An Early Book Test

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Bill Mullins » 02/18/10 02:57 AM

I have no idea how far back book tests go, or who invented them. But this description must be of an early one (and I've never heard of doing one with a hymnal before, either):

"Race Gleanings," The Freeman [Indianapolis, IN]. June 8 1901, p 2 col 2.

"Prof. J. H. Moore, the Negro wizard, is noted for wonderful feats of legerdemain. His slate trick consists in answering questions with the slate and pencil inverted, writing hymns and giving number of page in hymn book when the hymn is found, the book being in the hand of the invited guest. From any one's hat he takes all kinds of dry goods."
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Postby Edwin Corrie » 02/18/10 09:19 AM

In "From Witchcraft to Card Tricks" (page 7) Stephen Minch says there is "evidence to show that book tests were being done as early as the fourth century C.E.". He mentions reports by St. Augustine and also earlier exposs by Lucian and Saint Hippolytus of methods for reading sealed messages and fraudulent mind reading. Through the wonders of Google I managed to find some of the passages he must have been referring to:

Against the Academics (page 55 ff.)
St. Augustine
"And I cannot recall without stupefaction the fact that to a friend of ours, and a disciple of yours who wished to make fun of him in demanding insolently of him that he should tell him of what he was thinking in his mind, Albicerius replied that he was thinking of a line of Virgil. Amazed, the other could not deny it, but went on to ask what line it was. Albicerius, who scarcely ever had noticed even in passing the school of a grammarian, gave out the lines glibly without difficulty or hesitation."

Alexander the Oracle-Monger
Lucian
"He contrived various methods of undoing the seals, read the questions, answered them as seemed good, and then folded, sealed, and returned them, to the great astonishment of the recipients."

Refutation of All Heresies Book IV
Saint Hippolytus
Rather a lot to copy and paste, but see in particular Chapters XXVIII and XXXIV.

This takes us back to the second century AD (CE), and the kinds of methods described probably go back quite a bit further.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 02/18/10 09:44 AM

Is there some effort underway to properly annotate the literature in mentalism - to cite sources and specify claims of novelty?
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Postby Doug Thornton » 02/18/10 10:52 AM

Dick Christian is working on a book on book tests.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 02/18/10 10:58 AM

A proper treatise on book learning by trickery would be a welcome addition to the short shelf of many a conjurer.
Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Richard Hatch » 02/18/10 11:07 AM

Ted Lesley's set of the 8 books he used to recreate Hofzinser's book test "The Word" will be part of the Hofzinser display at the upcoming Magic Exhibit at Houston's Museum of Natural Science.
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Postby David Alexander » 02/19/10 12:55 AM

Edwin Corrie wrote:In "From Witchcraft to Card Tricks" (page 7) Stephen Minch says there is "evidence to show that book tests were being done as early as the fourth century C.E.". He mentions reports by St. Augustine and also earlier exposs by Lucian and Saint Hippolytus of methods for reading sealed messages and fraudulent mind reading. Through the wonders of Google I managed to find some of the passages he must have been referring to:

Against the Academics (page 55 ff.)
St. Augustine
"And I cannot recall without stupefaction the fact that to a friend of ours, and a disciple of yours who wished to make fun of him in demanding insolently of him that he should tell him of what he was thinking in his mind, Albicerius replied that he was thinking of a line of Virgil. Amazed, the other could not deny it, but went on to ask what line it was. Albicerius, who scarcely ever had noticed even in passing the school of a grammarian, gave out the lines glibly without difficulty or hesitation."

Alexander the Oracle-Monger
Lucian
"He contrived various methods of undoing the seals, read the questions, answered them as seemed good, and then folded, sealed, and returned them, to the great astonishment of the recipients."

Refutation of All Heresies Book IV
Saint Hippolytus
Rather a lot to copy and paste, but see in particular Chapters XXVIII and XXXIV.

This takes us back to the second century AD (CE), and the kinds of methods described probably go back quite a bit further.


I think it was Bill Kalush who gave a talk at the LA History Conference a few years ago on pre-Gutenberg mentalism principles. Several of the sources he cited went back to ancient Greece but sounded like Bob Nelson had published them. While I don't remember specifics I do remember realizing that most of the principles of cold reading and many other techniques applicable to what we call mentalism had been well-understood millennia ago.
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