(Close Window)
Topic: Charles Dickens was a Magician
Message: Posted by: Iris Caraway (Nov 16, 2011 02:25PM)
Apparently Mr Dickens was an amateur magician. I think it was mentioned, in passing, in Milbourne Christopher's "Illustrated History of Magic." Is there any website or book which might shed more light on this? Or does anyone have any personal knowledge regarding this?
Message: Posted by: David Charvet (Nov 16, 2011 03:34PM)
Dick Newton, in the San Francisco area, presents an entire show as Charles Dickens performing magic. He has also lectured on the topic at several collectors gatherings in the U.S. and Great Britain.
Message: Posted by: Michael Daniels (Nov 16, 2011 05:14PM)
I think it also featured in an episode of Dr Who a few years back.

Message: Posted by: Iris Caraway (Nov 16, 2011 08:53PM)
On 2011-11-16 18:14, Michael Daniels wrote:
I think it also featured in an episode of Dr Who a few years back.

Funny that you ahould bring this up, I just saw that episode after this post went up! It seems like that would've been a good opportunity for some magic, but there was really no mention.
Message: Posted by: Perseus Arkomanis (Feb 6, 2012 08:19PM)
Tarbell also mentions that in his course
Message: Posted by: Danny Schreiber (Feb 7, 2012 09:57AM)
"the Great Illusionists" by Edwin Dawes has a number of specific descriptions of Dickens' act and his interest. Also "Modern Enchantments" by Simon During has a few bits about Dickens; although his information is best used as reference to other documents. If you are looking for other biographical info on DIckens, the February edition of Smithsonian magazine has a big piece on Charles Dickens. By the way...today is Dickens' 200th birthday!
Message: Posted by: KapBoy77 (Feb 8, 2012 04:59PM)
David Ben states on page 7 of Dai Vernon: A Biography the following:

Charles Dickens, entranced by the performances of Robert-Houdin at St. James Theatre, London, soon developed enough proficiency in the craft to enable him to perform his magic under various pseudonyms including "The Unparalleled Necromancer Rhia Rhama Rhoos, educated cabalistically in the Orange Groves of Salamanca and the Ocean Caves of Alum Bay."
Message: Posted by: Danny Schreiber (Feb 9, 2012 01:09PM)
When did Robert-Houdin perform at the St.James Theatre? I know Robert-Houdin performed at the St. James in 1848, but was there any time earlier?

If Robert-Houdin's performance in 1848 was the only time he performed at the St. James Theatre, then I question Ben's accuracy about the influence of Robert-Houdin on Charles Dickens

In 1842, Dickens, in a letter to Professor Felton, wrote that "Forster and I have purchased the entire stock-in-trade of a conjuror, the practice and display whereof is entrusted to me," showing that he had been performing magic long before the 1848 performance of Robert-Houdin. Dickens continued in the same letter, "And O my dear eyes, Felton, if you could see me conjuring the company's watches into tea caddies and causing pieces of money to fly, and burning pocket-handkerchiefs without hurting em and practising [sic] in my own room without anybody to admire, you would never forget it as long as you live. In those tricks which require a confederate, I am assisted by reason of his imperturbable humour by Stanfield, who always does his part exactly the wrong way to the unspeakable delight all beholders."

According to Dawes' The Great Illusionists, in 1838 Dickens performed, as an actor, on the same bill as an East Indian Juggler known as Ramo Samee at the Hull Theatre Royal. The memory of this performer must have made an important impression since in 1854 he wrote an article about a person who was "practising [sic] Ramo Samee", referring to the individual's interest in magic. If Dickens was so inspired by Robert-Houdin, why would he not use Robert-Houdin as the image for someone who practices magic. I also find it interesting that Dickens choose an eastern sounding stage name Rhia Rhama Roos, which is a play on another famous Indian Juggler, Khia Khan Khruse and closer sounding to "Ramo Samee" than "Robert-Houdin".

I would like to know the reference that Ben uses for his supposition about Dickens inspiration.
Message: Posted by: mrmagician (Mar 1, 2012 02:05AM)
Jimmy Findlay put out a very limited monograph on Charles Dickens, "Charles Dickens and his Magic."
Message: Posted by: lehmannbindery (Mar 14, 2012 08:53AM)
It's been a long time since I've read it, but I think John Forster mentions Dickens' interest in magic in his biography of Dickens. Forster was a long time friend of Dickens and was often involved in his social activities.

Dickens was also active in amateur theatricals, which helped him when he was short of money and had to do public readings.

Message: Posted by: panlives (May 9, 2012 05:54PM)
On 2011-11-16 15:25, Iris Caraway wrote:
Apparently Mr Dickens was an amateur magician. I think it was mentioned, in passing, in Milbourne Christopher's "Illustrated History of Magic." Is there any website or book which might shed more light on this? Or does anyone have any personal knowledge regarding this?

Here is a real treat – just published in 2012:

“Charles Dickens, Conjurer, Mesmerist and Showman,” by Trevor Dawson.


“We are delighted to announce another special offer to Magicol subscribers, this time courtesy of Trevor Dawson, as he presents, Charles Dickens, Conjurer, Mesmerist and Showman.

