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CONJURING


is a fact; for the instrument is described by Baptista Porta, the Neapolitan philosopher, in his Magia Naturalis (1558). And the doubt how magic lantern effects could have been produced in the 14th century, when the lantern itself is alleged to have been invented by Athanasius Kircher in the middle of the 17th 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. Towards the end of the 18th century Comus, a French conjuror, included in his entertainment a figure which suddenly appeared and disappeared about three ft. above a table,—a trick explained by the circumstance that a concave mirror was among his properties; and a contemporary performer, Robert, exhibited the raising of the dead by the same agency. Early in the 19th century Philipstal gave a sensation to his magic lantern entertainment by lowering unperceived between the audience and the stage a sheet of gauze upon which fell the vivid moving shadows of phantasmagoria.

A new era in optical tricks began in 1863 when John Nevil Maskelyne (b. 1839), of Cheltenham, invented a wood cabinet in which persons vanished and were made to reappear, although it was placed upon high feet, with no passage through which a person could pass from the cabinet to the stage floor, the scenes, or the ceiling; and this cabinet was examined and measured for concealed space, and watched round by persons from the audience during the whole of the transformations. The general principle was this: if a looking-glass be set upright in the corner of a room, bisecting the right angle formed by the walls, the side wall reflected will appear as if it were the back, and hence an object may be hidden behind the glass, yet the space seem to remain unoccupied. This principle, however, was so carried out that no sign of the existence of any mirror was discernible under the closest inspection. Two years later the same simple principle appeared in “The Cabinet of Proteus,” patented by Tobin and Pepper of the Polytechnic Institution, in which two mirrors were employed, meeting in the middle, where an upright pillar concealed their edges. In the same year Stodare exhibited the illusion in an extended form, by placing the pair of mirrors in the centre of the stage, supported between the legs of a three-legged table having the apex towards the audience; and as the side walls of his stage were draped exactly like the back, reflection showed an apparently clear space below the table top, where in reality a man in a sitting position was hidden behind the glasses and exhibited his head (“The Sphinx”) above the table. The plane mirror illusion is so effective that it has been reproduced with modifications by various performers. In one case a living bust was shown through an aperture in a looking-glass sloping upward from the front towards the back of a curtained cabinet; in another a person stood half-hidden by a vertical mirror, and imitation limbs placed in front of it were sundered and removed; and in another case a large vertical mirror was pushed forward from a back corner of the stage at an angle of 45 degrees, to cover the entrance of a living “phantom,” and then withdrawn. Maskelyne improved upon his original cabinet by taking out a shelf which, in conjunction with a mirror, could enclose a space, and thus left no apparent place in which a person could possibly be hidden. He introduced a further mystification by secretly conveying a person behind a curtain screen, notwithstanding that, during the whole time, the existence of a clear space under the stool upon which the screen is placed is proved by performers continually walking round. The principle of reflecting by means of transparent plate-glass the images of highly-illuminated objects placed in front, so that they appear as if among less brilliantly lighted objects behind the glass, was employed in the “ghost” illusions of Sylvester, of Dircks and Pepper, of Robin, and of some other inventors,—the transparent plate-glass being, in some cases, inclined forwards so as to reflect a limelighted object placed below the front of the stage, and in other arrangements set vertically at an angle so as to reflect the object from a lateral position.

Among the acoustic wonders of antiquity were the speaking head of Orpheus, the golden virgins, whose voices resounded through the temple of Delphi, and the like. Hippolytus (iv. 4) explains the trick of the speaking head as practised in his day, the voice being really that of a concealed assistant who spoke through the flexible gullet of a crane. Towards the close of the 10th century Gerbert (Pope Silvester II.) constructed (says William of Malmesbury) a brazen head which answered questions; and similar inventions are ascribed to Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, and others. In the first half of the 17th century the philosopher Descartes made a speaking figure which he called his daughter Franchina; but the superstitious captain of a vessel had it thrown overboard. In the latter part of the same century Thomas Irson, an Englishman, exhibited at the court of Charles II. a wooden figure with a speaking-trumpet in its mouth; and questions whispered in its ear were answered through a pipe secretly communicating with an apartment wherein was a learned priest able to converse in various languages. Johann Beckmann, in his History of Inventions (about 1770, Eng. transl. by W. Johnston, 4th ed., 1846), relates his inspection of a speaking figure, in which the words really came through a tube from a confederate who held a card of signs by which he received intelligence from the exhibitor. Somewhat later was shown in England the figure of an infant suspended by a ribbon, having a speaking-trumpet in its mouth,—an illusion in which two concave mirrors were employed, one of them concentrating the rays of sound into a focus within the head of the figure; and the mirror nearest the figure was hidden by a portion of the wall-paper which was perforated with pin-holes. In 1783 Giuseppe Pinetti de Wildalle, an Italian conjuror of great originality, exhibited among his many wonders a toy bird perched upon a bottle, which fluttered, blew out a candle, and warbled any melody proposed or improvised by the audience,—doing this also when removed from the bottle 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. About the year 1825 Charles, a Frenchman, exhibited a copper globe, carrying four speaking-trumpets, which was suspended in a light frame in the centre of a room. Whispers uttered near to this apparatus were heard by a confederate in an adjoining room by means of a tube passing through the frame and the floor, and answers issued from the trumpets in a loud tone. Subsequently appeared more than one illusion of a similar order, in which the talking and singing of a distant person issued from an isolated head or figure by aid of ear-trumpets secretly contained within parts in which, from their outside form, the presence of such instruments would not be suspected. It is probable that the automaton trumpeters of Friedrich Kaufmann and of Johann Nepomuk Mälzel were clever deceptions of the same kind. As described in the Journal de Mode, 1809, Mälzel’s life-size figure had the musical instrument fixed in its mouth; the mechanism was wound up, and a set series of marches, army calls, and other compositions was performed, accompaniments being played by a real band. Mechanical counterparts of the human lips, tongue and breath, both in speech and in playing certain musical instruments, have, however, been constructed, as in Jacques de Vaucanson’s celebrated automaton flute-player, which was completed in 1736; the same mechanician’s tambourine and flageolet player, which was still more ingenious, as, the flageolet having only three holes, some of the notes were produced by half-stopping; Abbe Mical’s heads which articulated syllables, and his automata playing upon instruments; Kempelen’s and Kratzenstein’s speaking-machines, in the latter part of the 18th century; the speaking-machine made by Fabermann of Vienna, closely imitating the human voice, with a fairly good pronunciation of various words; the automaton clarionet-player constructed by Van Oeckelen, a Dutchman, and exhibited in New York in 1860, which played airs from a barrel like that of a crank-organ, and could take the clarionet from its mouth and replace it, and