Henry Ridgely Evans.

The Old and the New Magic online

. (page 4 of 28)
Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 4 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


one of rather large size,” said De Grisy.

“Cardinal,” said His Holiness, “oblige me by lending your watch to M.
de Grisy.”

With great reluctance the Cardinal de ⸺ handed his precious
chronometer to the conjurer. It seems he set great value on its
exaggerated size, alleging, with considerable show of reason, that
the works acted better in a large case.

In order to prove the solidity and excellence of the chronometer, De
Grisy let it fall to the ground. A cry of alarm arose on all sides.
The Cardinal, pale with rage, bounded from his chair, exclaiming:
“This is a sorry jest, sir!”

“Do not be alarmed, monsignor,” said De Grisy, “the watch will escape
scathless from its many trials.” He handed the broken timepiece to
the Cardinal. “Do you recognize this as your watch?”

The prelate gazed anxiously at the coat-of-arms engraved inside of
the case, and replied, with a profound sigh:

“Yes, that is my watch.”

“You are certain of it?”

“Quite certain! But I seriously doubt your power to restore it.”

“We shall see!” said the conjurer.

De Grisy’s assistant now brought in a brass mortar and pestle. The
watch was cast into the mortar and pounded to atoms. Some magic
powder was poured into the receptacle and a torch applied. There
was a detonation, followed by a cloud of smoke. The spectators
were invited to examine the ingot of gold—all that remained of the
precious chronometer. Pius VII peered curiously into the mortar.
De Grisy, seizing the opportunity, adroitly popped the duplicate
timepiece into a pocket of the Pope’s robe. At the proper moment
he pretended to pass the ingot into the pontiff’s pocket, which
resulted in the discovery of the Cardinal’s watch, made whole again.
This clever trick created a great sensation in Rome, and drew crowds
to De Grisy’s performances. Poor De Grisy seemed doomed to {22}
misfortune. His young son was killed accidentally by a spectator,
during an exhibition of the pistol trick at Strasburg. A real bullet
got mixed up with the false bullets, and was loaded into the weapon.
De Grisy was tried and convicted of “homicide through imprudence,”
and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, during which time his
wife died. On his release, he assumed the name of Torrini, which was
that of his brother-in-law and faithful assistant. He retired to the
provinces of France, and never appeared again in the large cities. He
died a brokenhearted man at Lyons.

Torrini was a skillful performer with cards, as Robert-Houdin
testifies. He invented a trick which he called “The Blind Man’s
Game of Piquet.” While blindfolded he would play piquet and defeat
adepts at the game. This trick was one of the features of his
entertainments, and always gained him great applause. The secret
consisted in substituting a prepared pack for the ordinary pack
used. After the spectator had shuffled the cards and handed them to
Torrini to cut, the conjurer would rest his hand momentarily upon
the pack, while he made some observation to his opponent. Then it
was that the substitution was artfully effected by means of a “magic
box,” which the prestidigitateur had concealed in the sleeve of his
coat. Pressure upon the table caused a spring in the box to shoot
out a prepared pack of cards, while a pair of pincers at the same
time seized the recently shuffled pack and drew it up into the hidden
receptacle. This ingenious piece of apparatus Torrini had obtained
from a gambler named Zilbermann.

While attempting to cheat an opponent, the apparatus had hung fire,
and Zilbermann was detected _in flagrante delicto_. A duel was the
result, and Zilbermann was mortally wounded. He sent for Torrini,
whose conjuring abilities he greatly admired, and presented him with
the box. Soon afterwards he died.

Torrini never used the apparatus except in his conjuring
performances. He was a man of honor and not a _chevalier d’industrie_.

{23}




THE CHEVALIER PINETTI.


“The Age of Romance has not ceased; it never ceases; it does not, if
we will think of it, so much as very sensibly decline.”—CARLYLE: The
_Diamond Necklace_.


I.

Paris! Time—the latter half of the eighteenth century!

Louis XVI is on the throne of France, relieving the ennui of court
etiquette by working at locksmithing. His beautiful consort, Marie
Antoinette, amuses herself playing at dairy-farming, _à̱ la_ Watteau,
in the gardens of the little Trianon. Dr. Guillotin, as yet, has
not even dreamed of that terrible machine of wood and steel to
be called by his name. Danton, Marat and Robespierre—the “bloody
triumvirate”—are unknown to fame.

