Henry Ridgely Evans.

The Old and the New Magic online

. (page 15 of 28)
Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 15 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


given him. His personal appearance is thus described in Larousse’s
_Encyclopédie_: “He was a man of small stature. His manners were
engaging and vivacious. His face was clean-shaven, showing a large
and eloquent mouth. In his old age, {159} his head was covered with
snow white hair. His eyes up to the last retained the fire and
brilliancy of a man of twenty-five.”

On December 6, 1905, the French Society of Magicians celebrated
the hundredth anniversary of Houdin’s birth. The exercises were
held at the Theatre Robert-Houdin, Boulevard des Italiens, Paris.
The little theatre was crowded with conjurers and their friends.
Among the wielders of the magic staff were Caroly, the editor of
_Illusioniste_, M. and Mme. de Gago, Folletto, M. and Mme. Talazac,
and M. Raynaly. M. and Mme. Talazac, in their “mind-reading” act,
evoked great applause. M. Miliès, the manager of the house, exhibited
the automaton, “Antonio Diavolo,” invented by Robert-Houdin. M.
Renaly, the well-known drawing-room conjurer, read a poem in honor
of the great master, at the close of which a bust of Robert-Houdin,
which stood upon the stage, was crowned with a wreath of laurel.
Strange to say, not a word of this interesting event was recorded in
the newspapers.

Houdin was the first conjurer to be employed in an official capacity
by a civilized Power. The second case we have record of was on the
occasion of the English Mission to the late Sultan of Morocco when
Mr. Douglas Beaufort was appointed conjurer to the party by the
British Government. The object was to surprise the Arabs with the
skill of an Anglo-Saxon prestidigitateur. During the journey to Fez
from the coast, Mr. Beaufort gave a number of séances. The news of
his necromantic powers soon spread like wild-fire among the natives.
When the Embassy reached the Arab Capital, the Sultan refused to see
the “Devil Man,” as he termed the conjurer. He imagined that the
British proposed to cast a spell over him. For eight weeks he held
out, but finally curiosity got the better of him. The Grand Vizier
was ordered to produce the Disciple of Beelzebub at the Royal Palace.
The performance of Mr. Beaufort so delighted the ruler of Morocco
that he presented him with a silver dagger, a fine Arabian steed from
the royal stable, and a bag containing 500 dollars, as a token of
esteem and regard.

{160}




SOME OLD-TIME CONJURERS.


“As in Agrippa’s magic glass,
The loved and lost arose to view.”—WHITTIER: _The Mermaid_.

I love to read about the old-time conjurers, the contemporaries
of Robert-Houdin, or his immediate successors. Literature on the
subject is very sparse indeed. In his memoirs, Houdin gives us a
few thumbnail sketches of his rivals in the mystic art, and then
dismisses them with a kindly, _Vale_. He has something to say about
Bosco’s personal appearance and performances, but makes no mention
of the romantic incidents in the great magician’s career. I shall
try, in this chapter, to sketch the lives of some of these men,
basing my information on rare _brochures_ contained in the Ellison
Library, and from information picked up by Mr. Harry Houdini in
Europe. The great encyclopedic dictionary of Larousse—a monument
of French erudition—contains something about Phillippe, Robin and
Comte. Mr. Ellis Stanyon, a conjurer of London, and author of several
valuable little treatises on magic, has kindly furnished me with
interesting data; the files of old newspapers in the British Museum,
and the Library of Congress have also been drawn upon, also the fine
collection of old programmes of Mr. Arthur Margery, the English
magician. Let us begin with


COMTE.

Louis Apollinaire Comte was a magician of great skill, a mimic and
ventriloquist. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland, June 22, 1788,
and died at Rueil, France, November 25, 1859. On one occasion he
was denounced by some superstitious Swiss peasants as a sorcerer,
set upon and beaten with clubs, and was {161} about to be thrown
into a lime kiln. His ventriloquial powers saved his life. He caused
demoniacal voices to proceed from the kiln, whereupon his tormentors
fled from the spot in affright, imagining that they were addressed by
the Powers of Darkness.

When summoned to appear before Louis XVIII, at the palace of the
Tuilleries, Comte arranged a clever mystification to amuse his royal
patron. During the course of the entertainment he requested the king
to select a card from a pack. By his address, he caused the monarch
to draw the king of hearts. Placing the card in a pistol, Comte fired
it at a bouquet of flowers on a table, declaring that the pasteboard
would appear in the bouquet. Immediately, a bust of the king was seen
among the flowers.

