By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, ambassador, author and conjurer
Author: Robert-Houdin, Jean Henri
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, ambassador, author and conjurer" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

produced from scanned images of public domain material

[Transcriber’s note: The etext attempts to replicate the printed book as
closely as possible. Many obvious errors in spelling and punctuation
have been corrected. Certain consistently used archaic spellings have
been retained (i.e. secresy, boquet, unforseen, caligraphy, caligrapher,
conjuror, etc.) A list of corrections made follows the etext.

Footnotes have been moved to the end of the text body.]





                          WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.

                               EDITED BY

                       DR. R. SHELTON MACKENZIE.

                       GEO. G. EVANS, PUBLISHER,
                        NO. 439 CHESTNUT STREET.

     Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1859, by

                              G. G. EVANS,

In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court for the Eastern District of

                         34 SOUTH THIRD STREET.


A man may not only “take his own life,” by writing his autobiography,
without committing _felo de se_, but may carry himself into future time
by producing a book which the world will not willingly let die. This is
what M. Robert-Houdin, the greatest artist in what is called Conjuring,
has lately done in the remarkable book _Confidences d’un Prestigiteur_,
a faithful translation of which is here presented to the American
reading public. The work has had the greatest success in Europe, from
its lively style as well as the various information it contains,
historical and philosophical, on the practice and principles of
sleight-of-hand, and the other details, mental as well as mechanical,
which unite to make perfect the exhibition of White Magic, the antipodes
of what our forefathers knew, persecuted, and punished as the Black Art.

Houdin has been considered of such importance and interest in France,
that in Didot’s _Nouvelle Biographie Générale_, now in course of
publication at Paris, a whole page is given to him. From this memoir,
and from his own account in the pages which follow, we learn that he
was born at Blois, on the 6th December, 1805,--that his father, a
watchmaker in that city, gave him a good education at the College of
Orleans,--that his inclination for _escamotage_ (or juggling) was so
decided as to make him averse to pursue his father’s trade,--that he
early exhibited great taste for mechanical inventions, which he so
successfully cultivated that, at the Paris Exhibition of 1844, he was
awarded a medal for the ingenious construction of several
automata,--that, having studied the displays of the great masters on the
art of juggling, he opened a theatre of his own, in the Palais Royal in
Paris, to which his celebrated _soirées fantastiques_ attracted
crowds,--that, in 1848, when the Revolution had ruined all theatrical
speculations in Paris, he visited London, where his performances at St.
James’s Theatre were universally attractive and lucrative,--that he made
a tour through Great Britain with equal success, returning to Paris when
France had settled down quietly under the rule of a President,--that he
subsequently visited many other parts of Europe, every where received
with distinction and applause,--that at the Great Parisian Exhibition of
1855, he was awarded the gold medal for his scientific application of
electricity to clocks,--that, shortly after, he closed ten years of
active public life by relinquishing his theatre to Mr. Hamilton, his
brother-in-law, retiring with a well-earned competency to Blois,--and
that, in 1857, at the special request of the French Government, which
desired to lessen the influence of the Marabouts, whose conjuring
tricks, accepted as actual magic by the Arabs, gave them too much
influence, he went to Algeria, as a sort of Ambassador, to play off his
tricks against theirs, and, by greater marvels than they could shew,
destroy the _prestige_ which they had acquired. He so completely
succeeded that the Arabs lost all faith in the miracles of the
Marabouts, and thus was destroyed an influence very dangerous to the
French Government.

In his retirement, to which he has returned, Houdin wrote his
_Confidences_, and is now devoting himself to scientific researches
connected with electricity. Before the appearance of his own work, M.
Hatin had published, in 1857, _Robert-Houdin, sa vie, ses œuvres, son

The French and English critics have generally and warmly eulogized M.
Houdin’s _Confidences_, and I am persuaded that, on this side of the
Atlantic, it will be considered an instructive as well as an amusing

One error which M. Houdin makes must not be passed over. His account of
M. de Kempelen’s celebrated automaton chess-player (afterwards
Maëlzel’s) is entirely wrong. This remarkable piece of mechanism was
constructed in 1769, and not in 1796; it was the Empress Maria-Theresa
of Austria who played with it, and not Catherine II. of Russia; it was
in 1783 that it first visited Paris, where it played at the Café de la
Régence; it was not taken to London until 1784; and again in 1819; it
was brought to America in 1825, by M. Maëlzel, and visited our principal
cities, its chief resting-place being Philadelphia; M. Maëlzel’s death
was in 1838, on the voyage from Cuba to the United States, and not, as
M. Houdin says, on his return to France; and the automaton, so far from
being taken back to France, was sold by auction here, finally purchased
by the late Dr. J. K. Mitchell, of Philadelphia, reconstructed by him,
and finally deposited in the Chinese Museum, (formerly Peale’s,) where
it was consumed in the great fire which destroyed the National Theatre,
(now the site of the Continental Hotel, corner of Ninth and Chestnut
streets,) and extending to the Chinese Museum, burnt it down on July
5th, 1854. An interesting account of the Automaton Chess-Player, written
by Professor George Allen, of this city, will be found in “The Book of
the First American Chess Congress,” recently published in New York.

M. Houdin is engaged now in writing a volume explaining the manner in
which sleight-of-hand and other conjuring tricks and deceptions are

I have added an Index to this volume, which I trust will be accepted as


PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 26, 1859.




My Birth and Parentage--My Home--The Lessons of Colonel
Bernard--Paternal Ambition--My first Mechanical Attempts--Had I
but a Rat!--A Prisoner’s Industry--The Abbé Larivière--My Word of
Honor--Farewell to my darling Tools......17


A Country Idler--Dr. Carlosbach, Conjurer and Professor of
Mystification--The Sand-bag and the Stirrup Trick--I turn Lawyer’s
Clerk, and the Minutes appear to me very long--A small Automaton--A
respectful Protest--I mount a Step in the Office--A Machine of Porter’s
Power--The Acrobatic Canaries--Monsieur Roger’s Remonstrances--My Father
decides that I shall follow my bent......26


My Cousin Robert--The most important Event in my Life--How a Man becomes
a Sorcerer--My first Sleight-of-Hand Feat--An utter Failure--Practising
the Eye and the Hand--Curious Experiment in Prestidigitation--Monsieur
Noriet--An Action more ingenious than delicate--I am Poisoned--Influence
of Delirium......42


I return to Life--A strange Doctor--Torrini and Antonio: a Conjurer and
a Fanatic for Music--A Murderer’s Confession--A perambulating House--The
Fair at Angers--A portable Theatre--I witness for the first Time a
Conjuring Performance--The blind Man’s Game at Piquet--A Dangerous
Rival--Signor Castelli eats a Man alive......55


Antonio’s Confessions--How to gain Public Applause--The Count de
----, Mountebank--I repair an Automaton--A Mechanician’s Shop on
Wheels--Nomadic Life--Happy Existence--Torrini’s Lessons--His Opinions
about Sleight-of-Hand--A Fashionable Greek, Victim of his own
Swindling--The Conjurer Comus--A Duel at Piquet--Torrini proclaimed
Conqueror--Revelations--New Catastrophe--Poor Torrini!.....73


Torrini relates his Life--Treachery of Chevalier Pinetti--A Conjurer
through Malice--A Race between two Magicians--Death of Pinetti--Exhibits
before Pius VII.--The Cardinal’s Chronometer--Twelve Hundred
Francs spent on a Trick--Antonio and Antonia--The most bitter of


Continuation of Torrini’s History--The Grand Turk orders a
Performance--A marvellous Trick--A Page cut in two--Pitying Protest
of the Harem--Agreeable Surprise--Return to France--Torrini’s Son
Killed--Madness--Decay--My first Performance--An annoying Accident--I
return Home......121


The Prodigal Son--Mademoiselle Houdin--I go to Paris--My
Marriage--Comte--Studies of the Public--A skillful Manager--Rose-colored
Tickets--A Musky Style--The King of Hearts--Ventriloquism--The
Mystifiers Mystified--Father Roujol--Jules de Rovère--Origin of the word


Celebrated Automata--A Brazen Fly--The Artificial Man--Albertus Magnus
and St. Thomas d’Aquinas--Vaucanson--His Duck--His Flute-Player--Curious
Details--The Automaton Chess-Player--Interesting Episode--Catherine II.
and M. de Kempelen--I repair the Componium--Unexpected Success......155


An Inventor’s Calculations--One Hundred Thousand Francs a Year by
an Inkstand: Deception--My new Automata--The First Magician in
France: Decadence--I meet Antonio--Bosco--The Trick with the Cups--An
Execution--Resurrection of the Criminals--Mistake in a Head--The Canary


A Reverse of Fortune--Cookery and Clockwork--The Artist’s
Home--Invention of an Automaton--Voluntary Exile--A modest Villa--The
Inconveniences of a Speciality--Two August Visitors--The Throat of a
mechanical Nightingale--The Tiou and the Rrrrrrrrouit--Seven Thousand
Francs earned by making Filings......192


The Inventive Genius of a Sugar-baker--Philippe the Magician--His Comic
Adventures--Description of his Performance--Exposition of 1844--The King
and Royal Family visit my Automata......221


My proposed Reforms--I build a Theatre in the Palais
Royal--Formalities--General Rehearsal--Singular Effect of my
Performance--The Largest and Smallest Theatre in Paris--Tribulation--My
first Performance--Panic--Discouragement--A Fallible


New Studies--A Comic Journal--Invention of Second Sight--Curious
Experiments--An enthusiastic Spectator--Danger of being a Sorcerer--A
Philter or your Life--Way to get rid of Bores--An Electric Touch--I
perform at the Vaudeville--Struggles with the Incredulous--Interesting


Seductions of a Theatrical Agent--How to gain One Hundred Thousand
Francs--I start for Brussels--A lucky Two-Sou Piece--Miseries of
professional Travelling--The Park Theatre--Tyranny of a Porter--Full
House--Small Receipts--Deceptions--Return to Paris......273


Reopening of my Fantastic Soirées--Minor Miseries of Good
Luck--Inconvenience of a small Theatre--My Room taken by Storm--A
gratuitous Performance--A conscientious Audience--Pleasant Story about
a Black Silk Cap--I perform at the Château of St. Cloud--Cagliostro’s


New Experiments--Aërial Suspension, &c.--A Performance at the Odéon--A
Friend in Need--1848--The Theatre deserted--I leave Paris for
London--Manager Mitchell--Publicity in England--The Great Wizard--A
Butter-mould used as a Puff--Singular Bills--A Prize for the best


The St. James’s Theatre--Invasion of England by French Performers--A
Fête patronised by the Queen--The Diplomatist and the Sleight-of-Hand
Man--Three Thousand Pounds taken at one Haul--I perform at
Manchester--The Spectators in the Pillory--What capital Curaçoa!--A
Torrent of Wine--A Catastrophe--Performance at Buckingham Palace--A
Wizard’s Repast......330


An Optimist Manager--Three Spectators in a Room--A Magical
Collation--The Colchester Public and the Nuts--I return to France--I
give up my Theatre--A Farewell Tour--I retire to St. Gervais--An
Academician’s Predictions......359


Travels in Algeria--Convocation of the Chieftains--Performances before
the Arabs--A Kabyle rendered powerless--Invulnerability--A Moor
disappears--Panic and Flight of the Audience--Reconciliation--The Sect
of Aïssaoua--Their pretended Miracles......371


Excursion in the Interior of Africa--The Abode of a Bash-Aga--A comical
Repast--A Soirée of Arab Dignitaries--A Marabout mystified--Tent-life in
Algeria--I return to France--A terrible Storm--Conclusion......398





September, 1858.

Eight o’clock has just struck: my wife and children are by my side. I
have spent one of those pleasant days which tranquillity, work, and
study can alone secure.--With no regret for the past, with no fear for
the future, I am--I am not afraid to say it--as happy as man can be.

And yet, at each vibration of this mysterious hour, my pulse starts, my
temples throb, and I can scarce breathe, so much do I feel the want of
air and motion. I can reply to no questions, so thoroughly am I lost in
a strange and delirious reverie.

Shall I confess to you, reader? And why not? for this electrical effect
is not of a nature to be easily understood by you.

The reason for my emotion being extreme at this moment is, that, during
my professional career, eight o’clock was the moment when I must appear
before the public. Then, with my eye eagerly fixed on the hole in the
curtain, I surveyed with intense pleasure the crowd that flocked in to
see me. Then, as now, my heart beat, for I was proud and happy of such

At times, too, a doubt, a feeling of uneasiness, would be mingled with
my pleasure. “Heavens!” I would say to myself, in terror, “am I so sure
of myself as to deserve such anxiety to see me?”

But, soon reassured by the past, I waited with greater calmness the
signal for the curtain to draw up. I then walked on the stage: I was
near the foot-lights, before my judges--but no, I err--before my kind
spectators, whose applause I was in hopes to gain.

Do you now understand, reader, all the reminiscences this hour evokes in
me, and the solemn feeling that continually occurs to me when the clock

These emotions and souvenirs are not at all painful to me: on the
contrary, I summon them up with pleasure. At times I even mentally
transport myself to my stage, in order to prolong them. There, as
before, I ring the bell, the curtain rises, I see my audience again,
and, under the charm of this sweet illusion, I delight in telling them
the most interesting episodes of my professional life. I tell them how a
man learns his real vocation, how the struggle with difficulties of
every nature begins, how, in fact----

But why should I not convert this fiction into a reality? Could I not,
each evening when the clock strikes eight, continue my performances
under another form? My public shall be the reader, and my stage a book.

This idea pleases me: I accept it with joy, and immediately give way to
the sweet illusion. Already I fancy myself in the presence of spectators
whose kindness encourages me. I imagine they are waiting for me--they
are listening eagerly.

Without further hesitation I begin.






     My Birth and Parentage--My Home--The Lessons of Colonel
     Bernard--Paternal Ambition--My first Mechanical Attempts--Had I but
     a Rat!--A Prisoner’s Industry--The Abbé Larivière--My Word of
     Honor--Farewell to my darling Tools.

In conformity with the traditional custom which expects every man who
writes his memoirs--or not to use too strong language, his
confessions--to display his patent of gentility, I commence by stating
to my readers, with a certain degree of pride, that I was born at Blois,
the birthplace of Louis XII., surnamed the “Father of his People,” and
of Denis Papin, the illustrious inventor of the steam-engine.

So much for my native town. As for my family, it would only appear
natural, regard being had to the art to which I devoted my life, that I
should display in my family tree the name of Robert _le Diable_, or of
some mediæval sorcerer; but, being the very slave of truth, I will
content myself with stating that my father was a watchmaker.

Though he did not rise to the elevation of the Berthouds and the
Breguets, my father was reputed to be very skilful in his profession. In
fact, I am only displaying our hereditary modesty when I say that my
father’s talents were confined to a single art; for, in truth, nature
had adapted him for various branches of mechanics, and the activity of
his mind led him to try them all with equal ardor. An excellent
engraver, a jeweller of the greatest taste, he at the same time could
carve the arm or leg for some fractured statuette, restore the enamel on
any time-worn porcelain, or even repair musical snuff-boxes, which were
very fashionable in those days. The skill he evinced in these varied
arts at length procured him a most numerous body of customers; but,
unfortunately, he was wont to make any repairs not strictly connected
with his own business for the mere pleasure.

In this house, which I may almost term artistic, and in the midst of
tools and implements in which I was destined to take so lively an
interest, I was born and educated. I possess an excellent memory, still,
though my reminiscences date back so far, I cannot remember the day of
my birth. I have learned since, however, that it was the 6th of
December, 1805. I am inclined to believe that I came into the world with
a file or a hammer in my hand, for, from my earliest youth, those
implements were my toys and delight: I learned how to use them as other
children learn to walk and talk. I need not say that my excellent mother
had frequently to wipe away the young mechanic’s tears, when the hammer,
badly directed, struck my fingers. As for my father, he laughed at these
slight accidents, and said, jokingly, that it was a capital way of
driving my profession into me, and that, as I was a wonderful lad, I
could not but become an extraordinary workman. I do not pretend that I
ever realized the paternal predictions, but it is certain that I have
ever felt an irresistible inclination for mechanism.

How often, in my infantile dreams, did a benevolent fairy open before me
the door of a mysterious El Dorado, where tools of every description
were piled up. The delight which these dreams produced on me, were the
same as any other child feels when his fancy summons up before him a
fantastic country where the houses are made of chocolate, the stones of
sugar candy, and the men of gingerbread. It is difficult to understand
this fever for tools; the mechanic, the artist adores them, and would
ruin himself to obtain them. Tools, in fact, are to him what a MS. is to
the archæologist, a coin to the antiquary, or a pack of cards to a
gambler: in a word they are the implements by which a ruling passion is

By the time I was eight years of age I had furnished proofs of my
ability, partly through the kindness of an excellent neighbor, and
partly through a dangerous illness, when my forced idleness gave me
leisure to exercise my natural dexterity. This neighbor, M. Bernard, was
a colonel on half-pay. Having been a prisoner for many years, he had
learned how to make an infinity of toys, which he taught me as an
amusement, and I profited so well by his lessons, that in a very short
time I could equal my master. I fancy I can still see and hear this old
soldier, when, passing his hand over his heavy grey moustache, he
exclaimed with energetic satisfaction, “Why, the young scamp can do
anything he likes.” This compliment flattered my childish vanity, and I
redoubled my efforts to deserve it.

With my illness my pleasures ended; I was sent to school, and from that
time I had few opportunities for indulging in my favorite tasks. Still,
on my holidays, I used to return to my father’s workshop with delight,
and, yet, I must have been a great torment to that excellent parent.
Owing to my want of skill, I now and then broke some tool, and although
I might try to conceal it, the blame was generally laid on me, and, as a
punishment, I was forbidden to enter the workshop. But it was of no use
attempting to keep me from my hobby; the prohibition had to be
continually renewed. Hence it was thought advisable to attack the evil
at the root, and I must be sent away from home.

Although my father liked his trade, experience had taught him that a
watchmaker rarely makes a fortune in a country town; in his paternal
ambition he, therefore, dreamed a more brilliant destiny for me, and he
formed the determination of giving me a liberal education, for which I
shall always feel grateful to him. He sent me to college at Orleans. I
was then eleven years of age.

Let who will sing the praises of school life; for my own part I can
safely state, that, though I was not averse from study, the happiest day
I spent in our monastic seminary was that on which I left it for good.
However, once entered, I accepted my lot with resignation, and became in
a short time a perfect schoolboy. In my play hours my time was well
employed, for I spent the greater portion of it in making pieces of
mechanism. Thus I made snares, gins, and mouse-traps, their excellent
arrangement, and perhaps the dainty bait as well, producing me a great
number of prisoners.

I had built for them a charming open cage, in which I had fixed up a
miniature gymnastic machinery. My prisoners, while taking their ease,
set in motion a variety of machines, which caused a most agreeable
surprise. One of my inventions more especially attracted the admiration
of my comrades; it was a method of raising water by means of a pump made
almost entirely of quills. A mouse, harnessed like a horse, was intended
to set this Lilliputian machine in motion by the muscular strength of
its legs; but, unfortunately, my docile animal, though perfectly
willing, could not overcome the resistance of the cog-wheels, and I was
forced, to my great regret, to lend it a hand.

“Ah! if I only had a rat!” I said to myself, in my disappointment, “how
famously it would work!” A rat! But how to get one? That appeared to me
an insurmountable difficulty, but, after all, it was not so. One day,
having been caught in the act of breaking bounds by a monitor, I was
awarded twelve hours’ imprisonment. This punishment, which I suffered
for the first time, produced a violent effect on me: but in the midst of
the sorrowful reflections inspired by the solitude, an idea dissipated
my melancholy thoughts by offering a famous suggestion.

I knew that at nightfall the rats used to come from an adjacent church
into the cell where I was confined, to regale on the bread-crumbs left
by prisoners. It was a capital opportunity to obtain one of the animals
I required; and as I would not let it slip, I straight-way set about
inventing a rat-trap. My only materials were a pitcher holding water,
and, consequently, my ideas were confined exclusively to this. I,
therefore, made the following arrangement.

I began by emptying my pitcher; then, after putting in a piece of bread,
I laid it down so that the orifice was on a level with the ground. My
object was to attract the victim by this dainty into the trap. A brick
which I dug up would serve to close the opening, but as it was
impossible for me in the darkness to notice the exact moment for cutting
off the prisoner’s retreat, I laid near the bread a piece of paper which
would rustle as the rat passed over it.

As soon as night set in, I crouched close to my pitcher, and, holding
the brick in my hand, I awaited with feverish anxiety the arrival of my
guests. The pleasure I anticipated from the capture must have been
excessive to overcome my timidity when I heard the first leaps of my
savage visitors. I confess that the antics they performed round my legs
occasioned me great nervousness, for I knew not how far the voracity of
these intrepid rodents might extend; still, I kept my ground, not making
the slightest movement, through fear of compromising the success of my
scheme, and was prepared to offer the assailants a vigorous resistance
in case of an attack.

More than an hour passed in vain expectation, and I was beginning to
despair of the success of my trap, when I fancied I heard the slight
sound I hoped for as a signal. I laid the brick on the mouth of the
pitcher directly, and raised it up; the shrill cries inside convinced me
of my success, and I began a pæan of triumph, both to celebrate my
victory and to frighten away my prisoner’s comrades. The porter, when he
came to release me, helped me to master my rat by fastening a piece of
twine to one of his hind legs, and burdened with my precious booty, I
proceeded to the dormitory, where masters and pupils had been asleep for
a long time. I was glad enough to sleep too, but a difficulty presented
itself--how should I bestow my prisoner?

At length a bright idea occurred to me, fully worthy of a schoolboy: it
was to thrust the rat headforemost into one of my shoes. After fastening
the twine to the leg of my bed, I pushed the shoe into one of my
stockings, and placed the whole in the leg of my trousers. This being
accomplished, I believed I could go to bed without the slightest cause
for apprehension. The next morning, at five exactly, the inspector took
a turn through the dormitory to arouse the sleepers.

“Dress yourself directly,” he said, in that amiable voice peculiar to
gentlemen who have risen too soon.

I proceeded to obey but I was fated to dire disgrace: the rat I had
packed away so carefully, not finding its quarters airy enough, had
thought proper to gnaw through my shoe, my stocking, and my trouser, and
was taking the air through this improvised window. Fortunately, it had
not cut through the retaining string, so the rest was a trifle.

But the inspector did not regard matters in the same light as I did. The
capture of a rat and the injury to my clothes were considered further
aggravations of my previous offence, and he sent in a lengthy report to
the head-master. I was obliged to appear before the latter dressed in
the clothes that bore the proof of my offence, and, by an unlucky
coincidence, shoe, stocking and trouser were all injured on the same
leg. The Abbé Larivière (our head-master) managed the college with truly
paternal care; ever just, and prone by nature to forgiveness, he was
adored by his pupils, and to be out of favor with him was regarded as
the severest punishment.

“Well, Robert,” he said to me, looking kindly over the spectacles which
bridged the end of his nose, “I understand you have been guilty of grave
faults. Come, tell me the whole truth.”

I possessed at that time a quality which, I trust, I have not lost
since, and that is extreme frankness. I gave the Abbé a full account of
my misdeeds, and my sincerity gained me pardon. The head-master, after a
vain attempt to repress it, burst into a loud fit of laughter, on
hearing the catastrophe of my adventures. Still, he ended his gentle
lecture in the following words:

“I will not scold you any more, Robert. I believe in your repentance:
twelve hours’ confinement are sufficient punishment, and I grant you
your release. I will do more: though you are very young, I will treat
you as a man--of honor, though--you understand me? You will pledge me
your word not only that you will not commit your old faults again, but,
as your passion for mechanics makes you often neglect your lessons, you
must promise to give up your tools, and devote yourself henceforth to

“Oh yes, sir, I give you my word,” I exclaimed, moved to tears by such
unexpected indulgence; “and I can assure you, you will never repent
having put faith in my promise.”

I made up my mind to keep my pledge, although I was fully aware of all
the difficulties, which were so many stumbling-blocks in that path of
virtue I wished to follow. Much trouble, I had too, at first, in
withstanding the jests and sarcasms of the idler of my comrades, who, in
order to hide their own bad conduct, strove to make all weak characters
their accomplices. Still, I broke with them all. Sharpest pang of all,
though, was the sacrifice I made in burning my vessels--that is, in
putting aside my cages and their contents; I even forgot my tools, and
thus, free from all external distraction, I devoted myself entirely to
my Greek and Latin studies.

The praise I received from the Abbé Larivière, who prided himself in
having noticed in me the stuff for an excellent scholar, rewarded me for
this sublime effort, and I may say I became, thenceforth, one of the
most studious and attentive lads in the college. At times, I certainly
regretted my tools and my darling machinery, but recollecting my promise
to the head-master, I held firm against all temptation. All I allowed
myself was to set down by stealth on paper a few ideas that occurred to
me, though I did not know whether I should ever have a chance to put
them in practice.

At length the moment arrived for my leaving college; my studies were
completed--I was eighteen years of age.


     A Country Idler--Dr. Carlosbach, Conjurer and Professor of
     Mystification--The Sand-bag and the Stirrup Trick--I turn Lawyer’s
     Clerk, and the Minutes appear to me very long--A small Automaton--A
     respectful Protest--I mount a Step in the Office--A Machine of
     Porter’s Power--The Acrobatic Canaries--Monsieur Roger’s
     Remonstrances--My Father decides that I shall follow my bent.

In the story I have just narrated, only simple events were
noticeable--hardly worthy, perhaps, of a man who has often passed for a
sorcerer--but grant me a few pages’ patience, reader, as an introduction
to my artistic life, and what you seek in my book will be displayed
before your eager gaze. You will know how a magician is produced, and
you will learn that the tree whence my magic staff was cut was only that
of persevering labor, often bedewed by the sweat of my brow: soon, too,
when you come to witness my labors and my anxious hours of expectation,
you will be able to appreciate the cost of a reputation in my mysterious

On leaving college, I at first enjoyed all the liberty I had been
deprived of for so many years. The power of going right or left, of
speaking or remaining silent, as I listed, of getting up sooner or
later, according to my fancy, was an earthly paradise for a collegian. I
enjoyed this ineffable pleasure to the fullest extent: thus, in the
morning--although habit made me wake at five--when the clock announced
that once so dreaded hour, I burst into a loud laugh, and offered
ferocious challenges to any number of invisible superintendents; then,
satisfied by this slight retrospective vengeance, I went to sleep again
till breakfast. After that meal I went out to indulge in a pleasant
lounge about the streets; and I preferred walking in the public
promenades, for thus I had better chances of finding something to
attract my attention. In a word, not an event happened which I did not
know, and I was the real amateur “penny-a-liner” of my native town.

Many of these incidents afforded very slight interest; one day, however,
I witnessed a scene which produced a lasting effect upon me. One
after-dinner, while walking along the side of the Loire, engaged with
the thoughts suggested by the falling autumn leaves, I was aroused from
my reverie by the sound of a trumpet, evidently blown by a practised
performer. It may be easily supposed that I was not the last to obey
this startling summons, and a few other idlers also formed a circle
round the performer.

He was a tall fellow with a quick eye, a sunburnt face, long and crispy
hair, and he stemmed his fist in his side, while he held his head
impudently high. His costume, though rather “loud,” was still cleanly,
and announced a man who probably had “some hay in his boots,” to use a
favorite phrase of gentlemen in the same profession. He wore a
maroon-colored frock-coat, trimmed with large silver frogs, while round
his neck was a black silk cravat, the two ends being passed through a
jewelled ring, which a millionaire would not have disdained--had it not
unfortunately been paste. He wore no waistcoat, but his shirt was
remarkably white, and on it glistened a heavy mosaic chain, with a
collection of appendages, whose metallic sound loudly announced his
every movement.

I had ample time to make these observations, for as the audience
collected but slowly, the stranger continued his trumpet overture for a
quarter of an hour; at length, when an average crowd had assembled, the
trumpet made way for the human voice. The artist laid the instrument on
the ground, and walked round majestically to form a ring; then,
stopping, he passed his hand through his hair, and began his address.
Being little used to this charlatanism in the streets, I regarded the
man with confiding admiration and determined not to lose a word of his

“Gentlemen,” he commenced, in a firm and sonorous voice, “pray hear me.
I am _not_ what I seem to be; I may say more, I am what I do not seem to
be. Yes, gentlemen, yes--confess it--you take me for one of those scurvy
beggars who want to draw a few halfpence from your generosity. Well, you
may undeceive yourselves. Though you see me on this spot to-day, I tell
you that I have only come here for the relief of suffering humanity in
general, then for your welfare in particular, as well as for your

Here the orator, whose accent plainly showed that he came from the banks
of the Garonne, passed his hand once more through his hair, raised his
head, sucked his lips, and, assuming an air of majestic dignity,

“I will tell you presently who I am, and you will be able to estimate me
at my true value; in the mean while allow me to offer you a slight
specimen of my skill.”

The artist, having then formed the circle afresh, placed before him a
small table, on which he arranged three tin goblets, so well polished
that they might have been taken for silver; after which he fastened
round his waist a red cotton velvet bag, into which he thrust his hands
for some minutes--doubtlessly to prepare the tricks he intended to
display--and the performance commenced.

During a long series of tricks, the nutmegs, at first invisible,
appeared at the finger ends of the conjuror; then, they passed through
the cups, under the table, into a spectator’s pockets, and finally
emerged, to the general delight, from the nose of a young looker-on. The
latter took the matter quite seriously, and half killed himself with
sneezing, to see whether a few more spice balls might not be left in his
brain. The address with which these tricks were done, and the apparent
simplicity of the operator in the execution of these ingenious
artifices, produced the most perfect illusion--at least, as far as I was

It was the first time I had ever witnessed such a sight: I was
stupefied, astounded! The man who could perform such marvels at his will
seemed to me a superhuman being; hence I saw him put aside his cups with
considerable regret. The audience seemed equally charmed; the artist
perceived it, and took advantage of it, by making a sign that he had a
few more words to say. Then, resting his hand on the table, he

“Ladies and gentlemen! I was very pleased to notice the kind attention
you devoted to my tricks, and I thank you for it” (here the conjuror
bowed to the ground); “and, as I am anxious to prove that you have not
to deal with an ungrateful person, I will attempt to repay in full the
satisfaction you have made me feel. Deign to listen to me for a moment.

“I promised to tell you what I am; I will now satisfy you.” (Sudden
change of countenance, and evidence of great self-esteem.) “You behold
in me the celebrated Dr. Carlosbach: the composition of my name reveals
to you my Anglo-Francisco-Germanic origin. To praise myself would be
like painting the lily; I will, therefore, content myself with saying
that I possess an enormous talent, and that my astounding reputation can
only be equalled by my modesty. Elected, by acclamation, member of the
most illustrious learned societies through the whole world, I incline
before their judgment, which proclaims the superiority of my skill in
the grand art of curing the human race.”

This address, as strange as it was emphatic, was delivered with
imperturbable assurance; still I fancied I noticed a twitching of the
lips, that revealed the grand doctor’s ill-restrained desire to laugh.
For all that, I listened attentively to his discourse.

“But, gentlemen,” he added, “I have said sufficient of myself; it is
time to speak of my works. Learn then, that I am the inventor of the
Vermifuge Balsam, whose sovereign efficaciousness is indisputable. Yes,
gentlemen, the worm, that enemy of the human race--the worm, the
destroyer of everything existing--the worm, that obstinate preyer on the
living and the dead, is at length conquered by my science; a drop, an
atom of this precious liquor is sufficient to expel this fearful
parasite for ever.

“And, gentlemen, such is the virtue of my marvellous balsam, that it not
only delivers man from this frightful calamity during life, but his body
has nothing to fear after death. Taking my balsam is a mode of embalming
one’s body prior to death; man is thus rendered immortal. Ah! gentlemen,
were you but acquainted with all the virtues of my sublime discovery,
you would rush upon me and tear it from me; but, as that would be
illegal, I check myself in time.”

The orator, in fact, stopped, and dried his brow with one hand, while
with the other he motioned to the crowd that he had not yet ended his
discourse. A great number of the audience were already striving to
approach the learned doctor; Carlosbach, however, did not appear to
notice it, and, reassuming his dramatic posture, he continued as

“But, you will ask me, what can be the price of such a treasure? can we
be rich enough to purchase it? The moment has now arrived, gentlemen, to
make you understand the full extent of my disinterestedness. This
balsam, in the discovery of which I have worn away my days--this balsam,
which sovereigns have purchased at the price of their crown--this
balsam, in short, which is beyond all price--well, I make you a present
of it!”

At these unexpected words, the crowd, panting with emotion, lifted up
its eager arms, and implored the generosity of the doctor. But, what
shameful deception! Carlosbach--the celebrated Dr. Carlosbach--this
benefactor of humanity, suddenly altered his tone, and burst into an
Homeric shout of laughter. The arms fell down spontaneously; the
audience looked vacantly into each other’s faces. At length one laughed.
The contagion spread, and soon everybody was following the conjurer’s
example. He was the first to stop, and demanded silence:

“Gentlemen!” he then said, in a perfectly respectful tone, “do not be
angry with me for the little trick I have played you; I wished thus to
put you on your guard against those charlatans who daily deceive you,
just as I have done myself. I am no doctor, but simply a conjurer,
professor of mystification, and author of a book, in which you will
find, in addition to the discourse I have just delivered, the
description of a great number of conjuring tricks. Would you like to
learn the art of amusing yourself in society? For sixpence you may
satisfy your curiosity.”

The conjurer produced from a box an enormous packet of books; then,
going round the crowd, he soon disposed of his wares, thanks to the
interest his talent had excited. The exhibition was over, and I returned
home with my head full of a world of unknown sensations.

It will be readily supposed that I purchased one of these precious
volumes. I hastened to examine it; but the false doctor continued his
system of mystification in it, and despite all my good will, I could not
understand one of the tricks he pretended to explain. However, I had the
famous speech I have just quoted, as some sort of consolation.

I made up my mind to lay the book aside and think no more of it; but the
marvels it announced returned to my mind every moment. “O Carlosbach!” I
said in my modest ambition, “if I possessed your talent, how happy I
should feel!” and, filled with this idea, I decided on taking lessons of
the learned professor. Unfortunately, this determination was arrived at
too late. When I proceeded to his lodgings, I learned that the conjuror
had resorted to his own tricks, and had left his inn the previous
evening, forgetting to pay the princely score he had run up. The
innkeeper gave me the account of this last mystification on the part of
the professor.

Carlosbach had arrived at his house with two trunks of unequal size and
very heavy; on the larger of them was painted “Conjuring Apparatus,” on
the other, “Clothing.” The conjuror, who stated that he had received
various invitations to perform at the adjacent châteaux, had set off the
evening before to fulfil one of these engagements. He had only taken
with him one of his trunks, that containing the apparatus; and it was
supposed he had left the other in his room as a security for the bill he
had run up. The next day the host, surprised at finding his lodger
still absent, thought it advisable to place his traps in some safe
place. He, therefore, went into his bedroom; but the two trunks had
disappeared, and in their place was an enormous bag filled with sand, on
which was written:

                          THE MYSTIFYING BAG.

                           THE STIRRUP TRICK.

I continued for some time longer to enjoy the contemplative life I had
been pursuing; but at last satiety assailed me, and I was quite
surprised one day at finding myself wearied of this life of idleness. My
father, like a man who could read the human heart, had awaited this
moment to talk seriously with me; he, therefore, took me aside one
morning, and said, without further preface, in a kindly voice:

“My good boy, you have now quitted college with a sound education, and I
have allowed you to enjoy fully the liberty for which you seemed to
aspire. But you must see this is not sufficient for a livelihood; you
must now enter on the world resolutely, and apply your parts to the
profession you wish to embrace. That profession it is now time to
choose; you have doubtlessly some inclination, some bias, and you must
let me know it; speak, then, and you will find me inclined to second
your views.”

Although my father had frequently expressed his fears lest I should
follow his trade, I thought, after these remarks, he had changed his
mind, and I joyfully said:

“Of course I have an inclination, and you cannot be ignorant of it, for
it is of very old standing. You know I never wished to be other than--“

My father guessed my thoughts, and would not allow me to finish.

“I see,” he objected, “that you did not understand me, and I must
explain my meaning more clearly. My desire is for you to choose a
profession more lucrative than my own. Consider, it would be
unreasonable to bury the ten years’ schooling for which I made such
heavy sacrifices in my shop; remember, too, that, after thirty-five
years’ hard work, I have been hardly able to save sufficient provision
for my old age. Then, pray, change your resolution, and give up your
mania for making a ‘parcel of filings.’”

My father, in this, merely followed the idea of many parents, who can
only see the disagreeable side of their own trade. To this prejudice, I
must allow, he added the praiseworthy ambition of the head of a family
desirous that his son should rise a step higher on the social ladder
than himself.

As I was utterly ignorant of all other professions or trades save that
of a mechanician, I was unable to appreciate them, or consequently
select one; hence I remained dumb. In vain did my father try to draw an
answer from me by explaining the advantages I should derive from being a
surgeon or chemist, a barrister or a solicitor. I could only repeat that
I placed implicit confidence in his wisdom and experience. This
self-denial and passive obedience appeared to touch him; I noticed it,
and wishing to make a final attack on his determination, I said to him:

“Before making up my mind to any decided choice of profession, allow me
to offer one observation. Are you sure that it is your trade which is
impossible of extension, or is it owing to the smallness of the town in
which you have carried it on? Let me follow my own bent, I beseech you,
and when I have become a good workman by your instruction, I will go to
Paris and make a fortune there; I feel quite convinced I can do so.”

Fearing lest he might give way, my father tried to cut the conversation
short by evading a reply to my objection.

“As you leave it to me,” he said, “I advise you to become a solicitor;
with your natural parts, aided by application and good conduct, I am
certain you will make your way famously.”

Two days later I was installed in one of the best offices at Blois, and,
owing to my caligraphy, I was employed as a copying clerk, and in
engrossing from morning till night, though rarely understanding what I
was writing. My readers can readily guess that this mechanical work
could not long satisfy the turn of my mind; pens, ink, and paper were
most unsuitable articles to carry out the inventive ideas which
continually occurred to me. Fortunately, at that period, steel pens were
unknown; hence I had a resource in making my pens, to which I devoted
the best part of my time. This simple fact will suffice to give an idea
of the deep spleen which weighed upon me like a coating of lead, and I
should have certainly fallen ill, had I not found more attractive

Among the mechanical curiosities entrusted to my father for repair, I
had noticed a snuff-box, on the top of which a small piece of mechanism
attracted my entire attention. The top of the box represented a
landscape. On pressing a spring, a hare made its appearance, and went
towards a tuft of grass, which it began to crop; soon after a sportsman
emerged from a thicket accompanied by a pointer. The miniature Nimrod
stopped at the sight of the game, shouldered his gun and fired; a noise
indicative of the explosion of a fire-arm was heard, and the hare,
apparently wounded, disappeared in the thicket, pursued by the dog.

This pretty piece of mechanism excited my desires in an eminent degree,
but I could not hope to possess it, as the owner, in addition to the
value he attached to it, had no reason to dispose of it, and, besides,
my pecuniary means were insufficient. As I could not make the article my
own, I determined, at least, to keep it in remembrance, and drew a
careful plan of it without my father’s knowledge. This only more
inflamed my desires, and I began to ask myself whether I could not make
an exact copy of it.

Seeing no extreme difficulty in this, I rose at daybreak each morning,
and, going down to my father’s workshop, I worked till the hour when he
used to begin work. Then I rearranged the tools exactly as I had found
them, locked up my work carefully, and proceeded to my office. The joy I
experienced in finding my mechanism act was only equalled by the
pleasure I felt in presenting it to my father, as an indirect and
respectful protest against the determination he had formed as to my
choice of a trade. I had some difficulty in persuading him that I had
not been assisted by any one in my work, but when at last I removed his
doubts, he could not refrain from complimenting me.

“It is a pity,” he said, thoughtfully, “that you cannot profit by your
turn for mechanism; but,” he added, suddenly, as if seeking to dispel an
idea that troubled him, “you had better take no pride in your skill, for
it may injure your prospects.”

For more than a year I performed the duties of amateur--that is, unpaid
clerk--and I was then offered a situation by a country solicitor as
second clerk, with a small salary. I accepted this unexpected promotion
very readily; but, once installed in my new duties, I found that my
employer had deceived me as to their range. The situation I occupied was
that of office-boy, having to run on errands, for the first and only
clerk could more than attend to the business. I certainly earned some
money: it was the first I had gained by my own labor, and this
consideration gilded the pill, which was rather bitter to my pride.
Besides, M. Roger (such was my new master’s name) was certainly the best
fellow in the world. His manner, full of kindness and sympathy, had
attracted me the first time I saw him, and I may add that his behavior
towards me was most agreeable during the time I remained in his office.

This gentleman, the personification of probity, possessed the confidence
of the Duc d’Avaray, whose estate he managed, and being full of zeal for
his noble client’s business, he devoted more attention to it than to his
office. At Avaray legal business was very scarce, and we had hardly
enough to fill up our time. For my own part, I had many leisure hours,
which my kind master enabled me to employ by placing his library at my
service. I had the good fortune to find in it Linnæus’s Treaty on
Botany, and I learned the rudiments of that science.

The study of botany required time, and I could only devote to it the
hours prior to the office opening. Unfortunately, I had become a
tremendous sleeper--I hardly know how--and I could not manage to get up
before eight o’clock. I resolved to conquer this obstinate somnolency,
and I invented a waking apparatus, which, from its originality, deserves
honorable mention here.

The room I occupied formed a portion of the Château d’Avaray, and was
situated over an archway, closed by a heavy gate. Having noticed that
the porter opened this gate, which led into the gardens, every morning,
the idea occurred to me of profiting by this circumstance to institute
an energetic alarum. This is how I managed it. When I went to bed, I
fastened to one of my legs the end of a cord, which, passing through my
half-opened window, was attached to the upper part of the iron gate.
When the porter pushed the gate open, he dragged me, when least
expecting it, to the middle of my bedroom. Thus violently roused from
sleep, I tried to hold on by the bed-clothes; but the more I resisted,
the more did the pitiless porter push on his side, and I at length woke
up to hear him always abusing the hinges, which he determined to oil
before the day was out. Then, I unloosed my leg, and, with my Linnæus in
my hand, I went to interrogate Nature on her admirable secrets, the
study of which caused me to spend many pleasant hours.

As much to please my father as to scrupulously fulfil my duties in my
new office, I had promised to pay no more attention to mechanical
inventions--for I feared their irresistible attraction--and I had
religiously kept my word. There was, then, every reason to believe that
I should pass through all my grades creditably, and some day, in my
turn, become Maître Robert, solicitor, in some country town. But
Providence, in her decrees, had traced out a very different route for
me, and my stern resolutions were routed by a temptation too powerful
for my courage. In our office there was, strangely enough, a magnificent
aviary filled with canaries, whose song and plumage were intended to
dispel the impatience of a client forced by some accident to wait. This
cage being considered a portion of the office furniture, I was bound, as
errand-boy, to keep it in a proper state of cleanliness, and provide the
food of the denizens. This was the branch of my duties I performed with
the greatest zeal: in fact, I bestowed so much care on the comfort and
amusement of the birds, that they soon absorbed nearly all my time.

I began by setting up in this cage a number of mechanical tricks I had
invented at college under similar circumstances. I gradually added fresh
ones, and ended by making the cage a work of art and curiosity,
affording considerable attraction to our visitors. At one spot was a
perch, near which the sugar and the seed-glass displayed their
attractions; but no sooner had the innocent canary placed its foot on
the fatal perch, than a circular cage encompassed it, and it was kept a
prisoner until another bird, perching on an adjoining piece of wood, set
loose a spring, which delivered the captive. At another place were baths
and pumps; further on was a small trough, so arranged, that the nearer
the bird seemed to draw to it the further off it really was. Lastly,
each denizen of the cage was obliged to earn its food by drawing forward
with its beak small pasteboards carts.

The pleasure I felt in carrying out these small schemes soon made me
forget I was in a lawyer’s office for any other purpose than to be at
the beck and call of canaries. The chief clerk drew my attention to it,
and added some just remonstrances; but I had always a protest ready, and
continued making daily improvements in the aviary. At length, matters
reached such a point, that the supreme authority, that is to say my
master in person, felt it his duty to interfere.

“Robert,” he said to me, assuming an earnest tone, which he rarely
employed towards his clerks, “when you came into my office you were
aware it was to devote yourself exclusively to business, and not to
satisfy your own thirst for pleasure; warnings have been given you to
return your duty, and you have paid no attention to them; I am,
therefore, obliged to tell you that you must either decide on giving up
your mechanical fancies, or I must send you home to your father.”

And the worthy Monsieur Roger stopped, as if to draw breath after the
reproaches he had given me, I am sure much against his will. After a
moment’s silence, he reassumed his paternal tone, and said to me:

“And now, my friend, will you let me give you a piece of advice? I have
studied you, and feel convinced you will never be more than a very
ordinary clerk, and, consequently, a still more ordinary notary, while
you might become an excellent mechanician. It would be, then, wiser for
you to give up a profession in which you have such slight prospect of
success, and follow that for which you evince such remarkable aptitude.”

The kindly tone M. Roger assumed induced me to open my heart to him. I
told him of my father’s determination to keep me from his own trade, and
described to him all the vexation I had felt from it.

“Your father fancied he was acting for the best,” he replied to me, “by
putting you in a profession more lucrative than his own; he thought he
should only have a simple boyish fancy to overcome, but I am persuaded
it is an irresistible vocation, against which you should no longer
struggle. I will see your parents to-morrow, and I have no doubt I shall
induce them to change their opinion about your future prospects in

Since I quitted my father’s house he had sold his business, and had
retired to a small property he had near Blois. My master went to see him
as he had promised me; a long conversation ensued, and after numerous
objections on both sides, the lawyer’s eloquence vanquished my father’s
scruples, and he at length yielded.

“Well,” he said, “as he absolutely desires it, let him follow my trade.
And, as I cannot instruct him myself, my nephew, who is a pupil of mine,
will act towards my son as I did towards him.”

This news overwhelmed me with joy: it seemed as if I were entering on a
new life, and the fortnight I had yet to spend at Avaray seemed to me
terribly long. At length I set out for Blois, and the day after my
arrival found me seated before a vice, file in hand, and receiving my
first lessons in watchmaking from my relative.


     My Cousin Robert--The most important Event in my Life--How a Man
     becomes a Sorcerer--My first Sleight-of-Hand Feat--An utter
     Failure--Practising the Eye and the Hand--Curious Experiment in
     Prestidigitation--Monsieur Noriet--An Action more ingenious than
     delicate--I am Poisoned--Influence of Delirium.

Before speaking of my labors in the watchmaker’s shop, I must introduce
my readers to my new master. And, in the first place, to set myself
right, I will say that my cousin Robert, as I used to call him, has been
since my first connexion with him, one of my best and dearest friends.
It would be difficult, in fact, to imagine a more happy character, a
heart more affectionate and devoted.

With a rare intelligence, my cousin combined other equally valuable
qualities. He possessed a graceful address, which, without flattery, I
may say is peculiar to our family, and he was justly considered the
first watchmaker in Blois, a town which has long excelled in the
horologic art.

My cousin began by teaching me how to “make filings,” as my father
called it, but I required no apprenticeship to learn the use of tools,
and hence the outset was not so painful as it is usually to novices.
From the beginning of my apprenticeship I was enabled to undertake small
jobs, which gained me my master’s praise. Yet I would not have it
supposed I was a model pupil, for I had still rife in me that spirit of
investigation which drew down upon me several reprimands from my cousin,
and I could not endure to confine my imagination to the ideas of another
person. I was continually inventing or improving.

My whole life through, this passion--or, if you will, mania--has held
sway over me. I never could fix my thoughts on any task without trying
to introduce some improvement, or strike out a novel idea. But this
temperament--eventually so favorable--was at this period very
prejudicial to my progress. Before following my own inspirations and
yielding to my fancies, I ought to have learned the secrets of my art,
and, in fact, dispelled all ideas which were only adapted to make me
diverge from the true principles of clockmaking.

Such was the sense of the paternal observations made now and then by my
cousin, and I was obliged to recognize their justice. Then I would go to
work again with redoubled zeal, though groaning inwardly at the bonds
that fettered my genius. In order to aid my progress and afford me
relaxation, my master recommended me to study some treatises on
mechanics in general, and on clockmaking in particular. As this suited
my taste exactly, I gladly assented, and I was devoting myself
passionately to this attractive study, when a circumstance, apparently
most simple, suddenly decided my future life, by revealing to me a
vocation whose mysterious resources must open a vast field for my
inventive and fanciful ideas.

One evening I went into a bookseller’s shop to buy Berthoud’s “Treatise
on Clockmaking,” which I knew he had. The tradesman being engaged at the
moment on matters more important, took down two volumes from the shelves
and handed them to me without ceremony. On returning home, I sat down to
peruse my treatise conscientiously, but judge of my surprise when I
read on the back of one the volumes “SCIENTIFIC AMUSEMENTS.” Astonished
at finding such a title on a professional work, I opened it impatiently,
and, on running through the table of contents, my surprise was doubled
on reading these strange phrases:

_The way of performing tricks with the cards--How to guess a person’s
thoughts--To cut off a pigeon’s head, to restore it to life, &c., &c._

The bookseller had made a mistake. In his haste, he had given me two
volumes of the Encyclopædia instead of Berthoud. Fascinated, however, by
the announcement of such marvels, I devoured the mysterious pages, and
the further my reading advanced, the more I saw laid bare before me the
secrets of an art for which I was unconsciously predestined.

I fear I shall be accused of exaggeration, or at least not be understood
by many of my readers, when I say that this discovery caused me the
greatest joy I had ever experienced. At this moment a secret
presentiment warned me that success, perhaps glory, would one day accrue
to me in the apparent realization of the marvellous and impossible, and
fortunately these presentiments did not err.

The resemblance between two books, and the hurry of a bookseller, were
the common-place causes of the most important event in my life.

It may be urged that different circumstances might have suggested this
profession to me at a later date. It is probable; but then I should have
had no time for it. Would any workman, artisan, or tradesman give up a
certainty, however slight it may be, to yield to a passion which would
be surely regarded as a mania? Hence my irresistible penchant for the
mysterious could only be followed at this precise period of my life.

How often since have I blessed this providential error, without which I
should have probably vegetated as a country watchmaker! My life would
have been spent in gentle monotony; I should have been spared many
sufferings, emotions, and shocks; but, on the other hand, what lively
sensations, what profound delight would have been sacrificed!

I was eagerly devouring every line of the magic book which described the
astounding tricks; my head was a-glow, and I at times gave way to
thoughts which plunged me in ecstasy. Still the hours slipped away, and
while my mind was indulging in fanciful dreams, I did not notice that my
candle had burned down in the socket. How can I describe my
disappointment when it suddenly went out? It was the last candle I
possessed; hence I was forced to quit the sublime realms of magic all
for want of a halfpenny taper. At this instant I would have given my
whole fortune, were it only for a street lamp.

I was not exactly in the dark: a dim ray entered my window from a
neighboring lamp: but, though I made every effort to read by it, I could
not decipher a single word, was obliged to retire to bed willy-nilly.

In vain I tried to sleep: the febrile excitement produced by the book
prevented either sleep or rest. I went continually over the passages
which had most struck me, and the interest they inspired only the more
excited me. Finding it impossible to remain in bed, I repeatedly
returned to the window, and while casting envious glances on the lamp, I
had made up my mind to go down into the street and read by its light,
when another idea occurred to me. In my impatience to realize it I did
not wait to dress, but, confining my attire to what was strictly
necessary, if I may so call a pair of slippers and my drawers, I took my
hat in one hand, a pair of pincers in the other, and went down into the

Once there, I proceeded straight to the lamp; for I must confess, that
in my anxiety to profit at once by the sleight-of-hand tricks I had been
studying, I intended to conjure away the oil-lamp provided by the
authorities for the safety of the town. The part the hat and pincers
were to play in the operation were simple enough: the latter would
wrench open the little box containing the end of the cord by which the
lamp was raised, and the former would act as a dark lantern, and hide
the rays of light which might betray my theft.[A]

All prospered famously; and I was about to retire in triumph, when a
miserable incident threatened to rob me of the profits of my trick. At
the moment of my success a baker’s man overthrew my plans by emerging
from the door of his shop. I concealed myself in a doorway, and, while
striving to hide the light, I waited perfectly motionless till the
unlucky baker retired. But judge of my grief and terror when I saw him
lean against the door and calmly smoke his pipe!

My position was growing intolerable; the cold and the fear of detection
made my teeth chatter, and to increase my despair, I soon felt the
lining of my hat catch fire. There was no time for hesitation: I crushed
my failure of a lantern in my hands, and thus put out the fire; but it
was a dreadful sacrifice. My poor hat, the one I wore on Sundays, was
smoked, stained with oil, and shapeless. And while I was enduring all
these torments, my tyrant continued to smoke with an air of calmness
and comfort which drove me nearly mad.

It was quite plain I could not stay here till day-light; but how to
escape from this critical situation? To ask the baker to keep my secret
would be running a risk; while, to return home straight would betray me,
for I must pass in front of him, and he would be sure to recognise me.
The only chance left was to go down a side street and make a détour to
reach the house. This I decided on, even at the risk of any one meeting
me in my bathing attire. Without delay I took hat and lamp under my arm,
for I was forced to remove the proofs of my crime, and I started off
like an arrow. In my trouble, I fancied the baker was after me. I even
thought I heard his foot-fall behind me, and in my anxiety to escape I
doubled my speed; first I turned to the right, then to the left, and
went through such a number of streets, that it took me a quarter of an
hour to regain my room, in a state of perfect collapse, yet glad to have
escaped so cheaply.

It is a painful confession for a man destined eventually to fill a
certain part in the annals of conjuring to make, that my trial-piece
turned out so lamentably. In fact, to use a theatrical phrase, it was an
utter _fiasco_.

Still, I was not at all discouraged; the next day I regained all my
equanimity on finding my precious treatise on “White Magic” before me,
and I began studying the interesting secrets it contained with great

Within a week I knew them all by heart.

From theory I resolved to proceed to practice; but, just as was the case
with Carlosbach’s book, I suddenly met with an obstacle. The author, I
will grant, was more conscientious than the Bordelais mystifier: he gave
a very plain explanation of his tricks; still, he committed the error of
supposing his readers possessed of the necessary skill to perform them.
Now, I was entirely deficient in this skill, and though most desirous of
acquiring it, I found nothing in the book to indicate the means. I was
in the position of a man who attempts to copy a picture without
possessing the slightest notion of drawing and painting.

In the absence of a professor to instruct me, I was compelled to create
the principles of the science I wished to study. In the first place, I
recognised the fundamental principle of sleight-of-hand, that the organs
performing the principal part are the sight and touch. I saw that, in
order to attain any degree of perfection, the professor must develop
these organs to their fullest extent--for, in his exhibitions, he must
be able to see everything that takes place around him at half a glance,
and execute his deceptions with unfailing dexterity.

I had been often struck by the ease with which pianists can read and
perform at sight the most difficult pieces. I saw that, by practice, it
would be possible to create a certainty of perception and facility of
touch, rendering it easy for the artist to attend to several things
simultaneously, while his hands were busy employed with some complicated
task. This faculty I wished to acquire and apply to sleight-of-hand;
still, as music could not afford me the necessary elements, I had
recourse to the juggler’s art, in which I hoped to meet with an
analogous result.

It is well known that the trick with the balls wonderfully improves the
touch, but does it not improve the vision at the same time? In fact,
when a juggler throws into the air four balls crossing each other in
various directions, he requires an extraordinary power of sight to
follow the direction his hands have given to each of the balls. At this
period a corn-cutter resided at Blois, who possessed the double talent
of juggling and extracting corns with a skill worthy of the lightness
of his hands. Still, with both these qualities, he was not rich, and
being aware of that fact, I hoped to obtain lessons from him at a price
suited to my modest finances. In fact, for ten francs he agreed to
initiate me in the juggling art.

I practised with so much zeal, and progressed so rapidly, that in less
than a month I had nothing more to learn; at least, I knew as much as my
master, with the exception of corn-cutting, the monopoly in which I left
him. I was able to juggle with four balls at once. But this did not
satisfy my ambition; so I placed a book before me, and, while the balls
were in the air, I accustomed myself to read without any hesitation.

This will probably seem to my readers very extraordinary; but I shall
surprise them still more, when I say that I have just amused myself by
repeating this curious experiment. Though thirty years have elapsed
since the time of which I am writing, and though I scarcely once touched
the balls during that period, I can still manage to read with ease while
keeping three balls up.

The practice of this trick gave my fingers a remarkable degree of
delicacy and certainty, while my eye was at the same time acquiring a
promptitude of perception that was quite marvellous. Presently I shall
have to speak of the service this rendered me in my experiment of second
sight. After having thus made my hands supple and docile, I went on
straight to sleight-of-hand, and I more especially devoted myself to the
manipulation of cards and palmistry.

This operation requires a great deal of practice; for, while the hand is
held apparently open, balls, corks, lumps of sugar, coins, &c., must be
held unseen, the fingers remaining perfectly free and limber.

Owing to the little time at my disposal, the difficulties connected
with these new experiments would have been insurmountable, had I not
found a mode of practising without neglecting my business. It was the
fashion in those days to wear coats with large pockets on the hips,
called _à la propriétaire_, so whenever my hands were not otherwise
engaged they slipped naturally into my pockets, and set to work with
cards, coins, or one of the objects I have mentioned. It will be easily
understood how much time I gained by this. Thus, for instance, when out
on errands my hands could be at work on both sides; at dinner, I often
ate my soup with one hand while I was learning to _sauter la coupe_ with
the other--in short, the slightest moment of relaxation was devoted to
my favorite pursuit. As no one suspected that my paletôt was in some
degree a study, this manner of keeping my hands in my pockets began to
be regarded as a bad habit I had acquired; but after a few jests on the
subject I was left in peace.

Though my passion for sleight-of-hand was so intense, I had, however,
sufficient command over myself not to displease my master, who never
noticed that my thoughts were away from my work, and constantly praised
me for my regularity and application.

At length my apprenticeship was over, and my cousin, one fine day,
stated I was a journeyman and able to earn wages. I heard this with
double pleasure, for I found in it not only greater liberty, but also a
chance of improving my finances. Nor was I long ere I profited by my
advancement; a situation was offered me by a watchmaker at Tours, and I
proceeded to that town at once.

My new master was that M. Noriet, who afterwards gained some distinction
as a sculptor. His imagination, already fall of his future works,
disdained the ordinary labor of watch repairing, and he gladly left to
his workmen what he called, ironically, the “shoe-black” part of the
trade. It was for this purpose I joined him, and I received, in addition
to board and lodging, 35 fr. a month. Little enough, I grant; but it was
an enormous sum in my eyes, for, since leaving the lawyer’s, at Avaray,
my income had been reduced to a _minimum_.

When I say I earned 35 fr., it is merely to mention a round sum; in
reality I never received it net. Madame Noriet, in her quality of an
excellent manager, was perfectly conversant with all matters relative to
discount and exchanges; and thus, she had found a way of lessening my
wages in a manner as ingenious as it was improper. She used to pay me in
crowns of six francs, and as at that time six-franc pieces were only
worth 5 fr. 80 c., the lady gained 24 sous every month, which I carried
to my “profit and loss” account.

Although my time was fully occupied here, I managed to continue my
pocket practice; and I daily noticed with joy the progress I was making.
I had learned how to make any object I held in my hand disappear with
the greatest ease; and as for the practice of card tricks, they were
only child’s play to me, and I could produce some delightful illusions.

I confess to feeling a degree of pride in my humble power of amusing my
friends, and I neglected no occasion of displaying it. On Sunday, for
instance, after the invariable game of loto, which was played in this
patriarchal family, I gave a small performance of sleight-of-hand, which
enlivened the melancholy victims of this most monotonous of all games. I
was honored with the name of an “agreeable droll,” and this compliment
delighted me.

My regular habits, my perseverance, and perhaps a certain degree of
gaiety I possessed at the time, had gained me the friendship and
sympathy of both my master and mistress. At last I became an
indispensable member of the family, and shared in all their amusements.
Among these were frequent excursions in the country. On one of these, on
the 25th of July, 1828, (I shall never forget that memorable date, as it
was all but registered on my tombstone,) we went to a fair at an
adjacent village. Before leaving Tours, we had promised to be home to
dinner at five; but, finding ourselves much amused, we did not keep
military time, nor find our way home till eight.

After enduring the scolding of the cook, whose dinner had got cold, we
sat down and ate like people whose appetite has been whetted by a long
walk in the open air, and eight or ten hours’ fasting.

Whatever Jeannette might say, everything she sent up was found
excellent, except a certain ragoût, which everybody declared detestable,
and hardly touched. I, however, devoured my share of the dish, without
troubling myself the least in the world about its quality. In spite of
the jests aroused by my avidity, I asked for a second relay, and would
certainly have eaten the whole dish, had not my mistress, with due
regard for my health, prevented it.

This precaution saved my life. In fact, dinner was hardly over and the
game of loto begun, when I felt most uncomfortable. I went to my room,
where atrocious pains seized upon me, and a doctor was sent for. After a
careful investigation, the doctor discovered that a powerful layer of
verdigris had formed in the stewpan in which the ragoût had been cooked
and said I was poisoned.

The consequences of this poisoning were most terrible to me: for some
time my life was despaired of, but eventually the sufferings seemed to
be modified by the gentle care bestowed on me, and I was granted some
slight relief. Strangely enough, it was not till this second phase of my
illness, when the doctor declared me out of danger, that I was haunted
by a certainty of speedy death, to which was joined an immoderate desire
to end my days in the bosom of my family. This idea--a species of
monomania--incessantly assailed me, and I soon had no other thought than
that of escaping to Blois. As I could not hope to obtain the doctor’s
permission to set out, when his most urgent advice was to take care of
myself, I determined to take leave.

At six o’clock one morning, taking advantage of a moment when I was left
to myself, I hastily dressed, went down stairs, and found a stage-coach
just starting for Blois. I entered the rotonde, in which I happened to
be the only passenger, and the coach, lightly laden as it was, soon set
off at full gallop.

The journey was a horrible martyrdom to me. I was devoured by a burning
fever, and my head seemed to be burst asunder by every jolt of the
vehicle. In my frenzy I tried to escape my agony, and yet it was
continually increasing. Unable to endure longer, I opened the door of
the compartment, and leaped, at an imminent risk of my life, on to the
high road, where I fell in a state of insensibility.

I cannot say what happened to me after my fainting fit; I can only
remember long days of vague and painful existence, that appeared of
eternal duration: I was in a raging fever; my dreams were frightful, and
I suffered from the most dreadful hallucinations. One of them was
incessantly recurring--it seemed as if my head opened like a snuff-box;
a doctor, with turned-up cuffs, and armed with an enormous pair of iron
pincers, drew from my brain roasted chesnuts, which immediately burst
like bombs, and scattered myriads of scintillations before my eyes.

This phantasmagoria gradually faded away, and the illness at length
succumbed; but my reason was so shaken that it did not avail me. I was
reduced to a mechanical existence. If I noticed anything, it seemed
veiled in a thick mist, and I could not perform any process of
reasoning. It is true that all I did notice only served to increase the
confusion of my ideas. I felt as if being shaken in a carriage, and,
yet, I was in a capital bed, and the room was exquisitely clean. How
could I help fancying I was still dreaming?

At length, a spark of intelligence was aroused in me, and the first
startling impression was produced by the sight of a man standing at my
bedside. His features were quite strange to me. Stooping over, he
affectionately urged me to swallow a draught. I obeyed; and he then
begged me to keep silent, and remain as calm as I possibly could.

Unfortunately, my present state of weakness rendered it but too easy to
follow this prescription. Still, I tried to guess who this man could be,
and consulted my memory. It was quite useless: I could remember nothing
since the moment when, yielding to frenzy, I had thrown myself out of
the diligence.


     I return to Life--A strange Doctor--Torrini and Antonio: a Conjurer
     and a Fanatic for Music--A Murderer’s Confession--A perambulating
     House--The Fair at Angers--A portable Theatre--I witness for the
     first Time a Conjuring Performance--The blind Man’s Game at
     Piquet--A Dangerous Rival--Signor Castelli eats a Man alive.

I am by no means a fatalist; and yet I cannot refrain from remarking
here that many events in human life seem to encourage the views of

Suppose, dear reader, that, on leaving Blois to proceed to Tours,
destiny had opened before me one of the fairest pages of my life, I
should certainly have been delighted at such a glorious future, but in
my heart I should have been inclined to doubt its realization. In fact,
I set out as a simple workman, with the intention of making a tour of
France. This journey would have occupied much time, as I intended to
remain a year or two in every city I visited, and France is large! Then,
when I considered myself skilful enough, I would return home and set up
as a watchmaker.

But fate decided otherwise, and I must be drawn back to my real “groove”
when I tried to escape from it. The means employed were a poisoning,
which turned me mad, and hurled me lifeless on the high road. But I was
going to recall my reminiscences after my _fortunate_ catastrophe, and I
will take up the story from the point where I left off.

What had happened since my fainting fit; where was I; why did this man
treat me so kindly? I longed for a solution of these problems, and I
should certainly have cross-questioned my host, had it not been for the
earnest advice he had just given me. As thought, however, was not
forbidden, I tried to form a satisfactory conclusion from surrounding

The room I was in might be three yards long by two broad. The walls were
made of polished oak; on either side was a small window with muslin
curtains; while four walnut chairs, shelves serving as tables, and my
excellent bed, composed the furniture of this moving room, which bore a
close resemblance to the cabin of a steamboat.

There must also be two other compartments, for, to my left, I saw my
doctor frequently disappear behind two red damask curtains, where I
heard him moving about, while to my right I heard, through a thin
partition, a voice encouraging the horses. This circumstance made me
conclude I was in a carriage, and that the latter voice belonged to the

I already knew that hero’s name, as I had often heard the person I
presumed to be his master use it. It was Antonio: and he was, at any
rate, a splendid musician, for he was continually singing pieces from
Italian operas, which he broke off to swear harmlessly at his steeds. As
for the master, he was a man of about fifty, above the average height,
and his face, though sad and serious, displayed a degree of kindness
which prepossessed me. His long black hair fell on his shoulders in
natural curls, and he was dressed in a blouse and trousers of unbleached
cloth, with a yellow silk pocket-handkerchief as cravat. But nothing in
all this served to tell me what he was, and my surprise was increased by
finding him constantly at my side, and nursing me like the fondest of

A day had elapsed since his recommendation to keep silent; I had gained
a little strength, and fancied myself strong enough to talk; I was,
therefore, going to begin, when my host, guessing my intention,
prevented me.

“I can imagine,” he said, “your impatience to know where you are and
whom with; nor, will I conceal from you that I am equally curious to
learn the circumstances that led to our meeting. Still, in regard for
your health, the responsibility of which I have assumed, I must ask you
to be patient for one night more; to-morrow, I believe, we shall be able
to talk as long as you like, without any risk.”

As I had no serious objection to raise, and as I had been wont for some
time to obey all my strange doctor ordered, I yielded. The certainty of
soon holding the key to the enigma secured me a peaceful sleep, whose
good effects I noticed on waking. Thus, when the doctor came to feel my
pulse, he was surprised at the progress I had made in a few hours, and,
without awaiting my questions, he said, as if replying to the mute
inquiry my eyes made:

“Yes, I will satisfy your just curiosity; I owe you an explanation, and
you shall not wait any longer. My name is Torrini, and I am a conjurer
by profession. You are in my house--that is, in the carriage I usually
employ as my domicile. You will be surprised, I dare say, to learn that
the bedroom you now occupy can be lengthened into a theatre, and in that
room behind the red curtains is the stage on which my apparatus is

At the word “conjurer” I could not repress a start of satisfaction,
which my sorcerer probably did not notice, ignorant as he was that he
had before him one of the most fervent adepts of his profession.

“As for yourself,” he went on, “I need not ask you any questions: your
name, trade, as well as the cause of your illness, are known to me, for
I consulted your _livret_, and some letters I found on you, in my desire
to benefit you. I must now tell you, though, all that has happened since
you lost consciousness. After giving some representations at Orleans, I
was proceeding to Angers, where the fair will shortly begin, when, at
some distance from Amboise, I found you lying insensible, with your face
to the ground. Fortunately for you, I was then taking my morning walk by
the horses’ side, and this circumstance saved you from being run over.
By Antonio’s help I carried you to my bed, and my knowledge of medicine
restored you to life. But, my poor fellow! the fever caused you to make
the most terrible outbreaks; you threatened me continually, and I had
the greatest difficulty in mastering you. At Tours I would have gladly
stopped to call in a doctor, for your situation was critical, and I had
not practiced for many years:--but my hours were counted: I must arrive
in time at Angers, where I wish to choose a good spot for my exhibition,
and I had a strange fancy I should save your life, which has proved

Not knowing how to thank this excellent Torrini, I offered him my hand,
which he pressed firmly: but--must I confess it--I was checked in the
effusion of my gratitude by a thought which I deeply regretted later.

“To what motive,” I asked myself, “can I attribute this sudden
affection?” This feeling, however sincere it might be, must have some
cause, and in my ingratitude I sought whether my benefactor did not
conceal some interested design behind his apparent generosity. Torrini,
as if he had guessed my thoughts, continued, in a kindly tone:

“You expect a fuller explanation? Well, however painful it may be to me,
I will give it. It is this--

“You are surprised that a mountebank, a man belonging to a class not
generally erring on the side of sensibility, should have evinced such
compassion for your sufferings, but your surprise will cease, my boy, on
learning that this compassion is produced by the sweet illusion of
paternal love.”

Here Torrini stopped an instant, tried to recover himself, and then

“I had a son, a beloved son; he was my hope, my life, my happiness; but
a dread fatality robbed me of him: he died, and, terrible to say, he was
assassinated, and his murderer stands before you!”

At this unexpected confession I could not repress a start of horror; the
cold drops beaded on my face.

“Yes, yes, his murderer!” Torrini went on, his voice growing gradually
firmer, “and, yet, the law could not punish me; it left me life. In vain
I accused myself before my judges; they treated me as a maniac, and my
crime was regarded as accidental homicide. But what do I care, after
all, for their judgment? Whether through carelessness, or imprudence as
they say, my poor Giovanni is not the less lost to me, and I shall
reproach myself with his death my life long.”

Torrini’s voice was drowned by his sobs. He remained for some time with
his hands before his eyes; then, making an effort, he continued, in a
calmer tone:

“To spare you emotions that might prove dangerous in your present state,
I will abridge the narrative of the misfortunes to which this event was
only a terrible prelude. What I have said will suffice to explain the
natural cause of my sympathy towards you. When I first saw you, I was
struck by the likeness you bore in age and height to my unhappy boy. I
even fancied I could trace a certain resemblance in your face, and
yielding to this illusion, I decided on keeping you near me, and nursing
you as if you were my own child. You can now form an idea of the agony I
endured during the week when I was compelled to despair of your
restoration to life. But Providence, taking pity on us both, has saved
you. You are now quite convalescent, and in a few days, I trust, will be
perfectly recovered. Such, my boy, is the secret of the affection I
displayed towards you.”

Deeply moved by the father’s misfortunes, and touched by the tender care
he had bestowed on me, I could only express my gratitude in half-broken
phrases, for I was almost stifled by emotion. Torrini, also feeling the
necessity of shortening this painful interview, went out, promising to
return soon.

No sooner was I alone than a thousand thoughts crossed my mind. This
mysterious and tragical event, the thought of which seemed to overthrow
Torrini’s reason; this crime of which he accused himself so
persistently; this verdict whose justice he disputed, perplexed me in
the highest degree, and gave me a great desire to obtain more complete
details about this domestic drama. Then, I asked myself how a man
possessing so agreeable a countenance, who did not lack either judgment
or talent, and who joined to a solid education a readiness of
conversation and distinguished manners, could have thus sunk to the
lowest stage of his profession.