Most magicians know vaguely that Dickens was a conjurer, but here is a chance to learn so much more! This book intertwines Dickens’ complex life with his non-literary interest, including magic.

Dickens was friendly with many then-modern day conjurers including Robert-Houdin. He was also a successful and effective hypnotist. The book describes numerous conjuring performances and reveals many other interesting and hitherto unknown facts (such as Dickens being a ventriloquist). We invite you to jump into the narrative, discover more about Dickens and uncover a side seldom explored. Mr. Dawson will also be presenting this topic at the 43rd Magic Collectors Weekend on May 12.

The clothbound book (with dust jacket) has 250 pages and has 130 illustrations and is offered to Magicol readers at the discounted price of $40. To take advantage of this offer, send Paypal payment to: tdawson@tdawson.co.uk.

Or, contact Mr. Dawson to arrange other methods of payment, as checks and money orders are also accepted.

We thank Mr. Dawson for making this generous offer available to our readers! Don’t miss out!”
Message: Posted by: Aleeds (Jul 26, 2012 06:47PM)
I just came accross another review of the book, that was not that flattering...to say the least. It can be found at Keabale's Curiosities at http://iankeable.blogspot.com/2012/05/review-of-charles-dickens-book.html. Part of the the last paragraph states: "As it is, Dawson has not only perpetuated the same slip-ups; but compounded it by adding a whole stream of other articles, not previously mentioned, that will now be incorrectly attributed to Dickens" He has a good annotated bibliography to back up his claims".
Message: Posted by: Jim Sparx (Jul 31, 2012 03:34PM)
The first catalog of magic in English, W.H.M. Crambrook Company, is mentioned as the place Dickens bought his supplies.

Message: Posted by: Ian Keable (Aug 10, 2012 02:35PM)
I've come in rather at the tail end of this discussion; but from my researches there is actually no evidence that Dickens ever saw Robert-Houdin perform (although it's possible he might have done, of course). What we do know for certain is that Dickens saw Ludwig Dobler at St James Theatre, probably on 18th July, 1842. It is my opinion that Dobler was the magician who inspired Dickens to take up magic, which he did some time between then and his letter, quoted above, to his friend Cornelius Felton.

Also, Dickens didn't do amateur theatrics or public readings because he was short of money; nearly always the proceeds of the former went to charities, or helping the survivors of deceased friends of his; and he only started the public readings when he was financially comfortably off. Making money from them was clearly a bonus; but the truth is he got a great kick out of them and felt he was giving something back to the public who had brought his books.

I should say that if you want to know about Dickens and his magic, then Dawson's book is the best place to start; just make sure you read it alongside my appendix (which is on my blog) so you can sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Message: Posted by: gomerel (Sep 20, 2012 04:38PM)
Mr, Keable, I am not finding your Dickens appendix in your blog. Could you direct me to it?
Message: Posted by: gomerel (Sep 20, 2012 11:27PM)
I found it.
Message: Posted by: Michael Jay (Jan 6, 2015 01:16PM)
[quote]On Aug 10, 2012, Ian Keable wrote:
I've come in rather at the tail end of this discussion; but from my researches there is actually no evidence that Dickens ever saw Robert-Houdin perform (although it's possible he might have done, of course).[/quote]

This thread is almost two and a half years old, but I thought I'd update it for the sake of completion...

Ian Keable was able to prove conclusively, through extensive research, that Charles Dickens did see Robert-Houdin perform in May of 1853.

Keable has recently published a book on Dickens and his fascination with magic. It can be purchased via Ian's website. (For the record, I have no financial ties to Ian Keable - I've neither met him nor corresponded with him.)

Message: Posted by: cheesewrestler (Jan 6, 2015 07:43PM)
Interesting cover story by Ian Keable on magic influences in Dickens' "Christmas Carol" in the December Linking Ring.
Message: Posted by: jimgerrish (Jan 13, 2015 11:48AM)
Coming up from Spellbinder in his "Silent Lecture" in The Wizards' Journal #28- "Christmas Séance" based on the Dickens' "Christmas Carol" story. It can be presented dark and spooky, or light and breezy - from the appearance of an image of Jacob Marley on a hanging door tag instead of a knocker, to a visit from each of the Christmas spirits in the form of a ghostly message about past, present and future Christmases. For those who like Charles Dickens and Magic/ Mentalism/ Spiritualism.
Message: Posted by: r1chyoung (Aug 14, 2015 10:49AM)
You can hear Ian Keable discussing Charles Dickens on his episode of The Magicians' Podcast here:

Message: Posted by: Paul Budd (Nov 4, 2015 02:08PM)
Isn't there a 'Dickens Theater' somewhere....?? Delaware maybe?? Small venue, they feature magicians quite often.
Message: Posted by: MrBob102 (Dec 21, 2018 09:53AM)
Rich Bloch's Dickens Parlour Theatre, 35715 Atlantic Ave, Millville, Delaware 19967
Message: Posted by: Tudormagic (Aug 24, 2019 06:06PM)
Yes, I've met Charles Dickens' grandson, Gerald Dickens, who said his grandfather was "very keen" on magic.