“What does this mean?” said Louis XVIII, with a sarcastic smile. “I
fancy, sir, your trick has not ended as you stated.”

“I beg your Majesty’s pardon,” Comte replied, with a profound bow.
“I have quite kept my promise. I pledged myself that the king of
hearts should appear in that bouquet of flowers, and I appeal to
all Frenchmen whether that bust does not represent _the king of all
hearts_.

The experiment was applauded to the echo by those present. The _Royal
Journal_ of the 20th of December, 1814, thus describes the affair.

“The whole audience exclaimed in reply to M. Comte, ‘We recognize
him—it is he—the king of all hearts! the beloved of the French—of the
whole universe—Louis XVIII, the august descendant of Henri Quatre?’

“The king, much affected by these warm acclamations, complimented M.
Comte on his skill.

“ ‘It would be a pity,’ he said to him, ‘to order such a talented
sorcerer to be burnt alive. You have caused us too much pleasure for
us to cause you pain. Live many years, for yourself in the first
place, and then for us.’ ”

Comte was an adept at the art of flattery. Perhaps all the while, he
and the fickle courtiers of the Tuilleries were secretly laughing
at the poor old Bourbon king, the scion of a race that had all but
ruined France, and were wishing back from Elba that Thunderbolt of
War—Napoleon the Great. {162}

Comte was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by Louis Philippe.


PHILLIPPE.

Phillippe [Talon] was born at Alais, near Nimes (France). He carried
on the trade of confectioner first in Paris, afterwards in Aberdeen,
Scotland. Failing to make a success of the sugar business, he
adopted conjuring as a profession, and was remarkably successful.
He was assisted by a young Scotchman named Macalister, who on the
stage appeared as a negro, “Domingo.” Macalister, a clever mechanic,
invented many of the best things in Phillippe’s repertoire. From
some Chinese jugglers, Phillippe learned the gold-fish trick and the
Chinese rings. With these capital experiments added to his programme,
he repaired to Paris, in 1841, and made a great hit. Habited like
a Chinaman, he performed them in a scene called “A night in the
palace of Pekin.” The fish trick he ostentatiously named “Neptune’s
Basins, and the Gold Fish.” The bowls of water containing the fish he
produced from shawls while standing on a low table. He followed this
with a production of rabbits, pigeons, ducks, and chickens.

Robert-Houdin in his memoirs, gives a brief but pointed sketch of
Phillippe. On page 163 I reproduce one of his unique programmes
(London, March, 1846).

NEW STRAND THEATRE
Lessee, M. PHILLIPPE, 4 Strand Lane

TRIUMPHANT SUCCESS

PHILLIPPE’s
SOIRÉES
MYSTÉRIEUSES

The Entertainments will commence with M. PHILLIPPE’s Celebrated
and Unrivalled TOURS DE PHYSIQUE AND ASTOUNDING FEATS OF MAGICAL
DELUSION! Which he has exhibited in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, St.
Petersburgh, and before all the Courts of Europe, with truly
unparalleled Success.

THE ENTERTAINMENT WILL BE DIVIDED INTO TWO PARTS

PART FIRST
Will comprise peculiar and unequalled
Metamorphoses and Delusions!
And Astonishing Deceptions!

INCLUDING

The Miller of Amsterdam
The Obedient Cards
Il Diavolo
The Rose Tree of Granada
The Flying Watches
The Modern Confectioner
The Enchanted Handkerchief
The Grand Distribution
The Accomplished Harlequin
New Method of Making Coffee

Concluding with the universally admired and elegant Tour
d’Addresse, entitled THE NATIONAL FLAG

There will be an interval of Fifteen Minutes between the Parts

PART SECOND

A NIGHT IN THE
PALACE OF PEKIN!

In which Mons. PHILLIPPE will perform some of the most
Extraordinary and Startling INDIAN AND CHINESE EXPERIMENTS Ever
attempted by any European, comprising

The Turtle Dove and the Flying Handkerchiefs
La Fille des Fleurs
Kitchen of Parapharagaramus
PAS DE CARACTERE
BY
La Fille des Fleurs
The Inexhaustible Hat

And concluding with the celebrated DELUSION Les Bassins de Neptune
et les Poissons d’or AND THE GRAND MENAGERIE!

Unanimously pronounced to be the most inexplicable and surprising
Tour de Physique ever witnessed


ROBIN.

