special reporter and dramatic critic on the ‘Baltimore News,’ and
subsequently became connected with the U. S. Bureau of Education, as
one of the assistant librarians. In 1891 he was married to Florence,
daughter of Alexander Kirkpatrick, of Philadelphia.”—National
Cyclopedia of American Biography.

Mr. Evans is an ardent student of folk-lore, masonic antiquities,
psychical research, and occultism. Many of his writings have been
contributed to the Monist and Open Court. He is the author of a work
on psychical research, entitled “Hours with the Ghosts,” published
in 1897, and many brochures on magic and mysticism, etc.



Introduction by Dr. Paul Carus ix

History of Natural Magic and Prestidigitation 1

The Chevalier Pinetti 23

Cagliostro: A Study in Charlatanism 42

Ghost-making Extraordinary 87

The Romance of Automata 107

Robert-Houdin: Conjurer, Author and Ambassador 123

Some Old-time Conjurers 160

The Secrets of Second Sight 188

The Confessions of an Amateur Conjurer 201

A Day with Alexander the Great 215

A Twentieth Century Thaumaturgist 237

A Gentleman of Thibet 254

Magicians I Have Met 271

The Riddle of the Sphinx 318

Treweyism 331





The very word magic has an alluring sound, and its practice as an art
will probably never lose its attractiveness for people’s minds. But
we must remember that there is a difference between the old magic
and the new, and that both are separated by a deep chasm, which is a
kind of color line, for though the latter develops from the former
in a gradual and natural course of evolution, they are radically
different in principle, and the new magic is irredeemably opposed to
the assumptions upon which the old magic rests.

Magic originally meant priestcraft. It is probable that the word is
very old, being handed down to us from the Greeks and Romans, who had
received it from the Persians. But they in their turn owe it to the
Babylonians, and the Babylonians to the Assyrians, and the Assyrians
to the Sumero-Akkadians.

_Imga_ in Akkad meant priest, and the Assyrians changed the word to
_maga_, calling their high-priest _Rab-mag_; and considering the
fact that the main business of priests in ancient times consisted in
exorcising, fortune-telling, miracle-working, and giving out oracles,
it seems justifiable to believe that the Persian term, which in
its Latin version is _magus_, is derived from the Chaldæan and is
practically the same; for the connotation of a wise man endowed with
supernatural powers has always been connected with the word _magus_,
and even to-day magician means wizard, sorcerer, or miracle-worker.

While the belief in, and practice of, magic are not entirely absent
in the civilization of Israel, we find that the leaders of orthodox
thought had set their faces against it, at least as it appeared in
its crudest form, and went so far as to persecute sorcerers with fire
and sword.

[Illustration: SAUL AND THE WITCH OF ENDOR. (After Schnorr von

We read in the Bible that when the Lord “multiplied his signs”
in Egypt, he sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh to turn their rods
into serpents, that the Egyptian magicians vied with them in
the performance, but that Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods,
demonstrating thus Aaron’s superiority. It is an interesting fact
that the snake charmers of Egypt perform to-day a similar feat, which
consists in paralyzing a snake so as to render it motionless. The
snake then looks like a stick, but is not rigid. {xi}

[Illustration: JESUS CASTING OUT DEVILS (After Schnorr von

Symbolizing Christ’s power even over demons, according to the view of
early Christianity.]

[Illustration: CHRIST WITH THE WAND.

From a Christian Sarcophagus.†

† Reproduced from Mrs. Jameson’s and Lady Eastlake’s _History of our
Lord_, London, 1872, Longmans, Green & Co., Vol. I., pp. 347 and 349.]


How tenacious the idea is that religion is and must be magic, appears
from the fact that even Christianity shows traces of it. In fact,
the early Christians (who, we must remember, recruited their ranks
from the lowly in life) looked upon Christ as a kind of magician,
and all his older pictures show him with a magician’s wand in his
hand. The resurrection of Lazarus, the change of water into wine, the
miracle of the loaves and fishes, the healing of diseases by casting
out devils, and kindred miracles, according to the notions of those
centuries, are performed after the fashion of sorcerers.


The adjoined illustration, one of the oldest representations of
Christ, has been reproduced from Rossi’s _Roma Sotterranea_ (II,
Table 14). It is a fresco of the catacombs, discovered in the St.
Callisto Chapel, and is dated by Franz Xaver Kraus (_Geschichte
der christlichen Kunst, I, p. 153_) at the beginning of the third
century. Jesus holds in his left hand the scriptures, while his right
hand grasps the wand with which he performs the miracle. Lazarus
is represented as a mummy, while one of his sisters kneels at the
Saviour’s feet.

