Material History of American Religion Project

From Demon Possession to Magic Show:
Ventriloquism, Religion, and the Enlightenment

As the project has proceeded, we've become interested in how religion is inscribed in bodies. Diane Winston has reflected on the role of costume in Salvation Army life. Marie Griffith pointed to healing practices in Pentecostalism. And Robert Orsi is looking at how Catholic practice shaped children's experience.

In his work for the project, Leigh Eric Schmidt has been interested in how the senses--particularly hearing--have shaped religious practice and ideas. In this article, from the June 1998 issue of Church History, Schmidt looks at how Enlightenment scholars and other assorted skeptics used ventriloquism to illustrate how the ear can be deceived into believing in supernatural voices.

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In Saducismus Triumphatus: Or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (1681), Joseph Glanvill marveled at those so possessed by the devil that they became his mouthpiece: "For Ventriloquy, or speaking from the bottom of the Belly, 'tis a thing I think as strange and difficult to be conceived as any thing in Witchcraft, nor can it, I believe, be performed in any distinctness of articulate sounds, without such assistance of the Spirits, that spoke out of the Daemoniacks." By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, ventriloquism, loosened from the confines of theological debates over demonology, had become a salient category in rationalistic discussions of religion and had taken center stage as a form of enlightened entertainment. This expanded construction of ventriloquy provided a tangible way of thinking about revealed religion as rooted in illusion--that, indeed, various wonders of the devout ear such as divine calls, the voices of demonic possession, prophecy, mystical locutions, oracles, and even the sounds of shamanic spirits had their origins in vocal deceptions that empiricists could pinpoint and magicians could demonstrate. The new ventriloquism, in its sober appraisal of all sectarian enthusiasm and religious credulity made suspect the very claim that God could speak to or through the human. In performative practice, the ventriloquist's art shifted the focus of learned attention from the divine struggle over the soul to the protean malleability of personal identity, the fears and attractions of imposture, and the sheer pleasures of amusement.1

Despite varied pressures of reform in the early modern world, magical practices proved highly resilient, particularly in their old dance with natural philosophy. The Enlightenment did not so much assault magic as absorb and secularize it; with the help of the market, legerdemain was transformed into a widely distributed commodity of edifying amusement.2 The enlightened magician cultivated such newly codified arts as ventriloquism and the display of phantasmagoria, turning the old juggler's repertory into an object lesson on religious illusion and epistemological trickery (with the consequent need to hone technical knowledge and skeptical rationality). In the expanding marketplace of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century entertainment--in theaters, museums, inns, coffeehouses, and concert halls--magic was given renewed prominence as a stage art explicitly allied with philosophical experiment rather than supernatural power. The old forms of magic--alchemy, astrology, palmistry, healing, and treasure-seeking--persisted and often enough even flourished, but, from the late eighteenth century on, the magician increasingly appeared as one of the alluring celebrities of the Enlightenment, a wizard arrayed against wizardry, an exposer of "supernatural humbugs." This skeptical pose became characteristic of leading American illusionists from P. T. Barnum to Houdini to the Amazing Randi.3

Through closely examining the reformulation of ventriloquism from a demonological category to a technique of enlightened magic, this essay circles around two larger points. First, it looks at how rationalists went about creating a universal, naturalistic category for explaining (away) religious phenomena, especially the "irrational" voices of popular Christian experience. It locates the formation and diffusion of such knowledge in the intersections of philosophy and entertainment, scientific experiment and magical display, print and performance. For the learned, ventriloquism provided a grounds for suspicion and contest: knowledge of the art came to supply a ready-at-hand script for the performative exposure of the "superstitious" beliefs of others.4 Second, whereas most scholars, in keeping with the wider emphasis on the "ocularcentrism" of modernity, have drawn attention to the optics of modern science, technology, consumption, and surveillance, this essay foregrounds the "aural culture" of the Enlightenment. To the visual moorings of modernity need to be added the complementary concerns with the disciplining of the ear the science of acoustics, the voices of revelation and madness, the perceptual "illusions" of hearing, the technologies of the auditory, and the aesthetics of sound. Amid the putative visual dominance of the modern sensorium, the sudden popularity of ventriloquism as both philosophy and entertainment at the end of the eighteenth century gave expression to the continuing strength of these aural fascinations among the learned. The assumed eclipse of orality by the visuality of print has left hearing's complex history far more muffled than hearkened to, submerged under the reigning narrative of the eye's modern hegemony.5

What the enlightened strove, in particular, to contain was the explosive aurality of popular Christianity--all the internal and external voices that beckoned the faithful from George Fox and John Bunyan to John Woolman, Lorenzo Dow and Jarena Lee, all the "hearsay" of the demonic and the miraculous. As Tom Paine concluded with characteristic bluntness, "I totally disbelieve that the mighty ever did communicate anything to man, by any mode of speech, in any language, or by any kind of vision." To destroy the anathema of immediate revelation--what Ethan Allen mocked as a "heavenly dictating voice"--the enlightened resorted to various devices: some textual and historical (such as the attack on the biblical record or on the Sibylline prophecies), some medical (such as the detailed pathologizing of enthusiasm or the delineation of the illusions of the diseased ear), some acoustical (such as the wide-ranging pursuit of the mechanics and technologies of sound), some political (such as the unmasking of the oracular impostures of tyrannical priests), and some playful (such as the use of rational amusements like ventriloquism and the phantasmagoria). As part of this multilayered critique, the sportive magic of the Enlightenment was serious business, offering up the skeptical professions of the philosophes in a performative and entertaining mode.6


From late antiquity into the eighteenth century, ventriloquism was deeply embedded in Christian discourses about demon possession, necromancy, and pagan idolatry. The term itself, in its Greek and Latin derivations, meant literally one who speaks from the belly, and it long held a place among many other specialized markers for different types of divination, prophecy, and conjuring. As Reginald Scot explained in The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), "Pythonists" or "Ventriloqni" speak in a "hollowe" voice, much different from their usual one, and are "such as take upon them to give oracles" or "to tell where things lost become." In demonological discussions, such nomenclature to one who had "a familiar spirit," who spoke during trances or fits an apparently diabolical voice, or who claimed soothsaying powers.7

Much of the formative discussion of ventriloquy in the Christian tradition focused on the story of the Witch of Endor recounted in Samuel 28 in which King Saul, who formerly had sought to suppress all magical diviners, disguises himself and visits a sorceress in hope of summoning up the ghost of Samuel and discerning the future of battle against the Philistines. With the help of the necromancer, Sat hears the prophet Samuel speak from beyond the grave--an apparent success for the soothsayer that made for considerable anxious commentary in the patristic literature and long afterward.8 Whv would God allow necromancy, a practice repeatedly abominated, to be used for divine purposes? Was this whole scene not accomplished through the power of the devil? Was this apparitional voice of Samuel real and prophetic or only a diabolical illusion created by the enchantress to trick a weakened Saul? The story bundled many compelling theological issues together, but one of the most intriguing to centuries of interpreters was the question of the ventriloquized voice, who was speaking and by what means or powers.

In the early modern versions of this debate about Samuel's ghost, interlocutors swung, as in the larger controversies over witchcraft, between those who saw the power of the demonic and the supernatural on display and those who supported increasingly skeptical explanations. Reginald Scot's work, a leading harbinger of dissent from long-standing demonic readings, shifted the blame, comparing the woman's powers to that constant Protestant bugbear of Catholic "magic": "Let us confesse that Samuell was not raised ... and see whether this illusion may not be contrived by the art and cunning of the woman, without anie of these supernaturall devices: for I could cite a hundred papisticall and cousening practises, as difficult as this, as cleanlie handled." Among Scot's lengthy explanations for the whole affair, he offered this image of magical illusion: "This Pythonist being Ventriloqua; that is, Speaking as it were from the bottome of hir bellie, did cast hir selfe into a transe, and so abused Saule, answering to Saul in Samuels name, in hir counterfeit hollow voice." In direct opposition Joseph Glanvill, who, as a member of the Royal Society, was committed to establishing an empirical base for the defense of supernaturalism against emergent mechanists and materialists, argued that it was "a real Apparition" and thought that the ventriloquial explanation was nonsense: "It cannot certainly in any reason be thought, that the Woman could by a natural knack, speak such a Discourse as is related from Samuel, much less that she could from her Belly imitate his Voice, so as to deceive one that knew him as Saul did." For Glanvill--as with the Mathers, Henry More, and George Sinclair--the contention that necromancers, witches, and demoniacs were mostly frauds was "threadbare Sophistry." Diabolical as well as prophetic utterances were part of a biblical world of spirits, apparitions, and wonders that Glanvill and his various allies stood ready to defend against the incipient challenges of medical materialists and other skeptical debunkers of witchcraft.9

The scriptural debate over the Witch of Endor and the sources of Samuel's voice had its lived counterpart in the "sacred theater" of possession that haunted seventeenth-century Protestants and Catholic alike.10 In the context of such dramatic religious phenomena, ventriloquy was one of the terms used to debate whether or not Satan was speaking through the possessed: was it a "familiar spirit" who was making people roar out in low and unnatural voices, taunt ministers and godly neighbors, or mimic the cries of animals in what amounted to an infernal menagerie (dogs, cats, horses, or roosters)? Or, were those afflicted with such trances, voices, and bellowings fraudulent or diseased? As the Reverend John Whiting reported of a Hartford woman, Ann Cole, in 1662, she "was taken with strange fits, wherein she (or rather the devil, as 'tis judged, making use of her lips) held a discourse for a considerable time." One of the signs that the devil was indeed speaking "vocally" in another New England woman, Elizabeth Knapp, was that she often uttered her "reviling" expressions without "any motion at all" of her mouth and lips--"a clear demonstration," Increase Mather thought, "that the voice was not her own." Those who held on to the supernaturalist position heard in these "grum, low" voices from sometimes motionless lips highly compelling evidence for the fearful presence of demons.11