While absorbed in these thoughts, the vehicle stopped: we had arrived at
Angers. Torrini left us, in order to obtain the mayor’s leave to
perform, and so soon as he had succeeded, he prepared to occupy the spot
allotted to him. As I have already stated, the room I occupied was to be
transformed into a theatre; hence I was carried to an adjacent inn, and
placed in a capital arm chair close to an open window. The weather was
glorious; the sun’s beneficent rays seemed to impart fresh life to me,
and I began to lose that egotistic indifference which a lengthened
illness usually produces.

I could see Antonio and his master, with their sleeves tucked up,
working at the theatre. In a few hours our residence was completely
transformed; the moving house had become a charming room. The
arrangement of this singular vehicle is so stamped on my memory, that I
can still supply an exact description of it, and I will fill up the
details I have already given of it.

The bed on which I had lain was drawn up through a trap in the ceiling
where it occupied a very small space. If clothes or linen were required,
an adjoining trap was opened, and by means of a ring, a chest of drawers
was produced, as if by magic. A similar process revealed a small
chimney, which, by a peculiar arrangement, expelled the smoke below the
hearth. Lastly, the larder, cooking-range, and other accessories of the
household, were ready to hand, and could be easily restored to their
respective places. This strange furniture occupied all the space between
the wheels, so that the room, though amply furnished, was not crowded.

But I was most surprised to see the vehicle, which was scarcely six
yards long, suddenly grow twice that length. This was most ingeniously
contrived: the body was double and could be pulled out like a telescope.
This prolongation, supported by trestels, was quite as secure as the
rest of the edifice. The partition, dividing the rooms off, had been
removed, so that they now formed but a single apartment. The public
entered on this side, and a staircase led to the door, before which an
elegant marquee formed a vestibule, where the tickets were issued.
Lastly, a scaffolding was erected over the front, which represented a
stuccoed house.

The sight of this machine excited my imagination, and I built castles in
the air which I was never to inhabit. I, too, would have a similar
vehicle, though rather smaller, as my exhibition would be different.

Here I must make room for a parenthesis, to supply an explanation I
think necessary. I have spoken so much of sleight-of-hand, that it might
be supposed I had quite given up all thoughts about mechanism. On the
contrary I still passionately loved that science; but I had modified its
application, since the love of the marvellous had inflamed my
imagination. I proposed to call to my aid automata, which I would
eventually build; then, I would traverse the whole of Europe, perhaps
the world, gaining an ample amount of honor, pleasure and profit.

While engaged with these pleasant dreams I regained my health and
strength, and hoped that Torrini would soon allow me to be present at
one of his performances. In fact, he soon offered me an agreeable
surprise, for, one evening, he led me to his theatre, and installed me
on the first row of seats, grandly denominated “the stalls.” Judging by
my own enthusiasm, I expected the theatre would be thronged so soon as
the doors opened, but to my great surprise and regret, the room was not
more than half full.

The hour fixed for commencing at length arrived; the bell rang thrice,
the curtains were drawn back, and an exquisite little stage was visible.
The most striking thing was the entire absence of all that apparatus by
which many performers compensate for their lack of skill, while by a
graceful innovation, a few candles artistically arranged, were
substituted for that dazzling glare which, at the period of which I
write, was the indispensable ornament of all performances of “amusing

Torrini appeared, walked towards the public with great ease of manner,
made a deep bow, then demanded the indulgence of the spectators, and
ended by paying a compliment to the ladies. This slight address, though
uttered in a cold and melancholy tone, received a few encouraging bravos
from the audience.

The performance commenced in the most perfect silence; everybody seemed
inclined to devote all attention to it. I could hardly breathe, in my
desire not to lose a single word or gesture.

I will not describe the several tricks I saw; they all possessed
extraordinary interest for me; but Torrini appeared to excel in card
tricks. He possessed two most precious qualities in the exercise of this
art: these were extreme skill and an incredible boldness of execution.
To these he added a most aristocratic way of touching the cards; his
white and carefully-tended hands seemed hardly to rest on them, and his
tricks were so artistically performed, that the audience involuntarily
bestowed a sympathising confidence upon him. Sure of the effect he would
produce, he performed the most difficult “passes,” with a coolness no
one could expect him to possess; and this produced the most successful
results. To close the performances, Torrini requested the audience to
choose some one to play a game of piquet with him, and a gentleman
immediately stepped on the stage.

“Pardon me, sir,” said Torrini, “but it is indispensable, for the
success of the experiment, that I should know your name and profession.”

“Nothing easier, sir. My name is Joseph Lenoir, at your service; and my
profession is that of a dancing-master.”

Any other than Torrini would have made some jest on the name and
profession of this rival of Vestris; but he did nothing of the sort. He
had only asked this question to gain time, for he never indulged in any
mystification; so he merely added:

“I thank you, sir, for your kindness; and now we know who we are, we can
place confidence in each other. You have come to play a game of piquet
with me; but do you understand the game thoroughly?”

“I flatter myself I do, sir.”

“Ah! ah!” Torrini said with a laugh. “Pray do not flatter yourself till
we have played our game. Still, not to lower your self-esteem, I will
allow you to be an excellent player; but that will not prevent you
losing the game, although the chances are all in your favor. Listen to
me carefully; the trick I am going to perform, and which is called the
‘blind man’s game of piquet,’ requires that I should be blinded, so have
the goodness to bandage my eyes carefully.”

M. Lenoir, who, I may mention, wore spectacles, was very distrustful,
hence he took extraordinary precautions to accomplish his task. First,
he covered the patient’s eyes with tow, over which he fastened three
thick bandages; and, as if this fourfold covering were not enough to
blind his opponent, he fastened an enormous shawl round his head. I know
not how Torrini kept from suffocation beneath these heavy bandages; for
my part, the perspiration ran down my face at seeing him so muffled up.
Not knowing all the resources this skilful performer had at command, I
was rather fearful as to the result of the experiment, and my alarm
reached its climax when I heard him address his opponent as follows:

“Monsieur Lenoir, have the kindness to sit down opposite me at this
table. I have still a small service to ask you before we begin our game.
You have quite deprived me of my sight, but that is not enough. You have
now to bind my hands, so that I may be quite incapable.”

M. Lenoir raised his spectacles and looked at Torrini, as if stupefied;
but the latter, quietly placing his arms on the table, and crossing his
thumbs, said, “Now, sir, fasten them securely.”

The dancing-master took the piece of whipcord and performed his task as
conscientiously as he had done the first part.

“Am I now blinded, and deprived of the use of my hands?” Torrini asked
his vis-à-vis.

“I am certain of it,” Joseph Lenoir replied.

“Well, then, to begin our game. But tell me first in what suit you would
like to be repiqued?”

“In clubs.”

“Very good; now deal the cards by twos or threes, as you please. When
they are dealt out, I will leave you to select the hand you think will
enable you best to prevent a repique.”

All the time these explanations and preparations lasted, the audience
remained motionless and silent, not knowing whether a mystification or a
real trick were intended. Now, on seeing the dancing-master shuffle the
cards, there could be no further doubt; hence all rose to command a view
of the stage, and a great number of spectators even surrounded the
table. I had also drawn near, and, to my great delight, secured a front

Profound silence in the room.

“The cards are shuffled, please to cut!” the dancing-master said, in an
ironical tone, as if secure of victory.

“Willingly,” Torrini replied. And though hampered in his movements, he
soon satisfied his opponent.

The cards having been dealt, M. Lenoir decided on keeping those before

“Very good!” said Torrini. “You wished, I think, to be repiqued in

“Yes, sir.”

“Now follow my play. I throw out the sevens of spades, hearts, and
diamonds, and my two eights; the cards I take in give me a quint in
clubs, fourteen in queens, and fourteen in kings, with which I repique
you. Pray count and verify, sir.”

Torrini spoke the truth. Hearty shouts of applause greeted his success,
while jokes were cut at the expense of the poor dancing-master, who
hurried from the stage in a state of pitiable confusion.

       *       *       *       *       *

The performance over, I expressed to Torrini the pleasure his tricks
caused me, and paid him some sincere compliments on the skill he had
evinced during the whole evening, and especially in his last trick.

“These compliments are the more flattering,” he replied, with a smile,
“as I know now they are paid me, if not by a fellow-artist, at least by
an amateur, who, I am certain, already possesses some degree of skill in
the profession.”

I know not which of us, Torrini or myself, was the more charmed by the
compliments we exchanged; at any rate, I felt most sensibly the
favorable opinion he had formed of my talents. One thing, however,
perplexed me: I had never said a word to Torrini about my
sleight-of-hand fancies: how could he have found them out?

He read my thoughts, and added:

“You are surprised at my detecting your secret? and you would like to
know how I did so. I am happy to tell you. My room is small; hence it is
easy for me, when on the stage, to look at every face, and judge the
various impressions I produce on the spectators. I observed you
particularly, and while watching the direction of your eyes, I could
judge what was passing in your mind. Thus when I indulged in some
amusing paradox, to draw public attention away from the side where the
trick was to be performed, you alone escaped the snare, and kept your
eyes fixed on the right spot. As for my piquet trick, though I could not
observe you while I was performing it, I have reasons to be assured that
you did not know it.”

“You have guessed perfectly right, my dear magician, and I cannot deny
that in my leisure hours I have amused myself with some of these tricks,
for which I always felt great inclination.”

“Inclination! Allow me to say that is not the proper word in your case,
my dear lad; yours is a true passion. I base my opinion on the following
observations. This evening, from the moment of the curtain rising, your
searching eye, your agitated face and half-parted lips, denoted the
state of excitement you were in. You looked like a gourmet just sitting
down to a well-covered board, or a miser gloating over his treasure. Do
you think that with these signs I need be a sorcerer to discover the
sway conjuring exercises over your mind?”

I was about to reply, when Torrini drew out his watch, and said to me,
“Come, young gentleman, it is growing late; it is high time for a
convalescent to seek his rest. We will continue our conversation at a
better time.”

With these words my doctor led me to my room, and, after counting my
pulse, which appeared to satisfy him, retired. In spite of the pleasure
I felt in talking, I was not ill-pleased to find myself alone, for I had
a thousand souvenirs to evoke. I wished to summon up again the
experiments that had struck me most, but it was all in vain. One thought
mastered all the rest, and produced a strange sinking in my heart. I
tried, without success, to explain the motives why the public neglected
Torrini’s interesting performances.

This motive Antonio explained to me afterwards, and it is too curious to
be passed by in silence. Besides, I have here an opportunity to
introduce my readers to a very remarkable specimen of the great family
of mountebanks.

I have said that we reached Angers at fair time; and among the numerous
providers of amusement who solicited the presence and money of the
Angevins, was another conjurer, known as Castelli.

He was no more an Italian than was Torrini. I shall presently give
Torrini’s real name, and the reasons that caused him to change it for
the one we know him by; as for the other conjurer, he was a Norman by
birth, and only assumed the name of Castelli in conformity with the
custom of most conjurers of the day, who thought an Italian name more

Castelli was far from possessing Torrini’s marvellous address, and his
performances offered no special interest as far as sleight-of-hand was
concerned; but he thought with Figaro that “skill was better than
learning,” and he proved it by his repeated successes. In truth, this
man was the incarnation of charlatanism, and he spared nothing to pique
public curiosity. Each day some new prodigy was announced on his
enormous posters. It was in reality only a deception, very often a
mystification for the audience; but his treasury was always filled to
repletion--hence, the trick was good. If the public felt wroth at being
duped, Castelli knew the art of escaping from the dilemma and drawing
the laughers on his side; he boldly made some jest in bad Italian, at
which the pit could not help laughing, and was thus disarmed.

Besides, it must be remembered that, at this period, conjuring was not
so respectable as it is now; people went to an exhibition of that sort
to laugh at the conjurer’s victims, even if themselves exposed to his
attacks. My readers ought to have seen the mystifier _par excellence_,
the celebrated physico-ventriloquist of the age, Comte, to form an idea
of the cool way in which the public was then treated. This performer,
though so graceful and gallant towards ladies, was merciless to men.
According to his notions, the cavaliers (as they were then called) were
predestined to supply amusement for the fair sex---- But I must not
poach on the biography of the “natural philosopher to the king,” which
will hereafter find a place in my volume.

The same day on which I had witnessed Torrini’s performance, Castelli’s
bills contained an astounding statement, well adapted, I grant, to tempt
public curiosity. The professor pledged himself to eat a man alive, and
if he did not succeed to the satisfaction of his audience, he would hand
over all the receipts to the mayor for distribution among the poor. This
seductive appeal had drawn the whole town; crowds collected round the
show, and persons who arrived too late were glad to pay double entrance
money. But the new trick played by the conjurer was quite worthy of all
that had preceded it.

Castelli, after performing several tricks of second-rate interest, at
length arrived at the one which caused even the calmest spectator to
throb with impatience.

“Gentlemen,” he then said, addressing the audience, “we will now proceed
to the last trick. I promised to eat a man alive for my supper, and I
will keep my word. Will the courageous spectator who wishes to serve as
a repast to me (Castelli pronounced this word with the expression of a
perfect cannibal) take the trouble to mount on the stage?”

Two victims immediately presented themselves. By accident they offered a
perfect contrast, and Castelli, who understood the art of producing an
effect, skilfully profited by it. He placed them side by side, with
their faces turned to the audience, then after surveying one of them, a
tall, bilious-looking fellow, from head to foot, he said to him, with
affected politeness,

“I do not wish to insult you, sir, but I am sorry to tell you that, as
regards my food, I am quite of M. le Curé’s opinion--you understand me?”

The tall, thin man appeared for a moment as if trying to guess a riddle,
and ended by scratching his ear--a gesture which, among all nations,
civilized or barbarous, signifies, “I do not understand.”

“I will explain, then,” Castelli continued. “You know that M. le Curé
does not like bones; at least, so they say at forfeits, and I assure you
I share the Curé’s antipathy in this respect. You can retire, then; I
will not detain you.” And Castelli began bowing to his visitor, who
hastened back to his seat.

“Now, then, for us two,” the conjurer said, turning to the one who
remained. He was a tall, chubby fellow, with rosy cheeks, who seemed
purposely made for the repast of an epicurean cannibal.

“Well, my stout friend, so you consent to be eaten alive?”

“Yes, sir, I am quite willing, and came here for that purpose.”

“Ah! ah! that is capital!” (Here Castelli licked his lips like a
gourmet, whose mouth waters at the sight of a dainty dish.) “As I have a
powerful appetite, we will begin directly.”

At this moment a gigantic cruet-stand was brought in. The stout youth
regarded it with surprise, as if trying to discover the use of this
strange utensil.

“Don’t mind it, pray!” said Castelli. “I am very fond of hot dishes, so
allow me to pepper and salt you in my usual fashion.”

And he began covering the unhappy man with a white powder, which,
adhering to his hair, face, and clothes, soon gave him an extraordinary
appearance. The stout youth, who at the beginning had tried to rival the
conjurer’s gaiety, did not laugh now, and seemed earnestly to desire the
end of the jest.

“Now, then!” Castelli added, rolling his eyes about ferociously, “kneel
down, and hold your hands over your head. Very good, my friend: it
really looks as if you had never followed any other trade than being
eaten alive. Now, then, say your prayers, and I will begin. Are you

“Yes, sir,” the stout lad muttered, turning quite yellow with emotion,
“I am ready.”

Castelli then took the end of the patient’s thumb in his mouth, and bit
it so hard that the latter, as if working by a spring, jumped up,
shouting energetically,

“Confound it, sir, take care; you hurt me!”

“What! I hurt you?” Castelli said, with perfect calmness. “What will you
say, then, when I reach your head? It was really absurd of you to cry
out like a baby at the first mouthful. Come, be reasonable: let me go
on. I am frightfully hungry, and long for my supper.”

And Castelli, thrusting him by the shoulders, tried to make him take his
first position. But the young man resisted with all his strength, as he
cried, in a voice palsied with fear, “I won’t have it: I tell you I
won’t have it. You hurt me too much!” At length, by a supreme effort, he
escaped from his tormentor’s hands. During this time the audience,
foreseeing the result of this amusing scene, had been shouting with
laughter, and Castelli found some difficulty in gaining a hearing.

“Gentlemen!” he said, assuming a tone of the deepest disappointment,
“you see me both surprised and vexed at the flight of that gentleman,
who had not the courage to allow himself to be eaten. Now, I expect some
one to take his place; for, far from shunning the performance of my
promise, I feel so comfortable, that I pledge myself, after eating the
first spectator who offers, to eat the second, and so on. Indeed, to
prove myself worthy your applause, I promise to eat the whole roomful.”

This jest was greeted by another hearty laugh, but the farce was played
out. No one came forward to be eaten, and the crowd went home to digest
the trick played on them all.

If such manœuvres could succeed, few spectators were left for
Torrini. As he desired to maintain a certain dignity, he never announced
tricks he did not perform, and, even if trying to render the titles
attractive, he always adhered to the strictest truth.


     Antonio’s Confessions--How to gain Public Applause--The Count
     de ----, Mountebank--I repair an Automaton--A Mechanician’s Shop on
     Wheels--Nomadic Life--Happy Existence--Torrini’s Lessons--His
     Opinions about Sleight-of-Hand--A Fashionable Greek, Victim of his
     own Swindling--The Conjurer Comus--A Duel at Piquet--Torrini
     proclaimed Conqueror--Revelations--New Catastrophe--Poor Torrini!

The day after the performances, Antonio came as usual to inquire after
my health. I have already said this young man possessed a charming
character: ever gay, ever singing, his fund of good humor was
inexhaustible, and frequently produced a degree of gaiety in our house,
which otherwise would have been very gloomy. On opening my door, he
stopped the operatic air he had been humming from the bottom of the

“Well, my little signor,” he said, in French, picturesquely intermingled
with Italian, “how is the health this morning?”

“Famous, Antonio--famous, thank you!”

“Oh yes! famous, Antonio, famous!” and the Italian sought to repeat the
intonation of my voice. “I believe you, my dear patient, but that will
not prevent you taking this draught the doctor, my master, has sent

“I am willing; but, indeed, this medicine is becoming unnecessary, for I
now feel that I shall soon be restored to health, and then I shall only
have to thank you and your master for your attention to me, and pay him
the expenses caused by my illness.”

“What are you talking about?” Antonio said. “Do you think of leaving us?
Oh, I hope not.”

“You are right, Antonio; I am not thinking of it to-day, but I must
consider of it so soon as I am in a condition to leave. You must see, my
friend, that, in spite of all the pain our separation will cause me, I
must make up my mind to it before long, for I am anxious to return to
Blois and reassure my family, who must feel most uncomfortable about

“Your family cannot be uncomfortable, as, in order to calm your father,
you wrote to him that your illness, having had no dangerous results, you
had proceeded to Angers to look for work.”

“It is true, but----“

“But, but,” Antonio interrupted me, “you have no good reason to offer. I
repeat, you cannot quit us. Besides,” he added, lowering his voice, “if
I told you something, I am sure you would be of my opinion.”

Antonio stopped, appeared to struggle for a moment against the desire he
felt to confide in me, then, making up his mind, said, resolutely, “Ah,
bah! as it is necessary, I cannot hesitate. You were talking just now
about paying my master. Do you know that he is, I fancy, in your debt?”

“I do not understand you.”

“Well, listen to me, my dear friend,” Antonio said, with a mysterious
air; “I will explain myself. You are not ignorant that our poor Torrini
is afflicted by a very grave malady that touches him here (and Antonio
laid his hand on his forehead); now, since you have been with us, and he
fancies he can trace some resemblance to his son, my master is
gradually losing his sorrow, and even indulges in gaiety now and then.
Yesterday, for instance, during his performance, you saw him make his
audience laugh twice or thrice, which has not occurred for a long time.

“Ah, my dear sir,” Antonio continued, growing more and more
communicative, “if you had seen him before that fatal event, when he
performed in the first theatres of Italy. What enthusiasm! what spirit!
Who could have foretold at that period that Count de”--here Antonio
checked himself--“that the celebrated Torrini would ever be reduced to
play in a barn as the rival of the lowest mountebanks--he, the
inimitable sorcerer, the honored artist, everywhere known as the
handsome, the elegant Torrini! However, it was only just; for he
eclipsed the richest professors by his luxury and distinguished manners,
and never did a performer more fully deserve legitimate applause for his
talent and address.

“However, I must confess,” Antonio added, carried away by his
confessions, “that this applause was sometimes my handiwork. Doubtlessly
the public appreciates talent with intelligence, but it often requires
to be guided in the outburst of its admiration. I took charge of this
duty, and without saying a word to my master, I prepared him several
ovations which extended and prolonged his success. How many times
boquets, thrown at the right moment, excited the applause of the entire
audience? how many times murmurs of approval, skilfully introduced,
aroused the enthusiasm of the theatre? What successes, my dear
fellow--what successes we had, though, in those days. I cannot give you
a better idea of them than by saying that, at times, my master could
hardly manage to spend all the money his representations produced.”

“It is a pity, that your master,” I said to Antonio, “did not place
less trust in the future, and save a portion of that fortune which he
would gladly have to-day.”

“We have often made that reflection,” he replied, “but it only increased
our regret. And how could we suppose then that Fortune would turn her
back on us so suddenly? Besides, my master thought luxury necessary to
acquire that prestige which he liked to possess, and considered justly
that his prodigality added to the popularity his talent had procured

This confidential talk would probably have lasted longer, had not
Torrini called Antonio, who suddenly quitted me.

One incident struck me in this conversation: it was when Antonio
recalled his master’s name. This remark only increased my desire to know
Torrini’s history. But I had no time to lose, as the last performance
was announced for the following day, and I was resolved to return home.

I therefore armed myself with courage to overcome the repugnance which,
according to Antonio, his master felt about speaking of the past, and
after we had breakfasted together, I broke the ice, in the hope I should
lead him to tell me all I so much wanted to know.

“You are going to Angoulême to-morrow,” I said to him, “and I regret I
cannot accompany you: we must separate, however much it may cost me,
after the service you have rendered me, and the care you have devoted to

I then begged him to let my family know the expenses my illness had
entailed, and I ended by assuring him of my deep gratitude. I expected
to hear Torrini oppose my departure: but it was not so.

“However much you may press me,” he replied, with the greatest calmness,
“I will take nothing from you. How can I ask payment for what has
caused me so much happiness? Never talk about that. You wish to leave
me,” he added, with that affectionate smile peculiar to him, “and I say
you will not leave me.”

I was going to reply.

“I say you will not leave me,” he repeated, quickly, “because you have
no reason to do so, and because, presently you will have a thousand to
remain some time longer with me. In the first place, you require great
care to recover your health and root out the remains of an illness which
might otherwise return. Besides, I will add, I was awaiting your
convalescence to ask a service from you which you cannot refuse; I want
you to repair an automaton I bought from a Dutch mechanician, of the
name of Opré, and I am sure you will do it admirably.”

To these excellent reasons Torrini, who doubtlessly feared some
hesitation on my part, joined the most attractive promises.

“To lighten your labors,” he said, “we will have long talks about
conjuring. I will explain to you the game of piquet, that delighted you
so much, and after, when that subject is exhausted, I will tell you the
most important events of my life. You will learn from my story what a
man is capable of suffering short of death, and the lessons you may draw
from a life now almost ended may serve, perchance, to guide you in a
career which has hardly yet commenced. Lastly,” he said, offering me his
hand, “your presence, I trust, will help to dispel those gloomy thoughts
which have robbed me so long of my energy.”

I could make no reply to these touching solicitations; hence I yielded
to Torrini’s wishes. The same day he gave me the automaton I was to
repair. It was a small harlequin, supposed to leap out of the box in
which it was confined, perform some evolutions, and return to prison at
the word of command; but it was in such a bad condition, that I had
almost to make a new one. For this purpose I arranged a small workshop
in the carriage, and, two days later, I began my first automatic labors,
while proceeding along the road to Angoulême.

Never shall I forget the charm of that journey. My health was perfectly
restored, and with it my gaiety and the full exercise of my moral
faculties. Our enormous vehicle, drawn by two horses, could not proceed
very rapidly: hence we only covered nine or ten leagues a day, and even
then we had to start very early. Still, in spite of our slow locomotion,
never did time appear to me to pass so quickly or more agreeably. Was it
not the realization of all my dreams? What more could I desire?
Installed in a small, clean room, before a window through which the
smiling panorama of Poitou and the Angoumois was unrolled before me, I
found myself amidst my beloved tools, working at the construction of an
automaton, in which I saw the first-born of a numerous progeny: it was
impossible for me to imagine anything to surpass this.

On starting, I attacked my work with such impetuosity, that Torrini,
still anxious for my health, insisted that I should take some rest after
every meal. The same day, on leaving the dinner-table, he handed me a
pack of cards, and told me to display my skill.

Though frightened by such a clear-sighted spectator, by a judge whose
skill had so astonished me, I collected my courage, and began by one of
those effects to which I had given the name of “flourishes.” It was a
brilliant prelude, merely intended to dazzle the eyes while showing the
extreme agility of the fingers. Torrini regarded me with indifference,
and I fancied I saw a smile playing round his lips. I was, I confess,
rather disappointed, but he hastened to console me.

“I really admire your address,” he said, “but I put little faith in
those flourishes, as you call them. I find them brilliant, but useless.
Besides, I am curious to know if you use them at the beginning or end of
your card tricks.”

“It appears to me logical enough,” I replied, “to place them at the
beginning, as they are only intended to dazzle the spectators.”

“Well, my boy,” he went on, “we differ on that point. I think that they
ought not to be placed either at the beginning or end of any card
tricks. For this reason: after such a brilliant exhibition, the
spectator will only see in your tricks the result of dexterity, while,
by affecting a good deal of simplicity, you will prevent your audience
trying to account for them. Thus you produce a supernatural effect, and
pass for a real sorcerer.”

I quite agreed in this reasoning, the more so as at the beginning of my
experiments I had always considered nature and simplicity the bases of
the art of producing illusions, and I had laid down the maxim (only
applicable to conjuring) that “you must first gain the confidence of the
person you wish to cheat.” Hence, I had not been consistent with my
principles, and humbly confessed it.

It is certainly a singular occupation for a man to whom frankness is
natural, to be continually engaged in concealing his thoughts, and
seeking the best way of making dupes. But may it not also be urged that
dissimulation and falsehood become qualities or defects according to the
purpose they are employed for?

Does not the merchant, for instance, regard them as precious qualities
to heighten the value of his wares?

Does the science of diplomacy consist in stating everything with
frankness and simplicity?

Lastly, is not fashion, or the usages of decent society, an admirable
mixture of dissimulation and deceptions?

As for the art I cultivated, what would it be without falsehood?

Encouraged by Torrini, I regained my assurance. I continued practising
all my tricks, and showed him several new inventions of my own. My
master paid me some compliments, to which he added sensible advice.

“I recommend you,” he said, “to moderate your vivacity. Instead of
displaying so much petulence in your movements, affect, on the contrary,
extreme calmness, and thus you will avoid those clumsy gesticulations by
which conjurers generally fancy they distract the attention of their
spectators, when they only succeed in wearying them.”

My professor then, adding example to precept, took the cards from my
hands, and showed me in the same passes I had performed the finesses of
dissimulation allied to sleight-of-hand. I looked on with sincere
admiration: probably flattered by the impression he had produced on me,
Torrini said:

“As we are now on the subject of card tricks, I will explain to you my
game of piquet; but, in the first place, you must see the box I employ
in its performance.”

And he handed me a small box, which I turned over a score times without
detecting its use.

“You will seek in vain,” he said to me; “a few words would put you on
the right track, but I prefer, although the remembrances it summons up
are very painful, to tell you how this box fell into my hands, and for
what purpose it was originally invented.

“About twenty years ago I was living at Florence, where I practised as
a physician. I was not a conjurer in those days (he added, with a
profound sigh), and would to Heaven I had never become so!

“Among the young men of my own age, I was particularly intimate with a
German of the name of Zilbermann. Like myself, he was a doctor, and
equally like myself without practice. We passed the greatest part of our
leisure hours together: in other words, we were almost inseparable. Our
tastes were much the same, save on one point, where we differed
essentially. Zilbermann was passionately fond of gambling, while I felt
no attraction for play. My antipathy for cards must indeed have been
excessive to prevent me yielding to the force of contagion, for my
friend won large sums, enabling him to live like a great gentleman,
while I, though most economical, could not help incurring debts. However
this may be, Zilbermann and I lived on terms of fraternal intimacy. His
purse was at my service, but I used it discreetly, as I knew not when I
should be able to return what I borrowed. His delicacy and generosity
towards me led me to believe he was frank and loyal with all the world,
but I was deceived.

“One day, when I had only left him a few hours before, one of his
servants came hastily to summon me, stating that his master had been
dangerously wounded, and begged to see me at once. I ran off directly,
and found my unhappy friend lying on his couch with a face of deadly
pallor. Overcoming my grief, I proceeded to offer him succor. Zilbermann
stopped me, motioned me to sit down, dismissed his attendants, and,
after being assured we were alone, begged me to listen to him. His
voice, weakened by the pain he was suffering, scarcely reached my ear,
and I was forced to stoop down over him.

“‘My dear Edmond,’ he said to me, ‘a man accused me of cheating. I
challenged him--we fought with pistols--and his bullet is lodged in my

“And when I urged Zilbermann to let me attend to him, he added:

“‘It is useless, my friend. I feel I am wounded to death. I have hardly
time to make a confession, for which I claim all your indulgent
friendship. Learn, then,’ he added, offering me a hand damp with death,
‘I was not unjustly insulted. I am ashamed to confess that, for a long
time, I have lived at the expense of my dupes. Aided by a fatal skill,
and still more by an instrument I invented, I daily cheated at play.’

“‘How--you, Zilbermann?’ I said, withdrawing my hand sharply.

“‘Yes, I!’ the dying man replied, seeming by a glance to supplicate my

“‘Edmond!’ he added, collecting all his remaining strength, ‘in the name
of our old friendship do not abandon me! For the honor of my family, let
not this proof of my infamy be found here. I implore you to remove this
instrument.’ And he showed me a small box attached to his arm.

“I unfastened it, and like yourself, my boy, looked at it, without
understanding its use. Revived by a thought of his culpable passion,
Zilbermann added, with the most lively admiration,

“‘And yet see how ingenious it was. This box can be attached to the arm
without perceptibly increasing its size. Ready packed cards are put in
it beforehand; when you are going to cut, you put your hand quietly over
the cards on the table, so as to cover them completely; then you press
this spring by resting your arm gently on the table. The prepared cards
come out while a pair of pincers seize the other pack and draw it up
into the box. To-day, for the first time, the instrument failed me--the
pincers left a card on the table. My adversary----’

“Zilbermann could not complete the phrase; he had drawn his last gasp.

“Zilbermann’s confessions and death had overpowered me, and I hastened
from his room. On returning home, I began to reflect on what had
happened, and, imagining that my known intimacy with the deceased would
forbid my stay at Florence, I determined on proceeding to Naples. I took
with me the unlucky box, though not foreseeing the use I should
eventually make of it; and for a long time I forgot its existence.
However, when I turned my attention to conjuring, I thought about my
piquet trick, and the fortunate use I made of the box gained me one of
my most remarkable triumphs as professor of sleight-of-hand.”

       *       *       *       *       *

At this recollection, Torrini’s eyes sparkled with unusual brilliancy,
and prepared me for an interesting anecdote. He proceeded as follows:

“A conjurer, named Comus, had invented a trick at piquet, which he
performed, I must allow, with extraordinary dexterity. The praise he
acquired in consequence rendered him very boastful; and thus he never
failed to announce on his bills that he alone could perform this
incomparable trick, thus challenging all the sleight-of-hand professors
known. I had some degree of reputation in those days, and Comus’s
assertion stung me. Knowing his way of doing the trick, and my own to be
far superior, I resolved to pick up the glove he threw to all his

“I therefore went to Geneva, where he happened to be, and offered him a
share performance, in which a jury should decide on our relative merits.
Comus gladly accepted, and on the day fixed an immense number of
spectators assembled. Being my senior, my opponent commenced. But, in
order that you, my dear Robert, may also act as jury, I will first
explain to you how he performed his trick.

“Taking a new pack of cards, he undid the cover, had them shuffled, and
then taking them in his hand, he managed to get them, as if by accident,
either face to face or back to back. This disarrangement gave him time
to manipulate the cards, while appearing to be merely putting them in
order; thus, when he had finished, I could easily see that he had made
an almost imperceptible crease on certain cards, which must give him a
suit of eight cards, a king, and fourteen in aces.

“This done, Comus handed the cards to his adversary, begging him to
shuffle them again; and, during this time, he had his eyes bandaged.
This was a useless precaution, let me observe _en passant_, for whatever
care may be taken to deprive a person of sight in this way, the
projection of the nose always leaves a vacuum sufficient to see clearly.

“When the other player had finished, Comus again took up the cards as if
to shuffle them; but you can easily understand that he only arranged
them so that the cards he had marked must fall to him in the deal. The
_saute de coupe_, as you are aware, neutralises the effect of cutting;
hence Comus was certain of success. In fact, matters ended so on this
occasion, and hearty applause greeted my rival’s victory.

“I have reason to believe that a great number of these bravos emanated
from his friends and accomplices, for when I came forward in my turn to
perform my trick, a murmur of dissatisfaction greeted my appearance on
the stage. The ill-will of the spectators was so manifest that it would
have intimidated me, had I not then been quite steeled against all
applause or dissatisfaction on the part of the public.

“The audience were far from suspecting the surprise I had prepared for
them, for instead of asking any one to come from the house as my
playman, I requested Comus himself to play with me. At this request I
saw the people begin to look at each other; but what were the
exclamations when, after asking my rival to bandage my eyes and tie my
hands, I not only declined to touch the cards, but left him at liberty,
after stating in what suit he would be repiqued, to deal the cards by
twos or threes, and choose the hand he preferred!

“I had a pack ready prepared in my box, and I was sure of my
instrument--need I say that I gained the game?

“Owing to my secret arrangements, my mode of acting was so simple, that
it was impossible to find out how I did it, while Comus’s preliminary
manipulations led to the supposition that his dexterity gained the game.
I was declared victor unanimously. Shouts greeted this decision; and
even Comus’s own friends, deserting my rival, came to offer me a pretty
gold pin, surmounted by a cup, the symbol of my profession. This pin, as
one of the audience told me, had been ordered by poor Comus, who felt
certain of winning it back.

“I may (Torrini added) fairly boast of this victory; for, though
Zilbermann left me the box, he had not taught me the game of piquet,
which I invented myself. Was not this trick, I ask you, far superior to
Comus’s, which, it is true, deceived the multitude, but the poorest
sleight-of-hand performer could easily detect?”

Torrini was extremely proud of his inventive skill; but this, I believe,
was his sole defect, and he made up for it by his readiness to praise
other persons. His story ended, I complimented him most sincerely, not
only on his invention, but on the victory he had gained over Comus.

Travelling in this way, and stopping at times to perform in towns where
we might hope to clear a profit, we passed through Limoges, and found
ourselves on the road leading from that town to Clermont. Torrini
proposed to give some performances in the chief town of the Puy-de-Dôme,
after which he intended returning straight to Italy, whose gentle
climate and quaint ovations he regretted.

I had made up my mind to part from him there. We had been travelling
together about two months; this was about the time I had fixed for the
repair of the automaton, and my work was almost concluded. On the other
hand, I had a right to ask my dismissal, with no fear of being
considered ungrateful. Torrini’s health had become as good as we might
ever expect, and I had given up to him all the time I could reasonably

Still I did not like to speak about our separation, for the professor,
delighted with my progress and skill, could not conceive I could have
any other wish but to travel with him, and eventually become his
successor. This position would certainly have suited me in many
respects, for, as I have said, my vocation was irrevocably fixed. But,
whether new instincts were kindled in me, or that the intimacy I lived
in with Torrini had opened my eyes to the unpleasantness of such a mode
of life, I aimed at something higher than being his successor.

I had therefore made up my mind to leave him; but painful circumstances
deferred the moment of separation.

We had just arrived at Aubusson, a town celebrated for its numerous
carpet factories. Torrini and his servant were on the box of the
carriage: I was at work. We were going down a hill, and Antonio was
pulling at the rope which dragged our wheels, when, suddenly, I heard
something break, and the carriage started off at full speed. The
slightest obstacles produced a tremendous shock, and every moment I
expected the carriage to go over.

Trembling, and hardly able to breathe, I clung to my bench as a plank of
safety, and with my eyes closed, awaited the death that appeared
inevitable. For a moment we were on the point of escaping the
catastrophe. Our powerful horses, skillfully guided by Antonio, had kept
up bravely during this rapid descent, and we had passed the first houses
in Aubusson, when, as misfortune willed it, an enormous hay-cart emerged
from a side street, and barred our passage. The driver did not see the
danger till it was too late to avoid it. The accident was inevitable,
the collision frightful.

I was momentarily stunned by the pain, but as soon as I recovered I
stepped out of the carriage to look after my comrades. I found Antonio
covered with harmless contusions, supporting Torrini, whose arm was
dislocated, and leg broken. Our two horses lay dead in the road; as for
the carriage, only the body remained intact: all the rest was knocked to

A doctor, hurriedly sent for, reached an adjoining inn to which we had
been directed, almost as soon as ourselves. And here I could not refrain
from admiring Torrini’s magnanimity, when he insisted on our being
looked to first; and, in spite of our entreaties, we could not alter
his determination. Antonio and myself were soon all right again, but
this was not the case with Torrini: he was obliged to undergo all the
operations and different phases of a broken leg.

Although he treated the accident so coolly, it might produce terrible
consequences for him: the repair of the carriage, the physician, our
forced stay at an inn, would cost him very dear. Could he continue his
performances--replace his horses? This idea caused Antonio and myself
cruel anxiety: Torrini alone did not despair of the future.

“No matter,” he said, with entire confidence in himself; “once I have
recovered, all will go on well. Why ought a courageous and healthy man
to fear aught? Help yourself, and Heaven will help you! our good La
Fontaine wrote. Well, we will all, then, help ourselves, and no doubt we
shall escape from this dilemma.”

In order to give my company to this excellent man, and distract his
thoughts, I put up my bench by his bedside, and, while working,
continued the conversations which had been so unfortunately interrupted.

The day at length arrived when I gave the last touch to the automaton,
and made it perform before Torrini, who appeared delighted with it. Had
our patient been less unfortunate, I should have now quitted him; but
could I leave the man who had saved my life in this way? Besides,
another thought had occurred to me. Although Torrini told us nothing of
his pecuniary position, Antonio and I fancied he was greatly
embarrassed. Was it not my duty to try and relieve him, were it in my
power? I imparted to Antonio a scheme he approved, though begging me to
defer it a little longer, till we found whether our suppositions were

Still the days were very long by my patient’s side, for my mechanical
job was finished, and sleight-of-hand was a subject of conversation long
exhausted. One day, when Torrini and I were seeking some topic to talk
about, I remembered his promise to tell me his life history, and
reminded him of it.

At this request Torrini sighed. “Ah!” he said, “if I could suppress many
sad incidents in my story, I should delight to read you a few pleasant
pages from an artist’s life. However, it may be,” he added, “I have
contracted a debt with you which I must pay.

“Do not expect me to give you a journal of my life; that would be
tedious both to you and to myself. I will only quote some interesting
episodes, and describe to you some tricks you possibly have not heard
of. This will be the most amusing portion of my story,” Torrini added,
with a smile, “for whatever may be your present resolutions about
following my art, I need not be a Nostradamus to predict that you will
devote yourself to it some day, and gain immense success. What you are
about to hear, my friend, will show you that it is not every man who can
say, with the popular proverb, ‘Spring, I will not drink thy water!’”


     Torrini relates his Life--Treachery of Chevalier Pinetti--A
     Conjurer through Malice--A Race between two Magicians--Death of
     Pinetti--Exhibits before Pius VII.--The Cardinal’s
     Chronometer--Twelve Hundred Francs spent on a Trick--Antonio and
     Antonia--The most bitter of Mystifications--Constantinople.

My name is Edmond de Grisy, and that of Torrini belongs to Antonio, my
brother-in-law. That worthy young man, whom you wrongfully took for my
servant, has been good enough to follow me in my evil fortune, and help
me in my performances. You must have seen, though, by the way I treat
him, that while leaving to him the toil better suited for his age than
mine, I regard him as my equal, and consider him my best friend--at
least I should have called him so before knowing you--but now, one of my
best friends.

My father, the Count de Grisy, resided on his property in Languedoc, the
sole resource left him of a once large fortune, which circumstances had
sadly diminished. Devoted to Louis XVI., and one of his most faithful
servants, on the day of danger he offered his body as a rampart for his
sovereign, and was killed at the storming of the Tuilleries on the 18th
of August.

I was at that time in Paris, and, profiting by the disorders in the
capital, I was enabled to pass the barriers, and reach our small family
domain. There I dug up a hundred louis my father had concealed for any
unforseen accident; to this money I added some jewels left by my
mother, and with these modest resources proceeded to Florence.

The value of my entire property was 5000 francs. On the interest of this
sum I could not live; hence I was obliged to seek some profession to
support me. I soon formed my decision: taking advantage of the excellent
education I had received, I devoted myself to the study of medicine.
Four years later I took my degree as doctor; I was then twenty-seven.

I established myself at Florence, where I hoped to form a connexion.
Unfortunately for me, in this town, with its gentle climate and
reinvigorating sun, the number of physicians was greater than that of
the patients, and my new profession was a perfect sinecure.

I have told you how Zilbermann’s death compelled me to quit the capital
of Tuscany, and I established myself at Naples. More fortunate than at
Florence, immediately on my arrival I was called in to a patient whose
illness had defied the skill of the first Italian physicians. He was a
young man, of very high family; his recovery gained me great renown, and
I soon took my place among the best Neapolitan physicians. This success,
and the fashion I gained by it, opened to me the doors of all the
salons, and my name, aided by the manners of a gentleman brought up at
the court of Louis XVI., rendered me indispensable at all soirées and

What a happy and calm existence I might still be enjoying had not
destiny, jealous of my happiness, destroyed my future prospects of
felicity by hurling me into the vivid and ardent emotions of an artistic

The carnival of 1796 had just commenced. At that time one man was the
popular idol of the Italians; nothing was spoken of but the marvels
achieved by Chevalier Pinetti. This celebrated conjurer came to Naples,
and the whole city attended his interesting performances. As I was madly
attached to this sort of spectacle, I spent every evening at the
theatre, trying to guess the chevalier’s tricks, and unfortunately for
myself, I discovered the key to many of them.

But I did not stop here; I also wished to perform them before a few
friends: success stimulated me, and made me desirous of increasing my
repertoire. At length I could perform all Pinetti’s tricks. The
chevalier was eclipsed; nothing was spoken of but my skill and address;
and every one besought a performance from me. But I did not accede to
all these requests, for I was chary in displaying my talent, hoping thus
to increase its value.

My privileged spectators were only the more enthusiastic, and asserted
that I equalled Pinetti, if I did not surpass him.

The public is so happy, my dear lad (Torrini said, with a look of
melancholy regret), when it can oppose some rising talent to any artist
in renown. It seems as if this sovereign dispenser of fashion and favor
takes a malicious pleasure in reminding the man it adores that every
reputation is fragile, and that the idol of to-day may be shattered

My vanity forebade my thinking of this. I believed in the sincerity of
the praise bestowed on me; and I, the earnest student, the clever
doctor, was proud of my futile success.

Pinetti, far from seeming jealous of my triumph, evinced a desire to
form my acquaintance, and even came to call upon me. He might have been
about forty-six years of age at this time, but his elegant toilet made
him appear much younger. There was something distinguished in his face,
though the features were common-place and irregular, and his manners
were excellent. Still, by an inexplicable want of judgment, he used,
when performing, to wear a brilliant general’s uniform, on which
numerous decorations glistened.

This peculiarity, which bordered too much on the charlatan, ought to
have enlightened me as to the man’s moral value; but my passion for
conjuring rendered me blind. We met like old friends, and our intimacy
was almost instantaneous. Pinetti was most affable, talked about his
secrets unreservedly, and even offered to take me to the theatre and
show me his stage arrangements. I accepted the offer with the greatest
readiness, and we entered his richly ornamented carriage.

From that moment the chevalier treated me with the utmost familiarity.
In any other this would have wounded my pride, or at least aroused my
suspicion, and I should have been on my guard. On the contrary, I was
enchanted with Pinetti, for, by his unbounded luxury, he had gained such
consideration, that the noblest young gentlemen in the city were proud
of his friendship. Why, then, should I be more haughty than they? In a
few days we had become almost inseparable friends, only parting at the
time of our mutual performances.

One evening, after one of my private exhibitions, I proceeded to sup as
usual with Pinetti, my head still a-glow with the compliments I had
received. I found him alone. On seeing me enter, the chevalier ran up to
me, embraced me affectionately, and asked how my performance had gone
off. I did not hide my success from him.

“Ah! my friend,” he said, “that does not surprise me; you are
incomparable: indeed, I should not be paying you a forced compliment if
I said you might challenge the most skillful among us.”

And during the whole supper, despite my efforts to stop him, he would
only speak of my skill and address. Though I tried to decline his
compliments, the chevalier seemed so sincere, that I ended by accepting
them. In fact, I was so convinced of their truth, that I began to pay
myself some compliments; for how could I believe it was all a trick to
make a fool of me? When Pinetti saw I had arrived at this stage, and
that the champagne had turned my head, he said:

“Do you know, my dear count, that you could offer the Neapolitans a
surprise to-morrow, worth its weight in gold for the poor?”

“How?” I asked.

“Suppose, my dear friend, you take my place in a performance I am going
to give on behalf of the poor. We will put your name in the bills
instead of mine, and it will be regarded as a noble and honorable
understanding between two artists. One representation the less will not
injure my reputation, while it will cover you with glory; I shall thus
have the double satisfaction of helping the unfortunate, and displaying
my best friend’s talent to advantage.”

This proposal so startled me, that I rose from the table, as if fearing
to hear more. But Pinetti was gifted with such persuasive eloquence, and
he seemed to promise himself so much pleasure from my future triumph,
that at length I ended by yielding all he asked.

“That is right,” Pinetti said to me; “dismiss such want of confidence in
yourself, which could be hardly pardoned in a schoolboy. Now, matters
settled so far, we have no time to lose. Let us draw up the bill: choose
among my tricks those you prefer, and, as for the preparations trust to
me: I will take care all is in order.”

The greater number of Pinetti’s tricks were performed by the help of
accomplices, who brought to the theatre various objects of which the
conjurer had doubles. This singularly facilitated the pretended marvels,
and I had no doubt of success.

We soon drew up the bill, at the top of which I wrote my name with great
emotion; then came a list of the tricks I proposed to do. Just as we
finished this, the usual guests entered the room, offering excuses more
or less specious to explain their delay. Still their tardy appearance
aroused no suspicion in my mind; for Pinetti’s was open all hours of the
night, and his door was only closed from daybreak till two P. M., the
time he devoted to sleep and dress.

As soon as the new arrivers heard of my resolution, they noisily
congratulated me, and promised to support me by their hearty applause.
Not that I wanted it, they added, for my performance would create an
extraordinary enthusiasm. Pinetti gave one of his servants the bill,
telling him to order the printer to have it posted all over the city
before daybreak.

An impulse made me stretch out my hand to take back the paper, but
Pinetti checked me with a laugh.

“Come, my dear friend,” he said, “do not try to fly an assured triumph,
and to-morrow at this hour we shall all be toasting your success.”

All the visitors joined in chorus, and they drank in anticipation of my
approaching triumph. A few glasses of champagne dispelled my hesitation
and scruples.

I returned home very late, and went to bed without thinking of what had
occurred. At two the next afternoon I was still asleep, when I was
aroused by Pinetti’s voice.

“Get up, Edmond!” he shouted through the door. “Up, man! we have no time
to lose: the great day has arrived. Open the door: I have a thousand
things to say to you.”

I hastened to open.

“Ah! my dear count,” he said, “allow me to congratulate you on your good
fortune. Your name is in every mouth: the whole theatre is taken; the
last tickets are being positively fought for; the king and the royal
family will do you the honor of being present; we have just been
informed of the fact.”

At these words the whole affair flashed across my mind: a cold
perspiration stood on my forehead: the terror that assails every novice
rendered me dizzy. In my confusion I sat down on the foot of my bed.

“Do not reckon on me, chevalier,” I said, with firmness. “Whatever may
happen, I will not perform.”

“What! you will not perform?” my perfidious friend said, affecting the
most perfect tranquility; “but my good fellow, you cannot be thinking of
what you are saying. There is no possibility of drawing back: the bills
are put up, and it is your duty to keep the engagement you have made.
Besides, you should remember this performance is for the poor, who have
already begun to bless you, and you cannot abandon them, while a refusal
would be an insult to the king. Come, come,” he added, “summon up your
courage, my dear friend. Meet me at the theatre at four: we will have a
rehearsal, which I consider useless, but it may restore your pluck. Till
then, good-by!”

So soon as I was left to myself, I remained for nearly an hour absorbed
in thought, trying in vain to elude the performance. An insurmountable
barrier ever prevented escape: the king, the poor, the entire
city--all, in short, rendered it an imperious duty to keep my rash
promise. At length I began to think there was no serious difficulty
about the performance, for a great number of the tricks, as I have
already said, being performed by the help of friends, these took the
chief labor on themselves. Encouraged by this idea, I gradually regained
my courage, and at four o’clock joined Pinetti at the theatre with a
degree of assurance that surprised even him.

As the performance did not begin till eight, I had ample time to make my
preparations, and I employed it so well, that, when the moment arrived
to appear on the stage, my foolish fears were completely dissipated, and
I presented myself before the public with sufficient coolness for a

The theatre was crowded. The king and his family, seated in a stage box,
appeared to regard me with sympathizing glances; for his majesty was
probably aware of my being a French émigré.

I boldly commenced my performance with a trick which must eminently
excite the imagination of the spectators. I had to borrow a ring, place
it in a pistol, and fire through a window opening from the stage into
the sea that bathed the theatre-walls. This done, I would open a box,
previously examined, closed, and sealed by the audience, and in it would
be found an enormous fish bearing the ring in its mouth.

Full of confidence in the success of the trick, I proceeded towards the
pit to borrow a ring. Of twenty offered me I selected one belonging to
an accomplice of Pinetti’s, and begged him to place it with his own
hands in the barrel of the pistol I handed to him. Pinetti had told me
that his friend would use for this purpose a copper ring, which would
be sacrificed, and that I should return him a gold one in its place.

The spectator obeyed me. I then opened the window and fired the pistol.
Like the soldier on the battle-field, the smell of powder excited me; I
felt full of fun and gaiety, and ventured on a few jests, which pleased
the audience. Taking advantage of the general hilarity, I seized my
magic wand and traced my cabalistic circles round the box. At length I
broke the seals and triumphantly produced the fish, which I carried to
the owner of the ring, that he might take it out of the fish’s mouth.

If the accomplice play his part well, he must evince the greatest
stupefaction, and, indeed, the gentleman, on receiving the ring, began
looking around him, and his face grew very long. Proud of my success, I
went back on the stage and bowed in reply to the applause I received.
Ah, my dear Robert! this triumph lasted but a short time, and became to
me the prelude of a terrible mystification.

I was proceeding to another trick, when I saw my spectator gesticulating
to his neighbors, and then turning to me as if wishing to address me. I
fancied he was going on with the farce to dispel any suspicion of
collusion; still I thought he went too far. What was my surprise, then,
when the man rose and said:

“Excuse me, sir, but it seems as if your trick is not over, since you
have given me a copper ring set with paste instead of my diamond

As a mistake seemed to me impossible, I turned on my heel and commenced
my preparations for the next trick.

“Sir,” my obstinate spectator again took the word, “will you have the
goodness to reply to my question? If the end of your trick be a jest, I
acknowledge it as such, and you can return me my ring presently. If it
be not so, I cannot accept the horrible substitute you have handed me.”

Every one was silent: none knew the meaning of this protest, though many
fancied it was on ordinary mystification, which would end in still
greater glory for the performer. The claimant, the public, and myself
found ourselves in the same state of uncertainty; it was an enigma which
I alone could solve--and I did not know the word.

Hoping, however, to escape from a position as critical as it was
ridiculous, I walked up to my pitiless creditor, and, on looking at the
ring I had given him, I was startled at finding it was really coarsely
gilt copper. “Could the spectator to whom I applied have been no
accomplice?” I thought. “Could Pinetti desire to betray me?” This
supposition appeared to me so hateful that I rejected it, preferring to
attribute the fatal mistake to chance. But what should I do or say? My
head was all on fire.

In my despair, I was about to offer the public some explanation of this
untoward accident, when an inspiration temporarily relieved me from my

“Do you still believe, sir,” I said to the plaintiff, after assuming an
extreme degree of calmness, “that your ring has been changed into copper
while passing through my hands?”

“Yes, sir; and, besides, the one you have returned me does not in the
slightest degree resemble mine in shape.”

“Very good, sir,” I continued, boldly; “that is the real marvel of the
trick; that ring will insensibly assume its old form on your finger, and
by to-morrow morning you will see it is the one you lent me. That is
what we term in the language of the cabala the ‘imperceptible

This reply gained me time. I intended to see the claimant when the
performance was over, pay him the price of the ring, whatever it might
be, and beg him to keep my secret. After this happy escape I took up a
pack of cards and continued my performance, and as the accomplices had
nothing to do in this trick, I felt sure of success. Approaching the
royal box, I begged his majesty to do me the honor of drawing a card. He
did so very affably; but to my horror, the king had no sooner looked at
the card he had drawn, than he threw it angrily on the stage, with marks
of most profound dissatisfaction.

The blow dealt me this time was too direct for me to attempt parrying it
or turning it aside. But I was anxious to know the meaning of such a
humiliating affront, so I picked up the card. Imagine, my dear boy, the
full extent of my despair when I read a coarse insult to his majesty,
written in a hand I could not mistake. I attempted to stammer some
excuse, but by a gesture the king disdainfully commanded silence.

Oh, I cannot describe to you all that then passed in my mind, for a
dizziness attacked my brain, and I felt as if I were going mad.

I had, at length, obtained a proof of Pinetti’s perfidy. He had
determined on covering me with disgrace and ridicule, and I had fallen
into the infamous snare he had so treacherously laid for me. This idea
restored my wild energy: I was seized by a ferocious desire for revenge,
and I rushed to the side scene, where my enemy should be stationed. I
meant to seize him by the collar, drag him on the stage like a
malefactor, and force him to demand pardon.

But the juggler was no longer there. I ran in every direction like a
maniac, but wherever I might turn, cries, hisses, and shouts pursued
me, and distracted my brain. At length, bowed down by the weight of such
intense emotions, I fainted.

For a week I remained in a raging fever, incessantly yelling for revenge
on Pinetti. And I did not know all then.

I learned afterwards that this unworthy man, this false friend, had
emerged from his hiding-place on my fainting. He had gone on the stage
at the request of some of his accomplices, and continued the
performance, to the great satisfaction of the entire audience.

Thus, then, all this friendship--all these protestations of
devotion--were only a farce--a very juggling trick. Pinetti had never
felt the slightest affection for me; his flattery was only meant to draw
me into the trap he had laid for my vanity, and he wished to destroy by
a public humiliation a rival who annoyed him.

He was perfectly successful in this respect, for from that day my most
intimate friends, fearing probably, that the ridicule I endured might be
reflected on them, suddenly turned their backs on me. This desertion
affected me deeply, but I had too much pride to beg the renewal of such
passing friendship, and I resolved on quitting Naples immediately.
Besides, I was planning a scheme of vengeance, for which solitude was

Pinetti, like the coward he was, had fled after the atrocious insult he
had offered me. To have challenged him would be doing him too much
honor, so I vowed to fight him with his own weapons, and humiliate the
shameful traitor in my turn.

This was the plan I drew up:

I determined to devote myself ardently to sleight-of-hand, and study
thoroughly an art of which I as yet knew only the first principles.
Then, when quite confident in myself--when I had added many new tricks
to Pinetti’s repertoire--I would pursue my enemy, enter every town
before him, and continually crush him by my superiority.

Full of this idea, I sold everything I possessed, and took refuge in the
country, where, completely retired from the world, I prepared my plans
for vengeance. I cannot describe to you, my friend, what patience I
devoted and how I toiled during the six months my voluntary retreat
lasted; but I was more than compensated for it, as my success was
complete. I gained a degree of skill to which I had never dared to
pretend: Pinetti was no longer my master, and I became his rival.

Not satisfied with these results, I intended also to eclipse him by the
richness of my stage. I, therefore, ordered apparatus of unknown
brilliancy in those days, spending in this every farthing I possessed.
With what delight did I regard these glittering instruments, each of
which seemed to me a weapon capable of inflicting mortal wounds on my
adversary’s vanity. How proudly my heart beat at the thought of the
contest I would commence with him!

Henceforth, it would be a duel of skill between Pinetti and myself, but
a mortal duel; one of us must remain on the ground, and I had reason to
hope that I should be the victor in the struggle.

Before commencing my tour I made some inquiries about my rival, and
learned that, after traversing Southern Italy, he had just left Lucca,
_en route_ for Bologna. I learned, too, that, on leaving that city, he
intended to visit Modena, Parma and Piacenza.

Without loss of time I set out for Modena, in order to precede him
there, and thus prevent him performing. Enormous bills announced the
representations of “THE COUNT DE GRISY, THE FRENCH ARTIST,” and my
programme was most attractive, for it contained all Pinetti’s tricks.
The papers had puffed the latter so extravagantly for some time past,
that I felt sure my performance would be gladly witnessed.

In fact, my room was taken by storm, as eagerly as on my disastrous
performance at Naples; but this time the result was very different. The
improvements I had introduced in my rival’s tricks, and the great skill
I displayed in performing them, gained me a unanimous verdict.

From this time my success was insured, and the following performances
raised my name above that of all the most fashionable magicians of the
day. According to the plan I had laid down, I left Modena when I heard
of Pinetti’s approach, and went to Parma. My rival, full of faith in his
merits, and not believing in my success, took the theatre I had just
left. But he began to be bitterly undeceived; the whole city was
satiated with the style of amusement he announced; no one responded to
his appeal, and, for the first time, the success to which he was
accustomed slipped from his grasp.

Chevalier Pinetti, who had so long held undivided sway, was not the man
to yield to a person he called a novice. He had guessed my plans, and,
far from awaiting the attack, he acted on the offensive, and came to
Parma, where he opened a room exactly opposite mine. But this town was
lost to him like the last: he had the misery of seeing my theatre
continually filled, while his was quite deserted.

I must tell you, too, my friend, that all the money I netted only
covered my luxurious outlay. What did I care for gold and silver? I only
dreamed of revenge, and to satisfy that feeling I squandered my money. I
wished, above all, to pale that star which had formerly eclipsed me. I
displayed regal pomp in my performances; the theatre and its approaches
were literally covered with tapestry and flowers, while the house and
the stage, glistening with light, presented to the dazzled eyes of the
audience numerous escutcheons, bearing compliments to the ladies, who
were thus quite gained over to the side of the gallant Count de Grisy.

In this way I crushed Pinetti, although he did all in his power to offer
me a vigorous resistance. But what could his tinsel and old-fashioned
ornaments avail against what I may fairly term my elegance and
distinguished manners?

Piacenza, Cremona, Mantua, Vicenza, Padua, and Venice, were witnesses of
our desperate struggle, and, despite his rage and despair, the arrogant
Pinetti was obliged to endure my superiority, if he did not recognize
it. Abandoned by even his most zealous admirers, he determined to quit
the field, and proceeded towards Russia. Some slight success partly
consoled his late defeats, but, as if Fortune were determined on making
him repay the favors she had so long lavished on him, a tedious and
painful illness exhausted his strength as well as his slight savings.
Reduced to a state of abject misery, he died at the village of
Bartitchoff, in Volhynia, at the house of a nobleman, who sheltered him
from compassion.

Pinetti once gone, my revenge was satiated, and, being master of the
battle-field, I might have abandoned a profession ill fitted for my
birth. But my medical connexion was broken up, and, on the other hand, I
yielded to a motive which you will appreciate some day; when a man has
once tasted the intoxication produced by the applause of the public, it
is very difficult to renounce it; with my will or against, I must
continue my profession as conjurer.

I therefore determined on profiting by the reputation I had gained, and
proceeded to Rome, as a brilliant termination to my Italian
representations. Pinetti had never dared to enter that city, less
through distrust of himself, than through fear of the Inquisition, of
which he could only speak with terror. The chevalier was extremely
prudent whenever he was personally concerned: he feared being treated
like a sorcerer, and ending his days in an auto da fè. More than once he
had bid me take warning by the unhappy Cagliostro, who was condemned to
death, and only owed to the clemency of the Pope the commutation of the
penalty into perpetual imprisonment.

Confiding in the intelligence of Pius VII., and, besides, having no
pretensions to the necromancy Pinetti affected, nor to the charlatanism
of Cagliostro, I proceeded to the capital of the Christian world, where
my performances created a great sensation. His Holiness himself, on
hearing of me, did me the signal honor of requesting a performance, at
which I was advised all the dignitaries of the Church would form my

You can fancy, my lad, with what eagerness I acquiesced in his wish, and
what care I devoted to my preparations. After selecting all my best
tricks, I ransacked my brains to invent one worthy of my illustrious
spectators. But I had no need to search long, for chance, that most
ingenious of inventors, came to my aid.

On the day prior to the performance I was in the shop of one of the
first watchmakers of Rome, when a servant came in to ask if his eminence
the Cardinal de ----‘s watch was repaired.

“It will not be ready till this evening,” the watchmaker replied; “and I
will do myself the honor of carrying it to your master myself.”

When the servant had retired, the tradesman said to me:

“This is a handsome and capital watch. The cardinal to whom it belongs
values it at more than 10,000 fr.; for, as he ordered it himself of the
celebrated Brèguet, he fancies it must be unique of its kind. Strangely
enough, though, only two days ago, a young scamp belonging to this city
offered me a precisely similar watch, made by the same artist for 1000

While the watchmaker was talking to me, I had already formed a plan.

“Do you think,” I said to him, “that this person is still inclined to
dispose of his watch?”

“Certainly,” the watchmaker replied. “This young prodigal, who has spent
all his fortune, is now reduced to sell his family jewels: hence the
1000 fr. will be welcome.”

“Is he to be found?”

“Nothing easier: in a gambling-house he never quits.”

“Well, then, sir, I am anxious to purchase the watch, but it must be
to-day. Have the kindness, then, to buy it for me. After that, you will
engrave on it his eminence’s arms, so that the two watches may be
perfectly similar, and on your discretion the profit you make by the
transaction will depend.”

The watchmaker knew me, and probably suspected the use I intended to
make of the watch; but he was assured of my discretion, as the honor of
my success would depend on it. Hence he said:

“I only require a quarter of an hour to go to the gambling-house, and I
am confident your offer will be accepted.”

The quarter of an hour had not elapsed ere my negotiator returned with
the chronometer in his hand.

“Here it is!” he said, with an air of triumph. “My man received me like
an envoy from Providence, and gave me the watch without even counting
the money. To-night all will be ready.”

In fact, that same evening the watchmaker brought me the two
chronometers, and handed me one. On comparing them, it was impossible to
detect the slightest difference. It cost me dear, but I was now certain
of performing a trick which must produce a decided effect.

The next day I proceeded to the Pontiff’s palace, and at six o’clock,
upon a signal given by the Holy Father, I stepped on the stage. I had
never appeared before such an imposing assembly. Pius VII., seated in a
large arm-chair on a daïs, occupied the foreground: near him were seated
the cardinals, and behind them were the different prelates and
dignitaries of the Church.

The Pope’s face breathed benevolence, and it was fortunate for me, for
the sight of this smiling and gentle face dissipated an unpleasant idea
which had been strangely troubling me for some moments.

“Suppose this performance,” I said to myself, “were merely a feigned
examination to make me confess my connexion with the infernal powers?
May not my words be taken down, and perhaps Cagliostro’s perpetual
imprisonment be reserved as the punishment for my innocent experiments?”

My reason soon dismissed such an absurdity--it was not probable the Pope
would lend himself to such an unworthy snare. Although my fears were
completely removed by this simple reasoning, my opening address
displayed my feelings in some degree, for it seemed more like a
justification than the prelude to a performance.

“Holy Father!” I said, bowing respectfully, “I am about to show you
some experiments to which the name of ‘White Magic’ has been most
unjustly given. This title was invented by charlatans to impress the
multitude, but it only signifies a collection of clever deceptions
intended to amuse the imagination by ingenious artifices.”

Satisfied by the favorable impression my address produced, I gaily
commenced my performance. I could not describe to you, my dear lad, all
the pleasure I felt on this evening; and the spectators seemed to take
such lively interest in all they saw, that I felt myself in unusual
spirits. The Pope himself was delighted.

“But, Monsieur le Comte,” he continually said, with charming simplicity,
“how can you do that? I shall be quite ill with merely trying to guess
your secrets.”

After the “blind man’s game of piquet,” which literally astounded the
audience, I performed the trick of the “burnt writing,” to which I owe
an autograph I set great store by. This is how the trick is done:

A person writes a sentence or two: he is then requested to burn the
paper, which must be afterwards found intact in a sealed envelope. I
begged his Holiness to write a sentence: he consented, and wrote as

“I have much pleasure in stating that M. le Comte de Grisy is an amiable

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 exploits, I now proceeded
to the trick I had invented for the occasion.

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 cardinal’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
superiority, 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 chasing.

“Is your watch a repeater?” I then said to the cardinal.

“No, sir, it is a chronometer, and watches of that degree of accuracy
are not usually encumbered with unnecessary machinery.”

“Indeed! a chronometer; then it must be English?” I said, with apparent

“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 France. What English maker can be
compared with Pierre Leroy, Ferdinand Berthoud, or Brèguet 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

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 sorcerer? For my part, I
laugh like a child at it, being convinced there has been some clever

“Will your Holiness permit me to remark,” I said, respectfully, “that
there has been no substitution? I appeal 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 unique!”

“Well, your excellency, I am enchanted at that circumstance, for it must
enhance the credit of my experiment. Now, with your permission I will

“Good gracious me, sir, you did not consult me before destroying the
watch. Do what you please, it is no concern 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 mortar, with an enormous pestle, was now brought in. I placed it
on the table, threw in the fragments 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

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

“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 confessing 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
experiment 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 becoming 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 “Pass.”

The Pope, with manifestations of utter incredulity, thrust his hand into
his pocket. I soon saw him blush with confusion, 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

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 demeanor, 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 Torrini. 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 reproach 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 daughter with him. These
twins, as frequently happens, had such a striking resemblance, that only
their dress distinguished 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
virtuous: I asked her hand, and was accepted. Our marriage was to take
place as soon as my engagement had terminated, 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 travelling 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 my plans, when one morning, 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 you 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 agreeable
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 home.

“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

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’clock 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 violently when I saw this band of robbers and
servants approach me, and I instinctively put my hands on my firearms;
but I soon resumed the timid demeanor of a young girl and walked

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 assurances, 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

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 felicitations.

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 marquis waiting on me,
for he had dismissed all the attendants. For some time I refused to
touch anything; but, you know, my dear Edmond, nature has claims which
cannot be neglected. I was fearfully hungry, and my appetite 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 moderate, 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

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 dispelled
my gloomy ideas? I had no strength left to continue 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 regarded me in stupor, taking me,
doubtlessly, for a maniac, while the women laughed convulsively at my
strange outbreak.

“Well, gentlemen,” I continued, “why are you surprised? Do you not
recognize Antonio Torrini, the tenor, all alive and well, and prepared
to accept anybody’s challenge 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,
yielding 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

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,

“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
dénoûment satisfied my vengeance, and I withdrew. But, before leaving,
each of us pledged our honor to discretion, in which the ladies joined.

       *       *       *       *       *

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
François 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 Constantinople.”

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

The Count de Grisy was so excited by these reminiscences, 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
disarrangement 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
     Performance--A marvellous Trick--A Page cut in two--Pitying Protest
     of the Harem--Agreeable Surprise--Return to France--Torrini’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

The grand vizier himself came to one of my performances. He spoke about
it to his sovereign, and excited his curiosity to such a degree, that I
received an invitation, 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
stipulation 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 brilliant light,
while, at the same time, the falling water deliciously 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 respectfully 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 exception of one,
which, like the “broken watch,” was the inspiration of the moment. I
must add, that my spectators had been already considerably startled
when I performed it.

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

“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 possess 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 summon 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 summoned.

“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
reassured: 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 saving wood. Antonio seemed to be terribly alarmed, but I
coldly ordered the slaves to seize him, place him in the chest, the
cover of which was immediately nailed down, and lay it across the
trestle. Then, taking up a saw, I prepared to cut the chest asunder,
when piercing cries were heard from behind the gilt lattice--the
Sultan’s wives were protesting against my barbarity. I stopped a moment
to give them time to recover; but so soon as I set to work again, new
protestations, in which I distinguished threats, compelled me to suspend
my operations.

Not knowing if I might be allowed to address the gilt lattice, I
determined to reassure these sympathizing ladies indirectly.

“Gentlemen,” I said to my numerous audience, “have no fears, I beg, for
the culprit; instead of feeling any pain, I assure you he will
experience the most delightful sensations.”

It was evident that my statement was believed, for silence was restored,
and I could continue my experiment. The chest was at length divided into
two parts; I raised them so that each represented a pedestal; I then
placed them side by side, and covered them with an enormous wicker cone,
over which I threw a large black cloth, on which cabalistic signs were
embroidered in silver. This duly performed, I recommenced my little
farce of magic circles and bombastic words; when suddenly the deep
silence was interrupted by two voices performing an exquisite duet
beneath the black cloth.

During this time Bengal lights were kindled all around as if by
enchantment. At length the fires and the voices having gradually died
away, a noise was heard, the cone and the cloth were upset, and---- All
the spectators uttered a cry of surprise and admiration: for two pages,
exactly alike, appeared on the pedestals, holding a silver salver, on
which lay the collar of pearls. My two Antonios walked up to the Sultan,
and respectfully offered him his rich ornament.

The whole audience had risen as if to give more effect to the applause
bestowed on me; the Sultan himself thanked me in his own language, which
I did not understand, but I fancied I read in his face an expression of
deep satisfaction. The next day an officer of the palace came to
compliment me on behalf of his master, and offered me the collar which
had been so cleverly juggled away the previous evening.

The trick of the _two pages_, as I called it, was one of the best I ever
performed, and yet it was probably one of the most simple. Of course you
understand, my dear boy, that Antonio disposed of the collar while I
distracted public attention by my incantations. You also understand
that, while he was being nailed up in the chest, he escaped through an
opening corresponding with a trap in the stage; hence I had only to cut
through planks. Lastly, by the aid of the cone and the cloth, Antonio
and his sister, dressed precisely alike, came up through the trap and
took their places on the pedestals. The _mise en scène_, and the
coolness of the performers, did the rest.

This trick created great excitement in the city; the story, passing from
mouth to mouth; soon attained the proportions of a miracle, and
contributed much to the success of my remaining performances.

I might have realized a large fortune by making a tour through the
Turkish provinces, but I was mortally tired of the peaceful life I was
leading, and I felt the need of changing my ground and seeking fresh
excitement. Besides, I began to feel a degree of nostalgia, and as my
wife begged me to return to Italy, or some other Christian country, as
she did not wish our first-born to come into the world among Pagans, we
set out for France.

