Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, ambassador, author, and conjurer online

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The paper was burned, and nothing could depict the
Pope's astonishment on finding it in the centre of a large
number of sealed envelopes. I received his permission to
keep this autograph.

To end my performance, and set the crown on my ex-
plojts, I now proceeded to the trick I had invented for the

Here I had several difficulties to contend with; the
greatest was certainly to induce Cardinal de to lend


me his watch, and that without asking him directly for it,
and, to succeed, I must have recourse to a ruse. At my
request several watches were offered me, but I returned
them with the excuse, more or less true, that, as they had
no peculiarity of shape, it would be difficult to prove the
identity of the one I chose.

"If any gentleman among you," I added, "has a watch
of rather large size (this was the peculiarity of the card-
inal's), and would kindly lend it to me, I should prefer it
as better suited for the experiment. I need not say I will
take the greatest care of it ; I only wish to prove its su-
perority, if it really possess it, or, on the other hand, to
marvellously improve it.'

All eyes were naturally turned on the cardinal, who, it
was known, set great value on the exaggerated size of his
chronometer. He asserted, with some show of reason
perhaps, that the works acted more freely in a large case.
However, he hesitated to lend me his beloved watch, till
Pius VII. said to him :

" Cardinal, I fancy your watch will suit exactly; oblige
me by handing it to M. de Grisy."

His eminence assented, though not without numberless
precautions; and when I had the chronometer in my
hands, I drew the attention of the Pope and the cardinals
to it, while pretending to admire the works and handsome

"Is your watch a repeater?" I then said to the car-

" No, sir, it is a chronometer, and watches of that de-
gree of accuracy are not usually encumbered with unneces-
sary machinery."

" Indeed! a chronometer; then it must be English?" I
said, with apparent simplicity.


"What, sir?" the cardinal replied, as if stung by my
remark, " do you think chronometers are only made in
England? On the contrary, the best specimens have
always been made in Fr.ance. What English maker can
be compared with Pierre Leroy, Ferdinand Berthoud, or
Breguet above all, who made that chronometer for me ?"

The Pope began to smile at the cardinal's energy.

"Well, then, we will select this chronometer," I said,
putting a stop to the conversation I had purposely started.
" I have, then, gentlemen, to prove to you its solidity and
excellent qualities. Now for the first trial."

And I let the watch fall to the ground. A cry of terror
rose on all sides, while the cardinal, pale and trembling,
bounded from his seat, saying, with ill-suppressed wrath,

"You are playing a very sorry jest, sir."

"But, monseigneur," I said, with the greatest calmness,
"you have no occasion to be frightened; I merely wish to
prove to these gentlemen the perfection of your watch. I
beg you not to be alarmed ; it will escape scathless from
all the trials I subject it to."

With these words I stamped on the case, which broke,
flattened, and soon presented but a shapeless mass. At
first, I really fancied the cardinal was going into a fit ;
he could scarcely restrain his passion ; but the Pope then
turned to him :

" Come, cardinal, have you no confidence in our sor-
cerer ? For my part, I laugh like a child at it, being con-
vinced there has been some clever substitution."

"Will your Holiness permit me to remark," I said, re-
spectfully, " that there has been no substitution? I ap-
peal to his eminence, who will recognise his own watch."

And I offered the cardinal the shapeless relics of his
watch. He examined them anxiously, and finding his arms
engraved inside the case, said, with a deep sigh,


"Yes, that is certainly my watch. But," he added,
dryly, "I know not how you will escape, sir: at any rate,
you should have played this unjustifiable trick on some
object that might be replaced, for my chronometer is

" Well, your excellency, I am enchanted at that cir-
cumstance, for it must enhance the credit of my experi-
periment. Now, with your permission I will proceed."

" Good gracious me, sir, you did not consult me before
destroying the watch. Do what you please, it is no con-
cern of mine."

The identity of the cardinal's watch thus proved, I
wished to pass into the Pope's pocket the one I had bought
the previous evening. But I could not dream of this so
long as his Holiness remained seated. Hence, I sought
some pretext to make him rise, and soon found one.