Skeptics from Reginald Scot on were inevitably contemptuous of all such trickeries of the voice. "This imposture of speaking in the Belly," Thomas Ady wrote in A Perfect Discovery of Witches (1661), "hath been often practiced in these latter days in many places, and namely in this Island of England, and they that practice it do it commonly to this end, to draw many silly people to them, to stand wondring at them, that so by the concourse of people money may be given them, so they by this imposture do make the people beleeve that they are possesed by the devil, speaking within them, and tormenting them, and so do by that pretence move the people to charity."12 In Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes, arguing for a naturalistic view of wonders and for the prevalence of religious imposture, was predictably biting about ventriloquy, seeing such vocal forms as part of the "false miracles" of enchanters by which they were "able to make very many men believe" that their own voice "is a voice from Heaven." In the hands of philosophical rationalists, ventriloquism was being fashioned into an anti-enthusiast weapon, another way of exposing Christian wonders and delimiting superstition. "Some Counterfeits can speak out of their Bellies with a little or no Motion of their Lips," the Anglican Francis Hutchinson explained in 1718 in an essay attacking the reality of witches, apparitions, and possessions. "They can change their Voices, that they shall not be like their own. They can make, that what they shall say be heard, as if it was from a different Part of the Room, or as if it came from their own Fundament." "Such persons are call'd," he said, "Engastriloques, or Ventriloquists."13

For all the sneering of writers from Scot to Hobbes to Hutchinson, these discussions long remained torn. The lexicographer Thomas Blount captured this in his entry under ventriloquist for his Glossographia (1656)--"one that has an evil spirit speaking in his belly, or one that by use and practice can speake as it were out of his belly, not moving his lips." In the late 1740s John Wesley, with his own firsthand encounters with the possessed, easily placed the term in a frame similar to Glanvill's, suggesting that those rationalistic critics were wrongheaded who saw mere guile in the extraordinary manifestations of popular Christianity. Likewise, Methodist preachers in the early republic, such as Solomon Sharp and William Swayze, still encountered demoniacs with altered voices and Satan-controlled tongues and hurried to pray over them. In one American replay of the Scot-Glanvill divide in 1810, Frederick Quitman, a Lutheran minister who was ashamed of lingering Christian "superstitions," suggested that the Witch of Endor be interpreted as "a ventriloquist, who could speak in a manner unobserved by the spectators." Another preacher, Robert Scott, quickly countered Quitman's exegesis with a public rejoinder affirming the divine reality of the apparition and the voice. The phenomenon of ventriloquism thus remained embroiled in Christian debates about the diabolical and the revelatory even as the skeptical sought to turn it into a consummate example of staged religious imposture.14

The decisive turn toward the Enlightenment construction of ventriloquism was made in 1772 by Joannes Baptista de La Chapelle. That year La Chapelle--mathematician, encyclopedist, inventor, and another member of the Royal Society--published his 572-page opus, Le Ventriloque, ou l'engastrimythe. Part of much wider currents within the Enlightenment to establish a natural history of superstitions, oracles, miracles, fetishes, priestly cheats, and pious frauds, La Chapelle's treatise took its place in a stream of works by such writers as Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, Antonius van Dale, John Trenchard, and Charles de Brosses and emerged as especially influential in the interpretation of vocal deceptions, revelatory voices, and mediumistic phenomena. Translated into Dutch (1774), Italian (1786), and Russian (1787) and widely abstracted in the new encyclopedias, La Chapelle's tome provided much of the basic analysis of ventriloquism across Europe and North America for the next century. It was the main source for the 1797 entry on the subject in the Encyclopedia Britannica (and its ensuing American incarnation); it was used by Charles Brockden Brown as the background on the topic for his major fictional creation of Carwin, the rogue ventriloquist, in Wieland (1798) and in the serialized, fragmentary sequel Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist (1803-1805); it provided all of the material for one of the first American expositions of the art, a small pamphlet published in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1799; it influenced a mix of philosophic interpreters from Dugald Stewart to David Brewster to Eusebe Salverte; and its stories even became staples of popular how-to guides by the mid-nineteenth century. La Chapelle, more than anyone else, reinvented ventriloquism as a general category for the rationalistic explanation of supernatural voices. He gave it renewed currency as an idea; others would then turn his philosophic observations into a system of rational recreation, a widely recognized form of stage entertainment.15

La Chapelle began in the thicket of the age-old Christian debate about the Witch of Endor and the apparitional voice of Samuel, and then he cut through the whole tangle. Taking up the side that the soothsayer was a studied impostor, who, through the art of ventriloquy, had the ability to feign voices and to create the aural illusion of the supernatural, La Chapelle expanded this into a blanket explanation for superstition that moved from the artifice of the ancient oracles to credulity and fanaticism among his contemporaries. He moved the debate out of the biblical narratives, the scriptural commentaries, and the theological territory of demonology into the domain of experimentation, acoustics, and anatomy (it was the physiology of the mouth and throat, not the belly, argued La Chapelle, that deserved attention for finding the "causes" of this vocal phenomenon). Ventriloquism, he concluded, was an art, a practiced technique of modulation, misdirection, and muscular control, which required neither supernatural assistance nor any special endowments of nature. Locating two contemporaries who had developed ventriloquial skills for their own amusement--one a Viennese baron who dabbled in puppetry and mimicry and another a nearby grocer named Saint-Gille who always enjoyed a good practical joke--La Chapelle built his explanatory framework on scientific report and empirical observation, particularly of the grocer. Unlike previous writers, he anchored his attack on imposture in experimental exhibitions; instead of going to view the possessed, he closely observed a magical performer. That was shift of perspective.16

La Chapelle insisted that Saint-Gille was an honest man and hence a source, but the grocer certainly had a roguish streak, confounding people with his amateur illusions time and again. One story, aptly "Les Religieux dupés," was particularly important for La Chapelle's purpose of establishing his point that ventriloquism was a generative force of religious delusion, that it was an important technique for creating "an appearance of revelation." Taking refuge in a monastery during a storm, Saint-Gille learns that the brothers are in mourning over the recent death of one of their members; visiting the tomb in the church, he projects a ghostly voice of the dead friar--one that laments the indifferent prayers of his fellows for his suffering soul in Purgatory. Soon the ventriloquist has the whole community praying for forgiveness, falling on the floor in fear and astonishment, and trying desperately to make amends to their lost brother. Overawed by the divine evidences he finds in the ghostly voice, the prior even tells Saint-Gille that such apparitions effectively put to flight all the skeptical reasonings of the philosophers. But then Saint-Gille, La Chapelle reports in all seriousness, lets the duped in on the trickery--telling them that it had all been done by the art of ventriloquy, that he himself is the all-too-human source of this oracle. In the consummate act of the enlightened magician, Saint-Gille takes the devout back to the church and turns it into the scene of their awakening from illusion, showing them his techniques of mystification. La Chapelle, thus reaffirming the ease with which the senses are deceived and the need for critical reason, drew out the doubled moral of the story, "The art of the ventriloquists is then admirable for establishing and destroying superstition."17

That farcical story became La Chapelle's most renowned scene, reproduced from one commentary to another, with its anti-Catholic dimensions taking on an added edge when repeated in Britain and North America. La Chapelle's formal experiments with Saint-Gille, monitored by two other natural philosophers from the Academie Royale des Sciences, conjured up similar conclusions. In one test, Saint-Gille's talents were employed to convince a credulous woman that she heard the voice of a spirit, and then the researchers laboriously persuaded her of the real source of her illusion (the gendered aspects of this exhibition-the men of reason, the woman of superstitious faith-were all too transparent). The point to La Chapelle was that he had found one of the originating causes of religious phantasms and that now, so identified, ventriloquism could be turned with delicious irony from being a buttress of superstition to a tool of the Enlightenment. The study of nature had yielded up the secrets of the sorcerer's power as well as the ancient springs of political and religious despotism, and now those demystified illusions could be turned into a Baconian exercise of enlightened entertainment, a didactic amusement that would enact rationality's triumph over superstition and truth's routing of fraud. Other writers on the subject would improve the details of La Chapelle's anatomy or augment his acoustic precision, but most would repeat his basic conviction: ventriloquy was a primeval font of religious illusion that was capable of being turned from the purposes of occult mystery to modern eclaircissement.18

With La Chapelle's expansive reformulation of ventriloquism, the art now illumined many of the issues that were the lifeblood of eighteenth-century intellectual life. One was epistemology. Predictably the Scottish Common-Sense thinkers, whose arguments for the reliability of human perception were so prized for American Protestant didacticism, became especially concerned about the art's apparent challenge to empiricism. Both Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart addressed the issue in their massive philosophies of the mind, Reid briefly, Stewart at some length, and both saw these vocal deceptions in the context of their larger efforts to discipline the senses. The impressions that the mind received through the senses, Reid acknowledged, were "limited and imperfect," but they were not inherently "fallacious," so empirical knowledge was both widely reliable and also capable of ongoing refinement. Ever the enemy of skeptics, Reid affirmed that the senses were not "given to us by some malignant demon on purpose to delude us" but rather "by the wise and beneficent Author of nature, to give us true information of things necessary to our preservation and happiness." Reid's confident pledge was that the drag of credulity and the power of deception weakened as experience deepened and learning grew. Improving, training, and augmenting the senses were crucial parts of this Baconian enterprise.19