It was my intention to proceed to Paris, but, on arriving at Marseilles,
I read in the papers the advertisements of a conjurer of the name of
Olivier. His programme contained the whole of Pinetti’s tricks, which
was almost my own. Which of the two was the plagiarist? I have reason to
believe it was Olivier. At any rate, having no desire to engage in a new
passage of arms, I evacuated the town.

It is impossible for me, my friend, to describe to you my itinerary
during sixteen years; suffice it to say, I traversed the whole of
Europe, stopping, of preference, in the chief towns. For a long time my
reputation remained at its zenith, but suddenly, like Pinetti, I was
destined to experience the inconstancy of Fortune.

One fine day I found my star beginning to pale; the public did not flock
so eagerly to my performances. I no longer heard the bravos that used to
greet my appearance on the stage, and the spectators appeared to me
indifferent. How was this? What could be the cause of this capricious
change? My repertoire was still the same: it was my Italian one, of
which I was so proud, and for which I had made such sacrifices; I had
introduced no change; the tricks I submitted to the public were the same
which had been so warmly accepted. I felt, too, that I had lost none of
my vigor, skill, or spirit.

Precisely because I had made no change, the public had begun to grow
indifferent; as an author has observed, very justly, “the artist who
does not rise, descends;” and this was peculiarly applicable to my
position: while civilization had been progressing, I remained
stationary--hence, I was going down.

When this truth struck me, I made a complete reform in my programme. The
card tricks no longer possessing the charm of novelty, as the meanest
jugglers could do them, were nearly all suppressed, and I substituted
other experiments.

The public like, and run after, touching scenes; I invented one, which,
in this respect, would certainly satisfy them, and draw them back to me.
But why did Heaven allow me to succeed? why did my brain conceive this
fatal idea? (Torrini exclaimed, raising his hands to heaven, and his
eyes filling with tears.) Had it not been so, I should still have my
son, and should not have lost my Antonia!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was some time before Torrini could continue his narrative, for these
terrible reminiscences caused him mental torture. At length, after
holding his hand over his eyes for some time, as if trying to
concentrate himself in his grief, he continued:

About two years ago I was at Strasburg; I was performing at the theatre,
and every one was anxious to see my touching scene, which I had named
“The Son of William Tell.” My son Giovanni played the part of Walter,
the son of the Swiss hero, but, instead of placing the apple on his
head, he held it between his teeth. On a given signal, a spectator armed
with a pistol, fired at Giovanni, and the ball lodged in the heart of
the fruit.

Owing to the success of this trick, my money-box was soon filled again.
This restored my confidence in the future, and, far from profiting by
the lessons of adversity, I reassumed my luxurious habits, as I fancied
I had again pinioned Fortune, and she could not slip from me.

This illusion was fearfully dispelled.

“The Son of William Tell,” of which I had made a separate act, usually
terminated the performance. We were about to execute it for the
thirtieth time, and I had ordered the curtain to be dropped in order to
have the stage arranged as the public square of Altorf, but all at once
my son, who had just put on the traditional Helvetic costume, came to
me, complaining of a sudden indisposition, and begging me to hurry on
the performance. I had just seized the bell-rope to warn the carpenters
to raise the curtain, when my son fell down in a fainting fit.

Without caring for the impatience of the public, we paid all attention
to my poor Giovanni, and I bore him to a window. The fresh air soon
restored him--still, there was a mortal pallor on his face, which would
prevent his appearance in public. I was myself assailed by a strange
presentiment, which urged me to stop the performance, and I resolved to
announce it to the public.

The curtain was drawn up, and, with features contracted by anxiety, I
walked to the footlights, Giovanni even paler than myself, and scarce
able to stand, being at my side. I briefly explained the accident that
had happened, rendering it impossible to perform the final experiment,
and offered to return the entrance money to any who might feel
dissatisfied. But at these words, which might excite great confusion and
grave abuses, my courageous son, making a supreme effort, stated that he
felt better, and able to perform his share in the trick, which, after
all, was passive, and not at all fatiguing.

The public received this intimation with lively applause, and I, the
insensate and barbarous father, taking no heed of the warning that
heaven had sent me, had the cruelty, the madness, to accept this
generous act of devotion. Only one word was needed to prevent ruin,
dishonor, and death, yet that word died away on my lips! Listening
solely to the noisy applause of the audience, I allowed the performance
to commence.

I have already stated the nature of the trick that attracted the whole
town; it consisted in substituting one ball for another. A chemist had
taught me how to make a metallic composition bearing an extraordinary
resemblance to lead. I had made balls of it which, when placed by the
side of the real ones, could not be detected. The only precaution
necessary was not to press them too hard, as they were of a very friable
nature; but for the same reason, when inserted in the pistol, they fell
into an impalpable powder, and did not go further than the wad.

Till now I had never dreamed of any danger in the performance of this
trick, and, indeed, I had taken all possible precautions. The false
bullets were contained in a small box, of which alone I had the key, and
I only opened it at the moment of action. That evening I had been
peculiarly careful; then how can I explain the frightful error? I can
only accuse fatality. So much is certain--a leaden bullet had been mixed
with the others in the box, and was inserted in the pistol.

Conceive all the horror of such an action! Imagine a father, with a
smile on his lips, giving the signal which will deprive his son of
life--it is frightful, is it not?

The pistol was fired, and the spectator, with cruel adroitness, had
aimed so truly that the bullet crashed through my son’s forehead. He
fell forward with his face to the ground, rolled over once or twice,

For a moment I remained motionless, still smiling at the audience, and
incapable of believing in such a misfortune. In a second a thousand
thoughts crossed my brain. Could it be an illusion, a surprise I had
prepared, and which I had momentarily forgotten? or was it the return of
my son’s attack?

Paralysed by doubt and horror, my feet clung to the stage; but the blood
welling profusely from the wound violently recalled me to the terrible
reality. At last I understood all, and, mad with agony, I cast myself on
my son’s lifeless corpse.

I know not what took place afterwards, or what became of me. When I
recovered the use of my senses, I found myself in prison, with two men
before me, a physician and a magistrate. The latter, sympathising with
me, was kind enough to perform his painful mission with all possible
regard for my feelings; but I could scarce understand the questions he
addressed to me; I knew not what to reply, and I contented myself with
shedding tears.

I was fully committed, and brought up at the next assises. I assure you
I took my place in the dock with indescribable delight, hoping I should
only leave it to receive the just punishment of the crime I had
committed. I was resigned to die; I even wished it, and I determined to
do all in my power to get rid of a life which was odious to me. Hence, I
offered no defence; but the court requested a barrister to undertake my
cause, and he defended me with great skill. I was found guilty of
“Homicide through imprudence,” and sentenced to six months’
imprisonment, which I passed in an infirmary. Here I saw Antonio again
for the first time, who brought me terrible news: my dear Antonia,
unable to endure such complicated misery, had died of a broken heart.

This new blow affected me so much that I was nearly dead. I spent the
greater period of my imprisonment in a state of weakness akin to death;
but at length my vigorous constitution overcame all these shocks, and I
regained my health. I had quite recovered when the doors of my prison
were opened.

Grief and remorse accompanied me wherever I went, and cast me in a state
of apathy from which nothing could arouse me. For three months I behaved
like a madman, running about the country, and only eating just enough to
keep me from perishing of hunger. I went forth at daybreak, and did not
return till night. I could not possibly have said what I did during
these lengthened excursions, but I probably walked about with no other
object than to change place.

Such an existence could not last long; poverty, and her mournful
handmaids, soon preyed upon me. My wife’s illness, my imprisonment, and
our expenses during these three months of listlessness, had swallowed
up, not only my money, but also all my apparatus. Antonio explained our
situation to me, and begged me to recommence my performances.

I could not leave this good brother, this excellent friend, in such a
critical position; I therefore acceded to his entreaties, on condition
that I should change my name to Torrini, and never perform in any
theatre. Antonio offered to arrange everything to my wish. By selling
the valuable presents I had received on various occasions, and which he
had managed to secrete from the officers, he paid my debts, and had the
carriage built in which we suffered this painful accident.

From Strasburg we proceeded to Basle. My first performances were stamped
with the deepest sorrow, but I gradually substituted skill and care for
my gaiety and good spirits, and the public accepted the change. After
visiting the principal towns in Switzerland, we returned to France, and
it was thus I found you my dear boy, on the road between Tours and

       *       *       *       *       *

I saw by Torrini’s last sentences, and the manner in which he tried to
shorten his narrative, that he not only required rest, but also to
recover from the painful emotions these melancholy reminiscences had
evoked. A few words, too, Torrini had dropped confirmed my notion that
he was in a pecuniary dilemma; hence, I left him under the pretence of
letting him sleep, and begged Antonio to take a walk with me. I wanted
to remind him it was time to carry out the plan we had formed, which
consisted in giving a few performances at Aubussen, without dropping a
word of it to our dear master. Antonio was of my opinion; but when it
came to deciding which of us should perform, he positively asserted he
knew no more of the conjuring art than he had been obliged to learn--he
could slip a card, a handkerchief, or a coin into a person’s pocket, if
required, but nothing more. I learned later that Antonio, though not
very skillful, knew more than he pretended.

We decided that I should represent the sorcerer; and I must have been
animated with a great desire to help Torrini, and pay him in part the
debt of gratitude I owed, ere I consented to mount a stage so suddenly.
For, although I had shown my friends some of my tricks, the performance
had always been gratuitous; now I had to do with spectators who paid for
their seats, and this caused me considerable apprehension.

Still, my resolution once formed, I proceeded with Antonio to the
mayor’s, in order to obtain permission to perform. This magistrate was
an excellent man; aware of the accident that had happened to us, and
that he had it in his power to do a good deed, he offered us the
gratuitous use of a concert-room. More than this, to give us a chance of
forming some acquaintances who might be of use to us, he begged us to
come to his house the next Sunday evening. We accepted this offer
gratefully, and had reason to congratulate ourselves on it. The mayor’s
guests, pleased with certain tricks I showed them, faithfully kept their
promise of attending my first performance, and not one was missing.

My heart panted audibly when the curtain rose, and I was obliged to
whisper to myself that the spectators, aware of the object of my
performance, would be inclined to look over much. Some cheering applause
restored my confidence, and I got through my first tricks very decently.
This success heightened my assurance, and at length I acquired a degree
of coolness I did not think myself capable of.

It is true, I was perfectly _au fait_ in my tricks, through having seen
Torrini perform them so often. The principal ones were, the Trowel, the
Pyramids of Egypt, the Bird Dead and Alive, and the Omelette in the Hat.
I concluded with the Blind Man’s Game of Piquet, which I had carefully
studied; I was fortunate enough to succeed, and was warmly applauded.

An accident that happened during the performance singularly lessened the
joy I felt in my triumph. I had borrowed a hat to make an omelette in.
Those who have seen this trick are aware that it is chiefly intended to
produce a laugh, and that the object borrowed runs no risk. I had got
through the first part excellently, consisting in breaking the eggs,
beating them, throwing in the salt and pepper, and pouring it all into
the hat. After this, I had to feign the frying of the omelette; I
placed a candle on the ground, then, holding the hat sufficiently high
above it to escape the flame, I began turning it gently round, while
making some of the stereotyped jokes adapted to the trick. The public
laughed so heartily and loudly that I could scarce hear myself speak,
but I could not suspect the cause of their hilarity. Unfortunately, I
detected it only too soon. A strong scent of burning made me turn my
eyes on the candle: it had gone out. I then looked at the hat: the crown
was quite burned and stained. I had kept on turning the hat round
unsuspectingly, until I at length put it on the top of the candle and
covered it with grease.

Quite dazed by this sight, I stopped, not knowing how to escape.
Fortunately for me, my alarm, though so truthful, was regarded as a
well-played farce: it was supposed this was only a heightened effect,
and this confidence in my skill was an additional torture, for my
supernatural power could not repair a hat. My only chance was to gain
time; so I continued the trick, with a tolerably easy air, and produced
to the public a splendidly cooked omelette, which I had enough courage
left to season with a few jokes.

Still, that quarter of an hour of which Rabelais speaks had arrived. I
must restore the hat, and publicly confess myself a clumsy blockhead. I
had resigned myself to this, and was going to do so, with all the
dignity I could muster, when I heard Antonio call me from the side. His
voice restored my courage, for I felt assured he had prepared some way
for escape. I went up to him, and found him standing with a hat in his

“Look here,” he said, exchanging it for the one I held, “it’s yours; but
no matter, keep a good face: rub it as if you were removing the stains,
and, on handing it to the owner, ask him, gently, to read what is at the

I did as he told me; and the owner of the burnt hat, after receiving
mine, was going to betray me, when I pointed to the note fastened in the
crown. It ran as follows:

“An act of carelessness caused me to commit a fault, which I will
repair. To-morrow I will do myself the honor of asking your hatter’s
address: in the meanwhile, be kind enough to act as my accomplice.”

My request was granted, for my secret was honestly kept, and my
professional honor saved. The success of this performance induced me to
give several others: the receipts were excellent, and we realized a very
fair sum. Immense was our joy when we carried our treasure triumphantly
to Torrini. That worthy man, after listening to all the details of our
plot, was half inclined to scold us for our secrecy, but he could not
find heart to do so. He thanked us most heartily, and we began to set
matters straight again, as our master was now convalescent, and could
attend to his own business. Torrini paid all his creditors in full,
purchased two horses, and, having nothing further to do at Aubusson, he
determined on starting.

The moment of our separation had arrived, and my old friend had been
arming himself for it during several days. The parting was painful to us
all; a father quitting his son, without hope of ever seeing him again,
could not have displayed more violent grief than did Torrini when
pressing me in his arms for the last time. I, too, felt inconsolable at
the loss of two friends with whom I would so gladly have passed my


     The Prodigal Son--Mademoiselle Houdin--I go to Paris--My
     Marriage--Comte--Studies of the Public--A skillful
     Manager--Rose-colored Tickets--A Musky Style--The King of
     Hearts--Ventriloquism--The Mystifiers Mystified--Father
     Roujol--Jules de Rovère--Origin of the word _prestidigitateur_.

How my heart beat when I returned to my native town! I felt as if I had
been absent an age, and yet it was only six months. The tears stood in
my eyes as I embraced father and mother: I was stifled with emotion. I
have since made long journeys in foreign countries; I have always
returned to my family safely, but never, I can declare, have I been so
profoundly affected as on this occasion. Perhaps it is the same with
this impression as with so many others, habit at last renders it flat.

I found my father very quiet on my account, for I had employed a trick
to ease his mind. A watchmaker of my acquaintance had sent him my
letters, as if from Angers, and he had also forwarded me the replies.
Still, I must furnish some reason for my return, and I hesitated about
describing my stay with Torrini. At length, however, urged by that
desire, common to all travellers, of narrating their travelling
impressions, I gave an account of my adventures, even to their minutest

My mother, frightened, and thinking I was still brain-struck, did not
await the end of my narrative to send for a physician, who reassured
her by stating, what my face indeed confirmed, that I was in a state of
perfect health.

It may be thought, perhaps, that I have dwelt too long on the events
that followed my poisoning; but I was compelled to do so, for the
experience I acquired from Torrini, his history, and our conversations,
had a considerable influence on my future life. Before that period my
inclination for conjuring was very vague: from that time it gained a
complete mastery over me.

Still, I was bound to wrestle against this feeling with all my energy,
for it was not presumable that my father, who had unwillingly yielded to
my passion for watchmaking, would be so weak as to let me try a novel
and most singular profession. I could, certainly, take advantage of my
being of age, and my own master; but, besides my unwillingness to grieve
my father, I reflected, too, that as my fortune was very small, I ought
not to risk it without his consent. These reasons induced me to defer,
if not renounce, my plans.

Besides, my success at Aubusson had not altered my decided opinion about
conjuring, that a man who wishes to be thought capable of performing
incomprehensible things should have attained an age which leaves it to
be supposed that his superiority is the result of lengthened study. The
public may permit a man of forty to deceive them, but they will not bear
it from a young man.

After a few days devoted to killing the fatted calf, I entered the shop
of a Blois watchmaker, who set me to work cleaning and brushing. As I
have already said, this mechanical and wearisome task reduces the
journeyman watchmaker to the level of an automaton. Each day was spent
in the same monotonous round, here a spring to repair, there a pin to
replace (for cylinder watches were rare at that period,) a chain to
refasten; lastly, after a cursory examination of the works, a turn of
the brush to make all bright again. I am far from wishing to run down
the trade of a repairing watchmaker, and I can always honor the skill
employed in repairing a watch by doing as little as possible.

Sometimes, it may be remarked, a watch comes back from the mender’s in
as bad a state as when it went. It is true, but with whom is the fault?
In my belief, with the public. In the country, more especially, it is
impossible to perform repairs conscientiously, for the public bargain
about their watch or clock as they would do in buying vegetables. The
consequence is, the watchmaker is forced to compound with his
conscience, and the customer loses his money.

One thing is certain: I did not like the trade, and I was growing
atrociously idle. But if I were cold and indolent as regarded watch
repairing, I felt a devouring need for activity in some other
department. To satisfy this, I gave myself up entirely to an amusement
which delighted me--I became an amateur actor.

No one, I fancy, can blame me for this; for, among those who read my
confessions, I am sure there is hardly one who has not performed in some
shape. From the boy who recites a speech at the school distribution of
prizes, up to the old gentleman who often accepts the part of “heavy
father” at one of those agreeable parties arranged on long winter
evenings, not one but enjoys the sweet satisfaction of being applauded.
I, too, had this weakness; and, urged on by my travelling recollections,
I wished to appear once more before the public, who had already treated
me so kindly.

Some young friends joined me in forming a light comedy company, and I
had the pleasure of performing all Perlet’s parts in the most
fashionable pieces of the day. Our performance was gratis: hence, I need
not say we had crowded audiences. Of course, too, we were all wonderful
actors--at least, people told us so--and our gratified self-love found
no cause for refusing their praise.

Unfortunately for our brilliant success, rivalry and wounded feelings,
as so frequently happens, produced discord among us, and at last only
the hair-dresser and candle-snuffer were left of our goodly company.
These two faithful followers, finding themselves thus abandoned, held a
council, and, after mature deliberation, decided that they would accept
each other’s resignation, as they could not perform alone. In order to
explain the heroic persistency of these two artistes, I may as well
state they were the only persons paid for their services.

My father regretted to see me leave work for pleasure, and, in order to
bring me back to healthy ideas, he formed a plan which must have the
double advantage of improving my conduct, and tying me down to his side:
in short, he meant to establish me in business, and make me marry.

I do not know--or, rather, I will not say--why I declined the latter
proposal, under the pretext that I felt no inclination for marriage. As
for my beginning business, I easily made my father understand that I was
too young even to dream of it. But I had hardly intimated my refusal,
when a very simple circumstance entirely changed my views, and made me
forget all my oaths of fidelity to a certain party.

The success my acting had met with procured me admission to certain
salons, where I often spent an agreeable evening; for acting went on
here, too, in the shape of charades.

One evening, we were requested, as usual, to enliven the visitors by one
of our proverbs. I do not remember the word proposed; I only know I was
chosen to fill the part of a bachelor gourmet. I sat down to table, and
while indulging in a meal like those usually served up at a theatre, I
improvised a warm defence of celibacy. This apology was all the more
easy to me, as I needed only to repeat the fine arguments I had employed
to my father about his double proposition. Now, it happened that, among
the persons listening to this description of the blessings of celibacy,
was a young lady of seventeen, who inclined a serious ear to my
arguments against marriage. It was the first time I had met her; so I
could not ascribe any other reason for her fixed attention than her
desire to detect the word.

A man is always delighted to find an attentive listener, more especially
when it is a pretty young girl: hence, I thought it my bounden duty to
make some polite remarks to her during the course of the evening. A
conversation ensued, and became so interesting, that we had a great deal
still to say to each other when the hour came for separation, and I
believe the regret at parting was not felt by myself alone.

This simple event was, however, the cause of my marriage with
Mademoiselle Houdin, and this marriage took me to Paris. The reader will
now understand why my name is Robert-Houdin; but I have also to add that
this double name, which I at first assumed to distinguish me from my
numerous homonymes, eventually became my patronymic, by a decision of
the council of state. I may be pardoned for remarking that this favor,
always so difficult to obtain, was granted me in consideration of the
popularity my long and laborious toil had gained me while using that

My father in-law, M. Houdin, a celebrated watchmaker, was a native of
Blois, and had gone to Paris, as a better field for his talents. He was
now engaged in the wholesale clock trade, while making, with his own
hands, astronomical clocks, chronometers, and regulators. It was agreed
that we should live together, and that I should help him in his

M. Houdin was quite as fond as myself of everything appertaining to
mechanism, and was thoroughly versed in the subject. Hence, we had long
and interesting conversations on the topic, and at the end of one of
these I confided to him my scheme of setting up a room for the display
of mechanical toys and sleight-of-hand tricks. M. Houdin understood me,
adopted my plans, and urged me to carry on my studies in the path I had
chosen. Proud of the approbation of a man with whose extreme prudence I
was acquainted, I gave myself up seriously, during my leisure hours, to
my favorite exercises, and began by contriving some instruments for my
future cabinet.

My first care, on arriving at Paris, was to attend a performance of
Comte’s, who had long lorded it in his theatre at the Gallery Choiseul.
This celebrated professor was now resting on his laurels, and only
performed once a week. The other evenings were devoted to the
performances of his young actors, who were perfect prodigies.

Many of my readers will remember his bills, with their singular
announcement of the principal parts performed by M. ARTHUR, aged 5;
VICTOR, aged 6. These baby actors attracted the whole of Paris.

Comte might have left the stage entirely, and contented himself with
being manager and dry-nurse to these children of Thalia, for he
possessed a very comfortable fortune; but he made it a point to appear
at least once a week, from a double motive: his performances, owing to
their rarity, always exercised a beneficial effect on the receipts; and,
on the other hand, by continuing to act he prevented other professors of
conjuring setting up in opposition to him.

Comte’s tricks were all drawn from the same repertory I knew by heart;
hence they had no great interest for me; still I derived some profit
from attending his performances, for I was enabled to study the

I listened attentively to all said around me, and often heard very
judicious remarks. These being generally made by persons not apparently
gifted with great penetration, led me to the conclusion that the
conjurer ought to distrust plain mother wit, and I worked out the
problem to my own satisfaction: “that it is easier to dupe a clever man
than an ignorant one.”

This seems to be a paradox; but I will explain it.

The ordinary man only sees in conjuring tricks a challenge offered to
his intelligence, and hence representations of sleight-of-hand become to
him a combat in which he determines on conquering. Ever on his guard
against the honeyed words by means of which the illusion is produced, he
hears nothing, and shuts himself up in this inflexible reasoning:

“The conjurer,” he says, “holds in his hand an object, which he pretends
he makes disappear. Well, whatever he may say to distract my attention,
my eyes shall not leave his hand, and the trick cannot be done without
my finding out how he manages it.”

It follows that the conjurer, whose artifices are principally directed
to the mind, must double his address to delude this obstinate

The clever man, on the contrary, when he visits a conjuring performance,
only goes to enjoy the illusions, and, far from offering the performer
the slightest obstacle, he is the first to aid him. The more he is
deceived the more he is pleased, for that is what he paid for. He knows,
too, that these amusing deceptions cannot injure his reputation as an
intelligent man, and hence he yields to the professor’s arguments,
follows them through all their developments, and allows himself to be
easily put off the right scent.

Is not my problem proved?

Comte was also an object of interesting study to me, both as manager and
as artist. As manager, Comte could have challenged the most skillful to
a comparison, and he was a famous hand at bringing grist to his mill.
The little schemes a manager employs to attract the public and increase
his receipts are tolerably well known; but Comte, for a long time, did
not require to have recourse to them, as his room was always crowded. At
length the day arrived when the benches allowed some elbow room; then he
invented his “family tickets,” his “medals,” his “reserved boxes for the
prize-holders at schools and colleges,” &c., &c.

The family tickets gave admission to four persons at half price. Though
all Paris was inundated with them, every one into whose hands one of
these tickets came believed himself specially favored by Comte, and none
failed to respond to his appeal. What the manager lost in quality he
amply regained in quantity.

But Comte did not stop here; he also wished that his _rose-colored
tickets_ (the name he gave his family tickets) should bring him a small
pecuniary profit, as compensation for reduced prices. He therefore
offered each person who presented one of these tickets a copper medal,
on which his name was engraved, and asked in exchange the sum of one
penny. Suppose the ticket-holder declined, he was not admitted, and when
matters came to that pass, people always paid.

It may be said that a penny was a trifle; but with this trifle Comte
paid for his lights; at least he said so, and he may be believed.

During the holidays the pink tickets disappeared, and made room for
those reserved for the school prize boys, which were far more productive
than the others, for what parents could deny their sons the acceptance
of M. Comte’s invitation, when they could promise themselves the extreme
pleasure of seeing their beloved boys in a box exclusively occupied by
_crowned heads_? The parents, consequently, accompanied their children,
and for a gratis ticket the manager netted six or seven fold the value
of his graceful liberality.

I could mention many other ways Comte augmented his receipts by, but I
will only allude to one more.

If you arrived a little late, and the length of the _queue_ made you
fear the places would be all taken, you had only to enter a small café
adjoining the theatre, and opening into the Rue Ventadour. You paid a
trifle more for your cup of coffee or your glass of liqueur, but you
were quite sure that before the public were admitted the waiter would
open a secret door, allowing you to reach the paying-place in comfort
and choose your seat. In fact, Comte’s café was a true box-office,
except that the spectator received something in return for the sum
usually charged for reserving seats.

As artist, Comte possessed the double talent of ventriloquism and
sleight-of-hand. His tricks were performed skillfully and with a good
share of dash, while his performances generally pleased, for the ladies
were treated most gallantly. My readers may judge for themselves from
the following trick, which I believe was his own invention, and which
always pleased me when I saw it.

This experiment was called “The Birth of the Flowers,” and it began with
a short address in the shape of agreeable pleasantry.

“Ladies,” the professor said, “I propose on the present occasion to make
twelve of you disappear from the pit, twenty from the first circle, and
seventy-two from the second.”

After the burst of laughter this pleasantry always produced, Comte
added: “Reassure yourselves, gentlemen; in order not to deprive you of
the most graceful ornament of this room, I will not perform this
experiment till the end of the evening.” This compliment, spoken very
modestly, was always excellently received.

Comte proceeded to perform the trick in this way:

After sowing seeds in some earth contained in a small cup, he spread
over this earth some burning liquid and covered it with a bell, which,
as he said, was intended to concentrate the heat and stimulate
vegetation. In fact, a few seconds later, a boquet of varied flowers
appeared in the cup. Comte distributed them among the ladies who graced
the boxes, and during this distribution contrived to “plant” the
following graceful remarks: “Madam, I keep a pansy (_pensée_) for
you.--It will be my care, gentlemen, that you find no cares (_soucis_)
here.--Mademoiselle, here is a rose which you have forced to blush with

Before long the little bouquet was exhausted, but suddenly the
conjurer’s hands were liberally filled with flowers. Then with an air
of triumph, he exclaimed, displaying the flowers which had come as if by

“I promised to metamorphose all these ladies: could I choose a form more
graceful and pleasing? In metamorphosing you all into roses, I am only
offering a copy for the original. Tell me, gentlemen, have I not

These gallant words were always greeted by a salvo of applause.

On another occasion, Comte, while offering a rose and a pansy to a lady,
said: “I find you here, madam, exactly depicted. The rose represents
your freshness and beauty; the pansy your wit and talent.”

He also said, in allusion to the ace of hearts, which he had “passed” on
one of the most beautiful women in the room: “Will you be kind enough,
madam, to lay your hand on your heart? You have only one heart I
presume? Pardon my indiscreet question, but it was necessary; for,
though you have only one heart, you might possess them all.”

Comte was equally gallant towards sovereigns.

At the end of a performance he gave at the Tuilleries, before Louis
XVIII., he invited his majesty to select a card from the pack. It may be
that chance led the king to draw his majesty of hearts; it may be,
though, that the conjurer’s address produced this result. During this
time, a servant placed on an isolated table a vase filled with flowers.

Comte next took a pistol loaded with powder, in which he inserted the
king of hearts as a wad; then, turning to his august spectator, he
begged him to fix his eye on the vase, as the card would appear just
over it. The pistol was fired, and the bust of Louis XVIII. appeared
among the flowers.

The King, not knowing how to explain this unexpected result, asked
Comte the meaning of this strange apparition, adding, in a slightly
sarcastic tone,

“I fancy, sir, that your trick has not ended as you stated.”

“I beg your majesty’s pardon,” Comte replied, assuming the manner of a
courtier; “I have quite kept my promise. I pledged myself that the king
of hearts should appear on that vase, and I appeal to all Frenchmen
whether that bust does not represent the King of all hearts?”

It may be easily supposed that this trick was heartily applauded by the
audience. In fact, the _Royal Journal_ of the 20th December, 1814, thus
describes the end of the performance:

“The whole audience exclaimed, in reply M. Comte, ‘We recognise him--it
is he--the king of all hearts! the beloved of the French--of the whole
universe--Louis XVIII., the august grandson of Henri Quatre!’

“The King, much affected by these warm acclamations, complimented M.
Comte on his skill.

“‘It would be a pity,’ he said to him, ‘to order such a talented
sorcerer to be burnt alive. You have caused us too much pleasure for us
to cause you pain. Live many years for yourself, in the first place, and
then for us.’”

But though Comte was so amiable to the ladies, he was pitiless to
gentlemen. It would be a long story were I to describe all the spiteful
allusions and mystifications to which his masculine spectators were
exposed. For instance, there was his ace of heart’s trick, which he
ended by producing aces from every part of his victim’s body, who knew
not what saint to implore in order to stop this avalanche of cards.
Then, again, there was the ball-headed gentleman who had politely lent
his hat, and received a volley of compliments of the following nature:

“This article must belong to you,” said Comte, drawing a wig from the
hat. “Aha, sir! it appears you are a family man. Here are socks--then a
bib--a chemise--a charming little frock,” and as the public laughed
heartily, “on my faith, a goody-two-shoes!” he added producing a pair of
shoes. “Nothing is wanting for the dress--not even the stays and their
laces. I suppose, sir, you thought you could stay my tongue when you
placed that article in your hat.”

Ventriloquism added a great charm to Comte’s performances, as it gave
rise to numerous little scenes that produced a striking effect. This
faculty too often suggested to him curious mystifications, the best of
them (if such a thing can ever be good) being reserved for his travels,
when they served as a puff of his performances, and helped to attract

At Tours, for instance, he induced the people to break in four doors, in
order to rescue an unhappy man supposed to be dying of hunger. At Nevers
he renewed the miracle of Balaam’s ass, by causing a donkey that was
weary of its master’s weight, to lift up its voice in complaint. One
night, too, he caused a profound consternation in a diligence, for a
dozen brigands were heard at the doors shouting, “Money, or your life!”
The terrified passengers hastened to hand their purses and watches to
Comte, who offered to treat with the robbers, and they retired
apparently satisfied with their spoil. The passengers were glad to have
escaped so cheaply, and the next morning, to their still greater
satisfaction, the ventriloquist returned them the tribute they had paid
to their fears, and explained to them the talent by which they had been

Another time, at Mâcon fair, he saw a country-woman driving a pig
before her, which could hardly move, so laden was it with fat.

“What’s the price of your pig, my good woman?”

“A hundred francs, my good looking gentleman, at your service, if you
wish to buy.”

“Of course I wish to buy; but it is a great deal too much: I can offer
you ten crowns.”

“I want one hundred francs, no more and no less: take it or leave it.”

“Stay,” Comte said, approaching the animal; “I am sure your pig is more
reasonable than you. Tell me on your conscience, my fine fellow, are you
worth one hundred francs?”

“You are a long way out,” the pig replied, in a hoarse and hollow voice;
“I’m not worth one hundred pence. I am meazled, and my mistress is
trying to take you in.”

The crowd that had assembled round the woman and pig fell back in
terror, fancying them both bewitched, while Comte returned to his hotel,
where the story was told him with sundry additions, and he learned that
some courageous persons had gone up to the woman, begged her to be
exorcised, and thus drive the unclean spirit out of the pig.

Still, Comte did not always escape so easily; and he almost paid dearly
for a trick he played on some peasants at Fribourg, in Switzerland.
These fanatics took him for a real sorcerer, and attacked with sticks;
and they were even going to throw him into a lime-kiln, had not Comte
escaped by causing a terrible voice to issue from the kiln, which routed

I will end my account of these amusing adventures with a little
anecdote, in which Comte and myself were in turn mystifier and

The celebrated ventriloquist paid me a visit at the Palais Royal, and I
accompanied him to the foot of the stairs on his departure. Comte walked
down before me, still talking, so that the pockets of his coat were at
my mercy. The opportunity was too good to neglect the chance of playing
a trick on my talented _confrère_, so I filched his handkerchief and a
handsome gold snuff-box: and I took care to turn the pocket inside out,
as a proof that my performance had been properly executed.

I was laughing at the comic result my trick must have when I returned
Comte his property; but it was “diamond cut diamond:” for, while I was
thus violating the laws of hospitality, Comte was scheming against me. I
had scarce concealed the handkerchief and box, when I heard a strange
voice on the first floor landing.

“Monsieur Robert-Houdin, will you be kind enough to step up to the
box-office: I wish to speak to you.”

My readers will guess that the ventriloquist had played me a trick;
indeed, on reaching the office, I only found the clerk, who could not
understand what I was talking about. I perceived, too late that I was
victimised, and I heard Comte celebrating his victory by shouts of
laughter. For a moment, I confess I felt vexed at having been taken in,
but I soon regained my equanimity on thinking I might have the best of
it yet. So I went down stairs very calmly.

“What did that person want?” Comte asked, with ill-repressed delight.

“Can’t you guess?”


“It was a penitent thief, who begged me to return you the articles he
had filched from you. Here they are, my master!”

“I prefer it to end so!” Comte said, returning his pocket to its place.
“We are now quits, and I hope we shall always be good friends.”

From all the preceding remarks it may be concluded that the fundamental
principles of Comte’s performances were mystifying gentlemen (sovereigns
excepted), complimenting ladies, and jesting with everybody. Comte was
right in employing these means, as he generally gained his object; for
he delighted and raised a laugh. At this period French manners justified
such behavior, and the professor, by flattering the taste and instincts
of the public, was sure to please.

There has been a great change since, and puns are no longer held in such
esteem; banished from good society, they have sought refuge in studios,
when the pupils too often make an immoderate use of them, and though
they may be permitted now and then among intimate friends, they are not
proper in a performance of sleight-of-hand. The reason is very simple:
not only do puns raise a belief that the artist fancies himself a wit,
which may be injurious to him, but, if he succeed in raising a laugh, it
weakens the interest felt in his experiments.

It is a recognised fact that, in those performances where imagination
plays the chief part, “astonishment is a hundred-fold better than a
silly laugh;” for, though the mind may remember what has delighted it,
laughter leaves no trace on the memory.

Symbolical or complimentary language is also completely out of fashion,
at least the age does not err in excess of gallantry, and “musky”
compliments would be badly received in public. I have always thought,
too, that ladies visit a performance like mine in order to refresh their
minds, and not to be put in evidence themselves. They possibly prefer to
remain simple lookers-on rather than expose themselves to florid

As for mystification, a more powerful pen than mine must undertake its

In saying this, I have no wish to cast censure on Comte. I am writing at
this moment in accordance with the spirit of my age; Comte acted in
accordance with his; we both succeeded, though differing in our
treatment, and this only proves that “all styles are good except that
which is wearisome.”

These performances of Comte’s, however, inflamed my imagination; I only
dreamed of theatres, conjuring, mechanism, automata, &c.; I was
impatient to take my place among the adepts of magic, and make myself a
name in the marvellous art. The time I required in forming a
determination seemed to me so much stolen from my future success. My
success! I did not know what trials I should undergo ere I merited it. I
had no suspicion of the toil, the care, and trouble which I should have
to pay for it.

Still, I resolved on continuing my studies of automata and instruments
suited to produce magical illusions. Though I had seen many of them
while with Torrini, I had many more to learn, for the stock of conjuring
tricks in those days was enormous. Fortunately I found an opportunity of
materially abridging my studies.

I had noticed, while passing along the Rue Richelieu, a modest little
shop, in front of which conjuring apparatus was exposed for sale. This
was a piece of good luck, so I bought some of the things, and while
paying repeated visits to the master of the shop, under pretext of
asking information, I got into his good graces, and he grew to look on
me as a friend.

Father Roujol (such was his name) was perfectly acquainted with his
trade, and he held the confidence of every conjurer of note; hence, he
could give me much valuable information, so I became more polite than
ever, and the worthy man soon initiated me into all his mysteries. But
my repeated visits to the shop had another object as well, for I wished
to meet some of the masters of the art who could increase my knowledge.

Unfortunately, my old friend’s shop was not so visited as before. The
revolution of 1830 had turned persons’ ideas to more serious matters
than “physical amusements,” and the greater number of conjurers had
wandered into strange countries. Old Roujol’s good times had, therefore,
passed away, which rendered him very gloomy.

“Things are not as they used to be,” he would say, “and it might really
be fancied the jugglers had juggled themselves away, for I don’t see a
single one. Will the time ever return,” he added, “when the Duc de
M---- did not disdain to visit my humble shop, and remain here for hours
talking to me and my numerous visitors. Ah, that was a time! when all
the first conjurers and amateurs formed a brilliant club here; for each
of these masters, desirous of proving his superiority over the others,
showed his best tricks and his utmost skill.”

I felt the old gentleman’s regret equally with himself, for I should
have revelled in such society, as I would have walked any time twenty
leagues for the sake of talking with a professor. Still, I had the luck
to form here the acquaintance of Jules de Rovère, the first to employ a
title now generally given to fashionable conjurers. Being of noble
birth, he desired a title in accordance with it; but, as he had rejected
with disdain the vulgar name of _escamoteur_, and as, too, that of
_physicien_ was frequently used by his rivals, he was compelled to
create a title for himself.

One day the pompous title of “PRESTIDIGITATEUR” was visible on an
enormous poster, which also condescended to supply the derivation of
this breath-stopping word, _presto digiti_ (activity of the fingers).
Then came the details of the performance, intermingled with Latin
quotations, which must attract the attention of the public by evidencing
the learning of the conjurer--I beg pardon, prestidigitator.

This word, as well as _prestidigitation_, due to the same author, were
soon seized upon by Jules de Rovère’s rivals, who liked a good mouthful
too. The Academy itself followed this example by sanctioning the
formation of the word, and thus handing it down to posterity. I am bound
to add, though, that this word, originally so pompous, is no longer a
distinction, for, as the most humble jugglers were at liberty to
appreciate it, it follows that conjuring and prestidigitation have
become synonymous. The conjurer who requires a title should seek it in
his own merit, and recognise the sound truth that “it is better for a
man to honor his profession than to be honored by it.” For my own part,
I never made any distinction between the two names, and I shall employ
them indiscriminately, until some new Jules de Rovère arrive to enrich
the Dictionary of the French Academy.


     Celebrated Automata--A Brazen Fly--The Artificial Man--Albertus
     Magnus and St. Thomas d’Aquinas--Vaucanson--His Duck--His
     Flute-Player--Curious Details--The Automaton
     Chess-Player--Interesting Episode--Catherine II. and M. de
     Kempelen--I repair the Componium--Unexpected Success.

Owing to my persevering researches I had nothing left to learn in
conjuring; but, in order to carry out my scheme, I had to study the
principles of a science on which I greatly depended for the success of
my future performances. I allude to the science, or rather art, of
making automata.

While occupied with this idea I made active investigations; I applied to
the public libraries and their keepers, whom my tenacious importunity
drove into despair. But all the information I collected only brought me
descriptions of mechanical toys, far less ingenious than certain
playthings of the present day, or absurd statements of chefs-d’œuvre
published in the dark ages. My readers may judge from the following:

I found, in a work bearing the title “Apologie pour les Grands Homines
Accusés de Magie,” that “Jean de Montroyal presented to the Emperor
Charles V. an iron fly, which made a solemn circuit round its inventor’s
head, and then reposed from its fatigue on his arm.” Such a fly is
rather extraordinary, yet I have something better to tell my
readers--still about a fly.

Gervais, Chancellor to the Emperor Otho III., in his book entitled “Otia
Imperatoris,” informs us that “the sage Virgilius, Bishop of Naples,
made a brass fly, which he placed on one of the city gates, and that
this mechanical fly, trained like a shepherd’s dog, prevented any other
fly entering Naples; so much so, that during eight years the meat
exposed for sale in the market was never once tainted.”

How much should we regret that this marvellous automaton has not
survived to our day? How the butchers, and still more their customers,
would thank the learned bishop! Pass we to another marvel:

Francis Picus relates that “Roger Bacon, aided by Thomas Bungey, his
brother in religion, after having rendered their bodies equal and
tempered by chemistry, employed the Speculum Amuchesi to construct a
brazen head which should tell them if there were any mode of enclosing
the whole of England by a high wall. They forged at it for seven years
without relaxation, but misfortune willed it that when the head spoke
the two monks did not hear it, as they were engaged on something else.”

I have asked myself a hundred times how the two intrepid blacksmiths
knew the head had spoken, when they were not present to hear it. I never
discovered any other solution than this: it was, doubtlessly, _because
their bodies were equalized and tempered by chemistry_.

But here is a far more astounding marvel.

Tostat, in his “Commentaires sur l’Enode,” states that “Albertus Magnus,
Provincial of the Dominicans, at Cologne, constructed a brass man, which
he worked at continually for thirty years. This work was performed
_under various constellations_ and _according to the laws of

When the sun was in the sign of the Zodiac the eyes of this automaton
melted metals, on which the characters of the same sign were traced.
This intelligent machine was equally gifted with motion and speech, and
it revealed to Albertus Magnus some of his most important secrets.
Unfortunately, St. Thomas Aquinas, Albertus’s pupil, taking this statue
for the handiwork of the devil, smashed it with a big stick.

As a finale to these fables, which are well fitted to figure among the
marvels performed by Perrault’s fairies, I will quote from page 252 of
the “Journal des Savants” for 1677: “The artificial man of Reysolius, a
statue so resembling the human form, that, with the exception of the
operations of the soul, everything that takes place in the body may be

What a pity the mechanician stopped so soon! for it would have cost him
so little, while making so exquisite a resemblance to the fairest work
of the Creator, to add to his automaton a soul moving by clockwork!

This quotation does much honor to the savants who accepted the
responsibility of such a statement, and is a further proof how history
is written.

It may be easily supposed these works furnished me no guide to the art I
so much wished to study; and although I continued my inquiries, I only
attained the unsatisfactory result that nothing serious had been written
on the subject of automata.

“What!” I said to myself, “can it be possible that the marvellous
science which raised Vaucanson’s name so high--the science whose
ingenious combinations can animate inert matter, and impart to it a
species of existence--is the only one without its archives?”

When about to give up the subject in despair, I stumbled on a memoir of
the inventor of the “Automaton Duck.” This memoir, bearing date 1738, is
addressed by the author to the members of the Academy of Sciences. In it
will be found a learned description of his flute-player, as well as a
report of the Academy, which I here transcribe.

     _Extract from the Registers of the Royal Academy of Sciences for
     April 30, 1738_:

     “The Academy, after hearing M. de Vaucanson’s memoir read,
     containing a description of a wooden statue, copied from Coysvoix’s
     marble fawn, which plays twelve different airs on a German flute
     with a precision deserving of public attention, was of opinion that
     this machine was extremely ingenious; that the inventor had
     employed novel and simple means both to give the fingers the
     necessary motion and to modify the wind entering the flute, by
     augmenting or diminishing its velocity, according to the various
     tones; by varying the arrangement of the lips, and setting a valve
     in motion to perform the functions of the tongue; lastly, by
     artificially imitating all that a man is obliged to do; and that,
     in addition, M. de Vaucanson’s memoir possessed all the clearness
     and perception such matter is capable of, proving the intelligence
     of the author, and his great knowledge of the different branches of
     mechanism. In confirmation of which I have signed the present

“Perpetual Secretary, Royal Academy of Sciences.

     “Paris, May 3, 1738.”

After this report comes a letter of Vaucanson’s, addressed to the Abbé
D. F., in which he informs him of his intention of presenting to the
public on Easter Monday--

1. A player of the German flute.

2. A player of the tambourine.

3. An artificial duck.

“In this duck,” the celebrated automatist writes, “will be noticed the
mechanism of the viscera, intended to perform the functions of eating,
drinking and digesting. The action of all the parts is exactly imitated.
The bird puts out its head to take up the seed, swallows it, digests it,
and evacuates it by the ordinary channels.

“All thoughtful persons will understand the difficulty of making my
automaton perform so many different movements, as when it stands on its
legs and moves its head to the right and left. They will also see that
this animal drinks, dabbles with its bill, quacks like the living duck,
and, in short, is precisely similar in every respect.”

I was the more surprised at the contents of the memoir, as it was the
first trustworthy information I had gained about automata. The
description of the flute player gave me a high opinion of the inventor’s
talent; but I much regretted finding so short an account of the
mechanical combinations of the duck.

For a time, I contented myself with admiring and believing in the great
master’s work, but, in 1844, Vaucanson’s duck was exhibited in a room at
the Palais Royal.[B] Of course I was one of the first to visit it, and
was much struck by its skillful and learned formation. Some time after,
one of the wings having been injured, the duck was sent to me to repair,
and I was initiated into the famous mystery of digestion. To my great
surprise, I found that the illustrious master had not disdained to have
recourse to a trick which a conjurer would have been proud of. The
digestion, so pompously announced in the memoir, was only a
mystification--a real _canard_, in fact. Decidedly, Vaucanson was not
only my master in mechanism, but I must bow before his genius for

The trick was as simple as it was interesting. A vase, containing seed
steeped in water, was placed before the bird. The motion of the bill in
dabbling crushed the food, and facilitated its introduction into a pipe
placed beneath the lower bill. The water and seed thus swallowed fell
into a box placed under the bird’s stomach, which was emptied every
three or four days. The other part of the operation was thus effected:
Bread-crumb, colored green, was expelled by a forcing pump, and
carefully caught on a silver salver as the result of artificial
digestion. This was handed round to be admired, while the ingenious
trickster laughed in his sleeve at the credulity of the public. But,
before leaving this subject, I must give a short biographical notice of
this illustrious man.

Jacques de Vaucanson was born at Grenôble on the 24th February, 1709, of
a noble family, and his taste for mechanism was developed at an early
age. In 1730, the flute-player at the Tuilleries suggested to him the
idea of constructing on this model an automaton which should really play
the flute, and he spent four years in perfecting it. The story runs that
Vaucanson’s valet was the only person acquainted with his secret, and at
the first notes produced by the flute-player, the faithful servant fell
at his master’s feet, as if he were more than mortal, and they embraced
with tears of joy.

The duck and tambourine-player soon followed, and were chiefly intended
to speculate on public curiosity. Though noble by birth, Vaucanson
exhibited his automata at the fair of Saint Germain and at Paris, where
his receipts were enormous. He is also said to have invented a loom on
which a donkey worked cloth; this he made in revenge upon the
silk-weavers of Lyons, who had stoned him because he attempted to
simplify the ordinary loom. We also owe to Vaucanson a chain that still
bears his name, and a machine to make meshes of equal size.

It is also said he invented for the performance of Marmontel’s
_Cleopatra_, an asp which fastened itself with a hiss on the bosom of
the actress who played the principal character. On the first performance
of the tragedy, a jester, more struck by the hissing of the automaton
than by the beauty of the tragedy, exclaimed, “I am of the asp’s

This illustrious mechanician retained all his activity to the last
moment of his life. While dangerously ill, he devoted himself to his
machine for making his endless chain.

“Do not lose a minute,” he said to his workmen; “I fear I may not live
long enough to explain my idea thoroughly.”

Eight days later, on the 21st of November, 1782, he died, at the age of
seventy-three; but, before leaving this world, he had the consolation of
seeing his machine at work.

One piece of good luck never arrives without another; thus, in 1844, I
also saw at the house of a mechanician of the name of Cronier, at
Belleville, the famous _chess-player_, who defeated the whole chess
world. I never saw it at work, but since then I have received some
information about the automaton of a certain degree of interest, and I
trust my readers will feel the same surprise as I did when I heard it.

My story commences in Russia: the first division of Poland in 1792 had
produced a certain fermentation, the effects of which were felt some
years later. In 1796, a revolt broke out in a half-Russian, half-Polish
regiment stationed at Riga, at the head of the rebels being an officer
of the name of Worousky, a man of great talent and energy. He was of
short stature, but well built; and he exercised such influence, that the
troops sent to suppress the revolt were beaten back with considerable
loss. However, reinforcements came from St. Petersburg, and the
insurgents were defeated in a pitched battle. A great number perished,
and the rest took to flight across the marshes, where the soldiers
pursued them, with orders to grant no quarter.

In this rout Worousky had both thighs shattered by a cannon-ball, and
fell on the battle-field; however, he escaped from the general massacre
by throwing himself into a ditch behind a hedge. At nightfall, Worousky
dragged himself along with great difficulty to the adjacent house of a
physician of the name of Osloff, whose benevolence was well known, and
the doctor, moved by his sufferings, attended upon, and promised to
conceal him. His wound was serious, but the doctor felt confident of
curing him, until gangrene set in, and his life could only be saved at
the cost of half his body. The amputation was successful, and Worousky

During this time, M. de Kempelen, a celebrated Viennese mechanician,
came to Russia to pay a visit to M. Osloff, with whom he had been long
acquainted. He was travelling about to learn foreign languages, the
study of which he afterwards displayed in his splendid work on the
“Mechanism of Words,” published at Vienna in 1791. M. de Kempelen
stopped a short time in every country the language of which he desired
to learn, and his aptitude was so great that he acquired it very

This visit was the more agreeable to the doctor, as for some time he had
been alarmed as to the consequences of the noble action he had
performed; he feared being compromised if it were found out, and his
embarrassment was extreme, for, living alone with an old housekeeper, he
had no one to consult or help him. Hence, he told M. de Kempelen his
secret, and begged his aid. Though at first startled by sharing such a
secret--for he knew that a reward was offered for the insurgent chief,
and that the act of humanity he was about to help in might send him to
Siberia--still, M. de Kempelen, on seeing Worousky’s mutilated body,
felt moved with compassion, and began contriving some plan to secure his

Dr. Osloff was a passionate lover of chess, and had played numerous
games with his patient during his tardy convalescence; but Worousky was
so strong at the game that the doctor was always defeated. Then Kempelen
joined the doctor in trying to defeat the skillful player, but it was of
no use; Worousky was always the conqueror. His superiority gave M. de
Kempelen the idea of the famous Automaton Chess-player. In an instant
his plan was formed, and he sat to work immediately. The most remarkable
circumstance is, that this wonderful chef-d’œuvre, which astonished
the whole world, was invented and finished with three months.

M. de Kempelen was anxious his host should make the first essay of his
automaton; so, he invited him to play a game on the 10th of October,
1796. The automaton represented a Turk of the natural size, wearing the
national costume, and seated behind a box of the shape of a chest of
drawers. In the middle of the top of the box was a chess-board.

Prior to commencing the game, the artist opened several doors in the
chest, and M. Osloff could see inside a large number of wheels, pulleys,
cylinders, springs, &c., occupying the larger part. At the same time, he
opened a long drawer, from which he produced the chessmen and a cushion,
on which the Turk was to rest his arm. This examination ended, the robe
of the automaton was raised, and the interior of the body could also be

The doors being then closed, M. de Kempelen wound up one of the wheels
with a key he inserted in a hole in the chest; after which the Turk,
with a gentle nod of salutation, placed his hand on one of the pieces,
raised it, deposited it on another square, and laid his arm on the
cushion before him. The inventor had stated that, as the automaton could
not speak, it would signify check to the king by three nods, and to the
queen by two.

The doctor moved in his turn, and waited patiently till his adversary,
whose movements had all the dignity of the Sultan he represented, had
moved. The game, though slow at first, soon grew animated, and the
doctor found he had to deal with a tremendous opponent; for, in spite of
all his efforts to defeat the figure, his game was growing quite
desperate. It is true, though, that for some minutes past, the doctor’s
attention had appeared to be distracted, and one idea seemed to occupy
him. But while hesitating whether he should impart his thoughts to his
friend, the figure gave three nods. The game was over.

“By Jove!” the loser said, with a tinge of vexation, which the sight of
the inventor’s smiling face soon dispelled, “if I were not certain
Worousky is at this moment in bed, I should believe I had been playing
with him. His head alone is capable of inventing such a checkmate. And
besides,” said the doctor, looking fixedly at M. de Kempelen, “can you
tell me why your automaton plays with the left hand, just like

The mechanician began laughing, and not wishing to prolong this
mystification, the prelude to so many others, he confessed to his friend
that he had really been playing with Worousky.

“But where the deuce have you put him, then?” the doctor said, looking
round to try and discover his opponent.

The inventor laughed heartily.

“Well! do you not recognize me?” the Turk exclaimed, holding out his
left hand to the doctor in reconciliation, while Kempelen raised the
robe, and displayed the poor cripple stowed away in the body of the

M. Osloff could no longer keep his countenance, and he joined the others
in their laughter. But he was the first to stop, for he wanted an

“But how do you manage to render Worousky invisible?”

M. de Kempelen then explained how he concealed the living automaton
before it entered the Turk’s body.

“See here!” he said, opening the chest, “these wheels, pulleys and
cranks occupying a portion of the chest, are only a deception. The
frames that support them are hung on hinges, and can be turned back to
leave space for the player while you were examining the body of the

“When this inspection was ended, and as soon as the robe was allowed to
fall, Worousky entered the Turk’s body we have just examined, and, while
I was showing you the box and the machinery, he was taking his time to
pass his arms and hands into those of the figure. You can understand
that, owing to the size of the neck, which is hidden by the broad and
enormous collar, he can easily pass his head into this mask, and see the
chess-board. I must add, that when I pretend to wind up the machine, it
is only to drown the sound of Worousky’s movements.”

“Very good, then,” the doctor replied, to show he perfectly understood
the plan; “while I was examining the chest, my confounded Worousky was
in the Turk’s body, and when the robe was lifted, he had passed into the
chest. I frankly allow,” M. Osloff added, “that I was done by this
ingenious arrangement; but I console myself with the idea that cleverer
persons than I will be deceived.”

The three friends were the more delighted by the result of this private
rehearsal, as this instrument furnished an excellent means of escape for
the poor prisoner, and at the same time assured him a livelihood. The
same evening the road by which the frontier should be reached was agreed
on, as well as the precautions to be taken during the journey. It was
also arranged that, in order to arouse no suspicions, performances
should be given in all the towns they passed through, beginning with
Toula, Kalouga, Smolensk, &c.

A month later, Worousky, now entirely recovered, gave a first specimen
of his marvellous skill to a numerous audience at Toula. I possess a
copy of the original bill, which was given me by M. Hessler, nephew of
Dr. Osloff, who also supplied me with all these details. Worousky won
every game he played at Toula, and the papers were full of praises of
the automaton. Assured of success by the brilliancy of their début, M.
de Kempelen and his companion proceeded towards the frontier.

It was necessary that Worousky should be concealed from sight somewhere
even when travelling; hence he was literally packed up. The enormous
chest in which the automaton was conveyed only travelled very slowly,
apparently through fear of breaking the machinery, but in reality to
protect the skillful chess-player who was shut up in it, while air-holes
were made in the side of this singular post-chaise to enable Worousky to

The poor cripple endured all this inconvenience calmly, in the hope of
soon being out of reach of the Muscovite police, and arriving safe and
sound at the end of this painful journey. The fatigue, it must be
granted, was considerably alleviated by the enormous receipts they
netted by the exhibition.

Our travellers had arrived at Vitebsk, on the road to the Prussian
frontier, when one morning Kempelen rushed into the room where Worousky
was concealed.

“A frightful misfortune hangs over us,” the mechanician said, in a
terrible state of alarm, and showing a letter dated St. Petersburg.
“Heaven knows how we shall escape it! The Empress Catherine, having
heard through the papers of the automaton’s wonderful talent, desires to
play a game with it, and requests me to bring it straight to the
imperial palace. We must hit on some plan to evade this dangerous

To Kempelen’s extreme surprise, Worousky heard this great news very
calmly, and even seemed to be pleased at it.

“Refuse such a visit!--by no means: the wishes of the Czarina are orders
which cannot be infringed without peril; we must, therefore, obey her as
quickly as possible. Your zeal will have the double effect of gaining
her favor, and removing any suspicions that might arise about your
automaton. Besides,” the bold soldier added, with a degree of pride, “I
confess I should like to find myself face to face with the great
Catherine, and show her that the head on which she set the price of a
few roubles is, under certain circumstances, as good as her own.”

“Madman that you are!” M. de Kempelen exclaimed, startled by the
excitement of the impetuous insurgent. “Remember, that we may be
discovered, and you will lose your life, while I shall be sent to

“Impossible!” Worousky quietly replied; “your ingenious machine has
already deceived so many skillful persons, that I am convinced we shall
soon have one dupe more. Besides, what a glorious reminiscence, what an
honor it will be to us, if we can say some day that the Empress
Catherine II., the haughty Czarina, whom her courtiers proclaim the most
intellectual person in her vast empire, was deceived by your genius, and
conquered by me!”

Kempelen, though not sharing Worousky’s enthusiasm, was obliged to
yield. Hence, they set off without further argument; the journey was
very long and fatiguing, but Kempelen did not quit his companion for a
moment, and did all in his power to ameliorate his position. At length
they reached their journey’s end, but though they had travelled as fast
as they could, Catherine, on receiving Kempelen, appeared rather angry.

“My roads must be very bad, sir, if you require fifteen days to travel
from Vitebsk to St. Petersburg.”

“Will your majesty,” the crafty mechanician replied, “allow me to make a
confession which will serve as my excuse?”

“Do so,” Catherine replied, “provided it be not a confession of the
incapacity of your marvellous machine.”

“On the contrary, I would confess that, being aware of your majesty’s
skill at chess, I desired to offer you a worthy opponent. Hence, before
starting, I made some additions which were indispensable for so
important a game.”

“Ah!” the empress said, with a smile, smoothed down by this flattering
explanation. “And you fancy these new arrangements will enable your
automaton to beat me?”

“I should be much surprised were it otherwise.”

“Well, we shall see, sir,” the empress continued, nodding her head
ironically. “But,” she added, in the same tone, “when will you bring my
terrible opponent before me?”

“Whenever your majesty may please.”

“If that is the case, I am so impatient to measure my strength with the
conqueror of the most skillful players in my country, that I will
receive him this very evening in my library. Put up your machine there,
and at eight o clock I will join you. Be punctual!”

Kempelen took leave of Catherine, and hastened to make his preparations
for the evening. Worousky was delighted at the prospect of amusing the
empress; but although Kempelen was resolved to risk the adventure, he
wished to take all possible precautions, so that he might have a way of
escape in case of danger. Hence, he had the automaton carried to the
palace in the same chest in which it travelled.

When eight o’clock struck, the empress, accompanied by a numerous suite,
entered the library and took her place at the chess-board.

I have forgotten to say that Kempelen never allowed any one to pass
behind the automaton, and would not consent to begin the game till all
the spectators were in front of the board.

The court took their places behind the empress, unanimously predicting
the defeat of the automaton. The chest and the Turk’s body were then
examined, and when all were perfectly convinced they contained nothing
but the clockwork I have already mentioned, the game began. It proceeded
for some time in perfect silence, but Catherine’s frowning brow speedily
revealed that the automaton was not very gallant towards her, and fully
deserved the reputation it had gained. The skillful Mussulman captured a
bishop and a knight, and the game was turning much to the disadvantage
of the lady, when the Turk, suddenly forgetting his dignified gravity,
gave a violent blow on his cushion, and pushed back a piece his
adversary had just moved.

Catherine II. had attempted to cheat; perhaps to try the skill of the
automaton, or for some other reason. At any rate the haughty empress,
unwilling to confess her weakness, replaced the piece on the same
square, and regarded the automaton with an air of imperious authority.
The result was most unexpected--the Turk upset all the pieces with a
blow of his hand, and immediately the clock work, which had been heard
during the whole game, stopped. It seemed as if the machinery had got
out of repair. Pale and trembling, M. de Kempelen, recognising in this
Worousky’s impetuous temper, awaited the issue of this conflict between
the insurgent and his sovereign.

“Ah, ah! my good automaton! your manners, are rather rough,” the empress
said, good humoredly, not sorry to see a game she had small chance of
winning end thus. “Oh! you are a famous player, I grant; but you were
afraid of losing the game, and so prudently upset the pieces. Well, I am
now quite convinced of your skill and your violent character.”

M. de Kempelen began to breathe again, and regaining courage, tried to
remove the unfavorable impression which the little respect shown by the
automaton must have produced. Hence he said, humbly,

“Will your majesty allow me to offer an explanation of what has just

“By no means, M. de Kempelen,” Catherine said, heartily--“by no means;
on the contrary, I find it most amusing, and your automaton pleases me
so much that I wish to purchase it. I shall thus always have near me a
player, somewhat quick perhaps, but yet able to hold his own. You can
leave it here to-night, and come to-morrow morning to arrange the

There is strong reason to believe that Catherine wished to commit an
indiscretion when she evinced a desire that the figure should remain at
the palace till the next morning. Fortunately, the skillful mechanician
managed to baffle her feminine curiosity by carrying Worousky off in the
big chest. The automaton remained in the library, but the player was no
longer there.

The next day Catherine renewed her proposition to purchase the
chess-player, but Kempelen made her understand that, as the figure could
not perform without him, he could not possibly sell it. The empress
allowed the justice of these arguments; and, while complimenting the
mechanician on his invention, made him a handsome present.

Three months after the automaton was in England, under the management of
Mr. Anthon, to whom Kempelen had sold it. I know not if Worousky was
still attached to it, but I fancy so, owing to the immense success the
chess-player met with. Mr. Anthon visited the whole of Europe, always
meeting with the same success; but, at his death, the celebrated
automaton was purchased by Maëlzel, who embarked with it for New York.
It was then, probably, Worousky took leave of his hospitable Turk, for
the automaton was not nearly so successful in America. After exhibiting
his mechanical trumpeter and chess-player for some time, Maëlzel set out
again for France, but died on the passage of an attack of indigestion.
His heirs sold his apparatus, and thus Cronier obtained his precious

My fortunate star again furnished me with an excellent occasion for
continuing my studies. A Prussian of the name of Koppen exhibited at
Paris, about the year 1829, an instrument known as the Componium. It was
a perfect mechanical orchestra, playing operatic overtures with
remarkable precision and effect, and it owed its name to the
circumstance that, by means of truly marvellous arrangements, this
instrument improvised charming variations without ever repeating itself.
It was asserted to be as difficult to hear the same variation twice, as
to find two similar quaternes drawn in succession at a lottery.

The Componium was enormously successful, but at last public curiosity
was exhausted, and it was withdrawn, after bringing in the owner one
hundred thousand francs clear profit in a year. This amount, whether
correct or not, was adroitly published, and some time after the
instrument was put up for sale. A speculator by the name of D----,
seduced by the hope of obtaining equally large receipts in a foreign
country, bought the instrument, and took it to England. Unfortunately
for D----, at the moment when this goose with the golden eggs arrived in
London, George IV. died; the court went into mourning, and no one
visited the instrument. In order to avoid useless expense, D----
thought it prudent to give up a scheme commenced under such evil
auspices, and determined on returning to Paris. The Componium was
consequently taken to pieces, packed up and carried to France.

D----, hoped the instrument would enter duty free, but, on leaving
France, he had omitted some formality indispensable before obtaining
this favor. The Customs stopped it, and he was obliged to refer the case
to the Minister of Trade. While awaiting his decision, the chests were
deposited in damp ware-rooms, and it was not till the end of the year,
and after numberless formalities and difficulties, that the instrument
returned to Paris.

This will give an idea of the state of disorder, confusion and damage in
which the Componium was left.

Discouraged by the ill success of his trip to England, D---- resolved on
selling his mechanical improviser, but, before doing so, he cast about
for a mechanician who would undertake to put it in working order. I have
forgotten to state that, on the sale of the Componium, M. Koppen had
handed over with it a very clever German workman, who was, as it were,
the driver of this gigantic instrument. This person, finding he must sit
with his hands before him during the interminable formalities of the
French Customs, thought he could not do better than return home.

The repair of the Componium was a tedious business--a work of
perserverance and research--for, as its arrangement had always been kept
secret, no one could supply the least information. D---- himself, having
no notion of mechanism, could not be of the slightest use, so the
workman must only depend on his own ideas.

I heard the matter talked about, and, urged by a probably too flattering
opinion of myself, or rather dazzled by the glory of executing such a
splendid job, I offered to undertake the immense repairs.

I was laughed at: the confession is humiliating, but perfectly truthful.
I must say, too, that it was justifiable, for I was only known at that
time as an humble workman, and it was feared that, far from making the
instrument act properly, I should cause still greater injury, while
trying to repair it. However, as D---- met with no better offer, and I
offered to deposit a sum, to be forfeited in the event of my doing any
injury, he eventually yielded to my wishes.

It will be allowed that I was a very conscientious workman; but, in
reality, I acted for my own benefit, as this undertaking, by supplying
me with an interesting object of study, would prove a perfect lesson in
mechanism for me.

As soon as my offer was accepted, all the boxes in which the componium
was packed were carried into a large room I used as workshop, and
emptied, pell-mell, into sheets, spread for the purpose, on the ground.

When alone, and I saw this heap of rusty iron, these myriads of parts,
whose meaning I did not understand, this orchestra of instruments of
every size and shape, such as cornets, bugles, hautboys, flutes,
clarionets, bassoons, organ pipes, big drum, triangle, cymbals, &c., all
arranged in sizes, according to the chromatic scale, I was so frightened
by the difficulty of my task, that I was quite annihilated for several

To better understand my mad presumption, which only my passion for
mechanics and my love of the marvellous can excuse, I must add that I
never even saw the componium performing; hence, all was an unknown
country for me. Add to this, that the greater portion of the works were
covered with rust and verdigris.

Seated in the midst of this musical chaos, with my head resting in my
hands, I asked myself a hundred times this simple question, “Where shall
I begin?” and then my imagination was quite paralysed. One morning,
however, finding myself well disposed, and feeling the influence of the
Hippocratic axiom, “Mens sana in corpore sano,” I felt disgusted at my
long sloth, and rushed headforemost at my immense task.

If my readers were only mechanicians, how willingly would I describe to
them all my trials, attempts, and studies! With what pleasure I would
explain the skillful and ingenious combinations that arose successively
from this chaos! But as I fancy I can see my readers turning over my
pages to seek the end of a chapter that is growing too serious, I will
check my inclination, and content myself with stating that, for a whole
year, I proceeded from the known to the unknown, in solving this
inextricable problem, and one day I had the happiness of seeing my
labors crowned with complete success. The componium--a new
phœnix--had risen from its ashes.

This unexpected success gained me the greatest praise, and D---- bade me
name my own price; but I would not accept anything beyond my actual
outlay, feeling amply repaid by such a glorious result. And yet, however
high my reward might have been, it would not have repaid me what this
task, which overtasked my strength, eventually cost me.


     An Inventor’s Calculations--One Hundred Thousand Francs a Year by
     an Inkstand: Deception--My new Automata--The First Magician in
     France: Decadence--I meet Antonio--Bosco--The Trick with the
     Cups--An Execution--Resurrection of the Criminals--Mistake in a
     Head--The Canary rewarded.

My sleepless nights, my incessant toil, and, above all, the feverish
agitations resulting from all the emotions of such an arduous
undertaking, had undermined my health. A brain-fever attacked me, and
though I recovered from it, it was only to pass five long years in
listlessness and vacuity. My mind seemed quite gone: I felt no passion,
no love, no interest, even in the arts I had so delighted in: conjuring
and mechanism only existed for me in the shape of recollections.

But this illness, which had mastered the faculty of Paris, could not
resist the refreshing air of the country, where I retired for six
months, and when I returned to Paris, I was a new man. With what joy I
saw again my beloved tools! With what ardor I reassumed my work! for I
had to regain not only the lost time, but also the enormous expenses
incurred by my long illness.

My modest fortune was for the moment sensibly diminished, but on this
point I was case-hardened; for would not my future performances fill up
all these losses, and insure me a handsome fortune? Thus I discounted an
uncertain future; but, after all, do not all inventors like to convert
their schemes into ingots?

Perhaps, too, I unconsciously yielded to the influence of one of my
friends, an extraordinary projector, whom mistakes and deceptions never
hindered forming fresh schemes. Our manner of calculating the future had
considerable affinity. But I must do him this justice: however high my
estimate might be, he was far superior to me in that respect. Here is an
instance to judge by.

One day this friend called upon me, and showing me an inkstand of his
invention, which combined the double merit of being safe from upset, and
of always keeping the ink at the same level, said,

“At last, my lad, I have hit it; this invention will make a revolution
in the writing world, and allow me to walk about like a gentleman, with
a hundred thousand francs a year--at the very lowest, understand me. But
you can judge for yourself, if you follow my calculations closely. You
know, there are thirty-six millions of inhabitants in France?”

I nodded an affirmative.

“Starting on this basis, I do not think I err if I assume that at least
one-half can write, eh? or, say we take one-third, or, to be still more
sure, the round sum of ten millions. Now, I hope I shall not be charged
with exaggeration, if, out of these ten millions, I take one-tenth, or a
million, as the number of those looking after what may be useful to

And my friend stopped here and looked at me, as much as to say, “Am I
not reasonable in my estimates?”

“We have, then, in France one million men capable of appreciating the
benefits of my inkstand. Well, of this number how many will you allow
who, during the first year, hear of my inkstand, and consequently will
purchase it?”

“Well,” I replied, “I confess to a difficulty in giving you an exact

“Good Heavens! who spoke about exactness? I only want an approximation,
and that must be the lowest possible, that there may be no mistake.”

“Well,” I went on, continuing my friend’s decimal calculations, “take a

“Now, mind, _you_ said a tenth, or, in other words, one hundred
thousand. But,” the inventor continued, charmed at seeing me share his
brilliant calculations, “do you know what the sale of these one hundred
thousand inkstands will produce me in a year?”

“I can form no idea.”

“I will then tell you. I have reserved myself one franc on each inkstand
sold. This gives a profit then----“

“Of one hundred thousand francs, of course.”

“You see, there is no difficulty in making the calculation. You must
bear in mind, too, that the other nine hundred thousand writers we left
on one side will end by appreciating my inkstand: they will also buy it.
Then what will the nine millions we omitted do? And notice, too, that I
am only speaking of France, which is a mere dot on the globe. When
foreign countries know its merits, when the English and their colonies
order it---- Oh, it would require a mathematician to reckon all this

My friend wiped his brow, which had grown quite damp during the heat of
his address, and he ended by repeating, “Remember, we established our
estimate on the lowest basis.”

Unfortunately, that was the place where my friend’s calculation broke
down. His inkstand, being much too dear, was not purchased, and the
inventor ended by adding this gold mine to his many other deceptions.

I, too, I confess, based my calculations on the census, or, at least, on
the approximative number of visitors to the capital, and even at the
lowest figure I arrived at a most satisfactory result. But I do not
regret having given way to these fancies, for though they occasioned me
various disappointments, they served to keep up some energy in my mind,
and enabled me to wrestle against the numberless difficulties I
encountered in making my automata. Besides, who has not, once in his
life at least, indulged in the gilded calculations of my friend the
inkstand inventor?

I have already repeatedly mentioned the automata I made, and it is high
time to describe the nature of the articles intended to be used in my

The first was a small pastrycook issuing from his shop door at the word
of command, and bringing, according to the spectator’s request, patties
and refreshments of every description. At the side of the shop assistant
pastrycooks might be seen rolling paste and putting it in the oven.

