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Another remarkable device is described in the _Pneumatics_ of Heron,
and consists of an apparatus which is entitled: “_Construction of a
chapel wherein, when fire is lighted upon the altar, the doors open,
and when it is extinguished, they close_.” {7}

The altar is hollow, and when a fire is lighted thereon, the air
contained in the interior expands and begins to press upon the water
with which the globe situated beneath is filled. The water then rises
through a bent tube which leads to a species of pot, into which it
falls. The pot is suspended upon a cord which passes along a pulley,
doubling immediately, in order to enroll itself about two cylinders,
which turn upon pivots, said cylinders forming the prolongation of
the axes upon which the doors above turn. Around the same cylinders
are enrolled in a contrary manner, two other cords, which also unite
into one before passing along a pulley, and then hanging vertically
for the support of a counterpoise.

[Illustration: EGYPTIAN ALTAR]

It is clear that when the water from the globe enters the pot, the
weight of the latter will be augmented and it will sink, pulling upon
the cord which has been wound about the cylinders {8} in such a way
as to cause the doors to open, when it is drawn in this direction.

The doors close themselves in the following manner: The bent tube,
which places in communication the globe and the pot, forms a siphon,
the longest branch of which plunges into the globe. When the fire
is extinguished upon the altar, the air contained in the latter and
in the globe, cools, and diminishes in volume. The water in the pot
is then drawn into the globe, and the siphon, being thus naturally
influenced, operates until the water in the pot has passed over
into the globe. In measure as the pot lightens, it remounts under
the constraint of the counterpoise, and the latter, in its descent,
closes the doors through the intermedium of the cords wound around
the cylinders.


Heron says that mercury was sometimes used in place of water, by
reason of its superior weight. {9}

Certain altars were provided with such mechanism as to afford to the
faithful even more astonishing spectacles. Here is another experiment
from the learned Heron:

“_To construct an altar so that when one kindles the fire thereon,
the statues which are at the sides shall pour out libations_.”

There should be a pedestal, upon which are placed the statues, and
an altar closed on all sides. The pedestal should communicate with
the altar through a central tube, also with the statues by means
of tubes, the ends of the latter terminating in cups held by the
statues. Water is poured into the pedestal through a hole, which is
stopped up immediately afterward.

If, then, a fire be kindled upon the altar, the air within expanding,
will penetrate the pedestal and force out the water; but the latter,
having no other outlet than the tubes, mounts into the cups and the
statues thus perform libations, which last as long as the fire does.
Upon the fire being extinguished, the libations cease, and recommence
as many times as it is rekindled.

The tube through which the heat is conveyed should be larger at
the middle than at the extremities, to allow the heat, or more
especially, the draft, which it produces, to accumulate in an
inflation, in order to be most effectual.

The priests of the temples of old were truly masters of the arts of
mechanics and pneumatics.

According to Father Kircher (_Oed. Aegypt._, Vol. II), an author,
whom he calls Bitho, states that there was at Saïs a temple of
Minerva containing an altar upon which, when a fire was kindled,
Dionysos and Artemis (Bacchus and Diana) poured out milk and wine,
while a dragon hissed. The use of steam is indicated here.


The Jesuit savant possessed in his museum an apparatus which probably
came from some ancient Egyptian temple. It consisted of a hollow
hemispherical dome supported by four columns, and placed over the
image of the goddess of the numerous breasts. To two of the columns
were adjusted movable holders, upon which lamps were fixed. The
hemisphere was hermetically closed beneath by a metallic plate. The
small altar, into which the milk was poured, communicated with the
interior {10} of the statue by a tube reaching nearly to the bottom;
it was also connected with the hollow dome by a tube having a double
bend. At the moment of sacrifice, the two lamps, which were turned
by means of movable holders directly beneath the lower plate of the
dome, were lighted, thereby causing the air inclosed in the dome to
expand. This expanded air, passing through the tube, pressed upon
the milk shut within the altar, forcing it to ascend the straight
tube into the interior of the statue and up to the height of the
breasts of the goddess. A series of little ducts, branching off from
the principal tube, conveyed the liquid into the breasts. From these
mammary glands of bronze the {11} lacteal fluid streamed out, to
the great admiration of the spectators, who believed that a miracle
had taken place. When the sacrifice was finished, the lamps were
extinguished by the attendant priest of the shrine, and the milk
ceased to flow.