The acoustic deceptions of ventriloquists (or gastriloquists, as Reid called them) were thought to be containable within this framework. Writing in 1785, before ventriloquism had been formalized as a stage performance or as "an engine for drawing money," Reid admitted that he (unlike La Chapelle) had not had "the fortune to be acquainted with any of these artists," but hazarded that the vocal illusions possible were "only such an imperfect imitation as may deceive those who are inattentive, or under a panic." The powers of impersonation paled before the minute discriminations of "an attentive ear," always "able to distinguish the copy from the original"; human senses, if imperfect, emerged from these vocal tricks unscathed, perhaps even sharpened in their discernment. As the editors of the 1797 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica assured, La Chapelle's study provided observers with a new "ground of suspicion." After habitual study of Saint-Gille, La Chapelle gradually saw through his tricks, no longer hearing the voices as if they came from rooftops or cellars; "our author, well acquainted with the powers of the ventriloquist, and having acquired a new kind of experience, at once referred [the voice] directly to the mouth of the speaker." Likewise, Dugald Stewart, who was able to frequent ventriloquists' exhibitions and pined to see more (especially the celebrated Alexandre Vattemare), thought deceptions of this variety finally had "but narrow limits," at least for the philosophically disciplined viewer: "In the progress of entertainment, I have, in general, become distinctly sensible of the imposition; and have sometimes wondered that it should have misled me for a moment." What Reid, Stewart, and their varied allies imagined was a fine-tuned discipline of hearing, a carefully trained ear that would minimize the power of both "acoustic illusions" and "wonderful relations," that would, in effect, keep people from hearing things in credulous ways. The perceptual disciplines that the ventriloquists demanded would help further the aural culture of a highly reasonable Christianity.20

The immediate religious struggles on which such experiment observations fed were the battles over what the enlightened like to cal popular enthusiasm and credulity. Dugald Stewart, for example, placed his consideration of ventriloquism in his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (3 vols., 1792-1827) at the end of a long section on "sympathetic imitation" in which he considered the human propensity for copying others and the weighty influence that the imagination has on the the body. Here he took up "the contagious nature of convulsions, of hysteric disorders, of panics, and of all different kinds of enthusiasm" and the joined importance of imitation and imagination in explaining "these various phenomena." Animal magnetism was his leading example of the power of the imagination in rendering people susceptible to "theatrical representations," but that was part of a longer train of popular enthusiasms and religious frenzies (such as the Quakers, the Camisards, and the Cambuslang revival) for which sympathy, imitation, and imagination provided guiding categories of explanation. The Scottish Enlightenment was hardly any more moderate than the French when it came to retuning the resonances of popular Christian piety.21

Ventriloquism was relevant to this discussion for Stewart because of the crucial role that "the imagination of the spectator or of the hearer" played in the human susceptibility to both deception and enthusiasm. Whereas some wanted to emphasize the formal acoustic dimensions of vocal illusions, for Stewart the point was the way in which the ventriloquist "manages the imaginations of his audience" through misdirection, counterfeiting, and theater. Stewart accented the complicity of the deceived, the ways in which their own imaginations were excited, making up for any gaps in the artifice, finally yielding "without resistance, to the agreeable delusions practised on [them] by the artist." The ventriloquist was thus like the mesmerist or the revivalist in bringing the imaginations of his spectators under his own skillful management. In his Letters on Natural Magic (1832), David Brewster, a tongue-tied Presbyterian minister turned fluent natural philosopher, picked up on Stewart's point, attesting that the susceptibility of the human imagination to fall for such vocal illusions was immense, the superstitious person being "the willing dupe of his own judgment." "The influence over the human mind which the ventriloquist derives from the skillful practice of his art," Brewster concluded, "is greater that which is exercised by any other species of conjuror." The ventriloquist had "the supernatural always at his command," being able to "summon up innumerable spirits" and to make them "unequivocally present to the imagination of his auditors." In between images of the ventriloquist's enormous power to manipulate people's enthusiastic imaginations and the confident assertions that ventriloquism finally only advanced the rationalistic disciplines of modernity existed a core Enlightenment concern: the triumphant progress of the new learning faced the obduracy of popular religion.22

No one explored such tensile propositions about reason and religious voices with greater depth than Charles Brockden Brown in Wieland; or, The Transformation and in Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist. Brown, like Tom Paine, had journeyed from a Quaker upbringing into deistic skepticism, and Carwin's ventriloquist act is one emblem of Brown's religious disavowals. The representation of Carwin partakes of La Chapelle's doubled perspective: this knowledge abetted the Enlightenment's ambition for a new mode of hearing deaf to the sounds of supernatural promptings and at the same time underscored the disheartening power of enthusiasm and the ease of imposture. The Wieland family, steeped via their father in a long history of radical Protestant sectarianism, proves an easy target for Carwin's deceptions after his arrival at their tranquil home. Clara and her brother Theodore, for all their cultivation of republican virtue and education, retain active religious imaginations and are all too ready to attribute supernatural agency to Carwin's mysterious voices. The pious Theodore, after all, had long sought "the blissful privilege of direct communication" with God, "of listening to the audible enunciation" of the divine will. Clara, somewhat more cautious, is torn by the appearance of the marvelous: "My opinions were the sport of eternal change. Sometimes I conceived the apparition to be more than human. I had no grounds upon which to build a disbelief." Carwin, too late, will provide the naturalistic grounds for presuming "auricular deception" through his learned exposition of ventriloquy or, what Brown calls interchangeably, biloquism (aptly capturing the divided, "double-tongued" quality of this vocal trickery). Earlier Carwin, tipping his hand, had tried to make the Wielands aware of "the power of mimicry," but they had remained impervious to his "mode of explaining these appearances," incapable of absorbing such knowedge.23

Similar credulity within Carwin's own family started him in the cultivation of this art. "A thousand superstitious tales were current in the family," Carwin avers. "Apparitions had been seen, and voices had been heard on a multitude of occasions. My father was a confident believer in supernatural tokens. The voice of his wife, who had been many years dead, had been twice heard at midnight whispering at his pillow." Seeing in such popular religious beliefs an opening to manipulate his father, Carwin feels emboldened to move from simple mimicry and the ventriloquizing of distant voices to feigning utterances of the dead and even God. Put to the test, both his own family and the Wielands fail badly at suspicion; Carwin's studied art dupes them all (with murderous consequences for the Wielands as Theodore is eventually thrown into such madness by these "divine" voices that he murders his wife and children). The whole episode, the apparently repentant Carwin tells Clara as he reveals the technical knowledge of his enlightened magic; provides a potent "lesson to mankind on the evils of credulity," on the fatality of religious illusions.24

Ventriloquism offered a playful way for rationalists and deists to scorn the continuing ferment of enthusiasm and prophecy-all the innovative voices of evangelical awakening, all the personal discoveries of divine "calling" amid these outpourings of the Spirit. "No other instrument" but deft ventriloquy was necessary to "institute a new sect," Carwin learns from a European mentor. "Can you doubt these were illusions?" Clara's uncle asks her with appropriate skepticism after hearing about the voices. "Neither angel nor devil had any part in affair." The philosophic knowledge of ventriloquism provided an assumption of suspicion, a strategy of disenchantment, a sardonic hedge against prophecy and demonism; it tendered a naturalistic vocabulary to sustain such incredulity in the face of the clamoring voices of religious inspiration and the sweeping rise of revivalistic fervor. Yet, Brown always had it both ways: Enlightenment dreams that philosophical experiments with ventriloquism would unmask popular "superstitions" blended into the new masquerades made possible with such "rational" forms of recreation. The mesmerizing impostor Carwin was less interested finally in taming the enthusiastic imagination than manipulating "the ignorant and credulous" for his own ends of wealth, power and pleasure. In Carwin, Brown created the sort of charlatan who bared the "irrationality" hidden in La Chapelle's embrace of the illusionist Saint-Gille as a philosophical ally. In this juggling of the Enlightenment and magic, reason easily slipped into humbug, and such subversions from within made the natural philosopher's hope of containing the eruptive voices of democratized Christianity all the more a pipe dream.25

The uses to which ventriloquial theory could be put ultimately extended far beyond such "local" applications within European and North American Christianity. It provided a naturalistic lens on religions across the board and came specifically to provide a way of making sense of indigenous shamans encountered through colonial contact. La Chapelle and his varied heirs had all seen ventriloquism as an ancient conspiracy of priests, as one of the chief means employed among Egyptians, Greeks, and other pagans "to effect the apparition of their gods," but Dugald Stewart made a significant extension of the construct by concluding his remarks on the subject in Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind with an account of Captain George Lyon's travels among the Eskimos. Lyon's story was then picked up by David Brewster in his Letters on Natural Magic, quickly becoming part of the ventriloquist's echo chamber.26

Stewart and Brewster read Lyon's "curious" narrative of exploration with their new explanatory tools, ready to incorporate these "savages" and their "male wizards" into their peculiar account of superstition's natural history. Lyon himself had licensed this reading, finding "all the effect of ventriloquism" in the varied imitations that he saw enacted among the Eskimos by "an ugly and stupid-looking young glutton." Speaking wryly of a diviner's possession by a spirit named Tornga and the "hollow" voice that replaced the shaman's own, Lyon reported what he heard in diction shaped by ventriloquial categories: "Suddenly the voice seemed smothered, and was so managed as to sound as if retreating beneath the deck, each moment becoming more distant, and ultimately giving the idea of being many feet below the cabin, when it ceased entirely." Brewster, Stewart, and Lyon saw no mystery in this, no threat of difference, no hint of the ecstatic or the demonic, only the natural curiosity of the ventriloquist's illusion, only what Euro-American stage magicians had by now rendered a harmless and humorous simulation. "The Eskimaux of Igloolik," it turned out, were simply, as Brewster said, "ventriloquists of no mean skill." Philosopher and explorer thus joined together to make ventriloquism a vagrant hypothesis ready to explain Eskimo "wizards" as readily as Delphic oracles or sectarian enthusiasts. Decades later one of the major ethnographers among the Chukchees and Eskimos still included in his massive field report a section on "ventriloquism and other tricks in his discussion of religious practices. "The Chukchee ventriloquists," he observed, "display great skill, and could with credit to themselves carry on a contest with the best artists of the kind of civilized countries. . . . [I]t is really wonderful how a shaman can keep up the illusion." Through the category of ventriloquy, the learned were able to take "possession" of shamanism itself, to perform their own interpretive sleight of hand of transforming the strange into the familiar, ritual into art(ifice).27