Another specimen represented two clowns, Auriol and Debureau. The latter
held out at arm’s length a chair, on which his merry comrade performed
acrobatic tricks, like his namesake at the circus in the Champs Elysées.
After these performances Auriol smoked a pipe, and ended by accompanying
on the flagolet an air played by the orchestra.

The next was a mysterious orange-tree, on which flowers and fruit burst
into life at the request of the ladies. As the finale, a handkerchief I
borrowed was conveyed into an orange purposely left on the tree. This
opened and displayed the handkerchief, which two butterflies took by the
corners and unfolded before the spectators.

Lastly, I made a dial of transparent glass, which marked the hours at
the will of the spectators, and struck the time on a crystal bell.

At the time I was most deeply engaged in these labors, I made a very
agreeable rencontre. While walking along the Boulevards, full of
thought, according to my usual habit, I heard some one calling me. On
turning round, an elegantly-dressed man pressed my hand.

“Antonio!” I exclaimed, as I embraced him, “how glad I am to see you!
But why are you here--what are you doing--and Torrini?”

Antonio interrupted me. “I will tell you all about it. Come to my
apartments, where we shall be more at ease. I only live a few doors

In fact, within two minutes we stopped in the Rue de Lancry, before a
very handsome house.

“Go up,” Antonio said: “I live on the second floor.”

A servant opened the door. “Is your mistress at home?” Antonio asked.

“No, sir; but I was to tell you she would be in soon.”

After leading me into a pretty drawing-room, Antonio made me sit down by
his side on a sofa.

“Now, my friend, let us talk, for we must have a great deal to tell each

“Yes, let us talk; for I confess that my curiosity is strongly excited.
I fancy, at times, I am dreaming.”

“I will bring you back to real life,” Antonio continued, “by telling you
what has happened to me since we parted. Let us begin with poor

I made a movement of pained surprise.

“What do you say, Antonio? Can our friend----?”

“Yes, it is only too true. Death struck him at the moment we had every
reason to hope a happier fate. On leaving you, Torrini intended to
return as quickly as possible to Italy. The Count de Grisy was anxious
to reassume his name and revisit the scenes of past successes, for he
hoped there to become again the brilliant magician of yore. God decided
otherwise. Just as we were about leaving Lyons, where we had been giving
some successful performances, he was suddenly seized with typhus fever,
which carried him off in a few days.

“I was his residuary legatee, and after paying the last honors to a man
to whom I had pledged my life, I began realizing my small fortune. I
sold the horses and travelling-carriage, and kept the apparatus, as I
intended to use it. I had no profession, so I thought I could not do
better than to take up one, for which the road was clear before me, and
I hoped that my name, to which my brother-in-law had given a certain
celebrity in France, would assist me. It was very bold in me to try and
fill the place of such a master, but I thought my impudence would answer
as well as talent.

“Hence I called myself Signor Torrini, and, after the fashion of my
rivals, I added the title of ‘first magician of France.’ Each of us is
always the first and the most skillful in the country where he happens
to be, unless he think proper to call himself the first in the whole
world. Conjuring is a profession in which, as you know, no one errs
through excess of modesty, and the custom of producing illusions
facilitates this issue of bad money, which the public, it is true,
appreciates and sets its true value on.

“So it behaved to me, for, despite my pompous announcements, I frankly
confess it did not recognize the celebrity I claimed. On the contrary,
my performances were so little attended, that my receipts were hardly
sufficient for my existence. Still I went from town to town, giving my
performances, and nourishing myself more often on hope than on reality.
But the moment arrived when this unsubstantial food no longer sufficed
me, and I was forced to stop. I had exhausted my resources: I had
nothing left but my instruments. My clothes were reduced to the sheerest
necessity, and threatened to desert me at any moment: thus hesitation
was impossible. I decided on selling my instruments, and, provided with
the small sum they produced me, I set out for Paris, the last refuge of
those whose talent is neglected and position hopeless.

“In spite of my ill success, I had lost none of my stock of philosophy,
and, though not very happy, I was full of hope in the future. Yes, my
friend--yes, I had a presentiment at that time of the brilliant position
fate reserved for me, and to which it lead me, I may say, by the hand.

“Once arrived at Paris, I hired a modest room, and determined to live as
savingly as possible, in order to make my money hold out. You see that,
in spite of my confidence in the future, I took some precautions, so as
not to run the risk of dying of hunger; but you will allow I acted wrong
in not trusting entirely to my lucky star.

“I had hardly been in Paris a week, when I met an old comrade, a
Florentine, who used to perform as second basso in my old theatre. He,
too, had been maltreated by Fortune, and having come to Paris, he found
himself reduced to accept a situation in the chorus of the Opera. When I
had revealed my position to him, he told me a tenor situation was vacant
in the chorus, and advised me to try and get it: I accepted the offer
with pleasure, though, of course, as merely transitional, for I felt a
pang at my descent. Still, prudence suggested I had better guard against

“I have often noticed,” Antonio continued, “that those events which
inspire us with the greatest doubt, turn out the most favorable, and
mine was a case in point. As I had a good deal of spare time, I thought
I would employ it in giving singing lessons. I, therefore described
myself as a singer at the Opera, while concealing the position I
occupied there. Procuring my first pupil was as difficult as saving the
first hundred pounds towards a fortune, and I had to wait a long time.
At length I caught him; then others; and, gradually, I had enough pupils
to enable me to leave the theatre.

“I must tell you this determination had another reason. I loved one of
my lady pupils, and she returned my affection. Under such circumstances,
it was not prudent to remain a chorus-singer, which might have impeded
my views. You naturally expect some romantic adventure; but nothing
could be more simple than the event which crowned our loves--it was

“Madame Torrini, whom you will see presently, was the daughter of a
retired laceman. Her father, a widower, with no other children, had no
will but his daughter’s, and he accepted my offers. He was the worthiest
of men; but, unfortunately we lost him two years ago. I retired from my
professional duties on the fortune he left us, and I now live happily
and calmly, in a position which realizes my most brilliant dreams of
old. This is another proof,” my philosophic friend said, in conclusion,
“that, however precarious may be the position in which a man finds
himself, he ought never to despair of luck turning.”

My story was not so long as Antonio’s, for with the exception of my
marriage, there was no event worthy narrating. I told him, however of my
long illness, and the work that had brought it on, and I had scarce
ended, when Madame Torrini entered the room. My friend’s wife received
me most kindly, saying:

“I have known you, sir, for a long time, as Antonio told me your
history, which caused me to feel the greatest interest, and my husband
and myself often regretted we could not hear of you. Now, however, M.
Robert,” she added, “that we have found you, consider yourself an old
friend of the family and come to see us often.”

I profited by this kind invitation, and more than once went to seek
consolation and encouragement from these worthy friends.

Antonio still took an interest in conjuring, although it was a mere
distraction by which he amused his friends.--Still, not a conjurer
announced his performance but he went to see him. One morning he entered
my workshop in great haste.

“Look here,” he said, offering me a paper, “as you run after all the
celebrated conjurers, here is one that will astonish you. Read.”

I took the paper eagerly, and read the following puff:

“The famous Bosco, who can conjure away a house as easily as a nutmeg,
is about to give his performances at Paris, in which some miraculous
tricks will be executed.”

“Well, what do you say to that?” Antonio asked me.

“A man must possess very great talent to undertake the responsibility of
such praise. After all, I think the journalist is amusing himself at the
expense of his readers, and that the famous Bosco only exists in his

“You are quite wrong, my dear Robert: this conjurer is not an imaginary
being, for not only have I read this puff in several papers, but I even
saw Bosco last night at a café, giving some specimens of his skill, and
announcing his first performance for next Tuesday.”

“If it be so,” I said to my friend, “I must ask you to spend the evening
with M. Bosco, and I will come and call for you.”

“Done,” said Antonio, “mind and call for me on Tuesday at half-past
seven, as the performance commences at eight.”

At the appointed time we proceeded to the Rue Chantereine, where the
performance was announced. At the money-taker’s we found ourselves face
to face with a stout gentleman, dressed in a coat adorned with frogs and
trimmed with fur, making him look like a Russian prince on his travels.
Antonio nudged me with his elbow, and said, in a whisper, “That’s he!”

“Who’s he?”

“Why, Bosco.”

“All the worse,” I said; “I am sorry for him.”

“Explain yourself, for I do not understand the harm a Boyard’s dress can
do a man.”

“My friend, I do not blame M. Bosco so much for his dress as for
occupying his present place. I think an artiste cannot be too chary of
his person off the stage; there is so much difference between the man
whom an entire audience listens to and applauds, and the director who
comes openly to watch his paltry interests, that the latter must injure
the former.”

During this conversation, my friend and myself had entered the room and
taken our seats. According to the idea I had formed of a magician’s
laboratory, I expected to find myself before a curtain whose large
folds, when withdrawn, would display before my dazzled eyes a brilliant
stage ornamented with apparatus worthy of the celebrity announced; but
my illusions on this subject soon faded away.

A curtain had been considered superfluous, and the stage was open.
Before me was a long three-storied sideboard, entirely covered with
black serge. This lugubrious buffet was adorned with a number of wax
candles, among which glistened the apparatus. At the topmost point of
this strange _étargère_ was a death’s-head, much surprised, I have no
doubt, at finding itself at such a festival, and it quite produced the
effect of a funeral service.

In front of the stage, and near the spectators, was a table covered by a
brown cloth, reaching to the ground, on which five brass cups were
symmetrically arranged. Finally, above this table hung a copper ball,
which strangely excited my curiosity.[D]

For the life of me I could not imagine what this was for, so I
determined to wait till Bosco came to explain it. Antonio had entered
into conversation with his neighbor, who spoke in the most enthusiastic
manner of the performance we were about to witness. The silvery sound of
a small bell put an end to my reverie and to my friend’s conversation,
and Bosco appeared on the stage.

The artiste had changed his costume: he had substituted for the Russian
great-coat a little black velvet jacket, fastened round the waist by a
leathern belt of the same color. His sleeves were excessively short, and
displayed a handsome arm. He wore loose black trousers, ornamented at
the bottom with a ruche of lace, and a large white collar round his
neck. This strange attire bore considerable resemblance to the classical
costume of the Scapins in our plays.

After making a majestic bow to his audience, the celebrated conjurer
walked silently and with measured steps up to the famous copper ball.
After convincing himself it was solidly hung, he took up his wand, which
he wiped with a white handkerchief, as if to remove any foreign
influence; then, with imperturbable gravity, he struck the ball thrice
with it, pronouncing, amid the most solemn silence, this imperious
sentence: _Spiriti miei infernali, obedite_.

I, like a simpleton, scarce breathed in my expectation of some
miraculous result, but it was only an innocent pleasantry, a simple
introduction to the performance with the cups. I was, I confess, rather
disappointed, for, in my opinion, this performance was only suited for
the public streets, and I did not expect any one would venture it on a
Paris stage in 1838. I was justified in this view, as two persons,
Miette and Lesprit, might be daily seen going through this performance
in the streets. Still, I must say that Bosco displayed great skill, and
was heartily applauded by the public.

“Well,” Antonio’s neighbor said, victoriously, “was I not right--is he
not remarkably clever? But you’ll see, that’s nothing as yet.”

Either Antonio was in a bad temper, or the performance did not please
him, for he could not “plant” the admiration he had been quite prepared
to bestow. In fact, he became most impatient when Bosco commenced the
“pigeon trick.” Still, it must be allowed that the _mise en scène_ and
the execution were of a nature to irritate nerves even less sensitive
than my friend’s.

A servant placed on small tables on either side the stage two small
blocks of black wood, on each of which a death’s-head was painted. They
were the blocks for the culprits. Bosco then came forward, holding a
knife in one hand and a black pigeon in the other.

“Here is a pizon” (I forgot to state that Bosco spoke with a strong
Italian accent) “zat has behaved badly. I am going to cut off his head;
zall it be, ladies, wiz blood or wizout?” (This was one of his strong

Some people laughed, but the ladies hesitated to reply to this strange

“Without blood,” a spectator said. Bosco then placed the pigeon’s head
on the block and cut it off, being careful to press the neck, and
prevent the effusion of blood.

“You zee, ladies,” the operator said, “zat ze pizon does not bleed, as
you ordered.”

“With blood,” suppose another spectator said. Then Bosco loosened the
artery, and let the blood run on a plate, which he handed round for
inspection. The head, after being cut off, was placed upright on one of
the blocks; and Bosco, taking advantage of a convulsive movement, which
caused the beak to open, made this barbarous jest: “Come, mossiou, bow
to zis amiable company--now once more. Ah, ah, zat is right.”

The public listened, but no longer laughed.

The same operation was performed on a white pigeon without the slightest
variation, after which Bosco placed the bodies in two false-bottomed
boxes, being careful to put the black head with the white pigeon, and
the white head with the black one. Then he repeated his conjurations
over the boxes, and when he opened them, a black pigeon came with a
white head, and a white one with a black head. Each of the culprits,
according to Bosco, had been restored to life, and assumed its comrade’s

“Well, what do you think of that?” Antonio’s neighbor asked him, as he
clapped vociferously.

“To tell you the truth,” my friend replied, “I must say the trick is not
very wonderful. Besides, I should like it better were it performed with
less cruelty.”

“Ah, you have delicate nerves, I see,” the neighbor said; “perhaps you
experience similar sensations when you see a fowl killed and put on the

“Allow me, sir, before answering you,” my friend replied, sharply, “to
ask if I have come here to see a kitchen performance?”

The discussion was growing warm, and was rather savage in its tone, when
a third party terminated the dispute by the following jest:

“Hang it, sir,” he said to Antonio, “if you do not like cruelty, at any
rate do not disgust other people with it.”

Bosco now returned on the stage with a canary in his hand.

“Zentlemen,” he said, “this is Piarot: he is very polite, and zall
zalute you. Come, Piarot, do your duty.” And he pinched the bird’s claws
with such force that the unfortunate tried to escape from this cruel
clutch. Overcome by pain, it bent down over the juggler’s hand, uttering
cries of distress.

“Zat is good; I am satisfied wiz you. You see, ladies, he not only
zalutes you, but he says ‘Good-night.’ Continue, Piarot, you zall be

The same torture made the bird bow twice more, and to _reward_ it its
master placed it in the hands of a lady, begging her to keep it. But
during the passage the bird had ended its life, and reached the lady’s
hand dead. Bosco had strangled it.

“Oh, good Heavens, madam!” the conjurer exclaimed, “I believe you have
killed my Piarot--you zall have squeezed him too moch. Piarot--Piarot!”
he added, tossing the bird in the air, “Piarot, answer to me. Ah,
madam, he is dezidedly dead. What zall my wife say when she sees Bosco
arrive wizout his Piarot: quite zurely I zall be beaten by Madame
Bosco.” (I must observe, here, that all I describe is literally true.)

This bird was interred in a large box, whence, after fresh conjurations,
a living bird came out. This new victim was fated to suffer shorter
agony. It was thrust alive into the barrel of a large pistol, and Bosco,
holding a sword in his hand, begged a spectator to fire at the point of
the weapon he held out to him. The pistol was fired, and a third victim
was seen spitted on the point of the sword.

Antonio rose. “Let us go,” he said, “for I am turning sick.”

I have seen Bosco several times since then, and each time I studied him
carefully, not only to try and explain the cause of the great fashion he
enjoyed, but also to be able to compare the various opinions expressed
about this celebrated man. Here are some deductions drawn from my

Bosco’s performances generally please a large number, for the public
suppose that, through some inexplicable address, the bird-murders are
simply feigned, and, tranquil, on this point, they indulge in all the
pleasure caused by the talent of the conjurer and the originality of his

Bosco has a quaint and full-sounding name, adapted to become popular,
and no one knows better than he how to take advantage of it. Neglecting
no opportunity for notoriety, he performs at any hour of the day,
whatever may be the quality and number of the spectators. In a coach, at
a table d’hôte, in cafés or shops, he never fails to give some specimen
of his skill, by juggling a coin, a ring, and so on.

The witnesses of these little improvised performances consider
themselves bound to return Bosco’s politeness, by attending his public
performance. They have formed the acquaintance of the celebrated
conjurer, and are obliged to sustain the reputation of their new friend.
Hence, they urge all their acquaintances to go also, puff off the
performance, and thus the room is always full.

It must also be mentioned that numerous accomplices help Bosco’s
popularity materially. Each of them, it is known, is instructed to hand
the magician a handkerchief, shawl, watch, &c., which he has in double.
This allows him to pass them with an appearance of magic or skill, into
a cabbage, a loaf, a box, or any other object. These accomplices, while
aiding in the conjurer’s experiments, have a great interest in securing
their success: for their self-love finds its profit in the success of
the mystification. Besides, they have no objection to accept some of the
applause as their due: hence, the magician has as many admirers as
accomplices, and the influence a dozen intelligent prompters can exert
in a room is well known.

Such were the influences which, joined to Bosco’s talent, gained him a
great renown for many years.


     A Reverse of Fortune--Cookery and Clockwork--The Artist’s
     Home--Invention of an Automaton--Voluntary Exile--A modest
     Villa--The Inconveniences of a Speciality--Two August Visitors--The
     Throat of a mechanical Nightingale--The Tiou and the
     Rrrrrrrrouit--Seven Thousand Francs earned by making Filings.

In the meanwhile I worked indefatigably at my automata, hoping that when
these were completed, I should be able to establish myself permanently.
But, in spite of my activity, I advanced very slowly towards the
realization of my long-deferred hopes.

Only an inventor can know the value of a day’s work on the gloomy road
to success in combining automata. Numberless trials and deceptions of
every nature foil at any moment the best-conceived plans, and seem to
realize the pleasant story about reaching the end of a journey by making
two steps forward and three backward.

I performed this wearisome progress during six months, and, at the end
of that time, though I had several specimens far advanced, it was still
impossible for me to fix the period when they would be quite finished.
In order not to defer my appearance before the public, I therefore
resolved to begin with my conjuring tricks and such automata as were
ready. I had arranged with an architect, who was to help me in finding a
suitable site for a theatre, but I had scarce taken my first steps, when
an unforeseen catastrophe ruined both my father-in-law and myself.

This reverse of fortune threw me into a state of abject despondency, for
I saw, to my terror, the realization of my plans indefinitely postponed.
I could no longer think of inventing machines, but must work, day by
day, to support my large family. I had four children, all very young,
and this was a heavy burden on a man who had never yet thought of his
own interests.

The vulgar truth, “Time dissipates the severest griefs,” is not the less
true from being so often repeated; and it was the case with me. I was at
first as wretched as man could well be; then my despair gradually died
away, and made room for sorrow and resignation. At last, as it is not my
nature to keep up a melancholy character long, I ended by accepting the
situation. Then the future, which had appeared so gloomy, assumed a
different face, and, by a gradual process of reasoning, I began to
indulge in reflections whose consoling philosophy restored my courage.

“Why should I despair?” I said to myself. “At my age, time itself is a
fortune, and I have a considerable reserve fund of that. Besides, who
knows whether Providence, by sending me this trial, has not wished to
delay an undertaking that was not yet quite assured of success?”

In fact, what had I to offer the public that would overcome the
indifference a new performer always inspires?--improved conjuring
tricks! Those, I thought, would not prevent me failing, for I was
unaware at that period that, in order to please the public, an idea must
be, if not novel, at least completely transformed, so that it cannot be
recognized. Only in that way can an artiste escape a remark that always
fills him with dread--“I have seen that before.” My automata and
mechanical curiosities would not have betrayed the hopes I built upon
them, but I had too few, and the specimens I had in hand still required
years of study and labor.

These wise reflections restored my courage, and, resigned to my new
situation, I resolved to effect an utter reform in my budget. I had
nothing more to look for than what I earned with my own hands, so I
hired a modest lodging, at three hundred francs a year, in the Rue du
Temple. It consisted of a room, a cabinet and a stove in a cupboard, to
which my proprietor gave the name of kitchen. I converted the largest
room into our common sleeping apartment, the cabinet served as my
workshop, while the stove kitchen was used to prepare our modest meals.

My wife, though in delicate health, undertook the household department.
Fortunately, this was not very laborious, as our meals were most modest;
and as our rooms were limited in number, there was not much moving about
required. The proximity of our mutual laboratories had also this double
advantage, that, whenever my housekeeper was absent, I could watch the
pot-au-feu or stir a ragoût without leaving my levers, wheels and cogs.

These vulgar occupations for an artiste will make many a reader smile,
but when a man cannot afford to keep a servant, and the quality of the
dinner, consisting of a single dish, depends on the care devoted to it,
it is better to pocket one’s dignity and attend to the culinary
department, at any rate, without feeling false shame. However, it
appears that I performed my confidential mission admirably, for my
exactitude gained me abundant praise. Still, I must confess that I had
very slight talent for cooking, and this boasted exactitude was produced
by my fear of incurring the reproaches of my head cook.

This humble existence was less painful to me than I had imagined. I had
always been moderate, and the privation of succulent dishes affected me
very little. My wife, surrounded by her children, to whom she devoted
her utmost care, seemed equally happy, while hoping for better times to

I had resumed my first trade, that of repairing watches and clocks.
Still, this was only to secure our hand-to-mouth existence, for all the
while I was repairing I was meditating a piece of clockwork, the success
of which restored some ease to our household. It was an alarum, which
was thus arranged:

You placed it by your side when you went to bed, and, at the hour
desired, a peal aroused the sleeper, while, at the same time, a ready
lighted candle came out from a small box. I was the prouder of this
invention and its success, as it was the first of my ideas which
produced me any profit.

This “alarum-light,” as I christened it, was so popular that, in order
to satisfy the great demand for it, I was obliged to add a workshop to
my rooms and hire several workmen. Encouraged by such a favorable
result, I turned my attention afresh to inventions, and gave a free
scope to my imagination. I succeeded in making several more toys, among
which was one which my readers will probably remember to have seen in
the shop-windows. It was a glass dial, mounted on a column of the same
material. This “mysterious clock” (as I called it), although entirely
transparent, indicated the hour with the greatest exactness, and struck,
without any apparent mechanism to make it move. I also constructed
several automata, such as a conjurer playing with cups, a dancer on the
tight-rope, singing birds, &c.

It may strike the reader that, with so many strings to my bow, and such
amusing toys to make, my situation would be considerably improved, but
it was not so. Each day, on the contrary, produced fresh trouble in my
trade as well as in my household, and I even saw a financial crisis
approaching which I found it impossible to prevent.

The cause of this result was very simple. While engaged with the
mechanical toys I have just mentioned, I still worked at my theatrical
automata, for which my passion had been again aroused by my present
labors. Like the gambler, who throws his last farthing on the board, I
invested all my earnings in my theatrical preparations, hoping these
would soon repay me for my sacrifices with a hundred per cent. profit.

But it was fated that I should no sooner see the realization of my
projects close at hand, than an unforseen event should remove it again
from my grasp. I had a sum of two thousand francs to pay at the end of
the month; I had not a penny to meet it, and I had only three days left
before the bill I had accepted became due.

Never did an embarrassment arrive more inopportunely! I had just formed
the plan of an automaton in which I placed the greatest hopes. It was a
“writing and drawing automaton,” answering in writing or emblematic
designs questions proposed by the spectators, and I intended to employ
this figure between the performances in my future theatre.

Once more was I obliged to check the flight of my imagination to absorb
myself in the vulgar and difficult problem of meeting a bill when you
have no money. I might, it is true, have saved myself all trouble by
applying to my friends, but prudence and delicacy rendered it my duty
to pay it from my own resources. Providence, doubtlessly, recognized
the merit of my resolution, for she sent me a saving idea.

I had sold several mechanical toys to M. G----, a rich curiosity dealer,
who had always treated me with marked kindness. I went to him, and gave
him an exact description of my new automaton, and necessity must have
rendered me eloquent, for M. G---- was so satisfied that he bought my
automaton on the spot, which I bound myself to deliver to him within
eighteen months. The price was arranged at five thousand francs, half of
which M. G---- agreed to pay me in advance, reserving to himself the
right, if I failed, in my promise, of recouping himself by purchasing
several of my automatic toys.

Imagine my joy when I returned home, holding in my hands the money to
meet the bill! But the prospect of devoting myself for a long time to
the manufacture of an article satisfying my mechanical taste, rendered
me even happier.

Still, the princely way in which M. G---- had concluded the bargain,
produced some serious thoughts as to the promise I had made him. I now
saw a thousand obstacles to prevent me keeping my word. I calculated
that, even if I devoted every moment to my work, I should lose much time
by causes I could not foresee or hinder. There were, first, friends,
customers, and bores; then a family dinner, an evening party, that could
not be declined, a visit that must be paid, and so on. These claims on
politeness, which I must respect, would inevitably cause me to break my
word: in vain I racked my brain in devising some scheme to gain time, or
at least not lose it; still, I could only succeed at the expense of my
good temper. I therefore formed a resolution which my relations and
friends declared to be madness, but from which they could not turn me,
and that was to exile myself voluntarily until my task was completed.

Paris not appearing to me a secure place against annoyance, I chose the
suburbs as my retreat, and one fine day, despite the prayers and
supplications of my whole family, after entrusting my business to one of
my workmen, whose talent and probity I was convinced of, I proceeded to
Belleville, and installed myself in a little room in the Rue des Bois,
which I hired for twelve months, at a hundred francs. The only furniture
was a bed, a chest of drawers, a table, and a few chairs.

This act of madness, as my friends called it, or this heroic
determination, as I called it, saved me from imminent ruin, and was my
first step on the ladder of success. From this moment an obstinate will
was aroused in me which enabled me to confront many obstacles and

I am bound to confess that the first days of my retirement were painful,
and I bitterly deplored the harsh necessity that thus isolated me from
all I loved. The society of my wife and children had grown a necessity
to me; a kiss from these dear beings restored my courage in hours of
despondency, and now I was deprived of it. Surely I must have been
supported by an enormous strength of will not to turn back at the
prospect of this frightful vacuum.

Many times I furtively wiped away a tear, but then I closed my eyes, and
straightway my automaton and the various combinations that were to
animate it appeared before me like a consoling vision; I passed in
review all the wheels I had created; I smiled upon them like so many
children of my own; and when I emerged from this restorative dream I
set to work again, filled with a courageous resignation.

It had been arranged that my wife and children should spend every
Thursday evening with me, and I always dined at home on Sunday. These
few hours devoted to my family were the only amusements I allowed

At my wife’s request, the portress of the house had agreed to prepare my
meals; this excellent creature, an old _cordon bleu_, had left service
to marry a mason of the name of Monsieur Auguste. This gentleman,
judging by my modest existence in the house, thought me a poor devil who
found some difficulty in keeping himself: hence, he assumed an air of
generous protection, or kindly pity towards me. As he was a worthy man
at the bottom, I pardoned his ways, and only laughed at them.

My new cook had received special instruction to treat me famously, but,
not wishing to increase my household expenses, I, on my side, made
stipulations which were kept with the greatest secresy. I arranged my
meals after the following fashion: Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and
Thursdays I lived on an enormous dish, to which my chef gave the generic
name of _fricot_, but that made no difference to me. On Friday and
Saturday, for the sake of my health, I lived low; haricot beans, either
white or red, satisfied my hunger, and with them a composite soup, often
reminding me of the gastronomic tastes of an Auvergnat, and I dined as
well, perhaps better, than Brillat-Savarin himself.

This mode of life offered me two advantages: I spent little, and
indigestion never troubled the clearness of my ideas. I required this,
however, for it must not be supposed that mechanical difficulties were
the only ones I had to contend against in making my automaton. My
readers may judge, from the following incident, which also proves the
truth of the proverb, “Willing is doing.”

At the commencement of my labor I had ordered from a wood-carver the
body, head, legs, and arms of my writer, and had applied to an artist,
particularly recommended to me as most skillful, and I had tried to make
him understand the importance I attached to my automaton having an
intelligent face. My Phidias had replied that I might trust to him.

A month after, my sculptor made his appearance: he carefully removed the
wrapper, and showed me arms and legs splendidly carved, and ended by
handing me the head, with an air that seemed to signify, “What do you
think of that?”

After what I had already seen I was prepared to admire a masterpiece,
but imagine my stupor on observing that the head belonged to a saint!
Quite astonished at this, I looked at my friend as if seeking an
explanation, but he did not seem to understand me and continued to point
out all the beauties of his work. I had no good reason to refuse it,
for, after its fashion, it was a very fine head, so I accepted it,
though it could be of no use to me. At any rate I wished to know the
motive that induced my sculptor to select such a type, and, by dint of
cross-examination, I learned that his special trade was carving saints,
and he could not emerge from his usual “groove.”

After this check I applied to another artist, being careful to inquire
of him previously whether he had been in the habit of carving heads of
saints. In spite of my precautions, I only got from this artist a head
bearing a strong family likeness to those Nuremberg dolls made to act as
lay figures in studios.

I had not the courage to make a third trial; yet, my writer required a
head, and I regarded my chefs-d’œuvre in turn. Neither could by
possibility suit me. A head with not the slightest expression spoiled my
automaton, while a holy Jerome on the body of a writer dressed in the
Louis XV. style would be a terrible anachronism.

“And yet the face I want is engraved here,” I said, striking my
forehead. “What a pity I cannot carve it--suppose I were to try!”

It has always been my character to set about a scheme as soon as I had
formed it, whatever the difficulties might be. Hence I took a piece of
modeling wax, made it into a ball, in which I formed three holes,
representing mouth and eyes, then sticking on a patch for a nose, I
stopped to admire my handiwork.

Have you ever noticed a toy belonging to earliest youth, representing
two blacksmiths at work on an anvil, which they are made to strike in
turn by pulling two parallel rods? Well, those mechanical combinations,
sold at one penny, I believe, are perfect marvels of art in comparison
with my first essay in modeling.

Dissatisfied, disgusted, and almost angry, I threw my clumsy attempt
aside, and thought of some other plan to escape my difficulty. But I
have already said I am obstinate and persevering in all I undertake, and
the greater the difficulty seems, the more I feel myself pledged to
surmount it. The night passed in dreams which showed me my task
satisfactorily accomplished, and the next morning I took heart, and went
at it again. In fact, by passing a chisel over my ball--by taking away
from one side and adding to the other--I succeeded in making eyes,
mouth, and nose, which, if not regular, had at least the appearance of a
human form.

The following days were spent in fresh studies and improvements, and
each time I noticed some progress in my work. Still, a moment arrived
when I was terribly embarrassed. The face was regular, but that was not
enough. I must give it some sort of character; but, as I had no model,
the task seemed beyond my strength.

The idea struck me of looking in the glass, and judging from my own face
what features produce expression. Sitting down, then, as if writing, I
studied my full face and profile, and tried to imitate what I saw. I was
engaged at this task a long while, incessantly touching and retouching,
until one fine day I found my work finished, and I stopped to look at it
more attentively. Judge of my surprise on finding that I had
unconsciously produced an exact likeness of myself. Far from being vexed
at this unexpected result, I was pleased, for it was quite natural this
child of my imagination should have my features. I was not sorry to
place this family seal on a work to which I attached such importance.

I had been now living for more than a year at Belleville, and I saw with
extreme pleasure the end of my task and of my exile drawing near. After
many doubts as to the success of my enterprise, the solemn moment
arrived when I should make the first trial of my writer. I had spent the
whole day in giving the last touches to the automaton, which sat before
me as if awaiting my orders, and prepared to answer the questions I
asked it. I had only to press the spring in order to enjoy the long
awaited result. My heart beat violently, and though I was alone, I
trembled with emotion at the mere thought of this imposing trial.

I had just laid the first sheet of paper before my writer, and asked him
this question:

“Who is the author of your being?”

I pressed the spring, and the clockwork began acting. I dared hardly
breathe through fear of disturbing the operations. The automaton bowed
to me, and I could not refrain from smiling on it as my own son. But
when I saw the eyes fix an attentive glance on the paper--when the arm,
a few seconds before numb and lifeless, began to move and trace my
signature in a firm handwriting--the tears started to my eyes, and I
fervently thanked Heaven for granting me such success. And it was not
alone the satisfaction I experienced as inventor, but the certainty I
had of being able to restore some degree of comfort to my family, that
caused my deep feeling of gratitude.

After making my Sosia repeat my signature a thousand times, I gave it
this next question: “What o’clock is it?”

The automaton, acting in obedience to a clock, wrote: “It is two in the

This was a very timely warning. I profited by it, and went straight to
bed. Against my expectations, I enjoyed a sleep I had not known for a
long time.

There may be among those who read my book some who have also created
some successful work. They will know that next to the happiness of
enjoying one’s own invention, nothing is so flattering as to offer it to
the notice of a third party. Molière and J. J. Rousseau consulted their
servants, and, I must confess, it afforded me great pleasure the next
morning to invite my portress and her husband to be present at the first
performance of my writer.

As it was Sunday, and M. Auguste had no work to do, I found him at
breakfast. He held a modest sardine with his thumb on a piece of bread,
while in the other hand he had a knife, the handle of which was fastened
to his waist by a lanyard. My invitation was graciously accepted, and
they came to my room to witness the aristocratic performance of a
nobleman of the age of Louis XV. The mason’s wife chose this question:
“What is the emblem of fidelity?” The automaton replied by drawing a
pretty little greyhound lying on a cushion. Madame Auguste, quite
delighted, begged me to make her a present of the drawing, while her
husband, having by this time finished his breakfast, begged to see the
work, for, as he said,

“I understand something about that sort of thing, for I have always to
grease the vane on the church steeple, and have even taken it down
twice. Ah! if I were to direct my attention to mechanics, I have no
doubt I should be very successful.”

Although, of course, he understood nothing of what he saw, the worthy
mason carefully examined the mechanical arrangements; then, as if
yielding to an impulsive frankness, he said, in a kindly protecting

“If I was not afraid of vexing you, I would make an observation.”

“Pray do so, Monsieur Auguste, and be sure I shall treat it as it

“Well, in your place, I would have made the mechanism much more simple;
for then those who do not understand that sort of thing, would be able
to do so more easily.”

With some difficulty I maintained sufficient gravity to reply:

“Your observation is very just, Monsieur Auguste; I had not thought of
that: but be assured I shall now profit by your suggestions, and
speedily remove half the machinery; there will be quite sufficient

“Oh, certainly,” the mason said, believing in the sincerity of my
remarks, “there will be quite enough left then.”

At this moment the garden-bell rang, and M. Auguste, ever attentive to
his duties, ran to answer it, and as his wife also took her departure, I
was enabled to laugh at my ease.

It is curious that an automaton which was visited by all Paris and
gained me such reputation--that the designer, which interested Louis
Philippe and his family so greatly, should at the outset only receive
the stupid criticism of a porter. Well, a man is no more a prophet in
his own house than in his own country.

It was more extraordinary, though, that I had eventually to make an
alteration in the automaton for the following reasons: the public (I do
not mean the educated portion) generally understand nothing of the
mechanical effects by which an automaton is moved; but they are pleased
to see them, and often only value them by the multiplicity of their
parts. I had taken every care to render the mechanism of my writer as
perfect as possible, and had set great store on making the clockwork
noiseless. In doing this I wished to imitate nature, whose complicated
instruments act almost imperceptibly.

Can it be credited that this very perfection, which I had worked so hard
to attain, was unfavorable to my automaton? On its first exhibition, I
frequently heard persons who only saw the outside, say:

“That writer is first rate; but the mechanism is probably very simple.
It often requires such a trifle to produce great results.”

The idea then struck me of rendering the clock-work a little less
perfect, so that a whizzing sound should be heard, something like cotton
spinning. Then the worthy public formed a very different estimate of my
work, and the admiration increased in ratio to the intensity of the
noise. Such exclamations as these where continually heard: “How
ingenious! What complicated machinery! What talent such combination must

In order to obtain this result, I had rendered my automaton less
perfect; and I was wrong. In this I followed the example of certain
actors who overdo their parts in order to produce a greater effect. They
raise a laugh, but they infringe the rules of art and are rarely ranked
among first-rate artists. Eventually, I got over my susceptibility, and
my machine was restored to its first condition.

My writer thus finished, I could have ended my voluntary imprisonment if
I pleased; but I wished to finish another automaton, for which a
residence in the country would be requisite. Although this second
automaton was very complicated, it did not so fully occupy my time as
the first. It was a nightingale, which a rich merchant of St. Petersburg
had ordered, and I had agreed to produce a perfect imitation of the song
and actions of this delightful wood minstrel.

This undertaking offered some serious difficulties; for though I had
already made several birds, their singing was quite arbitrary, and I had
only consulted my own taste in arranging it. The imitation of the
nightingale’s pipe was much more delicate, for I had to copy notes and
sounds which were almost inimitable.

Fortunately, we were in the season when this skillful songster utters
his delicious accents; hence, I could employ him as my teacher. I went
constantly to the wood of Romainville, the skirt of which almost joined
the street in which I lived, and, laying myself on a soft bed of moss in
the densest foliage, I challenged my master to give me lessons. (The
nightingale sings both by night and day in Continental Europe, and the
slightest whistle, in tune or not, makes him strike up directly.)

I wanted to imprint on my memory the musical phrases with which the bird
composes its melodies. The following are the most striking among them;
_tiou-tiou-tiou_, _ut-ut-ut-ut-ut_, _tchit-chou_, _tchit-chou_,
_tchit-tchit_, _rrrrrrrrrrrrrouit_, _&c._ I had to analyse these strange
sounds, these numberless chirps, these impossible rrrrouits, and
recompose them by a musical process. Now, here was the difficulty. I
only knew so much of music as a natural taste had taught me, and my
knowledge of harmony was hence a very feeble resource. I must add that
in order to imitate this flexibility of throat, and produce these
harmonious modulations, I had a small copper tube, about the size and
length of a quill, in which a steel piston moving very freely, produced
the different sounds I required; this tube represented in some respects
the nightingale’s throat.

This instrument would have to work mechanically; clock work set in
motion the bellows, opened or closed a valve which produced the
twittering, the modulation, and the sliding notes, while it guided the
piston according to the different degrees of speed and depth I wanted to

I had also to impart motion to the bird: it must move its beak in
accordance with the sounds it produced, flap its wings, leap from branch
to branch, &c. But this part of my task troubled me much less than the
other, as it was purely mechanical.

I will not attempt to describe to the reader all the trials and
investigations I had to make; suffice it to say that, after repeated
experiments, I created a system, half musical, half mechanical, which
only required to be improved by fresh studies. Provided with this
instrument, I hurried off to the wood of Romainville, where I seated
myself under an oak, near which I had often heard a nightingale sing,
which I thought was the “star” among the virtuosi. I wound up the
clockwork, and it began playing in the midst of profound silence; but
the last notes had scarce died away ere a concert commenced from various
parts of the wood, which I was almost inclined to regard as a general
protest against my clumsy imitation.

This collective lesson did not suit my purpose, for I wished to compare
and study, and could positively distinguish nothing. Fortunately for me,
all the musicians ceased, as if by word of command, and one of them
began a solo: it was doubtlessly the _premier sujet_, the Duprez of the
company--possibly the nightingale I have just mentioned. This tenor
indulged me with a succession of dulcet sounds and accents, which I
followed with all the attention of an industrious pupil.

Thus I passed a portion of the night; my professor was indefatigable,
and, for my part, I was not weary of listening. At length we were
obliged to part, for, in spite of the pleasure I felt, I began to grow
chilly and sleepy. However, my lesson had done me so much good, that the
next morning I began making important corrections in my mechanism. After
five or six more visits to the wood, I attained the required result--the
nightingale’s song was perfectly imitated.

After eighteen months’ stay at Belleville, I at length returned home to
enjoy the company of my wife and children; in my absence my business had
prospered, and I, by the manufacture of my two automata, had gained the
enormous sum of seven thousand francs.

Seven thousand francs by making filings, as my father used to say.
Unfortunately, that excellent man could not enjoy the beginning of my
success--I had lost him a short time before the reverse of my fortune.
With his love for mechanical inventions, how proud he would have been of
my successes!

Having thus regained a certain degree of comfort, I was now able to
enjoy some amusement, and visit my friends, among them Antonio, who
could not blame me for deserting him so long. In our long conversations
my friend never ceased to encourage me to realize the projects he had
suggested--I mean my theatrical schemes, of which he predicted the
certain success.

While not neglecting my work, I had recommenced my conjuring exercises,
and began to make the acquaintance of several conjurers. I also wished
to see those ingenious personages who, not having a theatre to display
their talents in, visit the cafés. Such men as these are obliged to
employ an extraordinary degree of skill, for they have to deal with
people who are set upon detecting them. I met several interesting
specimens from whom I learned something; but a slight adventure soon
told me I must be on my guard in the choice of my acquaintances.

A conjurer, whom I had formerly met at Roujol’s, and to whom I had
rendered a service, introduced me one day to a person by the name of
D----. He was a young man of prepossessing appearance and very elegantly
dressed, while his manners evidenced the thorough gentleman.

“My friend tells me, sir,” he said, after the usual salutations, “that
you are in search of a person possessing a certain degree of address.
Although I have no wish to compliment myself, I may be able to show many
things you do not know.”

“I accept your offer willingly,” I replied, “but I must tell you before
hand I am not a novice.”

This introduction took place in my study, and we sat down to a table on
which refreshments were served. This was a trap by which I intended to
make my visitor more communicative. I then took up a pack of cards, and
showed him my dexterity in _sauter la coupe_ and various other tricks.

I was watching D---- to observe the impression I produced on him, and
after a few moments’ careful following my hands, he gave his comrade a
gentle wink, of which I did not understand the meaning. I stopped for a
moment, and not wishing to ask a direct explanation, I opened a bottle
of Bordeaux, and filled his glass several times. This scheme was
successful, and the wine loosened his tongue, and he told me something
that surprised me.

“I have a remark to make, M. Robert-Houdin,” he said, emptying his
glass, and holding it out to be filled again: “I thought I had come here
to deal with what we call a ‘pigeon;’ I perceive it is quite otherwise,
and as I do not wish to expose the tricks by which I earn my livelihood,
I will content myself with the pleasure of having formed your

The technical terms seemed to me a startling contrast to my visitor’s
elegant manners, still, as I did not wish to give in yet, I said, in a
tone of disappointment,

“I hope, sir, you will recall your decision, and not leave me till you
have shown me how you handle the cards. You can do this without
prejudice, I think?”

To my great satisfaction he at length consented.

“Very well,” he said, taking up a pack of cards; “but you will see our
modes of ‘working’ do not agree.”

It would be difficult for me to give a name to what he performed in my
presence. It was not, properly speaking, sleight-of-hand; but they were
tricks and processes applied to cards, and were so unexpected, that
they must deceive everybody. This manipulation was only an exhibition,
however, of certain principles I learned at a later date.

Like singers who begin by being urged, and who, when they have once
started, cannot leave off, D----, animated both by the sincere praise I
offered him and the great number of glasses of Bordeaux he had
swallowed, said to me with that frankness common to drinkers, “And now,
sir, I will give you another hint. I am not a professor of
sleight-of-hand, but only perform a few tricks I show to amateurs. These
lessons, you can understand, would not suffice for my livelihood, and I
will tell you, then,” he added, emptying his glass again, and holding it
out to be filled, as if he wished me to pay for his confidence, “I visit
in the evening houses where I have managed to gain an introduction, and
profit by some of the principles I have just shown you.”

“I suppose you give a performance?” D---- smiled slightly, and repeated
the wink he had once before given his comrade.

“Performances!” he replied. “Never! or rather, I give them after my own
fashion; I will explain that to you presently, but I will first amuse
you by telling you how I manage to get a handsome prize for the lessons
I give my amateurs; after that I will return to my _performances_.

“You can suppose, for reasons easy to understand that I only give
lessons to young men whose pockets I presume are well lined. On
beginning my explanations I tell my pupil that I leave my price to him,
and during the lesson I perform an interlude which must heighten his

“Drawing near my pigeon--pray pardon the word--“

“I have already done so.”

“Ah, very good; I beg your pardon. I say, taking one of his buttons in
my hand, ‘Here is a mould piercing the cloth, and you might lose it.’

“At the same time I throw a Louis on the table; then I examine his
buttons, one after the other, and pretend to draw a gold piece from
each. As I only perform this trick as a harmless pleasantry, I pick up
my gold with the greatest indifference. I even push my indifference so
far as to leave one or two by mistake on the table, but only for a short
time, of course.

“I continue my lesson, and, as I expected, my pupil pays but slight
attention to it, being fully engaged with the reflections I have so
skillfully suggested. Can he offer five francs to a man who appears to
have his pocket full of gold? Of course not; the least he can do is to
add one more piece to those I had displayed, and that always happens.

“Like a modern Bias, then, I carry all my fortune about me; I am
sometimes tolerably rich, and then my pockets are well lined. Often
enough, too, I am reduced to a dozen of these ‘yellow boys,’ but them I
never touch, as they are the instruments by which I procure others. Many
times I have gone without my dinner, though having this small fortune in
my pocket, because I laid it down as a rule not to break into it.”

“The performances you give in society,” I said to my narrator, in order
to bring him back to that point, “are of course more lucrative?”

“They are so, but prudence prevents me giving them so often as I should

“I do not understand you.”

“I will explain my meaning. When I am in society I am a young man of
good family, and, like all young men, play. The only difference is, I
have my own way of playing, which is not that of all the world, but it
seems it is not bad, because it often renders chances favorable. You
shall judge.”

Here my narrator stopped to refresh himself, then, as if doing the most
legal or harmless thing in the world, he showed me several tricks, or
rather acts of swindling, which he executed with so much grace, skill,
and simplicity, that it would be impossible to detect him.

In order to understand the effect these culpable confessions produced
upon me, my readers ought to know what it is to love a science of which
you seek to solve the mysteries. Far from feeling repugnance or even
disgust at this man with whom justice would have one day an account to
settle, I admired, I was stunned! The finesse and perfection of his
tricks made me forget their blameworthy application.

At length my Greek left me, and so soon as he was gone the remembrance
of his confessions sent the blood to my cheeks. I was as ashamed of
myself as if I had been his accomplice. I even reproached myself
severely for the admiration I could not restrain, and the compliments it
extorted from me. In some measure to compound with my conscience, I
ordered my door to be closed against this man; but it was an unnecessary
precaution--I never heard of him again.

Strangely enough, in consequence of my meeting with D----, and the
revelations he had made me, I was enabled, at a later period, to render
a service to society by unmasking a piece of swindling which the most
skillful experts could not detect.

In 1849, M. B----, a magistrate belonging to the police office of the
Seine, begged me to examine and verify one hundred and fifty packs of
cards, seized in the possession of a man whose antecedents were far from
being as unblemished as his cards. The latter, indeed, were perfectly
white, and this peculiarity had hitherto foiled the most minute
investigation. It was impossible for the most practised eye to detect
the least alteration or the slightest mark, and they all seemed very
respectable packs of cards.

I consented to examine the cards, as I hoped to detect a manœuvre
which must be clever as it was so carefully concealed. I could only do
so after my performance was over, and so each night, before going to
bed, I sat down with a bright lamp, and remained at my task till sleep
or want of success routed me from my post.

Thus I spent nearly a fortnight, examining, both with my eyes and a
strong magnifying-glass, the form and imperceptible varieties in the
cards composing the one hundred and fifty packs. I could detect nothing,
and, weary of the job, I began to agree in the opinion of the previous

“I am sure there is nothing the matter with these cards,” I said one
night, angrily, as I threw them across the table.

Suddenly I fancied I noticed a pale spot on the glistening back of these
cards, and near one of the corners. I stepped forward, and it
disappeared, but, strangely enough, it reappeared as I fell back.

“What a magnificent dodge!” I exclaimed, in my enthusiasm. “I have it:
that is a distinguishing mark.”

And following a certain principle which D---- had explained to me, I
assured myself that all the cards possessed a mark, which, according to
its position, indicated the value and color.

For the last quarter of an hour I have been burning with a desire to
explain to my readers a most interesting process, but I am restrained by
the fear that this ingenious swindling may facilitate false play. Still,
it is an indubitable truth, “that to avoid a danger, it must be known.”
Hence, if every player were initiated into the stratagems of the
card-swindlers, the latter would find it impossible to employ them.

I am, therefore, inclined to make the communication I have stated, that
a single mark placed in a certain part of a card is sufficient to make
it known. To explain this, I must employ a diagram:

                             DIAGRAM 1.

             Ace.  King.  Queen.  Knave.  Ten.  Nine.  Eight.  Seven.
           |                                                         |
  Hearts   |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
  Diamonds |                .                                        |
           |                                                         |
  Clubs    |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
  Spades   |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |
           |                                                         |

Suppose a card divided into eight parts vertically, and four
horizontally, as in diagram 1; the former will indicate the value of the
cards, the latter the suit. The mark is placed at the point where two
lines intersect. Such is the process: practice does the rest.

As for the process employed in impressing the mysterious mark I have
mentioned, I may be excused from stating it, as my object is to expose
swindling, and not show the way to do it. Suffice it to say that, looked
at closely, this point is lost in the white of the card; but, at a
distance, the light renders the card brilliant, while the mark alone
remains dull.

At the first blush, it will appear, perhaps, rather difficult to find
out the division to which the isolated dot on the back of the card
belongs. Still, by a little attention, it may be accurately detected by
a practised eye. Thus, on my diagram, the dot indicates the Queen of

It must be remembered that a Greek using these cards stakes, I will not
say his honor but, his liberty, against fortune, and that he has
carefully studied an art on which his livelihood depends.

After the explanation I have given, I can easily imagine my reader
forming an heroic determination.

“Since these things take place,” he says to himself, “I will only play
with chequered cards, and so I shall be safe.”

Unfortunately, chequered cards are better adapted for swindling purposes
than the others, and to prove it, I must employ another diagram. Suppose
the chequer to be formed of dots or any other figures regularly
arranged, as is usually the case with fancy backed cards:

      DIAGRAM 2.

  |                             |
  |     *     *     *     *     |
  |                             |
  |        .     .     .        |
  |                             |
  |     *     *     *     *     |
  |                             |
  |        .     .     .        |
  |                             |
  |   . *     *     *     *     |
  |                             |
  |        .     .     .        |
  |                             |
  |     *     *     *     *     |
  |                             |

the first dot, starting from the left-hand top of the card, as in the
previous diagram, will represent hearts; the second, downwards,
diamonds; the third, clubs; and the fourth, spades. If, now, another
small dot is placed by the side of one of these chequers, it will
indicate the value of the card. This dot must be placed in one of the
divisions marked in fig. 3 The topmost point indicates an ace; the next,
to the right, a king; the third, a queen; the fourth, a knave; and so
on. Of course, a single dot, as in fig. 2, when it is placed by the
third point or color, indicates the eight of clubs.


There are many other arrangements, but they are more difficult to
explain than to understand. Thus I have had chequered cards given me to
inspect which had had no mark at all on them, but the pattern was more
or less altered by the way in which the cards were shaped, and this
simple peculiarity indicated them all.

There are also the cards on the edge of which the Greek, when playing,
makes a mark with his thumb-nail, which he can detect as they pass
through his hands. If he is playing écarté, the kings are thus marked,
and when these pass through his fingers, he can, by a familiar trick,
leave them on the pack and deal the next card. This substitution can be
done so cleverly that it is impossible to detect it. I have also met
persons of such practised sight that, after playing two or three games
with a pack, they could recognize every card.

Returning to the prepared cards, it may be asked how it is possible to
change the cards, for in all society where play goes on the cards are
only taken out of the paper just before beginning.

Well! this is simple enough. The Greek finds out at what shop these
houses buy their cards: at first he will make some small purchases, so
that he may be regarded as a regular customer: then, on one fine day, he
says that a friend has commissioned him to buy a dozen packets of packs.
The next day these are brought back under the pretext that they are not
of the color required, and as the packets are still sealed, the
tradesman, full of confidence, changes them for others.

But the Greek has spent the night in undoing the bands and sealing them
up again by a process known to conjurers; the cards have been all marked
and properly arranged, and as the tradesman has them now in his shop,
the trick is accomplished. Before long, they will reach the house where
they are wanted.

All these swindling arts are very shocking, but there is another even
more so in the shape of “imperceptible telegraphy.” Without the
slightest appearance of collusion, a Greek can tell his partner every
card his opponent holds in his hand by a system similar to that of my
“second sight.”

I could describe many other tricks, but I will stop here. 1 believe I
have said enough about card-sharpers and their swindling to induce a
person never to sit down but with persons whose honor is unimpeachable.


     The Inventive Genius of a Sugar-baker--Philippe the Magician--His
     Comic Adventures--Description of his Performance--Exposition of
     1844--The King and Royal Family visit my Automata.

The long looked-for change in my fortunes had at length arrived; my
automata had gained me a certain degree of reputation, and I was making
arrangements to commence my performances. Before describing these, I
must devote a few pages, however, to some account of my immediate
predecessor in the conjuring art, whose success in Paris at this period
was most brilliant: I mean Philippe, the renowned magician, sorcerer,
sleight-of-hand performer, and conjurer.

Philippe Talon was born at Alais, near Nîmes; after having carried on
his sweet trade of confectioner for some time in Paris, his want of
success compelled him to expatriate himself. London, that _pays de
Cocagne_, the perspective El Dorado, was close at hand; so our tradesman
proceeded thither, and soon set up again in trade in the capital of the
United Kingdom. The French confectioner had fair chance of success, for
in addition to the English liking for sweet-stuff, French confectionary
has ever enjoyed a reputation in that country, only comparable with that
which _real_ English blacking has so long held in France. Still, despite
these advantages, it seems that fresh difficulties arose; the fogs of
the Thames, or, as some say, dangerous speculations, melted the fragile
wares; the comfitures suffered a decided discomfiture.

Talon packed up a second time and went to Aberdeen, to ask shelter from
the Scotch mountaineers, to whom he offered in exchange his seductive
cates. Unfortunately, the Scotch of Aberdeen, differing greatly from the
mountaineers in _La Dame Blanche_, wear neither silk stockings nor
patent leather shoes, and consume very few jujubes and tarts. Thus, the
new shop would soon have undergone the fate of the other two, had not
Talon’s inventive genius found an issue from this precarious position.

The confectioner rightly thought that, in order to sell wares, they must
be known; and in order for them to be known, they must be made known.
Relying on this judicious reasoning, Talon soon compelled the
Aberdonians to eat his sugar-plums, and, better still, to pay for them.

At this period, there was a company of actors at Aberdeen much in the
same condition as Talon’s “goodies;” they were neglected, and no one
cared to try them. In vain had the manager prepared a pantomime full of
tricks and blue-fire, the public remained deaf to his repeated appeals.

One fine day, Talon called on the Scotch impresario: “I have a proposal
to make to you, sir,” he said, without further preface, “which, if
accepted, will fill your theatre, I am convinced.”

“Pray explain yourself, sir,” the manager said, nibbling at the bait,
but putting little faith in a promise which he had good reasons for
believing difficult of realization.

“It is simply,” Talon continued, “to join to the attraction of your
performance a lottery, for which I will pay all the cost. This shall be
the arrangement: each spectator, on entering, must pay, in addition,
the sum of sixpence, giving him a claim--

“1. To a paper of mixed sugar-plums.

“2. To a lottery-ticket, by which he may gain the first prize, of the
value of five pounds.”

Talon also promised a new performance, the secret of which he confided
to the manager under the seal of discretion.

These proposals being accepted, the bargain was soon completed, and the
intelligent Talon had not deceived himself. The public attracted by the
bonbons, the pantomime, and the promised surprise, filled the theatre.

The lottery was drawn; the prize made one person happy, and the other
twelve or fifteen hundred spectators, provided with their papers of
sugar-plums, consoled their disappointment by exchanging their
“goodies.” Under such favorable circumstances the pantomime was found

Still, this piece was drawing to its close, and the promised surprise
had not yet come off, when suddenly the dancers in the ballet arranged
themselves in a circle, a sharp cry was heard, and a magnificent Punch
bounded on to the stage. It was Talon disguised by two cotton humps and
the traditional costume.

Our new artist performed Punch’s eccentric dance with rare talent, and
was heartily applauded. To thank the audience for their kind reception,
the dancer tried to make a bow, but managed it so clumsily that he fell
over on his side and could not rise again. The performers hastened to
pick the wounded man up; he spoke in a faint voice, and complained of a
broken rib. He earnestly asked for a box of Morrison’s pills, and a
servant hastened to bring him pills of an enormous size.

The public, who till then had pitied poor Punch’s pain, and remained
silent sympathisers, now began to scent a jest. First they smiled, and
then they laughed when the patient, taking one of the pills, pretended
to swallow it. Half a dozen having followed the same road, Punch found
himself perfectly recovered, so, making a polite bow, he retired amidst
shouts of laughter.

Philippe had given his first performance--the confectioner had exchanged
the barley-sugar trick for the magician’s wand.

This burlesque scene met with extraordinary success, and the receipts
swelled day by day, until the confectioner had disposed of all his
wares. Then he set off to give a specimen of his new talent in other

I do not know whence the new magician acquired his art, but it is
probable (historical gaps are always filled up with probabilities) that
Talon had learned conjuring, as he had Punch’s dance, to amuse his
friends. One thing is certain, the performance he offered the worthy
Aberdonians was not first rate, and it was not till he left that town
that he made the great improvement to which he owed his future

Henceforth, laying aside his comfitures and Punch’s garb and squeak,
Philippe (the name the conjurer assumed) traversed England, giving at
first very modest performances. Then, his repertory becoming gradually
increased by a certain number of tricks he picked up from conjurers of
the day, he attacked the large towns, and proceeded to Glasgow, where he
built a wooden theatre in which to give his performances.

While the magic temple was building, Philippe noticed among the
bricklayer’s lads a young fellow who seemed to have remarkable
intelligence, and he eventually engaged him to appear on the stage as
assistant magician. Macalister (as his assistant was called) had a
natural genius for tricks and models; he required no apprenticeship in
this mysterious art, and indeed soon invented some tricks which
attracted his master’s attention.

From this moment, either by Macalister’s help or for some other reason,
success attended Philippe everywhere, and he began acting in theatres.
After a lengthened tour through England he crossed over to Dublin, where
he acquired two new tricks, which were the foundation of his future

Three Chinese, who had come to France to perform some very startling
tricks, attempted some performances at Paris, which, owing to their ill
success, caused a quarrel among the Celestials. In France as well as in
China, “horses fight when there is no hay in the manger,” and, though
our jugglers did not have recourse to such extremities, they separated.
One of them proceeded to Dublin, where he taught Philippe the
“gold-fish” trick, as well as the “rings.” On learning the first of
these tricks, Philippe was in great trouble about performing it, for he
wanted a robe. He could not assume a Chinese costume, as his face had
none of the distinguishing features of a mandarin, nor could he dream of
a dressing-gown, for however rich it might have been, the public would
not have endured such a slight. Hence Philippe extricated himself from
the difficulty by assuming the attire of a magician. It was a daring
innovation, for, till that period, no conjurer had ventured to take on
himself the responsibility of such a costume.

Once possessed of these two tricks, Philippe formed the project of
returning to his ungrateful country; he, therefore, came to Paris in the
summer of 1841, and performed at the Salle Montesquieu. The gold-fish
and ring tricks, a brilliant costume, a magnificent pointed cap, and a
comfortably arranged room, soon attracted large audiences, among whom
was the manager of a Vienna theatre. Delighted with the performance, the
latter on the spot offered the conjurer an engagement at half profits,
which Philippe willingly accepted. As the Salle Montesquieu was used for
public balls during the winter, this engagement also allowed him time to
have a theatre constructed in readiness for his return to Paris.

The opening of the room Bonne-Nouvelle created a sensation in Paris when
Philippe came back from his Austrian tour, and crowds went to see the
gold-fish trick, which the performances in the Salle Montesquieu had
made known.

My reader will have the kindness to accompany me to the _Palais des
Prestiges_ (as the new temple of magic was christened), and we will
attend one of the magician’s performances.

On reaching the end of the first-floor passage in the Bonne-Nouvelle
Bazaar, you passed through a doorway, and were quite surprised to find
yourself in a room excellently adapted for this style of performance.
There were stalls, pit, gallery, and boxes; the decorations were most
elegant, and, above all, there was plenty of room to stretch your legs.

An orchestra composed of six musicians of doubtful talent executed a
symphony to the accompaniment of the _mélophone_, a species of accordeon
recently invented by a man of the name of Leclerc, who undertook the
musical arrangements of the palace.

The curtain rises.

To the great surprise of the spectators the stage is in perfect

A gentleman dressed in black emerges from a side door and walks towards
us. It is Philippe: I recognise him by the Provençal twang of his
accent. All the other spectators take him for the manager, and fear they
are about to hear some painful intelligence, as this gentleman holds a
pistol in his hand.

Their uncertainty is, however, soon dispelled, for Philippe introduces
himself. He states that he has been delayed in his preparations, but, in
order to save time, he will light the innumerable candles on his stage
by firing a pistol. Although a fire-arm is not required for the
experiment, and is only intended to throw powder in the spectators’
eyes, the candles are suddenly lighted at the sound of the detonation.

The audience applaud vociferously, and deservedly so, for this trick is
remarkably striking. However much it may be applauded, the time it
requires for preparation, and the mortal terror it occasions the
performer, are beyond recompense.

In fact, like all experiments in which static electricity plays the
chief part, this magic inflammation is not infallible. When this
misfortune occurs, the position of the operator is the more
embarrassing, as the phenomenon has been announced as the result of
magic. Now, a magician must be omnipotent, or, if he be not so, he most
avoid at all risks any failure which may lower his prestige in the eyes
of the audience.

The stage once lighted, Philippe commenced his performance. The first
part, composed of very average tricks, was relieved by the manœuvres
of some curious automata. For instance:

The _Cossack_, which should have been called the _Grimacer_, so quaint
were the contortions in which it indulged. This Cossack was also a very
clever juggler, for it passed into its pocket with considerable skill
various articles of jewelry its master had borrowed from the spectators.

The _magic peacock_, which uttered its unmelodious screech, expanded its
gorgeous plumes, fed from its master’s hand, &c.

And lastly, a _Harlequin_, like the one I repaired for Torrini.

After the first part of the performance, the curtain fell to enable
preparations to be made for a scene called in the bills, “A Festival at
a Palace in Nankin.” This was an attractive title for those who dealt in
that description of cloth, but was only chosen to call to the
spectator’s memory the Chinese trick, which would end the performance.

When the curtain rose again the stage was entirely transformed. The
tablecloths had been replaced by brocades glistening with gold and
precious stones (at least, they looked so at a distance); the candles,
although so numerous before, had been multiplied, and gave the stage the
appearance of a fiery furnace, the veritable abode of an ally of the
Evil One.

The magician made his appearance in a costume which, in the public
admiration, it must have exhausted the riches of Golconda to buy, and
the _Festival of Nankin_ commenced with the very clever trick derived
from the Chinese.

Philippe took up several rings about eight inches in diameter, and
intertwined them into chains and knots with the greatest possible ease.
Then suddenly, when it seemed impossible for him to unravel his
handiwork, he blew upon them, and the rings fell separately at his feet.
This trick produced a charming illusion.

The one that succeeded it, and which I never saw performed by any one
else, was quite equal to the preceding one in interest.

Macalister, the Scotch bricklayer (who on the stage was a negro of the
name of Domingo), brought in on a table two sugar-loaves still covered
with that horrible paper which the honest grocer sells at the price of
colonial wares. Philippe borrowed a dozen handkerchiefs (not from
accomplices), and after placing them in a blunderbuss, he fired at one
of the sugar-loaves chosen by the audience. He then broke it asunder
with an axe, and all the handkerchiefs were found in it.

Next came _Fortunatus’s hat_. Philippe, after producing from this hat,
which he had borrowed from a spectator, an innumerable number of
objects, at last pulled out enough feathers to make a bed. The most
amusing part of this trick consisted in the conjurer making a lad kneel
down, who was completely buried in this avalanche of feathers.

Another striking trick was the one called “The Kitchen of
Parafaragarmus.” At Philippe’s request two schoolboys came on the stage,
whom he dressed, one as scullion, the other as professed cook. Thus
metamorphosed, the two young _cordons bleus_ underwent all sorts of
pleasantries and mystifications. (This was a trick of Castelli’s

The conjurer then proceeded to perform the trick; for this purpose he
suspended from a tripod an enormous copper caldron full of water, and
ordered the two lads to put in it dead pigeons, an assortment of
vegetables, and plenty of seasoning. Then he lit some spirits of wine
under the caldron, and pronounced some magical incantations. At his
voice, the pigeons, returning to life, flew out of the caldron; while
the water, vegetables, and seasoning had entirely disappeared.

Philippe usually ended the evening’s performance with the famous Chinese
trick, to which he had given the pompous name of “Neptune’s Basins, or
the Gold-Fish.”

The magician, clothed in his brilliant costume, mounted on a sort of low
table, which isolated him from the stage. After a few manœuvres to
prove he had nothing about him, he threw a shawl at his feet, and, on
lifting it up, he displayed a glass basin filled with water, in which
gold-fish swam about. This was thrice repeated, with the same result;
but, in his desire to improve on his brethren of the Celestial Empire,
the French conjurer had added a variation to their trick, which gave an
amusing termination to the performance. Throwing the shawl on the ground
for the fourth time, several animals, such as rabbits, ducks, chickens,
&c., emerged from it. This trick was performed, if not gracefully, at
least in a way to excite the lively admiration of the spectators.

Generally, Philippe was very amusing in his entertainment. His
experiments were performed with a good deal of conscientiousness, skill,
and dash, and I have no hesitation in saying that the conjurer of the
Bonne-Nouvelle Bazaar might then be considered one of the best of the
day. Philippe quitted Paris the following year, and has since performed
entirely in foreign countries, or the provinces.

Philippe’s success would not have failed to rekindle my desire to
realize my theatrical schemes, had not, at this period, a misfortune
hurled me into a state of profound wretchedness. I lost my wife.

Left with three young children, I was obliged to undertake their charge,
although so unskilled in household cares. Thus, at the end of five
years, robbed by some, deceived by others, I had almost lost all that my
labor had produced me, and was going to ruin.

Forced by my intolerable position, I determined on reconstituting my
home, and I married again. I shall have so many occasions of speaking
of my new wife, that I shall refrain at present from praising her
according to her deserts; besides, I am not sorry to abridge these
domestic details, which, though personally important to me, only possess
a very slight interest in my story.

The Exhibition of 1844 was about to open, so I asked and obtained leave
to exhibit some specimens of my skill. The site granted me, opposite the
door of honor, was undoubtedly one of the best in the hall, and I
erected a circular stand, on which I placed a specimen of all the
mechanical pieces I had as yet made. Among these my _Writer_ took the
first place, which M. G---- had been kind enough to lend me for the
occasion. I may say I enjoyed all the honor of the exhibition, for my
productions were constantly surrounded by a crowd of spectators, who
were all the more eager as the performance was gratis.

Louis Philippe paid daily visits to the Palace of Industry, and as my
automata had been pointed out as deserving his attention, he evinced a
wish to see them, and gave me twenty hours’ notice of his visit. I thus
had time enough to make all my arrangements. The king arrived, holding
the Comte de Paris by the hand, and I stood on his left hand to explain
my various articles. The Duchess of Orleans was by my side, and the
other members of the royal family formed a circle around his majesty,
while the crowd, kept back by the keepers of the palace and the police
agents, left an open space round my exhibition.

The king was in a charming humor, and seemed to take a pleasure in all I
showed him. He frequently asked me questions, and missed no occasion to
show his excellent judgment. At the end of the _séance_, the party
stopped before my Writer. This automaton, it must be borne in mind,
wrote or drew according to the question asked. The king made the
following inquiry: “How many inhabitants does Paris contain?” The writer
raised its left hand as if to indicate that it required a sheet of
paper, on receiving which, it wrote very distinctly, “Paris contains
998,964 inhabitants.”

The paper passed from the king’s hand into those of the royal family,
and all admired the beauty of the writing; but I saw that Louis Philippe
had a critique to offer, his smile proved that plainly enough. Hence I
was not surprised when, pointing to the paper which had come back to
him, he said:

“Monsieur Robert-Houdin, you did not, perhaps, recollect that this
number will not agree with the new census, which is almost completed?”

Contrary to my expectations, I felt quite at ease with my illustrious

“Sire!” I replied, with sufficient assurance for a man not much
accustomed to the society of crowned heads, “I hope at that period my
automaton will be intelligent enough to make any necessary corrections.”

The king appeared satisfied with this reply, and I took advantage of his
good humor to mention that my Writer was also a poet, and explained
that, if he would deign to offer an unfinished quatrain, the automaton
would fill up the rhyme in the fourth line. The king chose the

    Lorsque dans le malheur, accablé de souffrance,
    Abandonné de tous, l’homme va succomber,
    Quel est l’ange divin qui vient le consoler?

_L’Espérance_, the writer added to the fourth line.

“That is really charming,” the king said to me. “But, Monsieur
Robert-Houdin,” he added, in a confidential tone, “you must have given
your writer instructions in the poetic art?”

“Yes, sire, as far as my weak powers permitted.”

“Then my compliment is merited more by the master than the pupil.”

I bowed to thank the king as much for his compliment as for the delicate
manner in which it was conveyed.

“Now then, Monsieur Robert-Houdin,” Louis Philippe continued, “I see by
the notice attached to this automaton that it is a draughtsman, in
addition to its merits as a writer and poet. If it be so, come,” he
said, addressing the Comte de Paris, “choose your own subject for a

Thinking to cause the prince an agreeable surprise, I had recourse to
palmistry to influence his decision, and he, consequently selected a
crown. The automaton began drawing the outline of this regal ornament
with great skill, and every one followed its movements with interest,
when, to my great disappointment, the point of the draughtsman’s pencil
broke, and the crown could not be finished. I was going to recommence
the experiment, when the king declined, with thanks.

“As you have learned to draw,” he said to the Comte de Paris, “you can
finish this for yourself.”

This performance, besides being the prelude of the kindly interest the
Orleans family afterwards displayed towards me, probably exerted some
influence on the decision of the jury, which granted me a silver medal.


     My proposed Reforms--I build a Theatre in the Palais
     Royal--Formalities--General Rehearsal--Singular Effect of my
     Performance--The Largest and Smallest Theatre in
     Paris--Tribulation--My first Performance--Panic--Discouragement--A
     Fallible Prophet--Recovery--Success.

It may seem strange that I thus pass from my mechanical labors to my
studies in sleight-of-hand; but if my readers will bear in mind that
these two sciences were to unite in producing my success, it will easily
be understood that I felt an equal degree of affection for them, and
that after mentioning one I must allude to the other. The Exhibition did
not drive from my thoughts my theatrical projects.

The instruments intended for my future performances were on the point of
completion, for I had never stopped working at them. I was hence enabled
to commence operations as soon as an opportunity offered. In the mean
time, I determined on the changes I intended to introduce into the usual
routine of conjuring performances.

Remembering Torrini’s principles, I intended to have an elegant and
simple stage, unencumbered by all the paraphernalia of the ordinary
conjurer, which looks more like a toyshop than a serious performance. I
would have none of those enormous metal shades usually placed over
objects that are to disappear, and whose secret duties cannot escape
the notice of the simplest spectator. Apparatus of transparent or opaque
glass, according to circumstances, would suffice for all my operations.
In the performance of my tricks I also intended to abolish those
double-bottomed boxes of which some conjurers made such an abuse, as
well as all instruments designed to make up for the performer’s want of
skill. Real sleight-of-hand must not be the tinman’s work but the
artist’s, and people do not visit the latter to see instruments perform.

Of course, after the abuse I have showered upon the use of accomplices,
I quite did away with them. I have always regarded such trickery as
unworthy a real artist, as it raises doubts as to his skill. Besides,
having frequently acted as an accomplice, I remembered the unfavorable
impression this employment had left upon me as to the talent of my

Jets of gas, covered by opaque globes, were to be substituted on my
stage for the thousands of candles, whose brilliancy is only intended to
dazzle the spectators and thus injure the effect of the experiments.

