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Devant Tales and Thoughts | Magic Commonplace Book Ep. 2

Devant Tales and Thoughts | Magic Commonplace Book Ep. 2

"Conjuring is a delightful form of exercise for the brain,
but if taken to excess it leads to insomnia."
(David Devant, "Tricks For Everyone". p. 89 , 1910)

CONTENTS: A free trick, tales from an 18th century magician, women doing magic, advice for magicians and thoughts regarding magic and more. 


When I bought this book at the Irish Society of Magicians, I didn't think much of it. "Here was another beat down book featuring a once famous magician." I must have thought. "I'll buy it cause it looks pretty."

Little did I know I would find this book thoroughly enjoyable. From reading about how to do tricks with rulers and coats, to learning how to escape out of a sack (an item which "you are bound to find at any garden party"), this book provided me with something completely unexpected, an element which "Only For Magicians" also contained - stories from the past. 

In this book, Devant recalls some moments from his experiences as a performing (and evolving) magician. These small snippets from the past are little shinning gems that gave me a bit of light into what a performing magician could live through back in the 18th century.

If you are not familiar with David Devant, he was the magician who was selected to represent "the world of wizardry" at King George V's command performance at the Palace Theatre in London on July 1 1912. You can read a little bit more about him here on Magicpedia.

Here is one such tale that Devant recalls, while explaining how to perform the classic "Vanishing Glass on Table" that we all must have done at least once in our lives.


p. 69 "I knew an amateur once who finished the trick in a different way. He was performing in his own house, and so he had no compuction about sprinkling the water in the tumbler underneath the table. Directly he had done that he put the glass - a small one - in his sleeve, and got up from his place to show that he glass had really vanished. Then he went to his son and took the glass from his pocket. The son was a confederate. 

It is a great mistake, in my opinion, to take an unnecessary amount of trouble over tricks. It is never advisable to do this; but it does not do to be too careless - as I once was.

I had been performing at a lunatic asylum, and I had been told beforehand that the patiences were very fond of flowers. Therefore, instead of finishing up a trick, as I usually did when I presented it to children, by producing sweets, I magically produced some seeds in a large bag and told the lunatic who was assisting me that I hoped he would find them useful in the garden. I noticed that i did not get quite the applause I had expected the next time I came on the stage, and an attendant explained matters. "Don't you think you'd better stop here, sir, now you are here? You've given 'em split peas to grow." I had asked in the shop for sweat pea seeds, and had never troubled to look inside the bag."

One must only imagine how Devant must have felt. I, for one, am thinking just what the lunatics must have thought when they found the split peas.

I'll continue by sharing with you other tales I have found inside this book, as well as pieces of wisdom that I believe you will enjoy reading about. 


p. 88 "Be careful where you practice card tricks. A friend of mine, a curate, once nearly got into serious trouble thorough practising card tricks in a railway carriage. A railway detective insisted that he was a three card trick man in a very neat disguise, and would have arrested him but for the timely arrival of a parishioner who told the detective he had made a mistake. I have only once conjured in a railway train, and I was not practising. It happened many years ago. I conjured in the train because I wanted money badly, and I got it; but I think I would rather be penniless that do it again. In one way it was the most difficult performance I have ever given. I did various tricks. In one of them I used some little cork balls, and the balls rolled off my table , owing to the movement of the train, and kind and sympathetic passangers helped me to look for them under the seat."

I, for one, would love to see some magicians perform magic in trains. Have always fiddled with this idea whenever I've found myself traveling by train, metro or bus. "I have the honor, dear passengers, of presenting you THE GREAT BIZZINY, The One and Only Rural Transport Magician!"

That would make an interesting Prime Video Tv Show, wouldn't it.


p. 102 "When I was a young and enthusiastic amateur I once made arrangements for a beautiful performance in a garden. I laid my plans very carefully, but I forgot to reckon with the fact that there is such a thing as wind; I also forgot that in a garden one's guests consider themselves free to stroll about, and that the back view of a conjurer's table is the most fascinating part of it to some people. One often hears the phrase: The unexpected happened."

The amateur who is going to perform out of doors should remember that it will be practically impossible for him to go behind a screen after each trick, and therefore he will have to arrange things in such a way that at the end of each trick the articles used can be put on one side quickly. It will be advisable not to have anything that a curious member of the audience, strolling near the table, may pick up and examine. If there are things that must he hidden and the usual screen is not available, the simplest thing to do is to cover them with a rug.

