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Topic: Conjurers from the Regency Period (1790-1820)
Message: Posted by: Danny Schreiber (Sep 30, 2009 01:28AM)
I am a part-time magician and very interested in magic history. I have been asked to give a presentation on Regency Era Conjuring/Magic (1790's -1820's). My research thus far, has found a number of well-respected magicians performed during this period including Comte, Pinetti, and Comus, but I have had trouble finding multiple sources, as well as very few primary sources for background. Robert-Houdin's book has been a good source for general information about Comte, but I want more. Milbourne has info about Pinetti, but again I want more info. I have also found some good nuggets in Modern Enchantments by Simon During. But I feel like I might be missing some facts and details. Anyone have any other suggestions for sources? Any info would be greatly appreciated.


Message: Posted by: mtpascoe (Sep 30, 2009 11:27AM)
Check David Prices book "Magic: A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theater". I haven't read it in awhile, but I'm sure there is a section on Comus. I wrote a few things on Pinetti that I posted on Wikipedia if you want to check it out.

When is your presentation? If I have some time, I will look into Christian Fetchner's book "The Magic of Robert-Houdin" and see if there is anything on Comus there. Here are some sources on him:

# Almanach forain, 1773.
# Journal de Paris, 8, 13, septembre 1778; 23 mai, 3, 27 juin 1779; 16 juin 1782.
# Lettre de Diderot ŕ Sophie Voland du 28 juillet 1762.
# Biographie Didot (Nouvelle biographie générale en 46 volumes, connue sous le nom de Biographie Didot (1855-1866)).
# Calman, Alvin Rosenblatt. Ledru-Rollin and the Second French Republic. New York: Columbia University, 1922.

You might also want to do something on Richard Potter, who was the first known American magician to be successful in his own country. http://www.miraclefactory.net/mpt/view.php?type=articles&id=67 and http://www.nhliving.com/towns/andover/potterplace.shtml
Message: Posted by: Danny Schreiber (Sep 30, 2009 03:16PM)
Thanks for the suggestions. I will check these out. I do have Potter on my list, as one to mention, but I am looking for more details.

The presentation is scheduled for February 2010, so I have some time for research. I appreciate your help!


Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Oct 1, 2009 01:00AM)
Where is this performance supposed to be taking place? I don't mean the actual city where you are to be performing, but the country and city that the theatrical setting is supposed to represent.
Message: Posted by: Danny Schreiber (Oct 1, 2009 02:30AM)
The period setting was not specifically given to me. I don't think that the planners of the event have given much thought to the supposed locale/setting, they just want a chance to dress up, be entertained, and live for a short while like someone in the Regency period.

The group I will be performing for is a Regency/Jane Austen enthusiasts club. Their regular events include balls, tea parties, hat making parties, etc. My presentation will be an "Evening of Parlour Entertainment". . . playing whist (card game), listening to singers, and a conjuring exhibit, plus tea and desserts. So, this must be an upper class group. Likely a country setting since most "ideal time" would have been spent in the country at a manor or estate, although I suppose a city setting would not be unheard of. And mostly likely England/Europe, since America did not embrace the Regency movement they same way as Europe.

The parlor in which I will be performing is in a large historic home from around this period, so it is an indoor setting, not a fair or street performance.
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Oct 1, 2009 12:11PM)
Thomas Frost's "Lives of the Conjurers" from 1876 includes several chapters about that era. It is available free at http://www.thelearnedpig.com.pa.

Houdini's "Unmasking of Robert-Houdin," although flawed about its principal subject, includes posters, programs and discussions of earlier magicians. It is available free in full text from Google books.

Edwin Dawes' "Great Illusionists" talks about some aspects of that era.

There is an expensive scholarly book "Magic on the Early English Stage," which I have not read. I believe it deals with the 16th and 17th centuries, so that wouldn't be directly helpful.

"Performing Dark Arts," another scholarly book, would help you set the scene historically and intellectually as European society changes from people who believe in magic to people who perceive it as entertainment. Jane Austen types might like that perspective before you settle down and do tricks.

For your purposes a book of parlour entertainments from the mid-19th century might not be far off the mark in the kind of amusements from just 30 years before. The Learned Pig has Col. Stodare's "Conjuring Made Easy" from 1862.

For that matter, the great magic texts from the mid-century would give tricks that, obviously, predated its publication. Sometimes the authors mention that a particular trick is rarely performed "these days." Try Sachs, Hoffman, Robert-Houdin. The latter two texts are free at the Learned Pig.

If all else fails, just lie.

Posted: Oct 1, 2009 1:15pm
Also, Elizabeth Gaskell's novel "Cranford," which takes place in the 1840s, has a conjurer in it.

