Charles Dickens’ Magic Book

Inside Magic Image of Charles "Chuck" Dickens

One of the things we love at Inside Magic is the news feature Magic From Unexpected Places.  The column appears weekly in The Mystic Hollow News and brings treasures from the secular, non-magic world to its primarily magic-oriented readership.  For instance, most readers are not aware that Charles Lindbergh stayed awake during his record-breaking trek across the North Atlantic by mentally re-arranging an imaginary deck of cards in the Si Stebbins’ stack.  We don’t know if that’s true, but it was in the column last week and caught our attention.

Today’s edition was a celebration of Charles Dickens because this is (or was) his birthday or death day or graduation day or something of significance celebrated for the last century.  We will look up the exact day we’re celebrating and supplement this post if it seems important or makes us look better.

The point, though, is Magic from Unexpected Places has portions of two tricks that were to be included in a magic book Charles Dickens was drafting at the time of his death – which may or may have been 100 years ago today.

The first is apparently some sort of card trick:

Magic of a kind but unlike the kind thought by the idle minds of youth or recalled fondly by the old.  Not a magic of love or nature but of things! – created not by God – at least not directly, although all concede it must start with Him and proceed through substances of nature to be hewn by man for noble purpose.  A tree to be felled, be sawn into boards, or slivered into to pulp for paper upon which the markings of gamblers and the tarot would imprint  to make one side memorable (by the fashion of numbers and symbols of hearts and other fanciful images selected to stir one’s memory and emotion) and the other quite forgettable.

We have read this passage several times and think it is just describing a deck of cards: different on one side, same on the other. 

The second passage begins what we understand to be a 35-page (single-spaced) description of Charles Dickens’ version of The Cups and Balls:

Appointed as if by chance but clearly anything by random, each of the three orbs had in their respective chalice a home and hiding place but from what?  The balls were not vulnerable nor impervious to injury – they were just perfect, round and solid with nothing more and nothing less.  Their partners in performance sat in perfect line awaiting movement from within or, if some real  magic were to occur, without their gilded sides.

We are guessing that despite his knowledge about the nitty-gritty world of London’s poor and homeless, Charles Dickens would have failed miserably at street magic proper.  In the time it would have taken to ask a participant to take a card, the seasons would have changed or the volunteer would have passed on from old age. 

There was a great exchange between Charles Dickens and one of his readers on the topic of magic books and the tendency to describe all volunteers with disrespectful terms; like “stooge,” “fool,” “victim,” “dope,” or “ne'er-do-well.”  The topic is relevant to magicians today:

When upon being invited to the platform not as a gallows or stump for final passing but to join – ho! Join indeed! – in the show proper portrayed from the perspective of the audience but now on stage yet not quite a performer but nonetheless performing as if he – and it is almost certainly a man because a woman being either too wise or weary to permit such an invitation to be extended towards her from any stranger much less the stranger who has already professed the ability to lie and trick with such guile and skill that the assembled patrons are to give their best attempt to catch him in (or catch him out – as may be the case, as it certainly would be) – had their collective wits within his own sweating skull and through his confused eyes blinded by the lime-fed lights before him could see any clearer what was about to happen or, to the point, happen to him in retribution for his bountiful spirit and delightful joining in an event for the benefit of all at his sole expense.  The “dunce” or “spot” becomes the full lever and fulcrum of the cruel effect visited upon him and exposing (accurately or no) his ignorance or lack of grace or lack of schooling or (in the case of a poor old codger who was apparently a professor of some local university, Professor Cheer) a lack of undergarments. 

Boy, they sure don’t write ‘em like they used to.  Happy birthday or whatever it is to Charles Dickens and of course to David Copperfield, his son, we think.