There were many other mechanical devices of great interest, such
as the miraculous vessels used in the temples of Egypt and Greece,
and the apparatus that formed part of the Grecian puppet-shows and
other theatrical performances; but these hardly come within the
scope of this chapter. Philo of Byzantium and Heron of Alexandria
both left exhaustive treatises on the mechanic arts as understood by
the ancients. Philo’s work has unfortunately been lost, but Heron’s
treatise has a world of interest to anyone who is attracted to the




From an old and rare book called _The Universal Conjurer or the Whole
Art as Practised by the Famous Breslaw, Katerfelto, Jonas, Flockton,
Conus, and by the Greatest Adepts in London and Paris, etc._ London.

(From the Ellison Collection, New York.)]

Besides the miracle-mongers of antiquity there were also cup-and-ball
conjurers, who were called “acetabularii,” from the Latin word
_acetabulum_, which means a cup, and professors of natural magic in
general who laid no claim to supernatural powers. They wandered from
place to place, giving their shows. The grammarian, Athenæus, in his
_Deipnosophists_, or “Banquet of the Learned” (A. D. 228), mentions
a number of famous conjurers and jugglers of Greece. He says: “The
people of Histiæa and of Oreum erected in their theatre a brazen
statue holding a die in its hand to Theodorus the juggler.” Xenophon,
the conjurer, was very popular at Athens. He left behind him a pupil
named Cratisthenes, “a citizen of Phlias; a man who {12} used to
make fire spout up of its own accord, and who contrived many other
extraordinary sights, so as almost to make men discredit the evidence
of their own senses. And Nymphodorus, the conjurer, was another such
man. . . . And Diopeithes, the Locrian, according to the account of
Phanodemus, when he came to Thebes, fastened round his waist bladders
full of wine and milk, and then, squeezing them, pretended that he
was drawing up those liquids out of his mouth. And Noëmon gained a
great reputation for the same sort of tricks. . . . There were also,
at Alexander’s court, the following jugglers who had a great name:
Scymnus of Tarentum, and Philistides of Syracuse, and Heraclitus of
Mitylene.” (_Deipn._ Epit., B. 1, c. 34, 35.)


From a rare book called _The Whole Art of Hocus Pocus, Containing
the Most Dexterous Feats of Sleight-of-hand Performed by Katerfelto,
Breslaw, Boas, etc._ London, 1812. (From the Ellison Collection, New



In the Middle Ages the art of magic was ardently cultivated, in
spite of the denunciations of the Church. Many pretenders to
necromancy made use of the secrets of optics and acoustics, and
gained thereby a wonderful reputation as genuine sorcerers. Benvenuto
Cellini, sculptor, goldsmith and man-at-arms, in that greatest of
autobiographies,[5] records a magical seance which reads like a
chapter from the Arabian Nights.

[5] _Memoirs of Cellini_, Book I, Chapter LXIV.

He says: “It happened through a variety of singular accidents that
I became intimate with a Sicilian priest, who was a man of very
elevated genius and well instructed in both Latin and Greek letters.
In the course of conversation one day, we were led to talk about the
art of necromancy, _à propos_ of which I said: ‘Throughout my whole
life I have had the most intense desire to see or learn something of
this art.’ Thereto the priest replied: ‘A stout soul and a steadfast
must the man have who sets himself to such an enterprise.’ I answered
that of strength and steadfastness of soul I should have enough and
to spare, provided I found the opportunity. Then the priest said: ‘If
you have the heart to dare it, I will amply satisfy your curiosity.’
Accordingly we agreed upon attempting the adventure.

