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may supply the signs of different directions ? For this purpose, however, it is necessary that the imagination should be under the management of the ventriloquist;a management which a little experience and address will easily enable him to acquire ; and also, that the ear should be deprived of every aid which it is accustomed to receive from the eye, in judging of the local situations of objects. That both of these things are, to a certain extent, within the reach of his art, will appear from the following slight remarks,
1. The ventriloquist, by concealing the motions of his lips, may contrive to bring the whole of his exhibition under the cognizance of the ear alone. Of the few persons of this description, whom I have happened to see, I have uniformly observed, that all of them contrived, under one pretext or another, to conceal their faces, while they were practising their imitations. One of the number remarked to me, that the art of ventriloquism would be perfect, if it were possible only to speak distinctly, without any movement of the lips at all.*
2. The ventriloquist may direct the imagination towards that particular quarter from which the sound is supposed to proceed. The possibility of this appears from many facts. I have seen a person, by counterfeiting the gesticulations of a performer on the violin, while he imitated the music with his voice, rivet the eyes of his audience on the instrument, though every sound they heard proceeded from his own mouth. I have seen another, by imitating the barking of a lap-dog, direct the eyes of a whole company below the table.
A mimic of considerable powers, (the late Savile Carey) who, among his various other exhibitions, imitated
Are not the deceptions of this kind, exemplified in some of the exhibitions of Matthews, facilitated by the slight paralytic distortion of his mouth to one side of the face? In consequence of this accident, when he wishes to conceal the motion of his lips, he has only to turn the other side of his face to the spectators. They, however, who have had the pleasure of seeing him, will readily acknowledge, that this circumstance goes but a very little way to account for his powers as a Ventriloquist. It may contribute something to give a freer scope to their exercise ; but by far the greater part of the illusion depends on his singular talents as a mimic, combined with that ascendant over the imaginations of his audience, which he owes to a superiority of cornic genius and of theatrical skill, seldom found in union with that secondary accomplishment.
which mimics in general possess. Among these pow-
The same thing is exemplified on a greater scale in those theatres (formerly not uncommon on the Continent,) where a performer on the stage exhibits the dumb-show of singing, with his lips and eyes, and gestures, while another, unseen, supplies the music with his voice. The deception in such cases, it is well known, is so complete (at least at first) as to impose on the nicest ear and quickest eye. The case I suspect to be very similar with the deceptions of the Ventriloquist; whose art' seems to me to amount chiefly to a certain degree of address or trick, in misleading the imagination with respect to direction.* The rest resolves entirely into a particular modification of mimickry—that of the signs of distance—superadded to the other powers
ers, that which ventriloquists seem in general most carefully to cultivate, is the power of imitating the modification of sounds which arises from their obstruction ; of imitating, for example, the voice of a person heard from the adjoining apartment, or from the floor below; or the rattling of a carriage as it passes along the street.
The deception, after all, has but narrow limits; and, I suspect, owes no inconsiderable part of its effect to the sudden surprise which it occasions.
It may make up completely for a small difference of direction, but is easily detected, if the difference be considerable, and if the experiment be continued for a length of time. · Ac
* Mr. Gough, who had the misfortune to be blind from his infancy, could not possibly form any judgment, from his own experience, of the length to which this last species of deception may be carried by the help of false intimations or signs skilfully addressed to the eye. It is not, therefore surprising, that he should have been led to adopt some of those conclusions which I have already taken the liberty to controvert. His paper, on the whole, reflects the highest honor, both on his philosophical sagacity, and on his talents as an accurate and skilful observer.
cordingly, it is only in very large theatres, that the division of labor, which I have just now mentioned in the art of the opera-singer, has been attempted with any considerable degree of success. In the progress of the entertainment, I have, in general, become distinctly sensible of the imposition: and have sometimes wondered that it should have misled me for a moment.
It is generally imagined that ventriloquists possess some peculiar organic faculty which is denied to other men. By the ancients they were supposed to have a power of fetching a voice from the belly or stomach. Hence they were called 'Eyyaorgíuvool. Mr. Gray, in his comments upon Plato, seems plainly to have given credit to this supposition. “Those,” says he, “ who are possessed of this faculty," (that is, of fetching a voice from the belly or stomach, “can manage their voice in so wonderful a manner that it shall seem to come from what part they please, not of themselves only, but of any other person in the company, or even from the bottom of a well, down a chimney, from below stairs, &c. &c. of which I myself have been witness." * In what manner this faculty of fetching a voice from the belly or stomach should enable the possessor to work all these apparent miracles, Mr. Gray has not attempted to explain. Among the moderns, a different theory has become prevalent,—that this peculiar faculty consists in the power of speaking in the act of inspiration. Hobbes is the earliest author, by whom I have found this idea started : “A man,” says he, “ that has practised to speak by drawing in his breath, (which kind of men in ancient time were called Ventriloqui,) and so make the weakness of his voice seem to proceed, not from the weak impulsion of the organs of speech, but from distance of place, is able to make very many men believe it is a voice from Heaven, whatsoever he pleases to tell them.” † The
Gray's Works, Edit. by Mathias, Vol. II. p. 424. | Hobbes, Of a Christian Commonwealth, Chap. xxxvii.—If the ventriloquist really possess this power, it is probably much less by weakening the voice, (as Hobbes supposes) than by divesting it of all the common marks of direction and of locality, that so unnatural a modification of speech is rendered subservient to the purposes of the impostor. In Plato's Dialogue, entitied Sophista, the following words occur : 'Erròs úroVOL. III.