It is the age of powder and patches, enormous hoop-skirts,
embroidered coats, lace ruffles, cocked hats, silk stockings and
swords. Gentlemen meet and exchange snuff boxes; fight duels at
times, despite the royal edict; indulge in grandiose gallantries.
Noblemen in their coaches-and-four, on their way to Versailles (which
to them is heaven on earth), drive recklessly through the narrow
streets of the capital, splashing the pedestrians with mud from the
kennels, and knocking down citizens with impunity. The aristocracy
live to be amused.

_Vive la bagatelle!_ is the watchword of the gentle born, and when
the Chevalier Pinetti, knight of the German Order of Merit of St.
Philippe, comes to town, there is a grand rush for seats at the
theatre to see him perform. The Chevalier is the greatest conjurer
of the age, also a learned student of physics and member of various
scientific bodies in France, England and Germany. {24}

I have in my possession an old print, picked up in Paris, a portrait
of the Chevalier. This picture is an allegorical affair. Two winged
cupids are depicted placing the bust of Pinetti in the Temple of
Arts. Strewn about the place are various instruments used in physics
and mathematics. The motto appended to this curious print is as
follows: _Des genies placent le buste de M. le Professeur Pinetti
dans le temple des arts, au milieu des instruments de physique et de
mathematique_. {25}

[Illustration: PINETTI]

At Versailles the Chevalier is received with acclaim. His “shirt
trick” produces a great sensation. Imagine whisking the shirt off a
gentleman’s back without disturbing the rest of his clothing. But of
that, anon! The “second-sight” of the Chevalier’s spouse savors of
the supernatural; and his “ring and fish” feat is just too wonderful
for anything. In short, the conjurer is voted to be very amusing;
therefore, he should be patronized.

Pinetti was the prince of prestidigitateurs of the eighteenth
century. His life reads like a romance. After a brilliant,
pyrotechnic career, he faded out into darkness. I have gathered my
facts concerning him from old French and German brochures. Little or
nothing is known about his ancestry, his youth and early experiences.

He may have purposely guarded the secret of his origin, being
inordinately boastful. He thoroughly understood how to avail himself
of all the arts of the toilet to appear much younger than, according
to his contemporaries, he must have been in reality.

It is believed that he first saw the light of day in 1750,
in Orbitello, a small fortified town of about three thousand
inhabitants, lying in the foothills of what was then the Grand Duchy
of Tuscany.

He is first heard of while traveling through the provinces of
Germany, in 1783. In 1784 he appeared in Paris, where he gave a
series of performances, and exhibited several times before the
court of Louis XVI with distinguished success. At this time the
public showed a marked predilection for all kinds of mystical and
inexplicable exhibitions, which had been awakened by the performances
of various adventurers, like Cagliostro, St. Germain and Mesmer.
Pinetti thoroughly understood how to make the most of this bent of
the public mind, and succeeded in setting Paris in ecstasy, as well
as becoming himself a model for all contemporary and succeeding
necromancers, for a long time. Though without fine or regular
features, his physiognomy possessed much distinction; while his
manners were excellent. It is probable, however, that the latter were
acquired rather than innate; for extremely bad taste is betrayed
by his frequently wearing on the stage the uniform of a general,
decorated with {26} numerous orders. This is an oddity with a fatal
suggestion of charlatanism. He was given to vaunting, and was in no
wise careful to adhere to the truth in communications regarding his
magical art. A vicious trait of his character was his readiness to
adopt the most contemptible measures to free himself of the rivalry
of another; and this unworthy characteristic undoubtedly led to his
ultimate downfall.


II.

Pinetti’s repertory was very extended. However interesting it might
be to pass in review the whole series of his feats, I must here limit
myself to a few, which appear typical of him and of his public.

There was first the wonderful automaton known as “The Grand Sultan,”
also called “The clever little Turk,” which was about forty
centimeters in height, and which struck a bell with a hammer, or
nodded and shook his head, in answer to questions propounded. “The
golden head and the rings” was as follows: In a glass, the bottom of
which was covered with coins, a previously shown, massive head was
placed. A cover was then placed on the glass. The head answered yes
or no to inquiries, or counted numbers by leaping in the glass. In
a second glass borrowed rings were laid, which moved in unison with
the head, as though by sympathy. The “Clever Swan” was put into a
vessel of water, and varied its course according to the will of the
onlooker. Moreover, when a spectator had drawn a card from a pack
of inscribed cards, it spelled the word written thereon, by moving
toward the appropriate letters, which were printed on strips of
cardboard hung about the vessel.