Using ventriloquism as a way of interpreting religious wonders and advancing scientific rationality continued to expand after the excursions of Stewart and Brewster. In a lengthy tract called Ventriloquism Explained (1834), with a laudatory preface by the Amherst chemist Edward Hitchcock, the avowed hope was the further "diffusion of Scientific principles," the negation of all the old marvels--ghosts, visions, voices, and prognostications--as well as the refinement of the judgment of the young, so that they would avoid being deceived by the slippery talk of mountebanks as well as the supernatural tales of "colored servants." Here, one more time, were La Chapelle's stories of Saint-Gille's duped monks and Dugald Stewart's appropriation of Captain Lyon's travels. Some years later, in 1851, La Chapelle's accounts of abusive ventriloquial pranks were given an even more explicitly racial spin in the anecdote of one performer who supposedly disrupted a black revival meeting with a series of thrown voices, much to the consternation of the congregation. "Les Religieux dupés" had become "Blitz and the Darkies," though tellingly illumination is not offered to the "cullered bredderen." Instead, the narrator invites his ostensibly white reader to share a good laugh at the irredeemably credulous; the ventriloquist, having broken up the meeting, leaves them with "their eyes rolled heavenward." Though one of the earliest ventriloquists, Richard Potter, was possibly the son of a slave mother and white master, stage ventriloquism remained a predominantly Euro-American technique, a theatric chiaroscuro in which the "white magic" of enlightened ingenuity was regularly contrasted with "dark" superstition.28

The themes of priestly illusion and shamanistic deception were still sounded even in the bargain how-to guides on ventriloquy that began to appear in greater numbers after midcentury, such as Everybody a Ventriloquist (1856), Ventriloquism Made Easy (1860), The Practical Magician, and Ventriloquist's Guide (1876), or How to Become a Ventriloquist (1891).29 Later still one American writer, George Havelock Helm, offered in 1900 a translation of a French essay on ventriloquism and prophecy by physiologist Paul Garnault that distilled in undiluted form this Enlightenment theory of religion's illusionist origins: "In all ancient religions, in all primitive religions that have survived unto this very day, ventriloquism has played and still plays a great part." Roving from "primitives" in China and Africa back again to the Witch of Endor, the American Helm echoed the French Garnault:

It is through the prodigy of the dead being able to speak, which could not have been rendered patent and convincing except with the aid of ventriloquism, that people became imbued with a belief in the conversations of the dead, in spirits, gods, in short, in everything pertaining to inspiration and revelation. . . Religious and artistic ventriloquism both represent a very ancient illusion, and are the first source of the belief in prophecy and divination, and it is from this source that all the superstitions and religions have grown out.30

La Chapelle's theorizing about religion and deception cast a long shadow among philosophers and popularizers alike ("many peoples are adepts in ventriloquism--e.g., Zulus, Maoris, and Eskimo," the current on-line Britannica still reports). Such ideas were given materiality in the actual performances of enlightened magicians; in these stage acts, such rationalistic views of simulation were made democratic practices of suspicion.


In his vision of the model college for increasing "the knowledge of Causes, and secret meitions of things" in the New Atlantis, Francis Bacon dreamed of magical performance becoming an instrument of science. Not the gnostic occultist, but the common juggler would become part of the advancement of empiricism:

We have also houses of deceits of the senses; where we represent all manner of feats of juggling, false apparitions, impostures, and illusions; and their fallacies. And surely you will easily believe that we have so many things truly natural which induce admiration, could in a world of particulars deceive the senses, if we would disguise those things and labour to make them seem more miraculous. But we do hate all impostures and lies.

In addition to these "houses of deceits," Bacon also pictured "perspective-houses" and "sound-houses," in which various visual and aural deceptions were demonstrated. "We represent small sounds as great and deep; likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp;... We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds."31

Bacon's utopian dreams found partial fulfillment in the new celebrity magicians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many of these illusionists expressly presented their dexterous tricks as philosophical recreations and mechanical experiments, illustrative of natural principles, not of occult powers or diabolic alliances. Their explanations of their own deceptions were designed to destroy any lingering beliefs about magicians holding "intelligence with supernatural beings"; as conjurers of the Enlightenment, they would help keep people from being "imposed on" by both charlatans and priests. The arts of the juggler were thus widely refashioned into "a most agreeable antidote to superstition, and to that popular belief in miracles exorcism, conjuration, sorcery, and witchcraft."32

Among the most renowned of these enlightened magicians were the operators of the phantasmagoria or magic lantern ghost shows, such as the French magus Etienne Gaspard Robertson who took a well-known technology and widely popularized it in the late 1790s. Made a spectacle across Europe, the phantasmagoria were quickly exported by various performers to North America, flourishing in the United States in the first quarter of the nineteenth century (and well beyond that through ongoing reinvention and improvement). Like Saint-Gille, Robertson chose a cloistered chapel surrounded by the tombs of monks for one of his grandest displays of simulated apparitions, creating a sublime spectacle of both Gothic horror and demystifying reason. As an 1802 playbill of one of Robertson's imitators proclaimed, "This SPECTROLOGY, which professes to expose the Practices of artful Impostors and pretended Exorcists, and to open the Eyes of those who still foster an absurd Belief in GHOSTS or DISEMBODIED SPIRITS, will, it is presumed, afford also to the Spectator an interesting and pleasing Entertainment." The naturalistic implications of such displays were not lost on deistic debunkers of revealed religion. In The Age of Reason, Paine latched onto such shows to illustrate his larger attack on prophecy and miracle: "There are performances by sleight-of-hand, and by persons acting in concert that have a miraculous appearance, which when known are thought nothing of. And besides these, there are mechanical and optical deceptions. There is now an exhibition in Paris of ghosts or spectres, which, though it is not imposed upon the spectators as a fact, has an astonishing appearance." Deistic skepticism about the divine showmanship of miracles found performative corroboration in the entrepreneurial showmanship of enlightened magicians like Robertson.33

Ventriloquism was the close ally of the phantasmagoria. Its rise as a stage art was coeval with the ghost shows, coming into its own between 1795 and 1825. Before that, such vocal talents did not constitute a distinct performative genre, but mingled with the assorted entertainments at fairs and markets, the shows of acrobats, jugglers, mimics, freaks, musicians, mountebanks, and puppeteers.34 The new performers of ventriloquism were adepts of mimicry, mastering impressions of multiple voices, natural sounds, and animal cries (in effect, recreating the devil's menagerie of familiars in secular form); they were also experts at "throwing" the voice, making it seem to come from various distances and places (under the floor, from the ceiling, up a chimney, out of a pocket or hat); they achieved such illusions through clever misdirection, precise modulation, and well-nigh motionless lips or "speaking without appearing to speak"; they cleverly played off these other voices and invisible beings, badgering, flirting, capering; and they were also puppeteers, sometimes using wooden dolls and automata to create stage doubles (such magical figures echoed the "puppets" used in witchcraft and foreshadowed the "dummies" that eventually became the sine qua non of vaudeville acts of the late nineteenth century). In all, ventriloquists were masters at animating the inanimate; they were bearers of aural astonishment--of sounds uncertain, confounding, low, tremulous, intermittent, and bestial. "The modifications of sound, which may be productive of the sublime," Edmund Burke concluded in his influential aesthetics, "are almost infinite." Some of the early ventriloquists such as John Rannie, Richard Potter, George Sutton, Jonathan Harrington, and John Wyman achieved considerable reputations in the United States, and a few adepts such as Alexandre Vattemare, William Love, and Antonio Blitz were internationally celebrated, touring in Britain, Europe, and North America.35

In the United States, ventriloquism became an established stage art m the first decade of the nineteenth century and remained a popular staple of antebellum theater and entertainment thereafter. One Boston physician, in bragging of his assiduous dedication to science in 1823, suggested the scope of this rational amusement in the early republic: "Our constant devotion to anatomical pursuits has prompted us to improve every opportunity of witnessing these exhibitions, with the sole object of understanding the rationale." In his rounds he estimated that he had gone to observe close to thirty different ventriloquists! Leading the way in this new host of performers was John Rannie, a Scottish actor and magician, who, as the first ventriloquist to tour the United States, put on innumerable American shows between 1801 and 1811. Like the many ventriloquists after him, he crisscrossed the republic, making appearances from New York to New Orleans, from Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Natchez, Mississippi.36

Much of Rannie's variegated act was the usual juggler's show of card tricks, knife swallowing, and slack-wire walking, but he also stood out as an exemplar of stage magic's entanglement with rational religion. He commonly presented himself as a magician of the Enlightenment cultivating philosophical experiments, with ventriloquism as his most prodigious talent in that line. Ventriloquism, Rannie explained in a Boston advertisement in 1804, "is one of the most singular phenomena that has been contemplated by the most enlightened sages." He described the scriptural notion of familiar spirits and then informed his potential viewers that "when the witch at Endor raised the apparition of Samuel," it was "by the power of Ventriloquism" that the "artful woman" occasioned "a voice to come from the Ghost, which Saul took to be the voice of the prophet himself." How the woman "managed" this voice "as she pleased," Rannie promised, would be "clearly demonstrated in the course of this evening's exhibition."37