The conjurer should select a natural platform if there is one, otherwise he should go into one corner of the lawn, so that no one may stand on a level with him. Place a small table with a perfectly flat surface in the corner; lay a cloth cover on the top of it, and the stage is ready. "


 p. 111 " a conjurer usually owes a big debt of gratitude to women. Women are always so much more obliging than mere men or boys when a conjurer wants a little assistance in his performance. I have always found, too, that women never resent a harmless joke at their expense. You may laugh with them at some of their absurd fashions and fads, if you go about it judiciously.

Some conjurers delight to have boys to assist in a performance, but I should like to add a word of caution to amateur performers. It is a very difficult matter to deceive young children with conjuring tricks, and if you are not quite sure of your powers I should advise you not to ask a boy to come and help you with a trick."


p.35 "I set out to write this chapter having in my mind the requirements of girls who want to be amateur conjurers. Conjuring is a capital hobby for ladies, and I have never been able to understand why it should not be as popular with them as it is with boys of all ages. I say "boys" designedly, because one of the advantages of conjuring is that it keeps you boyish; at least, I am told that it keeps me boyish, and therefore I see no reason why it should not keep a young lady girlish. A conjuror knows that in all his audiences there will be a good percentage of young people, and he has to endeavour to amuse and entertain them. The fact that he is going to do this helps him to preserve his youth.

There is another good reason why young ladies should take to conjuring as a hobby; it is a most graceful accomplishment. I should not like anyone to infer from this that I regard myself as being in the least degree graceful; but, then, it is not the business of any man to be graceful.

However, I can promise any young lady who takes to conjuring that if she is at all inclined to be graceful the practice of a few tricks will make her quite as graceful as a swan. If she has pretty wrists and hands she will be able to show them off to the best possible advantage.

There is still one more good reason why young ladies should make a hobby of conjuring: they will find audiences very appreciative. Amateur pianists, vocalists, and reciters are too numerous; the average drawing- room audience, being nice and polite, listens to all of them, but reserves its genuine appreciation for the youth who puzzles them with a few conjuring tricks. It is not difficult to learn enough about conjuring to do this, and it is not at all necessary to stay indoors to take all the lessons. You can learn part of them when you are on the tops of 'buses, or in trains, or are out walking."


p.27 The next time a friend asks you if you have a match strike one and hand him the unlighted end. Just before he takes it, secretely break the match in half, and hold the two pieces in such a way that there appears to be one whole match. Your friend - and it is just as well to make sure that he is a friend - will take the unlighted piece and put it quickly to his smoke, you you coolly light your cigarette with the other piece.

The best way to break the match quickly and noiselessly is to hold it with the first and second fingers underneath it and thumb on the top. Raise the first finger and press down with the thumb, and the match will be broken halfway through. Roll the match over and press down again, and the job will be complete.


p.56 "It will be seen that this is nothing more than a puzzle, but that does not matter. Puzzles pass as tricks when you are sitting round the dinner table, and the enthusiastic amateur will soon learn a number of them, for some of the tricks I have described in other articles can be performed at the dinner table. I advice all amateurs to keep a list of the tricks they know. Otherwise, the will probably find, when they are suddenly asked to "show us a trick" that they cannot remember some of their best tricks. 


p.59 "Amateur have often asked me what they ought to do when people see through their tricks, and my only answer is: It depends on circumstance. If the amateur is giving quite a regular performance on a  platform and he overhears someone whispering the secret of the trick he is showing to another member of the audience, then the conjurer should take no notice of the whisperer. If the amateur conjurer makes a mistake - and the best conjurers in the world make mistakes sometimes - he should go on as though nothing unusual had happened. In all probability the mistake was not seen by many people in the audience. On no account must the conjurer get flustered neither should he attempt to make any apology for the mistake. As a matter of fact, a mistake during the performance is the best test of a conjurer's ability. The conjurer does not really know a trick thoroughly until everything that can possibly go wrong with it has gone wrong, and unfortunately this knowledge can be acquired only by experience in front of audiences."


p.9 "Many people have the erroneous idea that if they know how a trick is done they are quite capable of presenting it to an audience. I have always found that a very little experience will show such persons that the mere knowledge of the secret of a trick is not much value to a beginner unless it is accompanied by some simple instructions showing him the best way of using his knowledge."

"No conjurer can attach too much importance to rehearsals. Generally speaking, a conjurer's rehearsal may be divided into three parts. It is first necessary to acquire the dexterity demanded in the performance of a trick.

