True Stories of Modern Magic

A Conjurer's Confessions
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
Matter Through Matter
Mind Reading In Public
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Name Of The Dead

The Lock And Key Library

A Case Of Identity
A Conjurer's Confessions
A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Mystery With A Moral
A Scandal In Bohemia
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Heiress From Redhorse
An Old Game Revived
By The Waters Of Paradise
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
His Wedded Wife
Horror: A True Tale
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
In The House Of Suddhoo
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
Matter Through Matter
Melmoth The Wanderer
Mind Reading In Public
My Own True Ghost Story
My Wife's Tempter
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
Saint-germain The Deathless
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Avenger
The Baron's Quarry
The Closed Cabinet
The Corpus Delicti
The Dream Woman
The Fortune Of Seth Savage
The Fowl In The Pot
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hostler's Story Told By Himself
The Incantation
The Lost Duchess
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man And The Snake
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Minister's Black Veil
The Minor Canon
The Mortals In The House
The Name Of The Dead
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Pavilion On The Links
The Pipe
The Puzzle
The Red-headed League
The Sending Of Dana Da
The Shadows On The Wall
The Story Continued By Percy Fairbank
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams

A Conjurer's Confessions



[Sleight-of-hand theories alone cannot explain the mysteries of
"magic" as practiced by that eminent Frenchman who revolutionized
the entire art, and who was finally called upon to help his
government out of a difficuity--Robert-Houdin. The success of his
most famous performances hung not only on an incredible dexterity,
but also on high ingenuity and moral courage, as the following
pages from his "Memoirs" will prove to the reader. The story
begins when the young man of twenty was laboring patiently as
apprentice to a watchmaker.]

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 of 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, etc., etc.

The bookseller had made a mistake. In his haste, he had given me
two volumes of the Encyclopaedia 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 marvelous
and impossible, and fortunately these presentiments did not err.

The resemblance between two books, and the hurry of a bookseller,
were the commonplace 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

I was eagerly devouring every line of the magic book which
described the astounding tricks; my head was aglow, and I at times
gave way to thoughts which plunged me in ecstasy.

The author 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 recognized 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

I practiced 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 marvelous. 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

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

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 practicing without neglecting my business. It was
the fashion in those days to wear coats with large pockets on the
hips, called a la proprietaire, 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.

Next: Second Sight

Previous: The Man In The Iron Mask

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