A kind of sympathetic action is shown in the following experiment.
A lighted lamp was deposited on a table. As soon as a spectator,
stationed at a considerable distance, blew through a reed, the lamp
was immediately extinguished. Another: a live dove was fastened, by
means of two ribbons about its neck, to two opposite columns. On
the instant when a picture of the dove, or even the shadow of the
suspended bird, was pierced by a sword, the dove itself was beheaded,
although it had not been disturbed, and the severed and still
bleeding head, and the rest {27} of the body, fell separately to the
ground. This experiment, called “Theophrastus Paracelsus,” recalls an
old superstition, namely, that evil can be wrought upon a person by
injury to a picture of him, accompanied by a spoken incantation. It
is the so-called “Picture charm.”

Fettering and binding experiments were shown, but of a simpler nature
than modern ones. To each leg of the magician was fastened a ring,
and through each ring an iron chain was passed, its ends locked on a
pillar. “The Prisoner” seemed aided by some external power to release
himself, for in a very short time he was free from his bonds. More
difficult was another experiment, wherein a chain was fastened by a
strip of cloth directly about the leg, and secured to the pillar; but
here also, a half minute sufficed the “Galley Slave” to free himself
of the shackles. The most pleasing was the following trick: Pinetti
allowed both thumbs to be tied together with a cord, and his hands,
so bound, to be covered with a hat; hardly was this done than he
stretched out his right hand, seized a flask of wine and drank to the
health of the person who had tied him, and tossed the emptied glass
to the ceiling, whence it fell as a ball of finely-cut paper. At the
same instant, he allowed the hat to fall, and displayed his hands,
still as closely bound as at the beginning of the experiment.[6]
Also, the well-known trick, in which several borrowed rings are
passed over two ribbon bands, the ends of which are knotted together
and held by some of the spectators; nevertheless the rings can be
drawn off without severing the ribbons. This was hardly new, but
merely a variation of a trick described in 1690, in a work by Ozanam,
in his _Récréations Mathematiques_, and exhibited by the jugglers
of that time under the name of “My Grandmother’s Rose Wreath.” They
made use of small balls, strung on two cords, from which they were
withdrawn, notwithstanding that the cords were held by strangers.
To-day this trick is explained in most books of games and amusements,
which fact does not hinder the public from being quite as much
astounded when the feat is performed _à̱ la_ Pinetti, with rings or a
watch, accompanied by clever patter. {28}

[6] There is nothing new under the sun. A Japanese
conjurer, named Ten-Ichi, at the present writing, is
creating a sensation in our vaudeville theatres with this
same thumb-tying trick.

[Illustration: PINETTI AND THE DOVE. (From an Old Print.)]

Pinetti’s magical bouquet was a very pretty trick. In a vase were
placed the dry, leafless stems of a bunch of flowers, tied together.
At the magician’s command, leaves, flowers and fruit appeared,
transforming the bouquet into a thing of beauty; but all its splendor
disappeared again at the command of the performer. His feat of the
“recovered ring” was as follows: A ring was borrowed from a lady and
fired from a pistol into a casket, which had been previously shown
empty and devoid of preparation. When the casket was opened, after
the shot was fired, a dove was seen within, holding in its bill the
ring. But, in addition, the pretty bird knew precisely the possessor
of the ring, for it shook its head in rotation at each lady to whom
the trinket did not belong. When the owner appeared, the dove {29}
voluntarily presented the ring to her in its beak. In Naples, where
Pinetti’s theatre was situated directly on the sea shore, he varied
the trick by firing the pistol loaded with the ring out of the
window. On opening the casket a large fish was seen, bearing the ring
in its mouth.