Among the reforms I intended to introduce on the stage, the most
important was the abolition of those long tablecloths reaching to the
ground, beneath which an assistant is always suspected, and, generally
with some show of reason. For these immense chests of deception I
substituted consoles of gilt wood after the style of Louis XV.

Of course, I abstained from any eccentric costume, and I never thought
of making any change in the attire civilized society has agreed to
accept for evening dress, for I was always of opinion that bizarre
accoutrements, far from giving the wearer any consideration, on the
contrary cast disfavor upon him.

I had also traced out for my performances a line of conduct from which I
never diverged; that was to make no puns or play upon words, and never
to permit myself to be guilty of a mystification, even were I sure of
gaining the greatest success.

Finally, I wished to offer new experiments divested of all charlatanism,
and possessing no other resources than those offered by skillful
manipulation, and the influence of illusions.

This was, it will be seen, a complete regeneration in the art of
conjuring; my only fear was whether the public would accept these
important reforms and such elegant simplicity. It is true, Antonio, the
usual confidant of my plans and thoughts, strongly encouraged me.

“Don’t be alarmed about your success,” he said; “you have precedents to
prove the good taste of the public and their willingness to accept
reforms based on reason. Remember Talma appearing suddenly at the
Thèâtre-Français clothed in the simple antique toga, at a time when
tragedies were performed in silk coats, powdered perukes, and red

I accepted the reasoning, though I did not recognise the justice of the
comparison. In fact, Talma could impose his taste on the public by the
authority of his talent and reputation, while I, who as yet held no
brevet rank in the army of conjurers, trembled to see my innovations
badly received.

We had now reached the month of December, 1844, and, having nothing
further to detain me, I decided on striking the grand blow--that is to
say, I went out one morning determined on finding a site for my theatre.
I passed the whole day in attempting to find a spot combining advantage
of situation, chance of receipts, and many other benefits. I stopped
through preference at the best spots and before the handsomest houses,
but found nothing that exactly suited me.

Wearied with searching, I singularly lowered my pretentions and wants.
Here I found an enormous price asked for a room that only in part suited
me; there, proprietors who would not, for any consideration, have
performances in their houses; in short, obstacles and impossibilities on
all sides.

Thus I ran about Paris for a fortnight, passing from the largest to the
smallest houses in turn, and ended by convincing myself that fate was
adverse to my plans. Antonio relieved me from my difficulty, for that
worthy friend, who aided me in the search, came to tell me he had found
a room in the Palais Royal which could be easily converted into a
theatre. I went straight to 164 in the Galerie de Valois, where I found,
in fact, all the conditions I had sought elsewhere, combined.

The proprietor of this house had been dreaming for a long time in vain
about a benevolent tenant, who, while paying an exhorbitant price for
his room, would come in without expecting any repairs to be done. I was,
therefore, most welcome, when I not only agreed to pay the rent asked,
but endured passively every sort of imposition. Indeed, I would have
given much more, so afraid as I was lest this desirable house should
slip from me.

When the bargain was concluded, I applied to an architect, who soon
brought me the plan of a charming room, which I jumped at. A few days
later he set to work, partitions were knocked down, the ground cleared,
and the carpenters began erecting my theatre, which was to contain from
180 to 200 persons. Though small, this room was all I wanted for my
style of performance; for supposing, according to my famous
calculations, that it was constantly full, it would be an excellent
affair for me.

Antonio, ever filled with zeal for my interests, paid constant visits to
my workmen and stimulated their activity, but one day my friend was
struck by a sudden idea.

“By the way,” he said, “have you thought of asking permission from the
Prefect of Police to construct your theatre?”

“Not yet,” I replied, quietly. “It cannot be refused me, as this
construction makes no change in the architectural arrangements of the

“That is possible,” Antonio added, “but in your place I would take this
step immediately, that no difficulty may occur when it is too late.”

I followed his advice, and we went together to M. X----‘s office, who
then had the direction of theatrical affairs. After an hour waiting, we
were introduced to the head of the office, who, being at the moment
engaged in some interesting reading, did not seem even to notice our
presence. In ten minutes, however, M. X---- laid down his book, opened
and shut a few drawers, called his clerk, gave orders, lifted his
spectacles, and made us a sign that he was ready to hear a sentence
which I had already commenced twice or thrice without being able to end
it. This impertinent coolness made my blood boil; still I said, as
politely as my vexation would allow me,

“I have come, sir, to ask your permission to open a room for
performances of magic and sleight-of-hand in the Palais Royal.”

“Sir,” the head of the office replied, very dryly, “if you have chosen
the Palais Royal for your performance, I can tell you you will not
obtain permission.”

“Why so, sir?” I said, in consternation.

“Because a ministerial decree forbids any new establishment being opened

“But pray consider, sir, that, not being aware of this decision, I have
taken a room on a long lease, and my theatre is at this moment being
built. The refusal of this permission will be my ruin. What can I do

“That is not my business,” the bureaucrat replied, disdainfully; “I am
not a theatrical agent.”

With these words M. X----, after the method employed by solicitors and
physicians to announce that a consultation is over, rose, led us to the
door, and, himself opening it, showed us clearly what we had to do.
Antonio and myself, equally in despair, remained for more than an hour
at the door of the Prefecture, vainly taxing our brains how to escape
from this difficulty. With all our reasoning, we always arrived at the
mournful conclusion that we could do no less than stop the building, and
compound with B---- to take the lease off my hands. It was my ruin,
Antonio understood as well as I, and he could offer me no consolation.

“But, stay,” he said suddenly, striking his forehead, “I have an idea.
Tell me, during the late exhibition, did you not sell a ‘mysterious
clock’ to M. Benjamin Delessert, a banker?”

“Well, suppose I did, what has that to do with----“

“What! do you not understand me? M. Delessert is brother of the Prefect
of Police. Go and see him; he is said to be good hearted, perhaps he
will give you good advice, or even better than that. If he would speak
to his brother on your behalf, we should be saved, for M. Gabriel
Delessert is omnipotent in theatrical matters.”

I adopted Antonio’s advice with joy, and proceeded to carry it into
effect. M. B. Delessert received me kindly, complimented me on the
clock, with which he was quite satisfied, and made me inspect his
magnificent picture-gallery, in which it was put up. Emboldened by this
kind reception, I explained to him the embarrassment in which I was

“Well, M. Robert-Houdin,” he said to me, “console yourself; we may
possibly arrange this affair. I am going to give a large party next
Wednesday evening, to which my brother has promised to come. Do me the
pleasure to join us; you will give us a specimen of your talents, and
when M. le Préfet has learned to appreciate you, I will speak to him of
your matter.”

On Wednesday, I proceeded to the house of my new protector, who had the
kindness to present me to some of his guests, while confidentially
praising my sleight-of-hand talents. My performance came off, and,
judging by the applause I received, I may say it justified their
anticipated compliments. A week had scarce elapsed when I received a
summons to the office of Prefect of Police. I went there with all speed,
and M. Gabriel Delessert informed me that he had been able to induce the
minister to revoke his decision. “Hence you can now go,” he added, “and
obtain your permission in M. X----‘s office, where it has been sent for
some formalities.”

It was curious about my reception on this occasion, but M. X----
displayed such extreme politeness towards me, that it largely made up
for the cavalier treatment he had offered me on the first occasion. Far
from leaving me standing, he would willingly have offered me two chairs
instead of one, and when I quitted his office, he overwhelmed me with
all the attention due to a man protected by a superior power. I was too
happy to bear M. X---- any malice; hence we separated quite reconciled.

I will spare my readers the numberless tribulations which accompanied my
unending building; mistakes in time and money are so usual in such
matters, that I need not allude to them here. At length, all this was
over, and with the liveliest pleasure I saw the last workman depart not
to return again.

We had now reached the end of June, and I hoped to commence at the
beginning of July. For this purpose I hastened my preparations, for each
day was an enormous loss, as I was spending much and earning nothing.

I had already given some partial rehearsals, and I now decided on
holding one to precede the general rehearsal, but, as I was not quite
sure of the success of my experiments, I only invited half a dozen
intimate friends, pledged to give me their opinion with the greatest
severity. This performance was fixed for the 25th June, 1845, and on
that day I made my preparations with as much care as if I were going to
give my opening performance, for I had been suffering for nearly a month
from a regular panic, which I could attribute to no other cause than my
nervous and impressionable temperament.

I could not get a wink of sleep, my appetite had left me, and I thought
of my performances with a species of dread. I, who had hitherto treated
so lightly the performances I gave to my friends--I, who had obtained
such success at Aubusson, trembled like a child.

The reason was, that hitherto I had performed before spectators ever
smiling or ready to smile, and the success of my experiments made no
difference to me. Now, I was about to appear before a real audience, and
I trembled at the thought of “the right they purchased at the door.”

On the appointed evening, at eight precisely, my friends having duly
arrived, the curtain rose, and I appeared on the stage. Half a dozen
smiles greeted my appearance, which rekindled my courage and even gave
me a species of coolness. The first of my experiments was performed very
decently, and yet my address was very badly repeated. I recited it like
a schoolboy who tries to remember his lesson, but the good favor of my
spectators once acquired, I continued famously.

To explain what follows, I must mention that, during the whole day,
heavy clouds had hung over Paris; and the evening, far from bringing any
relief, wafted into the room puffs of heated air, which seemed to issue
from a stove.

Well, I had scarcely reached the middle of the first part, when two of
my spectators had yielded to the soporific influences of the weather and
my “patter.” I could excuse them, however, for my own eye-lids were
beginning to droop. Not being accustomed to sleep standing, however, I
held my own.

But it is well known that nothing is so contagious as sleep, hence the
epidemic made rapid progress. At the end of a few moments the last of
the survivors let his head fall on his chest and completed the sextet,
whose snoring, continually _crescendo_, at length drowned my voice. My
situation was disagreeable, and though I tried to arouse my audience by
speaking in a louder key, I only succeeded in causing one or two
eye-lids to open, which, after a few insane winks, closed again.

At length the first part of the performance was over and the curtain
fell, and with much pleasure I stretched myself in an arm-chair to enjoy
a few minutes’ rest! Five minutes would be enough, and I was asleep
before I could repel the invader. My son, who helped me on the stage,
had not waited so long; he had laid himself on the ground and was
sleeping like a top, while my wife, a busy, courageous woman, though
struggling against the common foe, watched near me, and, in her tender
care, did not disturb a sleep I required so much. Besides, she had
peeped through the hole in the curtain, and our spectators seemed so
happy, that she had not the heart to disturb them. But, insensibly, her
strength betrayed her courage, and unable to resist the temptation of a
nap, she fell asleep too.

The pianist, who represented my orchestra, having seen the curtain fall,
and hearing no movement on the stage, thought my performance was over,
and determined on going. As the porter had orders to turn off the gas at
the main when he saw my pianist go out, and was most anxious to be exact
at the beginning of his engagement, he hastened to obey my orders, and
plunged the room into utter darkness.

We had been enjoying this delightful sleep for about two hours, when I
was aroused by a confused sound of voices and shouts. I rubbed my eyes
and wondered where I was, but seeing nothing, I grew quite alarmed. “Can
I possibly have gone blind?” I exclaimed; “I can see nothing!”

“Hang it, no more can we see anything!” said a voice, which I recognized
as Antonio’s. “For goodness’ sake, give us a light!”

“Yes, yes, a light!” my five other spectators repeated in chorus.

We were soon on our feet; the curtain was raised, and then, having
lighted some candles, we saw our five sleepers rubbing their eyes, and
trying to find out where they were; while Antonio was growling away
under the stalls, where he had fallen asleep.

All was then explained; we had a hearty laugh at the adventure, and
separated with the promise of meeting again.

There were only four days to the 1st of July, and to any one acquainted
with the preparations for a first performance, and, far more important
still, for opening a theatre, this lapse of time will appear very short,
for there is always so much to be done at the last moment. Thus, the 1st
of July arrived, and I was not prepared, and the opening did not take
place till three days later.

On this day, by a strange coincidence, the Hippodrome and the “fantastic
soirées” of Robert-Houdin, the largest and smallest stage in Paris, were
opened to the public. The 3d of July, 1845, saw two bills placarded on
the walls of Paris; one enormous, belonging to the Hippodrome, while the
other, of far more modest proportions, announced my performances. Still,
as in the fable of the reed and the oak, the large theatre, in spite of
the skill of the managers, has undergone many changes of fortune; while
the smaller one has continually enjoyed the public favor.

I have sacredly kept a proof of my first bill, the form and color of
which has always remained the same since that date. I copy it word for
word here, both to furnish an idea of its simplicity, and to display the
programme of the experiments I then offered to the public:

  |                 TO-DAY, THURSDAY, JULY 3, 1845.                |
  |                                                                |
  |                       FIRST REPRESENTATION                     |
  |                                                                |
  |                                OF                              |
  |                                                                |
  |                      THE FANTASTIC SOIRÉES                     |
  |                                                                |
  |                                OF                              |
  |                                                                |
  |                          ROBERT-HOUDIN.                        |
  |                                                                |
  |                AUTOMATA, SLEIGHT-OF-HAND, MAGIC.               |
  |                                                                |
  |  The Performance will be composed of entirely novel Experiments|
  |                  invented by M. ROBERT-HOUDIN.                 |
  |                                                                |
  |                        AMONG THEM BEING:                       |
  |                                                                |
  |                      THE CABALISTIC CLOCK.                     |
  |                       AURIOL AND DEBUREAU.                     |
  |                         THE ORANGE-TREE.                       |
  |                     THE MYSTERIOUS BOUQUET.                    |
  |                        THE HANDKERCHIEF.                       |
  |                       PIERROT IN THE EGG.                      |
  |                         OBEDIENT CARDS.                        |
  |                       THE MIRACULOUS FISH.                     |
  |                       THE FASCINATING OWL.                     |
  |               THE PASTRYCOOK OF THE PALAIS ROYAL.              |
  |                                                                |
  |                  TO COMMENCE AT EIGHT O’CLOCK.                 |
  |                                                                |
  |               Box-office open at Half-past Seven.              |
  |                                                                |
  |Price of places: Upper Boxes, 1 fr. 50 c.; Stalls, 3 fr.; Boxes,|
  |                   4 fr.; Dress Circle, 5 fr.                   |

The day of my first representation had at length arrived. To say how I
spent it is impossible; all I remember is, that, at the end of a
feverish and sleepless night, occasioned by the multiplicity of my
tasks, I had to organise and foresee everything, for I was at once
manager, machinist, author and actor. What a terrible responsibility for
a poor artist, whose life had hitherto been spent among his tools!

At seven in the evening, a thousand things had still to be done, but I
was in a state of febrile excitement which doubled my strength and
energy, and I got through them all.

Eight o’clock struck and echoed through my heart like the peal that
summons the culprit to execution; never in my life did I experience such
emotion and torture. Ah! if I could only draw back! Had it been possible
to fly and abandon this position I had so long desired, with what
happiness would I have returned to my peaceful avocations! And yet, why
did I feel this mad terror? I know not, for three-fourths of the room
were filled with persons on whose indulgence I could rely.

I made a final attack on my pusillanimity.

“Come!” I said to myself, “courage! I have my name, my future, my
children’s fortune at stake; courage!”

This thought restored me; I passed my hand several times over my
agitated features, ordered the curtain to be raised, and without further
reflection I walked boldly on the stage.

My friends, aware of my sufferings, received me with some encouraging
applause; this kind reception restored my confidence, and, like a gentle
dew, refreshed my mind and senses. I began.

To assert that I acquitted myself fairly would be a proof of vanity, and
yet it would be excusable, for I received repeated signs of applause
from my audience. But how to distinguish between the applause of the
friendly and the paying public? I was glad to deceive myself, and my
experiments gained by it.

The first part was over, and the curtain fell. My wife came directly to
embrace me, to encourage me, and thank me for my courageous efforts. I
may now confess it: I believed that I had been alone severe to myself,
and that it was possible all this applause was sterling coin. This
belief did me an enormous good; and why should I conceal it, tears of
joy stood in my eyes, which I hastened to wipe away lest my feelings
might prevent my preparations for the second part.

The curtain rose again, and I approached my audience with a smile on my
lips. I judged of this change in my face by those of my spectators, for
they began all at once to share my good humor.

How many times since have I tried this imitative faculty on the part of
the public? If you are anxious, ill-disposed, or vexed, or should your
face bear the stamp of any annoying impression, your audience,
straightway imitating the contraction of your features, begins to frown,
grows serious, and ill-disposed to be favorable to you. If, however, you
appear on the stage with a cheerful face, the most sombre brows
unwrinkle, and every one seems to say to the artist: “How d’ye do, old
fellow, your face pleases me, I only want an opportunity to applaud
you.” Such seemed to be the case with my public at this moment.

It was more easy for me to feel at my ease as I was beginning my
favorite experiment, “the surprising pocket-handkerchief,” a medley of
clever deceptions. After borrowing a handkerchief, I produced from it a
multitude of objects of every description, such as sugar-plums, feathers
of every size up to a drum-major’s, fans, comic journals, and, as a
_finale_, an enormous basket of flowers, which I distributed to the
ladies. This trick was perfectly successful, but, to tell the truth, I
had it at my fingers’ ends.

The next performance was the “orange-tree,” and I had every reason to
calculate on this trick, for, in my private rehearsals, it was the one I
always did best. I began with a few juggling tricks as introduction,
which were perfectly successful, and I had every reason to believe I was
getting through it capitally, when a sudden thought crossed my mind and
paralyzed me. I was assailed by a panic which must have been felt to be
understood, and I will try to explain it by an illustration.

When you are learning to swim, the teacher begins by giving you this
important piece of advice; “Have confidence, and all will be well.” If
you follow his advice, you can easily keep yourself up on the water, and
it seems perfectly natural; thus you learn to swim. But it often happens
that a sudden thought crosses your mind like lightning: “Suppose my
strength failed me!” From that time you hurry your movements, you
redouble your speed, the water no longer sustains you, you flounder
about, and, if a helping hand were not by, you would be lost.

Such was my situation on the stage; the thought had suddenly struck me:
“Suppose I were to fail!” And immediately I began to talk quick, hurried
on in my anxiety to finish, felt confused, and, like the tired swimmer,
I floundered about without being able to emerge from the chaos of my

Oh! then I experienced a torture, an agony which I could not describe,
but which might easily become mortal were it prolonged.

The real public were cold and silent, my friends were foolish enough to
applaud, but the rest remained quiet. I scarcely dared to look round the
room, and my experiment ended I know not how.

I proceeded to the next, but my nervous system had reached such a degree
of irritation that I no longer knew what I said or did. I only felt that
I was speaking with extraordinary volubility, so that the four last
tricks of my performance were done in a few minutes.

The curtain fell very opportunely; my strength was exhausted; but a
little longer and I should have had to crave the indulgence of my

In my life I never passed so frightful a night as the one following my
first performance. I had a fever, I am quite certain, but that was as
nothing in comparison with my moral sufferings. I had no desire left or
courage to appear on the stage. I wished to sell, give up, or give away,
if necessary, an establishment which taxed my strength too severely.

“No,” I said to myself, “I am not born for this life of emotion. I will
quit the parching atmosphere of a theatre. I will, even at the expense
of a brilliant fortune, return to my gentle and calm employment.”

The next morning, incapable of rising, and, indeed, firmly resolved to
give up my representations, I had the bill taken down that announced my
performance for that evening. I had made up my mind as to all the
consequences of this resolution. Thus, the sacrifice accomplished, I
found myself far more calm, and even yielded to the imperious claims of
a sleep I had for a long time denied myself.

I have now arrived at a moment when I shall quit for ever the mournful
and wearisome details of the numerous misfortunes that preceded my
representations; but my readers will notice with some surprise to what a
futile circumstance I owed my release from this state of discouragement,
which I fancied would last for ever.

The repose I had taken during the day and the following night had
refreshed my blood and my ideas. I regarded my situation under a very
different aspect, and I had already made up my mind not to give up my
theatre, when one of my friends--or, who called himself so--came to pay
me a visit.

After expressing his regret at the unhappy result of my first
performance, at which he had been present, he said:

“I called in to see you because I noticed your room was closed, and I
had a wish to express my feelings to you on the subject. I must say,
then, to speak frankly” (I have noticed that this phrase is always
followed by some bad compliment, which is meant to pass under the guise
of friendly frankness), “that you are perfectly right to quit a
profession beyond your strength, and that you have acted wisely by
anticipating with good grace a decision to which you would have been
forced sooner or later. However,” he added, with a self-sufficient air,
“I foretold it. I always thought you were committing an act of madness,
and that your theatre would no sooner be opened than you would be
obliged to close it.”

These cruel compliments, addressed under the cloak of apocryphal
frankness, wounded me deeply. I could easily detect that this offerer of
advice, sacrificing to his vanity the slight affection he felt for me,
had only come to see me in order to parade his perspicacity and the
justice of his previsions, of which he had never mentioned a syllable to
me. Well, this infallible prophet, who foresaw events so truly, was far
from suspecting the change he was producing in me. The more he talked,
the more he confirmed me in the resolution of continuing my

“Who told you my room was closed?” I said, in a tone that had nothing
affectionate about it. “If I did not perform yesterday, it was because,
worn out by the fatigue I have undergone for some time, I wished to rest
for at least one day. Your foreboding will, therefore, be disappointed,
when I tell you that I shall perform this very evening. I hope, in my
second representation, to take my revenge on the public; and this time
they will judge me less severely than you have done. I am quite
convinced of it.”

The conversation having taken this turn, could not be continued much
longer. My offerer of advice, dissatisfied at my reception of him,
quitted me, and I have never seen him since. Yet, I bear him no malice;
on the contrary, if he reads my Memoirs, I beg to offer him in this
place my thanks for the happy revolution he produced in me by wounding
my vanity to the quick.

Bills were immediately posted to announce my performance for that
evening, and I made my preparations calmly, while thinking over those
parts of my performance in which it would be advisable to introduce a

This second representation went on much better than I had hoped, and my
audience appeared satisfied. Unfortunately, that audience was small, and
my receipts, consequently, were the same. Still, I accepted it all
philosophically, for the success I had obtained gave me confidence in
the future.

However, I soon had real causes for consolation. The celebrities of the
press came to my representations, and described my performance in the
most flattering terms. Some contributors to the comic papers also made
very pleasant allusions to my performances and myself. Among others, the
present editor of the _Charivari_ wrote an article full of fun and dash
about my performances, which he terminated with some lines, expressive
of his decided opinion that I belonged to the family of Robert le Diable
and Robert Macaire.

Finally, the _Illustration_, desirous of evincing its sympathy, engaged
Eugène Forey to draw a sketch of my theatre. Such publicity soon
attracted the attention of the first Parisian circles: people came to
see my performances: they appointed to meet at my room, and from this
moment commenced that reputation which has never left me since.


     New Studies--A Comic Journal--Invention of Second Sight--Curious
     Experiments--An enthusiastic Spectator--Danger of being a
     Sorcerer--A Philter or your Life--Way to get rid of Bores--An
     Electric Touch--I perform at the Vaudeville--Struggles with the
     Incredulous--Interesting Details.

Fontenelle says, somewhere or other, “There is no success, however
merited, in which luck does not have a share;” and, although I was of
the same opinion as the illustrious Academician, I determined by sheer
toil to diminish as much as in me lay the share luck could claim in _my_
success. In the first place, I redoubled my efforts to improve the
execution of my tricks, and when I believed I had attained that result,
I tried to correct a fault which, I felt, must injure my performance.
This was speaking too rapidly; and my “patter,” recited in a schoolboy
tone, thus lost much of its effect. I was drawn in this false direction
by my natural vivacity, and I had great trouble in correcting it;
however, by resolutely attacking my enemy, I managed to conquer it.

This victory was doubly profitable to me: I performed with much less
fatigue, and had the pleasure of noticing, in the calmness of my
audience, that I had realized the scenic truth, “the more slowly a story
is told, the shorter it seems.” In fact, if you pronounce slowly, the
public, judging from your calmness that you take an interest in what you
are saying, yield to your influence and listen to you with sustained
attention. If, on the contrary, your words reveal a desire to finish
quickly, your auditors gradually submit to the influence of this
restlessness, and they are as anxious as yourself to hear the end of
your story.

I have said that people of the first rank came to my theatre, but I
noticed, on the other hand, to my regret, that my pit was scantily
filled. As I was ambitious to have my room thronged, I thought I could
not effect this more easily than by making my theatre better known than
I had hitherto done.

From time immemorial it has been the custom, at conjuring performances,
to distribute small presents to the audience, in order to “maintain
their friendship.” Toys were generally selected, which spectators of all
ages contended for; and this often made Comte say at the moment of
distribution, “Here are toys for great children and small.” These toys
had a very ephemeral existence, and as nothing indicated their origin,
they could attract no attention to the giver. While, then, I was as
liberal as my predecessors, I wished that my little presents should keep
up for a longer period the remembrance of my name and experiments.
Instead of dolls and other similar objects, I distributed to my
spectators, under the form of presents produced by magic, illustrated
comic journals, elegant fans, albums, and rebuses, all accompanied by
bouquets and excellent bonbons. Each article bore, not only the
inscription “Recollections of Robert-Houdin’s fantastic soirées,” but
also details of my performances, according to the nature of the article.
These were generally presented in the shape of verses. The thing that
caused me the most trouble was my comic journal, the “Cagliostro,” which
I was forced to edit at the expense of my night’s rest. The audience
were amused by my jests, and the perusal of the paper between the acts
gave me a little time to make my preparations.

The experiment, however, to which I owed my reputation was one inspired
by that fantastic god to whom Pascal attributes all the discoveries of
this sublunary world: chance led me straight to the invention of _second

My two children were playing one day in the drawing-room at a game they
had invented for their own amusement. The younger had bandaged his elder
brother’s eyes, and made him guess the objects he touched, and when the
latter happened to guess right, they changed places. This simple game
suggested to me the most complicated idea that ever crossed my mind.

Pursued by the notion, I ran and shut myself up in my workroom, and was
fortunately in that happy state when the mind follows easily the
combinations traced by fancy. I rested my head in my hands, and, in my
excitement, laid down the first principles of second sight.

It would require a whole volume to describe the numberless combinations
of this experiment; but this description, far too serious for these
memoirs, will find a place in a special work, which will also contain
the explanation of my theatrical tricks. Still, I cannot resist the
desire of cursorily explaining some of the preliminary experiments to
which I had recourse before I could make the trick perfect.

My readers will remember the experiment suggested to me formerly by the
pianist’s dexterity, and the strange faculty I succeeded in attaining: I
could read while juggling with four balls. Thinking seriously of this, I
fancied that this “perception by appreciation” might be susceptible of
equal development, if I applied its principles to the memory and the

I resolved, therefore, on making some experiments with my son Emile,
and, in order to make my young assistant understand the nature of the
exercise we were going to learn, I took a domino, the cinq-quatre for
instance, and laid it before him. Instead of letting him count the
points of the two numbers, I requested the boy to tell me the total at

“Nine,” he said.

Then I added another domino, the quarter-tray.

“That makes sixteen,” he said, without any hesitation.

I stopped the first lesson here; the next day we succeeded in counting
at a single glance four dominoes, the day after six, and thus we at
length were enabled to give instantaneously the product of a dozen

This result obtained, we applied ourselves to a far more difficult task,
over which we spent a month. My son and I passed rapidly before a
toy-shop, or any other displaying a variety of wares, and cast an
attentive glance upon it. A few steps further on we drew paper and
pencil from our pockets, and tried which could describe the greater
number of objects seen in passing. I must own that my son reached a
perfection far greater than mine, for he could often write down forty
objects, while I could scarce reach thirty. Often feeling vexed at this
defeat, I would return to the shop and verify his statement, but he
rarely made a mistake.

My male readers will certainly understand the possibility of this, but
they will recognize the difficulty. As for my lady readers, I am
convinced beforehand they will not be of the same opinion, for they
daily perform far more astounding feats. Thus, for instance, I can
safely assert that a lady seeing another pass at full speed in a
carriage, will have had time to analyze her toilette from her bonnet to
her shoes, and be able to describe not only the fashion and quality of
the stuffs, but also say if the lace be real, or only machine made. I
have known ladies do this.

This natural, or acquired, faculty among ladies, but which my son and I
had only gained by constant practice, was of great service in my
performances, for while I was executing my tricks, I could see
everything that passed around me, and thus prepare to foil any
difficulties presented me. This exercise had given me, so to speak, the
power of following two ideas simultaneously, and nothing is more
favorable in conjuring than to be able to think at the same time both of
what you are saying and of what you are doing. I eventually acquired
such a knack in this, that I frequently invented new tricks while going
through my performances. One day, even, I made a bet I would solve a
problem in mechanics while taking my part in conversation. We were
talking of the pleasure of a country life, and I calculated during this
time the quantity of wheels and pinions, as well as the necessary cogs,
to produce certain revolutions required, without once failing in my

This slight explanation will be sufficient to show what is the essential
basis of second sight, and I will add that a secret and unnoticeable
correspondence existed between my son and myself, by which I could
announce to him the name, nature, and bulk of objects handed me by

As none understood my mode of action, they were tempted to believe in
something extraordinary, and, indeed, my son Emile, then aged twelve,
possessed all the essential qualities to produce this opinion, for his
pale, intellectual, and ever thoughtful face represented the type of a
boy gifted with some supernatural power.

Two months were incessantly employed in erecting the scaffolding of our
tricks, and when we were quite confident of being able to contend
against the difficulties of such an undertaking, we announced the first
representation of second sight. On the 12th of February, 1846, I printed
in the centre of my bill the following singular announcement:

“_In this performance M. Robert-Houdin’s son, who is gifted with a
marvellous second sight, after his eyes have been covered with a thick
bandage, will designate every object presented to him by the audience_.”

I cannot say whether this announcement attracted any spectators, for my
room was constantly crowded, still I may affirm, what may seem very
extraordinary, that the experiment of second sight, which afterwards
became so fashionable, produced no effect on the first performance. I am
inclined to believe that the spectators fancied themselves the dupes of
accomplices, but I was much annoyed by the result, as I had built on the
surprise I should produce; still, having no reason to doubt its ultimate
success, I was tempted to make a second trial, which turned out well.

The next evening I noticed in my room several persons who had been
present on the previous night, and I felt they had come a second time to
assure themselves of the reality of the experiment. It seems they were
convinced, for my success was complete, and amply compensated for my
former disappointment.

I especially remember a mark of singular approval with which one of my
pit audience favored me. My son had named to him several objects he
offered in succession; but not feeling satisfied, my incredulous
friend, rising, as if to give more importance to the difficulty he was
about to present, handed me an instrument peculiar to cloth merchants,
and employed to count the number of threads. Acquiescing in his wish, I
said to my boy, “What do I hold in my hand?”

“It is an instrument to judge the fineness of cloth, and called a thread

“By Jove!” my spectator said, energetically, “it is marvellous. If I had
paid ten francs to see it, I should not begrudge them.”

From this moment my room was much too small, and was crowded every

Still, success is not entirely rose-colored, and I could easily narrate
many disagreeable scenes produced by the reputation I had of being a
sorcerer; but I will only mention one, which forms a résumé of all I
pass over:

A young lady of elegant manners paid me a visit one day, and although
her face was hidden by a thick veil, my practised eyes perfectly
distinguished her features. She was very pretty.

My incognita would not consent to sit down till she was assured we were
alone, and that I was the real Robert-Houdin. I also seated myself, and
assuming the attitude of a man prepared to listen, I bent slightly to my
visitor, as if awaiting her pleasure to explain to me the object of her
mysterious visit. To my great surprise, the young lady, whose manner
betrayed extreme emotion, maintained the most profound silence, and I
began to find the visit very strange, and was on the point of forcing an
explanation, at any hazard, when the fair unknown timidly ventured these

“Good Heavens! sir, I know not how you will interpret my visit.”

Here she stopped, and let her eyes sink with a very embarrassed air;
then, making a violent effort, she continued:

“What I have to ask of you, sir, is very difficult to explain.”

“Speak, madam, I beg,” I said, politely, “and I will try to guess what
you cannot explain to me.”

And I began asking myself what this reserve meant.

“In the first place,” the young lady said, in a low voice, and looking
round her, “I must tell you confidentially that I loved, my love was
returned, and I--I am betrayed.”

At the last word the lady raised her head, overcame the timidity she
felt, and said, in a firm and assured voice,

“Yes, sir--yes, I am betrayed, and for that reason I have come to you.”

“Really, madam,” I said, much surprised at this strange confession, “I
do not see how I can help you in such a matter.”

“Oh, sir, I entreat you,” said my fair visitor, clasping her hands--“I
implore you not to abandon me!”

I had great difficulty in keeping my countenance, and yet I felt an
extreme curiosity to know the history concealed behind this mystery.

“Calm yourself, madam,” I remarked, in a tone of tender sympathy; “tell
me what you would of me, and if it be in my power----“

“If it be in your power!” the young lady said, quickly; “why, nothing is
more easy, sir.”

“Explain yourself, madam.”

“Well, sir, I wish to be avenged.”

“In what way?”

“How, you know better than I, sir; must I teach you? You have in your
power means to----“

“I, madam?”

“Yes, sir, you! for you are a sorcerer, and cannot deny it.”

At this word sorcerer, I was much inclined to laugh; but I was
restrained by the incognita’s evident emotion. Still, wishing to put an
end to a scene which was growing ridiculous, I said, in a politely
ironical tone:

“Unfortunately, madam, you give me a title I never possessed.”

“How, sir!” the young woman exclaimed, in a quick tone, “you will not
allow you are----“

“A sorcerer, madam? Oh no, I will not.”

“You will not?”

“No, a thousand times no, madam.”

At these words my visitor rose hastily, muttered a few incoherent words,
appeared suffering from terrible emotion, and then drawing near me with
flaming eyes and passionate gestures, repeated:

“Ah, you will not! Very good; I now know what I have to do.”

Stupefied by such an outbreak, I looked at her fixedly, and began to
suspect the cause of her extraordinary conduct.

“There are two modes of acting,” she said, with terrible volubility,
“towards people who devote themselves to magic arts--entreaty and
menaces. You would not yield to the first of these means, hence, I must
employ the second. Stay,” she added, “perhaps this will induce you to

And, lifting up her cloak, she laid her hand on the hilt of a dagger
passed through her girdle. At the same time she suddenly threw back her
veil, and displayed features in which all the signs of rage and madness
could be traced. No longer having a doubt as to the person I had to deal
with, my first movement was to rise and stand on my guard; but this
first feeling overcome, I repented the thought of a struggle with the
unhappy woman, and determined on employing a method almost always
successful with those deprived of reason. I pretended to accede to her

“If it be so, madam, I yield to your request. Tell me what you require.”

“I have told you, sir; I wish for vengeance, and there is only one
method to----“

Here there was a fresh interruption, and the young lady, calmed by my
apparent submission, as well as embarrassed by the request she had to
make of me, became again timid and confused.

“Well, madam?”

“Well, sir, I know not how to tell you--how to explain to you--but I
fancy there are certain means--certain spells--which render it
impossible--impossible for a man to be--unfaithful.”

“I now understand what you wish, madam. It is a certain magic practice
employed in the middle ages. Nothing is easier, and I will satisfy you.”

Decided on playing the farce to the end, I took down the largest book I
could find in my library, turned over the leaves, stopped at a page
which I pretended to scan with profound attention, and then addressing
the lady, who followed all my movements anxiously,

“Madam,” I said, confidentially, “the spell I am going to perform
renders it necessary for me to know the name of the person; have the
kindness, then, to tell it me.”

“Julian!” she said, in a faint voice.

With all the gravity of a real sorcerer, I solemnly thrust a pin through
a lighted candle, and pronounced some cabalistic words. After which,
blowing out the candle, and turning to the poor creature, I said:

“Madam, it is done; your wish is accomplished.”

“Oh, thank you, sir,” she replied, with the expression of the
profoundest gratitude; and at the same moment she laid a purse on the
table and rushed away. I ordered my servant to follow her to her house,
and obtain all the information he could about her, and I learned she had
been a widow for a short time, and that the loss of an adored husband
had disturbed her reason. The next day I visited her relatives, and,
returning them the purse, I told them the scene the details of which the
reader has just perused.

This scene, with some others that preceded and followed it, compelled me
to take measures to guard myself against bores of every description. I
could not dream, as formerly, of exiling myself in the country, but I
employed a similar resource: this was to shut myself up in my workroom,
and organize around me a system of defence against those whom I called,
in my ill-temper, thieves of time.

I daily received visits from persons who were utter strangers to me;
some were worth knowing, but the majority, gaining an introduction under
the most futile pretexts, only came to kill a portion of their leisure
time with me. It was necessary to distinguish the tares from the wheat,
and this is the arrangement I made:

When one of these gentlemen rang at my door, an electric communication
struck a bell in my workroom; I was thus warned and put on my guard. My
servant opened the door, and, as is customary, inquired the visitor’s
name, while I, for my part, laid my ear to a tube, arranged for the
purpose, which conveyed to me every word. If, according to his reply, I
thought it as well not to receive him, I pressed a button, and a white
mark that appeared in a certain part of the hall announced I was not at
home to him. My servant then stated I was out, and begged the visitor to
apply to the manager.

Sometimes it happened that I erred in my judgment, and regretted having
granted an audience; but I had another mode of shortening a bore’s
visit. I had placed behind the sofa on which I set an electric spring,
communicating with a bell my servant could hear. In case of need, and
while talking, I threw my arm carelessly over the back of the sofa,
touching the spring, and the bell rang. Then my servant, playing a
little farce, opened the front door, rang the bell, which could be heard
from the room where I sat, and came to tell me that M. X---- (a name
invented for the occasion) wished to speak to me. I ordered M. X---- to
be shown into an adjoining room, and it was very rare that my bore did
not raise the siege. No one can form an idea how much time I gained by
this happy arrangement, or how many times I blessed my imagination and
the celebrated savant to whom the discovery of galvanism is due!

This feeling can be easily explained, for my time was of inestimable
value. I husbanded it like a treasure, and never sacrificed it, unless
the sacrifice might help me to discover new experiments destined to
stimulate public curiosity.

To support my determination in making my researches, I had ever before
me this maxim:


And this other, an apparent corollary of the preceding:


Nothing increases a professional man’s merit so much as the possession
of an independent fortune; this truth may be coarse, but it is
indubitable. Not only was I convinced of these principles of high
economy, but I also knew that a man must strive to profit by the fickle
favor of the public, which equally descends if it does not rise. Hence I
worked my reputation as much as I could. In spite of my numerous
engagements, I found means to give performances in all the principal
theatres, though great difficulties frequently arose, as my performance
did not end till half-past ten, and I could only fulfil my other
engagements after that hour.

Eleven o’clock was generally the hour fixed for my appearance on a
strange stage, and my readers may judge of the speed required to proceed
to the theatre in so short a time and make my preparations. It is true
that the moments were as well counted as employed, and my curtain had
hardly fallen than, rushing towards the stairs, I got before my
audience, and jumped into a vehicle that bore me off at full speed.

But this fatigue was as nothing compared to the emotion occasionally
produced by an error in the time that was to elapse between my two
performances. I remember that, one night, having to wind up the
performances at the Vaudeville, the stage-manager miscalculated the time
the pieces would take in performing, and found himself much in advance.
He sent off an express to warn me that the curtain had fallen, and I was
anxiously expected. Can my readers comprehend my wretchedness? My
experiments, of which I could omit none, would occupy another quarter
of an hour; but instead of indulging in useless recriminations, I
resigned myself and continued my performance, though I was a prey to
frightful anxiety. While speaking, I fancied I could hear that cadenced
yell of the public to which the famous song, “_Des lampions, des
lampions_,” was set. Thus, either through preoccupation, or a desire to
end sooner, I found when my performance was over I had gained five
minutes out of the quarter of an hour. Assuredly, it might be called the
quarter of an hour’s grace.

To jump into a carriage and drive to the Place de la Bourse was the
affair of an instant; still, twenty minutes had elapsed since the
curtain fell, and that was an enormous time. My son Emile and I
proceeded up the actors’ stairs at full speed, but on the first step, we
had heard the cries, whistling, and stamping of the impatient audience.
What a prospect! I knew that frequently, either right or wrong, the
public treated an artiste, no matter whom, very harshly, to remind him
of punctuality. That sovereign always appears to have on its lips the
words of another monarch: “I was obliged to wait.” However, we hurried
up the steps leading to the stage.

The stage-manager, who had been watching, on hearing our hurried steps,
cried from the landing:

“Is that you, M. Houdin?”

“Yes, sir--yes.”

“Raise the curtain!” the same voice shouted.

“Wait, wait, it is imp----“

My breath would not allow me to finish my objection; I fell on a chair,
unable to move.

“Come, M. Houdin,” the manager said, “_do_ go on the stage, the curtain
is up, and the public are so impatient.”

The door at the back of the stage was open, but I could not pass through
it, fatigue and emotion nailed me to the spot. Still, an idea occurred
to me, which saved me from the popular wrath.

“Go on to the stage, my boy,” I said to my son, “and prepare all that is
wanting for the second-sight trick.”

The public allowed themselves to be disarmed by this youth, whose face
inspired a sympathizing interest; and my son, after gravely bowing to
the audience, quietly made his slight preparations, that is to say, he
carried an ottoman to the front of the stage, and placed on a
neighboring table a slate, some chalk, a pack of cards, and a bandage.

This slight delay enabled me to recover my breath and calm my nerves,
and I advanced in my turn with an attempt to assume the stereotyped
smile, in which I signally failed, as I was so agitated. The audience at
first remained silent, then their faces gradually unwrinkled, and soon,
one or two claps having been ventured, they were carried away and peace
was made. I was well rewarded, however, for this terrible ordeal, as my
“second-sight” never gained a more brilliant triumph.

An incident greatly enlivened the termination of my performance.

A spectator, who had evidently come on purpose to embarrass us, had
tried in vain for some minutes to baffle my son’s clairvoyance, when
turning to me, he said, laying marked stress on his words:

“As your son is a soothsayer, of course he can guess the number of my

The importunate spectator doubtlessly hoped to force us into a
confession of our impotence, for he covered his number and the adjacent
seats being occupied, it was apparently impossible to read the numbers.
But I was on my guard against all surprises, and my reply was ready.
Still, in order to profit as much as possible by the situation, I
feigned to draw back.

“You know, sir,” I said, feigning an embarrassed air, “that my son is
neither sorcerer nor diviner; he reads through my eyes, and hence I have
given this experiment the name of second-sight. As I cannot see the
number of your stall, and the seats close to you are occupied, my son
cannot tell it you.”

“Ah! I was certain of it,” my persecutor said, in triumph, and turning
to his neighbors: “I told you I would pin him.”

“Oh, sir! you are not generous in your victory,” I said, in my turn, in
a tone of mockery. “Take care; if you pique my son’s vanity too sharply,
he may solve your problem, though it is so difficult.”

“I defy him,” said the spectator, leaning firmly against the back of his
seat, to hide the number better--“yes, yes--I defy him!”

“You believe it to be difficult, then?”

“I will grant more: it is impossible.”

“Well, then, sir, that is a stronger reason for us to try it. You will
not be angry if we triumph in our turn?” I added, with a petulant smile.

“Come, sir; we understand evasions of that sort. I repeat it--I
challenge you both.”

The public found great amusement in this debate, and patiently awaited
its issue.

“Emile,” I said to my son, “prove to this gentleman that nothing can
escape your second sight.”

“It is number sixty-nine,” the boy answered, immediately.

Noisy and hearty applause rose from every part of the theatre, in which
our opponent joined, for, confessing his defeat, he exclaimed, as he
clapped his hands, “It is astounding--magnificent!”

The way I succeeded in finding out the number of the stall was this: I
knew beforehand that in all theatres where the stalls are divided down
the centre by a passage, the uneven numbers are on the right, and the
even on the left. As at the Vaudeville each row was composed of ten
stalls, it followed that on the right hand the several rows must begin
with one, twenty-one, forty-one, and so on, increasing by twenty each.
Guided by this, I had no difficulty in discovering that my opponent was
seated in number sixty-nine, representing the fifth stall in the fourth
row. I had prolonged the conversation for the double purpose of giving
more brilliancy to my experiment, and gaining time to make my
researches. Thus I applied my process of two simultaneous thoughts, to
which I have already alluded.

As I am now explaining matters, I may as well tell my readers some of
the artifices that added material brilliancy to the second sight. I have
already said this experiment was the result of a material communication
between myself and my son, which no one could detect. Its combinations
enabled us to describe any conceivable object; but, though this was a
splendid result, I saw that I should soon encounter unheard-of
difficulties in executing it.

The experiment of second sight always formed the termination of my
performance. Each evening I saw unbelievers arrive with all sorts of
articles to triumph over a secret which they could not unravel. Before
going to see Robert-Houdin’s son a council was held, in which an object
that must embarrass the father was chosen. Among these were
half-effaced antique medals, minerals, books printed in characters of
every description (living and dead languages), coats-of-arms,
microscopic objects, &c.

But what caused me the greatest difficulty was in finding out the
contents of parcels, often tied with a string, or even sealed up. But I
had managed to contend successfully against all these attempts to
embarrass me. I opened boxes, purses, pocket-books, &c., with great
ease, and unnoticed, while appearing to be engaged on something quite
different. Were a sealed parcel offered me, I cut a small slit in the
paper with the nail of my left thumb, which I always purposely kept very
long and sharp, and thus discovered what it contained. One essential
condition was excellent sight, and that I possessed to perfection. I
owed it originally to my old trade, and practice daily improved it. An
equally indispensable necessity was to know the name of every object
offered me. It was not enough to say, for instance, “It is a coin;” but
my son must give its technical name, its value, the country in which it
was current, and the year in which it was struck. Thus, for instance, if
an English crown were handed me, my son was expected to state that it
was struck in the reign of George IV., and had an intrinsic value of six
francs eighteen centimes.

Aided by an excellent memory, we had managed to classify in our heads
the name and value of all foreign money. We could also describe a
coat-of-arms in heraldic terms. Thus, on the arms of the house of X----
being handed me, my son would reply: “Field gules, with two croziers
argent in pale.” This knowledge was very useful to us in the _salons_ of
the Faubourg Saint Germain, where we were frequently summoned.

I had also learned the characters--though unable to translate a
word--of an infinity of languages, such as Chinese, Russian, Turkish,
Greek, Hebrew, &c. We knew, too, the names of all surgical instruments,
so that a surgical pocket-book, however complicated it might be, could
not embarrass us. Lastly, I had a very sufficient knowledge of
mineralogy, precious stones, antiquities, and curiosities; but I had at
my command every possible resource for acquiring these studies, as one
of my dearest and best friends, Aristide le Carpentier, a learned
antiquary, and uncle of the talented composer of the same name, had, and
still has, a cabinet of antique curiosities, which makes the keepers of
the imperial museums fierce with envy. My son and I spent many long days
in learning here names and dates, of which we afterwards made a learned
display. Le Carpentier taught me many things, and, among others, he
described various signs by which to recognise old coins when the die is
worn off. Thus, a Trajan, a Tiberius, or a Marcus Aurelius became as
familiar to me as a five-franc piece.

Owing to my old trade, I could open a watch with ease, and do it with
one hand, so as to be able to read the maker’s name without the public
suspecting it: then I shut up the watch again and the trick was ready;
my son managed the rest of the business.

But that power of memory which my son possessed in an eminent degree
certainly did us the greatest service. When we went to private houses,
he needed only a very rapid inspection, in order to know all the objects
in a room, as well as the various ornaments worn by the spectators, such
as châtelaines, pins, eye-glasses, fans, brooches, rings, bouquets, &c.
He thus could describe these objects with the greatest ease, when I
pointed them out to him by our secret communication. Here is an

One evening, at a house in the Chaussée d’Antin, and at the end of a
performance which had been as successful as it was loudly applauded, I
remembered that, while passing through the next room to the one we were
now in, I had begged my son to cast a glance at a library and remember
the titles of some of the books, as well as the order they were arranged
in. No one had noticed this rapid examination.

“To end the second sight experiment, sir,” I said to the master of the
house, “I will prove to you that my son can read through a wall. Will
you lend me a book?”

I was naturally conducted to the library in question, which I pretended
now to see for the first time, and I laid my finger on a book.

“Emile,” I said to my son, “What is the name of this work?”

“It is Buffon,” he replied, quickly.

“And the one by its side?” an incredulous spectator hastened to ask.

“On the right or left?” my son asked.

“On the right,” the speaker said, having a good reason for choosing this
book, for the lettering was very small.

“The Travels of Anacharsis the Younger,” the boy replied. “But,” he
added, “had you asked the name of the book on the left, sir, I should
have said Lamartine’s Poetry. A little to the right of this row, I see
Crébillon’s works; below, two volumes of Fleury’s Memoirs;” and my son
thus named a dozen books before he stopped.

The spectators had not said a word during this description, as they felt
so amazed; but when the experiment had ended, all complimented us by
clapping their hands.


     Seductions of a Theatrical Agent--How to gain One Hundred Thousand
     Francs--I start for Brussels--A lucky Two-Sou Piece--Miseries of
     professional Travelling--The Park Theatre--Tyranny of a
     Porter--Full House--Small Receipts--Deceptions--Return to Paris.

Had it not been for my constant toil and the inconveniences attached to
it, I should have been quite happy and satisfied with the daily profit
my performances brought me in. But one fine day the demon of seduction
presented himself before me in the obsequious form of a theatrical

“Monsieur Robert-Houdin,” he said, with a smile on his lips, as if we
were old friends, “I am commissioned by M. X----, manager of the royal
theatres of Brussels, to offer you an engagement for the summer season.”

My first answer was a refusal, which I based on excellent reasons. As I
was very successful, it would not be prudent to break the vein, while I
saw no occasion to go a long distance in search of advantages I could
secure at home. This reasoning would have settled any one but a
theatrical agent; but nothing, it is well known, can shake off the grip
of these skillful crimps.

“Permit me, Monsieur Robert-Houdin, not to be quite of your opinion. I
allow, of course, that with your talents you are always secure of good
receipts, but you should bear in mind that the dog-days are approaching,
and your room is stifling in summer. This consideration might induce
the Parisian public to defer till autumn the pleasure of witnessing your
performances, while, by going to Brussels, where the theatres are large
and airy, you would have no reason to fear such a result. Come,” the
plenipotentiary continued, in a most candid tone, “I must tell you,
without wishing to flatter you the least in the world, that everybody is
talking about you in Belgium; I may add, even, that the manager has been
urged to make you offers by a great number of his subscribers.”

This flattering insinuation began to shake my decision, and I offered in
my defence reasons whose weakness only attested to my indecision. My
clever touter noticed this, and thinking the moment arrived to strike
his great blow, said:

“Do you know, sir, the probable proceeds of my offer?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, make an estimate.”

“It is impossible.”

“Then, approximate.”

“I must decline; for I understand nothing of such calculations.”

“Well, then, I understand them, and am rarely mistaken,” said the agent,
stroking his chin, “and I tell you it is an affair to you” (here my
seducer stopped, as if to make a most accurate calculation)--“an affair
of one hundred thousand francs.”

“One hundred thousand francs!” I exclaimed, dazzled at such a prospect,
“you cannot mean it.”

“It is precisely because I mean it that I tell you, and repeat it again:
you will clear one hundred thousand francs by your trip. Add to this,
the advantage of having seen a splendid country, and being received with
all the attention due to an artist of your merit. You will then return
to your impatient spectators, whose curiosity, heightened by their long
privation, will produce you receipts far more brilliant than any you
might have expected by remaining in Paris.”

Being little conversant at that period with theatrical matters, and
having no reason to doubt the honesty of my eloquent “humbugger,” I
easily believed his fine promises. The chink of one hundred thousand
francs still ringing in my ears fascinated me; and I gave way
unconsciously to the same mode of reasoning the inkstand inventor had

“And, really,” I said to myself, “supposing, for instance, that----“
And, leaping from supposition to supposition, my calculations exceeded
those of the agent. But, in order to be reasonable, I concluded, like my
friend the inventor, in this way: “Well, to prevent any
misunderstanding, suppose we say only fifty thousand francs--surely
nobody can accuse me with exaggeration.”

Though dazzled by this brilliant calculation, I strove to conceal my
desire of accepting the offer.

“It is all very well,” I said, in my turn, after the style of a perfect
man of business, “but what are the conditions?”

“Oh, most simple!” the crafty fellow said; “the same as are made with
all distinguished artists. Monsieur X---- will pay all the expenses, but
to cover those, he will deduct three hundred francs from the gross
receipts, exclusive of the claim of the poor, and the rest will be
fairly divided between him and yourself.”

“Still, I should like to know how much the sum to be divided will amount

“How is it possible to say?” the agent exclaimed, with an aspect of the
greatest sincerity. “With such success as awaits you, it will be

In spite of my pressing, the agent always entrenched himself in his
exclamations, and the impossibility of making such an estimate. Tired of
the struggle, I at length formed my decision.

“I will go to Brussels,” I said, in a resolute tone.

The theatrical agent immediately drew from his pocket a printed form,
which he had brought in case of our coming to terms, and we had only to
add the stipulations to it.

“Tell me, sir,” the manager’s representative said, in a conscientious
tone, “will you have any objection to a forfeit of six thousand francs?
As the engagement is reciprocal, you must find this but fair.”

I only saw in the agent’s request a very natural desire to defend his
employer’s interests; and I drew this conclusion from it: if the
agreement was advantageous for the manager, it must be equally so for
me, as we were to share the receipts. I consented to the clause, and
affixed my signature. The agent could not repress his satisfaction, but
he cleverly ascribed it to the interest he felt in me.

“I congratulate you sincerely on the engagement you have just made,” he
said, as he offered me his hand; “you will soon be able to tell me of
the results you will draw from it. By the way,” he added, in a friendly
tone, after a pause, “will you now permit me to give you a piece of

“Certainly, sir--certainly.”

“I would recommend you, then, to take a collection of showy bills and
posters with you to Belgium. They do not know how to get them up in
Brussels, and they will produce a prodigious effect. It would be also as
well to have a handsome lithograph, representing your stage; it can be
put up in the various picture-shops, and you will obtain increased

These counsels, and the familiar, almost protecting, tone in which they
were given, appeared to me strange; and I could not refrain from
expressing my surprise to the man of business.

“What need of all these precautions? I fancied I understood you

“Good gracious me! all professionals are alike,” the giver of advice
interrupted me; “absorbed in their art, they understand nothing of
business. But tell me, Monsieur Robert-Houdin, would you feel annoyed at
netting one hundred and fifty thousand francs, instead of the one
hundred thousand I promised you?”

“On my word, no,” I said, with a smile; “and I confess that, far from
feeling vexed, I should be very pleased at it.”

“Well, then, the more you make yourself known, the more you will add to
the amount I stated.”

“But I thought that notoriety was generally the business of managers.”

“Certainly, ordinary publicity, but not extraordinary. You must see that
is unlikely, as it will be all for your advantage.”

Though little conversant with business, as the agent had just remarked,
I saw that his arguments were not always in accordance with logic.
However, I consented to the posters and the lithograph, in consideration
of the promised results.

“That is right,” the agent said, his familiarity sensibly increasing
since the signature of the contract--“that is right: that is what I call
managing things properly.”

And my man left me, after complimenting me once more on the arrangement
I had made.

When left to myself, I indulged at my ease in daydreams about the
magnificent result promised me, and this anticipated joy was probably
all I tasted from the moment of signing this engagement to its
termination. The first unpleasantness it occasioned me was a slight
discussion with my cashier, that is to say, my wife, who, in
consideration of her employment, had a deliberative voice in all
theatrical matters. I could not certainly have found an employée of
greater probity, or a more devoted clerk, but I am bound to say that
this clerk, probably through her intimate connexion with her employer,
sometimes ventured to contradict him. Thus I feared when I described to
that functionary the brilliant perspective of my agreement.

Although I finished my statement with this harmonious phrase, on every
word of which I laid a heavy stress, in order to give it more value,
“and we shall return to France with one--hundred--thousand--francs clear
profit,” my wife, or rather my cashier, coolly said to me:

“Well, in your place, I should not have made such a bargain.”

“But why not?” I said, piqued by this unexpected opposition.

“Why? because nothing guarantees you the promised profits, while you are
perfectly certain as to your expenses.”

Wishing to cut short a discussion from which I did not see my way out
with honor:

“Women are all alike,” I said, employing the phrase of the theatrical
agent; “understanding nothing of business, they oppose one out of
obstinacy. But,” I added, tossing my head, “we shall soon see which of
us is in the right.”

I confess that in this instance I allowed myself too easily to be led
astray by flattering illusions; but I must add, that it was for the last
time; for, thenceforth, I was so skeptical as regarded calculations,
that my modest expectations always remained below the reality.

The period for starting soon arrived, and we made our preparations with
incredible activity, for I desired to lose as little time as possible
between the closing of my performances at Paris and their commencement
in Brussels.

The Great Northern line not being open at that period, I was obliged to
content myself with a post-chaise. Consequently, I hired from a builder
of public conveyances, for two hundred francs a month, a diligence which
had formerly been used in the environs of Paris; it was composed of a
coupé and a vast rotonde, over which was an impériale for the luggage.
On the 25th of May, the day fixed for our departure, my carriage was
loaded with an immense number of chests, containing my apparatus, and
after we had taken our places, the postillion’s whip cracked, and we

We took with us on this trip, besides my two boys who performed with me,
a manager, a workman, also acting as servant, and my wife’s mother, who
came partly for pleasure, and partly to help her daughter in her
theatrical details. Galloping through Paris, we soon left the Faubourg
and the Barrière St. Denis behind us. The weather was splendid--a
perfect spring evening; my wife and I, with the children, were
comfortably established in the coupé, and as it was Madame
Robert-Houdin’s first journey, she was so delighted with it, that I
believe, if I had then offered her the calculation of my presumed
profits, she would probably have herself augmented it. For my own part,
I was plunged in a delicious reverie. I recalled my journey with
Torrini, and while giving a thought of regret to that excellent friend,
I compared his carriage with my brilliant equipage, his modest claims on
fortune with the magnificent prospects promised me; and I could not help
yielding to a feeling of noble pride when I remembered I owed this
position solely to my labor and to my energy. Then, finding myself freed
from the annoyance of any theatrical administration, and my inventive
ideas abandoned, I experienced an undefinable comfort, and were it not
for the fear of making a pun, I would add, at this moment I was really

What would I have given to see myself thus bowling along in my own
carriage! I fancied that the very passers-by regarded us with a certain
degree of satisfaction; and in this infantile illusion I smiled upon
them most benignantly.

At some distance from the barrier we stopped.

“Will you please to get out and have your carriage weighed? Here is the

“Before proceeding to weigh,” the receiver of the toll said, approaching
me, “I warn you that I shall summons you for carrying a heavier weight
than the law allows.”

I could not appeal to my ignorance of this, for no one ought to be
ignorant of the law; I therefore submitted philosophically enough to the
threatened summons, and we soon recommenced our journey, laughing
heartily at the incident. The shades of night began to cover the country
when we reached the environs of Senlis. An old beggar, seeing us
approaching, held out his hat; I understood this expressive gesture, and
had the satisfaction of doing a clever trick and a good action at the
same time; for I threw out a penny, which fell in his hat.

I had hardly executed this adroit manœuvre, when cries of “Stop!
stop!” reached my ear; and at the same time I saw the old man running
panting after the carriage, and shouting. The postillion at length
stopped the horses, and he was just in time--a few paces further on, and
our heavy carriage would have been upset. The worthy beggar had
perceived that one of our wheels was on the point of losing its tire,
and as the old man in his haste had lost his coin, and was beginning to
look for it, I spared him this trouble by giving him a five-franc piece.

How true it is that an act of kindness is never lost: to a simple penny
we owed our escape from an accident, the consequences of which would
have been incalculable. A neighboring cartwright soon came up and told
us it was necessary to have the two wheels of the carriage repaired; and
he gave us the following explanation of the accident that had occurred:

The diligence had been standing for a long time in a damp coach-house,
and the felloes had swollen. The heat produced by our rapid locomotion
had dried them, and they had caught fire under the tire. The operation
lasted four hours, and cost me forty francs; this was, perhaps, twenty
more than it was worth, but what could I do but pay, as I should have
lost precious time by appealing to the law?

I was beginning to understand that travelling impressions in a diligence
are not at all of a nature to enrich a traveller; but the reflection
came too late, and I could only continue my journey. I, therefore, did
so, not very gaily, perhaps, but at any rate with a degree of careless

I will pass over the details of a thousand petty miseries we had to
undergo, like so many pin-pricks echeloned on our passage to prepare us
for more bitter deceptions. We at length reached Quiévrain, the frontier
town of Belgium, where we were to give up our horses and put our
carriage on the railway running to Brussels; beforehand, however, we had
to endure the formalities of the custom-house.

I hoped, as the theatrical agent had informed me, to pass all my traps
summarily, by declaring the nature of my apparatus, and hence I went to
the office and made my declaration.

“There is only one way of passing your luggage, sir,” a clerk said to
me, very politely. (Belgian officials are generally very gentle and
civil--at least, I always found them so.)

“Then,” I replied, in the same tone, “will you have the kindness, sir,
to tell me the way, that I may profit by it as speedily as possible?”

“You must unpack your instruments, put an _ad valorem_ duty on them,
which the comptroller will verify, and pay 25 per cent. on the amount,
after which you can start as soon as you please.”

“But, sir, that is not possible,” I said, greatly annoyed at this

“And why not?”

“Because my instruments are not merchandise.”

I then explained to my clerk that I was going to Brussels to give some
performances, after which I intended to return to France with the same
luggage. According to the information the official gave me, it seems I
had neglected to fulfil a simple formality, through the want of which
the office at Quiévrain would not let me go on without payment. To pass
my instruments duty free, I ought to have applied to the Belgian
Minister, who would willingly have granted me the permission. I could
certainly do so still, but I could not receive an answer under a week,
and that was just three days after the period fixed for my commencing at

Hence I found myself between the horns of a dilemma. I must either,
after paying a heavy duty, lose precious time in packing, valuing and
unpacking my instruments, or forfeit six thousand francs to my manager
while awaiting a ministerial reply. Although I made all sorts of
supplications to the different custom officials, I could only obtain
this answer, dictated by their inflexible orders, “We can do nothing.”

I was in despair; in vain, conforming to the maxim, “It is better to
address the king than his officials,” I pursued the director himself
with my entreaties; he would not hear a word. He was a stout,
good-looking man, of some fifty years of age, dressed in an enormous
paletot, much resembling in cut the one I have described as my costume
when learning my sleight-of-hand tricks at Tours.

We were both standing at the door of the custom-house, near the high
road, where my chests had been deposited. Wearied with listening to my
eternal remonstrances, the director began talking to me about
indifferent matters; but I always led the conversation back to the same

“You are a prestidigitator, then?” my stout Belgian said to me, laying a
stress on this word, to prove to me that he knew the pompous title by
which the juggler is distinguished.

“Yes, sir, that is my profession.”

“Ah, ah! very good; I know several celebrities in that art. I have even
witnessed their performances with a great deal of pleasure.”

While my amateur was thus talking, an idea occurred to me, which I
immediately put in execution, for I trusted the result of it would
powerfully aid in favoring my entreaties.

“What are your most striking tricks?” the stout man added, in the tone
of a perfect connoisseur.

“I really cannot describe them to you, it would be too difficult. There
is one which can only be appreciated when seen; but I can easily give
you a specimen.”

“I should much like it, if you would,” the official said, not sorry thus
to console himself for the trouble I had caused him. My son, at this
moment, was playing some distance off on the high road, and kicking a
pebble about.

“Emile!” I cried, hailing him, “can you tell us what this gentleman has
in his pocket?”

“Certainly!” the boy replied, without leaving off his game; “he has a
blue-striped handkerchief.”

“Oh, oh!” the stout gentleman said, with an air of astonishment. Then he
recovered, and putting his hands in both pockets to conceal their

“That’s all very good!” he added, with an air of doubt; “but chance may
have aided that discovery.”

After a slight pause, during which he seemed considerably bothered, he

“Can he tell me, though, what is under the handkerchief?”

“The gentleman asks what is under the handkerchief?” I shouted to my

“There is,” he replied, in the same loud voice, “a green morocco
spectacle case, without the spectacles.”

“That’s really curious--very curious!” said the man of the paletot.
“But,” he added, shrugging his shoulders, “I should much like him to
mention the article under the spectacle case.”

And my incredulous friend shoved his hands in his pockets. I drew a
good omen from this last exclamation, and so, desirous to ensure my
success, I took my precautions that my son should answer correctly, and
I transmitted him the question just asked me.

Emile, who had not left off his game for a moment, exclaimed, as if
anxious to get rid of us, “It is a piece of sugar which the gentleman
saved from his cup of coffee.”

“Ah! that is too fine!” the director exclaimed, in a tone of admiration;
“the lad is a sorcerer.”

My second-sight performance was at an end; still I saw with pleasure
that it produced a lively impression on the director of the customs,
who, after some moments’ reflection, himself returned to the subject we
had left.

“Come, sir,” he remarked, “I will infringe my regulations for your sake.
We will not open your chests; I will rely on your statement of their
contents and value, and you will pay the duty according to the tariff.
When you have reached Brussels, and have obtained the ministerial
authority to introduce your instruments duty free, I will return you the
money you have paid.”

I thanked my new protector, and, a few hours later, personnel and
luggage had reached the station at Brussels.

Before leaving Quiévrain for ever, I will give my reader an idea of the
conjuring trick which enabled me to produce those startling instances of
second sight to which I owed my deliverance.

I have already said that the director wore a paletot, with large
pockets, so, profiting by the art by which I had so cleverly emptied
Comte’s pockets some time before, I found out what he had in them, and
my son consequently learned it from me. As for the piece of sugar, it
was easy enough to perceive by its regular shape that it had come from
a café--besides, I could have no doubt that a lump of sugar, taken from
the pocket of a man of fifty, and, above all, a Belgian, must be saved
from his after-dinner coffee.

At the Brussels station, a postillion who had three horses out of work,
offered to take our heavy carriage to the Tirlemont Hotel, and I
consented, for I really knew not what hotel to go to. After driving
through the city at full speed, we entered a winding street, in the
midst of which our driver began smacking his whip loudly to announce our
arrival, and with the skill of a practised driver, he turned into an
archway that opened on to the hotel yard. We made a princely entrée
here, which reminded me of our departure from Paris, for the master of
the hotel, his wife, and the servants, were all at their posts ready to
receive us worthily. We had gone safely through about half the narrow
entry, when our vehicle suddenly stopped, as if riveted to the pavement:
blows fell like hail on the unhappy steeds, but these, though
accompanied by vigorous oaths and stimulants of every description, could
not conquer the unknown obstacle.

Being quite convinced that the road was clear on either side, our
postillion decided on trying a final effort; so he got down rapidly from
his seat, took the horses by the bit, and drew them forward sharply. The
carriage appeared to yield to this powerful attraction, and began to
move slowly. All at once a sound of breaking was heard, while at the
same moment cries of alarm issued from both compartments of the

The doors were hurriedly opened, women and children emerged, and the
last of our party was still on the step, when the impériale gave way,
and the numerous heavy trunks crashed into the centre of the carriage.
In the emotion produced by such danger, I looked round my party, and
thanks to Heaven, we were all safe and sound.

My wife and children were carefully attended to, while I, though not
entirely recovered from my terror, sought the cause of this unforeseen
catastrophe. I soon discovered that our carriage, being too highly
loaded, had caught in the projecting sides of the archway, and that this
gradual and powerful pressure had forced the mouldering framework of our
old vehicle to give way.

In comparison with the misfortune from which we had so miraculously
escaped, the injury to the carriage was an accident of no importance--a
loss which would be quickly forgotten in the success that awaited us.
The carriage was sent to be repaired, and the accident was soon a thing
of the past, as we sought to recover from the fatigue of our long and
wearying journey.

My first walk in Brussels led me straight to the manager, who appeared
delighted at my keeping my word, and gave me a most polite reception:
thence, I proceeded to the Park Theatre, where I was to give my

This building, lately destroyed by fire, was situated on one of the most
agreeable sites in the city, for it formed the angle of a magnificent
park, which is to Brussels what the Tuilleries are to Paris.

During the summer no theatrical performance took place, and it was to
fill up this gap that the engagement had been formed with me.

This theatre was city property, and I learned the fact in the following
way. The porter, whom the manager ought to have recommended to give me
all necessary information, stated to me that he was attached to the
theatre, both as keeper and head machinist. He also told me, with
pedantic gravity, that I could not drive in a nail, form an opening in
the stage, or, in a word, make the slightest change, until he, as
responsible official, had referred the point to the city architect.

“Such supervision is not possible,” I said to this important personage.
“How do you manage, then, when the theatrical performances are on?”

“Ah, that is different. As the architect places confidence in me, he
allows me to do whatever I think proper, and I am responsible for

“If that is all, I can take the responsibility on myself, and the matter
can be settled at once.”

“If you think so,” the porter replied, in an ironical tone, “you can
apply to the city authorities; the council will take it into
consideration, and you will receive permission in a fortnight.”

I saw that the crafty gentleman wished to force himself upon me, but I
soon destroyed his hopes by making him understand I would allow no
stranger to be initiated into my mysterious arrangements.

This conversation had taken place on the stage, by the light of a candle
which the conservator of the royal theatre held in his hand, but so soon
as I had intimated my intention of doing without him, he turned on his
heel and retired to his den, leaving us in perfect darkness.

“Wait a moment, sir,” I cried to him; “we cannot be groping about in
this way; so, open the windows.”

“Windows!” the machinist said, with a laugh; “who ever heard of windows
in a theatre? What use would they be when the rehearsals always take
place by candle-light?”

“Excellently reasoned, my worthy man,” I replied, checking my
inclination to laugh; “I always thought like you that windows could be
done without if you had lights, but when you have no lights----“

“Why, then, you do as I do, you go money in hand to the grocer’s and
buy candles; I see no difficulty in that.”

And, while making this reply, the porter and his candle were gradually
eclipsed. I had no time to lose in arguing, and besides, this man, whom
I would have gladly brought to his senses under other circumstances,
might play me some trick that might prevent me performing _mine_. My
instruments would remain, so to speak, at his mercy during the night,
and he would have all possible facility to do me some injury, which he
could deny in safety. Hence, I sent my servant straight to the grocer’s,
that natural providence of any one who wants a light.

All my readers have probably read descriptions of theatrical interiors,
and they are all much alike, although their cleanliness and arrangement
vary according to the intelligence of the stage-manager. Nor is the same
luxury of decorations and accessories visible in all theatres; some are
literally encumbered with them, while others are almost entirely wanting
in these qualities.

I remember that, when giving a dozen performances at Chester, I found
the theatrical decorations charmingly original. Properly speaking, there
was only one scene; but, as it would have been impossible to produce the
scenic effect with this, the machinist had very cleverly painted a
forest on the back, and the scene moved on a pivot, which my friend
turned by the aid of a winch, and thus could display a hall or a forest
at will.

With such feeble resources, the scenic illusion was often compromised,
but, according to the machinist, the actors corrected any glaring
anachronisms of place by ingenious new readings, and sometimes, too, by
the _expression of their faces_.

This machinist was like his scenery, for he filled many parts; he was in
turn porter, painter, wig-maker, property man, tailor, and
ticket-taker; but with so many strings to his bow, this worthy man found
himself out of work during three parts of the year, for during that
period there were no performances at Chester.

But to return to the porter, machinist, and keeper of the Park Theatre.
This man could never forgive my refusal of his services, and his
impertinence and ill-will pursued me to the close, and occasioned me
continual annoyance; and although I complained to the manager, I could
obtain no redress. The porter, being paid by government, claimed the
right, like his brethren the porters of Paris, of making his tenants
feel his power and his independence.

