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"A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician." -- Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.

I know that everyone on this forum has read this quote somewhere, and possibly even quoted it to some other magician. But what is the context of the quote, and what did Robert-Houdin actually mean by it?

I think it is necessary to put the Robert-Houdin quote into its full context, because many of us are prone to quote it without understanding why it was said.

The quote is on page 43 of the Routledge edition of Secrets of Conjuring and Magic in a chapter titled "Escamotage, Prestidigitation."

He explains the meanings of the two words, then he states: "A conjuror is not a juggler; he is an actor playing the part of a magician; an artist whose fingers have more need to move with deftness than with speed. I may even add that where sleight-of-hand is involved, the quiter the movement of the performer, the more readily will the spectators be deceived."

Ironically, Hoffmann added this footnote at the end of the chapter -- "The present chapter being a disquisition of the precise signification of a couple of French terms, will have but little interest for the ordinary English reader. It would, however, have been an unjustifiable mutilation of the text to have omitted it."

Why is this ironic? Well, there are several reasons. One is that it is probably the only quote from this book that almost every English-speaking magician is aware of in any form at all. Most of us have no idea where it comes from or its context, just that Robert-Houdin said it. In fact, I must admit that I had never read it in its full context until I purchased a copy of the book from Andy Greget at the TAOM Convention last year.

And we have added a lot of meaning to the original text that may or may not have been intended by Robert-Houdin in the first place.

But were we wrong to do this?


Sometimes a tiny fragment of a book will assume a life greater than the book itself. And a whole new approach to an art form will appear because something was gained from an out of context quote.

Thanks to magicalaurie for starting the thread that inspired me to put this up.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."
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