Such propositions evidently did not sit well with some of Boston's Protestant faithful, long accustomed as they were to opposing both players and jugglers as dissolute influences. By early August, Rannie was lamenting in his advertising how hard it was "to remove the cobwebs of imposition from the eyes of ALL mankind" and how his shows were being scorned by certain "disciples of illiberality." Comparing himself melodramatically to Copernicus in his confrontation with reigning orthodoxies, Rannie insisted that he had come "before the public, with both the ability and intention of exposing, and, if possible, exterminating the very dregs of fanaticism," only to find that many in Boston had "the self-sufficience of an Ostrich" with their unseeing heads stuck in a bush. Like any showman worth his salt, Rannie bravely played up the controversy; he offered these poor "contracted spirits" a few more opportunities "to clear away the mists that have been cast over their understandings by the artful deceivers of antiquity," to dispel for good "the clouds of superstition." Touring the eastern seaboard in 1810, Rannie was still playing the part of the enlightened magician, even boasting at one point of creating through his vocal artistry the impression of a prophecy in Portland, Maine, in which the town would be "swallowed up by an earthquake, in the course of 3 days." The credulous, Rannie rejoiced, supposedly left town in "great numbers." (Rannie shared this delight in religious roguery with Europe's most sensational ventriloquist Alexandre Vattemare, a distinctly picaresque "voice of reason," whose promotional biography presented him as famed for his offstage tricks, especially for terrifying "superstitious rustics" with divine voices.) Rannie soon added optical phantasms to his ventriloquial illusions, promising "to expose the practices of artful IMPOSTORS, pretended MAGICIANS, and EXORCISTS, and to open the eyes of those who still foster an absurd belief in GHOSTS, WITCHES, CONJURATIONS, DEMONIACS, &c." Rannie's concert-hall exhibitions gave performative expression to the biblical hermeneutics of Scot and the natural philosophy of La Chapelle.38

One of the first American expositors of ventriloquism, having heard of Rannie's feats in and around Boston, wanted to make sure that the right point was sinking in with the credulous: "The intention of this work was not only to amuse and instruct," William Pinchbeck explained in one of his two manuals on enlightened magic in 1805, "but so to convince superstition of her many ridiculous errors,--to shew the disadvantages arising to society from a vague as well as irrational belief of man's intimacy with familiar spirits,--to oppose the idea of supernatural agency in any production of man." For Pinchbeck, who was a magical showman himself, there was clearly no "diabolical agency" in Rannie's voices (even if some of the benighted still wanted to hear them this way), only well-learned technique and daring enterprise. "What is there a man cannot acquire by observation, assisted by good rules and proper application?" Pinchbeck asked of Rannie's effective voices. Surveying the widening array of enlightened magic on display in the early republic--phantasmagoria, ventriloquism, automata, and even an "Acoustic Temple" that revealed "how the Pagan priests by making use of tubes deceived the people" with oracles--Pinchbeck rejoiced in the progress of scientific ingenuity, "the parent of manufactories." His own mission, he related after debunking the story of a churchyard apparition as just one more chimera, was to "convince the world that in order to support wisdom, and banish folly, whenever any uncommon sounds are heard, or any unnatural visions seen, it is indispensably necessary to search into the secret causes of such sounds and visions." Along with book peddlers and publishers, such entrepreneurial magicians and their expositors became agents of the "Village Enlightenment," blending illusionist performance with the business of print in the wider democratization of experimental knowledge and critical reason.39

The lingering influence of enlightened magicians like Rannie and Pinchbeck was significant. That Yankee trickster and anti-Calvinist Universalist P. T. Barnum was only the most visible heir in an extensive company. Barnum built his empire around one of the grand institutions of democratized Enlightenment and entertainment, the American Museum, in which a major part of the spectacle was--as Neil Harris has shown--the question of how things worked, the hidden operations of his attractions. (At one point, for example, Barnum made a sensation by claiming Joice Heth, the supposedly 161-year-old nurse of baby George Washington, was actually an automaton made to speak by a concealed ventriloquist.) Barnum's selling of hoax and illusion, including ventriloquism, was intimately connected to his inculcation of a healthy skepticism, his desire to goad inquiry and expose credulity through respectable entertainment. Indeed, Barnum opened his monumental chronicle of The Humbugs of the World (1866) with praise for an illusionist who first "astonished his auditors with his deceptions" and then later showed "how each trick was performed, and how every man might thus become his own magician." For Barnum, as with Rannie before him, the performative exposure of "supernatural humbugs"-whether mediums, ghosts, prophets, or oracles-helped put people on their guard, made them ever ready to detect imposture, religious and otherwise. From Robertson and Philipstal, to Rannie and Pinchbeck, to Barnum and Houdini, to Mulholland and Randi, magic was not a form of hermetic knowledge, not a spiritual quest for harmonial powers, but a playground of skeptical rationality and bold enterprise.40

As with Captain Lyon's encounters with the Eskimos, such enlightened forms of magic often ended up having a shaping influence on popular Christian exchanges. The new ventriloquy and its allied knowledges supported habits of Suspicion and provided performative techniques for "exposing" the religious claims of others. The example of a preacher for the Disciples of Christ, Jesse Jasper Moss, in his confrontation with Mormons in Ohio in the 1830s, is especially revealing. Mormon claims of prophecy and miracle left Moss in spasms of incredulity, and he sought through Enlightenment forms of natural magic to unmask Mormon supernaturalism as a pious fraud. "About this time a new supply of preachers came on from New York," Moss related, "with some of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, among them Parley Pratt and Martin Harris. Soon afterwards they began to have visitations of angels among them. I was suspicious of these angels from the first." In stating "publicly my suspicions," Moss made a telling move--that is, he performed them. "I said I had studied the black arts, or necromancy, and knew just how their angels were made, and showed how it could be done." In another crowning moment of encounter, one of Moss's colleagues, "who was something of a ventriloquist," disrupted an outdoor Mormon meeting by imitating "the screams of a panther," scattering the group in terror, some of whom then interpreted the strange sounds (with traditional piety) as an encounter with the devil. "No wonder the Mormons hated us," was Moss's laconic conclusion after all these harassments. As knowledge of "enlightened" magic became more widespread, it proved usable by skeptics and evangelicals alike.41

Mormons were not the only ones vexed by didactic magicians. Catholics in their embrace of the miraculous and the sacramental were always seen by a broad spectrum of Protestants and deists as the perpetrators and dupes of various forms of magic. The anticlerical, antipapist polemic was secured on the ingrained Reformation assumption that Catholic priests were essentially corrupt magicians, who were always performing some sleight of hand or false prodigy (the hocus-pocus of transubstantiation for starters). With the twin lights of modern science and scriptural purity as guides, a little Methodist Sunday school tract of 1848 typically recounted the fraudulent exorcisms, pretended miracles, and chemical illusions of Catholics. Specifically drawing on the knowledge of natural magic offered up by writers such as David Brewster, the tract also dished up a Protestant tale of Catholic ventriloquy--of Dominicans who threw their voices into images of Jesus and Mary to create religious impressions and gain earthly power. The unmasking of Catholic priestcraft invariably entailed the exposure of magical trickery.42

The favorite target of illusionists, however, were Spiritualists, and various stage magicians made a popular show out of their exposure of mediums. In these contests, ventriloquism intruded as a rationalistic explanation of spirit voices. By the 1850s mediums had far expanded their communicative powers beyond telegraphic rapping; spirits played musical instruments, materialized in spectral form, and spoke (either through the trance of mediums or simply on their own). The Davenport brothers, two of the most renowned and controversial mediums, were regularly charged with being impostors. Ira Davenport, thrown into "a magnetic trance," would speak "not as from himself, or in his usual tone of voice or manner, but apparently as the forced proxy of someone else." Of the "deep, sepulchral, unnatural" voices heard at the Davenport seances, a defender admitted that "some will ask, Was not this ventriloquism? We answer emphatically, No." Such protestations aside, suspicions lingered. As one sympathetic biographer admitted of the brothers' vocal gift, "The first thing that occurs to every one is that it was the result of so common an art as ventriloquism." Even the father of the Davenports was reported to be skeptical of "the spectral tongues" given vent through his sons' meetings: "He knew better. No one could convince him that a disembodied man could talk like other folks.... Had he not heard ventriloquists? Ay, that he had!" This sort of critique--that spiritualist raps and voices were accomplished "by the ordinary acoustic method of the ventriloquists"--was prevalent enough that even Madame Blavatsky dignified it with a biting response in Isis Unveiled.43

When the charge of ventriloquism greeted female mediums, the battle became sharply gendered. As with other forms of stage magic, ventriloquism through the mid-nineteenth century was an almost exclusively male profession; such wizardry, like Masonic ritual, was a distinctly masculine preserve. "There have been few female ventriloquists," one guidebook (misnamed Everybody a Ventriloquist) noted in 1856. "Effects produced by the female organs of speech have always manifested a deficiency of power." When Harvard-educated Charles Page, who fronted his name with "Professor" and followed it by "M.D., Etc.," set out to expose the Fox sisters, he called upon his joined understanding of acoustics and enlightened magic. As he watched one of the girls, he was sure that she was cleverly misdirecting people's attention to get them to think sounds were coming from where they were not: "Our knowledge of ventriloquism," he said, "fortified us against this trick," and then he provided (via Brewster) an excursus on the mechanics of such deceptions. Despite the fact that every leading illusionist of the period was male and that the manuals insisted on the "lack of power in the female voice" for gaining proficiency in the art, Page the acoustician nonetheless asserted that women were especially capable of spiritualist "witchery." A woman, Page concluded, "is the first to be imposed upon and most apt to impose upon herself." In Page's scripting of these encounters, men like himself had the authoritative knowledge of enlightened magic (and implicitly the option to perform it for decent money); women had fraudulent gimmicks and sympathetic imaginations. Within these apparent contradictions, a deeper cultural logic of gender was at work: when ventriloquism was seen as a biblical and spiritual form of deception, it was female; when it had market value and philosophical interest, it was male. In the former physiology, it was associated especially with women's bellies; in the latter, with the throat and the deep, potent voices of men.44