Secondly, the "patter" - that is to say, the words spoken during the performance - must be learnt by heart, and rehearsed with as much care as a recited gives to a piece, or a vocalist to a song.

Lastly, when the conjurer has trained his hands to do all that is required of them in a trick, and can say his "patter" in such a way that no point is missed, he should try to say his "patter" while he is performing the trick. The beginning will find that it is performing the trick. The beginner will find that it is not always an easy matter to do one thing while you are talking about something else quite different."

p.15 "Take care that you know this trick thoroughly before you try it on a friend's coat; otherwise the coat will be merely crumpled up, and your friend's temper ruffled up, and your performance muffed."


The next paragraph is funny (just for me, most likely), as it shows that magicians were using playing cards of various shapes and sizes. This is something that I pointed out in my article on "The Top Change" as well.

p.86 "The amateur should accustom himself to handling cards of all kinds, so that he can shuffle and deal any cards very quickly and neatly. The time saved in this way makes a trick shorter, but that is no fault. The man who always uses cards of one special kind and size is usually clumsy at shuffling when he takes up cards of a different make. Highly glazed thin cards are usually preffered to any others, because they are easiest to handle."


p.10 "[...] the conjurer should appear to be performing on the spur of the moment, and making up his genial comments on the trick as it develops. No one must suspect that he knows the whole thing by heart, and that he has discovered what effect each word and each movement will produce on his audience."

p.13 "It is always a good and useful plan to make one trick run into the next one as fas as possible. In the course of the next trick the audience have an opportunity of handling the pencil with which the conjurer has just performed, and by the time the whole performance is over they will have forgotten that they did not touch the pencil before the first trick.

Thus, when the audience are talking about the performance afterwards, the trick just performed will seem more mysterious than it really was, and the conjurer will get more praise than he really deserves. I have never yet found the conjurer who objects to this."

p.115 "it would be bad conjuring to say that the second trick has the same effect as the first, although done in a different way, because it is seldom wise to tell your audience what you are going to do until you have secretely done it, and there is nothing more for them to find out."

p.122 "Long experience with audiences of all kinds has taught me that tricks in which the conjurer makes small presents to those who have assisted him are always very well received."


p.34 "While you were moving the two boxes round and round the second time, you had an opportunity for slipping the little slab into one of your pockets. Thus the trick was really done before the audience were aware of what was doing to be done, and that is generally the best kind of trick you can have."

p.57 "All tricks done round the table should be of the impromptu kind, done apparently on the spur of the moment. The amateur who goes out of the room to make elaborate preparations prejudices people against him before he starts."

p.84 "I have often heard conjurers say that "the simplest tricks are the best,"  and whenever I hear that remark made I agree with the speaker."

p.118 "Some of the best conjuring tricks are quite easy, but the audience who see them done really well, to the accompaniment of amusing patter, do not know that they are easy. The amateur frequently makes the mistake of looking at all tricks from the point of view of a conjurer, whereas he should study what the averagef audience likes - not what he likes."

p.124 "Anything conspicuously miraculous in appearance, and that looks too good to be true, always raises doubts in the minds of the onlookers as to the genuineness of the trick."


p.136 "In conclusion let me give two words of advice to amateur conjurers in general. Practice a trick as you would rehearse a part in a play, and never perform a trick until you know every detail-every movement of the hands and every word of your "patter" so well that you do not have to hesitate for a second during the performance to think "what comes next." If a mistake occurs do not lose your head but get out of your difficulty as well as you can. The best test of a conjurer's skill is his ability to get out of an awkward predicament into which a mistake has placed him. In any case do not be discouraged if a trick goes wrong during a performance. Find out what caused the hitch, guard against that particular mistake in the future, and comfort yourself with the reflection that the best. conjurers in the world make mistakes sometimes."

Do you like this series? Tell me in the comment section below! I love comments. Makes me feel like our reader-writer relationship is less one sided.

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Gareth - December 10, 2022

Very interesting read, love it

Dan Pearman - December 10, 2022

Thanks for this – really interesting :) I love reading these sorts of tales and tips from the past. I’ve often considered the possibility of performing something on a train (not least when there are noisy and fractious children in the carriage…), but hesitated on the grounds that people often seem to react badly to strangers talking to them (or worse, their children). But maybe it’s worth a go, if I can find the right moment.

Steven Zuckerman - December 10, 2022

Love the lunatic asylum comments. Don’t think that lunatics would be accepted as PC nowadays! Very interesting comments throughout.


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