Another clever experiment was the mechanical bird, which, when set
upon a flask, fluttered its wings and whistled any favorite melody
called for by the audience, also blowing out a lighted candle and
immediately relighting it. It would accomplish these feats just as
well when removed from the flask to a table, or when held in the
performer’s hand upon any part of the stage. The sounds were produced
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.” Though the two last described feats were the most celebrated
of Pinetti’s masterpieces, the most remarkable, without doubt, was
the one he called “The stolen shirt.” In spite of its somewhat
unseemly appearance, it was shown before the king and his family,
and consisted of this: A gentleman from the audience, not in league
with the performer, came upon the stage and, at Pinetti’s request,
unfastened the buttons of his shirt at the neck and cuffs, and
Pinetti, with only a few movements of his hand drew the shirt from
his body, though the gentleman had not removed a single article of
his clothing.

[Illustration: PINETTI’S CARD TRICK.]

Pinetti eventually revealed the process by which this surprising
result was obtained. He was moved to do so, because all those who
saw the trick performed in the Theatre des Menus-Plaisirs held the
conviction that the other party to it was in collusion with him. The
public was not to be blamed for this erroneous conclusion, for not
only at that time, but much later, many of the astonishing feats
of the magician were effected through the complicity of assistants
seated among the audience. Such confederates were called by the
French, _Compères_ and _Commères_, which translated into the vulgar
vernacular, stand for “pals,” “cronies.” These gentlemen brought
articles, of which the magician possessed duplicates, and loaned
them—apparently as unrelated spectators—when such articles were asked
for in {30} the course of the experiments. Robert-Houdin ended this
régime of confederacy. When he asked for the loan of an article, he
genuinely borrowed it, and exchanged it for a substitute by sleight
of hand. This is the modern method. The following is Pinetti’s
explanation of the shirt trick: “The means of performing this trick
are the following—only observing that the clothes of the person
whose shirt is to be pulled off be wide and easy: Begin by making
him pull off his stock and unbuttonning his {31} shirt at the neck
and sleeves, afterwards tie a little string in the buttonhole of the
left sleeve; then, passing your hand behind his back, pull the shirt
out of his breeches and slip it over his head; then, pulling it out
before in the same manner, you will leave it on his stomach; after
that, go to the right hand and pull the sleeve down, so as to have it
all out of the arm; the shirt being then all of a heap, as well in
the right sleeve as before the stomach, you are to make use of this
little string fastened to the buttonhole of the left sleeve to get
back the sleeve that must have slipt up, and to pull the whole shirt
out that way. To hide your way of operating from the person whom you
unshift, and from the assembly, you may cover his head with a lady’s
cloak, holding a corner of it in your teeth. In order to be more at
your ease, you may mount on a chair and do the whole operation under
the cloak.”


III.

Pinetti’s explanation of the shirt trick was contained in a work
entitled _Amusements Physiques, Paris, 1784_. An edition in English
of this book was published in London in the same year. It was called:
“Amusements in physics, and various entertaining experiments,
invented and executed at Paris and the various courts of Europe by
the Chevalier M. Jean-Joseph Pinetti Willedale de Merci, Knight of
the German Order of Merit of St. Philip, professor of mathematics and
natural philosophy, pensioned by the Court of Prussia, patronized
by all the Royal Family of France, aggregate of the Royal Academy
of Sciences and Belle-Lettres of Bordeaux, etc.” As an exposé of
conjuring feats in general this work was an imposition on the public.
It was intended to mislead the reader. In spite of the high-sounding
title of the work, it contained nothing outside of the solution
of the “stolen shirt” mystery. There was no explanation of any
trick upon which Pinetti set value, but merely experiments already
published in preceding books on the juggler’s art, and which belonged
to a long-past time, consisting mostly of chemical experiments and
childish diversions. {32}

This unworthy publication, and Pinetti’s custom of speaking of
himself as endowed with preternatural powers, aroused an adversary
in the person of M. Henri Decremps, of the Museum of Paris, an
accomplished and enthusiastic lover of the art of magic. From him
appeared a book entitled, _La Magie blanche dévoilée_, Paris, 1784,
addressed, as he declares in the preface, not to the great public,
since “the world loves to be deceived, and would rather believe
the fairy tales of the imposter than the unvarnished truth of his
opponent,” but to the real lovers of an entertaining art. As this
work set forth the real explanation of Pinetti’s wonders, one may
imagine what reception it met with from him and his admiring public.
Characteristic of Pinetti is the manner in which he sought revenge
on Decremps. In one of his performances he deplored the fact that an
ignorant imposter, solely with the intent of injuring him (Pinetti),
sought to reveal mysteries which his intelligence was insufficient to
grasp. All knew to whom he referred, who had the slightest knowledge
of Decremps. And what now ensued? Hardly had Pinetti finished
speaking, when a shabbily-dressed and unprepossessing individual
arose, assailed Pinetti with abuse and bade him take care, he would
be fully exposed. The audience, indignant at the disturbance of an
amusing performance, jeered the man from whom it proceeded, and
made preparation to expel the poor devil. Here intervened, however,
the “good” Pinetti. In conciliatory, kindly fashion, he accompanied
his assailant to the door, ostentatiously presenting him also with
several louis d’or as indemnification for the harshness shown him.