“The priest one evening made his preparations, and bade me find
a comrade, or not more than two. I invited Vincenzio Romoli, a
very dear friend of mine, and the priest took with him a native
of Pistoja, who also cultivated the black art. We went together
to the Colosseum; and there the priest, having arrayed himself in
necromancers’ robes, began to describe circles on the earth with the
finest ceremonies that can be imagined. I must say that he had made
us bring precious perfumes and fire, and also drugs of fetid odor.
When the preliminaries were completed, he made the entrance into the
circle; and taking us by the hand, introduced us one by one inside
of it. Then he assigned our several functions; to the necromancer,
his comrade, he gave the pentacle to hold; the other two of us had
to look after the fire and the perfumes; and then he began his
incantations. This {14} lasted more than an hour and a half, when
several legions appeared and the Colosseum was all full of devils.
I was occupied with the precious perfumes, and when the priest
perceived in what numbers they were present, he turned to me and
said: ‘Benvenuto, ask them something.’ I called on them to reunite me
with my Sicilian Angelica.”

It seems the spirits did not respond. The magic spells were found
inoperative, whereupon the priest dismissed the demons, observing
that the presence of a pure boy was requisite to the successful
accomplishment of the séance.

Another night Cellini and the sorcerer repaired to the ruins of the
Colosseum. The artist was accompanied by a boy of twelve years of
age, who was in his employ, and by two friends, Agnolino Gaddi and
the before-mentioned Romoli. The necromancer, after describing the
usual magic circle and building a fire, “began to utter those awful
invocations, calling by name on multitudes of demons who are captains
of their legions . . . ; insomuch that in a short space of time the
whole Colosseum was full of a hundredfold as many as had appeared
upon the first occasion.” At the advice of the wizard, Cellini again
asked to be reunited with his mistress. The sorcerer turned to him
and said: “Hear you what they have replied; that in the space of one
month you will be where she is.” The company within the magic circle
were now confronted by a great company of demons. The boy declared
that he saw four armed giants of immense stature who were endeavoring
to get within the circle. They trembled with fear. The necromancer,
to calm the fright of the boy, assured him that what they beheld
was but _smoke and shadows_, and that the spirits were under his
power. As the smoke died out, the demons faded away, and Cellini and
his friends left the place fully satisfied of the reality of the
conjurations. As they left the Colosseum, the boy declared that he
saw two of the demons leaping and skipping before them, and often
upon the roofs of the houses. The priest paid no attention to them,
but endeavored to persuade the goldsmith to renew the attempt on some
future occasion, in order to discover the secret treasures of the
earth. But Cellini did not care to meddle more in the black art. {15}

What are we to believe about this magic invocation? Was Cellini
romancing? Though a vainglorious, egotistical man, he was truthful,
and his memoirs may be relied on.

John Addington Symonds, one of the translators of Cellini’s
autobiography, remarks: “Imagination and the awe-inspiring influences
of the place, even if we eliminate a possible magic lantern among the
conjurer’s appurtenances, are enough to account for what Cellini saw.
He was credulous; he was superstitious.”

Sir David Brewster, who quotes Cellini’s narrative in his _Natural
Magic_, explains that the demons seen in the Colosseum “were not
produced by any influence upon the imaginations of the spectators,
but were actual optical phantasms, or the images of pictures or
objects produced by one or more concave mirrors or lenses. A fire
is lighted and perfumes and incense are burnt, in order to create a
ground for the images, and the beholders are rigidly confined within
the pale of the magic circle. The concave mirror and the objects
presented to it having been so placed that the persons within the
circle could not see the aerial image of the objects by the rays
directly reflected from the mirror, the work of deception was ready
to begin. The attendance of the magician upon his mirror was by no
means necessary. He took his place along with the spectators within
the magic circle. The images of the devils were all distinctly formed
in the air immediately above the fire, but none of them could be seen
by those within the circle.

“The moment, however, the perfumes were thrown into the fire to
produce smoke, the first wreath of smoke that rose through the place
of one or more of the images would reflect them to the eyes of the
spectators, and they would again disappear if the wreath was not
followed by another. More and more images would be rendered visible
as new wreaths of smoke arose, and the whole group would appear at
once when the smoke was uniformly diffused over the place occupied by
the images.”