Exposing the "imposture" and "priestcraft" of other faiths became something of a sport in antebellum America, and the natural magic of the Enlightenment provided a common script for these encounters, whether with Mormons, Catholics, or Spiritualists. In his travels in the 1830s, Tocqueville was intrigued not only by the strength of Christianity in the United States, its capacity to sustain the associational bonds that made democracy work, but also by the frailties of that faith. Antebellum Americans were prone, Tocqueville noted, to an "almost wild spiritualism," but they were also ever eager to "laugh at modern prophets," to arraign supernatural claims at the bar of their own critical reason and individual judgment. The extension of rationalistic suspicion threatened to taint the country with "an almost insurmountable distaste for whatever is supernatural." Tocqueville feared, as Melville did later, that Americans were given to "a sort of instinctive incredulity." Though these reservations in Tocqueville's account would be easy to discount, it is important to recognize how widely Enlightenment forms of knowledge and suspicion were diffused, how popular they could be. As the sphere of Christianity widened, so too did the magic circle of the Enlightenment. In a Barnumesque culture in which every man might . . . become his own magician," in which the widening knowledge of illusion often fueled a harsh game of disenchantment, any new faith was hard won, built on a series of incredulous disavowals, sustained amid a welter of exposures and counterexposures--a small raft in a sea of suspicion.45


Ventriloquism's modern transformation points us to some other ways of thinking about the American Enlightenment and its fate. The Enlightenment was an encyclopedia, a web, the reach of which is hardly measured by the failure of organized deism, the success of evangelicalism, or the Protestant absorption of Scottish moral philosophy. The lingering force of that vast network of learning can be gauged in any number of cultural realms in the nineteenth-century United States. Two quick sketches-one of medical psychology, the other of commercial entertainment-will have to suffice here to illustrate the rippling effects of the enlightened way of reimagining the voices of popular Christian piety.

The fate of these altered voices echoed the larger process by which the travails of the soul became matters of the self-one in which the divine struggle of demonic possession passed into a bleak diagnosis of the divisibility of personal identity. As much as epistemological uncertainty, this had been Thomas Reid's underlying dread, that the unity of the self was being fractured by Humean skepticism. What Reid saw as the potentially "dangerous" abilities of the ventriloquist--the powers of impersonation and doubling--were a cultural emblem of those splittings, that someone might be "two or twenty different persons," that personal identity could be "shivered into pieces" and hence the integrity of individual moral responsibility lost. The new ventriloquism of the late eighteenth century imagined the final erasure of demons and spirits and their replacement by a profusion of naturalized voices, stark images of divided, multiple, or counterfeited selves. The Enlightenment construction of ventriloquism helped broker the much larger transition to hearing the voices of religious experience as psychological illusions 6r symptoms of inner fragmentation. This interpretive construct was one small token of the growing power of naturalism to translate the Christian drama of possession and vocal presences into the delusions of double consciousness and the proliferating diagnoses of dementia-monomania, hallucination, erotomania, and dissociation. As much as their British and French counterparts, antebellum American theorists like Amariah Brigham contributed to the pathologizing of religious excitements and various forms of devotional intensity.46

Brierre de Boismont's Hallucinations, published in 1853 and offering what he called a "rational history" or "medical history" of apparitions and religious ecstasy, serves as a good example of these trends. "Hallucinations of hearing," he found, were the "most common," and he had multiple cases and statistics to show this. "The voices emanate from the head, the breast, the epigastrium, the abdomen," Boismont noted, "and some patients have imagined themselves to become ventriloquists." At other points "horrible phantasmagoria" were said to assault his patients who saw demons and other fiends approaching them. The language of enlightened magic--Boismont made considerable use of Brewster's Letters on Natural Magic--slid into the medical case studies of the devoutly insane; the term illusion itself was moved from the domain of the magical into the psychological. Writing of case XXX, Boismont sounded less like he was observing a patient than watching a ventriloquist's show: "Invisible voices may be external or internal; they come from heaven, from neighboring houses, from the chimney, from wardrobes, from mattresses." A starker example came from another early-nineteenth-century treatise on the "illusions" of the insane. A devout Catholic woman, called by her wardens "the 'Mother of the church,' because she spoke incessantly on religious subjects," found herself confined to an asylum. "She fancied she had in her belly all the personages of the new testament," and out of her belly even came voices dramatizing the crucifixion. "Nothing could dissipate these ludicrous illusions," her physician reported, and after she died he dissected her stomach and intestines, searching for the anatomy of ventriloquism gone mad. The belly-speaking demons had been renamed, the heavenly voices completely repositioned, and what was left was an uncontainable welter of aural illusions and terribly divided selves.47

The second trajectory is that the new ventriloquism managed to submerge its oracular, demonic, and Christian precursor within the expanding culture of commodified leisure. The illusionist technologies of the Enlightenment, like the phantasmagoria, helped lay the groundwork for a whole complex of modern entertainments. Ventriloquism shared in this luxuriant growth; as a commercial amusement, it passed into vaudeville, cinema, radio (incongruously enough), and television; it even became a pop culture icon with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Within this vast culture of showmanship, it takes something of an excavation even to discern the old meanings of ventriloquism. As E. B. Tylor remarked of the naturalistic abandonment of an animistic universe in his monumental study of Primitive Culture (1871), in "old times" the ventriloquist "was really held to have a spirit rumbling or talking from inside his body"; now he was a stage entertainer; no longer a shaman, he was a showman. "How changed a philosophy it marks," concluded Tylor, "that among ourselves the word 'ventriloquist' should have sunk to its present meaning."48 The enlightened magician and his philosophical expositors made ventriloquism an easy and entertaining trick, a show of mastered simulation, available for the price of admission. In that, ventriloquism was indicative of the larger absorption of the sacred into the mediated, spectacular, and domesticated forms of modern consumption.

The demonic voices and the divine locutions of the old ventriloquism looked incredibly tame once turned into an amusement. Just how safe that medium had become is indicated by the evangelical embrace of the art as an acceptable form of evangelistic entertainment over the last several decades. Now "gospel vents" have crowded onto the stage with their older vaudeville counterparts-stalwarts in a thriving evangelical subculture of entertainers, puppeteers, and magicians. This convergence, stretching back at least to the 1950s with the formation of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians, has even resulted in dozens of little tracts such as 111 Ways to Use Ventriloquism in Church Work, The Gospel Ventriloquist, and Using Ventriloquism in Christian Education. In the last-named pamphlet from 1976, pastor Robert Blazek tells the story of how he "decided to pursue the knowledge and ability to use ventriloquism for Christ," how he turned himself and his dummy "Little Joe" into a winning tandem of evangelists. Perhaps, as is common in American religious history, the evangelicals are having the last laugh with the rise of "gospel ventriloquism," with the re-Christiainization of this Enlightenment amusement, but the philosophes might well be laughing too at their success in turning a demonic struggle into a didactic illusion.49 Like La Chapelle going to watch a magician instead of to pray over the possessed, the spirits most familiar to modern culture prowl the cinema and Disney's Magic Kingdom as much as the souls of saints and sinners.


1. Joseph Glanvill, Saducisorus Triumphatus: Or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (London: J. Collins, 1681), 2: 64. Ventriloquism's history has been told primarily by practitioners. By far the best example of that genre is Valentine Vox, I Can See Your Lips Moving: The History and Art of Ventriloquism (North Hollywood: Plato Publishing, 1993). Ventriloquists also receive some notice in Hillel Schwartz's encyclopedic pastiche of twins and simulations. See Hillel Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles (New York: Zone Books, 1996), 132-37. Otherwise the scholarship is dominated by critical theorists, who, interested in the polyphony of discrepant "voices" within texts and in the problem of authorial voice, have taken up ventriloquism as a trope. See, for example, Annabel Patterson, "'They Say' or We Say: Protest and Ventriloquism in Early Modern England," in Historical Criticism and the Challenge of Theory, ed. Janet Levarie Smarr (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 145-66; David Goldblatt, "Ventriloquism: Ecstatic Exchange and the History of Artwork," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 51(1993): 389-98; and Christopher Looby, Voicing America: Language, Literary Form, and the Origins of the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 16-74.

2. For an especially evocative treatment of rational recreations and illusionist demonstrations in early modem Europe, see Barbara Maria Stafford, Artful Science: Enlightenment Entertainment and the Eclipse of Visual Education (Cambridge Mass.. MIT Press, 1994) For other important treatments of the magical exhibitionism of the Enlightenment see Robert Darnton, Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1968), esp. 27-33; Grete de Francesco, The Power of the Charlatan, trans. Miriam Beard (New Haven Yale University Press 1939) 229-49; Richard D. Altick, The Shows of London (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978), 344, 64-76, 81; James W Cook, Jr., "From the Age of Reason to the Age of Barnum: The Great Automaton Chess Player and the Emergence of Victorian Cultural Illusionism," Winterthur Portfolio 30 (Winter 1995) 231-57.

