« VorigeDoorgaan »
All the members of this party were in the secret, except a cere tain lady, here designed by the title of the Countess de B; who was pitched upon as a proper vi&tim to M. St. Gille's delufive powers, as she knew nothing either of M. St. Gille, or of ventriloquism; and possibly, we should think, for another reafon, which the Abbé, through politeness, suppresses. She had only been told, in general, that this party was formed in consequence of a report that an aerial spirit had lately establithed itself in the forest of St. Germain-en-Laye, and that a grand deputation from the Academy of Sciences were to pass the day there to enquire into the reality of the fact.
M. St. Gille, it is not to be doubted, was one of this select party. Previous to his joining the company in the foreft, he completely deceived even one of the commissaries of the academy who was then walking from them, and whom he accidentally met. Just as he was abreast of him, prepared and guarded as the academician was against a deception of this kind, he verily believed that he heard his affociate M. de Fouchy, who was then with the company at above a 100 yards distance, calling after him to return as expeditiously as possible. His valet too, after repeating to his master the purport of M. de Fouchy's supposed exclamation, turned about towards the company, and with the greatest simplicity imaginable, bawled out as loud as he could in answer to him, yes Sir.'
After this promising beginning the party sat down to dinner ; and the aerial spirit, who had been previously furnished with proper anecdotes respecting the company, soon began to address the Countess of B. particularly, in a voice that seemed to be in the air over their heads. Sometimes he spoke to her from the tops of the trees around them, or from the surface of the ground at a pretty large distance; and at other times seemed to speak from a considerable depth under her feet. During the dinner the Genii appeared to be absolutely inexhaustible in the gallantries he addrefled to her; though he sometimes faid civil things likewise to the Dutchess of C. This kind of conversation lasted above two hours; and in fine the Countess was firmly persuaded, as the rest of the company affected to be, that this was the voice of an aerial spirit : nor would the, as the Author affirms, have been undeceived, had not the rest of the company, by their unguarded behaviour, at length excited in her some suspicions. The little plot against her was then owned, and she acknowledged herself to be mortified only in being waked from such a delicious delusion.
Several other instances of M. St. Gille's talent are here related. He is not, however, the only ventriloquist now in being. The Author, in the course of his enquiries on this subject, was informed that the Baron de Menger, a German nobleman, polo
fessed this art in a very high degree. On a proper application lately made to him, that nobleman favoured the Author with a particular answer to all the questions proposed to him, and a description of the manner in which these acoustic deceptions are produced *. We do not comprehend the Baron's explanations ; nor, if we did, should we chuse to communicate the principles of ventriloquism to the public. For though it is certainly very proper that it should be universally known that such an art exists, it will readily occur to every one, who reflects ever so little upon the matter, that it is not for the interest of society that the attainment of this art should be taught or rendered easy to those who might make it subfervient to the purposes of knavery and deception.
We rather wonder that this reflection should not accur to the well intentioned Author of this performance. Independent of the bad purposes to which a talent of this kind might be applied, when directed so as to operate on the superstition and credulity of the multitude, it is easy to figure to ones self the various mischiefs that might be occafioned, in families and neighbourhoods, by a wanton, malicious, or unprincipled ventriloquist; who can not only imitate the voice of any of his neighbours, but can likewise make it seem to come out of any quarter he thinks proper to emit it from. We fhall therefore terminate this article by adding only a few obfervations, tending to explain the nature of this deception, in general. As we cannot afford room for the more diffuse and desultory explications of the Author, we shall endeavour briefly to illustrate this matter in our own manner.
It appears clearly from the Baron de Mengen's account of himself, and from the observations made by the Author, in
* The Baron has constructed a little puppet or doll (the lower jaw of which he moves by a particular contrivance) with which he holds a spirited kind of dialogue. In the course of it, the little vi. rago is so impertinent, that at last he thruits her into his pocket; from whence the seems, to those present, to grumble and complain of her hard treatment. Some time ago, the Baron, who was then üt the Court of Bareith, being in company with the Prince de Deux-Ponts, and other noblemen. ainufed them with this scene. An Irish officer, who was then present, was co firmly persuaded that the Baron's doll was a real living animal, previously taught by him to repeat these responses, that he watched his opportuniry at the close of the diadogue, and suddenly made an attempt to snatch it from his pocket. The little doil, as if in danger of being suffocated, during the struggle occasioned by this attempt, called out for help, and screamed inceilantly from the pocket till the officer defitted. She then became Glent; and the baron was obliged to take her out from thence, to convince him by handling her, thac llie was a mere piece of wood.
his frequent examinations of M. St. Gille, that the factitious voice produced by a ventriloquis does not (as the etymology of the word imports) proceed from the belly, but is formed in the inner parts of the mouth and throat. As to its fingular effect in deceiving even the most intelligent and accurate observers, the following considerations may perhaps throw a degree of light on the subject, sufficient to make what seems marvellous in this phenomenon in a great measure disappear : independent, however, of that truely wonderful flexibility and command of the various and complicated organs of speech by which it is produced. This art, nevertheless, according to the Author, does not depend on a particular structure or organization of these parts, peculiar only to a few individuals ; but may be acquired by almost any one possessed of a very ardent desire to attain it, joined to a very large stock of perseverance.
