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Alexander Herrmann (10 February 1844 – 17 December 1896), more famous as Herrmann the Great, was a French-born magician, who broke from tradition in his performance style, interweaving comedy with his magic.
- A so-called magician, more than a poet, must be born with a peculiar aptitude for the calling. He must first of all possess a mind of contrarieties, quick to grasp the possibilities of seemingly producing the most opposite effects from the most natural causes. He must be original and quick-witted, never to be taken unawares. He must possess, in no small degree, a knowledge of the exact sciences, and he must spend a lifetime in practice, for in the profession its emoluments come very slowly. All this is discouraging enough, but this is not all. The magician must expect the exposure of his tricks sooner or later, and see what it has required long months of study and time to perfect dissolved in an hour. The very best illusions of the best magicians of a few years ago are now the common property of traveling showmen at country fairs. I might instance the mirror illusions of Houdin; the cabinet trick of the Davenport Brothers, and the second sight of Heller — all the baffling puzzles of the days in which the respective magicians mentioned lived. All this is not a pleasant prospective picture for the aspirant for the honors of the magician.
- As quoted in Cosmopolitan (December 1892).
The Art of Magic (1891)
- The magician depends for the success of his art upon the credulity of the people. Whatever mystifies, excites curiosity; whatever in turn baffles this curiosity, works the marvelous.
Of course human ignorance is no longer a source of profit to the magician, as it was in the days of the diviner, the oracle, and the soothsayer. Few believe nowadays that the magician claims any supernatural aid. I will scarcely be believed, therefore, when I tell my readers that in a few cities in Italy and Spain in which I have performed hundreds came to see me as a curiosity, impressed with the belief that for the power he gave me I had made a compact with the devil for the delivery of my soul. In these cities I have seen people reverently cross themselves when I was passing…
- That famous trick, related by nearly every writer on Hindu jugglery, of youths tossing balls of twine in the air and climbing up on them out of sight, I did not see, nor could I find during my visit any well-authenticated evidence that it was ever done. The tricks I saw I could have imitated with little preparation. I would not presume to introduce them upon the stage.
- No one regards the magician today as other than an ordinary man gifted with no extraordinary powers. The spectators come, not to be impressed with awe, but fully aware that his causes and effects are natural. They come rather as a guessing committee, to spy out the methods with which he mystifies. Hundreds of eyes are upon him. Men with more knowledge of the sciences than he come to trip and expose him, and to baffle their scrutiny is the study of his life. Long years of training and exercise alone will not make a magician. … There must be some natural aptitude for the art; it must be born in a man, and can never be acquired by rule. He must be alert both in body and in mind; cool and calculating to the movement of a muscle under all circumstances; a close student of men and human nature. To these qualifications he must add the rather incongruous quality of a mind turning on contradictions. With a scientific cause he must produce a seemingly opposite effect to that warranted by order and system.
I know of no life requiring such a series of opposite qualities as the magician's. And after the exercise of all these qualities I have named, resulting in the production of the most startling and novel results, the magician has not the satisfaction, like other men, of the enjoyment of his own product. He must be prepared to see it copied by others, or after a short time discovered by the public.
- I have not drawn a very rosy picture of the magician. I did not intend to do so. To the novice entering the life and promising himself ease, indolence, and wealth, I should say, "Don't!"