Again, the magician may have been aided by a confederate amid the
ruins, who manipulated a magic lantern, or some device of the kind.
The magician himself may have been provided with a box fitted up with
a concave mirror, the lights and figures of {16} the demons. The
assertion of the boy that he saw demons skipping in front of him,
etc., would be accounted for by the magic box being carried with them.

Says the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_, in speaking of Cellini’s
adventure: “The existence of a camera at this latter date (middle
of sixteenth century) is a fact, for the instrument is described by
Baptista Porta, the Neapolitan philosopher, in the _Magia Naturalis_
(1558). And the doubt how magic lantern effects could have been
produced in the fourteenth century, when the lantern itself is
alleged to have been invented by Athanasius Kircher in the middle of
the seventeenth 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.”

Chaucer, in the _House of Fame_, Book III, speaks of “appearances
such as the subtil tregetours perform at feasts”—images of hunting,
falconry and knights jousting, with the persons and objects
instantaneously disappearing.

Later on Nostradamus conjured up a vision of the future king of
France in a magic mirror, for the benefit of Marie de Medeci. This
illusion was effected by mirrors adroitly concealed amid hanging

In the sixteenth century conjurers wandered from place to place,
exhibiting their tricks at fairs, in barns, and at the castles of
noblemen. They were little more than strolling gypsies or vagabonds.
Reginald Scott, in his _Discoverie of Witchcraft_ (1584), enumerates
some of the stock feats of these mountebanks. The list includes,
“swallowing a knife; burning a card and reproducing it from the
pocket of a spectator; passing a coin from one pocket to another;
converting money into counters, or counters into money; conveying
money into the hand of another person; making a coin pass through a
table or vanish from a handkerchief; tying a knot and undoing it ‘by
the power of words’; taking beads from a string, the ends of which
are held fast by another person; making a coin to pass from one box
to another; turning wheat into flour ‘by the power of {17} words’;
burning a thread and making it whole again; pulling ribbons from
the mouth; thrusting a knife into the head of a man; putting a ring
through the cheek, and cutting off a person’s head and restoring it
to its former position.”

Conjuring with cups and balls belongs to this list.


(From an Old Print, Ellison Collection.)]

The conjurer of the sixteenth century, and even of later date,
wore about his waist a sort of bag, called _gibécière_, from its
resemblance to a game bag, ostensibly to hold his paraphernalia.
While delving into this bag for various articles to be used in his
tricks, the magician succeeded in making substitutions and secretly
getting possession of eggs, coins, balls, etc. It was a very
clumsy device, but indispensable for an open-air {18} performer,
who usually stood encircled by the spectators. Finally, the
suspicious-looking _gibécière_ was abandoned by all save strolling
mountebanks, and a table with a long cloth substituted. This table
concealed an assistant, who made the necessary transformations
required in the act, by means of traps and other devices. Comus,
the elder, in the eighteenth century, abandoned the long table
covers and the concealed assistant for the _servante_. But his
immediate competitors still adhered to the draped tables, and a whole
generation of later conjurers, among whom may be mentioned Comte,
Bosco and Phillippe, followed their example. Robert-Houdin struck the
keynote of reform in 1844. He sarcastically called the suspiciously
draped table a _boite à compère_ (wooden confederate).

Conjurers in the seventeenth century were frequently known as _Hocus
Pocus_. These curious words first occur in a pamphlet printed in
1641, in which the author, speaking of the sights of Bartholomew
fair, mentions “_Hocus Pocus_, with three yards of tape or ribbon in
his hand, showing his art of legerdemain.” The seventeenth century is
the age of the strolling mountebank, who performed wherever he could
get an audience—in the stable, barnyard, street or fair. From him to
the prestidigitateur of the theatre is a long step, but no longer
than from the barnstorming actor to the artist of the well-appointed
playhouse. There is evolution in everything. It was not until the
eighteenth century that conjuring became a legitimate profession.
This was largely owing to the fact that men of gentle birth, well
versed in the science of the age, took up the magic wand, and gave
the art dignity and respectability.