Posted: Oct 1, 2009 1:57pm
I think you could also draw from the type of patter you see in the English-language book about Hofzinser. It's talky patter, genteel, filled with references to the nature of "ladies."

Austen's books have a lot to do with the relations of the sexes and with men and women looking for life partners. That suggests some themes for tricks. The Austen fans will go nuts, as much as they are capable of going nuts, if you work in some famous lines from her books.

Also, what sort of articles did people in those days have on them? A lot of old tricks pertained to ladies' handkerchiefs, coins and pocket watches. Austen's family was connected with the Navy. Maybe you could work in some rope tricks along that theme.

This is probably going way into the weeds of detail, but an interesting question is whether you are performing as a family member and thus a social peer of the audience or as an itinerant conjurer, who would be of a lower social class -- basically a performing servant. That would shape your performance.
Message: Posted by: Danny Schreiber (Oct 1, 2009 02:39PM)

Great suggestion about including Austen quotes! I have to raid my wife's Austen collection for quotes. I know all the ladies typically wear gloves at these events, as well as hats. I haven't noticed handkerchiefs, but I am sure they would appreciate the detail. For coins, I will probably have to stick with modern coins, since I don't have replica era coins, nor gimmicks for replica era coins.

I have been diving into "Lives of the Conjurers," "Unmasking of Robert-Houdin," and "Great Illusionists." I have not tried the other texts yet, but will certainly take a look.

I would probably define this as a command performance for an upperclass or potential regal/royal family, or least I am sure the group would appreciate me performing with this in mind.

Thanks for the great direction!

Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Oct 1, 2009 03:21PM)
Although it might be nice to do tricks that actually come from that era -- I commend you for your research -- you might end up giving a period flavor, through your patter and props, to tricks from a later time.

There are some good card tricks that use hats but I've never done them because who wears a hat nowadays? Well, maybe baseball caps. There's a trick in Royal Road that involves cards in an envelope placed in a hat, and Vernon's Inner Secrets has one with a selected card climbing out of the hat.

There might be an opportunity to have two Austen "ladies" hold their hats as receptacles while you do a trick with silks in which they change places or tie and untie in the hats.

You could plant on willing guests a couple of white silks suitable for Slydini's silk trick, for example.

Candle tricks?

Get some old-looking books and do a book test?

Mesmer lived in the 18th century. "Frankenstein" was written early in the 19th century. There was an interest in ghosts and the occult in Austen's time. Austen wrote a parody of a gothic book. You could work in mental effects with a period flavor. Use characters' names from "Northanger Abbey."

If my ideas are getting way too complicated, the simplest show to prepare would be a few strong classic card and coin effects with patter that incorporates language from the time. Obviously, cups and balls existed at that time as well.

Posted: Oct 1, 2009 5:30pm
Royal Road says Ladies Looking Glass dates to Comte from the early 1800s. And it has the Conus Ace Trick. Both under platform effects.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Oct 1, 2009 05:04PM)
When you mentioned Jane Austen, that fairly well set the scene as England. Start with a good book on costuming, then work from there. The tricks are of far less consequence than the costume. You can get the tricks from Hocus Pocus, Junior, which is available from lybrary.com

Tricks changed less from 1624 to the Regency period than the costumes did.
Message: Posted by: Danny Schreiber (Oct 6, 2009 02:33PM)
I agree about the costume, still working on details. I am not as concerned about the tricks, since most of my regulars will work just fine with this period. I am concerned about history of the performers of the period. I plan to make this a historical lecture/performance, so I want my facts straight.

Eric, I was looking for the Hofzinser book, but not sure to which one you were referring? Let me know, so I can check into it further.
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Oct 6, 2009 05:42PM)
I was thinking of Ottokar Fischer's book on Hofziner's card conjuring. I see that http://www.lybrary.com sells it in a pdf for $6.

I can't vouch for the relevance for you. I was just throwing out a multitude of ideas. Hofzinser was mid-19th century and, of course, he was Viennese. But I thought the nature of the patter might convey the courtly and formal attitudes people used to have. How would a performer in an early 19th century English salon setting address women? I have no idea.

Posted: Oct 6, 2009 7:42pm
Did you see this?

Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Oct 6, 2009 11:04PM)
Working from a translation of a 19th century Austrian conjuring book will not give you a true picture of the conversational aspects of 18th and 19th century English. In the case of the Hofzinser material, much of the patter was in poetry, and choices have to be made of rhyme over meaning in some cases.

Have you considered actually [i]reading[/i] some Jane Austen? It would give you a fairly accurate picture of how English was spoken at the time.

As far as the tricks go, anything in [i]Hocus Pocus, Junior[/i] would be fine. That material was still done well into the 20th century. There was an edition of its stepbrother, "H. Dean" published in Edinburgh in 1797.