It is evident, we think, that the judgments we form concerning the situation and distance of bodies, by means of the senses mutually assisting and correcting each other, are entirely founded on experience. The reiterated impressions made by objects on the organs of sense conftitute, in time, a large fund of habitual knowledge which is always at hand : so that, for inftance, the place,' or distance, cr nature of a visible or audible obje&, are immediately, and all together, without any formal train of rezsoning, suggested to the mind on the first impression made on the organ. “That such a noise (says the acute and learned Dr. Reid ) is in the street; such another, in the room above me; that this is a knock at my door ; that, a person walking up ftairs, is probabiy learnt by experience. It is probable, he adds, that previous to all experience, we should as little know whether a sound came from the right or left, from above or below, from a great or a small distance, as we fhould know whether it was the sound of a drum, or a bell, or a cart."In Thort, we pass, in these cases, from the fign to the thing fignified by it immediately, or at least without any intermediate steps that are perceptible to ourselves.
On these principles it evidently follows, that if a man though in the same room with another, can by any peculiar modification of the organs of speech, produce a sound, which, in faintness, tone, body, and in Thort, every other sensible quality, pero fe&tly resembles a found delivered from the roof of an opposite house; the ear will naturally, without examination, refer it to that situation and distance: the found which the person heats being only a fign, which he has from his infancy been conftantly accustomed, by experience, to associate with the idea of a person speaking from a house top. It is evident too, that • Inquiry into the Human Mind. First edit. page 109.
when there is no particular ground of suspicion, any small dife parity between the two sounds will not be perceptible.
A deception of this kind is practised with success on the organ and other musical instruments; and we may very aptly refer on this occasion to many optical deceptions; and more especially to the curious experiment particularly described in our last Appendix ; ( Volume xlvi. page 673.) where the images of objects received on a piece of white paper, not seven inches distant from the eye, excite the idea of the real objects themselves, appearing at the distance of several hundred feet. Here the perspective, claro-obscuro, colouring, &c. being all such as the mind has, by continual experience, been accustomed to consider as the figns of visible objects, placed at confiderable and different distances; the spectator, so far as he trusts to the informations of the eye alone, is as completely deceived, as he is, who trufts to his cars alone in the company of M. St. Gille. But there is a further analogy between the two experiments.
The abovementioned optical deception is corrected or diminished by the spectator's knowing that he is looking into a box; by repetitions of the experiment; and by a new habit thereby induced of considering the rays of light as really proceeding, or reflected from the plane of the paper. For the same reafons, in the acouftic deception, that experience or habit which misleads a person who has seldom heard the ventriloquist, and is a ftranger to his powers, at length sets another person right who is acquainted with them, and has been a frequent witness of their effects. This was the case of the Author, with whom the illusion at length ceased, in consequence of repeated vifics to M. Sc. Gille: fo that, while others, ignorant of his talent, and postesled only of their old or habitual experience with regard to articulate sounds, considered his voice as coming from the top of a tree, or from a deep cellar under ground; the Abbé, weil acquainted with the powers of the ventriloquist, and having acquired a new kind of experience, at once referred it directly to the mouth of the speaker.
According to our promise at the beginning of this article, we Thall add a few particulars relating to the Author's Scaphandre. A few years ago he invented this aquatic acoutrement, or piece of machinery, by means of which a person totally ignorant of the art of swimming may plunge boldly into the deepest and molt agitated waters; and there, without any effort or skill, keep himself in an erect position: the water rising all the time no higher than the pit of his stomach. Here, according to his account, he may at his eale eat, drink, write, and charge, present, and fire a musket; turning himself round at any time almost by a meie act of the will. We pass over many of the ules of this apparatus; which is not cumbersome, either in the
Water or 'on shore, and may be put on or off in less than a minute. The Abbé has now brought it to the highest degree of perfe&tion, by having lately, after many fruitless attempts, discovered an expedient, or, in his own words, attained what he calls a fixed point, by means of which a person may walk across the deepest rivers, as if he was footing it on a solid plane. The Abbé appeals for the truth of these assertions to many thousand witneffes; and in further corroboration of them, has added a letter written by M. Artuo, Captain of Artillery at Huninguen ; who there describes the successful trial lately made of one of the Author's Scaphandres in the Rhine, by a mere novice in the art of swimming; who, with this accoutrement, walked upright and at his ease backwards and forwards in that river, as if by enchantment.' We shall only add that the Author intends immediately to compose and publish a complete description of every part of the apparatus, to which he means to add an account of the various uses to which it is applicable.
VII. Esai sur le Caractere, les Maurs et L'Esprit des Femmes dans les diffirens Siecles.-An Essay on the Character, Manners and Genius of Women in different Ages. By M, Thomas, of the French Aca
demy. Svo. Paris. 1772. TH HIS Eslay, the Author tells us, is only a part of a larger
work, not yet published, wherein he considers the use and abuse that has been made of praise in the different ages of the world. The subject of the Enlay is extremely curious and interesting, and treated in a manner equally instructive and entertaining. The pictures which M. Thomas draws of the character and manners of the fair sex, in the different periods and countries to which he confines himself, appear to us to be very just and striking; and though the subject is not treated with that extent which its importance deserves, yet the Author's obfervations New an enlarged and liberal turn of mind, are generally judicious and solid, and where they lecin less so, they are als ways ingenious, and sometimes new. His work, he says, is neither a panegyric nor a satire, but a collection of facts and observations, in order to fhew what women have been, what they are, and what they are capable of being.
He fets out with observing that, in every age and country, women have been adored and oppretted ; that man, who has never wanted opportunities of abusing his power, though he has always paid homage to their beauty, has ever availed himself of their weakness, and been at once both their tyrant and their flave. After fome general reflections to the fame purpose, he proceeds to consider the manners of the Grecian women : this part of his subject he too rapidly, and too fuperficially, pafles