A brass motar, with an enormous pestle, was now
brought in. I placed it on the table, threw in the frag-
ments of the chronometer, and began pounding furiously.
Suddenly, a slight detonation was heard, and a vivid light
came from the vessel, which cast a ruddy hue over the
spectators, and produced a magical appearance. All
this while, bending over the mortar, I pretended to see
something that filled me with the liveliest astonishment.

Through respect for the Pope, no one ventured to rise,
but the Pontiff, yielding to his curiosity, approached the
table, followed by a portion of the audience. They might
look and look : nothing was to be seen but flame.

" I know not whether I must attribute it to the dazed
state of my brain," said his Holiness, passing his hand
over his eyes, "but I can distinguish nothing."

I, too, had much the same idea, but, far, from confess-
ing it, I begged the Pope to come round the table and


chose a more favorable spot. During this time I slipped
my reserve watch into the Pope's pocket. The experi-
ment was certain, and the cardinal's watch had, by this
time, been reduced to a small ingot, which I held up to
the spectators.

"Now," I said, "I will restore this ingot to its original
shape, and the transformation shall be performed during
its passage to the pocket of a person who cannot be
suspected of complicity."

"Aha!" the Pope said, in a jocular tone, "that is be-
coming a little too strong. But what would you do, my
good sorcerer, if I asked you to choose my pocket?"

"Your Holiness need only order for me to obey."

"Well, Monsieur le Comte, let be so."

"Your Holiness shall be immediately satisfied."

I then took the ingot in my fingers, "showed it to the
company, and it disappeared on my uttering the word

The Pope, with manifestations of utter incredulity, thrust
his hand into his pocket. I soon saw him blush with con-
fusion, and draw out the watch, which he handed to the
cardinal as if afraid of burning his fingers.

At first it was supposed to be a mystification, as no
one could believe in such an immediate repair ; but when
my audience were assured that I had fulfilled my promise, I
received the applause so successful a trick deserved.

The next day the Pope sent me a rich diamond snuff-box,
while thanking me for all the pleasure I had occasioned him.

This performance created a great sensation at Rome,
and every one flocked to see my marvels. Perhaps they
hoped to witness the famous trick of the " Broken Watch,"
which I had performed at the Vatican. But though I was
then very extravagant, I was not so mad as to spend


1200 francs a night in the performance of a trick which
could never again be done under such favorable auspices.

An operatic company was attached to the theatre while
I performed, but their performances were suspended
during my stay in Rome. The manager employed this
leisure time to rehearse a fresh piece to be performed on
my departure, and this gave me a daily opportunity to
mix with the actors. I had formed a peculiar friendship
with one of the youngest of them, a charming lad of
eighteen, with a tenor voice, whose elegant and regular
features formed a singular contrast to his employment.
His feminine face, with his small waist and timid de-
meanor, quite injured the effect when he played the part
of a lover ; he looked like a boarding-school miss in man's
clothes. Yet, I discovered afterwards that this effeminate
person contained a bold and manly heart, for Antonio
(such was the tenor's name) had been engaged in several
affairs of honor, in which he had done his manly devoir.

At this part of Torrini's story I interrupted him, for
the name of Antonio struck me.

What !" I said, " can it be that ?"

Certainly ; the same person ! Your astonishment is
justifiable, but it will cease when I tell you that more than
twenty years have elapsed since the time I speak of. At
that period, Antonio did not wear a heavy black beard,
and his face had not yet been embrowned by the open air
and the fatigues of our laborious and nomadic life."

Antonio's mother was also engaged at the theatre ; she
performed in the ballets, and her name was Lauretta Tor-
rini. Though close upon forty, she had retained all her
pristine charms. She must have been very beautiful in
her time, but the greatest scandal-mongers could not re-



proach her with the least levity. She was the widow of a
government clerk, and had brought up her family by her
own labor.

Antonio was not her only child ; she had borne a daugh-
ter with him. These twins, as frequently ^happens, had
such a striking resemblance, that only their dress distin-
guished them ; and they had been christened Antonio and
Antonia. The lad received a musical education at the
theatre, but Antonia was always sedulously kept from the
stage. After a careful education, her mother had placed
her in a milliner's shop, till she could set up for herself.