3. P. T. Barnum, The Humbugs of The World (New York: Carleton, 1866), 294. For representative works in the rich tradition of skeptical magic see Harry Houdini, A Magician among the Spirits (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1924); John Muiholland, Beware Familar Spirits (New York: Scribner's, 1938); James Randi, Conjuring (New York. St. Martin 5, 1992). The Enlightenment side of the magical tradition, along with that of the stage, has generally been bracketed out by American historians of religion and magic. For an overview of occultist practices in early America, see Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), esp. 67-97. The controversy over the links between Renaissance Hermeticism and natural philosophy on the European side has generated a considerable literature. See, for example, Frances A. Yates, Giordarro Bruno and The Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964); Brian Vickers, ed., Occult and Scientific Mentalities in The Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Charles Webster Freer, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and The Making of Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

4. On the history of the Enlightenment construction of "religion," see Peter Harrison, "Religion" and The Religions in The English Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Peter Byrne, Natural Religion and The Nature of Religion: The Legacy of Deism (London: Routledge, 1989); J. Samuel Preus, Explaining Religion: Criticism and Theory from Bodin to Freud (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987); Frank E. Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts The Gods (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959); Michael Heyd, "Be Sober and Reasonable": The Critique of Enthusiasm in The Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries (Leiden: Brill, 1995); J. A. I. Champion, The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken: The Church of England and its Enemies, 1660-1730 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

5. On modern ocularcentrism, see especially Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); David Michael Levin, ed., Modernity and The Hegemony of Illusion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). For the most sustained theorizing of the sensorium and sound, though presented within the near universal framework of the triumph of visuality, see Walter I. Ong, The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967). On religious oralitym especially preaching, see the work of Harry S. Stout, particularly, "Religion, Communications, and the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution," William and Mary Quarterly 34(1977): 519-41.

6. Thomas Paine, "The Age of Reason," in The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: Citadel, 1945), 1: 596; Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man, ed. John Pell (New York: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1940), 231. I present the religious dimensions of this piety, along with other aspects of the Enlightenment critique, in a book-in-progress on "Hearing Voices."

7. Reginald Scot, The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584; reprint, London: Rowan and Littlefield, 1973), 101. The early modern vocabulary for soothsaying and divination was very rich; other terms used for one given to prophetic, demonic, or ventriloquial speech included ob, python or pythonist, engastrimyth, and gastriloquist. See Thomas Blount, Glossographia: Or, a Dictionary, Interpreting all such Hard Words, Whether Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Teutonick, Belgick, British or Saxon, as Are Now Used in Our Refined English Tongue (London: Newcomb, 1656) as well as the pertinent entries in the Oxford English Dictionary.

8. For background on the problems the Witch of Endor created for Christian commentaries, see Valerie I. J. Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), esp. 18-21, 54-56; Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science (New York: Columbia University Press, 1923), 1:352,448, 470-71.

9. Scot, Discoverie, 114, 121; Glanvill, Saducismus, 2: 64.

10. On possession as "sacred theater," see Clarke Garrett, Spirit Possession and Popular Religion: From the Camisards to The Shakers (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), esp. 4-6, 8~87.

11. For these well-known and oft-scrutinized cases, see David D. Hall, ed., Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History, 1638-1692 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991), 149, 202, 207-211 (see as well the voices in the case of Eunice Cole, 225-29); Increase Mather, An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (Boston: n.p., 1684), 140. For English examples, see C. L'Estrange Ewen, Witchcraft and Demonianism (London: Heath Cranton, 1933), 148-49, 336, 452. For a recent interpretation that insightfully highlights the vocality of possession, see Jane Kamensky, Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 150-79.

12. Thomas Ady, A Perfect Discovery of Witches (London: Brome, 1661), 78.

13. Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil," in The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury (London: Boho, 1839-1845), 3: 434; Francis Hutchinson, An Historical Essay Concerning Witchcraft (London: Knaplock, 1718), 8-9. See also Hobbes, "Elements of Philosophy," in Works, 1: 498; John Webster, The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft (London: J. M., 1677), 165-66.

14. Blount, Glossographia, s.v. "ventriloquist"; John Wesley, "Letter to the Author of 'The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared,"' in The Works of The Rev. John Wesley, A.M. (London: Wesleyan Conference, 1872), 9: 7; Andrew Manship, Thirteen Years' Experience in the Itinerancy (Philadelphia: Higgins and Perkinpine, 1856), 50; William Swayze, Narrative of William Swayze, Minister of The Gospel (Cincinnati: Methodist Book Room, 1839), 81-82; Frederick H. Quitman, A Treatise on Magic, Or, on the Intercourse between Spirits and Men (Albany: Balance, 1810), 4548; Robert Scott, Letters to The Rev. Frederick H. Quitman, Occasioned by His Late Treatise on Magic (Poughkeepsie: Adams, 1810), 26-29.

15. For the author's notation on La Chapelle in Wieland, see Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland; or; The Transformation and Memoirs of Carwin, The Biloquist, ed. Emory Elliot (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 181 n-182 n. For the 1799 pamphlet (not available through the Charles Evans imprints, but preserved at the New Jersey Historical Society), see Amusement-Hall; Or, A Collection of Diverting Stories and Extraordinary Facts, with an Account of the Art of Ventriloquism; and Other Entertaining Matter (Morristown, N.J.:n.p., 1799), 10-19. For the influence on Salverte, see Eusebe Salverte, The Occult Sciences: The Philosophy of Magic, Prodigies and Apparent Miracles, trans. Anthony Todd Thomson (London: Bentley, 1846), 1: 157-62, 283-84. La Chapelle hitherto has not been written into the history of the naturalistic study of religion alongside other Enlightenment speculators such as Trenchard, Hume, and Fontenelle.

16. After ventriloquism became popular on stage various others followed up La Chapelle's treatise with their own investigations of the acoustics and anatomy of the art. See, for example, John Gough, "Facts and Observations to Explain the Curious Phenomenon of Ventriloquism," Journal of Natural Philosophy Chemistry and the Arts 2 (June 1802),122-29; F. M. S. Lespagnolm, Dissertation sur l'errgastrimisme (Paris: Didot Jeune, 1811); Anthelme Richerand, Elements of Physiology, trans. G. J. M. De Lys (Philadelphia: Dobson, 1811); 506-507; "Voice," Boston Medical Intelligencer, 22 July 1823, 39; "Ventriloquism," Boston Medical Intelligencer, 31 August 1824, 67; John Mason Good, The Book of Nature (1826 reprint, Hartford: Belknap and Hamersley, 1845), 257-62; George Smith Sutton, A Treatise on Ventriloquism with Extracts from the Opinions of Several Authors Respecting that Extraordinary Gift of Human Faculty (New Haven: n.p., 1833).

17. Joarines Baptista de la Chapelle, Le Ventriloque, ou l'engastrimythe (Paris: Duchesne, 1772), 341, 471-78.

18. La Chapelle, Le Ventriloque, xxi, 323-60, 419-22, 438-39.

19. Thomas Reid, "Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man," in The Works of Thomas Reid (Charlestown, Mass.: Etheridge, 1813), 2: 83, 309, 322.

20. Reid, Works, 2: 319-20; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature (Philadelphia: Dobson, 1798), 18: 639~41; Dugald Stewart, "Philosophy of the Human Mind," in The Works of Dugald Stewart (Cambridge: Hilliard and Brown, 1829), 3:168-69.

21. Stewart, Works, 1:108, 137-51. For an excellent overview of American Protestant indebtedness to the Scottish Enlightenment, see Mark A. Noll, "The Rise and Long Life of the Protestant Enlightenment in America," in Knowledge and Belief in America: Enlightenment Traditions and Modern Religious Thought, ed. William M. Shea and Peter A. Huff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 88-124. I have also suggested the impact of the Scottish Enlightenment on popular piety in Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modem Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), esp. 170-83.

22. Stewart, Works, 3:16671; David Brewster, Letters on Natural Magic (London: John Murray, 1842), 171-72. There were at least seven American editions of Brewster's Letters between 1832 and 1845. For the point that the illusion was less about acoustics than the misdirection of the imagination Stewart was drawing especially on an anonymous review of John Gough's research in Edinburgh Review 2 (April 1803): 192-96. See also Gough, "Facts and Observations."

23. Brown, Wieland, 32, 69-70, 152, 165. Wieland is among the most widely commented upon novels of the early national era, but scholars have been imprecise in contextualizing the book's central illusionist practice of ventriloquism and the religious meanings that flow from it. For a basic contextualization of this dimension of the novel, see "Historical Essay," in Charles Brockden Brown, The Novels and Related Works of Charles Brockden Brown, ed. Sydney J. Krause, S. W. Reid, and Alexander Cowie (Kent State: Kent State University Press, 1977), 1: 325-26. Readings that I have found especially insightful for my purposes include: Jay Fliegelman, Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, 1750-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 235-48; Butler, Awash, 225-28; Steven Watts, The Romance of Real Life: Charles Brockden Brown and the Origins of American Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), esp. 54-58, 82-89, 184-85; Bernard Rosenthal, "The Voices of Wieland," in Critical Essays on Charles Brockden Brown, ed. Bernard Rosenthal (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981), 104-125. Rosenthal and Watts both do an especially fine job of locating the novel within Brown's wider deistic suspicions about revealed religion.

24. Brown, Wieland, 194, 234.

25. Brown, Wieland, 163, 243. On the religious hothouse, see especially Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989); Butler, Awash; Gordon S. Wood, "Evangelical America and Early Mormonism," New York History 61(1980): 359-86.

26. Brewster, Letters, 5, 17678; Stewart, Works, 3:171-73; Dugald Stewart, "Observations on Ventriloquism," Edinburgh Journal of Science 9 (1828): 250-52. For the original account, see George Francis Lyon, The Private Journal of Captain G. E Lyon of H.M.S. Hecla, during the Recent Voyage of Discovery under Captain Parry (London: Murray, 1825), 149-50, 359-74.

27. Waldemar Bogoras, The Chukchee, vol.7 of Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History (Leiden: Brill, 1904-1909), 435-39. See also Sutton, Treatise, 26-29; Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorations in the Years 1853, '54, '55 (Philadelphia: Childs and Peterson, 1856), 2:120-27; W. H. Davenport Adams, Curiosities of Superstition, and Sketches of Some Unrevealed Religions (London: Masters, 1882), 274-78.

