Confidences of a Prestidigitator

Memoirs of Robert-Houdin, Ambassador, Author, and Conjuror, Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (London: Chapman and Hall, 1859)

Library Call Number: GV1545.R7 A4 1859

Title page of Robert-Houdin's MemoirsAlso referred to as Confidences of a Prestidigitator, this book is Robert-Houdin’s account of his own life. Perhaps best known today as the origin of Houdini’s stage name, Robert-Houdin is considered to have developed the modern style of conjuring. While magicians had previously attracted crowds with the performances in marketplaces, Robert-Houdin brought the art to parlours and theatres. His “Soirées Fantastiques” were held at a small theatre near the Palais Royal and enjoyed a long run. Especially popular was his Second Sight, a two person mind-reading act which involved the magician holding objects brought by audience while his blindfolded son described them. Robert-Houdin also used his training as a watchmaker to build apparatus and automata which featured in his acts.

Not only did Robert-Houdin revolutionize the art of conjuring, he also changed the costume of the magician to formal eveningwear, now considered to be the classic attire of modern magicians wearing tail-coats. Robert-Houdin’s memoirs are the source of what we know about him today, though they were written for entertainment purposes and thus present a problem of reliability, especially regarding his training as an illusionist. He justifies the embellishment of his life story by pointing out the mundane deceptions practised by merchants, politicians, and society generally.

This book was acquired by ARC as a part of the Art Latcham Magic Collection to support studies in History, Literature, Psychology, and Industrial Design.