same theory has been adopted in the present times by philosophers of the highest name, and has received countenance from some very accurate observers of my own acquaintance. For my own part, I must acknowledge that I entertain great doubts about the fact, as I cannot conceive what aid the ventriloquist could derive in the exercise of his art, from such an extraordinary power, if it were really in his possession. My opportunities, however, of witnessing such exhibitions have been but few, and never afforded me access to a particular examination of the performer; I would be understood, therefore, rather to propose a query for the consideration of others, than to give a decided opinion of my own.*
That the imagination alone of the spectators, when skilfully managed, may be rendered subservient, in a considerable degree, to the purposes of the ventriloquist, I am fully satisfied; and I am rather inclined to think that, when seconded by such powers of imitation as some mimics possess, it is quite sufficient to account for all the phenomena of ventriloquism of which I have ever heard.
Suppose, for example, a ventriloquist to personate a father in the attitude of listening from a window to the voice of his child, who is exposed to some sudden and imminent danger below. It is easy to conceive him possessed of such theatrical skill, as will transport in imagination the audience to the spot where the child is supposed to be placed, and so rivet their attention to what is passing there, as will render his imitation of its feeble and distant cries a much more imposing illusion than it would otherwise be : or, to take a case which is seldom omitted among feats of ventriloquism,—suppose
Pdeyyóuevoy ws & Topo» Eyqurdía. (Plato, Ed. Serrani, Vol. I. p. 252. C.) Mr. Gray remarks on this passage, that Eurycles was an 'Eygæorgíuvdos, and that those who had the same faculty were called after him Eurycliile. Serranus translates žtorov, importunum et absurdum.. Is it not more reasonable to suppose that Plato used the word žmotov in its literal, and, in this case, much more appropriate sense, to denote the distinguishing faculty of a ventriloquist, by which he contrives to appear without place or position, or, which comes to the same thing, to change his apparent place at pleasure : in the words of Seneca, “ Nusquam est, qui ubique est."Sen. Epist. 2.
* I shall ever regret that the state of my health rendered it impossible for me to attend the extraordinary, and, by all accounts, unparalleled performances lately exhibited in Scotland by M. Alexandre.
the performer to carry on an imaginary dialogue up a chimney with a chimney-sweeper in danger of suffocation. How imperfect an imitation of a person in such unusual circumstances will be sufficient, if aided by tolerable theatrical powers, to produce such a degree of resemblance as will occasion that amusing surprise and wonder, which are, more or less, the objects of all the Imitative Arts. Even in the case of painting, a perfectly complete deception is never the aim of the artist; as a great part of the pleasure arises from the perception of the difficulty surmounted, and consequently would be diminished if the painter should to appearance have achieved an impossibility. “Deception,” says Sir Joshua Reynolds, “which is so often recommended by writers on the theory of painting, instead of advancing the art, is, in reality, carrying it back to its infant state.” * Din derot plainly entertained the same idea, and has expressed it still more explicitly, and with much greater precision. “Les arts d'imitation sont toujours fondés sur une hypothèse; ce n'est pas le vrai qui nous charme, c'est le mensonge approchant de la vérité le plus pres possible." + In these few words, Diderot has conveyed completely my notion of the source of the pleasure afforded by the imitations of the ventriloquist.
From the very interesting and intelligent narrative of Captain Lyon, it appears that the art of ventriloquism is not unknown among the Esquimaux, and that it is employed by them for the same purpose to which it was so often made subservient in the ancient world. The following passage appears to me so curious, that I shall transcribe the whole of it.
" Amongst our Igloolik acquaintances, were two female and a few male wizards, of whom the principal was Toolemak. This personage was cunning and intelligent, and, whether professionally, or from his skill in the chase, but perhaps from both reasons, was considered by all the tribe as a man of importance. As I invariably
* Reynold's Works, Vol, III. p. 176. Third edition. † Diderot, Observations sur un ouvrage intitulé, “ Garrick et les Acteurs Anglois.” Mémoires Historiques, &c. par M. le Baron de Grimm, Tom. I. p. 100. Londres, chez Colburn, 1814.