Goethe introduces the belief in magic into the very plot of Faust. In
his despair at never finding the key to the world-problem in science,
which, as he thinks, does not offer what we need, but useless truisms
only, Faust hopes to find the royal road to knowledge by supernatural
methods. He says:

“Therefore, from Magic I seek assistance,
That many a secret perchance I reach
Through spirit-power and spirit-speech,
And thus the bitter task forego
Of saying the things I do not know,—
That I may detect the inmost force
Which binds the world, and guides its course;
Its germs, productive powers explore,
And rummage in empty words no more!”



(After Schnorr von Carolsfeld.)]


(Reproduced from Verworn after Photographs.)]


Faust follows the will o’ the wisp of pseudo-science, and so finds
his efforts to gain useful knowledge balked. He turns agnostic and
declares that we cannot know anything worth knowing. He exclaims:

“That which we do not know is dearly needed;
And what we need we do not know.”

And in another place:

“I see that nothing can be known.”

But, having acquired a rich store of experience, Faust, at the end
of his career, found out that the study of nature is not a useless
rummage in empty words, and became converted to science. His ideal is
a genuinely scientific view of nature. He says:

“Not yet have I my liberty made good:
So long as I can’t banish magic’s fell creations
And totally unlearn the incantations.
Stood I, O Nature, as a man in thee,
Then were it worth one’s while a man to be.
And such was I ere I with the occult conversed,
And ere so wickedly the world I cursed.”

To be a man in nature and to fight one’s way to liberty is a much
more dignified position than to go lobbying to the courts of the
celestials and to beg of them favors. Progress does not pursue a
straight line, but moves in spirals or epicycles. Periods of daylight
are followed by nights of superstition. So it happened that in the
first and second decades of the nineteenth century the rationalism
of the eighteenth century waned, not to make room for a higher
rationalism, but to suffer the old bugbears of ghosts and hobgoblins
to reappear in a reactionary movement. Faust (expressing here
Goethe’s own ideas) continues:

“Now fills the air so many a haunting shape,
That no one knows how best he may escape.
What though the day with rational splendor beams,
The night entangles us in webs of dreams.
By superstition constantly ensnared,
It spooks, gives warnings, is declared.
Intimidated thus we stand alone.
The portal jars, yet entrance is there none.”


The aim of man is his liberty and independence. As soon as we
understand that there are no spooks that must be conciliated by
supplications and appeased, but that we stand in nature from which we
have grown in constant interaction between our own aspirations and
the natural forces regulated by law, we shall have confidence in our
own faculties, which can be increased by investigation and a proper
comprehension of conditions, and we shall no longer look beyond but
around. Faust says:

“A fool who to the Beyond his eyes directeth
And over the clouds a place of peers detecteth.
Firm must man stand and look around him well,
The world means something to the capable.”

This manhood of man, to be gained by science through the conquest
of all magic, is the ideal which the present age is striving to
attain, and the ideal has plainly been recognized by leaders of human
progress. The time has come for us “to put away childish things,” and
to relinquish the beliefs and practices of the medicine-man.

The old magic is sorcery, or, considering the impossibility of
genuine sorcery, the attempt to practise sorcery. It is based upon
the pre-scientific world-conception, which in its primitive stage is
called animism, imputing to nature a spiritual life analogous to our
own spirit, and peopling the world with individual personalities,
spirits, ghosts, goblins, gods, devils, ogres, gnomes and fairies.
The old magic stands in contrast to science; it endeavors to
transcend human knowledge by supernatural methods and is based
upon the hope of working miracles by the assistance of invisible
presences or intelligences, who, according to this belief, could
be forced or coaxed by magic into an alliance. The savage believes
that the evil influence of the powers of nature can be averted by
charms or talismans, and their aid procured by proper incantations,
conjurations and prayers.

The world-conception of the savage is long-lingering, and its
influence does not subside instantaneously with the first appearance
of science. The Middle Ages are full of magic, and the belief in it
has not died out to this day.

The old magic found a rival in science and has in all its aspects,
in religion as well as in occultism, in mysticism and obscurantism,
treated science as its hereditary enemy. It is now {xvi} succumbing
in the fight, but in the meantime a new magic has originated and
taken the place of the old, performing miracles as wonderful as those
of the best conjurers of former days, nay, more wonderful; yet these
miracles are accomplished with the help of science and without the
least pretense of supernatural power.

The new magic originated from the old magic when the belief in
sorcery began to break down in the eighteenth century, which is the
dawn of rationalism and marks the epoch since which mankind has been
systematically working out a scientific world-conception.

