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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/665

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TRIALS BY FIRE AND FIRE-JUGGLERS.

alloys fusible at low temperatures, or even simply mercury, as is done in some imitations of their tricks.

A father in the Church, Saint Hippolytus, has revealed to us in a book called "Philosophumena" other tricks which the pagan priests employed. "This is the way," he says, "that the magician can put his hand into a brass vessel full of pitch that appears to be boiling. He puts into the dish vinegar and natron (carbonate of soda), and, on top of this liquid, pitch. The mixture of vinegar and natron has the property, on the application of the slightest heat, of agitating the pitch and producing bubbles that rise to the surface and present the appearance of boiling. Previous to the operation, he washes his hands several times with salt-water, which would keep them from getting burned even if the pitch should be really hot. If he anoints his hands with myrtle, natron, and myrrh mixed with vinegar, and washes them as well with salt-water, he will not be burned. His feet will not be burned if he anoints them with isinglass.

"The magician breathes fire and smoke from his mouth; then, putting a piece of cloth on a dish full of water, he throws burning coals upon it, and they leave the cloth intact.

"He breathes smoke from his mouth for a short time, by putting in it a coal of fire wrapped in tow, and keeping the coal alive with his breath. The cloth in the dish is kept from being set on fire by the coals that are thrown upon it, by the transfer of the heat to the saltwater under it. The cloth should also be previously dipped in saltwater and covered with a mixture of whites of eggs and liquid alum. If to this liquid we add the liquor of eternal life,[1] the effect of the composition is to render the cloth—providing it has been prepared for some time wholly incombustible."

We may remark upon the similarity of the last recipe with that which the latest experiments have suggested for the robes of ballet dancers in the opera.

The feat of breathing fire played an important part in antiquity. By its aid the Syrian Eunus was able to revive the insurrection of the slaves in Sicily, and Barchochebas to assume the command of the Jews who revolted against Hadrian. Both used it to make their followers believe in the divine inspiration with which they pretended to be invested, the former by the Syrian goddess, the latter by the God of Israel.

I give next one of the recipes of the jugglers who at present perform this miracle in the fairs. They take a handful of tow in each hand; the left hand holds also, concealed, a piece of burning tinder. The performers begin by taking from the right hand with the teeth a piece of tow which they pretend to chew, while they fill it with saliva and dispose it in the mouth, by the aid of the tongue, so as to form a

  1. ↑ Possibly ammoniacal carbonate of copper, the magnificent color of which is called by chemists celestial blue. The ancients got ammonia by distilling blood with ashes.