[Illustration:

_L’Art de faire les Portraits à la Silhouette en Miniature à la
manière angloise, à l’aide de la Chambre obscure._

Chap. VIII, pag. 55.

H. DECREMPS, Né à Beduer en Querci, le 15. Avril. 1746.

Il a su démasquer, dans ses heureux Écrits,
Du grand art de jongler les trop nombreux Apôtres.
Il eut des envieux, mais encor plus d’amis,
Et mérita d’avoir & les uns & les autres.

_Par M. Sal_ * * *.

M. DECREMPS]

Needless to explain, the expelled intruder was not the author of
the book in question, but genuinely a “poor devil” who played his
part in the comedy, for a money consideration. However, Decremps was
an able man, who could act with as much shrewdness as energy. In
1785 he followed his first book with a second, explaining Pinetti’s
newest tricks, the self-playing organ, artificial snakes and birds,
chess-playing automatons, ascending balloons in human shape,
perpetual motion, learned animals, automatic flute playing, etc.
The handling of the topic is much more thorough than in the first
volume, and the matter interestingly set forth. It is in the form of
letters of travel; the author {34} in company with a Mr. Hill, an
Englishman, traverses distant lands, where remarkable and astonishing
things are met with, and the causes and construction which bring
about their wonderful results, are ascertained and explained.

They reach the Cape of Good Hope, where, amid a savage population,
with many arts of refined civilization, they encounter a wizard,
who, in a bombastic declaration, extols his own wonder-working
powers. In the course of the narrative these feats are described and
their operation explained. The behavior of the wizard is amusingly
depicted. How strenuously he denies the truth of the solution of his
wonders found by the strangers; how he endeavors, by means of every
artifice, to hoodwink the public; how he first strives, through
cunning and bribery, then through abuse and injury, to rid himself
of his dangerous adversaries—in all this is Pinetti’s character so
intimately pictured that we cannot err in supposing this entire
portion of the book directed solely against him. And what name does
he give the wizard? He calls him “Pilferer.” Decidedly, Decremps
could be severe.

These books were translated into English in 1785, and published as a
single volume, under the title of _The Conjurer Unmasked_, etc.

Pinetti, who was an original genius, sought to overcome the effects
of Decremps’ revelations in other ways besides chicanery. He
invented new illusions, performed his old tricks with greater dash
and brilliancy, and added new appointments to his _mise en scène_,
to dazzle and overcome the spectators. His patter was unceasing and
convincing. But now was heard the distant thunder of the approaching
social upheaval—the French Revolution. The political horizon was full
of black clouds. The people of Paris began to desert the theatres for
clubs and cafés, there to enter upon political discussions. Pinetti,
seeing the audiences of his Temple of Magic dwindling away, packed up
his apparatus and went to England, which is the immediate aim of all
fugitives from France.

During his stay in London he made the following announcement in the
newspapers: “The Chevalier Pinetti and his consort will exhibit most
wonderful, stupendous and absolutely {35} inimitable, mechanical,
physical and philosophical pieces, which his recent deep scrutiny in
these sciences, and assiduous exertion, have enabled him to invent
and construct; among which Chevalier Pinetti will have the special
honor and satisfaction of exhibiting various experiments, of new
discovery, no less curious than seemingly incredulous, particularly
that of Mme. Pinetti being seated in one of the front boxes with a
handkerchief over her eyes and guessing at everything imagined and
proposed to her by any person in the company.” Here we have the first
mention of the “Second-Sight” trick, which Robert-Houdin re-invented
sixty-one years later, and which Robert Heller, not many years ago,



Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 4 of 28)