I have dwelled so long on this family because, as you
can guess, it soon became my own. My friendship for
Antonio was not quite disinterested, for I owed to it an
introduction to his sister. Antonia was lovely and virtu-
ous : I asked her hand, and was accepted. Our marriage
was to take place as soon as my engagement had termi-
nated, and it was arranged that Lauretta and Antonio
should share our fortunes.

I have already said that Antonio appeared effeminate ;
but although large black eyes, fringed with long eyelashes,
and exquisitely pencilled eyebrows, a Grecian nose, and
fresh and ruddy lips, were almost wasted on Antonio, still
these advantages admirably suited my betrothed. Such a
treasure could not long remain concealed : Antonia was
noticed, and all the rich young nobles fluttered round her.
But she loved me, and had no difficulty in resisting the
numerous and brilliant offers made her.

While waiting the wished-for day, Antonia and I formed
plans for our future happiness. She would enjoy a travel-
ling life, and as she longed for a sea-voyage, I promised
to take her to Constantinople. I wished to perform before
Selim III., who was considered an enlightened prince, and


hospitably treated the artists he assembled at his court.
All, then, seemed to smile on ray plans, when one morn-
ing, while dreaming of these pleasant prospects, Antonio
suddenly entered my room.

"My dear Edmond," he said, "I defy you to guess
where I have been, and what has happened to me since
last evening. I must tell you, then, as prelude to my
story, that, dragged, in spite of myself, into a drama,
which threatened to become very sanguinary, I turned it
into a farce, the details of which are worth hearing. You
shall judge.

" I was at the theatre yesterday, when a carpenter, a
worthy man in many respects, but who spends three parts
of his time in public-houses, came up and begged to tell
me a secret.

" Monsieur Antonio," he said, " if yon wish to prevent
a great evil, you have no time to lose. I have just been
drinking with some of my comrades, and a man, whose
acquaintance we had formed over the bottle, told us we
could gain a large sum easily. The proposal was so agree-
able that we accepted it unanimously, on condition of
knowing what was wanted of us. We were told, and this
is what we promised to do :

" This evening, when your sister leaves her shop, we are
to surround her, as if quarrelling, and drown her cries by

our shouts. The Marquis d'A 's people will manage

the rest. Now do you understand ?"

I only understood too well, and, scarcely thanking the
carpenter, I rushed off at full speed. Fortunately my
brains did not fail me. I was in front of a gunsmith's :
I went in, bought a pair of pistols, and then hastened

" Mother," I said, as I went in, " I have made a bet


that I should be taken for Antonia by putting on her
clothes. Dress me, then, quickly, and tell my sister I beg
her to leave the shop half an hour later than usual."

My mother did as I asked, and when I was dressed I so
perfectly resembled Antonia that she kissed me, and burst
into a hearty laugh at my pleasant idea.

Nine o'ck>ck had just struck : it was the hour appointed
for the abduction. I hastened away, doing my best to
imitate my sister's walk and manner. My heart beat vio-
lently when I saw this band of robbers and servants ap-
proach me, and I instinctively put my hands on my fire-
arms ; but I soon resumed the timid demeanor of a young
girl and walked onwards.

The affair was executed just as I had been told ; I was
carried off with all proper respect, in spite of my feigned
resistance, and placed in a carriage with the blinds down.

The horses started off at a gallop.

There was a man by my side whom I recognized in the

gloom ; it was certainly the Marquis d' A . I had to

endure his warm excuses, and then his passionate assur-
ances, which sent the blood to my cheeks, and I was
several times on the point of betraying myself, but my
vengeance was so exquisite and near that I suppressed my
anger. My purpose was, so soon as I found myself alone
with him, to challenge him to mortal combat.

Half an hour had scarce elapsed when we reached the
end of our journey. The Marquis begged me to descend,
and politely offered me his hand to lead me into a small
isolated villa. We entered a brilliantly lighted room,
where some young gentlemen and ladies were awaiting us.
My abductor, radiant with victory, introduced me to his
friends and their companions, and received their felicita-


I lowered my eyes for fear my passion might be noticed,
for I knew that this humiliating triumph had been reserved
for my sister, who would certainly have died of shame.
Five minutes later a servant opened the folding-doors, and
announced that supper was served.

"To table, friends," the marquis exclaimed "to
table, and let each take the place he likes best !" And
he offered me his arm.