Henri Robin was a Hollander by birth, his real name being Dunkell.
He was born about 1805 and died in Paris in 1874. Although he
had appeared before the public many times and his talents as a
prestidigatateur had long been recognized, it was not until the
end of 1862, when he opened his theatre in Paris, that he became a
celebrity and a household word in the country of his adoption. He was
a man of distinguished appearance, very urbane, and possessed of a
sparkling wit. His handsome little _salle de spectacle_, known as the
Theatre Robin,[23] was situated on {164} the Boulevard du Temple.
Porcelain medallions ornamented the walls, representing Archimides,
Galileo, Palissy, Vaucanson, Franklin, Volta, Newton, Daguerre,
Arago, Cuvier, Robertson, Humboldt, Comte, and Cagliostro. Of these
great men only Vaucanson, Robertson, and Cagliostro could properly be
classed as magicians. Vaucanson was a builder of ingenious automata;
Robertson the creator of optical illusions; and Cagliostro a
pretender to sorcery, who made use of hypnotism and phantasmagoria in
his séances. But science has its wizards, in one sense of the word,
and so Robin included the great pioneers of scientific research among
his galaxy of wonder-workers.

[23] This theatre was demolished at the time of the
enlargement of the Place de Chateau d’Eau.

[Illustration: HENRI ROBIN.]

The journal _La France_ said in its issue of January 19, 1863: “The
stage is large and square in form, the curtain rises upon {165} a
brilliantly lighted salon showing much gilding, filled with strange
objects, electrical apparatus of all sizes, mysterious chests,
revolving tables, articulated animals which as far surpass the
automatons of Vaucanson as an Everard or Pleyel piano is superior to
an old fashioned spinet. There were peacocks which paraded up and
down and could tell you the name of any city you might think of;
drums which beat the retreat without a drummer; Christmas trees which
shook their branches, powdered with snow, and covered themselves with
lighted candles, bonbons, flowers and toys; inexhaustible bottles,
invisible bells, etc. Altogether it was the strange, supernatural and
fantastic world of prestidigitation, magic and sorcery.

* * * * *

“All at once, from the bottom of a magic casket, leaped out a
harlequin about ten inches high but so well proportioned in its
figure, so well made, so nimble and supple, so intelligent and
_spirituel_, that the whole audience uttered a cry of pleasure and
admiration. This pretty little manikin does everything belonging to
its character. It dances, smokes, frisks about, takes off and puts on
its mask, bows to the company and plays the flageolet. One is tempted
to say—‘it only needs speech to be human.’ Well, it has speech. It
talks and answers all questions addressed to it like a real person.
It even tells stories, making them up as it goes along.”

Besides the show of magic an “agioscope” was to be seen which
projected upon a screen the history of creation in forty-five
pictures. Robin also performed experiments in physics and chemistry
and an exhibition of the ghost illusion closed the entertainment.

Robin and Robert-Houdin were at odds about the inexhaustible bottle
which each claimed to have invented. Robert-Houdin declared that he
had exhibited it for the first time on December 1, 1847, while Robin
produced his “Almanach of Cagliostro,” showing the trick of the
inexhaustible bottle which he declares he had invented and exhibited
for the first time July 6, 1844, at the theatre Re at Milan.
Nevertheless in all their lectures {166} on physics, scientific
men explain to their hearers the operation of the Robert-Houdin
bottle.[24]

[24] “It is remarkable how many of the illusions regarded
as the original inventions of eminent conjurers 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 liquor 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 unstopping of any of the four tiny air holes which
were covered by his fingers. A large number of very small
liquor glasses being provided on trays, and containing
drops of certain flavoring essences, enabled him to
supply imitations of various wines and liquors, according
to the glasses with which he poured syrup from the
bottle.”—_Encyclopedia Britannica._

When the Davenport Brothers, pretended spiritualists, came to Paris,
Robin duplicated all their tricks at his theatre. He did much to
discredit the charlatans. About 1869 he gave up his theatre, and
became the proprietor of a hotel on the Boulevard Mazas.

Robin left three works, copies of which are very rare, viz:
_L’Almanach Illustré de Cagliostro; Histoire des Spectres Vivants
et Impalpables; Secret de la Physique Amusante_ (Paris, 1864). He
was also the inventor of a railroad for ascending Mount Rigi in
Switzerland. The motor in this system was a balloon which, by its
ascentional force compelled the car to climb the ascent guided by
four iron rails. A model of this contrivance was exhibited at Robin’s
theatre, 49 Boulevard du Temple.