28. Ventriloquism Explained: And Juggler's Tricks, or Legerdemain Exposed: With Remarks on Vulgar Superstitions (Amherst: J. S. and C. Adams, 1834), unpaginated preface, x, 1,3540, 56, 77-78, 82~3, 11415; "Blitz and the Darkies," Flag of the Union, 1 February 1851, reprinted in Everybody a Ventriloquist: A History of Ventriloquism, with Instructions and Anecdotes Combined (Philadelphia: Brown's, 1856), 24-25. On Potter's racial identity (he is said to have passed as "an East Indian," which would have been useful for selling his magic, and to have carefully concealed his own background), see John R. Eastman, History of The Town of Andover, New Hampshire, 1751-1906 (Concord, N.H.: Rumford, 1910), 1: 425-27; Charles Joseph Pecor, The Magician on the American Stage, 1752-1874 (Washington, D.C.: Emerson and West, 1977) 69-71 When one ventriloquist advertised a special show in 1802 for black Philadelphians he was forced to cancel the performance. See Pecor, Magician, 88~9.

29. See Everybody a Ventriloquist; Ventriloquism Made Easy Also An Exposure of Magic (Philadelphia: Wyman the Wizard, 1860); George W. Kirbye, Origin and History of Ventriloquism with Full and Comprehensive Instruction in the Art (Philadelphia: Brinckloe, 1861); [Thomas D. Hurst], The Practical Magician, and Ventriloquist's Guide (New York: Hurst, 1876); and Harry Kennedy, How to Become a Ventriloquist (New York Tousey, 1891)

30. Paul Garnault, History of Ventriloquism, trans. George Havelock Helm (Brooklyn: n.p., [1900?]), 8, 4l~42.

31. Francis Bacon, The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, Robert Ellis, and Douglas Heath (London: Longman, 1859), 3:156, 162, 164.

32. Breslaw's Last Legacy; Or, the Magical Companion, 5th ed. (London: Lane, 1791), viii-ix; John Beckmann, A History of Inventions and Discoveries, trans. William Johnston (London: Longman, 1817), 3: 269-70. See also William Hooper, Rational Recreations in which The Principles of Numbers and Natural Philosophy Are Clearly and Copiously Elucidated, 4 vols. (London: Davis, 1784); Philip Astley, Natural Magic: Or, Physical Amusements Revealed (London: n.p., 1785); Guiseppe Pinetti, Physical Amusements and Diverting Experiments (London: n.p., 1784); [Henri Decremps], The Conjurer Unmasked; Being a Clear and FulI Explanation of all the Surprizing Performances Exhibited as well in this Kingdom as on the Continent, trans. Thomas Denton (London: Stalkei, 1788).

33. Paine, Complete Writings, 1: 508. For the ghost shows, see X. Theodore Barber, "Phantasmagorical Wonders: The Magic Lantern Ghost Show in Nineteenth-Century America," Film History 3 (1989): 73-86 (playbill on p. 79); Xenophon Theodore Barber, "Evenings of Wonders: A History of the Magic Lantern in America," 2 vols. (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1Q93); Pecor, Magician, 8386, 104-112; Erik Barnouw, The Magician and the Cinema (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), l-34: Terry Castle, "Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie," Critical Inquiry 15 (Autumn 1988): 26-61; Altick, Shows, 117, 217-20; Robert M. Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy: Popular Entertainment in Eighteenth-Century Paris (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 5-52, 199-201. For Robertson's own account, see Etienne Gaspard Robertson, Mernoires recreatifs scientifiques et anecdotiques (Paris: n.p., 1831), 1: 272-310. Like ventriloquism, the phantasmagoria were also incorporated into the natural history of superstition. See Salverte, Occult Sciences, 1: 26592; Brewster, Letters, 56, 57-85.

34. Vox, History and Art, 41-48; Isherwood, Farce, 197-98; Altick, Shows, 36.

35. Good, Book of Nature, 262; Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Inquiry in to The Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. Adam Phillips (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 75-78. On puppets and witchcraft, see Scott Cutler Shershow, Puppets and "Popular" Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), 34-36.. Vattemare is the only one of these performers to have been studied in detail. See J. L. Dargent, Alexandre Vattemare: Artiste, promoteur des echanges internationaux de publications (Brussels: n.p., 1973).

36. "Ventriloquism," Boston Medical Intelligencer, 67. The best study of stage magic in North America for this period is Pecor's Magician on the American Stage. Pecor tracks the travels, shows, and venues of various magicians, including several of the early ventriloquists (such as Rannie and Potter) and documents the development of magic as professional theater. I am indebted to his work for substantiating the geographic range of these itinerant performers. See also H. J. Moulton, Houdini's History of Magic in Boston, 1792-1915 (Glenwood, Ill.: Meyerbooks, 1983), 144.

37. Coliumbian Centinel, 14 July 1804, 3. See also [John Rannie], The European Ventriloquist's Exhibition (Portsmouth: S. Whidden, [1808]). For Rannie's shows within the wider theatrical history of the period, see David Grimsted, Melodrama Unveiled: American Theater and Culture, 1800-1850 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 100-101; George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage (New York: Columbia University Press, 1927), 2: 143-44, 209-210, 344.

38. Columbian Centinel, 1 August 1804, 3; Aurora General Advertiser, 14 April 1810, 3; [William T. Moncrieff], Memoirs and Anecdotes of Monsieur Alexandre, the Celebrated Dramatic Ventriloquist (London: Lowndes, 1822), 7-9, 12, 27 32; New York Evening Post 7 March 1810, 3; Rannie, European Ventriloquist's Exhibition, 7.

39. William Frederick Pinchbeck, The Expositor; Or Many Mysteries Unravelled (Boston n.p., 1805), A2, 31-34, 38-40, 53-60, 81-2, 90-91; William Frederick Pinchbeck Witchcraft, Or the Art of Fortune-Telling Unveiled (Boston: n p 1805), 10, 13-15, 47-49, 70. On the democratization of the Enlightenment through print, see David Jaffee, "The Village Enlightenment in New England, 1765-1820," William and Mary Quarterly 47 (July 1990): 327-46.

40. Barnum, Humbugs, v, 294. On Barnum's "operational aesthetic" and uses of deception, see Neil Harris, Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), 33-89, 211-23. For Heth and ventriloquism, see Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Peter W. Kunhardt, P. T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman (New York: Knopf, 1995), 20-22.

41. Jesse Jasper Moss, "Autobiography," typescript, The Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville. I am indebted to Elizabeth Kronzek for bringing this memoir to my attention.

42. Magic, Pretended Miracles, and Remarkable Natural Pherromena (New York: Lane and Scott, 1848), 42-43, 179-81.

43. The Davenport Brothers, The World-Renowned Spiritual Mediums: their Biography and Adventures in Europe and America (Boston: White, 1869), 32, 95, 98-110, 114-15, 391-92; T. L. Nichols, A Biography of the Brothers Davenport (London: Saunders, Otley, 1864), 47-48; H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled (Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 1:105. For other primary materials on the battle between magicians and mediums, see James Webb, ed., The Mediums and the Conjurors (New York: Arno, 1976). On the broader movement, see R. Laurence Moore, In Search of White Crows: Spiritualism, Parapsychology, and American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Boston: Beacon, 1989).

44. Everybody a Ventriloquist, 7; Charles G. Page, Psychomancy: Spirit-Rappings and Table-Tippings Exposed (New York: Appleton, 1853), 42-43, 58, 61-62, 68; Kirbye, Origin, 56; "Ventriloquism," National Magazine 2 (June 1853): 529; "Voice," 39.

45. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1945), 2: 4, 111, 142.

46. Reid, Works, 2:114, 320, 338-44, 357, 360; Amariah Brigham, Observations on the Influence of Religion upon the Health and Physical Welfare of Mankind (Boston: Marsh, Capen, and Lyon, 1835). On earlier efforts to medicalize enthusiasm, see especially Heyd, "Be Sober and Reasonable." On the larger translation of religious idioms into psychological ones, see, for example, Ian Hacking, Rewriting The Soul: Multiple Personality and The Sciences of Memory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), esp. 142-58.

47. A. Brierre de Boismont, Hallucinations: Or, the Rational History of Apparitions, Visions, Dreams, Ecstasy, Magnetism, and Somnambulism (1853; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1976), 77, 80-81, 90-92, 97-98, 127, 172, 420; Jean Esquirol, Observations on the Illusions of the Insane, and on The Medico-Legal Question of Their Confinement, trans. William Liddell (London: Renshaw and Rush, 1833), 11-12.

48. Edward B. Tylor, Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom (New York: Holt, 1889), 2: 132-34, 182. On ventriloquism's thriving as a commercial entertainment, see Vox, History and Art, esp.90, 133.

49. Robert E. Blazek, Using Ventriloquism in Christian Education (Littleton, Colo.: Maher, 1976), 5-6,32. See also Bill Boley, The Gospel Ventriloquist: Five Gospel Ventriloquist Routines (Hopkinsville, Ky.: Boley, 1986); William H. Andersen, 111 Ways to Use Ventriloquism in Church Work (Littleton, Colo.: Maher, 1986): Cullen Murphy, "'Hey, Let Me Outta Here!,'" Atlantic Monthly 264 (August 1989): 62-71. On the larger issue of commodification and Christian amusements, see R. Laurence Moore, Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

Leigh Eric Schmidt, "From Demon Possession to Magic Show: Ventriloquism, Religion, and the Enlightenment," Church History 67:2 (June 1998), 274-304. .Copyright 1998, American Society of Church History. Used by permission.

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