We seated ourselves round a sumptuous repast, the mar-
quis waiting on me, for he had dismissed all the attend-
ants. For some time I refused to touch anything ; but,
you know, my dear Edmond, nature has claims which can-
not be neglected. I was fearfully hungry, and my appe-
tite was sharpened by the scent of the dainty dishes. In
spite of my anger, I was forced to give up my plans of
abstention, and yielded to temptation.

I could not eat without drinking, and there was no
water on the table. The other ladies had no objection to
wine, so I followed their example. Still I was very mo-
derate, and, to play my part properly, I affected great
reserve and extreme timidity.

The marquis was delighted to see me behaving thus.
He addressed some compliments to me, but noticing they
were disagreeable, he did not press me, feeling assured
that he could take his revenge at a more suitable season.

We had reached the dessert ; the whole of the company
were in a charming humor. May I confess to you, my
dear Edmond, that the sight of these merry comrades and
coquettish dames produced the same effect on my senses
as the dishes had done on my appetite, and insensibly dis-
pelled my gloomy ideas ? I had no strength left to con-
tinue the dramatic character I had undertaken, and I
sought a more satisfactory conclusion. I soon made up
my mind.


Three toasts had been drunk in succession : " Wine !"
"Play!" "Love!" The ladies had joined in emptying
their glasses, while I remained calm and silent. The
marquis begged me in vain to join in the general gaiety.
Suddenly I rose, glass in hand, and assuming the free-
and-easy manner of a soldier

"Per Bacco !" I shouted, in a baritone voice, giving
the marquis a hearty slap on the shoulder. " Drink, my
friends, to the lovely eyes of these ladies!" Then I
drained my glass at a draught, and trolled out a lively

I cannot describe the marquis's feelings ; all I know
is, he turned to stone under my hand. His friends re-
garded me in stupor, taking me, doubtlessly, for a maniac,
while the women laughed convulsively at my strange

" Well, gentlemen," I continued, " why are you sur-
prised ? Do yo not recognize Antonio Torrini, the tenor,
all alive and well, and prepared to accept anybody's chal-
lenge with the pistol or the glass, he doesn't care which."
At the same time I laid my pistols on the table.

At these words, the marquis at length awoke from the
torpor into which the evanishment of his sweet dreams
had plunged him, and he raised his hand to strike me in
the face. But his eyes no sooner met mine, than, yield-
ing to the influence of an illusion which he abandoned
with such pain, he fell back on his chair.

" No !" he said, " I cannot strike a woman."

" Oh, as for that, M. le Marquis," I said, as I left the
table, " I only ask ten minutes to appear before you in
my proper attire." I then went into an adjoining room,
where I doffed gown, petticoats and finery : I had kept
all my own clothes under my feminine masquerade with


the exception of my coat. That article of clothing not
being indispensable to receive a blow, and as I was in
fighting costume, I returned to the dining-room.

During my absence the scene had changed. I seemed
to have " missed my cue," as they say in the theatre,
when an actor does not arrive in time to reply. All the
guests regarded me with smiles, and one coming up, said :

" Monsieur Antonio, my friend's seconds and yours,
appointed ex officio during your absence, are agreed that
you have taken ample satisfaction, and have no occasion
to fight. Do you approve of our decision ?"

I offered my hand to the marquis, who took it with very
ill grace, for he evidently could not stomach the bitter
trick I had played him. This de'noument satisfied my
vengeance, and I withdrew. But, before leaving, each of
us pledged our honor to discretion, in which the ladies

After thanking Antonio for his devotion to me, and
complimenting him on his quickness, I added :

" These gentlemen acted very gallantly in confiding a
secret to the ladies ; but I, who flatter myself I can read
the human heart, say with Fra^ois I.,

Souvent femme varie,
Bien fol est qui s'y fie.

For this reason the marriage shall take place the day
after to-morrow, and in three days we will start for Con-

Antonio loved his sister as much as myself, and he was
right, (Torrini added,) for she was the most perfect woman
earth ever saw. She was an angel !


The Count de Grisy was so excited by these reminis-
cences, that he raised his arms to heaven, where he seemed
to seek the woman he had so deeply loved. But he fell
back on his pillow again, exhausted by the agony the dis-
arrangement of his bandages produced. He was forced
to break off his narrative till the next day.