It was not until the eighteenth century that natural magic was
shorn of charlatanism, but even then the great Pinetti pretended
to the occult in his exhibition of so-called “second sight.” He
always avoided the Papal States, taking warning from the fate of
Cagliostro. Magic and spiritism were in bad odor in the dominions
of the Pope. Towards the middle of the century we hear of Jonas,
Carlotti, Katerfelto, Androletti, Philadelphia, Rollin, Comus I and
II. Comus II was famous for coining hard words. He advertised in
London, “various uncommon experiments with his Enchanted Horologium,
Pyxidees Literarum, {19} and many curious operations in Rhabdology,
Steganography and Phylacteria, with many wonderful performances on
the grand Dodecahedron, also Chartomantic Deceptions and Kharamatic
Operations. To conclude with the performance of the Teretopaest
Figure and Magical House; the like never seen in this kingdom before;
and will astonish every beholder.” These magical experiments were
doubtless very simple. What puzzled the spectators must have been the
names of the tricks.

Rollin, a Frenchman, after accumulating a fortune, purchased the
chateau of Fontenoy-aux-Roses, in the department of the Seine. He was
denounced under the Red Terror, and suffered death by the guillotine,
in 1793. When the warrant for his execution was read to him, he
remarked, with a smile, “That is the first paper I cannot conjure


I now come to the Count Edmond de Grisy, Pinetti’s great rival in the
field of conjuring.

The duel for supremacy between these eminent magicians is told in the
chapter on Pinetti. The father of De Grisy, the Count de Grisy, was
killed at the storming of the Tuilleries, while defending the person
of his king, Louis XVI, from the mob. Young De Grisy was in Paris at
the time, and, profiting by the disorders in the capital, was enabled
to pass the barriers and reach the small family domain in Languedoc.
Here he dug up a hundred louis, which his father had concealed for
any unforseen accident; to this money he added some jewels left
by his mother. With this modest sum, he proceeded to Florence,
where he studied medicine, graduating as a physician at the age of
twenty-seven. He became a professional magician, and had an adventure
at Rome which is well worth relating. He was requested to perform
before Pius VII, and ransacked his brains to devise a trick worthy of
a Pope. On the day before the mystic séance he happened to be in the
shop of a prominent watchmaker, when a lackey came in to ask if His
Eminence the Cardinal de ⸺’s watch was repaired. {20}

“It will not be ready until this evening,” answered the watchmaker.
“I will do myself the honor of personally carrying it to your master.”

The lackey retired.

“That is a handsome watch you have there,” said De Grisy.

“Yes,” replied the jeweler, “it is valued at more than ten thousand
francs. It was made by the celebrated Bréguet. Strangely enough, the
other day I was offered a similar timepiece, by the same artist, for
one thousand francs.”

“Who was he?” asked the Count.

“A young prodigal and gambler, belonging to a noble family, who is
now reduced to selling his family jewels.”

Like a flash of lightning, a scheme for working a splendid
mystification passed through De Grisy’s mind. He nonchalantly said:

“Where is this young rake to be found?”

“In a gaming house, which he never quits.”

“Well, then, I will buy this masterpiece of Bréguet’s. Have the
kindness to purchase it for me, and engrave upon it the Cardinal’s
coat-of-arms, so that it will be a replica of His Eminence’s

The jeweler, assured of De Grisy’s discretion and honor, though
probably suspecting the use to which the timepiece would be
subjected, immediately left his shop, and returned after a little
while with the gambler’s watch.

“Here it is,” he cried. “To-night I shall have it ready for you.”

At the appointed hour he brought the two watches for De Grisy’s
inspection. They were facsimiles. The conjurer took his purchase,
and the next day appeared at the pontifical palace, where a most
distinguished audience greeted him. The Pope sat on a raised dais;
near him were the cardinals in their brilliant robes of crimson.

After performing a series of magical feats, De Grisy came to his
_pièce de résistance_. The difficulty was to obtain the loan of the
Cardinal’s watch, and that without asking him directly for it. To
succeed the conjurer had recourse to a ruse. At his {21} request
several watches were offered to him, but he returned them as not
suited to the experiment.

“I desire a timepiece that will be easily identified. I should prefer

Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 3 of 28)