In primitive society religion is magic, and priests are magicians.
The savage would think that if the medicine-man could not work
miracles there would be no use for religion. Religion, however, does
not disappear with the faith in the medicine-man’s power. When magic
becomes discredited by science, religion is purified. We must know,
though, that religious reforms of this kind are not accomplished
at once, but come on gradually in slow process of evolution, first
by disappointment and then in exultation at the thought that the
actualities of science are higher, nobler and better than the dreams
of superstition, even if they were possible, and thus it appears that
science comes to fulfil, not to destroy.

Science has been pressed into the service of magic by ancient pagan
priests, who utilized mechanical contrivances in their temples to
impress the credulous with the supernatural power of their gods.

The magic lantern, commonly supposed to be an invention of the Jesuit
Kircher, in 1671, must have been secretly known among the few members
of the craft of scientific magic at least as early as the end of the
middle ages, for we have an old drawing, which is here reproduced,
showing that it was employed in warfare as a means of striking terror
in the ranks of the enemy. We have no information as to the success
of the stratagem, but we may assume that in the days of a common
belief in witchcraft and absolute ignorance of the natural sciences,
it must have been quite effective with superstitious soldiers {xvii}



[The apparatus is quite crude in comparison with modern instruments
of the same kind. It possesses no lens, the picture being drawn in
an upright position upon cylindrical glass, presumably blackened
with the exception of the figure. So far as known this is the oldest
record of the use of the magic lantern.

Fontana’s lantern was used, as F. M. Feldhaus informs us
(Gartenlaube, 1905, Nov. 23, p. 848) by the _encignerius_ or _antwere
maister_, i. e., the master of siege and fortress defenses, who from
an appropriate hiding-place projected the image upon a convenient
wall in the outside works of a fort so as to let assailants
unexpectedly be confronted with the hideous form of a demon.]]


While magic as superstition and as fraud is doomed, magic as an art
will not die. Science will take hold of it and permeate it with its
own spirit, changing it into scientific magic which is destitute of
all mysticism, occultism and superstition, and comes to us as a witty
play for our recreation and diversion.

It is an extraordinary help to a man to be acquainted with the tricks
of prestidigitateurs, and we advise parents not to neglect this
phase in the education of their children. The present age is laying
the basis of a scientific world-conception, and it is, perhaps, not
without good reasons that it has produced quite a literature on the
subject of modern magic.

It might seem that if the public became familiar with the methods of
the magicians who give public entertainments, their business would
be gone. But this is not the case. As a peep behind the scenes and a
knowledge of the machinery of the stage only help us to appreciate
scenic effects, so an insight into the tricks of the prestidigitateur
will only serve to whet our appetite for seeing him perform his
tricks. The prestidigitateur will be forced to improve his tricks
before an intelligent audience; he will be obliged to invent new
methods, but not to abandon his art.

Moreover, it is not the trick alone that we admire, but the way in
which it is performed. Even those who know how things can be made to
disappear by sleight of hand, must confess that they always found
delight in seeing the late Alexander Herrmann, whenever he began a
soirée, take off his gloves, roll them up and make them vanish as if
into nothingness.

It is true that magic in the old sense is gone; but that need not
be lamented. The coarseness of Cagliostro’s frauds has given way to
the elegant display of scientific inventiveness and an adroit use
of human wit. Traces of the religion of magic are still prevalent
to-day, and it will take much patient work before the last remnants
of it are swept away. The notions of magic still hold in bondage
the minds of the uneducated and half-educated, and even the leaders
of progress feel themselves now and then hampered by ghosts and

We believe that the spread of modern magic and its proper
comprehension are an important sign of progress, and in this
{xix} sense the feats of our Kellars and Herrmanns are a work of
religious significance. They are instrumental in dispelling the fogs
of superstition by exhibiting to the public the astonishing but
natural miracles of the art of legerdemain; and while they amuse
and entertain they fortify the people in their conviction of the
reliability of science.

[Illustration: ZÖLLNER’S ILLUSION]

In speaking of modern magic, we refer to the art of the
prestidigitateur, and exclude from its domain the experiments of
hypnotism as well as the vulgar lies of fraud. There is no magic
in the psychosis of an hysterical subject, who at the hypnotizer’s
suggestion becomes the prey of hallucinations; nor is there any
art in the deceptions of the fortune-teller, whose business will
vanish when the public ceases to be credulous and superstitious.
The former is a disease, the latter mostly fraud. Magic proper (i.
e., the artifices of prestidigitation) is produced by a combination
of three factors: (1) legerdemain proper, or sleight of hand; (2)
psychological illusions, and (3) surprising feats of natural science
with clever concealment of their true causes. The success of almost
every trick depends upon the introduction of these three factors.