Continuation of Torrini's History The Grand Turk orders a Per-
formance A marvellous Trick A Page cut in two Pitying Pro-
test of the Harem Agreeable Surprise Return to France Tor-
rini's Son Killed Madness Decay My first Performance An
annoying Accident I return Home.

THE next day, Torrini continued his narration, without
awaiting any request from me :

On arriving at Constantinople, we enjoyed for some
time a delicious rest, whose charm was heightened by all
the intoxication of the honeymoon. At the end of the
month, however, I thought our mutual happiness ought
not to prevent me trying to realize the plan I had formed
of performing in the presence of Selim III. ; but, before
asking this favor, I thought of giving some performances
in the town. However great my reputation might be in
Italy, it was hardly probable that my name had crossed
the Mediterranean: hence I had a new reputation to

I had a theatre erected, in which my success continued :
crowds came to see me, and the highest personages were
my constant visitors. I may be permitted to boast of this
success, my lad, for the Turks, naturally indolent and
phlegmatic, when utterly astounded by the sight I offered
them, reminded me, by their enthusiasm, of my excitable
Italian spectators.


The grand vizier himself came to one of my perform-
ances. He spoke about it to his sovereign, and excited
his curiosity to such a degree, that I received an invita-
tion, or rather a command, to court. I proceeded, in all
haste, to the palace, where the apartment was shown me
in which the performance would take place. A body of
workmen was placed at my orders, and I was allowed all
latitude for my theatrical arrangements. Only one stipu-
lation was made : the stage must be exactly in front of a
gilded lattice, behind which, I was told, the Sultan's wives
would be seated.

Within two days, my theatre was erected and completely
decorated. It represented a garden, filled with natural
flowers, whose lively colors and fragrant scent delighted
both sight and smell. At the rear, and in the midst of
dense foliage, a fountain fell back, in thousands of drops,
into a crystal basin, sparkling like diamonds in the bril-
liant light, while, at the same time, the falling water deli-
ciously cooled the air. Lastly, to my right and left,
hedges of flowers served as side scenes and laboratory,
while the buffet, loaded with my brilliant apparatus, was
erected in the centre of this Garden of Armida.

When all was ready, the Sultan and his numerous suite
took the places assigned to them, according to their court
precedence. The Sultan reclined on a sofa, with the grand
vizier by his side, while an interpreter, keeping respect-
fully in the rear, translated my remarks to him. When
the curtain rose, a shower of rose-leaves fell on the stage,
and formed an odoriferous and deliciously soft carpet. I
then appeared, dressed in a rich Louis XV. costume.

I will spare you the account of my tricks, with the ex-
ception of one, which, like the "broken watch," was the
inspiration of the moment. I must add, that my specta-


tors had been already considerably startled when I per-
formed it.

Addressing Selim in the grave and solemn tone proper
to a magician, I said :

"Noble Sultan, I am about to proceed from simple
tricks of skill to the sublime science of magic : but, in
order that my incantations may succeed, I must address
myself directly to your august highness. Will you be
pleased to lend me this ornament which I require ?"

And I pointed to a, splendid necklace of pearls which
adorned his neck. The Sultan handed it to me, and I
placed it in the hands of Antonio, who was helping me,
in a page's costume.

"It is well known," I continued, "that magicians pos-
sess unlimited powers, for they hold in subjection familiar
spirits, who blindly obey their masters' orders. Let these
spirits, then, prepare to obey me, for I am about to sum-
mon them."

Here I majestically traced a circle round me with my
wand, and pronounced, in a low voice, certain magic
spells. Then I turned to my page, to take the collar
from him, but it had disappeared. In vain I asked
Antonio for it : his only reply was a hoarse and sarcastic
laugh, as if he were possessed by one of the spirits I had

" Mighty prince," I then said to the Sultan, " believe
me when I say that, far from sharing in this audacious
theft, I am forced to confess myself the victim of a plot I
did not at all foresee. But your highness may be reas-
sured : we possess means of forcing our subordinates to
return to their duty. These means are as powerful as
they are terrible, and I will offer you an example."

At my summons two slaves brought in a long and


narrow chest, and a trestle for sawing wood. Antonio

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