BOSCO.

I look again into the magic mirror of the past. Who is this portly
figure enveloped in a befrogged military cloak? He has the mobile
visage of an Italian. There is an air of pomposity about him. His
eyes are bold and piercing. He has something of the appearance of
a Russian nobleman, or general under the Empire. Ah, that is the
renowned Bosco, the conjurer!

[Illustration: BOSCO.

(From a Rare Engraving in the Possession of Dr. Saram R. Ellison, New
York City.)]

Bartolomeo Bosco had an adventurous career.[25] He was born in Turin,
Italy, January 11, 1793. He came of a noble family of Piedmont. At
the age of nineteen he was one of the {167} victims caught in the
meshes of the great military drag-net of Napoleon I, that fisher
for men. In other words, he became “food for powder” in the Russian
campaign of the Emperor of France. He was a fusilier in the 11th
infantry of the line. At the battle of Borodino, in an encounter
with Cossacks, Bosco was badly wounded in the side by a lance, and
fell upon the ground. A son of the Cossack lancer who had wounded
him, {168} dismounted and began to rifle his pockets. Like all
soldiers on a campaign, Bosco carried his fortune with him. It did
not amount to very much: a watch, a keepsake from a sweetheart, a
few gold pieces, a tobacco pouch, etc. Fearing to receive the _coup
de grace_ from his enemy, he pretended to be dead. But on realizing
that if he were robbed of his money he would be left destitute in the
world, he put his abilities as a conjurer to work and dexterously
picked the Cossack’s pocket of a well-filled purse. It was a case
of Greek meeting Greek. The Russian, grumbling, perhaps, at the
paucity of his ill-gotten plunder, finally mounted his horse and
rode away after his comrades, to discover later on that he had been
_done_ and by a corpse. Later in the day Bosco was picked up from the
battlefield by the Russian medical corps, and his wounds treated.
He was sent a captive to Siberia, near the town of Tobolsk. His
talent for _escamotage_ served him well. The long winter evenings of
his captivity when the snow lay deep upon the earth, and the wind
howled about the prison walls, were spent by him either amusing his
jailors or his fellow-soldiers. He sometimes gave exhibitions of his
skill before the high officials of the place, thereby picking up
considerable money. He spent his earnings generously upon his poorer
brethren. Finally, in April, 1814, he was released. He returned to
Italy, to the great delight of his friends, and studied medicine.
Eventually he abandoned the art of Esculapias for the art of
Trismegistus and became a professional conjurer.

[25] _Cabinetto magico del Cavalieri Bartolomeo Bosco de
Torino._ Milano, 1854.

Bosco was a wonderful performer of the cup-and-ball trick. He also
possessed great skill with cards and coins. He traveled all over
Europe. He gave an exhibition before Marie Louise, the widow of
Napoleon I, on the 27th of April, 1836. His sonorous, bizarre name
has become a byword in France for deception, whether in conjuring
or politics. The statesman Thiers was called the “Bosco of the
Tribune.” Many of Bartolomeo Bosco’s imitators assumed his cognomen.
At the present day there is a French magician touring the music
halls of Europe, who calls himself Bosco. The original Bosco, like
Alexander Herrmann, was in the habit of advertising himself by
giving impromptu exhibitions of his skill in cafés, stage {169}
coaches, hotels, etc. He was wonderfully clever at this. A Parisian
newspaper thus announced one of his entertainments: “The famous
Bosco, who can conjure away a house as easily as a nutmeg, is about
to give his performances at Paris, in which some miraculous tricks
will be executed.” This illusion to the nutmeg has reference to the
magician’s cup-and-ball trick; nutmegs frequently being used instead
of cork balls. Houdin describes Bosco’s stage as follows:

“I entered the little theatre and took my seat. According to the idea
I had formed of a magician’s laboratory, I expected to find myself
before a curtain whose large folds, when withdrawn, would display
before my dazzled eyes a brilliant stage ornamented with apparatus
worthy of the celebrity announced; but my illusions on this subject
soon faded away.

“A curtain had been considered superfluous, and the stage was open.
Before me was a long three-storied sideboard, entirely covered with
black serge. This lugubrious buffet was adorned with a number of wax
candles, among which glistened the apparatus. At the topmost point of
this strange _étagère_ was a death’s-head, much surprised, I have no
doubt, at finding itself at such a festival, and it quite produced
the effect of a funeral service.