The throwing of cards is mere dexterity; Zöllner’s famous figures
of parallel lines having an apparent inclination toward {xx} one
another is a pure sense-illusion (see cut here reproduced); so is
the magical swing; while fire-eating (or better, fire-breathing) is
a purely physical experiment. But it goes without saying that there
is scarcely any performance of genuine prestidigitation which is not
a combination of all three elements. The production of a bowl of
water with living fishes in it is a combination of dexterity with

The trick with the glass dial (which is now exhibited by both Mr.
Kellar and Mr. Herrmann, the nephew of the late Alexander Herrmann)
is purely physical. The machinery used by them is entirely different,
but in either case no sleight of hand nor any psychological diversion
is needed, except in letting the accomplice behind the stage know the
number to which he should point.

As an instance of a wonderful trick which is a mere sense-illusion we
mention the magic swing, which is explained by Albert A. Hopkins in
his comprehensive book on magic[1] as follows:

“Those who are to participate in the apparent gyrations
of the swing—and there may be quite a number who enjoy it
simultaneously—are ushered into a small room. From a bar crossing
the room, near the ceiling, hangs a large swing, which is provided
with seats for a number of people. After the people have taken their
places, the attendant pushes the car and it starts into oscillation
like any other swing. The room door is closed. Gradually those in
it feel after three or four movements that their swing is going
rather high, but this is not all. The apparent amplitude of the
oscillations increases more and more, until presently the whole
swing seems to whirl completely over, describing a full circle
about the bar on which it hangs. To make the thing more utterly
mysterious, the bar is bent crank fashion, the swing continues
apparently to go round and round this way, imparting a most weird
sensation to the occupants, until its movements begin gradually to
cease and the complete rotation is succeeded by the usual back and
forth swinging. The door of the room is opened, and the swinging
party leave. Those who have tried it say the sensation is most

“The illusion is based on the movements of the room proper. During
the entire exhibition the swing is practically stationary, while
the room rotates about the suspending bar. At the beginning of
operations the swing may be given a slight push; the operators
outside the room then begin to swing the room itself, which is
really a large box journaled on the swing bar, starting {xxi} it
off to correspond with the movements of the swing. They swing it
back and forth, increasing the arc through which it moves until it
goes so far as to make a complete rotation. The operatives do this
without special machinery, taking hold of the sides and corners of
the box or ‘room.’ At this time the people in the swing imagine that
the room is stationary while they are whirling through space. After
keeping this up for some time, the movement is brought gradually to
a stop, a sufficient number of back and forth swings being given at
the _finale_ to carry out the illusion to the end.

INCLUDING TRICK PHOTOGRAPHY. Compiled and edited by Albert
A. Hopkins. With 400 illustrations. New York: Munn & Co.




“The room is as completely furnished as possible, everything
being, of course, fastened in place. What is apparently a kerosene
lamp stands on a table, near at hand. It is securely fastened to the
table, which in its turn is fastened to the floor, and the light
is supplied by a small incandescent lamp within the chimney, but
concealed by the shade. The visitor never imagines that it is an
electric lamp, and naturally thinks that it would be impossible for
a kerosene lamp to be inverted without disaster, so that this adds
to the deception materially. The same is to be said of the pictures
hanging on the {xxiii} wall, of the cupboard full of chinaware, of
the chair with a hat on it, and of the baby carriage. All contribute
to the mystification. Even though one is informed of the secret
before entering the swing, the deception is said to be so complete
that passengers involuntarily seize the arms of the seats to avoid
being precipitated below.”

The illusion is purely an instance of misguided judgment, which is
commonly but erroneously called illusion of the senses, and belongs
to the same category as the well-known Zöllner figures mentioned
above and consisting of heavy lines crossed slantingly by lighter
lines. The heavy lines are parallel but appear to diverge in the
direction of the slant.

[Illustration: THE SWORD-TRICK.]

Another very ingenious trick consists in apparently stabbing a man to
death, the bloody end of the sword appearing at the back, yet leaving
the man uninjured. Since the audience naturally will suspect that
the point emerging from the back is not the true end of the sword,
the trick has been altered to the effect of replacing the sword with
a big needle (A), having tape threaded through its eye. When the
assassin’s needle has passed through the victim, it can be pulled
out at the other side, together with the tape, where it appears
reddened with blood. The stabbing, when performed quickly, before the
spectator begins to {xxiv} notice that the blade is somewhat reduced

Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 1 of 28)