Do you believe in magic? The author of this book certainly did not.
In his books John Henry Anderson, otherwise known as the 'Wizard of the North' uses his knowledge of magic tricks to debunk the popular beliefs in spiritualism and magic.
Spiritualism, the belief that the living could contact the dead, became popular in England in the mid 19th Century. Many people performed events known as 'a séance' where they would attempt to contact the spirit world through things like furniture. The piece of furniture would appear to miraculously rise and move and people believed this was because the spirits were speaking to them.
Anderson knew that this all a hoax because he was a popular magician for over 20 years. In 1854 he decided to focus his work on exposing spiritualist frauds and teaching people to recognise tricks and hoaxes. This book is part of that effort and it explains how magicians and spiritualists perform many of their tricks.
This piece is a great little addition to a discussion of Victorian life, it paints a picture of how people thought during the 18th and 19th centuries and shows the era as one of constantly changing beliefs.
The British Library has an article on the Victorian Supernatural, the text may be a little dense for younger students however the information can easily be translated into a simpler form.
- Spiritualism – the belief that the living could contact the dead – became popular in England in the mid 19th century. One way to communicate (‘spirit rapping’) was through ‘table turning’: a group of people sit round a table, their hands placed palms down on the top, and the piece of furniture in question appears miraculously to rise and move. The activity – which would now be called a séance – was even celebrated in a popular song. Prominent Victorians who subscribed to spiritualist beliefs included the pioneer evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) and the author Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930). Firm sceptics included the scientist and experimenter Michael Faraday (1791–1867), and the most prominent showman magician of the day, John Henry Anderson, the ‘Wizard of the North’ (1814–1874). Anderson’s popular shows ran for over 20 years, and he became known for the trick of apparently catching in his mouth a bullet fired at him. In 1854, he switched to concentrate on exposing spiritualist frauds and charlatans, using his daughters to reproduce spiritualist hoaxes. In his books, Anderson not only describes a variety of simple magic tricks to be learnt at home, and exposes the tricks used by cardsharps and gamblers, but also thoroughly denounces spiritualism as ‘humbug’. With his magician’s knowledge and showman’s savvy, he describes in detail how the effects of spirit rapping and table turning are achieved – a tradition of rationalism and scepticism that thrives today with figures such as James Randi.
- Do you believe in magic? The author of this book certainly did not.