I have performed in many royal theatres, but I never had to deal with
any but most polite machinists and managers, who could flatter
themselves they were masters in their own house.

However, I managed to surmount difficulties of every description, and
the day of my first representation arrived.

On this very day was opened that fiery furnace which was called “the
summer of 1846;” and the heat was astounding. Still, the theatre was
full, and the success of my experiments was as great as I could desire.
The second sight, especially, produced an enthusiasm which the generally
cold inhabitants of Brussels expressed by noisy bravos.

I was proud and happy, for, in addition to the satisfaction success
always produces, I foresaw the realization of the theatrical agent’s
brilliant promises. Thus, to take a slight revenge for my cashier’s
obstinacy, I never failed, each time I left the stage, to say to her in
a tone of triumph:

“Well! do you believe in the one hundred thousand francs now? That’s how
I like business.”

And I returned on the stage with a smiling and animated face.

The performance over, the curtain fell on the illusions I had produced,
as well as on those I had nursed as to my receipts. They were equally
ephemeral in either case, for I had scarcely left the stage when I saw
my manager coming towards me in the attitude once assumed by the steeds
of Hippolytus, according to Theramene’s recital. He, so joyous at the
commencement of the performance,

    L’œil morne maintenant et la tête baissée,
    Semblait se conformer à sa triste pensée.

“Here, sir,” he said, pointing to a small rouleau, “is your share.”

“What! my share?” I exclaimed, in a tone of indescribable
disappointment; “and the rest?”

“The rest, sir, has gone in the expenses, and the poor-rate.”

“But the rest,” I still insisted--“the rest, what has become of it?”

“Well, sir,” my manager replied, in a lamentable tone, “the cashier
states that the greater part of the audience received free admissions.”

Irritated by such an explanation, I hurried to the office, and opened
and closed the door violently. The employé turned towards me, and
without being affected by my abruptness, he bowed to me politely
(another instance of Belgian courtesy).

“How is it,” I said, without replying to his bow, “that so many free
admissions were given without my sanction?”

“They were given, sir, by the manager’s orders,” the man replied, with a
calmness that made me believe he was used to such scenes, “and you must
be aware,” he added, in a conciliatory tone, “that there are numerous
claims on the first night of a new performance at a royal theatre. Thus
we have, for instance, the authorities, the city architect, the manager
of the gas company, the newspaper writers, the manager’s relations and
friends, the police inspector, who has a right to a box; and all these
gentlemen, as you may suppose, bring their families with them. We have,

“Oh, sir,” I replied, ironically, “for goodness’ sake, stop, for if you
go on at that rate I shall begin to fear you had not a seat left for the
paying public. To-morrow, I presume, I shall have to hand you back the
modest sum you have just sent me. However, I shall certainly insist on
an explanation with the manager.”

The next day I proceeded to call on M. X----, with the firm intention of
evincing to him my dissatisfaction; but he was so ready with his
explanations that I could not be angry, and we ended by agreeing that,
henceforth, all free admissions should have my signature, and that they
should not be dispensed quite so liberally.

This measure, perhaps, checked some new abuses, but was not enough to
suppress them all, for though the theatre grew more and more crowded, my
strong-box did not follow the same progression.

Far from netting the fabulous sum which had so dazzled me, I only
brought back from my trip to Brussels an illusion dispelled and
experience, while, as my cashier had predicted, my expenses rather more
than balanced my receipts.

I have great reason for believing that, during my stay at the Park
Theatre, I was cheated out of my proper share. It was my first affair of
the kind, and I was obliged to study at my own expense; but, from that
period, I was on my guard, and evaded every attempt at fraud. I will
add, too, that at a later date I had the satisfaction of dealing only
with managers of well-known probity, to whom I gave my entire confidence
without ever having any reason to regret it.


     Reopening of my Fantastic Soirées--Minor Miseries of Good
     Luck--Inconvenience of a small Theatre--My Room taken by Storm--A
     gratuitous Performance--A conscientious Audience--Pleasant Story
     about a Black Silk Cap--I perform at the Château of St.
     Cloud--Cagliostro’s Casket--Holidays.

The recommencement of the performances on my own stage largely
recompensed me for my bitter _impressions de voyage_. My room was taken
a week beforehand for my first performance, as well as for the
following, and I had to send away four times as many persons as I could

This success had been foreseen by the theatrical agent, and I owed it as
much to my absence from the capital as to the attraction my experiments
held out. My repertory was still a novelty to the Parisian public, as I
had started for Brussels at the height of my success. This did not
prevent me, however, from offering some new tricks, one of which more
especially produced a striking effect.

After my son had mounted on a very small table, I covered him with an
enormous stuffed cone, which concealed him from sight, and then, at the
sound of a pistol, the cone was thrown over, and at the same instant the
lad appeared at my side. Afterwards, in large theatres, and especially
in London, this trick was improved upon, and seemed more marvellous
still. Instead of appearing by my side, the boy was instantaneously
transported to a box at a long distance from the stage, where every body
could easily see him.

It is a well-known fact that a man cannot enjoy perfect happiness in
this world, and that the greatest prosperity has its disagreeable side;
this is what is called “the minor evils of good luck.” One of my special
annoyances was having a room much too small, which disabled me from
satisfying all the demands made for places, and, though I racked my
brain, I could hit on no expedient to remedy this inconvenience.

As I have already said, my room was often taken beforehand; in that case
the office was not opened, and a placard on the door announced it was
useless for any non-holders of tickets to apply. But it daily happened
that persons, annoyed at being unable to enjoy a promised treat, took no
heed of the notice and went straight to the pay place. On being refused
admission, they abused the money-taker, and still more the management.

These complaints were generally absurd, and of the following

“Such an abuse is most improper,” one of these disappointed persons
said, with great simplicity; “I will certainly go to-morrow and complain
to the prefect of police, and we shall see whether Monsieur
Robert-Houdin has a right to have too small a theatre.”

When these recriminations went no further, I confess I laughed at them,
but they did not always end in such a pacific manner. My employés were
sometimes personally attacked, and on one occasion my theatre was taken
by storm. The story is worth telling:

One evening a dozen young men, after heating their brains by an
excellent dinner, presented themselves at the door of my theatre; the
notice they read only appeared to them an excellent jest. Consequently,
paying no attention to the observations made to them, they collected
round the door, and to employ the usual expression in such cases, they
began to form “the head of the tail.” Other visitors, encouraged by
their example, collected, and gradually a considerable crowd assembled
in front of the theatre.

The manager, informed of what was happening, came forward, and prepared
to address the crowd from the head of the stairs, after coughing to
render his voice clearer. But he had scarce commenced his address, when
his voice was drowned by derisive laughter and shouts, which compelled
his silence. In his despair, he came to tell me the dilemma, and ask
what he had better do.

“Do not disturb yourself,” I said; “all will end better than you expect.
Stay,” I added, looking at my watch; “it is now half-past seven, and the
ticket-holders will begin to arrive; so, open the doors, and, as soon as
the room is full the public outside will be compelled to abandon the

I had scarcely uttered the words, when a servant came in all haste to
tell me that the crowd had broken down the barrier, and rushed into the
room. I hastened on to the stage, and through the hole in the curtain,
could assure myself of the truth of the statement: the room was full.

I confess I was much embarrassed as to what I should do. To have the
room cleared by the neighboring guard was a scandal I wished to avoid,
and I could not calculate the consequences. Besides, if the police
interfered, I should have to attend at the court, and thus lose precious
time. Lastly, the Prefecture, which had hitherto imposed but a single
sentry on me, would not fail to send a corporal’s guard, at least, to
the great increase of my daily expenses.

I immediately formed a decision.

“Have the doors closed,” I said to my manager, “and put up a notice
that, owing to a sudden indisposition, the evening’s performance is
postponed till to-morrow. As this measure applies to the ticket-holders,
be in readiness to return the money to those who will not exchange their
tickets. As for me,” I continued, “I have made up my mind. I will give a
gratis performance, and my revenge will consist in compelling the public
to be ashamed of the schoolboy trick they have played.”

This plan arranged, I prepared to do the honors of my house properly,
and the curtain soon rose.

When I appeared on the stage, I noticed that the greater number of the
spectators evinced considerable embarrassment; still, I soon put them at
their ease by the nonchalant air I assumed, as if ignorant of what had
occurred. I did even more. I performed with an unusual amount of dash;
and when the time arrived to offer my small presents, I was so liberal
with them that not a single spectator was overlooked.

I need not say that I was heartily applauded. The public vied with me in
“reciprocating” compliments, and thus hoped to compensate me for the
annoyance they fancied they had caused me.

An original and extremely comic scene was performed when my audience
lingeringly departed.

Nearly all the persons present had only seen in this assault on my room
a means to obtain places, and each intended to pay for his seat after
having occupied it.

But, for my part, I determined on maintaining the original character of
my gratuitous performance, even if my pocket suffered. Thus, foreseeing
this feeling of delicacy, I had ordered all my attendants to leave
before the performance was over, and they had obeyed me so well, that
manager, money-taker, and box-openers had disappeared.

I then posted myself where I could see everything without being noticed.
The spectators looked for the office; searched all around to find some
official; thrust their hands in their pockets, and collected in small
groups, until, worn out, they went away.

Still, the public would not allow themselves to be beaten, and for
several days I had a regular procession of people coming to pay their
debt. Some persons added their apologies, and I also received by post a
note for 100 fr., with the following letter:

     “SIR,--Having been dragged into your room last night by a party of
     thoughtless young men, I tried in vain, after the performance, to
     pay for the seat I had occupied.

     “I do not wish, however, to quit France without paying the debt I
     have contracted. In consequence, estimating the price of my stall
     by the pleasure you caused me, I send you a hundred-franc note,
     which I beg you to accept in payment of the debt I involuntarily

     “Still, I should not consider myself out of your debt were I not
     also to offer you my compliments for your interesting performance,
     and beg you to accept, sir, the assurance of my consideration.”

As the loss entailed on me by the assault on my room was light, I had no
cause to repent the decision I had formed. On the other hand, the
adventure became known, and added still more to my credit, as it is
notorious the public prefer going to theatres where they are certain of
finding no room.

As a general rule, family parties came to see me, but it was not unusual
for a number of persons to form a rendezvous at my theatre. The
following incident will offer an instance:

The ingenious author of those eccentric caricatures, which delight
everybody who is not himself attacked, Dantan the younger, came one day
to my box-office.

“Madam,” he said to the lady in command, “how many stalls have you to

“I will consult my book,” the lady replied. “Do you wish them for

“No, madam, for this day week.”

“Oh, in that case, you can have as many as you like.”

“How, as many as I like? Why, your room must be made of india-rubber.”

“No, sir, I merely mean to say that of fifty stalls I have at my
disposal, you can take as many as you please.”

“Very good, madam, I now understand,” Dantan continued, laughingly;
“then, if I can have as many as I please, have the goodness to keep me

The lady, much embarrassed to solve this problem, sent for me, and I
easily arranged the affair by converting the first pit row into stalls.

The reason why the sculptor required so many seats was as follows:

Dantan, junior, has an enormous number of friends, and the original idea
had occurred to him of inviting a certain number of them to
Robert-Houdin’s performance, and for that purpose he had engaged these
sixty seats.

I have mentioned this incident, because it both proves the renown my
theatre enjoyed at that time, and reminds me of the commencement of one
of the most agreeable acquaintances I ever made in my life. From this
moment I became, and have always remained, one of the intimate friends
of the celebrated sculptor.

Before knowing him personally, like the majority of his admirers, I was
unacquainted with his serious works, but when I was admitted to his
studio, I could appreciate the full extent of his talent.

Dantan has in this room, arranged on enormous shelves, the most perfect
collection of busts of contemporary celebrities. I do not think a single
illustrious person of the age is missing. Each is properly classified
and arranged as in a museum; monarchs and statesmen, less numerous than
the others, are collected on one shelf; then come authors, musicians,
singers, composers, physicians, warriors, dramatic artists--in a word
great men of every description and country. But the most interesting
thing in the gallery is that every bust is accompanied by its
caricature, so that, after admiring the original, you laugh heartily at
noticing all the comic details of the other.

On seeing these numberless heads, it is difficult to imagine that one
man’s life could suffice for such a toil. Dantan, however, has a
remarkable talent in catching the characteristic features of a face, and
often enough he need only see a person once in order to produce an
extraordinary likeness. Witness the following fact, which I will cite as
much for its singularity as because it bears an affinity, in some
degree, to sleight-of-hand:

The son of Lieutenant-General Baron D---- came one day to Dantan,
begging him to make a bust of his father. “I will not hide from you,” he
said to the artist, “that you will encounter an almost insurmountable
difficulty in performing your task. Not only would the general never
consent to sit to you, but you cannot even be introduced to him at home.
As my father has been ill for many years, he sees no other persons than
his servants, and he keeps almost always alone. Hence, you will have to
manage to catch a glimpse at him unawares, but I do not know how.”

“Does your father never go out?” the sculptor asked.

“Oh yes, sir; every afternoon at four my father takes the ‘bus and goes
to read the papers at a room in the Place de la Madeleine, after which
he comes back and shuts himself up again.”

“I require no more,” the artist said. “I will begin making my
observations to-day, and set to work to-morrow.”

In fact, at four o’clock precisely, Dantan posted himself before a house
forming the corner of the Boulevards and the Rue Louis-le-Grand, and
soon saw the general come out and walk to an omnibus. The sculptor
followed his model and entered the vehicle with him, but, unfortunately,
the only two seats vacant were on the same side, and the artist could
only make profile studies, being very careful not to attract attention.

At last the ‘bus stopped before the Madeleine church; pursuer and
pursued went in together to the same reading-room, where each took up
his favorite paper, and was soon lost in the perusal.

Dantan had taken a seat opposite the general, and, while apparently
absorbed in a leader, took stealthy glances at his model.

All was going on favorably, and the artist continued his studies quietly
for some moments, until the general, already surprised that his
fellow-passenger should come to the same reading-room, caught his eye
fixed upon himself.

Annoyed by this impertinent curiosity, for which he could assign no
reason, he attempted to foil it by forming a rampart of his enormous

The face of the old baron disappeared, but the top of his head was still
visible, and Dantan would have been able to continue his task
satisfactorily, had it not been for a frightful silk cap he wore.

Many a conjurer, even the most famous, would have been checked by such a
difficulty; but Dantan did not long rack his brains, which renders his
trick only the more striking.

He went up to the lady at the counter, spoke with her for a few moments,
and then quietly returned to his post of observation.

It is necessary to state that the reading-room, heated by a large stove,
was already quite warm enough; but suddenly an insupportable degree of
heat filled the room, and drops of perspiration stood on the foreheads
of several persons.

The general, who at this moment held the _Gazette des Tribunaux_ in his
hand, and was doubtlessly amusing himself with some lugubrious drama,
was one of the last to notice the heightened temperature. Even he,
though, at length found it necessary to remove his silk cap, and put it
in his pocket, growling, “Confound it, how hot the room is!”

The trick was done.

The reader has already guessed that the clever sculptor was the cause of
this vapor-bath, which he induced the lady to produce by explaining to
her his important mission.

This result once obtained, Dantan hastily made his phrenological studies
on the venerable head of the old warrior; then, rising from the table,
he cast a final glance over his features, photographed him, so to speak,
in his mind, and ran off to set to work.

A short time after, the sculptor sent the general’s family the most
perfect bust possibly ever produced by his chisel.

Here I will close the parenthesis I commenced with reference to the
evils the smallness of my theatre entailed on me; and I will now begin
another about the pleasures my success procured me.

At the beginning of November, I received a “command” to St. Cloud, to
give a performance before Louis Philippe and his family. I accepted the
invitation with the greatest pleasure; for as I had never yet performed
before a crowned head, this was an important event for me.

I had six days before me to make my preparations, and I took all
possible pains, even arranging a trick for the occasion, from which I
had reason to expect an excellent result.

On the day fixed for my performance, a fourgon came at an early hour to
fetch me and my apparatus, and we were conveyed to the château. A
theatre had been put up in a large hall selected by the king for the
representation, and in order that I might not be disturbed in my
preparations, a guard was placed at one of the doors leading into the
corridor. I also noticed three other doors in this apartment; one,
composed of glass, opened on to the garden opposite a passage filled
with splendid orange-trees; the two others, to the right and left,
communicated with the apartments of the king and the Duchess of Orleans.

I was busy arranging my apparatus, when I heard one of the doors I have
just mentioned open quietly, and directly a voice made the following
inquiry in the most affable manner:

“Monsieur Robert-Houdin, may I be permitted to come in?”

I turned my head in the direction, and recognized the king, who, having
asked this question merely as a form of introduction, had not waited for
my reply to walk towards me.

I bowed respectfully.

“Have you all you require for your preparations?” the king asked me.

“Yes, sire; the steward of the château supplied me with skilled workmen,
who speedily put up this little stage.”

My tables, consoles and tabourets, as well as the various instruments
for my performance, symmetrically arranged on the stage, already
presented an elegant appearance.

“This is all very pretty,” the king said to me, drawing near the stage,
and casting a stealthy glance on some of my apparatus; “I see with
pleasure that the artist of 1846 will justify the good opinion produced
by the mechanician of 1844.”

“Sire,” I replied, “on this day I will strive, as I did two years ago,
to render myself worthy of the great favor your majesty deigns to bestow
on me, by witnessing my performance.”

“Your son’s second-sight is said to be very surprising,” the king
continued: “but I warn you, Monsieur Robert-Houdin, to be on your guard,
for we intend to cause you considerable difficulties.”

“Sire,” I replied, boldly, “I have every reason for believing that my
son will surmount them.”

“I should be vexed were it otherwise,” the king said, with a tinge of
incredulity, as he retired. “Monsieur Robert-Houdin,” he added, as he
closed the door after him, “I shall feel obliged by your punctuality.”

At four o’clock precisely, when the royal family and the numerous guests
were assembled, the curtains that concealed me opened, and I appeared on
the stage. Owing to my repeated performances, I had fortunately acquired
an imperturbable assurance and a confidence in myself which the success
of my experiments fully justified.

I began in the most profound silence, for the party evidently wished to
see and judge before giving me any encouragement. But, insensibly, they
became excited, and I heard several exclamations of surprise, which were
soon followed by still more expressive demonstrations.

All my tricks were very favorably received, and the one I had invented
for the occasion gained me unbounded applause.

I will give a description of it:

I borrowed from my noble spectators several handkerchiefs, which I made
into a parcel, and laid on the table. Then, at my request, different
persons wrote on the cards the names of places whither they desired
their handkerchiefs to be invisibly transported.

When this had been done, I begged the king to take three of the cards at
hazard, and choose from them the place he might consider most suitable.

“Let us see,” Louis Philippe said, “what this one says: ‘I desire the
handkerchiefs to be found beneath one of the candelabra on the
mantelpiece.’ That is too easy for a sorcerer; so we will pass to the
next card: ‘The handkerchiefs are to be transported to the dome of the
Invalides.’ That would suit me, but it is much too far, not for the
handkerchiefs, but for us. Ah, ah!” the king added, looking at the last
card, “I am afraid, Monsieur Robert-Houdin, I am about to embarrass you.
Do you know what this card proposes?”

“Will your majesty deign to inform me?”

“It is desired that you should send the handkerchiefs into the chest of
the last orange-tree on the right of the avenue.”

“Only that, sire? Deign to order, and I will obey.”

“Very good, then; I should like to see such a magic act: I, therefore,
choose the orange-tree chest.”

The king gave some orders in a low voice, and I directly saw several
persons run to the orange-tree, in order to watch it and prevent any

I was delighted at this precaution, which must add to the effect of my
experiment, for the trick was already arranged, and the precaution hence
too late.

I had now to send the handkerchiefs on their travels, so I placed them
beneath a bell of opaque glass, and, taking my wand, I ordered my
invisible travellers to proceed to the spot the king had chosen.

I raised the bell; the little parcel was no longer there, and a white
turtle-dove had taken its place.

The king then walked quickly to the door, whence he looked in the
direction of the orange-tree, to assure himself that the guards were at
their post; when this was done, he began to smile and shrug his

“Ah! Monsieur Robert-Houdin,” he said, somewhat ironically, “I much fear
for the virtue of your magic staff.” Then he added, as he returned to
the end of the room, where several servants were standing, “Tell William
to open immediately the last chest at the end of the avenue, and bring
me carefully what he finds there--if he _does_ find anything.”

William soon proceeded to the orange-tree, and though much astonished at
the orders given him, he began to carry them out.

He carefully removed one of the sides of the chest, thrust his hand in,
and almost touched the roots of the tree before he found anything. All
at once he uttered a cry of surprise, as he drew out a small iron coffer
eaten by rust.

This curious “find,” after having been cleaned from the mould, was
brought in and placed on a small ottoman by the king’s side.

“Well, Monsieur Robert-Houdin,” Louis Philippe said to me, with a
movement of impatient curiosity, “here is a box; am I to conclude it
contains the handkerchiefs?”

“Yes, sire,” I replied, with assurance, “and they have been there, too,
for a long period.”

“How can that be? the handkerchiefs were lent you scarce a quarter of an
hour ago.”

“I cannot deny it, sire; but what would my magic powers avail me if I
could not perform incomprehensible tricks? Your majesty will doubtlessly
be still more surprised, when I prove to your satisfaction that this
coffer, as well as its contents, was deposited in the chest of the
orange-tree sixty years ago.”

“I should like to believe your statement,” the king replied, with a
smile; “but that is impossible, and I must, therefore, ask for proofs of
your assertion.”

“If your majesty will be kind enough to open this casket they will be

“Certainly; but I shall require a key for that.”

“It only depends on yourself, sire, to have one. Deign to remove it from
the neck of this turtle-dove, which has just brought it you.”

Louis Philippe unfastened a ribbon that held a small rusty key, with
which he hastened to unlock the coffer.

The first thing that caught the king’s eye was a parchment, on which he
read the following statement:

                     THIS DAY, THE 6TH JUNE, 1786,

“There is decidedly witchcraft about this,” the king said, more and more
amazed. “Nothing is wanting, for the seal and signature of the
celebrated sorcerer are placed at the foot of this statement, which,
Heaven pardon me, smells strongly of sulphur.”

At this jest, the audience began to laugh.

“But,” the king added, taking out of the box a carefully sealed packet,
“can the handkerchiefs by possibility be in this?”

“Indeed, sire, they are; but, before opening the parcel, I would request
your majesty to notice that it also bears the impression of Cagliostro’s

This seal once rendered so famous by being placed on the celebrated
alchemist’s bottles of elixir and liquid gold, I had obtained from
Torrini, who had been an old friend of Cagliostro’s.

“It is certainly the same,” my royal spectator answered, after comparing
the two seals. Still, in his impatience to learn the contents of the
parcel, the king quickly tore open the envelope, and soon displayed
before the astonished spectators the six handkerchiefs which, a few
moments before, were still on my table.

This trick gained me lively applause, but in my second sight, which was
to terminate the performance, I had really to sustain a terrible
struggle, as the king had warned me.

Among the objects handed me, there was, I remember, a medal, which it
was expected would embarrass me. Still, I had no sooner taken it in my
hand than my son described it in the following terms:

“It is,” he said, confidently, “a Greek medal of bronze, on which is a
word composed of six letters, which I will spell: _lamba_, _epsilon_,
_mu_, _nu_, _omicron_, _sigma_, which makes _Lemnos_.”

My son knew the Greek alphabet; hence, he could read the word Lemnos,
although he could not possibly have translated it.

This was in itself a severe trial for so young a lad; but it did not
satisfy the royal family.

I was handed a small Chinese coin with a hole through the centre, and
its name and value were immediately indicated; and, lastly, a
difficulty, from which I managed to escape successfully, was the
brilliant finale of my performance.

I had been surprised to see the Duchess of Orleans, who took a lively
interest in the second sight, retire to her apartments; but she soon
returned, and handed me a small case, the contents of which she wished
my son to describe, but I must be careful not to open it.

I had foreseen this prohibition; so, while the princess was speaking to
me, I opened the case with one hand, and, by a rapid glance, satisfied
myself as to its contents. Still, I pretended for a moment to be
startled by the proposal, in order to produce a greater effect.

“Your highness,” I remarked, as I returned the case, “will allow me to
appeal against such a proposal, for you must have remarked that, until
now, I required to see the object before my son could name it.”

“Yet you have surmounted greater difficulties,” the amiable duchess
retorted. “However, if it is not possible, let us say no more about it,
for I should be grieved to cause you any embarrassment.”

“What your highness wishes is, I repeat, impossible; and yet my son,
feeling anxious to justify the confidence you place in his clairvoyance,
will attempt to see through the case, and describe its contents.

“Can he do so even through my hands?” the duchess continued, trying to
conceal the case.

“Yes, madam, and even if your highness were in the next room, my son
would be able to see it.”

The duchess, declining the new trial I proposed, satisfied herself by
questioning my son with her own lips.

The boy, who had long received his instructions, replied, without
hesitation, “There is in the case a diamond pin, the stone being
surrounded by a garter of sky-blue enamel.”

“That is perfectly correct,” the duchess said, as she showed the
ornament to the king. “Judge for yourself, sire;” then, turning to me,
she added, with infinite grace, “Monsieur Robert-Houdin, will you accept
this pin in remembrance of your visit to St. Cloud?”

I thanked her highness sincerely, as I assured her of my gratitude.

The performance was over: the curtain fell, and, in my turn, I was
enabled to enjoy a curious scene at my ease; it was to look through a
small hole at my audience, who had assembled in groups, and were talking
about the impression I had produced.

Before leaving the château, the king and queen again sent me the most
flattering messages by the person charged to hand me a souvenir of their

This representation could not increase my reputation--that was not
possible--but it helped powerfully to maintain it. My performance at St.
Cloud, more especially, created a sensation among the aristocracy, who,
until that moment, had hesitated about visiting my small room. Their
curiosity overcame other considerations, and they came in their turn to
assure themselves of the reality of the marvels attributed to me.

The summer heats were, however, beginning to be felt: we had reached the
commencement of July, and I had to think about closing my theatre.
However, instead of running after fortune, as in the previous year, I
occupied myself with changing and improving my performance. The task was
heavy; for I was filled with bold emulation, as I could not conceal from
myself that my success imposed certain duties on me, and that, in order
to keep it up, I must be constantly deserving of it.

The most painful part of my inquiries was, that my inventions must be
completed by a certain day and hour, for the reopening of my theatre was
fixed for the first of the next September, and, for many reasons, I
determined on being punctual.

For two months I worked with great ardor, granting myself no rest or
pleasure. Sometimes, however, after dinner on Sunday, I allowed myself a
recreation which may seem strange to many of my readers: I went to the
fairs round Paris, and studied the mountebanks. There I amused myself, I
may say, as much as any of the spectators around me; though the pleasure
I felt was not of the same nature as that of my neighbors. I amused
myself by seeing their amusement, and nothing more; for any one who has
seen this style of spectacle must have noticed that the mountebank gives
his public very little for their money. The best part of the sight is
often seen outside.


     New Experiments--Aërial Suspension, &c.--A Performance at the
     Odéon--A Friend in Need--1848--The Theatre deserted--I leave Paris
     for London--Manager Mitchell--Publicity in England--The Great
     Wizard--A Butter-mould used as a Puff--Singular Bills--A Prize for
     the best Pun.

Instead of being able to recommence my performances on the 1st of
September, as I had hoped, my compulsory holidays, which might be called
my “penal servitude,” were prolonged another month, and it was not till
the 1st of October that I was prepared to offer my new experiments to
the public.

My pecuniary interests were much affected by this delay, but I trusted,
correctly enough, to the zeal of the public to visit me, as a

My new repertory contained the _Crystal Box_, the _Fantastic Portfolio_,
the _Trepèze Tumbler_, the _Garde Française_, the _Origin of Flowers_,
the _Crystal Balls_, the _Inexhaustible Bottle_, the _Ethereal
Suspension_, &c.

I had devoted especial care to the last experiment, on which I built
great hopes. Surgery had supplied me with the first idea of it.

It will be remembered that in 1847 the insensibility produced by
inhaling ether began to be applied in surgical operations; all the world
talked about the marvellous effect of this anæsthetic, and its
extraordinary results. In the eyes of many people it seemed much akin to

Seeing that the surgeons had invaded my domain, I asked myself if this
did not allow me to make reprisals. I did so by inventing my _ethereal
suspension_, which, I believe, was far more surprising than any result
obtained by my surgical brethren.

The subject I intended to operate on was my younger son, and I could not
have selected one better suited for the experiment. He was a stout lad
of about six years of age, and his plump and rosy face was the picture
of health. In spite of his youth, he displayed the greatest intelligence
in learning his part, and played it with such perfection, that the most
incredulous were duped.

This trick was very much applauded, and I am bound to say that my
arrangements were excellently made: this was the first time I tried to
direct the surprise of my spectators by gradually heightening it up to
the moment when, so to speak, it exploded.

I divided my experiment into three parts, each more surprising than the

Thus, when I removed the stool from beneath the child’s feet, the
public, who had smiled during the preparations for the suspension,
became thoughtful.

When I next removed one of the canes, exclamations of surprise and fear
were heard.

Lastly, at the moment when I raised my son to an horizontal position,
the spectators, at this unexpected result, crowned the experiment with
hearty applause.

Still, it sometimes happened that sensitive persons, regarding the
etherization too seriously, protested in their hearts against the
applause, and wrote me letters in which they severely upbraided the
unnatural father who sacrificed the health of his poor child to the
pleasures of the public. Some went so far as to threaten me with the
terrors of the law if I did not give up my inhuman performance.

The anonymous writers of such accusations did not suspect the pleasure
they caused me. After amusing the family circle, I kept the letters
preciously as proofs of the illusion I had produced.

The fashion this performance raised could not surpass that of the
previous year: I could not expect any other result than filling my
theatre, and that occurred every evening.

The royal family also wished to see my new experiments; and for this
purpose the whole room was taken for the afternoon, so that my evening
performances were not interrupted.

This performance, which the Queen of the Belgians witnessed with her
family, was only so far peculiar, that my little room was filled with
exalted personages. All the seats were occupied, for their majesties
were accompanied by their respective courts, and a great number of
ambassadors and royal dignitaries.

As I had reason to hope, my noble spectators were satisfied, and deigned
to thank me in person.

In the midst of this gentle satisfaction, I had every reason to believe
that I possessed the favor of the public; I learned, though, at a heavy
penalty, that even if the favor of that sovereign may appear secured, a
trifle will cause it almost to expire.

On the 18th of February, 1848, Madame Dorval took her benefit at the
Odéon, and I promised that eminent actress to perform some of my tricks
as an interlude.

I was punctual to my appointment across the water; half-past eleven
struck, when the curtain fell just prior to my performance. As I had
been ready to begin for some time, ten minutes were sufficient to give a
final glance to my preparations.

My first care, on taking possession of the stage, had been to conceal my
operations from indiscreet eyes; hence, I had dismissed everybody.
Unfortunately, I had not even made an exception in favor of the
stage-manager, and the sorrowful effects of this measure will now be

In most excellent humor, I ordered my servant to give the three usual
taps, and the orchestra began playing while I walked to the side-scene,
prior to making my appearance. But at the moment the curtain rose, I
remembered I had forgotten one of my “accessories,” and I ran to my
dressing-room to fetch it. Unfortunately, in my hurry, I did not notice
that the machinist had inadvertently left a small trap open, and my leg
slipped into it up to the knee.

The pain drew from me a sharp cry of distress; my servant ran up, and he
could only release me with some difficulty. But I was in a sad state,
for my trouser was torn completely up, exposing my bleeding and
lacerated leg.

In this unhappy condition, I could not possibly return to the stage;
hence I looked around in search of some one to announce to the public
the accident that had happened to me, but I could only see two firemen.
They would not do for so delicate a mission, and although I had my
servant, this worthy lad was a negro with woolly head, blubber lips, and
an ebony skin, whose simple language would not have failed to raise a
laugh at my painful position.

The stage-manager alone could undertake the mission; but where should I
find him?

These reflections, prompt as lightning, were interrupted by the
commencement of a storm in the theatre; the public summoned me, for it
must be remembered the curtain had risen, and in the eyes of the public
I had missed my entrance; this was disrespect, and, therefore,

My negro, without caring for what was passing elsewhere, tore up his
handkerchief and mine, and bound my wound with considerable skill. This
did not prevent me suffering severe pain, but I soon experienced a
torture a thousand-fold greater when I heard a violent storm burst out
in the house. The public, who had begun by stamping, were now hissing,
shouting, and yelling in all the discordant tones of dissatisfaction.

Overcoming my pain, I changed my trousers in haste, and decided on going
myself to describe my accident. I therefore walked slowly to the door of
the stage, and I was just going to open it, when a frightful noise
turned me cold with terror, and checked me. My heart failed me. Still, I
put a stop to this. “Courage,” I said to myself, with a supreme
effort--“courage!” and straight-way throwing open the folding doors, I
walked on the stage.

I shall never forget my reception. On one hand, cries, hisses, yells; on
the other, clapping of hands and applause, enough to wake the dead. The
two parties were apparently attempting to conquer each other in making a

Pale and trembling at such a rough reception, I waited patiently for a
moment when the combatants, wearied with the contest, would allow me to
explain my delay. This moment at length arrived, and I was enabled to
describe my painful adventure. My paleness testified to the truth of my
words. The public allowed themselves to be disarmed, and hisses were no
longer mingled with the applause which greeted my explanation.

Any one who knows the relief and comfort bravos and hearty applause
arouse in the heart of an actor, will understand the sudden change they
produced in me. The blood rushed to my cheeks and restored my color, my
strength returned, and, possessed by fresh energy, I stated to the
public that I found myself so much recovered that I would go on with my
performance. I did so; and such was the power of my excitement, that I
scarce felt the pain produced by my wound.

I have said that, on my appearance, I was saluted by demonstrations of a
very different nature. Although many of my spectators hissed, others
applauded me. Truth extorts a confession from me. I was supported on
this evening by an omnipotent protector.

This requires an explanation. Hence, that my readers may solve the
enigma, I am obliged to narrate a slight anecdote:

At the period when I invented my experiment of second sight, several
Parisian managers proposed to me to perform, as an interlude, in their
theatres, but I had refused, because, as I was tired by my own
performances, I did not wish to prolong them. My determination on this
point was quite formed, when I received a visit from an actress of the
Palais Royal, Madame M----, who performed the part of duennas.

“I have not the honor of your acquaintance, sir,” she said, with a
certain degree of hesitation, “hence I am almost afraid to ask you to
render me a great service. These are the circumstances of the case: our
excellent manager, Dormeuil, has offered me a benefit, the profits of
which are intended to release my son from the conscription. It only
depends on you, sir, to ensure the success of the performance by giving
me your assistance.” And the poor mother, deriving her eloquence from
her love for her son, painted in such lively colors the distress she
would feel from a failure, that, touched by her grief, I rescinded my
determination, and consented to add my performance of the “second sight”
to her bill.

I dare not form the flattering idea that my name had any share in the
success of the performance; still, the house was crowded, and the
receipts more than covered the price of a substitute.

The next day the happy mother called to tell me of her good fortune, and
thank me. She was accompanied by a gentleman I did not know, but who, so
soon as Madame M---- had ceased speaking, told me in his turn the object
of his visit.

“I have taken the liberty of accompanying Madame M---- to compliment you
on what you have done for her. It is a good action, for which all her
theatrical friends owe you abundant thanks; and, for my part, I hope,
sooner or later, to evidence my gratitude in my own way.”

While flattered at my visitor’s remarks, I was much puzzled as to the
sense of his last sentence. He noticed it, and, giving me no time to
reply, continued:

“Ah! I forgot to tell you who I am, and I ought to have begun with that.
My name is Duhart, and I manage theatrical successes at the Palais
Royal. By the way,” he added, “were you satisfied with the reception you
had last night?”

This confession, I grant, robbed me of a sweet illusion. I had fancied I
owed my reception to my own merits, and I now could not guess what share
of the applause legitimately belonged to me. Still, I thanked M. Duhart
for his kindness, both past and to come. Three months later, I had
almost forgotten this incident, when one day, as I was going to give a
performance at the Porte Saint-Martin, my friend Duhart called on me.

“Only one word, Monsieur Houdin,” he said, without taking the trouble to
sit down. “I read in the bills that you are going to perform for
Raucourt’s benefit, and I have recommended you to P----, who will ‘take
care of you.’”

I was in fact, “taken care of,” for when I appeared on the stage, I was
greeted by a reception worthy of the highest artistic celebrities. It
was easy to recognize an ovation warmly recommended, but I was glad to
notice that the public “followed suit,” and that the bravos emanating
from the pit radiated through the whole house.

A few months later, when about to perform at the Gymnase, came another
visit from Duhart, the same recommendation to his comrade, and a similar
result. In short, I rarely quitted my own stage but my grateful
protector interested himself in my success.

I am forced to say that I let him do so, and saw no harm in it; far from
that, these encouragements were a stimulant for me, and I always
redoubled my efforts to deserve them.

I have taken a pride in relating this incident, for it admirably depicts
the character of a man capable of being so long grateful for a slight
service rendered to a friend. However, the performance at the Odéon was
the last in which the worthy Duhart went out of his way for me, as the
revolution of February arrived a few days later.

It will be remembered that this event was an utter “smasher” for all the

After exhausting all the attractive baits of their repertory, the
managers, finding all their attractions fail, vainly formed a congress
to relieve them from such a disastrous situation.

I was invited to the meeting, but, though I put in an appearance, it was
merely through politeness, as I was in a position very different from
that of my brethren.

This position depended simply on the fact that my establishment, instead
of having the name of a theatre, was called a “spectacle.” Through this
slight difference of title I enjoyed rights infinitely more extended.

Thus, while the theatres could only have bills of a size arranged by a
police decree, I was at liberty, as the manager of a spectacle, to
announce my performances in unbounded proportions.

I could also lessen or increase the number of my performances at my
pleasure, which was not one of the slightest advantages of my

Lastly, I had a right, whenever I thought proper, to put the key of my
room in my pocket, dismiss my staff, and walk about at my leisure in
expectation of better times.

All these advantages, to which I will add that of being burdened with
very slight expenses compared with my brethren, offered me no other
result than that of not losing my money. However I might try, the public
remained deaf to my appeal as to theirs.

I am mistaken though; for some days I received very polite letters from
the Provisional Government, in the shape of “free passes,” which begged
me to find room in my hall for the students of the Polytechnic and St.
Cyr schools, accompanied by their tutors.

I was enchanted, it is true, by this amiable act of politeness, which
augmented the number of my scanty spectators; for I performed, at
least, before a well-filled room, and I had no longer the annoyance of
seeing those unlucky benches empty--a sight which usually paralyzes the
most philosophic performers.

This illusion was, in truth, very ephemeral, for each evening, after the
performance, my cashier assumed a very gloomy face on approaching me.

What disenchantment! What bitter reprisals on the part of the blind
goddess who, for some time, had granted me such sweet favors!

Still, in these moments of distress, I may say with perfect sincerity
deceptions and torment were not confined to the profit and loss account;
and though a manager does not take money, he desires to conceal his
misery. In order to produce a deception, he tries to furnish his
theatre, and he gives free admissions. I had recourse to this measure;
but, what will appear strange, these tickets, which, a month earlier,
would have been regarded as an immense favor, were viewed with
considerable indifference, and it often happened that people did not
take the trouble to accept my invitation.

Having become a philosopher through necessity, I ended by resigning
myself to seeing my room nearly empty, and I sent out no more
invitations. Besides, I had enjoyed an opportunity of studying the “free
admissions,” and I had remarked that this class of spectators is, or
pretends to be, quite indifferent to the performance. In fact, the “free
admission,” when he believes the theatre short of spectators, imagines
he is doing an act of kindness by accepting the invitation offered him.
If he find the house full, he fancies all the places are occupied by
gratis tickets (and he is sometimes correct), and he concludes from it
that the performance cannot be very amusing. If he happen to be
mistaken, he does not applaud, in his fear of being taken for a
gratuitous visitor, and pass for an accomplice paying for his seat in

I was in the thick of my managerial troubles when, one morning, I
received a visit from the manager of the French theatre in London.
Mitchell (that is his name), far from seeking to delude me by false
promises, like my Brussels theatrical agent, merely made me the
following simple proposal:

“Monsieur Robert-Houdin,” he said to me, “you are well known in London;
come and perform at the St. James’ Theatre, and I have every reason to
believe you will be successful. Besides, we shall be equally interested,
for we will share the gross receipts, and I will pay all the expenses.
You will perform alternately with my Opéra Comique, that is to say, on
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and you will begin, if you please, on
the 7th of May next, or a month from to-day.”

These conditions appearing to me very acceptable, I may add, most
advantageous, I agreed to them most readily. Mitchell, then, offered me
his hand, I gave him mine, and this friendly sanction was the only
agreement we made for this important affair. Though there was no forfeit
on either side, no arrangement or signature, never was a bargain better

From that time, during all my long connection with Mitchell, I had many
occasions of appreciating all the value of his word. I may say loudly
that he is one of the most conscientious managers I ever had dealings
with. In addition, Mitchell adds an extreme affability, and a remarkable
degree of generosity and disinterestedness to the merit of keeping his
word. Under all circumstances, he will be found to act as a perfect
gentleman, and one of the most brilliant qualities he possesses as
manager, is his courteous behavior to his performers. The following
instance will serve as a proof:

Jenny Lind was singing at Her Majesty’s Theatre on the same evenings I
performed at St. James’s, so that, despite all the wish I felt to go and
hear her, I could not make up my mind to sacrifice a performance for
this attractive pleasure. However, in consequence of a circumstance too
lengthy to detail here, I happened to find myself free on one of the
nights when Jenny Lind sang. I must add that, besides managing the St.
James’s Theatre, Mitchell had hired a certain number of boxes at Her
Majesty’s by the year, and, according to the English custom, let them
out to the highest bidders. It happened at times that all the tickets
were not sold, and in that case Mitchell gave them to a few privileged
friends. I was aware of this circumstance, and intended to ask him a
similar favor for this evening.

At the moment I was going out to seek my manager, he came into my room.

“By Jove, my dear Mitchell,” I said to him, “I was just going to prefer
a request to you.”

“Whatever it may be, my dear friend,” he replied, politely, “be assured
it will be willingly heard.”

And when I explained to him what I wanted,

“Good Heavens! Houdin,” he said, in a tone of real annoyance, “how
unlucky you should ask that of me.”

“Why so?” I replied, in the same tone; “if it is not possible, my dear
friend, pray let me withdraw my request.”

“On the contrary, my dear Houdin--on the contrary, it is very easy; I am
only vexed at missing the surprise I intended to offer you: I was going
to give you an excellent box for to-night: here it is.”

A more delicate and amiable way of behaving could hardly be suggested.

A fortnight had scarce elapsed since my interview with Mitchell, when,
after a most successful passage, I disembarked at London. On the moment
of my arrival, my manager led me to a delightful lodging close to the
theatre, and showed me all the rooms. On reaching the sleeping
apartment, he said:

“You have a celebrated bed before you: it is the one in which Rachel,
Déjazet, Jenny Colon, and many other artistic celebrities, rested after
the emotion produced by their successes. You cannot but enjoy the ideas
which the remembrance of these illustrious guests will summon up in your
dreams. To any other than you, my dear Houdin, I would say that these
celebrated predecessors must bring good luck; but your success depends
on the virtue of your magic staff.”

Mitchell, feeling desirous to add all desirable attraction to my
performances, had ordered a scene in the Louis XV. style, as well as a
curtain, on which was painted, in letters of gold, the title adopted for
my Paris theatre, “_Soirées Fantastiques de_ ROBERT-HOUDIN;”
consequently, I could not begin my arrangements till all these
preparations had been completed.

In the meanwhile, having nothing better to do, I walked about daily in
the magnificent parks, and collected my strength, in preparation for the
fatigues I was about to undergo in my performances.

At this word “fatigues,” my reader will be doubtlessly surprised, for he
has every reason to suppose that my stay in London would be in some
degree a period of rest, as, instead of playing seven times a week, as
in Paris, I was only to give three performances in the same period.

To explain this apparent contradiction, it will be enough for me to
state that the work and fatigue are less in the performance than its
preparation. As at St. James’s Theatre I had to perform alternately with
the Comic Opera, I was obliged, lest I might impede these artists in
their studies, to give them all necessary time for their rehearsals,
which, as is well known, occupy the greater portion of the day.
Consequently, I had promised to clear the stage so soon as my
performance was over, and not occupy it again till the middle of the day
on which I performed. Add to this, that in my labor of preparing and
removing, the master’s eye was not sufficient, but I had for various
reasons to set to work myself, and it may be easily understood that this
caused me enormous fatigue.

It caused me at the outset a species of comical regret to find that my
performances would not owe their success entirely to my own merits. In
England it is almost impossible to gain the ear of the public unless
every possible form of notoriety be resorted to, and the change from my
peaceful retirement in Paris was very startling. Whenever I took my
walks abroad, my name in gigantic letters stared me in the face, while
enormous posters, on which my various tricks were represented, covered
the walls of London, and, according to the English fashion, were
promenaded about the streets, by the help of a vehicle like those we
employ in Paris for removing furniture.

But, however great this publicity might be, it was quite modest when
compared to that opposed to us by a rival, who may be justly regarded as
the most ingenious and skillful puffer in England.

On my arrival in England, a conjurer of the name of Anderson, who
assumed the title of _Great Wizard of the North_, had been performing
for a long period at the little Strand Theatre.

This artist, fearing, doubtlessly, that public attention might be
divided, tried to crush the publicity of my performances; hence, he sent
out on London streets a cavalcade thus organized:

Four enormous carriages, covered with posters and pictures representing
all sorts of witchcraft, opened the procession. Then followed
four-and-twenty merry men, each bearing a banner, on which was painted a
letter a yard in height.

At each cross-road the four carriages stopped side by side and presented
a bill some twenty-five yards in length, while all the men, I should say
letters, on receiving the word of command, drew themselves up in a line,
like the vehicles.

Seen in front, the letters formed this phrase:

                       THE CELEBRATED ANDERSON!!!

         while, on the other side of the banners could be read:

                     THE GREAT WIZARD OF THE NORTH.

Unfortunately for the Wizard, his performances were attacked by a mortal
disease; too long a stay in London had ended by producing satiety.
Besides, his repertory was out of date, and could not contend against
the new tricks I was about to offer. What could he present to the public
in opposition to the second sight, the suspension, and the inexhaustible
bottle? Hence, he was obliged to close his theatre and start for the
provinces, where he managed, as usual, to make excellent receipts, owing
to his powerful means of notoriety.

I have met many “puffers” in my life, but I may say I never saw one who
attained the elevation Anderson reached. The instance I have quoted will
give some idea of his manner, but I will add a few others, to supply a
perfect idea of the man.

Whenever his performances are going to be given in a large town, though
they are announced with extreme publicity, Anderson contrives to bring
his wonders to the notice even of those who never read the newspapers or

For this purpose, he sends to all the buttermen in the town moulds on
which his name, title, and the hour of his performance are engraved,
begging them to imprint his stamp on their butter-pats, in lieu of the
cow ordinarily represented. As every family in England eats butter at
breakfast, it follows that each receives, at no expense to the conjurer,
an invitation to pay a visit to the illustrious Wizard of the North.

Again, too, Anderson sends out into the streets, before daybreak, a
dozen men, carrying those open frames, by means of which, and with a
brush and lamp-black, the walls of Paris have been so long covered with
puffs. These people print the announcement of the Wizard’s performance
on the pavement, which is always kept remarkably clean in England. In
spite of himself, every tradesman on opening his shop, and every
inhabitant proceeding to business, cannot but read the name of Anderson,
and the announcement of his performance. It is true that a few hours
later these puffs are effaced by the footsteps of the passers-by, but
thousands of persons have read them, and the Wizard requires no more.

His posters are equally original, and I was shown one of a gigantic size
put out on the occasion of his return to London after a lengthened
absence in the provinces. It was a caricature imitation of the famous
picture “Napoleon’s Return from Elba.”

In the foreground Anderson was seen affecting the attitude of the great
man; above his head fluttered an enormous banner, bearing the words “The
Wonder of the World;” while, behind him, and somewhat lost in the shade,
the Emperor of Russia and several other monarchs stood in a respectful
posture. As in the original picture, the fanatic admirers of the Wizard
embraced his knees, while an immense crowd received him triumphantly. In
the distance could be seen the equestrian statue of the Iron Duke, who,
hat in hand, bowed before him, the Great Wizard; and, lastly, the very
dome of St. Paul’s bent towards him most humbly.

At the bottom was the inscription,


Regarded seriously, this picture would be found a puff in very bad
taste; but, as a caricature, it is excessively comic. Besides, it had
the double result of making the London public laugh, and bringing a
great number of shillings into the skillful puffer’s pockets.

When Anderson is about to leave a town where he has exhausted all his
resources, and has nothing more to hope, he still contrives to make one
more enormous haul.

He orders from the first jeweller in the town a silver vase, worth
twenty or twenty-five pounds; he hires, for one evening only, the
largest theatre or room in the town, and announces that in the Wizard’s
parting performance the spectators will compete to make the best pun.

The silver vase is to be the prize of the victor.

A jury is chosen among the chief people of the town to decide with the
public on the merits of each pun.

It is agreed that they will applaud if they think a pun good; they will
say nothing to a passable one, but groan at a bad one.

The room is always crowded, for people come less to see the performance,
which they know by heart, than to display their wit publicly. Each makes
his jest, and receives a greeting more or less favorable; and, lastly,
the vase is decreed to the cleverest among them.

Any other than Anderson would be satisfied with the enormous receipts
his performance produces; but the Great Wizard of the North has not
finished yet. Before the audience leaves the house he states that a
short-hand writer had been hired by him to take down all the puns, and
that they will be published as a Miscellany.

As each spectator who has made a joke likes to see it in print, he
purchases a copy of the book for a shilling. An idea of the number of
these copies may be formed from the number of puns they contain. I have
one of these books in my possession, printed at Glasgow in 1850, in
which there are 1091 of these facetiæ.

The charlatan style of Anderson’s bills is most amusing--at least I
regard it as such; for it is not presumable that Anderson ever intended
sincerely to praise himself in such an outrageous way. If I am mistaken,
it would be more than vanity on his part, when I take into consideration
his conjuring talent. Hence I believe him to be very modest at heart.


     The St. James’s Theatre--Invasion of England by French
     Performers--A Fête patronised by the Queen--The Diplomatist and the
     Sleight-of-Hand Man--Three Thousand Pounds taken at one Haul--I
     perform at Manchester--The Spectators in the Pillory--What capital
     Curaçoa!--A Torrent of Wine--A Catastrophe--Performance at
     Buckingham Palace--A Wizard’s Repast.

But it is time to return to St. James’s: the machinists, painters, and
decorators have finished their work, for the 2nd of May has arrived, the
day fixed for my stage being handed over to me.

In fact, every one was admirably punctual: the new scenery was in its
place at an early hour, and as, at Mitchell’s request, the rehearsals
were suspended for that day, the theatre was entirely at my service;
hence I could devote myself quietly to the preparations for my
performance. However, all had been so well arranged beforehand, that I
was in perfect readiness when the audience began entering the house.

It may be supposed I had taken every possible precaution to insure
success, for an experiment which must excite astonishment if it succeed,
in the event of failure is ruin to the operator. Hence I sincerely pity
those sorcerers whose supernatural power hangs on a thread.

It is true that a skillful conjurer ought always to be able to escape
any difficulty that may occur to him; still, this sort of repairs very
rarely meets with success, for, after all, it is only a patching
together, in which the cracks are only too visible.

I had a mode of escape always at hand in any emergency, but I confess I
was much vexed when compelled to have recourse to these secondary means,
which, by prolonging the experiment, render it far less striking.

When a failure happens in tricks of skill an escape is impossible, for a
conjurer ought no more to fail in these than a good musician play a
false note. Whenever he makes a mistake in such a case, it results from
his want of adroitness, which only time can correct; but in our
experiments accidents at times happen which the most careful man cannot
foresee. In such an event, you can only trust to the expedients which
presence of mind suggests.

Thus, one day, I happened to break the glass of a watch lent me for a
trick. My position was awkward, for it is a very clumsy termination to a
trick to return an object lent you in any way injured.

I quietly walked up to the gentleman who had lent me the watch, and
offered it to him, while being very careful to keep the face downwards;
but, at the moment he was going to take it, I drew it back.

“This is your watch?” I said, confidently.

“Yes, sir, it is.”

“Well, I merely wished to prove the fact; will you, sir,” I added,
sinking my voice, to a whisper, “lend it to me for another trick which I
intend to perform presently?”

“Willingly,” the obliging spectator replied.

I then carried the watch on the stage, and, handing it secretly to my
servant, I bade him go at full speed to a watchmaker’s, and have a new
glass put in.

Half an hour later, I returned the watch to its owner, saying:

“I have just noticed to my regret that the lateness of the hour will
preclude me from performing the trick I promised you; but as I hope to
have the pleasure of seeing you again at my performances, please to
remind me the first time you come, and I shall then be able to perform
the interesting trick.”

I was saved.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meanwhile, the public were entering the theatre, but so quietly
that, although my dressing-room was close to the stage, I heard scarcely
any noise in the house. I was frightened at this, for such a quiet entry
is in France a sure prognostic of bad receipts for the manager, and
sinister foreboding of a failure to the performer.

When I was able to proceed on the stage, I ran to the curtain-hole, and
I saw with as much surprise as pleasure the house completely filled, and
presenting, in addition, the most charming company I had ever yet
performed before.

I must say, too, that the St. James’s Theatre is a splendid
establishment, for it is in some degree the gathering-place of the
flower of the English aristocracy, who visit it not merely to enjoy the
performances, but also to improve their pronunciation of French.

One fact will give an idea of the elegance and fashion of my spectators;
no lady is allowed to keep on her bonnet, however elegant it may be; she
is obliged to leave it in the saloon. This is, indeed, a thorough
English fashion, for the ladies come to the theatre in evening costume,
with their hair beautifully arranged, and low-necked dresses, while the
gentlemen are attired in black, with white neck-handkerchiefs and

At St. James’s, the pit only exists traditionally; it is driven under
the boxes, and its presence is scarcely noticed. All the body of the
house is filled with stalls, or rather elegant arm-chairs, to which
ladies are admitted.

The price of the seats is in proportion to the comfort they offer; each
stall costs seven shillings, and you can enter the modest pit for three
shillings; but this is no dearer than at the Opera.

While I was surveying this elegant assembly with delight, I felt a
gentle tap on my shoulder. It was Mitchell, who came to give me a
delicate hint about some invitations he had thought it advisable to send

“Well, Houdin,” he said to me, “how do you like your examination? does
the audience please you?”

“It is delightful, my dear Mitchell; I may add, it is the first time I
ever performed in a theatre to such a brilliant audience.”

“Brilliant is the very word, my friend, for you must know that, among
your admirers” (pardon me this word of praise, but I am quoting
Mitchell), “is the whole of the English Press, which possesses a
numerous staff. We shall also have as spectators some gentlemen whose
opinion exercises a very great influence in London drawing-rooms. And
lastly, a great number of places are occupied by artistic celebrities,
who will justly appreciate the Robert-Houdin whom, to employ the
champagne phrase, we have made ‘sparkle’ as he deserves.”

It may be imagined that, after this explanation, my performance seemed
to me a solemnity, and that I employed the utmost care and zeal in
executing my tricks. I am justified in stating that I obtained a
legitimate success.

Shall I now speak of the kindness and encouragement I received from the
audience of St. James’s Theatre? I will appeal to the celebrated
artistes who have performed on this stage before me: Rachel, Roger,
Samson, Regnier, Duplessis, Déjazet, Bouffé, Levassor, &c.; have they
ever found in Europe spectators comparable to those of St. James’s? Here
there are no paid clappers; they would be superfluous, for the audience
take upon themselves to encourage the performers. The gentlemen are not
afraid of bursting their gloves, while the ladies make as much noise
with their tiny hands as their strength allows.

But I must stop, for I should fear, were I to continue, drifting into
the style of the Great Wizard.

My performances went on at St. James’s, and amply consoled me for my
losses in Paris. Although I only performed three times a week, their
produce exceeded that of my best days at home. My readers might imagine
that such unequivocal success ought to have satisfied me, but, as I have
said before, I am naturally ambitious, and I longed for one decisive
triumph--I wished to have my performance honored by the presence of the
Queen. Under happier auspices I doubt not that the honor would have
fallen to my share, but at the moment there was a peculiar difficulty,
which I saw no mode of overcoming. I will describe it in as summary a
manner as I can.

After the revolution, the French theatres, as I have already said, found
their receipts reduced to worthless free tickets; hence they sought in
neighboring countries, just as I had done myself, a public less engaged
with politics, and consequently more apt to yield to the attraction of

England was the only country that had made no change in its habits of
luxury and pleasure, and hence many managers turned their longing eyes
towards this El Dorado.

The Palais Royal Theatre, which, by the way, was not the worst off, was
one of the first to draw a bill at sight upon the rich metropolis of

Dormeuil, its skillful manager, divided his company into two parts, one
remaining at Paris, while the other came to the St. James’s Theatre in
the place of the Opéra Comique, which had ended its engagement with
Mitchell. Levassor, Grassot, Ravel, M’lle Scrivaneck, &c., received a
brilliant reception from our mutual audience.

This success became known in Paris, and turned the head of M. H----,
manager of the Historic Theatre.

After making arrangements with the proprietors of a London theatre
(Covent Garden, I think), the impresario also came across with a portion
of his company to perform his play of _Monte Christo_, which lasted two

The arrival of these performers, all of great merit generally, disturbed
the peace of the English managers, who, fearing with some reason the
entire loss of their audiences, resolved to oppose this dangerous

“The French and Italian theatres in London,” they said in their attacks,
“can play on their boards whatever pieces they like; they are privileged
to do so, and we respect their right. But we will not permit all our
theatres to be thus invaded, or Shakspeare be dethroned by foreign

The question of theatrical rivalry soon assumed the character of a
national one. The papers took up the cause of the theatres, while the
public adopted the opinion of the press writers, and formed an army to
fight against the new comers.

M. H---- attempted, however, to perform Alexandre Dumas’s master-piece;
but it was impossible to hear a word, so great were the noise and
confusion in the house during the whole time the performance lasted.
Although the manager persevered in his enterprise, he was at length
obliged to yield to this imposing protest, which threatened to
degenerate into a collision, and he decided on closing the theatre.

Mitchell held out his hand to the unlucky manager, and offered him the
hospitality of his theatre, that he might at least play his double piece
once before he left London. For this purpose he granted him one night of
the Palais Royal performances, and promised to arrange with me for the
next night.

I could refuse Mitchell nothing, and the drama was represented in its
entirety, after which the company returned to France.

I granted this favor with the greatest pleasure, as it obliged many
amiable performers, and I will add that, were a similar occasion offered
me to oblige M. H---- again, I would gladly accept it, if only to remind
him about thanking me for the first service I did him.

Fortunately for my hopes, an occasion was offered me for performing
before her Majesty, of which I gladly availed myself, as it enabled me,
at the same time to do some slight service in the cause of charity. The
occasion I will here describe, as it affords a pleasing trait of English
manners and customs.

A benevolent fête, the object of which was to open baths for the poor,
had been organized by the first ladies in the land, and it was to be
held at a delicious villa at Fulham, belonging to Sir Arthur Webster,
who had kindly placed it at the disposal of the lady patronesses.

This graceful swarm of sisters of charity was composed of ten duchesses,
fifteen marchioness, and some thirty countesses, viscountesses and
baronesses, at the head of whom was the Queen, who intended to honor
the fête by her presence. This was more than sufficient to dispose of
the tickets, however high the price might be. Still, the ladies
conscientiously desired to add some attraction, which would occupy the
afternoon agreeably. The first idea was to arrange a concert, and, of
course, the chief singers in the metropolis must be invited to join, as
the company was so select; hence the committee turned their eyes to Her
Majesty’s Theatre.

But there a difficulty arose: they must ask each artiste to display his
talent gratuitously, and as this was begging a favor, the embassy placed
the fair promoters in a delicate position which they hesitated to

Fortunately for them, these ladies had taken care to enlist the services
of my manager, whose intelligent advice would be most useful in
arranging the fête.

Mitchell was requested to call on the artistes, and he soon drew up a
most remarkable list: it contained Madame Grisi, Madame Castellan,
Madame Alboni, Mario, Roger (then engaged at Her Majesty’s Theatre),
Tamburini, and Lablache.

After the concert a divertissement was to take place which must excite
the public curiosity. A large number of ladies, dressed in costumes
selected from all parts of the world, had promised to form fancy
quadrilles on the lawn, in which they would perform character dances,
and for this purpose elegant and spacious tents were erected.

But this spectacle could only last an hour, and there were still two to
be filled up, in which the guests could only be offered the pleasure of
walking about. It was evident this was not enough, especially when we
remember the price of the tickets was two pounds. Hence the committee
naturally thought of my performance.

Mitchell had expected this, so he took on himself, owing to our friendly
connexion, to obtain my consent. He did more, for wishing in his turn to
offer his alms to the poor, he offered to build, at his own expense, a
theatre in the ground, and transfer to it the scenery I had at the
theatre. This was, in some respects, removing St. James’s Theatre to

Mitchell told me of this lucky event, from which he expected the best
results, and I may say at once that his expectations were realized. As
soon as it was known that the Queen would deign to be present at one of
my performances, many members of the aristocracy, who had not yet
visited the St. James’s Theatre, sent to order boxes.

On the day fixed for the Fulham festival, I started after breakfast for
Sir Arthur Webster’s residence. My manager, with the machinist of the
theatre, had been at work there from an early hour, so that, when I
arrived I found the theatre quite in readiness for me. Scenery, drops,
and curtain, everything, in short, was there, excepting the foot-lights,
for which the sun was an admirable substitute.

The public were to be admitted at one, and though I was not to give my
performance till nearly four o’clock, all my preparations were made by
the time the doors opened. The lady patronesses were already at their
posts to receive the Queen and the royal family, and were assisted by
stewards selected from the highest members of the aristocracy; among
them being the Duke of Beaufort, the Marquis of Abercorn, the Marquis of
Douglas, &c.

While waiting my turn to act, I thought I might as well take part in the
fête as a simple spectator; hence I went first to the entrance gates.

I had scarce reached them when I saw the Duke of Wellington get out of
his carriage, the popular hero before whom gentle and simple bowed with
respectful deference.

A few moments later appeared the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,
accompanied by his Highness Prince Frederick William of Hesse, and in a
group immediately following these high personages, the Duchess of Kent,
the Duchess Bernhard of Saxe Weimar, and the Princesses Anne and Amelia
were pointed out to me.

These illustrious visitors were received by the lady patronesses with
the honors due to their rank, while the band of the Royal Horse Guards
played national airs.

Outside could be heard the noisy and animated crowd, pressing forward,
at the risk of their lives, to see the carriages with the powdered and
gorgeous footmen whose heads are taxed so highly by the government.

The numerous subscribers flocked in: all wished to be punctual, for it
was known the Queen would grace the fête by her presence, and an
Englishman, great or small, would not at any price miss the pleasure of
seeing once again the features of her most gracious Majesty.

The place I had selected was most favorable for observing the new
arrivals and not missing a single person. Still, whatever attraction
this brilliant panorama might offer me, I was equally anxious to see the
interior of the fairy palace, and I was just turning away, after
directing a parting glance to the entrance gates. I was glad I did so,
for at this moment arrived, close after each other, Prince Louis
Napoleon, our present Emperor; Prince Edward of Saxe Weimar; Prince
Lœwenstein, and several other great personages whose names have
escaped my memory.

The gardens, the conservatories, and apartments, were already crowded by
all the rank and fashion of London, and it was a hard matter to move
about at one’s ease. At each moment a formidable swarm of marchionesses
and ladies stopped the way, and forced me to yield the road to them, in
my fear of crushing the most dazzling dresses I had ever seen. This was
difficult enough, for whatever way I might turn in my politeness, I ran
the risk of finding myself in the same dilemma, so numerous and compact
was the assemblage at Fulham.

At half-past two the Queen had not yet arrived, and there was a
hesitation about waiting any longer, when frenzied hurrahs, rending the
air for the length of a mile, announced her Majesty’s speedy arrival.

The church-bells immediately began ringing, the band struck up “God save
the Queen,” while the youngest and fairest ladies formed a double avenue
along her Majesty’s route.

These preparations were scarce made ere the Queen left her carriage, and
moving along an immense avenue, covered with red cloth, and sheltered
overhead by a gay awning, she walked towards the room where her arrival
was only awaited to commence the concert.

On reaching the room, the Queen took her place in the midst of a circle
formed by the lady patronesses, and the concert began.

I should have gladly listened to the dulcet sounds, but, unfortunately,
the hall, in spite of its vast proportions, could not contain all the
spectators, and the crush was so great that it was not only crowded, but
the approaches were invaded to the point where the vibration of the
voices finally died away.

Hence, I was obliged to content myself with hearing outside the repeated
applause bestowed on the talented singers. Roger, especially, obtained a
real triumph by his aria from Lucia di Lammermoor, and the exquisite
way in which he sings it is well known. The Queen herself commanded an

The concert was scarcely over when, in accordance with the programme,
the Queen proceeded to see the quadrilles, in which magnificently
attired ladies were to take part.

I should have gladly witnessed this graceful sight, but I thought it
advisable to cast a final glance on my stage.

Hence, I proceeded towards the theatre, where a private entrance had
been prepared for me, and I was just going up the few steps leading to
it, when some one seized my arm.

“Ah! Monsieur Robert-Houdin,” a gentleman said to me, with a smile, as
he prepared to follow me up the stairs, “that is capital--we will go in

“Where, sir?” I asked, much surprised at this proposal.

“Why, on your stage,” the unknown said, with an air of authority; “and I
trust you will not refuse me that pleasure.”

“I am vexed to deny you, sir; but that is impossible,” I said politely,
knowing that in these grounds I could only meet persons who must be
treated with respect.

“Why so?” the gentleman continued, most pressingly. “I find, on the
contrary, nothing easier. If we cannot go in side by side, we can follow
each other.”

“Pardon me, sir, if I refuse your request; but no stranger is allowed on
my stage.”

“Very good,” my assailant then said, pleasantly; “if that is the case, I
will tell you my name, so that I may be no longer a ‘stranger’ to you. I
am Baron Brunnow, the Russian ambassador, as great an admirer of your
mysteries as I am desirous to find them out.” And he continued his
ascent, while striving to force the barrier. “What, Monsieur
Robert-Houdin,” he added, “do you still refuse me this? I only ask one
or two explanations, nothing more.”

“I must persist in my refusal, Monsieur le Baron, for several reasons,
and, more especially, for this one----“


“Your perspicuity and talent are so universally recognized, that I would
not deprive you of the pleasure of yourself detecting these secrets,
which are hardly worthy your powerful intellect.”

“Ah! ah!” the Baron replied, with a laugh, “how diplomatic we are. Do
you wish to follow in my track?”

“I am unworthy to do so, Monsieur le Baron.”

“Very good, very good. In the meanwhile, I am repulsed with loss, and
forced to take my place among the spectators. I yield; but tell me,
Monsieur Robert-Houdin, have you ever been in Russia?”

“No, sir, never.”

“Then give me your card.”

And the ambassador wrote his name below mine.

“Here,” he said, handing it me back, “if you ever feel an inclination to
visit our country, that card will be very useful to you; and, if I
happen to be at St. Petersburg at the time, come and see me, and I will
procure you the honor of performing before his Majesty the Emperor

I thanked Baron Brunnow, and he left me.

During this conversation, the quadrilles were being danced, and, before
their termination, the crowd had occupied all the seats for my
performance, save those reserved for the royal family and the court. The
Queen herself soon arrived, and I immediately received orders to begin.

Would that I had a more skillful pen with which to depict in its true
colors the picture which revealed itself to my dazzled gaze at this
moment! At any rate, I will attempt to describe it.

Imagine a large lawn rising before me in an amphitheatrical shape, and
arranged like the pit of a theatre. It would have been impossible to say
whether the ground was covered with grass or gravel, so thronged was it
with ladies, who were alone allowed to sit down.

In the first row and nearest my theatre, the Queen, having her royal
husband on her right, was surrounded by her young and graceful family. A
little in the rear the ladies in waiting and the lady patronesses formed
the royal escort. At a respectful distance behind, the wives and
daughters of the subscribers took their places, while the gentlemen
formed symmetrical groups round this vast space.

The sight was truly magnificent; all the ladies, dazzling with youth and
beauty, covered with diamonds and flowers, and rivalling each other in
good taste and brilliancy, resembled a vast enameled prairie, on which
the richest flowers of spring were displayed, while the black coats of
the gentlemen who enframed this smiling picture, far from dulling it,
only heightened the effect.

On either side of the lawn, old oak-trees lent their refreshing shade to
this improvised theatre.

I felt a noble pride at that moment, when I thought I held, as it were
at my fingers’ ends, the witching eyes of duchesses, at times so
haughty, but now so gracious, and which seemed at every moment to gain
fresh brilliancy at the sight of the surprises I offered them.

In this unique performance the time passed so rapidly, that I was quite
astonished when I found myself performing my last trick.

Before leaving her seat, the Queen, although she had several times
evinced her satisfaction, sent me her compliments through an
aide-de-camp, who also expressed her Majesty’s desire to have a
performance at Buckingham Palace at a later date.

I had made every arrangement to start for town immediately my
performance was over, lest I might be delayed by the carriages waiting
at the park gates. An idea of the number of my audience can be formed,
when I say it took me more than a quarter of an hour to pass through the
carriages drawn up in double file along the road. The receipts of the
festival will supply a better proof: they amounted to 2500_l._!

The next day the royal arms appeared at the head of my bills, and below,
the following passage, as a species of baptismal certificate:

     “_Robert-Houdin, who has had the honor of performing before her
     most gracious Majesty the Queen, Prince Albert, the Royal Family,
     and the Nobility of the United Kingdom,_” &c.

My fashion only become the greater at St. James’s.

We had now reached the middle of July, and no one but an Englishman can
understand the possibility of obtaining a theatrical success during the
dog-day heats. I must say, then, that among our brethren beyond the
Channel, where all our customs are inverted, the season for concerts is
from May to the end of August. In September the aristocracy retire to
their estates, where they remain the other six months of the year.

I followed the example of my audience: I quitted London at the beginning
of September, not like them to take rest, but, on the contrary, to
commence a life even more agitated than the one I was leaving. I went
to the Manchester Theatre, where Knowles, the manager, had made an
engagement with me for fifteen performances.

The theatre in this city is immense; like the vast _arenæ_ of ancient
Rome, it can hold an entire people. To give an idea of its size, I need
only say that twelve hundred spectators scarcely filled the pit.

When I took possession of the stage, I was startled at its huge
proportions; for I feared I should be lost upon it, and my voice be

The reasons for the erection of this immense building were explained to
me afterwards.

Manchester, as an eminent manufacturing city, counts its workmen by
thousands. Well, these hardy artisans are all fond of the stage, and in
their hand-to-mouth existence they often give up one or two nights a
week to this style of amusement; hence a large space was required to
house them all.

Judging by the size of the house, I saw that many of the tricks I
performed at St. James’s were unsuited for the Manchester Theatre;
hence, I was obliged to draw up a programme containing merely tricks
that could be seen from a distance, and whose effect would strike the

So soon as my performances were announced, the “hands” flocked in in
shoals, and the pit, their favorite place, was literally crammed; while
the rest of the house was nearly empty. This is, however, generally the
case at a first performance in England; for many people wait for the
newspaper critiques, which are sure to appear on the following day, ere
they make up their mind.