The cut and restored ribbon is a beautiful piece of magic -- far more beautiful than most versions of the cut and restored rope -- and it is completely in period.
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Oct 7, 2009 04:18AM)
Fair points, although I'd say plenty of the patter in Hofzinser isn't in rhyme. I think ultimately Mr. Schreiber will have to imagine for himself how a performer would address such an audience at that time. I doubt if he'll find a primary source.

What I'm trying to get at with the Hofzinser reference is the sort of repartee and pleasantries, the tone and presentations, that salon performers might have used. In other words, read Hofzinser not to imitate but to stimulate.

I think Austen's novels won't capture a conjurer's language and manner, which is specialized, although the novels would be a guide to vocabulary and diction, as well as the formality of social interactions.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Oct 7, 2009 11:02AM)

Do you actually speak German? What do you know about Viennese German?

Do you have a degree in the subject? Can you attest to a comparison between the English spoken during the Regency period in England and the English in the translations you have read?

Have you read the Hofzinser material in German?
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Oct 7, 2009 12:03PM)
Mr. Schreiber is in the same position as a novelist who writes historical fiction. He's going to do what research he can. But at the end of the day, he will have to use his imagination. One of the elements he must imagine is how a conjurer would present himself. There's no point putting on a great period costume and talking like a guy at the Magic Castle.

He's set himself a difficult task because most conjurers at the time probably performed on the streets or in taverns and a few performed in theaters. And it would be hard enough to find detailed information about those performers. I doubt if there's a body of primary sources or research on a salon performer at that time and place.

Now, I know it's an obvious point, but he can't act and speak like Malone or Tamariz or Ortiz or Ammar and still remain in character.

My point is that even a wayward source such as an English translation of a German book about a later period can be fruitful in stimulating the imagination.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Oct 7, 2009 12:39PM)
You have avoided answering any of the questions I asked you. In fact, your response is not only irrelevant, it is obvious.

I spent about 30 years performing as Merlin the Magician at Renaissance Festivals. I also created a character that was contemporaneous with the English Civil War period, which is roughly the time that William Vincent was performing as Hocus Pocus. I not only could write, but have written a set of notes about how to do this. The material would also apply to what Mr. Schreiber is doing.

To gain access to speech patterns of the period, you need to go to literature of the period, because that is all that we have left. There are no recordings or videos. We have literature and paintings. We get costuming from paintings and speech from literature.

Going to a modern translation of Viennese German is not going to give the kind of results that would be applicable.
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Oct 7, 2009 12:54PM)
I'm tired of your insults. I've made my point too many times already. I agree with you about going to the literature of the time and place. I sugggested he draw language from Austen's novels.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Oct 7, 2009 05:38PM)
What insults? I have not insulted you. I asked you a set of simple questions that concerned your qualifications to judge the language in the Hofzinser translations. If you knew anything about my background, you would know that I have a much greater handle on what is and is not accurate in this situation than you apparently do.

If anyone has insulted anyone else, you have insulted ME.

Regarding the German translations, my qualifications are as follows:

BA Germanics 1964, Rice University.

My translations include the following:

[i]Paramiracles[/i] by Ted Lesley
[i]Magical Adventures and Fairy Tales (AKA Once Upon a Time)[/i] by Punx
[i]Fourth Dimensional Mysteries[/i] by Punx
[i]Farewell Performance[/i] by Punx
[i]Sheherazade[/i] by Borodin
[i]The Cezanne Code[/i] by Borodin
[i]Final Curtain[/i] by Borodin
[i]Mindreading and Telepathy[/i] by Erik Jan Hanussen-Steinschneider
and dozens of instruction sheets and scripts for ZauberZentrale München.

What are YOUR qualifications?
Message: Posted by: Bill Wilson (Oct 7, 2009 06:13PM)
Sounds like Mr. Fry is in over his head.
Message: Posted by: Danny Schreiber (Jan 19, 2010 10:44AM)
Once again, I appreciate all of your assistance. It was very helpful!

The script is done and I am working on staging right now. The costume is making some of the staging a bit challenging (pockets in weird places and coat with no pockets, etc. But, the person making the costume for me is making adjustments to fit. The language is so proper and different than what I am used to that I must stick very closely to the script. I have to avoid any modern slang . . . not as easy to do as you would think.

Here is the link to the event:


The organization didn't promote the conjuring/magic very much, but then again they know what gets their members to attend. The member will just be surprised that I am the only entertainment!

Thanks again for your help!
Message: Posted by: magicfish (Jan 19, 2010 11:02AM)
Call Ariel Frailich.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jan 19, 2010 01:22PM)
You really don't need to do that. If you are considering calling Ariel Frailich, before you do, e-mail Magic Christian in Vienna and ask him about translating Viennese German into English.

If you don't understand why I say this, PM me.