“In front of the stage, and near the spectators, was a table covered
by a brown cloth, reaching to the ground, on which five brass cups
were symmetrically arranged. Finally, above this table hung a copper
ball, which strangely excited my curiosity.

“For the life of me I could not imagine what this was for, so I
determined to wait till Bosco came to explain it. The silvery sound
of a small bell put an end to my reverie, and Bosco appeared upon the
stage.

“The artiste wore a little black velvet jacket, fastened round
the waist by a leathern belt of the same color. His sleeves were
excessively short, and displayed a handsome arm. He had on loose
black trousers, ornamented at the bottom with a ruche of lace,
and a large white collar round his neck. This strange attire bore
considerable resemblance to the classical costume of the Scapins in
our plays. {170}

“After making a majestic bow to his audience, the celebrated conjurer
walked silently and with measured steps up to the famous copper
ball. After convincing himself it was solidly hung, he took up his
wand, which he wiped with a white handkerchief, as if to remove any
foreign influence; then, with imperturbable gravity, he struck the
ball thrice with it, pronouncing, amid the most solemn silence, this
imperious sentence: _Spiriti mei infernali, obedite_. {171}

[Illustration: HOUDINI AT THE GRAVE OF BOSCO.

(From a Photograph in the Possession of Dr. Saram R. Ellison, New
York City.)]

“I, like a simpleton, scarce breathed in my expectation of some
miraculous result, but it was only an innocent pleasantry, a simple
introduction to the performance with the cups.”

After many wanderings Bartolomeo Bosco laid down his magic wand
in Dresden, March 2, 1862. He lies buried in a cemetery on
Friederichstrasse. Mr. Harry Houdini, the American conjurer, located
the grave on October 23, 1903. Upon the tombstone is carved the
insignia of Bosco’s profession—a cup-and-ball and a wand. They are
encircled by a wreath of laurel. Says Mr. Houdini, in a letter to
_Mahatma_: “I found the head of the wand missing. Looking into the
tall grass near by I discovered the broken tip.” This relic he
presented to Dr. Saram R. Ellison, of New York (1904). The tombstone
bears the following inscription: _Ici répose le célèbre Bartolomeo
Bosco . . . Ne à Turin le 11 Janvier, 1793; décédé à Dresden le 2
Mars, 1862._ Madame Bosco was interred in the same grave with her
husband, but no mention of her is made on the stone. The small plot
of ground where the grave is situated was leased for a term of years.
That term had long expired when Mr. Houdini discovered the last
resting place of Bosco. It was offered for sale. In the event of its
purchase the remains of the conjurer and his wife would have been
transferred to a section of the cemetery set apart for the neglected
dead. But Houdini prevented all future possibility of this by
buying the lot in fee. He then deeded it to the Society of American
Magicians.


ANDERSON.

John Henry Anderson was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, July 14,
1814. He began life as an actor. After witnessing a performance in
England by Signor Blitz, his mind was struck with the resources of
magic as a means of entertaining the public, and adding to his own
exchequer. So he abandoned the histrionic stage for conjuring, though
he occasionally performed in melodrama as a side issue. He was very
fine in the title rôle of “Rob Roy,” and as William, in “Black-eyed
Susan.” His professional sobriquet in his early career was that of
the “Calidonian Necromancer.” On one occasion he gave an exhibition
{172} of his skill at Abbotsford, and the genial Sir Walter Scott
said to him, “They call _me_ the ‘Wizard of the North,’ but this is a
mistake—it is you, not I, who best deserve the title.” Mr. Anderson
was not slow in adopting the suggestion of the Wizard of the Pen, and
ever after called himself the Great Wizard of the North.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

He displayed a great collection of apparatus, which he described as
“a most gorgeous and costly apparatus of solid silver, the mysterious
mechanical construction of which is upon a secret principle, hitherto
unknown in Europe.” He claimed to have been the inventor of the gun
trick, but this was not so, as Torrini and others exhibited it on
the Continent in the latter {173} part of the 18th century. All
that Anderson did was to invent his own peculiar method of working
the illusion. “The extraordinary mystery of the trick,” he said, “is
not effected by the aid of any accomplice, or by inserting a tube
in the muzzle of the gun, or by other conceivable devices (as the
public frequently, and in some instances, correctly imagine), but any
gentleman may really load the gun in the usual manner, inserting,
himself, a marked real leaden ball! The gun being then fired off at
the Wizard, he will instantly produce and exhibit the same bullet in
his hand.” The marked leaden bullet, however, was exchanged for one


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 15 of 28)