The audience entered the house with a noise unexampled in any French
theatre, except at those gratuitous performances given in Paris on grand
occasions. Before the curtain was raised, I was obliged to wait, and
give my noisy public time to cool down, and order and silence being
gradually established, I began my performance.

Instead of the fashionable world, the elegant toilettes, and those
spectators who seemed to spread an aristocratic perfume over the St.
James’s Theatre, I now found myself in the presence of simple workmen,
modestly and uniformly attired, rough in their manner, and eager for

But this change, far from displeasing me, stimulated my energies and
dash, and I was soon at my ease with my new spectators, when I saw that
they took a lively interest in my experiments. Still, an accident at the
outset nearly aroused the popular dissatisfaction.

The Manchester artisans, far from coming to my performances to improve
their French accent, were greatly surprised at hearing themselves
addressed in any language but their own. Protests were put in on every
side, and soon shouts were heard of “Speak English!”

As for my complying with the request, it was simply impossible; for
though I had been six months in London, as I was always among my own
countrymen, or persons who talked French, I had no occasion to apply
myself to the English language. Still, I tried to satisfy a claim that
appeared to me legitimate, and make up for my deficiencies by boldness
and good-will. I began by pronouncing the few English words I knew; when
my vocabulary was at fault, and I was about to run short, I invented
expressions which, owing to their strange shape, greatly amused my
audience. Often, too, when in a difficulty, I boldly asked them to come
to my aid, and it was my turn to feel a great inclination to laugh.

“How do you call it?” I said, with a serio-comic air, as I held up the
article whose name I wished to know; and straightway a hundred voices
responded to my appeal. Nothing could be more pleasant than a lesson
thus taken, when my teachers, contrary to the usual fashion, paid for
the privilege of giving it.

Through my condescension I succeeded in making peace with my audience,
who warmly cemented it on several occasions by their hearty applause.
The last trick especially created a tremendous excitement--I mean the
_inexhaustible bottle_, produced with scenery and decorations never
before witnessed on any stage.

The picture presented by this trick is indescribable, and a skillful
pencil could alone reproduce its numerous details. Here, however, is a
sketch as accurate as possible:

I have already said that although the spectators were few and far
between in some parts of the house, the pit was crowded, and it
consequently contained more than twelve hundred persons.

I own it was a really curious sight to see all these heads issuing
invariably from dark-colored waistcoats, heightened by that ruddiness of
face which can be only produced by the beef and porter of Great Britain.

In order that I might communicate more freely with my numerous
spectators, the machinist had put up a plank running from the stage to
the end of the pit, and as I also wished to address persons at the
sides, two other “practicables,” much shorter than the centre one, ran
across to the boxes. The latter did not occupy room like the first, for
they were just over a passage, while those who entered by it had to
stoop down to reach their seats; but what was that slight inconvenience
to the pleasure they promised themselves in seeing the “French

The public were still entering the pit after my performance had
commenced, and so many persons were allowed to come in that there was
soon no room for the laggards.

Several of them had the courage to remain bent under the “practicables,”
and, looking out right and left in turn, they could follow my tricks.
But one of these bold spectators, doubtlessly fatigued by the
inconvenient posture he was obliged to keep, ingeniously passed his head
through the narrow space between the “practicable” and the boxes. He
managed it very cleverly, and his action was precisely that of a button
going into its corresponding hole.

This innovation was, it may be easily supposed, gaily and noisily
welcomed by the audience, and the unfortunate man had to endure the fate
reserved for all innovators--he was laughed at and “chaffed”
tremendously. But he did not trouble himself about that, and his
coolness disarmed his opponents.

Encouraged by his example, a neighbor tried the button-hole manœuvre,
then a second and a third, and thus, by the middle of the performance,
half a dozen heads without bodies were symmetrically arranged on either
side the pit, looking for all the world like skittle-pins waiting to be
knocked down.

I had arrived at the bottle trick, which consists in producing from an
empty bottle every liquor that may be asked for, no matter the number of

The reputation of this famous bottle was already established in
Manchester, for the London papers had fully described the experiment.
Hence, a general hurrah was heard when I appeared armed with my
marvellous bottle; for, in addition to the merit of the trick itself,
the workmen also counted on the pleasure of drinking a glass of brandy,
or any other liquor.

Flattered by this reception, I proceeded to the centre of the pit,
followed by my servant, who carried an enormous tray of wine-glasses.
But I had scarce arrived there when a thousand voices began exclaiming,
“Brandy, whisky, gin, curaçoa, shrub, rum,” &c.

It was impossible to satisfy all at once; hence, I wished to proceed in
rotation, and, after filling a glass, I offered it to the man who I
thought had made the first claim; but the gentleman was utterly
disappointed. Twenty hands were stretched out to dispute the precious
liquor, and the glass was speedily upset. The spectators, suffering the
punishment of Tantalus, shouted for the liquid, which was not fated to
reach their lips. I filled a second glass--it shared the fate of the
previous one, and was fought for so obstinately that the glass was

Further on, the same request was made; I complied, and none could profit
by it.

Without troubling myself as to the result, I poured out the liquor
profusely, and left my audience to fight for its possession.

Soon all the glasses had disappeared, and in vain I asked for them back
to continue my bounty; not a trace of them was to be found. My
experiment was, therefore, in danger of sudden termination, when a
clever spectator held out his hand in the shape of a cup.

The process was as simple as it was ingenious; it was the egg of
Christopher Columbus. The astonishment his neighbors felt permitted the
inventor to profit by his discovery, which is unfortunately a rarity.

This improvised cup was unanimously accepted, but the imitators saw
their piracy suffer the same fate, minus the breakage, as the glasses.

Quite tired, I was about to withdraw, when a new improvement was
introduced by a spectator, as thirsty as he was obstinate; throwing back
his head and opening an enormous mouth, he made me signs to pour in
curaçoa. Finding the idea original, I immediately complied.

“What capital curaçoa,” the man said, as he licked his lips.

This seductive exclamation was scarce heard ere every mouth was open and
heads thrown back; it was enough to make me fly in terror. Still, not to
leave so curious a scene incomplete, I took a watering tour, holding the
mouth of the bottle as straight as I could. At times, the bottle being
pushed by the neighbors, sent the liquor over a man’s coat, but, save
this slight inconvenience, all went on famously, and I fancied I had
fulfilled the rude task of quenching the thirst of my audience. Still, I
heard a few more appeals; and a glass of whisky was earnestly implored
by one of the men who had thrust his head between the plank and the
boxes, and seemed in a perfect state of collapse.

My son, who helped me on the stage, and was one of the first to hear
this request, understood all the longing the poor suppliant felt; hence
he ran on the stage for a glass, which I filled, and he carried to the

But a difficulty suddenly arose; the claimant and his comrades were shut
up in their pillory, side by side, and could not raise their arms. My
son, unthinkingly, offered the glass, and seeing no one take it, was
about to carry it back on the stage; but a groan made him turn round,
and, by the patient’s air, he understood he was begging him to stoop
down and place the glass to his lips.

This delicate operation was performed with considerable skill on both
sides, and, despite the laughter of the public, each of the pilloried
men asked the same service in turn.

This little scene appeared to have calmed the ardor of the public; and I
thought it possible to terminate my trick in the usual way. When my
bottle appears exhausted, I end by filling an enormous glass with
liquor, but a scene then began which I had been far from expecting.

Many writers have described the saturnalia produced by the frightful
distribution of food and wine at the Restoration. Well, these orgies
were respectable meals compared with the assault attempted to reach the
glass I held in my hand.

A human avalanche suddenly rose before me, and from this living pyramid
emerged two hundred hands to dispute their prey, while a hundred mouths
were opened to swallow it.

I thought it high time to beat a retreat, in the fear of being buried
beneath this shapeless mass. It was impossible; behind me a file of
thirsty drinkers barred my passage.

The danger was pressing, for the pyramid was bending forward to reach
me, and might lose its balance at any moment; the cries of the unhappy
beings supporting its weight explained the dangerous position in which I
might soon find myself; hence, I rushed with my head down through the
mass, and reached the stage in time to notice the curious sight of a
falling mountain.

I will not attempt to describe the cries, shouts, and applauses that
accompanied this fall, while the victims were loud in their abuse, and
found no way of getting up, save by stepping on their companions in
misfortune. The noise was atrocious.

The curtain fell on this strange scene, but shouts and clapping were
immediately heard: “The conjurer!” Houdin must come out to be

I obeyed this order, and when I made my appearance, either because I had
been too liberal with my bottle, or because, as I would sooner think, my
spectators were satisfied with my performance, the shouts and applause
broke out in such a formidable manner that I was quite stupefied, while
feeling acutely the pleasure they produced me. For I must say that the
noise of the hands struck together, though so trying in itself, has
nothing to shock the ear of a performer; on the contrary, the more
deafening it becomes, the more harmonious it appears to the recipient.

The following performances were far from being so tumultuous as the
first, and the reason is very simple. The merchants and traders, who
form the aristocracy of Manchester, having heard of my performances,
came with the families to witness them, and their presence contributed
to keep the workmen in order. The house assumed a different aspect, and
henceforth I could only praise the quietness of the pit.

Fifteen consecutive performances had not exhausted the curiosity of the
inhabitants, and I could certainly have given fifteen more, at least,
when, to my great regret, I was obliged to make way for two
celebrities--Jenny Lind and Roger--whom Knowles had engaged to follow my

Though I felt vexed at throwing such a chance away, on the other hand I
was glad to escape as soon as possible from that heavy and smoky
atmosphere, which makes the industrial capital of England resemble a
city of chimney-sweeps. I could not accustom my lungs to inhale, instead
of air, the flakes of soot constantly floating about. I fell into a
state of melancholy almost akin to spleen, which did not abandon me till
I reached the gay city of Liverpool, where I intended to remain several

I was at that time at the height of my fashion; my performance began
with applause and ended with famous receipts. I need only add, that,
after performing in turn at the theatres of Liverpool, Birmingham,
Worcester, Cheltenham, Bristol, and Exeter, I returned to London to give
fifteen performances ere I started for France.

A few days after my return to St. James’s Theatre, the Queen, bearing in
mind the desire she had expressed at Fulham, commanded a performance at
Buckingham Palace.

This invitation being most agreeable, I willingly accepted it.

At eight in the morning of the appointed day, I proceeded to the royal
residence, and the steward of the palace, to whom I was directed, led me
to the place selected for my performance. It was a long and magnificent
picture gallery, and a theatre had been put up, on which the scenery
represented a saloon in the Louis Quinze style, white and gold, much
resembling the one I had at St. James’s Theatre.

My guide then showed me an adjoining dining-room, belonging, he said, to
the ladies of honor, and he begged me to state at what hour I should
like to breakfast.

I was too busy to think about eating, for I had my performance to
prepare; however, I ordered the meal for one o’clock at any risk, and
set to work directly.

Aided by my secretary (a species of factotum) and my two boys, who
helped me as well as their strength permitted, I managed to overcome all
the difficulties produced by the provisional arrangement of the stage.
But I had not finished all my preparations till two o’clock, and I was
almost dying of inanition, for, less fortunate than my companions, I had
eaten nothing the whole day. Hence it was with real joy I led the route
to the dining-room.

As the performance was not to take place till three, I had just an hour
to recruit my strength.

I had scarce walked a dozen steps, when I heard some one calling me. It
was a palace official who wanted to speak to me.

“There will be a ball, sir, in this gallery,” he said, in excellent
French, “after your performance, and consequently preparations will have
to be made which may take more time than has been allowed for them.
Hence, the Queen requests you to begin your performance an hour sooner;
she is quite ready, and will be here directly.”

“I am very sorry I cannot obey her Majesty’s commands,” I replied; “my
preparations are not yet ended, and I must add, that----“

“Monsieur Robert-Houdin,” the officer replied, politely, but with all
the coolness of a Briton, “such are her Majesty’s orders, and I can say
no more.” And without awaiting any explanation, he bowed to me and

“We shall still have time to take a hasty snack,” I said to my
secretary, “so off to the dining-room as quickly as you please.”

I had not finished the sentence, when the Queen, Prince Albert and the
royal family entered the gallery, followed by a numerous suit.

At this sight I had not the courage to go further; I returned, and armed
myself with resignation. Protected by the curtain that concealed me from
the spectators, I hastily made my few remaining preparations, and five
minutes later I received the order to begin.

When the curtain rose, I was dazzled at the sight that met my gaze.

Her Majesty, the Prince Consort, the Queen Dowager, the Duke of
Cambridge and the royal children occupied the first rank. Behind them
were a portion of the Orleans family; while in the rear sat the highest
functionaries, among whom I recognized ambassadors dressed in their
national costumes, and general officers covered with brilliant
decorations. All the ladies were in ball toilette, and richly adorned
with jewels.

A wonderful change came over me when I began my performance: all my
languor had been suddenly dispelled, and I felt in excellent spirits.

Still this change can be easily explained. It is well known that a
performer feels no suffering while on the stage; a species of exaltation
suspends all feelings foreign to his part, and hunger, thirst, cold, or
heat, even illness itself, is forced to retreat in the presence of this
excitement, though it takes its revenge afterwards.

This slight digression was necessary to explain the spirits I felt in
when I appeared before my noble audience.

Never, I believe, did I throw such dash and boldness into the
performance of my experiments; never, either, had I an audience which
appreciated them so kindly.

The Queen deigned to encourage me several times by flattering remarks,
while Prince Albert, ever so kind to professionals, heartily clapped his

I had prepared a trick, called the _Bouquet à la Reine_. This is what
the _Court Journal_ says of it when describing my performance:

       *       *       *       *       *

“The Queen evinced an extreme pleasure in these experiments; but the one
which seemed to strike her most was the _Bouquet à la Reine_, a very
graceful surprise, and charmingly àpropos. Her Majesty having lent her
glove to M. Robert-Houdin, the latter immediately produced from it a
bouquet, which soon grew so large that it could be scarcely held in both
hands. Finally, this bouquet, after being placed in a vase, and bedewed
with magic water, was transformed into a garland, in which the flowers
formed the word VICTORIA.

“The Queen was equally astonished at the surprising lucidity of M.
Robert-Houdin’s son, in the experiment of the second-sight. The most
complicated objects had been prepared in order to embarrass and foil the
sagacity of the father and the marvellous faculty of the son. Both
emerged victoriously from this intellectual combat, and defeated every

After the performance, the same officer with whom I had already spoken
came to offer me the thanks of the Queen and Prince Albert. The Duchess
of Orleans had also been kind enough to add her compliments and those of
her family.

So soon as the curtain had fallen, and I was no longer supported by the
presence of my audience, I felt ready to drop. I had taken a seat, and
could hardly rise to go and enjoy the meal which I stood in such need

Still, I was about to do so, when I was roused from my exhaustion by the
appearance of a large body of workmen, who had come to take down the
theatre in all speed and prepare the gallery for the ball.

My readers can judge of my embarrassment and trouble when I found I must
pack up all my machinery at once, lest it might be broken.

I tried to protest and defer the execution of the task, but it was all
in vain: orders had been given, and they must be obeyed. Hence, I was
obliged to summon up fresh energy to finish my packing, which took me an
hour and a half.

Six o’clock struck when all was finished. I had taken no food for
exactly four-and-twenty hours.

Leaning on my manager who had taken the precaution of ordering up the
dinner, I dragged myself as far as the dining-room.

Twilight had commenced, and the room was not yet lighted, and it was
with some difficulty we could distinguish a table. I fell rather than
sat down upon a chair I found near me, and while my son was ringing for
lights, I commenced a second-sight performance of my own. I succeeded
famously; I laid my hand on a fork, and pricking at whatever might be
before me, found something attached to the instrument. I prudently
raised the object to my nose, and, satisfied with this inspection, I
took a triumphant bite.

It was delicious; and I fancied I could recognize a _salmi_ of

I made a second exploring tour to assure myself of the truth, and, after
a few mouthfuls, I convinced myself I was not mistaken. My manager and
boys followed my example, and set to work manfully.

It seems that the attendance must be slow in royal houses, for before
the lights arrived we had plenty of time to grow used to the darkness.

However, this meal, through its originality, became a delightful
amusement, and I had seized a bottle to pour out some wine, when the
door of the room suddenly opened, and two servants came in bearing
candelabra. On seeing us thus seated at table and eating in the coolest
way, they nearly fell backwards in surprise. I am persuaded they took us
at the moment for real sorcerers, for we had great difficulty in
inducing them to remain in the room and wait on us.

We then took our ease. The table was well served, the wines were
excellent, and we could rest from the fatigues and emotions of the day.
At the end of the dinner the palace steward paid us a visit, and on
hearing of my misfortunes, he expressed his deep regret. The Queen, he
assured me, would be the more vexed, if she heard of it, because she had
given the strictest orders that I should want for nothing in her palace.

I replied, that I was amply repaid for a few moments of pain by the
satisfaction I felt at having been called to perform before his gracious
sovereign. And this was, indeed, the truth.


     An Optimist Manager--Three Spectators in a Room--A Magical
     Collation--The Colchester Public and the Nuts--I return to
     France--I give up my Theatre--A Farewell Tour--I retire to St.
     Gervais--An Academician’s Predictions.

A short time after this performance my engagement with Mitchell

Instead of returning to France, as I should much have desired after so
lengthened an absence, I thought it better to continue my excursions in
the English provinces till the end of September, when I hoped to reopen
my theatre at Paris.

Consequently, I drew up an itinerary, in which the first station would
be Cambridge, celebrated for its university; and set out.

Possibly the reader may feel no inclination to follow me on this tour,
but he may be assured I will not drag him after me, especially as my
second passage through England presents hardly any details worth
mentioning here. I will content myself with recounting a few incidents,
and among them a small adventure that happened to me, as it may serve
for a lesson for all professionals, that it is dangerous both to their
self-esteem and interests to drain public curiosity too deep in the
various places whither the hope of good receipts attracts them.

I intended to go straight from London to Cambridge, but, half way, I
took a fancy to stop and give a few performances at Hertford, a town
containing some ten thousand people.

My two first performances were most successful, but on the third, seeing
that the number of spectators had greatly fallen off, I decided on
giving no more.

My manager argued against this resolution, and offered me reasons which
certainly had some value.

“I assure you, sir,” he said, “that nothing is spoken of in the town but
your performance. Every one is asking if you are going to perform
to-morrow, and two young gentlemen have already begged me to keep them
places if you intend to remain for to-morrow.”

Génet, my manager, was certainly the best fellow in the world; but I
ought to have distrusted his counsels, knowing, as I did, his
disposition to look at the bright side of everything. He was the
incarnation of optimism, and the calculations he made about this
performance went far beyond those of the inkstand inventor. To hear him
talk, we should have to double the price of places, and increase our
staff to keep back the crowd that would rush to see me.

While jesting Génet on his exaggerated ideas, I still allowed him to
send out the bills for the performance he so much desired.

The next evening, at half-past seven, I went, according to my usual
custom, to order the box-office to be opened, and the public allowed
admission. The performance would commence at eight precisely.

I found my manager quite alone--not a soul had arrived yet. Still, that
did not prevent him greeting me with a radiant air--though that was his
normal condition.

“No one has yet come to the theatre,” he said, rubbing his hands, as if
giving me first-rate intelligence; “but that is a good sign.”

“The deuce it is! Come, my dear Génet, I must have that proved.”

“It is easy enough to understand. You must have noticed, sir, that at
our former performances we only had the country gentry.”

“Nothing proves it was so; still, I will allow it. Now go on.”

“Well, it is very simple. The tradespeople have not come to see you yet,
and I expect them to-night. They are always so busy, that they usually
defer a pleasure till the last moment. Have patience, and you will soon
see the rush we shall have to contend against.”

And he looked towards the entrance door like a man perfectly convinced
that his predictions would be fulfilled.

We had still half an hour--more than sufficient to fill the room--so I
waited. But this half-hour passed in vain expectation. Not a soul came
to the box-office.

“It is now eight,” I said, drawing out my watch, “and no spectators have
arrived. What do you say to that, Génet?”

“Oh, sir! your watch is too fast--I am sure of it for----“

My manager was about to support his allegation by some proof drawn from
his brain, when the town-hall clock struck. Génet, finding his reasons
exhausted, contented himself with silence, while casting a despairing
glance towards the door.

At length, I saw his face grow purple with delight.

“Ah! I said so,” he exclaimed, pointing to two young men coming towards
us. “The public are beginning to arrive. They doubtlessly mistook the
hour. Come, every man to his post!”

Génet’s joy did not last long, for he soon recognized in these visitors
the two young gentlemen who had taken their places the previous day.

“You have kept our seats?” they said to the optimist, as they hurried

“Yes, gentlemen, yes; you can go in,” Génet replied, making an
imperceptible grimace. And he led them in complacently, while striving
to explain the emptiness of the room by saying it was only momentary. He
had hardly returned to the box-office, when a gentleman of a certain age
hurried up the steps, and rushed towards the pay place with a haste my
previous success probably justified.

“Is there any room left?” he asked, in a panting voice.

My poor Génet did not know how to reply to this question, which seemed a
jest; he, therefore, merely muttered one of those common-place phrases
usually employed to gain time.

“Well, sir, to tell you the truth--I should say----“

“I know--I know: there are no places left. I expected it. But be kind
enough to let me go in, and I will find some corner to stand in.”

“But, sir, allow me to tell you----“

“No matter.”

“But if, on the contrary----“

“All the better. There, give me a stall-ticket, and I will see if I can
find room in the passage.”

Being at the end of his arguments, Génet supplied the ticket.

You can imagine the surprise of the eager visitor when, on entering the
house, he found that he formed in his own person exactly a third of the

For my own part, I soon made up my mind. After compounding with my
conscience, by granting the usual quarter of an hour’s grace to the
laggards, and seeing no one come, I informed my three spectators that,
being only anxious to be agreeable to them, I would perform.

This unexpected news produced a triple hurrah in the house in the shape
of thanks.

My orchestra consisted of eight amateurs of the town; and these
gentlemen, as a compliment to my French origin, always played as
overture the “Girondins” and the “Marseillaise,” with the assistance of
the big drum, and never failed to terminate the performance with “God
save the Queen.”

The patriotic introduction over, I began my performance.

My audience were collected on the first row of stalls, so that, in order
to address my explanations to them, I should have had to keep my head
constantly down, which would have eventually become troublesome. Hence I
determined to look round the house, and address the benches just as if
they were well covered.

For their part, my audience made all possible row to prove their
satisfaction. They stamped, applauded, shouted, so as almost to make me
believe the house full.

The whole performance was a mutual exchange of compliments, and the
spectators saw the last of my tricks arrive with considerable regret.
This, however, was not announced on my bills, for I reserved it as the
best of my surprises.

“Gentlemen,” I said to my audience, “as I require three persons to
assist me in performing this trick, will any gentlemen present have the
kindness to come on the stage?”

At this comic invitation the public rose _en masse_, and obligingly
placed themselves at my disposal.

After my three assistants had promised to stand at the front of the
stage and not look round, I gave each an empty glass, announcing that it
would be filled with excellent punch so soon as they expressed the wish,
and I added that to facilitate the performance, they must repeat after
me a few cabalistic words borrowed from the enchanter Merlin.

This jest was only proposed in order to gain time, for while we were
performing it with bursts of laughter, a change was being carried out
behind my kind assistants. The table on which I did my tricks had been
removed, and another brought forward on which an excellent supper was
spread, and a bowl of punch crackled in the centre.

Génet, clothed in black and a white cravat, and armed with a spoon, was
stimulating a spectral flame, and when my assistants expressed a wish to
see their glasses filled with punch, he said, in his most solemn voice,

“Turn round, and your wishes will be accomplished.”

My musicians had been spectators of this little scene, so I begged them
to join us and try the virtues of my inexhaustible bowl. This invitation
was joyfully accepted, the table was surrounded, the glasses were filled
and emptied, and we passed two agreeable hours in performing this

Owing to the prodigality of my “inexhaustible bowl of punch,” my guests
were all affected by a tender expansion. They almost embraced on
parting; however, they contented themselves with shaking hands and
vowing an undying friendship.

The instruction to be drawn from this anecdote is that, in offering a
farewell to the public, you should not wait till there are none left to
receive it.

On leaving Hertford, I went to Cambridge, thence to Bury St. Edmunds,
Ipswich and Colchester, always taking receipts proportionate to the
importance of the towns. I have only three souvenirs of those five
towns: the failure at Hertford, the enthusiastic reception from the
Cambridge students, and the nuts at Colchester.

But, it will be asked, what connexion can there be between nuts and a
magical performance. A word will explain the fact to the reader, and all
the tribulations this fruit caused me.

It is the custom at Colchester that when a body goes to the theatre he
fills his pockets with nuts. These are cracked and eaten during the
performance as a species of refreshment. Men and women both suffer from
this cracking mania, so that a rolling fire is kept up through the
house, often powerful enough to drown the voice.

Nothing affected my nerves so much as this incessant cracking; my first
performance suffered from it, and despite my efforts to master myself, I
went through the whole performance in a state of irritation. I
consented, however, to perform a second time, but the manager could not
induce me to promise a third. Although he assured me that his actors had
grown quite accustomed to this strange music, and that even a minor
actor might often be seen on the stage calmly cracking a nut while
awaiting the reply, I could not stand it any longer, and left the town.

Most assuredly, the theatres in the smaller English towns are not equal
to those in the cities.

At Colchester my tour was to end, and I was about starting for France,
when Knowles, the Manchester director, remembering my success at his
theatre, proposed to me to take a trip with him through Ireland and
Scotland. We had then reached the month of June, 1849, when Paris was
more than ever agitated by political questions; and theatres only
existed in France as memorials of the past. I did not waste much time in
forming a decision; I started with my English manager.

Our excursion lasted no less than four months, and I did not step on
French soil again till the end of October.

Need I describe the delight with which I presented myself once more
before a Parisian audience, whose kind patronage I had not forgotten?
Those professional men who, like myself, have been long absent from
Paris, will understand it, for they know nothing is so sweet to the
heart as the applause given by a man’s fellow-citizens.

Unfortunately, when I recommenced my performances, I noticed with sorrow
the change which had taken place in my health: the performances which I
formerly went through with no fatigue, now caused me a painful state of

It was easy to find a reason for this disagreeable change; fatigue, the
incessant thought connected with my performances, and still more the
foggy atmosphere of England, had exhausted my strength. My life had been
in some degree used up during my emigration. I should require a
lengthened rest to restore it, and I could not think of it at this
period, the best part of the season. I could only take precautions for
the future, in case I should find myself suddenly compelled by my health
to stop; so I decided on educating a pupil to take my place in case of
need, and whose labor might assist me in the meanwhile.

A young man of pleasing exterior, and whose talent I was acquainted
with, seemed to offer the conditions I required. My proposals suited
him, and he immediately joined me. The future sleight-of-hand professor
evinced great aptitude and zeal in learning my lessons. I employed him
in a short time to prepare my experiments, then he aided me in the
management of my theatre, and when the summer of 1850 arrived, instead
of closing my rooms as usual, I continued to send out my bills; the only
change was that Hamilton’s name was substituted for mine.

Considering his short period of study, my provisional substitute could
not be yet very expert; still, he pleased, and the public were
satisfied. During this period I enjoyed in the country a repose that had
been long desired.

A man who has made a long journey never feels the fatigue so acutely as
when he proposes to continue his journey after a few moments of rest.
This was what I experienced when, my holiday being ended, I was obliged
to leave the country to begin again the feverish existence of a theatre.
I never felt such lassitude; never had I a greater desire to enjoy
perfect liberty, to renounce those fatigues of an appointed hour, which
may be justly called the collar of misery.

At this word, I see many of my readers start. “Why,” they will say,
“thus call a labor whose object is to astonish an audience, and the
result to gain honor and profit?”

I find myself compelled to prove the justice of the expression.

The reader will easily understand that the fatigue, preoccupation and
responsibility attached to a magical performance do not prevent the
conjurer being subjected to the ordinary sufferings of humanity. Now,
whatever may be the nature of his sufferings or his grief, he must, at
an appointed hour each night, hide them in his bosom, and assume the
mask of happiness and health.

This is, in itself, a painful task, but, believe me, reader, it is not
all; he must--and this is applicable to all professionals--under penalty
of ruin, enliven, animate and excite the public, or, in other words,
give them pleasure for their money.

Can this be always equally easy? In truth, the position artists hold
would be intolerable, did not they find in the sympathy and applause of
the public a gentle recompense which makes them forget the minor
miseries of life.

I may say it with pride, to the last moment of my artist life I only met
with sympathy and kindness; but the more I strove to render myself ever
worthy of them, the more I felt my strength failing me, and the more,
too, increased my desire to live in retirement and freedom.

At last, in January, 1852, judging Hamilton fit to succeed me, I decided
on giving up my establishment to him, and in order that my theatre, the
fruit of my labors, might remain in the family, two contracts were
signed; and on the same day my pupil became my brother-in-law and my

Still, however desirous an actor may be of retiring into private life,
he very rarely renounces at once and for ever the applause which has
become an agreeable stimulant for him. Hence, no surprise will be felt
on learning that, after a few months’ rest, I proposed to give a few
more performances, as a final parting from the public.

As I had not yet visited Germany, I proceeded to the banks of the Rhine.
Desiring no unnecessary fatigue, I resolved to reserve to myself the
choice of the places where I would perform. I therefore stopped, in
preference, at those festal places called “Baths,” and visited in turn
Baden, Wiesbaden, Homburg, Aix-la-Chapelle, and Spa. Nearly each of my
performances was honored by the presence of one or more of the princes
regnant of the Germanic Confederation.

It was my intention to return to France after my performances at Spa,
but, at the request of M. Engel, manager of a theatre at Berlin, I
retraced my steps, and started for the capital of Prussia.

I had made a six weeks’ engagement with M. Engel; but my success, and
the excellent terms on which I stood with my manager, induced me to
prolong it for three months. I could not have taken a more brilliant
leave of the public: for, probably, I never saw greater crowds run after
my performances. Thus the reception I obtained from the Berliner will
ever remain one of my pleasantest reminiscences.

From Berlin I proceeded straight to the neighborhood of Blois, to the
retreat I had selected.

Whatever might be my satisfaction in enjoying the freedom I had so long
desired, it would soon have undergone the fate common to all our
pleasures, and have grown flat by the mere effect of enjoyment, had I
not reserved for these blessed hours of leisure studies in which I hoped
to find a perennial source of amusement. After gaining a fortune by
labors unjustly regarded as futile, I was about to devote myself to
serious researches, as I had been formerly advised by a member of the

The circumstances to which I allude date back to the Exposition of 1844,
when I submitted my automata and mechanical curiosities.

The jury entrusted with the examination of mechanical instruments, and
designs had come to my productions, and I had repeated the little
performance I had given a few days previously in the presence of Louis

After listening with interest to the details of the numerous
difficulties I had to overcome in making my automata, one of the members
of the jury said to me:

“It is a great pity, Monsieur Robert-Houdin, that you did not apply the
talent you have evinced in fancy objects to serious labors.”

This criticism wounded me the more, because at that period I considered
nothing superior to my works, and in my fairest dreams of the future I
desired no greater glory than that of the skillful inventor of the
“automaton duck.”

“Sir,” I replied, in a tone that betrayed my pique, “I know no works
more serious than those which give a man an honest livelihood. Still, I
am ready to change my views, if you give me the same advice after you
have heard me.

“At the period when I devoted myself to chronometers, I hardly earned
enough to live upon; at present, I have four workmen to help me in
making my automata; and as the least skillful among them earns six
francs a day, you can easily form an idea what I earn myself.

“Now, sir, I ask you, if I ought to return to my old trade?”

My critic was silent, but another member of the jury coming up to me,
said, in a low voice,

“Go on, Monsieur Robert-Houdin--go on; I am convinced that your
ingenious works, after leading you to success, will conduct you straight
to useful discoveries.”

“Monsieur le Baron Séguier,” I replied, in the same key, “I thank you
for your encouraging prediction, and will do my best to prove its

I have followed the advice of the illustrious savant, and find myself
all the better for it.


     Travels in Algeria--Convocation of the Chieftains--Performances
     before the Arabs--A Kabyle rendered powerless--Invulnerability--A
     Moor disappears--Panic and Flight of the
     Audience--Reconciliation--The Sect of Aïssaoua--Their pretended

I have, then, reached the object of all my hopes: I have bidden an
eternal farewell to professional life, and from my retirement I wave my
hand in parting salutation to my kind and obliging patrons. Henceforth I
shall know no care or anxiety; free and tranquil, I am about to devote
myself to my peaceful studies, and enjoy the pleasantest existence man
ever had on earth.

I was busily forming my plans of happiness, when, one day, I received a
letter from Colonel de Neveu, head of the political office at Algiers.
This distinguished functionary begged me to proceed to our colony, and
give my performances before the principal chieftains of the Arab tribes.

This invitation reached me in the full of my honeymoon, if I may employ
the expression. Scarce recovered from the fatigues of my journey, I was
imbibing deep draughts of happiness, and it would have been a heavy
sacrifice to dispel the charm so soon. Hence, I expressed to Colonel de
Neveu my regret at not being able to accept his invitation.

The colonel noted down my excuses, and, the following year, reminded me
of them. It was in 1855; but I had presented at the Universal
Exhibition several new applications of electricity to mechanism, and
having learned that the jury considered me worthy a reward, I would not
quit Paris till I had received it. Such was, at least, the motive on
which I based a new refusal, accompanied by my regret.

But the colonel kept these excuses still in mind, and in June, 1856, he
presented them to me like a bill to be met. This time I had exhausted my
excuses, and though it cost me much to quit my retreat and brave the
caprices of the Mediterranean in the worst month of the year, I decided
on going.

It was settled that I should reach Algiers by the next 27th of
September, the day on which the great fêtes annually offered by the
capital of Algeria to the Arabs would commence.

I must say that I was much influenced in my determination by the
knowledge that my mission to Algeria had a quasi-political character. I,
a simple conjurer, was proud of being able to render my country a

It is known that the majority of revolts which have to be suppressed in
Algeria are excited by intriguers, who say they are inspired by the
Prophet, and are regarded by the Arabs as envoys of God on earth to
deliver them from the oppression of the _Roumi_ (Christians).

These false prophets and holy Marabouts, who are no more sorcerers than
I am, and indeed even less so, still contrive to influence the
fanaticism of their co-religionists by tricks as primitive as are the
spectators before whom they are performed.

The government was, therefore, anxious to destroy their pernicious
influence, and reckoned on me to do so. They hoped, with reason, by the
aid of my experiments, to prove to the Arabs that the tricks of their
Marabouts were mere child’s play, and owing to their simplicity could
not be done by an envoy from Heaven, which also led us very naturally to
show them that we are their superiors in everything, and, as for
sorcerers, there are none like the French.

Presently I will show the success obtained by these skillful tactics.

Three months were to elapse between the day of my acceptance and that of
my departure, which I employed in arranging a complete arsenal of my
best tricks, and left St. Gervais on the 10th of September.

I will give no account of my passage, further than to say no sooner was
I at sea than I wished I had arrived, and, after thirty-six hours’
navigation, I greeted the capital of our colony with indescribable

I was expected; an officer came off in an elegant boat and took me to
the Hôtel d’Orient, where a handsome suite of rooms was retained for me.

The government had behaved nobly, for I was lodged like a prince. From
the window of my sitting-room I could survey the roads of Algiers, and
the prospect was only bounded by the horizon. The sea is always lovely
when seen from a window; thus each morning I admired it, and pardoned
its past slight insults.

From my hotel I also gazed on the magnificent Government-square, planted
with orange trees, such as cannot be seen in France. They were at this
season laden with flowers and perfectly ripe fruit.

Mme. Robert-Houdin and myself delighted in sitting beneath their shade
at nightfall and eating an ice before the doorway of an Algerian
Tortoni, while inhaling the perfumed breeze borne to us from the sea.
Next to this pleasure, nothing interested us so much as observing the
immense variety of persons moving around us.

The five quarters of the world had sent their representatives to
Algeria: there were French, Spainards, Maltese, Italians, Germans,
Swiss, Prussians, Belgians, Portuguese, Poles, Russians, English and
Americans, all forming a portion of the population of Algeria. Add to
these the different Arabic types, such as Moors, Kabyles, Koulougly,
Biskri, Mozabites, Negroes, Arab Jews, &c., and an idea may be formed of
the sight unrolled before our eyes.

When I arrived at Algiers, M. de Neveu told me that as a portion of
Kabylia had revolted, the marshal-governor had started with an
expeditionary corps to suppress it. In consequence of this, the fêtes to
which the Arab chiefs were to be invited were deferred for a month, and
my performances put off for the same period.

“I have now to ask you,” the colonel added, “if you will sign this new

“Mon colonel!” I replied, in a jocular tone, “I consider myself in
military employ. As I depend on the governor, I will be faithful to my
post, whatever may happen.”

“Very good, M. Robert-Houdin,” the colonel said with a laugh; “you
behave like a true French soldier, and the colony will owe you thanks
for it. At the same time, we will try to make your service in Algeria as
light as possible. We have given orders at your hotel that madame and
yourself may have no cause to regret the comfort you left to come here.”
(I have forgotten to say that, in signing my engagement, I stipulated
that Mme. Houdin should accompany me.) “If, while awaiting your official
performances, you might like to employ your leisure evenings at the town
theatre, the governor places it at your service thrice a week, the
other days belonging to the operatic company.”

This proposition suited me admirably, and I saw three advantages in it:
the first, to get my hand in, for I had left the stage for two years;
the second, to try the effect of my experiments on the town Arabs; the
third, to pocket a very welcome sum of money. I accepted; but when I
offered my thanks to M. de Neveu, he said,

“It is our place to thank you, for, by giving performances at Algiers
during the Kabylian expedition, you render us a great service.”

“How, colonel?”

“By employing the minds of the Algerines, we prevent them speculating on
the eventualities of the campaign, which might be very injurious to the

“That being so, I will set to work at once.”

The colonel started the next day to join the marshal, having previously
handed me over to the civil authorities; that is to say, he had
introduced me to M. de Guiroye, mayor of the town, who displayed extreme
kindness in facilitating the arrangements for my performances.

It might be reasonably supposed that, owing to the high patronage that
supported me, I need only follow a path bestrewn with flowers, to use
the language of the poets. But it was not so: I had to endure many
annoyances, which might have vexed me greatly, had I not possessed a
stock of philosophy beyond ordinary mortals.

M. D----, privileged manager of the Bab-Azoun Theatre, had commenced the
season with an operatic company, and, fearing lest the success of a
stranger on his stage might injure his own prospects, he complained
about it to the authorities.

The mayor could offer him no other consolation than saying the
government ordered it. M. D---- protested, and even threatened to throw
up the management, but the mayor adhered to his inflexible decision.

The city of Algiers thus suddenly saw itself exposed to a total
managerial eclipse, when, through a spirit of conciliation, I offered to
perform only twice a week, and defer beginning till the operatic début
was over.

This concession slightly calmed the impresario, though it did not gain
me his good graces. M. D---- ever maintained a coldness towards me,
which evidenced his dissatisfaction, but I held an independent position,
and this coolness did not render me wretched.

I also managed to escape from the annoyances aroused by certain
subalterns of the stage, and, being determined that my voyage to Algiers
should be a real pleasure-trip, I laughed at these puny attacks.
Besides, my attention was directed to a matter far more interesting to

The journals had announced my performances, and this statement
immediately aroused a paper warfare in the Algerian press, the
strangeness of which contributed no little to give increased publicity
to my representations.

“Robert-Houdin,” one paper said, “cannot be at Algiers, for we see daily
announced in the Paris papers, ‘_Robert-Houdin every evening at eight

“And why,” another journal asked, pleasantly, “should not Robert-Houdin
perform in Algiers and yet remain all the while in Paris? Do we not know
that this sorcerer possesses the gift of ubiquity, and that he often
gives performances at Paris, Rome, and Moscow on the same evening?”

The discussion went on thus, for several days, some denying my presence,
others affirming it.

The public of Algiers were willing to accept this fact as one of those
pleasantries generally denominated _canards_, but they also wished to be
sure of not being victims of a delusion if they came to the theatre.

At length the matter was taken up seriously, and the editors explained
that Mr. Hamilton, on succeeding his brother-in-law, had kept up the old
title; so that _Robert-Houdin_ was a term equally applicable to the
performer and to the style of performance.

This curious discussion, the annoyances occasioned by M. D----, and, as
I hope I may believe, the attraction of my performance, brought me an
enormous audience. All the tickets were bought beforehand, and the house
was stiflingly hot, for the centigrade thermometer denoted 35 deg., and
we were in the middle of September.

Poor spectators, how I pitied them! To judge from my own sensations,
they must all have been mummified on the spot. I feared that the
enthusiasm, as is the general rule, would be in an inverse ratio to the
temperature; but I had no cause to complain of my reception, and I drew
from this success a happy omen for the future.

In order not to deprive my “official representations,” as M. de Neveu
termed them, of the interest the reader will expect from them, I will
give no details of those which preceded them, and were so many
trial-balloons. I may say the Arabs who came were very few; for these
men, with their indolent and sensual temper, consider the happiness of
lying on a mat and smoking far above a spectacle.

Hence the governor, guided by the profound knowledge he had of their
character, never invited them to a fête: he sent them a military
summons. This occurred for my representations.

As M. de Neveu had announced to me, the expeditionary corps returned to
Algiers on the 20th of October, and the fêtes, suspended by the
campaign, were fixed for the 27th. Messengers were sent off to all parts
of the colony, and on the appointed day the chiefs of the tribes,
accompanied by a numerous suite, found themselves in the presence of the

These autumnal fêtes, the most brilliant held in Algeria, and probably
unrivalled in any country of the world, present a picturesque and really
remarkable scene.

I should like to be able to paint here the strange aspect the capital
assumed on the arrival of the _goums_ of the Tell and the South. The
native camp, an inextricable pell-mell of huts for men and horses,
offering a thousand contrasts, strange as they were fascinating; the
brilliant cortége of the governor-general, in the midst of which the
Arab chiefs, with their stern faces, attracted the eye by the luxury of
their costumes, the beauty of their horses, and the brilliancy of their
gold-broidered trappings; and the marvellous hippodrome, situated
between the sea, the smiling hill of Mustapha, and the plain of
Hussein-Dey, over which gloomy mountains cast a sombre shade. But I will
say nothing about all this. Nor will I describe those military exercises
called a Fantasia, in which twelve hundred Arabs, mounted on splendid
steeds, and uttering wild cries as if on the battle-field, displayed the
utmost vigor, skill, and intelligence men can possess. Nor will I speak
of the admirable exhibition of Arab stallions, each exciting the most
lively satisfaction as it passed; for all this has been already
described, and I am longing to reach my own performances, which, I may
say, formed not the least interesting part of this fête. I will only
allude to one circumstance, which struck me peculiarly.

I saw a horseman, mounted on a magnificent Arab steed, beat all the
winners in a final heat. This horseman was twelve years of age, and
could pass under his horse without stooping.

The races lasted three days, and I was to give my performances at the
end of the second and third.

Before beginning, I will say a word about the Algiers theatre.

It is a very neat house, in the style of the Variétés at Paris, and
decorated with considerable taste. It is situated at the extremity of
the Rue Bab-Azoun, on the _place_ bearing that name, and the façade is
peculiarly elegant.

On first seeing this immense edifice, it would be assumed that the
interior was enormous: but it is nothing of the sort. The architect has
sacrificed everything to the claims of public order and ventilation,
while the stairs, passages, and green-room occupy as much space as the
house itself. Perhaps the architect took into consideration the limited
number of theatre-going people in Algiers, and thought that a small
house would offer performers a better chance of success.

On the 28th of October, the day appointed for my first performance
before the Arabs, I reached my post at an early hour, and could enjoy
the sight of their entrance into the theatre.

Each _goum_, drawn up in companies, was introduced separately, and led
in perfect order to the places chosen for it in advance. Then came the
turn of the chiefs, who seated themselves with all the gravity becoming
their character.

Their introduction lasted some time, for these sons of nature could not
understand that they were boxed up thus, side by side, to enjoy a
spectacle, and our comfortable seats, far from seeming so to them,
bothered them strangely. I saw them fidgeting about for some time, and
trying to tuck their legs under them, after the fashion of European

Marshal Randon, with his family and suite, occupied the two stage-boxes
to the right of the stage, while the prefect and other civilian
authorities sat exactly facing him. As for Colonel de Neveu, he was
everywhere, as the arranger of the festival.

The caïds, agas, bash-agas, and other titled Arabs, held the places of
honor, for they occupied the orchestra-stalls and the dress-circle.

In the midst of them were several privileged officers, and, lastly, the
interpreters were mingled among the spectators, to translate my remarks
to them.

I was also told that several curious people, having been unable to
procure tickets, had assumed the Arab burnous, and, binding the
camel’s-hair cord round their foreheads, had slipped in among their new

This strange medley of spectators was indeed a most curious sight. The
dress-circle, more especially, presented an appearence as grand as it
was imposing. Some sixty Arab chiefs, clothed in their red mantles (the
symbol of their submission to France), on which one or more decorations
glistened, gravely awaited my performance with majestic dignity.

I have performed before many brilliant assemblies, but never before one
which struck me so much as this. However, the impression I felt on the
rise of the curtain, far from paralyzing me, on the contrary inspired me
with a lively sympathy for the spectators, whose faces seemed so well
prepared to accept the marvels promised them. As soon as I walked on the
stage, I felt quite at my ease, and enjoyed, in anticipation, the sight
I was going to amuse myself with.

I felt, I confess, rather inclined to laugh at myself and my audience,
for I stepped forth, wand in hand, with all the gravity of a real
sorcerer. Still, I did not give way, for I was here not merely to amuse
a curious and kind public, I must produce a startling effect upon coarse
minds and prejudices, for I was enacting the part of a French Marabout.

Compared with the simple tricks of their pretended sorcerers, my
experiments must appear perfect miracles to the Arabs.

I commenced my performance in the most profound, I might almost say
religious, silence, and the attention of the spectators was so great
that they seemed petrified. Their fingers alone moving nervously, played
with the beads of their rosaries, while they were, doubtlessly, invoking
the protection of the Most High.

This apathetic condition did not suit me, for I had not come to Algeria
to visit a waxwork exhibition. I wanted movement, animation, life in
fact, around me.

I changed my batteries, and, instead of generalizing my remarks, I
addressed them more especially to some of the Arabs, whom I stimulated
by my words, and still more by my actions. The astonishment then gave
way to a more expressive feeling, which was soon evinced by noisy

This was especially the case when I produced cannonballs from a hat, for
my spectators, laying aside their gravity, expressed their delighted
admiration by the strangest and most energetic gestures.

Then came--greeted by the same success--the bouquet of flowers, produced
instantaneously from a hat; the _cornucopia_, supplying a multitude of
objects, which I distributed though unable to satisfy the repeated
demands made on all sides, and still more by those who had their hands
full already; the _five-franc pieces_, sent across the theatre into a
crystal box suspended above the spectators.

One trick I should much have liked to perform was the _inexhaustible
bottle_, so appreciated by the Parisians and the Manchester “hands;” but
I could not employ it in this performance, for it is well known the
followers of Mohammed drink no fermented liquor--at least not publicly.
Hence, I substituted the following with considerable advantage.

I took a silver cup, like those called “punch bowls” in the Parisians
cafés. I unscrewed the foot, and passing my wand through it showed that
the vessel contained nothing; then, having refitted the two parts, I
went to the centre of the pit, when, at my command, the bowl was
_magically_ filled with sweetmeats, which were found excellent.

The sweetmeats exhausted, I turned the bowl over, and proposed to fill
it with excellent coffee; so, gravely passing my hand thrice over the
bowl, a dense vapor immediately issued from it, and announced the
presence of the precious liquid. The bowl was full of boiling coffee,
which I poured into cups, and offered to my astounded spectators.

The first cups were only accepted, so to speak, under protest; for not
an Arab would consent to moisten his lips with a beverage which he
thought came straight from Shaitan’s kitchen; but, insensibly seduced by
the perfume of their favorite liquor, and urged by the interpreters,
some of the boldest decided on tasting the magic liquor, and all soon
followed their example.

The vessel, rapidly emptied, was repeatedly filled again with equal
rapidity; and it satisfied all demands, like my inexhaustible bottle,
and was borne back to the stage still full.

But it was not enough to amuse my spectators; I must also, in order to
fulfil the object of my mission, startle and even terrify them by the
display of a supernatural power.

My arrangements had all been made for this purpose, and I had reserved
for the end of my performances three tricks, which must complete my
reputation as a sorcerer.

Many of my readers will remember having seen at my performances a small
but solidly-built box, which, being handed to the spectators, becomes
heavy or light at my order; a child might raise it with ease, and yet
the most powerful man could not move it from its place.

I advanced with my box in my hand, to the centre of the “practicable,”
communicating from the stage to the pit; then, addressing the Arabs, I
said to them:

“From what you have witnessed, you will attribute a supernatural power
to me, and you are right. I will give you a new proof of my marvellous
authority, by showing that I can deprive the most powerful man of his
strength and restore it at my will. Any one who thinks himself strong
enough to try the experiment may draw near me.” (I spoke slowly, in
order to give the interpreter time to translate my words.)

An Arab of middle height, but well built and muscular, like many of the
Arabs are, came to my side with sufficient assurance.

“Are you very strong?” I said to him, measuring him from head to foot.

“Oh yes!” he replied carelessly.

“Are you sure you will always remain so?”

“Quite sure.”

“You are mistaken, for in an instant I will rob you of your strength,
and you shall become as a little child.”

The Arab smiled disdainfully as a sign of his incredulity.

“Stay,” I continued; “lift up this box.”

The Arab stooped, lifted up the box, and said to me, coldly, “Is that

“Wait----!” I replied.

Then, with all possible gravity, I made an imposing gesture, and
solemnly pronounced the words:

“Behold! you are weaker than a woman; now, try to lift the box.”

The Hercules, quite cool as to my conjuration, seized the box once again
by the handle, and gave it a violent tug, but this time the box
resisted, and, spite of his most vigorous attacks, would not budge an

The Arab vainly expended on this unlucky box a strength which would have
raised an enormous weight, until, at length, exhausted, panting, and red
with anger, he stopped, became thoughtful, and began to comprehend the
influences of magic.

He was on the point of withdrawing; but that would be allowing his
weakness, and that he, hitherto respected for his vigor, had become as a
little child. This thought rendered him almost mad.

Deriving fresh strength from the encouragements his friends offered him
by word and deed, he turned a glance round them, which seemed to say:
“You will see what a son of the desert can do.”

He bent once again over the box: his nervous hands twined round the
handle, and his legs, placed on either side like two bronze columns,
served as a support for the final effort.

But, wonder of wonders! this Hercules, a moment since so strong and
proud, now bows his head; his arms, riveted to the box, undergo a
violent muscular contraction; his legs give way, and he falls on his
knees with a yell of agony!

An electric shock, produced by an inductive apparatus, had been passed,
on a signal from me, from the further end of the stage into the handle
of the box. Hence the contortions of the poor Arab!

It would have been cruelty to prolong this scene.

I gave a second signal, and the electric current was immediately
intercepted. My athlete, disengaged from his terrible bondage, raised
his hands over his head.

“Allah! Allah!” he exclaimed, full of terror; then wrapping himself up
quickly in the folds of his burnous, as if to hide his disgrace, he
rushed through the ranks of the spectators and gained the front

With the exception of my stage boxes and the privileged spectators who
appeared to take great pleasure in this experiment, my audience had
become grave and silent, and I heard the words “Shaitan!” “Djenoum!”
passing in a murmur round the circle of credulous men, who, while gazing
on me, seemed astonished that I possessed none of the physical qualities
attributed to the angel of darkness.

I allowed my public a few moments to recover from the emotion produced
by my experiment and the flight of the herculean Arab.

One of the means employed by the Marabouts to gain influence in the eyes
of the Arabs is by causing a belief in their invulnerability.

One of them, for instance, ordered a gun to be loaded and fired at him
from a short distance, but in vain did the flint produce a shower of
sparks; the Marabout pronounced some cabalistic words, and the gun did
not explode.

The mystery was simple enough; the gun did not go off because the
Marabout had skillfully stopped up the vent.

Colonel de Neveu explained to me the importance of discrediting such a
miracle by opposing to it a sleight-of-hand trick far superior to it,
and I had the very article.

I informed the Arabs that I possessed a talisman rendering me
invulnerable, and I defied the best marksman in Algeria to hit me.

I had hardly uttered the words, when an Arab, who had attracted my
notice by the attention he had paid to my tricks, jumped over four rows
of seats, and disdaining the use of the “practicable,” crossed the
orchestra, upsetting flutes, clarionets, and violins, escaladed the
stage, while burning himself at the foot-lights, and then said, in
excellent French,

“I will kill you!”

An immense burst of laughter greeted both the Arab’s picturesque ascent
and his murderous intentions, while an interpreter who stood near me
told me I had to deal with a Marabout.

“You wish to kill me!” I replied, imitating his accent and the
inflection of his voice. “Well, I reply, that though you are a sorcerer,
I am still a greater one, and you will not kill me.”

I held a cavalry pistol in my hand, which I presented to him.

“Here, take this weapon, and assure yourself it has undergone no

The Arab breathed several times down the barrel, then through the
nipple, to assure himself there was a communication between them, and
after carefully examining the pistol, said:

“The weapon is good, and I will kill you.”

“As you are determined, and for more certainty, put in a double charge
of powder, and a wad on the top.”

“It is done.”

“Now, here is a leaden ball; mark it with your knife, so as to be able
to recognize it, and put it in the pistol, with a second wad.”

“It is done.”

“Now that you are quite sure your pistol is loaded, and that it will
explode, tell me, do you feel no remorse, no scruple about killing me
thus, although I authorize you to do so?”

“No, for I wish to kill you,” the Arab repeated, coldly.

Without replying, I put an apple on the point of a knife, and, standing
a few yards from the Marabout, ordered him to fire.

“Aim straight at the heart,” I said to him.

My opponent aimed immediately, without the slightest hesitation.

The pistol exploded, and the bullet lodged in the centre of the apple.

I carried the talisman to the Marabout, who recognized the ball he had

I could not say that this trick produced greater stupefaction than the
ones preceding it: at any rate, my spectators, palsied by surprise and
terror, looked round in silence, seeming to think, “Where the deuce have
we got to here!”

A pleasant scene, however, soon unwrinkled many of their faces. The
Marabout, though stupefied by his defeat, had not lost his wits; so,
profiting by the moment when he returned me the pistol, he seized the
apple, thrust it into his waist-belt, and could not be induced to return
it, persuaded as he was that he possessed in it an incomparable

For the last trick in my performance I required the assistance of an

At the request of several interpreters, a young Moor, about twenty years
of age, tall, well built, and richly dressed, consented to come on the
stage. Bolder and more civilized, doubtlessly, than his comrades of the
plains, he walked firmly up to me.

I drew him towards the table that was in the centre of the stage, and
pointed out to him and to the other spectators that it was slightly
built and perfectly isolated. After which, without further preface, I
told him to mount upon it, and covered him with an enormous cloth cone,
open at the top.

Then, drawing the cone and its contents on to a plank, the ends of which
were held by my servant and myself, we walked to the foot-lights with
our heavy burden, and upset it. The Moor had disappeared--the cone was
perfectly empty!

Immediately there began a spectacle which I shall never forget.

The Arabs were so affected by this last trick, that, impelled by an
irresistible feeling of terror, they rose in all parts of the house, and
yielded to the influence of a general panic. To tell the truth, the
crowd of fugitives was densest at the door of the dress circle, and it
could be seen, from the agility and confusion of these high dignitaries,
that they were the first to wish to leave the house.

Vainly did one of them, the Caïd of the Beni-Salah, more courageous than
his colleagues, try to restrain them by his words:

“Stay! stay! we cannot thus lose one of our co-religionists. Surely we
must know what has become of him, or what has been done to him. Stay!

But the co-religionists only ran away the faster, and soon the
courageous caïd, led away by their example, followed them.

They little knew what awaited them at the door of the theatre; but they
had scarce gone down the steps when they found themselves face to face
with the “resuscitated Moor.”

The first movement of terror overcome, they surrounded the man, felt and
cross-questioned him; but, annoyed by these repeated questions, he had
no better resource than to escape at full speed.

The next evening the second performance took place, and produced nearly
the same effect as the previous one.

       *       *       *       *       *

The blow was struck: henceforth the interpreters and all those who had
dealings with the Arabs received orders to make them understand that my
pretended miracles were only the result of skill, inspired and guided by
an art called _prestidigitation_, in no way connected with sorcery.

The Arabs doubtlessly yielded to these arguments, for henceforth I was
on the most friendly terms with them. Each time a chief saw me, he never
failed to come up and press my hand. And, even more, these men whom I
had so terrified, when they became my friends, gave me a precious
testimony of their esteem--I may say, too, of their admiration, for that
is their own expression.

Three days had elapsed since my last performance, when I received a
despatch from the governor, ordering me to be at the palace by twelve
o’clock, _military time_.

Of course I kept the appointment, and the last stroke of twelve was
still striking by the clock of the neighboring mosque when I sent in my
name at the palace. A staff officer immediately came to me.

“Come with me, M. Robert-Houdin,” he said, with a half mysterious air.
“I am ordered to conduct you.”

I followed my conductor, and, as the door of a magnificent room was open
at the end of a gallery we crossed, I saw a strange sight. Some thirty
of the most important Arab chiefs were arranged in a circle, of which I
naturally formed the centre when I entered the room.

“Salâm aleikoum!” they said, in a grave and almost solemn voice, as they
laid their hands on their hearts.

I first returned this salutation by bowing in the French fashion, and
then by several hand-shakings, beginning with those chiefs whose
acquaintance I had already formed.

At the head was the Bash-Aga Bou-Allem, the African Rothschild, in whose
tent I had drunk my coffee at the Arab camp during the races.

Next came the Caïd Assa, with a wooden leg, who had also offered me
pipes and coffee in the same encampment. As this chief did not
understand a word of French, my friend Boukandoura was enabled, during a
visit we paid him, to tell me the history of the wooden leg in his

“Assa,” my friend said, “having had his leg shattered in an affair
against the French, owed his escape to the speed of his horse. Once in a
place of safety, he himself cut off his leg above the knee, and then, in
his wild energy, thrust the mutilated stump into a vessel full of
boiling pitch, in order to stop the hemorrhage.”

Wishing to return the salutations I had received, I went round the
group, offering my hand to each in turn. But my task was remarkably
abridged, for the ranks thinned at my approach, as many of the company
had not the courage to take the hand of a man they had seriously
regarded as a sorcerer or the demon in person.

This incident, however, did not disturb the ceremony in any way. After a
laugh at the pusillanimity of the fugitives, each re-assumed that
gravity which is the normal condition of the Arab countenance.

Then the most aged chief in the assembly advanced towards me, and
unrolled an enormous MS. It was an address, written in verse, a perfect
masterpiece of native caligraphy, and adorned with graceful arabesques
drawn by hand.

The worthy Arab, who was at least seventy years of age, then read, in a
loud voice, the piece of Mussulman poetry, which was perfectly
unintelligible to me, as I knew only three words of Arabic.

When the reading was ended, the orator drew from his belt the signet of
his tribe, and solemnly placed it at the bottom of the page. The
principal Arab chiefs and dignitaries followed his example, and when all
the seals had been affixed, my old friend took the paper, and after
assuring himself the imprints were quite dry, he rolled it up and
presented it to me, saying, in excellent French, and in a tone that
revealed his sincerity:

“To a merchant, gold is given; to a warrior, arms are offered; to thee,
Robert-Houdin, we present a testimony of our admiration, which thou
canst hand down to thy children.” And, translating a verse he had just
read in Arabic, he added, “Pardon us for presenting thee with such a
trifle, but is it fitting to offer mother-o’-pearl to the man who
possesses the real jewel?”

I avow very frankly that never in my life did I experience such sweet
emotion--never had my success penetrated so fully to my heart; and,
moved more than I can express, I turned to wipe away a tear of sympathy.

These details, as well as the following, certainly wound my modesty a
little, but I cannot make up my mind to pass them over in silence;
hence, I must beg the reader to accept them as a mere picture of

I declare, too, that the thought never entered my mind of having
deserved such praise, and yet I cannot refrain from feeling as much
flattered as grateful for this homage, and regarding it as the most
precious souvenir of my professional career.

This declaration made, I will furnish a translation of the address, in
the words used by the caligrapher himself:

     “Homage offered to Robert-Houdin, by the chiefs of the Arab tribes,
     after his performances given at Algiers on the 28th and 29th of
     October, 1856.

                             “GLORY TO GOD,

     who teaches us what we know not, and enables us to express the
     treasures of the mind by the flowers of eloquence and the signs of

     “Generous-handed destiny has sent down from above, in the midst of
     lightning and thunder, like a powerful and fertilizing rain, the
     marvel of the moment and the age, him who cultivates the surprising
     arts and marvellous sciences--the _Sid_-Robert-Houdin.

     “Our century has seen no one comparable with him. The splendor of
     his talent surpasses the most brilliant productions of past ages.
     Our age is the more illustrious because it has possessed him.

     “He has known how to stir our hearts and astonish our minds, by
     displaying to us the surprising facts of his marvellous science.
     Our eyes were never before fascinated by such prodigies. What he
     accomplishes cannot be described. We owe him our gratitude for all
     the things by which he has delighted our eyes and our minds; hence,
     our friendship for him has sunk into our hearts like a perfumed
     shower, and our bosoms preciously conceal it.

     “We shall in vain attempt to raise our praises to the height of his
     merit; we must lower our brows before him and pay him homage, so
     long as the benevolent shower fertilizes the soil, so long as the
     moon illuminates the night, so long as the clouds come to temper
     the heat of the sun.

“Written by the slave of God,

     “Pardon us for presenting thee with,” &c. &c.

     Then follow the seals and signatures of the chiefs of the tribes.

After the ceremony was over, and the Arabs had left us, the
marshal-governor, whom I had not seen since my performances, being
desirous to give me an idea of the effect they had produced on the minds
of the natives, quoted the following incident:

A Kabyle chief, who had come to Algiers to make his submission, was
taken to my first performance.

The next day, at an early hour, he went to the palace, and asked to
speak with the governor.

“I have,” he said to the marshal, “to ask your permission to return
immediately to my tribe.”

“You must be aware,” the marshal replied, “that the forms are not yet
filled up, and the papers will not be in order for three days; you will,
therefore, remain for that period.”

“Allah is great,” the Arab said, “and if it pleaseth Him I shall go away
before, you will not be able to stop me.”

“You will not go, I feel certain, if I forbid it. But tell me, why are
you in such a hurry to leave?”

“After what I saw yesterday I don’t wish to stay in Algiers; a
misfortune would happen to me.”

“Did you regard the miracles as real?”

The Kabyle surveyed the marshal with an air of astonishment, and,
without replying directly to the question addressed him, said:

“Instead of killing your soldiers in conquering the Kabyles, send your
French Marabout to the most rebel tribes, and before a fortnight he will
bring them all to you.”

The Kabyle did _not_ leave, for the interpreters managed to remove his
fears; still he was one of those who kept furthest aloof from me during
the ceremony I have described.

Another Arab also said, on leaving one of my performances:

“Our Marabouts must now do very great miracles to astonish us.”

These statements from the governor’s own lips were very agreeable to me,
for up to that moment I had felt rather uneasy; and although I was
certain I had produced a startling impression by my performances, I was
enchanted at learning that the object of my mission had been carried out
according to the wishes of government. In addition, before I started for
France, the marshal was kind enough to assure me once again that my
performances in Algeria had produced the happiest effect in the minds of
the natives.

Although my performances were ended, I was in no hurry to return to
France. I was curious, in my turn, to witness a conjuring performance of
the Marabouts, or other native jugglers. I had also promised several
Arab chiefs to visit them in their _douars_, and I wished to enjoy this
double pleasure.

There are few Frenchmen who, after a short stay in Algeria, have not
heard of the Aïssaoua and their marvels. The stories I had been told of
the experiments performed by the followers of Sid-Aïssa had inspired me
with the liveliest desire to see them, and I was persuaded that all
their miracles were only more or less ingenious tricks, which I should
be able to detect.

As M. le Colonel Neveu had promised me the opportunity of seeing them,
he kept his word.

On a day chosen by the Mokaddem, the usual president of this sort of
meeting, we went, accompanied by several staff officers and their wives,
to an Arab house, and proceeded through a low archway into the inner
court, where the ceremony was to take place. Lights artistically fixed
on the walls, and carpets spread on the pavement, awaited the arrival of
the brothers, while a cushion was reserved for the Mokaddem.

We all took our seats where we should not disturb the performance, and
our ladies went up to a gallery on the first floor, and thus represented
our dress-boxes.

But I will let Colonel Neveu himself describe this scene, by copying
_verbatim_ from his interesting work “The Religious Orders among the
Mussulmans of Algeria:”

“The Aïssaoua entered, formed a circle in the courtyard, and soon began
their chants. These were at first slow and solemn chants, and lasted a
long time; then came the praises of Sidi-Muhammad-Ben-Aïssa, founder of
the order; after which the Brethren and the Mokaddem, taking up cymbals
and tambourines, gradually increased the speed of the chanting.

“After about two hours the songs had become wild cries, and the gestures
of the Brethren had followed the same impulse. Suddenly some of them
rose and formed a line, dancing, and pronouncing as gutturally as they
could, and with all the vigor of their energetic lungs, the sacred name
of Allah. This word, issuing from the mouths of the Aïssaoua, seemed
rather a savage growl than an invocation addressed to the Supreme Being.
Soon the noise increased, the most extravagant gestures began, while
turbans fell off and exposed their shorn heads, which look like those of
vultures; the long folds of their red sashes became unfastened,
embarrassing their movements and increasing their disorder.

“Then the Aïssaoua moved about on their hands and knees, imitating the
movements of wild animals. They seemed to be acting under the influence
of some muscular force, and they forgot they were men.

“When the excitement had reached its height, and the perspiration was
running down their bodies, the Aïssaoua began their juggling. They
called the Mokaddem their father, and asked him for food; he gave to
some pieces of glass, which they champed between their teeth; he placed
nails in the mouths of others, but, instead of swallowing them, they
carefully hid their heads in the folds of the Mokaddem’s burnous, in
order not to let the audience see them remove them. Some devoured thorns
and thistles; others passed their tongues over a red-hot iron and took
them in their hands without burning themselves. One man struck his left
arm with his right hand: the flesh appeared to open, and the blood
poured forth abundantly; then he passed his hand over his arm, the wound
closed, and the blood disappeared. Another leaped on to the edge of a
sabre held by two men, and did not cut his feet, while others produced
from small leathern sacks scorpions and serpents, which they boldly
placed in their mouths.”

I had concealed myself behind a pillar, whence I could survey everything
without being noticed. I insisted on not being the dupe of these
mysterious tricks: hence I paid the closest attention.

Both through the remarks I made on the scene of action, and the ulterior
researches I undertook, I am now in a position to give a satisfactory
explanation of the miracles of the Aïssaoua. But, not to interrupt my
narrative, I will refer the reader who is anxious for these details to
the end of this volume, and the special chapter I have christened A

I believe myself the more competent to supply these explanations, as
some of the tricks belong to conjuring proper, and others are based on
phenomena drawn from the physical sciences.


     Excursion in the Interior of Africa--The Abode of a Bash-Aga--A
     comical Repast--A Soirée of Arab Dignitaries--A Marabout
     mystified--Tent-life in Algeria--I return to France--A terrible

Once possessed of the secret of the juggling performed by the Aïssaoua,
I was able to start for the interior of Africa. I therefore set out,
provided with letters from Colonel de Neveu, to several heads of the
Arab department, his subordinates, and I took with me Mme.
Robert-Houdin, who was quite delighted at the thought of making this

We were going to visit the Arab beneath his tent or in his house; eat
his “couscoussou,” which we only knew by name; study for ourselves the
domestic manners and customs of Africa: this was certainly enough to
inflame our imagination. So much was this the case, that I hardly ever
thought that the month in which we should re-embark for France would be
the one in which the Mediterranean is so stormy.

Among the Arabs who had invited me to visit them, Bou-Allem-Ben-Sherifa,
Bash-Aga of the D’jendel, had pressed me so strongly that I determined
on commencing my round of visits with him.

Our journey from Algiers to Médéah was most prosaic, for a diligence
conveyed us there in two days.

Apart from the interest inspired in us by the peculiar vegetation of
Algeria, as well as the famous peak of the Mouzaïa, which we passed at a
gallop, the incidents of the journey were the same as on any French high
road. The hotels were kept by Frenchmen, and you dined at the table
d’hôte on the same fare, at the same price, and with the same
attendance. This bagman’s existence was not what we had anticipated on
leaving Algiers. Hence, we were delighted to get out at Médéah, as the
diligence did not follow the same road as ourselves beyond this point.

Captain Ritter, head of the Arab office at Médéah, to whom I went, had
seen my performances at Algiers: hence, I had no occasion to hand him
the letter of recommendation addressed to him by M. de Neveu. He
received me with great affability, and Mme. Ritter joined her entreaties
to her husband’s that we should visit the town. I indeed regretted being
obliged to leave such agreeable persons the next morning; but I was
obliged to hurry my tour over before the autumnal rains set in, which
render the roads impracticable, and often, indeed, very dangerous.

The captain acceded to my wishes; he lent us two horses from his stable,
and gave us as a guide to Bou-Allem’s a caïd who spoke French

This Arab had been caught when quite a youth in a hut which Abd-ul-Khadr
had been forced to abandon after one of his numerous defeats. The
government sent the lad to the Louis-le Grand College, where he got on
excellently in his studies. But, constantly pursued by the remembrance
of his African sky, and the national “couscoussou” our bachelor of arts
asked the favor of being sent back to Algeria. Owing to his education he
was made caïd of a small tribe, whose name I have forgotten, but which
lay on the route we were going to take.

My guide--whom I will call Muhammad, because I have forgotten his name
also (for Arab names are difficult to remember by those who have not
lived some time in Algeria)--Muhammad, then, was accompanied by four
Arabs of his tribe: two of them were to carry our baggage, and the other
two wait upon us. All were mounted, and proceeded before us.

We started at eight in the morning, as our first stage was not to be
long, for Muhammad assured me that, if it pleased God (a formula a true
believer never omits in speaking of the future), we should arrive at his
house in time for breakfast. In fact, about three hours after we had set
out, our little caravan reached Muhammad’s modest _douar_, and we
dismounted in front of a villa, entirely composed of branches, of which
the roof was hardly of man’s height. This was the caïd’s reception-room.

The door was opened, and our guide showed us the way by walking in
first. Only one piece of furniture ornamented the interior; it was a
small wooden stool, which my wife converted into a seat. Muhammad and I
seated ourselves on a carpet, which an Arab had spread at our feet, and
breakfast was soon served up. Muhammad, who, I fancy, wished to gain our
pardon for a grave crime he was about to commit, treated us sumptuously,
and almost in the French style. A rich soup, roast fowls, various
ragoûts, which I cannot describe, as my culinary studies have been very
limited, and pastry, which Félix himself would not have disowned, were
placed before us in turn. More than that, my wife and I had been handed
an iron knife, fork and spoon--an unheard of thing at an Arab’s.

The meal had been brought from an adjacent _gourbi_, where the caïd’s
mother resided. This lady had lived in Algiers for a long time, where
she had acquired the skill of which she had just offered us a specimen.

As for Muhammad, he had resumed the fashions of his ancestors, with the
Mussulman costume, and lived on dates and “couscoussou,” save when he
had any guests, which was extremely rare.

Our breakfast over, the host advised to set out again, if we wished to
reach Bou-Allem’s before nightfall; and we followed his advice.

From Médéah to Muhammad’s _douar_ we had followed a tolerable road, but
on leaving his house we entered on a barren and desert country, where we
saw no other signs of a road than those left by ourselves. The sun
poured its most torrid beams upon our heads, and we found no shade along
our route to protect us from it. Frequently, too, our progress became
very laborious, for we came to ravines, into which we had to descend at
the risk of our horses’ knees and our own necks. To restore our
patience, our guide told us we should soon reach more even ground, and
we continued our journey.

About two hours after leaving our first halt, Muhammad quitted us at
full gallop, saying he would soon return, and disappeared behind a

We never saw our caïd again.

I learned, afterwards, that in his jealousy of Bou-Allem’s wealth, he
preferred incurring a punishment sooner than pay a visit to his rival.

This flight rendered my wife and myself very uncomfortable, and we
exchanged our ideas on the subject, with no fear of being understood by
our guides. We were alarmed by the bad example given by Muhammad.
Suppose the four Arabs were to imitate their chief, and also abandon us!
What would become of us in a country where, even if we were to meet
anybody, we could not make him understand our wishes?

But we escaped with the fear. Our worthy guides remained faithful to us,
and were even very polite and attentive during the journey. Besides, as
Muhammad had told us, we soon reached a road leading us straight to the
abode of Bou-Allem.

Compared with the caïd’s house, the bash-aga’s might be considered a
princely residence, less, however, through the architectural beauty of
the buildings than through their extent. As in all Arab houses, only
walls could be seen from without; all the windows looked on court-yards
or gardens.

Bou-Allem and his son, warned of our arrival, came to meet us, and paid
us in Arabic compliments I did not understand, but which I supposed to
be the usual salâmalecks, that is to say:

“Be ye welcome, oh ye invited of Deity!”

Such, however, was my confidence, that, whatever might have been said to
me, I should have accepted it as a compliment.

We dismounted, and sat down upon a stone bench, where coffee was soon
served up to us. In Algeria people drink coffee and smoke the whole day
long. It is true that this beverage is not made so strong as in France,
and the cups are very small.

Bou-Allem, after lighting a pipe, handed it to me: it was an honor he
did me to let me smoke after him, and I could not decline it, though I
might have preferred it to be just the “other way about.”

As I have already stated, I only knew three or four words of Arabic, and
with such a poor vocabulary it was difficult to talk with my hosts.
Still, they evidenced great joy at my arrival, for every moment they
renewed their protestations, while laying their hands on their hearts.
I replied by similar signs, and hence had not to draw on my imagination
to keep up the conversation.

Later, however, urged by an appetite whose prompt satisfaction I did not
calculate on, I ventured on a new pantomime. Laying my hand on the pit
of my stomach, and assuming a suffering air, I tried to make Bou-Allem
comprehend that we required more substantial food than civil
compliments. The intelligent Arab understood me, and gave orders for the
meal to be hastened on.

In the meanwhile, and to keep us quiet, he offered, by gestures, to show
us his apartments.

We ascended a small stone staircase, and, on arriving at the first
floor, our guide opened a door, which offered this peculiarity, that, to
pass through it, you were obliged to lower your head and lift your foot
simultaneously. In other words, this door was so low, that a man of
ordinary height could not pass through it without stooping, and, as the
floor was raised, you were obliged to step up on it.

This chamber was the bash-aga’s reception-room; the walls were covered
with red arabesques relieved with gold, and the ground strewn with
magnificent Turkey carpets. Four divans, covered with rich silk stuffs,
completed the entire furniture, with a small mahogany table, on which
were spread pipes, porcelain coffee cups, and other objects especially
used by Mussulmen. Among them, Bou-Allem took up a flask filled with
rose-water, and poured it on our hands. The perfume was delicate;
unfortunately, our host wished to do things grandly, and in order to
show the esteem he held us in, employed the rest of the bottle in
literally sprinkling us from head to foot.

We visited two other large rooms, more simply decorated than the first,
and in one of them was an enormous divan. Bou-Allem made us comprehend
that was where he slept.

These details would have been very interesting at any other moment, but
we were dying of hunger, and, according to the proverb, “a starving
belly has neither eyes nor ears.” I was just going to recommence my
famous pantomime, when, in passing through a small room, in which the
only furniture was a carpet, our cicerone opened his mouth, pointed with
his finger that something was to be placed in it, and thus made us
understand we were in the dining-room. I laid my hand on my heart to
express all the pleasure I experienced.

By Bou-Allem’s invitation we sat down on the carpet, round a large
waiter put down in place of a table.

Once seated, two Arabs came in to wait on us.

In France, servants wait with their heads uncovered; in Algeria, they
keep on their head-covering; but, in return, as a mark of respect, they
leave their shoes at the door, and serve barefooted. Between our
servants and those of the Arabs the only difference is from head to

We were the only guests seated with Bou-Allem, for the son had not the
honor of dining with his father, who always ate alone.

A species of salad-bowl, filled with something like pumpkin soup, was
brought in, and I am very fond of that dish.

“What a fortunate thing,” I said to my wife, “Bou-Allem has guessed my
taste; how I will do honor to his cook.”

My host, doubtlessly, understood the meaning of my remark, for, after
offering us each a clumsy wooden spoon, he begged us to follow his
example, and plunged his weapon in up to the wrist. We imitated him.

I soon took out an enormous spoonful, which I hastily lifted to my
mouth; but I had scarce tasted it ere I exclaimed with a horrible

“Pouah! what can that be? My mouth is on fire.”

My wife withdrew the spoonful she had raised to her lips, but either her
appetite or her curiosity induced her to taste it. She did so, but soon
joined me in coughing. It was a regular pepper-pot.

While apparently vexed at this contretemps, our host swallowed enormous
spoonfuls of the soup, and each time he stretched out his arm with an
air of beatitude, intended to convey to us, “And yet how good it is.”

The soup-tureen was taken away almost empty.

“Bueno! bueno!” Bou-Allem exclaimed, pointing to a dish just placed
before us.

Bueno is Spanish, and the worthy bash-aga, knowing two or three words of
that language, was not vexed to display his learning to us.

This famous dish was a species of ragoût, bearing some affinity to
haricot mutton. When I lived at Belleville, this was the masterpiece of
Mme. Auguste, and I always gave it a very good reception. Hence, in
remembrance of my good old cook, I was about to fall on the ragoût; but
I looked around in vain for a fork, a knife, or even the wooden spoon
handed us for the soup.

Bou-Allem released me from the dilemma; he showed me, by himself
plunging his fingers into the dish, that a fork was a very useless

As hunger tormented us, we overcame our repugnance, and my wife, to
encourage me, delicately fished up a small piece of mutton. The sauce
was very highly spiced, but still, by eating very little meat and a
great deal of bread, we were enabled to render the poison innocuous.

That I might be agreeable to my host, I unfortunately repeated the
Spanish words he had taught me. This compliment, which he believed
sincere, caused him extreme pleasure, and he drew out from the dish a
bone with meat hanging to it, and after tearing off some pieces with his
nails, offered them politely to my wife.

I wondered how Madame Houdin would get rid of this singular present; but
she did so much more cleverly than I expected. Bou-Allem having turned
his head to give an order, the piece of meat was restored to the dish
with astounding craft, and we were much inclined to laugh when our host,
unsuspectingly, took this very piece of mutton for his own

We welcomed with great satisfaction a roast fowl served after the
ragoût; I took on myself to carve it, or, in other words, to tear it
asunder with my fingers, and I did so most delicately. We found it so
much to our taste that not a particle was left.

Then came other dishes, which we tasted with due care, among them being
the famous “couscoussou,” which I found detestable, and the meal
terminated with sweetmeats.

Our hands were in a deplorable condition, and an Arab brought us each a
basin and soap to wash them.

Bou-Allem, after performing the operation, and washing his beard with
the greatest care, took a handful of soapsuds and rinsed his mouth. This
was the only liquor served at table.

After dinner we proceeded to another room, and, on the road were joined
by a young Arab whom Bou-Allem had sent for. This man had been for a
long time servant at Algiers, and spoke French excellently; hence he
would serve as our interpreter.

We entered a small room very elegantly decorated, in which were two

“This,” our host said, “is the room reserved for guests of distinction;
you can go to bed when you like, but if you are not tired, I would ask
your leave to present to you several chief men of my tribe, who, having
heard of you, wish to see you.”

“Let them come in,” I said, after consulting Madame Houdin, “we will
receive them with pleasure.”

The interpreter went out, and soon brought in a dozen old men, among
whom were a Marabout and several talebs, whom the bash-aga appeared to
hold in great deference.

They sat down in a circle on carpets and kept up a very lively
conversation about my performances at Algiers. This learned society
discussed the probability of the marvels related by the chief of the
tribe, who took great pleasure in depicting his impressions and those of
his co-religionists at the sight of the _miracles_ I had performed.

Each lent an attentive ear to these stories, and regarded me with a
species of veneration; the Marabout alone displayed a degree of
scepticism, and asserted that the spectators had been duped by what he
called a vision.

Jealous of my reputation as a French sorcerer, I thought I must perform
before the unbeliever a few tricks as a specimen of my late performance.
I had the pleasure of astounding my audience, but the Marabout continued
to offer me a systematic opposition, by which his neighbors were visibly
annoyed; the poor fellow did not suspect, though, what I had in store
for him.

My antagonist wore in his sash a watch, the chain of which hung outside.

I believe I have already mentioned a certain talent I possess of
filching a watch, a pin, a pocket-book, &c., with a skill by which
several of my friends have been victimized.

I was fortunately born with an honest and upright heart, or this
peculiar talent might have led me too far. When I felt inclined for a
joke of this nature, I turned it to profit in a conjuring trick, or
waited till my friend took leave of me, and then recalled him: “Stay,” I
would say, handing him the stolen article, “let this serve as a lesson
to put you on your guard against persons less honest than myself.”

But to return to our Marabout. I had stolen his watch as I passed near
him and slipped into its place a five-franc piece.

To prevent his detecting it, and while waiting till I could profit by my
larceny, I improvised a trick. After juggling away Bou-Allem’s rosary, I
made it pass into one of the numerous slippers left at the door by the
guests; this shoe was next found to be full of coins, and to end this
little scene comically, I made five-franc pieces come out of the noses
of the spectators. They took such pleasure in this trick that I fancied
I should never terminate it. “_Douros! douros!_” they shouted, as they
twitched their noses. I willingly acceded to their request, and the
_douros_ issued at command.

The delight was so great that several Arabs rolled on the ground; this
coarsely expressed joy on the part of Mohammedans was worth frenzied
applause to me.

I pretended to keep aloof from the Marabout, who, as I expected,
remained serious and impassive.

When calm was restored, my rival began speaking hurriedly to his
neighbors, as if striving to dispel their illusion, and, not succeeding,
he addressed me through the interpreter:

“You will not deceive me in that way,” he said, with a crafty look.

“Why so?”

“Because I don’t believe in your power.”

“Ah, indeed! Well, then, if you do not believe in my power, I will
compel you to believe in my skill.”

“Neither in one nor the other.”

I was at this moment the whole length of the room from the Marabout.

“Stay,” I said to him; “you see this five-franc piece.”


“Close your hand firmly, for the piece will go into it in spite of

“I am ready,” the Arab said, in an incredulous voice, as he held out his
tightly closed fist.

I took the piece at the end of my fingers, so that the assembly might
all see it, then, feigning to throw it at the Marabout, it disappeared
at the word “Pass!”

My man opened his hand, and, finding nothing in it, shrugged his
shoulders, as if to say, “You see, I told you so.”

I was well aware the piece was not there, but it was important to draw
the Marabout’s attention momentarily from the sash, and for this purpose
I employed the feint.

“That does not surprise me,” I replied, “for I threw the piece with such
strength that it went right through your hand, and has fallen into your
sash. Being afraid I might break your watch by the blow, I called it to
me: here it is!” And I showed him the watch in my hand.

The Marabout quickly put his hand in his waist-belt, to assure himself
of the truth, and was quite stupefied at finding the five-franc piece.

The spectators were astounded. Some among them began telling their
beads with a vivacity evidencing a certain agitation of mind; but the
Marabout frowned without saying a word, and I saw he was spelling over
some evil design.

“I now believe in your supernatural power,” he said; “you are a real
sorcerer; hence, I hope you will not fear to repeat here a trick you
performed in your theatre;” and offering me two pistols he held
concealed beneath his burnous, he added, “Come, choose one of these
pistols; we will load it, and I will fire at you. You have nothing to
fear, as you can ward off all blows.”

I confess I was for a moment staggered; I sought a subterfuge and found
none. All eyes were fixed upon me, and a reply was anxiously awaited.

The Marabout was triumphant.

Bou-Allem, being aware that my tricks were only the result of skill, was
angry that his guest should be so pestered; hence he began reproaching
the Marabout. I stopped him, however, for an idea had occurred to me
which would save me from my dilemma, at least temporarily; then,
addressing my adversary:

“You are aware,” I said, with assurance, “that I require a talisman in
order to be invulnerable, and, unfortunately, I have left mine at

The Marabout began laughing with an incredulous air.

“Still,” I continued, “I can, by remaining six hours at prayers, do
without the talisman, and defy your weapon. To-morrow morning, at eight
o’clock, I will allow you to fire at me in the presence of these Arabs,
who were witnesses of your challenge.”

Bou-Allem, astonished at such a promise, asked me once again if this
offer were serious, and if he should invite the company for the
appointed hour. On my affirmative, they agreed to meet before the stone
bench I have already alluded to.

I did not spend my night at prayers, as may be supposed, but I employed
about two hours in ensuring my invulnerability; then, satisfied with the
result, I slept soundly, for I was terribly tired.

By eight the next morning we had breakfasted, our horses were saddled,
and our escort was awaiting the signal for our departure, which would
take place after the famous experiment.

None of the guests were absent, and, indeed, a great number of Arabs
came in to swell the crowd.

The pistols were handed me; I called attention to the fact that the
vents were clear, and the Marabout put in a fair charge of powder and
drove the wad home. Among the bullets produced, I chose one which I
openly put in the pistol, and which was then also covered with paper.

The Arab watched all these movements, for his honor was at stake.

We went through the same process with the second pistol and the solemn
moment arrived.

Solemn, indeed, it seemed to everybody--to the spectators who were
uncertain of the issue, to Madame Houdin, who had in vain besought me to
give up this trick, for she feared the result--and solemn also to me,
for as my new trick did not depend on any of the arrangements made at
Algiers, I feared an error, an act of treachery--I knew not what.

Still I posted myself at fifteen paces from the sheik, without evincing
the slightest emotion.

The Marabout immediately seized one of the pistols, and, on my giving
the signal, took a deliberate aim at me. The pistol went off, and the
ball appeared between my teeth.

More angry than ever, my rival tried to seize the other pistol, but I
succeeded in reaching it before him.

“You could not injure me,” I said to him, “but you shall now see that my
aim is more dangerous than yours. Look at that wall.”

I pulled the trigger, and on the newly whitewashed wall appeared a large
patch of blood, exactly at the spot where I had aimed.

The Marabout went up to it, dipped his finger in the blood, and, raising
it to his mouth, convinced himself of the reality. When he acquired this
certainty, his arms fell, and his head was bowed on his chest, as if he
were annihilated.

It was evident that for the moment he doubted everything, even the

The spectators raised their eyes to heaven, muttered prayers, and
regarded me with a species of terror.

This scene was a triumphant termination to my performance. I therefore
retired, leaving the audience under the impression I had produced. We
took leave of Bou-Allem and his son, and set off at a gallop.

The trick I have just described, though so curious, is easily prepared.
I will give a description of it, while explaining the trouble it took

As soon as I was alone in my room, I took out of my pistol-case--without
which I never travel--a bullet mould.

I took a card, bent up the four edges, and thus made a sort of trough,
in which I placed a piece of wax taken from one of the candles. When it
was melted, I mixed with it a little lamp-black I had obtained by
putting the blade of a knife over the candle, and then ran this
composition in the bullet-mould.

Had I allowed the liquid to get quite cold, the ball would have been
full and solid; but in about ten seconds I turned the mould over, and
the portions of the wax not yet set ran out, leaving a hollow ball in
the mould. This operation is the same as that used in making tapers, the
thickness of the outside depending on the time the liquid has been left
in the mould.

I wanted a second ball, which I made rather more solid than the other;
and this I filled with blood, and covered the orifice with a lump of
wax. An Irishman had once taught me the way to draw blood from the
thumb, without feeling any pain, and I employed it on this occasion to
fill my bullet.

Bullets thus prepared bear an extraordinary resemblance to lead, and are
easily mistaken for that metal when seen at a short distance off.

With this explanation, the trick will be easily understood. After
showing the leaden bullet to the spectators, I changed it for my hollow
ball, and openly put the latter into the pistol. By pressing the wad
tightly down, the wax broke into small pieces, and could not touch me at
the distance I stood.

At the moment the pistol was fired, I opened my mouth to display the
lead bullet I held between my teeth, while the other pistol contained
the bullet filled with blood, which bursting against the wall, left its
imprint, though the wax had flown to atoms.

After a pleasant journey, we reached Milianah at four in the afternoon.
The head of the Arab office, Captain Bourseret, received us most kindly,
and begged us to regard his house as our own during the whole time of
our stay.

M. Bourseret resided with his mother, and that excellent lady showed
Madame Robert-Houdin all those delicate attentions which only a friend
of long standing could have claimed.

Our trip across the D’jendel had fatigued us, hence we passed the
greater portion of the next day in resting ourselves.

At night, the captain gave a grand dinner, to which the general
commanding, the lieutenant-colonel, and some notabilities of the town
were invited. After the repast, I thought I could not better repay my
polite reception than by giving a small performance, in which I
displayed all my skill. As I had told M. Bourseret, during the day, of
my intention, he had invited a large evening party; and I must suppose
my experiments pleased, if I may judge by the greeting they received.
Besides, my public were so favorably disposed towards me, that they
often applauded on trust, as they could not all see very well.

Milianah was the end of my journey. I could only remain three days, if I
wished to return to Algiers in time for the steamer that would convey us
to France.

M. Bourseret arranged an excursion for the second day of my stay at his
house to visit the Beni-Menasseh, a nomadic tribe at that time encamped
a few leagues from Milianah.

At six in the morning we took horse, accompanied by some of the
captain’s friends, and went down the mountain on which the town is

We were escorted by a dozen Arabs attached to the office, all clothed in
red mantles, and armed with guns.

Orders had certainly been given beforehand, for, on reaching the plain,
at the first _goum_ we passed through, ten Arabs mounted their horses
and formed our escort. A little further on another troop joined the
first, and our band, acting like a rolling snow-ball, ended by attaining
considerable proportions. It was composed of about two hundred Arabs.

After two hours’ march, we quitted the high road, and entered a plain
that extended an immense distance in front of us.

Suddenly, the Arabs who accompanied us, probably in obedience to a
signal from the chief, started off at a gallop, and proceeded five or
six hundred yards ahead. There the troop divided, formed four deep, and
the men of the first file rushed upon us, uttering frenzied cries as
they held their guns to their shoulders and prepared to fire.

Our little band happened to be in front at this moment. The Arabs rushed
upon us with the velocity of a steam-engine, and in a few seconds we
should have suffered a collision that must have crushed us all.

A sound of firing was heard: all the horsemen had discharged their guns
with admirable precision over our heads. Their horses plunged, turned on
their hind legs, and started off at full speed to join the troop.

The Arab might have been taken for a perfect Centaur, when we saw him,
while riding at this frantic speed, load his gun, and perform with it
all the tricks peculiar to the drum-major.

The first file of horsemen had scarce retired when the second came
forward, and went through a similar performance, which was repeated at
least twenty times. Our captain had arranged for us the surprise of a

At the noise of the firing some of our horses had started, but, the
first moment of surprise passed, they remained perfectly quiet. My
wife’s horse was an animal of approved docility, hence it was far less
affected than its rider; still, every one did my wife the justice of
stating that, after the first shock was over, she remained as calm as
the boldest warrior among us.

The fantasia terminated, the Arabs took their place in the escort
again, and within an hour we reached the tents of the Beni-Menasseh.

The Aga Ben-Amara was awaiting us. On our arrival he advanced towards
us, and humbly kissed the captain’s hand, while other men of his tribe,
in order to do honor to our visit, discharged their guns almost under
our horses’ noses. But men and beasts were case-hardened, and there was
not the slightest movement in our ranks.

Ben-Amara conducted us into his tent, where each sat down at his ease on
a large carpet.

Our arrival caused a sensation in the tribe, for while we were smoking
and drinking coffee a large number of Arabs, impelled by curiosity,
ranged themselves in a circle round us, and in their immobility
resembled an avenue of bronze statues.

We devoted about an hour to the pleasures of conversation, waiting for
the _diffa_ (meal), which we were impatiently desiring. We even began to
find the time very long, when we saw a procession approaching, with
banners at its head.

These banners puzzled me, and seemed very strange, for they were folded
up. All at once the ranks of our peaceable spectators opened, and my
surprise was great on finding what I took for banners were only sheep
roasted whole and spitted on long poles.

Two of these sheep-bearers marched in front. They were followed by some
twenty men, ranged in line, each of whom bore one of the dishes intended
to compose our _diffa_.

These consisted of ragoûts and roasts of every description, the
inevitable “couscoussou,” and, lastly, a dozen dishes of dessert, the
handiwork of Ben-Amara’s wives.

This perambulating dinner was a delicious sight, especially for people
whose appetites had been singularly sharpened by the fresh air and the
emotions produced by the fantasia.

The head cook marched in front, and, like M. Malbroug’s officer, carried
nothing; but, so soon as he joined us, he set to work actively. Seizing
one of the sheep, he unspitted it, and laid it before us on a lordly

To my companions, nearly all Algerian veterans, this gigantic roast was
no novelty; as for my wife and myself, the sight of such food would have
been enough to pacify our hunger under other circumstances, but now we
hastened to join the circle round this gigantic dish, which was worthy
of Gargantua.

We were obliged, as at Bou-Allem’s, to pull the animal piece-meal with
our fingers; each tore up a strip at will--I must confess, at starting,
with some repugnance. Then, impelled by a ferocious appetite, we fell on
the sheep like wolves, and I know not whether it was owing to the sauce
we all had, but the guests unanimously declared they had never eaten
anything so good as this roast mutton.

When we had selected the most delicate pieces, our cook proposed to
produce the other animal, but, on our refusal, he served up roast fowls,
to which we did our manly devoir. Then, turning up our noses at the
pepper-pot and “couscoussou,” which smelled strongly of rancid butter,
we made up for the want of bread during the meal by nibbling excellent
little cakes.

There was something really princely about the aga’s reception, so, to
thank him, I proposed to give a small performance before my numerous
spectators, who, in their passionate admiration, could not leave the
ground. By their chief’s orders they drew nearer and formed a circle
round me. The captain was kind enough to act as my interpreter, and
thanks to him, I was enabled to perform a dozen of my best tricks. The
effect produced was such that I could not possibly continue, for every
one fled at my approach. Ben-Amara assured us they took me for Shaitan
himself, but, had I worn the Mohammedan costume, they would have cast
themselves at my feet as an envoy from Heaven.

On our return to Milianah, the captain, to crown this delicious day of
pleasure, gave us the spectacle of a chase, in which the Arabs,
galloping at full speed, caught hares and partridges without once

The following day we took leave of M. Bourseret and his excellent
mother, and proceeded towards Algiers, but not by a cross-road, for we
had had enough of them in traversing the D’jendel. This sort of party of
pleasure, in reality a party of pain, may be agreeable for once, for it
serves to revive in our inconstant minds the remembrance of the comfort
we have voluntarily given up. Hence we took the diligence to Algiers,
and on this occasion fully appreciated all the advantage of this mode of

The _Alexander_ steamer, which had brought us from France, was to start
within two days, and this was all the time I had to take leave and thank
all those who had shown me so much kindness.

On quitting Algiers I had the satisfaction of being conducted on board
the vessel by two officers of high rank, whose kindness I can never
repay. M. Palin du Parc, Colonel of the Marine Staff, and Colonel de
Neveu did not leave me until the wheels had begun to turn, and those
gentlemen were the last whose hands I pressed on the African coast.

Were I to describe all my travelling incidents, I should have a great
deal to narrate before I reached my hermitage at St. Gervais; but I
will adhere to my expressed intention of only alluding to events
connected with my professional life.

A frightful storm at sea--a tornado at the summit of the Pyrenees--death
staring us in the face twenty times--are events as terrible as they are
interesting to relate. But these moving episodes, which affect all
alike, have been already described by far more skillful pens than mine,
hence my description would offer no novelty; I will content myself,
therefore, with giving a summary of this terrible return to France.

A tempest, assailed us in the Gulf of Lyons, and our engines were
disabled. Our vessel, after being tossed about for nine days by the
winds, at length reached the coast of Spain, and we managed to make the
port of Barcelona, where the authorities would not allow us to land, as
we had no passports for Spain. We coasted this inhospitable country
during a frightful storm, and at length reached the little port of
Rosas, where we intended to ride out the tempest.

Here I landed, and crossed the Pyrenees in an open carriage, a
hurricane, the result of the tempest at sea, threatening to hurl us into
an abyss at every moment. At last we safely reached France, and
Marseilles, where I was obliged to fulfil a promise made to the managers
of the Grand Theatre on my former passage through the town.

I was, indeed, famously recompensed for the fatigues and dangers of my
journey; for the Marseillais displayed towards me such unexampled
kindness, that these last performances will ever remain on my mind as
those in which I received the greatest applause. I could not take my
leave of the public in a more solemn way, and I hastened my return to
St. Gervais.


I can, in ending this work, repeat what I said at the beginning of my
penultimate chapter: “I have reached the object of my every hope.” But
this time, if it pleases God, as my guide Muhammad would say, no
temptation will again come to modify my plans of happiness. I hope still
for a long time (always if it pleases God) to enjoy that gentle and
peaceful existence which I had scarce tasted when ambition and curiosity
took me to Algiers.

On returning home, I arranged round my study my performing instruments,
my faithful comrades, I may almost say, my dear friends; henceforth I
intended to devote myself to my darling study, the application of
electricity to mechanism.

It must not be believed that, for that purpose, I disown the art to
which I owe so much pleasure. The thought is far from me; I am more than
ever proud of having cultivated it, as to it alone I owe the happiness
of devoting myself to my new studies. Besides, I diverge from it less
than my readers might be inclined to suppose, for I have, during a long
period, applied electricity to mechanism, and I must confess--if my
readers have not already guessed it--that electricity played an
important part in many of my experiments. In reality, my labors of
to-day only differ from the old ones in the form; but they are still

A lingering love for my old clockmaking trade has made me choose
chronometro-electrical works as the objects of my study. I have adopted
as my motto, “_to popularize electric clocks by making them as simple
and exact as possible_.” And as art always supposes an ideal which the
artist seeks to realize, I already dream of the day when the electric
wires, issuing from a single regulator, will radiate through the whole
of France, and bear the precise time to the largest towns and the most
modest villages.

In the meanwhile, devoted to the sacred cause of progress, I labor
incessantly in the hope that my humble discoveries will be of some
service in the solution of this important problem.

My performance is ended (I must remind my readers that I offered them my
narrative under this title); but I live in hope to begin it again soon,
for I have still so many mysteries, great and small, to unveil.
Sleight-of-hand is an immense quarry on which public curiosity can work
for a long time; hence I do not take leave of my audience, or rather of
my readers, for in the second form of performance I have adopted, my
farewell will not be definitive, until I have exhausted all that may be
said about SLEIGHT-OF-HAND AND ITS PROFESSORS. These two words will
serve as the title of the supplemental part of my Memoirs.[F]



It has been said of the augurs, that they could not look at each other
without a laugh; it would be the same with the Aïssaoua, if Mussulman
blood did not flow in their veins. At any rate, there is not one among
them who is deceived as to the pretended miracles performed by his
brethren, but all lend a hand to execute them successfully, like a
company of mountebanks, at the head of whom is the Mokaddem.

Even supposing that their pretended miracles could not be explained, a
simple reflection would destroy their prestige. The Aïssaoua call
themselves invulnerable--then, let them ask one of the audience to place
the red-hot iron on their cheeks, or some other part of their persons;
they assert they are invulnerable--then, let them invite some Zouaves to
pass their sabres through them. After such a spectacle, the most
incredulous would bow before them.

Were I incombustible and invulnerable, I should find a pleasure in
offering undoubted proofs. I would put myself on a spit before a
scorching fire, and while roasting, would amuse myself with eating a
salad of pounded glass, seasoned with oil of vitriol. Such a sight would
attract the whole world, and I should become a prophet.

But the Aïssaoua have reason to be prudent in the performances of these
tricks, as I will prove. The principal miracles are as follows:

     1. Running a dagger into the cheek.

     2. Eating the leaves of the prickly pear.

     3. Laying the stomach on the edge of a sabre.

     4. Playing with serpents.

     5. Striking the arm, causing the blood to flow, and stopping it

     6. Eating pounded glass.

     7. Swallowing pebbles, bottle-heels, &c.

     8. Walking on red-hot iron, or passing the tongue over a white-hot
     plate of iron.

Let us begin with the most simple trick, that of thrusting a dagger into
the cheek.

The Arab who performed this trick turned his back on me; hence I could
get very near him and watch his movements. He placed against his cheek
the point of a dagger, which was round and blunt as that of a
paper-knife. The flesh, instead of being pierced, went in for about two
inches between the molars, which were kept apart, exactly as a cake of
india-rubber would do.

This trick is best performed by thin and aged persons, because the flesh
of their cheeks is peculiarly elastic. Now, the Aïssaoua fulfilled these
conditions in every respect.

The Arab who ate the prickly pear leaves gave us no opportunity of
inspecting them, and I am inclined to believe that the leaves had been
prepared so as to do him no injury, otherwise he would not have
neglected this important point, which would have doubled the merit of
the miracle. But even had he shown them to us, this man went through so
many unneccessary manœuvres, that he could very easily have changed
them for harmless leaves. In that case, it would be a fifteenth-rate
trick of conjuring.

In the following experiment, two Arabs held a sabre, one by the hilt,
the other by the point; a third then came forward, and after raising his
clothes so as to leave the abdomen quite bare, laid himself flat on the
edge of the blade, while a fourth mounted on his back, and seemed to
press the whole weight of his body on him.

This trick may be easily explained.

Nothing proves to the audience that the sabre is really sharpened, or
that the edge is more cutting than the back, although the Arab who holds
it by the point is careful to wrap it up in a handkerchief; in this
imitating the jugglers who pretend they have cut their finger with one
of the daggers they use in their tricks.

Besides, in performing this trick, the _invulnerable_ turned his back on
the audience. He knew the advantage to be derived from this
circumstance; hence, at the moment when about to lay himself on the
sabre, he very adroitly pulled back over his stomach that portion of his
clothing he had raised. Lastly, when the fourth actor mounted on his
back, he rested his hands on the shoulders of the Arabs who held the
sabre. The latter apparently maintained his balance, but, in reality,
they supported the whole weight of his body. Hence, the only requirement
for this trick is to have the stomach more or less pressed in, and I
will explain presently that this can be effected without any injury or

As for the Aïssaoua, who place their hands in a bag filled with
serpents, and play with those reptiles, I will rely on Colonel de
Neveu’s judgment. This is what he says in his work already quoted:

“We often pushed our incredulity and curiosity so far as to order the
Aïssaoua to come to our house with their menagerie. All the animals they
stated to us were vipers (_lifâ_), were only innocent lizards
(_hanech_), and when we offered to put our hand in the bag holding their
reptiles, they hastily retired, convinced that we were not duped by
their tricks.”

I will add that these serpents, even had they been of a dangerous
character, could have had their teeth pulled out, so as to be harmless.
In support of this assertion, I noticed that these reptiles left no
wound where they bit.

I did not see the trick performed of striking the arm and making the
blood issue; but it seems to me that a small sponge filled with ruddle
and concealed in the striking hand, would be enough to accomplish the
prodigy. On wiping the arm, the wound is necessarily cured.

When I was a boy, I often made wine come out of a knife or of my finger,
by pressing a small sponge full of the liquor which I concealed in my

I have often seen men champ wine-glasses between their teeth, and not
hurt themselves; but not one of them swallowed the fragments. Hence, it
was difficult for me to explain this trick of the Aïssaoua, till, by the
assistance offered me by a physician, I found in the _Dictionnaire des
Sciences Médicales_ for 1810, No. 1143, a paper written by Dr. Lesauvage
on the harmlessness of powdered glass.

This gentleman, after quoting various instances of people he had seen
eat glass, thus describes various experiments he made on animals:

“After placing a great number of dogs, cats and rats on a dietary of
pounded glass, the fragments being two to three lines in length, not one
of the animals was ill, and on opening some of them no injury could be
detected all along the alimentary canal. Being convinced, too, of the
harmlessness of swallowing glass, I determined to take some myself in
the presence of my colleague, M. Cagel, of Professor Lallemand, and
several other persons. I repeated this experiment several times, and
experienced not the slightest feeling of pain.”

These authentic statements ought to have satisfied me; still, I wished
to witness this singular phenomenon with my own eyes. Hence, I gave one
of my house cats an enormous ball of meat seasoned with pounded glass.
The animal swallowed it with the greatest pleasure, and seemed even to
regret the end of this succulent meal. My family thought the cat booked
for death, and began deploring my barbarity, but the next day the animal
was perfectly well, and sniffed the spot where on the previous day it
had enjoyed the meal.

Since that period, whenever I want to indulge a friend with this sight,
I regale my three cats, in turn, so as not to excite any jealousy among

It took me some time, I confess, before I could decide on performing Dr.
Lesauvage’s experiment on myself, and, indeed, I saw no necessity for
it. Still, one day, in the presence of a friend, I performed this
bravado, if it be so; I also swallowed my bolus, though I was careful to
pound my glass much finer than what I gave to my cats. I know not
whether it was the effect of imagination, but I fancied I enjoyed my
dinner much more than usual: did I owe this to the pounded glass? At any
rate, it would be a strange way of arousing the appetite.

When the trick of swallowing bottle-heels and pebbles was to be done,
the Aïssaoua really put them in his mouth, but I believe, I may say
certainly, that he removed them at the moment when he placed his head in
the folds of the Mokaddem’s burnous. However, had he swallowed them,
there would have been nothing wonderful about this, when we compare it
with what was done some thirty years back in France by a mountebank
called “the sabre swallower.”

This man who performed in the streets, threw back his head so as to form
a straight line with his throat, and really thrust down his gullet a
sabre, of which only the hilt remained outside the mouth.

He also swallowed an egg without cracking it, or even nails and pebbles,
which he caused to resound, by striking his stomach with his fist.

These tricks were the result of a peculiar formation in the mountebank’s
throat, but, if he had lived among the Aïssaoua, he would assuredly have
been the leading man of the company.

Or what would the Arabs have said had they seen the conjurer who passed
a sword right through his body, and when thus spitted, also thrust a
knife into either nostril up to the handle? I witnessed this feat, and
others have probably done the same.

This trick was, in reality, so terrifying, that the public would implore
the man to leave off; but without troubling himself about their cries,
he would reply, speaking frightfully through his nose, “that it did hib
no harb,” and sing in this singular voice the “_Fleuve du Tage_,” which
he accompanied on a guitar.

I could not endure the sight of this trick, and would turn my head away
in horror when the troubadour drew out the sword, and begged us to
notice that it was stained with blood.

Still, on reflection, I was certain the man could not really pierce his
stomach thus, and that there must be some trick concealed.

My love of the marvellous made me desire to know it; hence, I applied to
the _invulnerable_, and on condition of a certain sum, and promises not
to use it, he sold me his secret.

I may, in my turn, communicate it to the public without asking from them
the same promise. The trick is, however, rather ingenious.

The performer was very thin--an indispensable quality for the success of
the trick. He pressed in his stomach very tightly with a waist-belt, and
produced the following result: the vertebral column being unable to
bend, served as a support, and the intestines gave way and fell in about
half the space they originally occupied. The mountebank then substituted
for the suppressed part a card-board stomach which restored him to his
original condition, and the whole being concealed beneath a
flesh-colored _tricot_, appeared to form part of his body. On either
side, above the hips, two ribbon rosettes hid the apertures by which the
sword-point would go in and out, these openings being connected by a
leathern scabbard which led the weapon securely from one end to the
other, while, in order to produce the blood, a sponge filled with a red
liquid was placed in the middle of the sheath. The knives in the
nostrils were a reality. The _invulnerable_ was very pug-nosed, which
allowed him to draw the cartilage of the nose up prior to the
introduction of the knives.

I possessed the necessary physical qualifications for the sabre trick,
but none for that of the knives. I did not attempt the first, much less
the second.

By the way, I may remark that, when a lad, I used to perform two
_miracles_, which might be useful to the Aïssaoua, if they were ever
told of them. I will explain them here.

The corn-curer who taught me to juggle, also showed me a very curious
trick, consisting in thrusting a small nail into the right eye, which is
then made to pass into the left eye, thence into the mouth, and end by
returning into the right eye.

It may be imagined how I burned with the fire of necromancy, since I had
the courage to practise this trick, which I found charming. A very
disagreeable circumstance, however, deprived me of my faith in the
effect produced by it.

I sometimes spent the evening at a lady’s house who had two daughters. I
thought I could not select a better place for my first performance and
asked leave to do the trick. Of course this permission was granted, and
a circle was formed round me.

“Ladies,” I said, with a certain degree of emphasis, “I am invulnerable.
To furnish you with a proof, I could easily stab myself with a dagger, a
knife, or any other sharp instrument; but I fear lest the sight of blood
might produce too agitating an effect on you. Hence, I will offer you
another proof of my supernatural powers.” And I performed my famous
trick of “the nail in the eye.”

The effect of this scene was most unexpected, for the performance was
scarce over ere one of the young ladies was taken ill and fainted. The
evening’s amusement was disturbed, as may be supposed, and fearing some
recriminations, I bolted without saying a word, declaring that I would
never be caught again at such tricks.

This, however, is the explanation of the trick:

A small lead or silver pin may be introduced, without the slightest
feeling of pain, in the corner of the eye, near the lacrymal duct,
between the lower eyelid and the pupil; and, strangely enough, this
piece of metal once introduced, you do not in the least notice its
presence. To bring it out again, you need only press it with the finger.

If desirous to perform the trick I have alluded to, you proceed in the
following way:

After secretly placing one of these small nails in the left eye, and
another in the mouth, you commence as follows:

You openly thrust a nail into your right eye, then, pressing the skin
with the end of the finger, you pretend to pass it through the nose into
the left eye, whence you withdraw the one put in beforehand. This you
return again to the eye, and the nail appears to pass into the mouth,
whence you produce the one already hidden there, and thence into the
right eye, whence you withdraw the one originally inserted.

When this is done, you go on one side and remove the nail still
remaining in the left eye.

But, to return to the last trick of the Aïssaoua, which consists in
walking over hot iron, and passing the tongue over incandescent plates
of the same metal.

The Aïssaoua who walks over hot iron does nothing extraordinary, if we
consider the conditions under which the trick is performed.

He quickly glides his heel along the iron; but the lower-class Arabs,
who all walk with naked feet, have the lower part of the foot as hard as
a horse’s hoof, hence, this horny part burns without occasioning the
slightest pain.

And, besides, may not chance have taught the Aïssaoua certain
precautions known to more than one European juggler, before Dr.
Sementrici proved their use and explained them to the public?

Let us quote some performances of our own mountebanks, and we shall
find that the followers of the Aïssa as miracle-mongers are a long way
behindhand in their pretended marvels.

In February, 1677, an Englishman, of the name of Richardson, came to
Paris, and gave some very curious performances, which proved, according
to his statement, his incombustibility.

He was seen to roast a piece of meat on his tongue, light a piece of
charcoal in his mouth by means of a pair of bellows, seize a bar of
red-hot iron in his hand, or hold it between his teeth.

This Englishman’s servant published his master’s secret, which may be
found in the _Journal des Sciences_.[G]

In 1809, a Spaniard, of the name of Leonetto, gave performances at
Paris. He also handled a bar of red-hot iron with impunity, passed it
through his hair, or stepped upon it; drank boiling oil, plunged his
fingers into melted lead, put some on his tongue, and ended his
performance by licking a piece of red-hot iron.

This extraordinary man attracted the attention of Professor Sementrici,
who began carefully watching him.

The professor remarked that the tongue of the _incombustible_ was
covered with a grey layer, and this discovery led him to try some
experiments on himself. He discovered that rubbing in a solution of
alum, evaporated to a spongy state, rendered the skin insensible to the
action of red-hot iron. He also rubbed himself with soap, and found that
even the hair did not burn when in that state.

Satisfied with these investigations, the physician rubbed his tongue
with soap and a solution of alum, and the red-hot iron produced no
sensation on him.

The tongue, when thus prepared, could also receive boiling oil, which
grew cold, and could then be swallowed.

M. Sementrici also detected that the melted lead Leonetto employed was
only Arcet’s metal, fusible at the temperature of boiling water. (For
further details consult the historic notice of M. Julia de Fontenelle,
in Roret’s _Manuel des Sorciers_, page 181.)

These explanations may appear sufficient to disprove the pretended
incombustibility of the Aïssaoua; still, I will add a personal fact,
whence the conclusion can be drawn that a man need not be inspired by
Allah or Aïssa to play with red-hot metals.

Reading one day the _Comus_, a scientific review, I found a critique of
a work called _Study on Bodies in a Spheroidal Shape_, by M. Boutigny
(d’Evreux). The editor of the review, the Abbé Moigno, quotes several of
the most interesting passages, among them being the following:

“We passed our fingers through jets of red-hot metal” (M. Boutigny is
speaking). “We plunged our hands into moulds and crucibles filled with
metal that had just run from a Wilkinson, and of which the radiation was
insupportable, even at a long distance. We carried on these experiments
for more than two hours, and Madame Coulet, who was present, allowed her
daughter, a child of from eight to ten years, to put her hand in a
crucible of red-hot metal, which caused not the slightest injury.”

Knowing the character of the learned abbé, as well as that of the
celebrated naturalist and author of the work, it was not possible to
doubt: still, I must say, this fact appeared to me so impossible, that
my mind refused to accept it, and I wished to see, that I might believe.

I decided on calling on M. Boutigny, and expressed to him my wish to see
so interesting an experiment, while carefully avoiding any expression
of doubt on the subject.

This gentleman received me kindly, and proposed to repeat the experiment
before me, when I might have an opportunity to wash my hands in molten

The proposition was attractive, scientifically speaking; but, on the
other hand, I had some fears, which the reader will appreciate, I think.
In the event of a mistake I should reduce my hands to charcoal, and I
was bound to take the greater care of them as they had been such
precious instruments to me. Hence I hesitated with my reply.

“Do you not place confidence in me?” M. Boutigny asked.

“Oh, certainly, sir, I have plenty of confidence, but--“

“But you are afraid--out with it!” the doctor interrupted me, with a
laugh. “Well, to ease your mind, I will try the temperature of the
liquid before you place your hands in it.”

“And what is about the temperature of molten metal?”

“Close on one thousand six hundred degrees.”

“One thousand six hundred degrees?” I exclaimed. “Oh! the experiment
must be splendid: I consent.”

On the day appointed by M. Boutigny, we proceeded to Mr. Davidson’s
foundry at La Villette, after he had granted us permission to make the

I was strangely affected on entering this vast establishment; the
deafening noise produced by the immense blasts, the flames escaping from
the furnaces, the sparkling jets transported by powerful machines and
running into gigantic moulds, the wiry, muscular workmen, blackened by
smoke and dust,--all this medley of men and things produced a strange
and rather solemn effect upon me.

The manager came up to us and pointed out the furnace to which we were
to proceed for our experiment.

While waiting for a jet of metal to run, we remained for a few moments
in silence near the furnace; then we commenced the following
conversation, which was certainly not of a nature to encourage me:

“I would only repeat this experiment, which I am not fond of, for your
sake,” M. Boutigny said; “I confess that, though I am morally sure of
the result, I always feel an emotion which I cannot dispel.”

“If that be the case,” I replied, “suppose we go? I will believe your

“No, no; I am bound to show you this curious phenomenon. But, by the
way,” the learned doctor added, “let me see your hands.”

He took them in his.

“Hang it,” he went on, “they are very dry for our experiment.”

“You think so?”


“Then it is dangerous?”

“It might be so.”

“In that case, we will go,” I said, turning to the door.

“That would be a pity,” my companion replied, holding me back; “stay,
dip your hands in this bucket of water, dry them well, and they will be
sufficiently damp.”

I must mention that to insure the success of this marvellous experiment
no other condition is requisite than to have the hands slightly damp. I
regret I can offer no explanations as to the principle of the
phenomenon, for this would require many a long chapter; hence I will
refer my readers to M. Boutigny’s work. It will be enough to state that
the metal, when in a state of fusion, is kept at a distance from the
skin by a repulsive force, which opposes an insurmountable barrier.

I had scarce finished wiping my hands when the furnace was opened, and a
jet of molten metal, about the thickness of my arm, burst forth. Sparks
flew in every direction, as if it were a firework performance.

“Wait a few minutes,” M. Boutigny said, “till the metal is cleansed, for
it would be dangerous to try our experiment at this moment.”

Five minutes later the stream of liquid fire left off bubbling and
emitting scoriæ; it became, indeed, so limpid and brilliant, that it
scorched our eyes at a few yards off.

All at once my companion walked up to the furnace, and calmly began
washing his hands in the metal as if it had been lukewarm water.

I make no pretence to bravery; I confess at this moment my heart beat as
if it would burst, and yet, when M. Boutigny ended his strange
ablutions, I walked forward in my turn with a determination that proved
a certain strength of will. I imitated my professor’s movements, I
literally dabbled in the burning liquid, and, in my joy, inspired by
this marvellous operation, I took a handful of the metal and threw it in
the air, and it fell back in a fire-shower on the ground.

The impression I felt in touching this molten iron can only be compared
to what I should have experienced in handling liquid velvet, if I may
express myself so.

I now ask what are the red-hot bars of the Aïssaoua, in comparison to
the enormous temperature to which my hands had been exposed?

The old and new miracles of the incombustibles are, therefore, explained
by the experiments of a skillful naturalist, who, while making no
pretence to trickery, only appreciates such phenomena in their relation
to the immutable laws by virtue of which they are accomplished.



Academician’s, predictions, 370.

Accident at the Odéon, 315.

Accomplice, a kind, 135.

Acrobatic canaries, 39.

Africa, life in, 373.

Aïssaoua, miracles of the sect of, 396.

Alarum, a novel, 37.

Alarum-light, the, 195.

Albertus Magnus and his brazen man, 157.

Alboni, Madame, 337.

Algeria, journey to, 372;
  reception in, 373.

Ali-Ben-el-Hadji Moussa, “the slave of God,” 393.

Ambassador, Houdin as, 372.

Amputation extraordinary, 390.

Anderson, “Professor,” his flagrant puffery, 326.

Angers, journey to, 58;
  arrival at, 61;
  Fair at, 61.

Anthon, Mr., buys Automaton Chess-player, 171.

Antonia, story of, 114;
  at Constantinople, 125;
  death of, 130.

Antonio, the nurse, 56;
  his confession, 73;
  in Paris, 180;
  his wife, 184.

Arab address to Houdin, 391.

Arab chiefs convoked, 378.

Arcet’s metal, 432.

Artificial man, the, 157.

Artist’s home, the, 194.

Asp, automaton, 161.

Athlete, an Arabian, 383.

Aubusson, accident at, 87.

Audience, studying an, 142;
  a sleepy, 243;
  an indignant, 267.

Auguste, the caterer, 203.

Auriol, Houdin’s automaton clown, 179.

Author’s overture, 13.

Automata: Brazen fly, 156;
  by Vaucanson, 159;
  Houdin’s--the pastry cook, 179;
  Auriol and Debureau, _ibid_;
  orange-tree, _ib._;
  time-dial, _ib._

Automaton, Houdin’s first, 36;
  Harlequin flute-player, 158;
  tambourine-player, 159;
  artificial duck, 159;
  discovery of its trick, 160;
  chess-player, 162;
  history of, 162.

Autumnal fêtes at Algiers, 378.

Avalanche, the human, 351.

Aviary, a wonderful, 39.


Bab-Azoun Theatre in Algiers, 375.

Bacon, Roger, makes a brazen head, 156.

Balls, juggling with the, 49.

Baths of Germany, 368.

Belgium, Houdin’s visit to, 201.

Belleville, retreat to, 198.

Benefactor, a public, 29.

Berlin, three months in, 369.

Bernard, Colonel gives lessons to Houdin, 191.

Berthoud on Clock-making, 43.

Black-silk cap, story of, 301.

Blois:--birth-place of Houdin, 17;
  Houdin retires to, 369.

Bores, how to get rid of, 264.

Bosco, the conjurer, 184.

Botany, lessons in, 37.

Bottle-trick at Manchester, 349.

Bou-Allem’s house, 402.

Bought and sold, 31.

Bouquet à la Reine, 355.

Boutigny, with red hot metal, 432.

Box, the mysterious, 383.

Brazen automaton fly, 156.

Brazen head, Bacon and Bungey’s, 156.

Brèguet, the Cardinal’s, 110.

Broken-English, Houdin’s, 346.

Broken watch, the, 109.

Brother and sister, 116;
  before the Sultan, 125.

Brunnow, the Baron, 341.

Brussels Theatre, engagement at, 276;
  journey to, 279;
  troubles _en route_, 281;
  arrives at, 287;
  success, 290;
  but no money, 291;
  cheated on all sides, 292.

Buckingham Palace, Houdin at, 353;
  short commons at, 357.

Bungey, Thomas, makes a brazen head, 156.

Bush-Aga, abode of a, 402.

Bust-making, extraordinary, 301.


Cagliostro at Rome, 105.

_Cagliostro_, the Houdin’s comic journal, 254.

Cagliostro’s casket, 309;
  his seal, 308.

Cambridge, Houdin at, 359.

Canard, a real, 160.

Canaries, the cage of, 38.

Candle-lighting, 227.

Caravan, a conjurer’s, 56.

Card-rook, a, 211.

Cards, a duel with, 85.

Cardinal’s watch, 106;
  broken, 109;
  melted down, 111;
  restored whole, 112.

Carlosbach, Dr., the conjurer, 27.

Carpentier, Aristide le, the antiquarian, 271.

Carriage smashed, 286.

Castellan, Madame, 337.

Castelli, Signor, eats a man alive, 69.

Catherine II. plays with the automaton chess-player, 169;
  attempts to cheat, 170;
  wants to buy the figure, 171.

Celestial Empire, the, 236.

Challenge to Houdin, 268.

_Charivari_, the, 252.

Charlatan bills, Anderson’s, 329.

Charles V., iron fly presented to, 155.

Chaussée d’Antin, scene in, 272.

Cheat, punishment of a, 83.

Cheating cards, diagrams of, 216.

Chess-player, history of the automaton (see _Kempelen_), 162-172.

Chester Theatre, England, 289.

Chinese and their conjuring tricks, 225.

Choosing a Profession, 26.

Cleopatra’s asp, 161.

Clipping the coin, 51.

Clock, the mysterious, 195.

Clockmaking, treatise on, 43.

Clowns, Houdin’s automaton, 179.

Coffee, the conjurer’s, 382.

Collation, a magical, 364.

Colchester, audience and the nuts, 365.

Componium, the, 172;
  repaired by Houdin, 175.

Comte, the magician, 141;
  his tricks, 143;
  his café, 144;
  performs at the Tuilleries, 146;
  his King of Hearts, 147;
  hat-trick, 148;
  his ventriloquism, 149;
  visits Houdin, 150.

Comus, the conjurer, 83.

Conjuring bullets, 413.

Conscientious audience, 298.

Constantinople, conjuring at, 121.

Convocation of Arab chiefs, 378.

Cookery and clockwork, 194.

Cossack, the automaton, 227.

Course of miracles, a, 422.

_Court Journal_, 355.

Cousin Robert, 421.

Covent Garden Theatre, 335.

Critic, a severe, 204.

Cronier, the mechanician, 161.

Crystal Balls, the, 312.

Curaçoa from the bottle, 350.

Curious discussion, 377.

Custom at Colchester, 365.


Dantan, junior, the caricaturist, 299;
  makes a bust, 301.

D’Avaray, Duc, 37.

Dazzling picture, a, 343.

De Paris, the Count, 231.

Deception, a rival’s, 99.

Delay at Algiers, 375.

Delirium, influence of, 53.

Dial, Houdin’s magic, 179.

Diagrams of cheating cards, 216 and 218.

Diamond cut diamond, 150.

Diplomatist and conjurer, 341.

Director of the Belgian Customs, 283;
  tricks upon, 284.

Doctor, a strange, 55.

Domingo, the negro, 229.

Dormeuil, theatrical manager, 336.

Dorval, Madame, benefit of, 314.

Doubtful applause, 75.

Dreams, phantasmagoria of, 54.

Debureau, Houdin’s automaton clown, 179.

Duhart, chief of the claquers, 318.

Dumas’ Monte Christo, 336.


Electric shock, 385.

Electric touch, an, 264.

Electric clocks, future of, 421.

Electricity applied to mechanism by Houdin, 370.

Emile-Houdin, 256;
  performances by, 258.

England invaded by French performers, 334.

English theatrical costume, 332.

Escamoteur, the, 153.

Etherial suspension, 312.

Exhibition of 1844, 231;
  medal voted to Houdin, 233.

Expedient, an, 331.

Experiments, curious, 256.

Eye and hand, practice of, 49.


Failure, an utter, 247.

Fair-Unknown, a, 258.

Family tickets, 143.

Fancy Fair, Sir A. Webster’s, 337.

Fantasia by Arabs, 378.

Fantastic portfolio, 312.

Fantastic Soirées, Houdin’s, 244.

Farewell tour, Houdin’s, 368.

Father Roujol, 152.

Faubourg St. Germain, 270.

Festival of Nankin, 228.

Filings, how to make, 42.

Financial crisis, a, 197.

First bill, Houdin’s, 245.

First fruits of labor, 135.

First game played by Automaton chess-player, 163;
  the Turk beats the Doctor, 164.

First magician in France, 181.

First performance at Paris by Houdin, 246.

First public performance, Torrini’s, 97.

Five-franc pieces, the magical, 408.

Flowers, the birth of, 145.

Flute-player, automaton, 159.

Forey, Eugène, his drawing of Houdin’s theatre, 252.

Fortune, a reverse of, 192.

Fortunatus’s hat, 229.

Four balls, juggling with, 49.

Free admissions, 320.

French towns, how lighted, 46.

_Fricot_, a dish of, 199.

Future experiments, Houdin’s, 420.


Galerie de Valois, 237.

Garde Française, 312.

Génet, an optimist manager, 360.

German-flute-player, automaton, 159.

Germany, Houdin’s tour through, 368.

Giovanni Torrini, 127.

Glove, Victoria’s, 355.

Gold-fish trick, 225.

Grand Turk, the, 122.

Gratuitous performance, 297.

Great personages, 339.

Great Wizard of the North, his frightful puffery, 326.

Greek, a modern, 213.

Grindstone, a nose on the, 43.

Grisi, the Count Edmond de, 90.

Grisi, Madame, 337.

Gun-trick, a tragic, 129.

Gymnastic machinery, 211.

Gymnas, performance of, 319.


Hamilton, successor to Houdin, 367;
  becomes his brother-in-law, 368.

Happy moment, a, 203.

Harem, the Sultan’s, 124.

Harlequin automata, 77;
  Philippe’s, 228.

Hat, the spoiled, 134.

Hearts, the King of, 147.

Her Majesty’s Theatre, 323.

Hertford, Houdin at, 360.

Hints for sharpers, 219.

Hippodrome of Paris, 244.

Hired applause, 319.

Historic Theatre of Paris, 336.

Home, return to, 136.

Homicide by imprudence, 130.

Houdin, Mademoiselle, 140;
  the conjurer marries her, 141.

Houdin, M., the mechanical artist, 141.

Houdin-Robert, birth and parentage, 17;
  adventures, _passion_.

Human avalanche, 351.


Idler, a country, 26.

_Illustration_, the, 252.

Incantation, the, 263.

Inexhaustible bottle, 312.

Ingot, the magic, 112.

Inkstand, to make a fortune by, 177.

Inquisition at Rome, 104.

Interior of Africa, Houdin in the, 398.

Inventor, calculations of an, 177.

Invulnerability, 385;
  secret of, 428.

Ireland, Houdin in, 366.

Iron automaton fly, 155.

Italian conjurer, 157.

Italy, conjuring in, 90-119.


Jenny Lind, 323.

Judicious puffing, 325.

Jules de Rovère, the conjurer, 153.


Kabyle rendered powerless, 384.

Kabylia, revolt in, 374.

Kitchen of Parafaragarmus, 229.

Kempelen, M. de, Viennese mechanician, 162;
  visits Dr. Osloff at Riga, 163;
  invents the automaton chess-player, 163;
  travels with it to Russia, 168;
  baffles the Czarina, 171;
  visits England, 171.

Knowles, the manager, 345.

Koppen exhibits the Componium, 172.


Lablache, the singer, 337.

Ladies, pleasing the, 145.

Lamp, the stolen, 46.

Larivière, the Abbé, head of Orleans College, 23.

Lawyer’s office, Houdin in, 35.

Le Carpentier, Aristide, 271.

Leclerc invents the Mélephone, 226.

Lemnos, 309.

Lenoir, the dancing master, 64.

Leonetto with red hot iron, 431.

Lesprit, the conjurer, 187.

Life, most important event of, 45.

Linnæus, study of, 38.

Lottery, M. Philippe’s, 223.

Louis Napoleon at Fulham, 339.

Louis Philippe at the Palace of Industry, 231;
  and the automaton writer, 238;
  at St. Cloud, 303.

Louis XVIII. and Comte, 146.


Macalister, the magician, 225;
  in Paris, 229.

Mâcon, the fair of, 148.

Maëlzel owns the automaton chess-player, and takes it to America, 172.

Magic ingot, 112.

Malice, a conjurer through, 101.

Manchester, a city of chimneysweeps, 352.

Manchester Theatre, Houdin at, 345.

Manipulation, practice makes skill in, 49.

Marabout, shot by one, 387.

Marabout, mystification of one, 408.

Marquis deceived, 117.

Mario, the singer, 337.

Marseilles, Torrini at, 126; Houdin at, 419.

Mechanical snuff-box, 35.

Mechanician’s shop on wheels, 78.

Mélephone, the, 226.

Miette, the conjurer, 187.

Minor miseries, 295.

Miracles, a course of, 422.

Mitchell, London manager, 322;
  Jenny Lind’s box, 323.

Modest living, 199.

Molten metal, washing the hands in, 433.

Monte Christo, at Covent Garden, 335;
  at St. James’s Theatre, 336.

Moor, disappearance of a, 388.

Morrison’s pills, 223.

Mountebanks in Paris, 311.

Mouse-power to raise water, 21.

Muhammad, the Arab guide, breakfast with, 400;
  he deserts, 401.

Murderer’s confession, 59.

Music-master, the, 182.

Musky compliments, 151.

Mystification, 151.

Mystification extraordinary, 117.

Mystifier mystified, 150.


Nail in the eye, 429.

Nankin, festival of the Court of, 228.

Naples, the King of, 100.

Napoleon of Necromancy, 328.

Napoleon III. in England, 339.

Necromancy in Rome, 105.

Need, a friend in, 285.

Neptune’s basins, 229.

Nevers, ventriloquism at, 148.

Neveu, Colonel de, 371;
  his work on Algiers, 396.

New Joe Miller, a, 329.

New studies, Houdin’s, 253.

Nightingale, mechanical, its song, 207.

Nomadic life, 78.

Noriet, watchmaker and sculptor, 50.

Novel lottery, a, 223.

Number sixty-nine, 268.

Nuremburg dolls, 200.

Nuts at Colchester, 365.


Odéon, performance at the, 314.

Olivier, the conjurer, 126.

Omelette accident, 133.

Omen, an, 231.

Open-air studies, 311.

Optimist manager, 360.

Orange-tree, Houdin’s mysterious, 179.

Origin of flowers, 312.

Orleans, Houdin at College of, 20.

Orleans, Duchess of, 281;
  at St. Cloud, 309.

Orleans family in London, 355.

Osloff, Dr., saves Worousky’s life, 162;
  plays first game with automaton chess-player, 163.


Page, sawing asunder of one, 123.

Palais Royal Theatre, 335.

Panic, Houdin’s, 249;
  of an Arab audience, 389.

Papin, Denis, inventor of steam engine, 17.

Parafaragarmus, kitchen of, 229.

Paris, Robert-Houdin goes to, 141;
  return to, from Brussels, 292;
  from England, 366;
  retires from, 368.

Park Theatre, Brussels, 287.

Pastry-cook, Houdin’s automaton, 179.

Peacock, the magic, 228.

Perambulating house, 61.

Perrault’s fairies, 157.

Philippe Talon, the conjurer, 221;
  visits London, _ib._;
  at Aberdeen, 222;
  his lottery, 223;
  in Paris, 227.

Philter, a lady wants a, 262.

Piarot, Bosco’s pigeon, 189.

Pigeon-trick, Bosco’s, 187;
  his work, 191.

Piller of the State, a, 223.

Pillory, spectators on the, 350.

Pinetti, Chevalier, 92;
  treachery of, 94.

Pirlemont Hotel, Brussels, 286.

Pistol-trick in Africa, 412.

Piquet, a blind man’s game at, 64;
  the game of, 81;
  a duel at, 85.

Pius VII. and the conjurer, 107.

Pocket, _sauter la coupe_ in the, 50.

Poison in the dish, 52.

Police, the Prefect of, 238.

Poor Piarot, 189.

Pope, conjuring before the, 107.

Porter, tyranny of, 288.

Porter’s power, machine of, 38.

_Pot-au-feu_, 194.

Powdered glass, an appetiser, 425.

Prepared playing cards, 214.

Press, the English, 333.

Prestidigitateur, title first assumed by Jules de Rovère, 154.

Prodigal son, 136.

Prophet, a fallible, 250.

Protector, a powerful, 318.

Punch’s doings, 223.

Punch bowl, the magic, 382.


Race for time, 265.

Ragoût, the poisoned, 52.

Rat, the captured, 21.

Rat-trap, a novel, 23.

Randon, Marshal, 380.

Recollections of the soirées, 254.

Red-hot metal, feats with, 432.

Reforms in conjuring, 235.

Rehearsal, Houdin’s first, 241.

Repast, a wizard’s, 357.

Retirement from Paris, 368.

Revenge, a conjurer’s, 102.

Revolution of 1848, 320.

Reysolius, his artificial man, 157.

Richardson’s incombustibility, 431.

Rings’ trick, 225.

Ritter, Captain, 399.

Rival, a dangerous, 66.

Robert, the elder, father of Robert-Houdin, his skill, 17;
  death of, 208.

Roger, M., an honest lawyer, 37.

Roger, the singer, 337.

Romainville, music studies in the wood of, 207.

Rose-colored tickets, 143.

Royal patronage, 344.

Royalty, insult to, 101.

Rrrrrrrrouit, the nightingale’s, 207.


Sabre-swallower, the French, 427.

Saint’s head, a, 200.

Sand-bag and stirrup trick, 33.

_Sauter de coupe_, 84.

Scheme of revenge, 103.

School, Houdin at, 21.

Sciences, Royal Academy of, 158.

Scientific amusements, 44.

Scotland, Houdin in, 366.

Second-sight, invention of the, 255.

Seductions of a theatrical agent, 273.

Selim III., the Sultan, visits Torrini, 122.

Sementrici’s feats with hot metal, 431.

Seven thousand francs made by filings, 208.

Sharpers, hints for, 219.

Skill, a duel of, 102.

Skillful manager, a, 143.

Sleight-of-hand, principle of, 48;
  first practice in, 49.

Soirées Fantastiques de Robert-Houdin in London, 324.

Sorcerer, how a man becomes one, 46.

Spectators in the pillory, 348.

St. Cloud, Houdin at Palace of, 303.

St. James’s Theatre, London, 322;
  Houdin at, 330;
  Dormeuil at, 335.

St. Thomas Aquinas breaks the brazen man, 157.

Stirrup-trick, 33.

Storm at sea, 419.

Strange audience, 381.

Strange banners, 417.

Strasburg, tragedy at, 129.

Sugar-baker, the conjuring, 221.

Sultan, wives of the, 122.


Taken by storm, 295.

Talisman, a, 387.

Talon, Philippe, the magician, 221.

Tambourine-player, an automaton, 159.

Tambourine, the singer, 337.

Tent-life in Algiers, 416.

Theatre, Houdin’s, in the Palais Royal, 237.

Theatricals, 139.

Theatrical agent, seductions of, 273.

Theatrical bed, a, 324.

Three people make an audience, 361.

Time, a race for, 265.

Tiou, the nightingale’s, 207.

Too small a theatre, 295.

Tools, Houdin’s early love of, 19.

Torrini, the conjurer, 57;
  relates his history, 90 _et seq._;
  death of, 181.

Tours, journey to, 53;
  ventriloquism at, 148.

Toys, conjurer’s distribution of, 254.

Trepèze tumbler, the, 312.

Trick, a fatal, 129.

Trick, Houdin’s first, 47.

Tricks of the Aïssaoua, 423.

Tuilleries, Comte at the, 146.

Turks, performances to the, 121.

Twelve hundred francs spent on a trick, 113.

Two sous-piece, a lucky, 281.


Universal Exhibition of 1855, medal from, 370.


Vatican, conjuring in the, 107.

Vaucanson, Jacques de, automaton maker, 160;
  some account of, 161;
  asp of Cleopatra, 161.

Vaudeville, Houdin at the, 165.

Vermifuge balsam, 31.

Ventriloquism by Comte, 148.

Verdigris, a ragoût of, 52.

Virgilius, his brazen fly, 156.

Visitors in Africa, 407.

Victoria, Queen, 340;
  patronizes Houdin, 344.


Watchmaking, first lessons in, 41.

Watch, the Cardinal’s, 106;
  broken, 109;
  melted down, 111;
  found whole, in the Pope’s pocket, 112.

Webster, Sir Arthur, his fête at Fulham, 336;
  Houdin performs at, 343.

Welcome rest, a, 367.

Whiskey, Houdin’s glass of, 350.

White magic before the Pope, 108.

William Tell and his son, 127.

Win, the way to, 217.

Wine, a torrent of, 351.

Wizard’s repast, 357.

Wood-carver, the, 200.

Wood-cutting, 201.

Worousky, the rebel, his life saved by Dr. Osloff, 162;
  a great chess-player, 163;
  plays the automaton, 165;
  at Toula, 166;
  plays Catherine II., 169;
  visits England, 171.

Writing and drawing automaton, 196;
  its completion, 204.


Zilbermann, the gambler, 81.


[A] It will be remembered that in those days French towns were lighted
by a lamp suspended in the centre of the highway from a cord attached to
two poles.--(ED.)

[B] After Vaucanson’s death, his works were dispersed and lost, with
the exception of the duck, which, after remaining for a long time in a
garret at Berlin, saw light again in 1840, and was purchased by a M.
George Tiets, who spent four years in repairing it.

[C] The automaton chess-player always used the left hand--a defect
falsely attributed to the carelessness of the constructor.

[D] Since this period Bosco has changed his stage decorations: his
cloths have altered their colors, his candles are shorter, but the
death’s-head, the ball, the costume, and the tricks, have ever remained
the same.

[E] This slight incident did not prevent the jury granting me a silver
medal for my automata. Eleven years later, at the Universal Exhibition
of 1855, I received a medal of the first class for new applications of
electricity to mechanism.

[F] It is possible that M. Robert-Houdin intends to take this revenge,
owing to the unfair way in which he was treated during his professional
career. In 1850, a man who had been seven years in his service, and
in whom he placed entire confidence, allowed himself to be seduced by
the brilliant offers an amateur made him, and sold the secret of some
of his Master’s tricks at a high price. Justice was appealed to and
stopped this disgraceful traffic: the seller was awarded two years’
imprisonment, but the buyer could not be touched, and thus many of M.
Houdin’s tricks passed into strange hands.

[G] 1677, first edition, page 41, and second edition, 1680, pp. 24, 147,

       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

Robert-Houdin, sa vie, ses œuvres, son théätre=> Robert-Houdin, sa
vie, ses œuvres, son théâtre {pg 5}

prestidigitatuer=> prestidigitateur {pg 9 & 136}

recal my reminiscences=> recall my reminiscences {pg 55}

my suprise was increased=> my surprise was increased {pg 56}

A day had elasped=> A day had elapsed {pg 57}

supported by trestels=> supported by trestles {pg 61}

same degree of skill=> some degree of skill {pg 66}

so much petulence=> so much petulance {pg 80}

a jury should decided=> a jury should decide {pg 84}

had concealed for any unforseen=> had concealed for any unforeseen {pg

I was enenchanted=> I was enchanted {pg 93}

One repesentation the less=> One representation the less {pg 94}

celebrated Bréguet=> celebrated Brèguet {pg 106}

for the occassion> for the occasion {pg 108}

prove its superority=> prove its superiority {pg 109}

my experiperiment=> my experiment {pg 111}

A brass motar=> A brass mortar {pg 111}

Do yo not recognize Antonio Torrini=> Do you not recognize Antonio
Torrini {pg 118}

The only precaution neccessary=> The only precaution necessary {pg 129}

her mornful handmaids=> her mournful handmaids {pg 131}

contented himsely with=> contented himself with {pg 141}

occassion=> occasion {pg 146 & 264}

In fact, the the=> In fact, the {pg 147}

there was the ball-headed gentlemen=> there was the ball-headed
gentleman {pg 147}

such a talened sorcerer=> such a talented sorcerer {pg 147}

In it will he found=> In it will be found {pg 158}

convalesence=> convalescence {pg 163}

the brilliancy of their dèbut=> the brilliancy of their début {pg 166}

to enable to enable=> to enable {pg 167}

this flatttering explanation=> this flattering explanation {pg 169}

I have forgotton=> I have forgotten {pg 173}

I was quite annihileted=> I was quite annihilated {pg 174}

playing ècartè=> playing écarté {pg 219}

on a table two sugar-loves=> on a table two sugar-loaves {pg 229}

sextett=> sextet {pg 242}

the next day we sucseeded=> the next day we suceeded {pg 256}

I know not how your will interpret=> I know not how you will interpret
{pg 259}

was to elaspe between=> was to elapse between {pg 265}

had elasped since the curtain=> had elapsed since the curtain {pg 266}

an affair of one hundred thousand france=> an affair of one hundred
thousand francs {pg 274}

I had sarcely uttered the words=> I had scarcely uttered the words {pg

I should like too see=> I should like too see {pg 306}

During this conversatian=> During this conversation {pg 342}

the the other six months=> the other six months {pg 344}

be scarely held in both hands=> be scarcely held in both hands {pg 356}

the incarnation of opitimism=> the incarnation of optimism {pg 360}

“Yes, gentlemen, yes; you can go in,” Gènet replied=> “Yes, gentlemen,
yes; you can go in,” Génet replied {pg 362}

Your are mistaken=> You are mistaken {pg 383}

weaker than a women=> weaker than a woman {pg 384}

than the once preceding it=> than the ones preceding it {pg 387}

surrouuded the man=> surrounded the man {pg 389}

with great affiability=> with great affability {pg 399}

the ground strown with magnificent Turkey carpets=> the ground strewn
with magnificent Turkey carpets {pg 403}

The came other dishes=> Then came other dishes {pg 406}

leaving the audience under the impression had I produced=> leaving the
audience under the impression I had produced {pg 412}

for its serves=> for it serves {pg 418}

Auriol and Dubereau=> Auriol and Debureau {index}

Dubureau, Houdin’s automaton clown, 179.=> Debureau, Houdin’s automaton
clown, 179. {index}

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, ambassador, author and conjurer" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.