Jugglers and Juggling

By Dr. Henry R. Evans

From Linking Ring, February and March 1938

The word juggler today connotes a man who is skillful in throwing and catching balls, knives, and other articles, and understands or practices delicate feats of balancing. It has its root in the Latin word joculator, which meant originally a man who makes the jocus or pleasantry; in other words, a buffoon. The French form, derived from the Latin, is jongleur, which comprehends much more than the idea of a buffoon or trick performer. A jongleur was also a troubadour or singer. Says Watson, in the Reliquary, January, 1907: "The word juggler has now become more generally employed in a restricted sense, and it is perhaps more appropriate to a certain kind of trick, such as that of throwing and catching balls or knives, whereas the word conjuring is associated with tricks of legerdemain and deception." Shakespeare speaks of "nimble jugglers that deceive the eye." The bard of Avon, in his deployment of the word, is undoubtedly alluding to magicians, and not to skillful tossers-up and catchers of balls and knives. The juggler proper seeks not to deceive the eye, but does everything openly and above board; his feats are those of skill and not delusion, although there are many so-called jugglers today whose feats are not entirely composed of dexterity of hand, but are dependent on subtle concealed artifices. Particularly is this seen in balancing exhibitions. I once say an English juggler and equilibrist balance a billiard ball on the end of a cue, and a second ball on top of the first ball. But I subsequently learned that each ball had a minute hole drilled through its center. In the small end of the cue was concealed a fine steel rod, about the size of a needle, which the juggler shoved through the holes in the balls by means of a peg sliding along a channel in the cue. The so-called equilibrist revealed to me the modus operandi of his trick (for it was a trick and nothing more) for a consideration. I confess I was somewhat disgusted at his artifice. He was not a juggler but a faker - or, shall I say a fraud? He was building up a reputation for dexterity which he did not deserve.

Egyptians The art of jugglery is very ancient. We see representations of it in the wall paintings of the Egyptians, particularly in those of the Beni-Hassan tombs on the east bank of the Nile near Speos Artemindos. Wilkinson in his Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, London, 1837, volume 2, page 429, reproduces one of these scenes. Among the Greeks and Romans jugglers' tricks were very popular. On old Greek vases we see the juggler's art depicted. In the Royal Museum at Mantua is a Roman monument with an inscription to Septumia Spica, evidently a popular juggler of ancient Italy. He is represented keeping seven balls in movement. In a niche on one side of this monument is a bust of Spica, and beneath it the figure of a rabbit. When I first saw the foregoing representation, I exclaimed: "Ah, Spica also performed the bunny trick; he was not only a juggler, but a conjurer as well." But later researches showed me that the rabbit symbolized the rapidity of Spica's movements. The production of hares from hats or helmets did not exist in the days of Sept. Spica. A representation of juggling in the Middle Ages may be found in illuminated manuscripts in the British Museum. Medieval One of them, viz., that on f. 30b of Tib. C. VI, shows the performer tossing up objects of different kinds. He holds a ball in his right hand and a knife in his left hand, and two other balls and knives are in the air. Jugglers today use all sorts of articles - plates, clubs, bits of paper, hats, umbrellas, kitchen utensils, vegetables, etc. Many artists are accompanied by buffoons, garbed either as clowns or tramps, who amuse the audience by attempting the feats of the master performer and then miserably failing. The smashing of crockery is a favorite among these jack puddings. A great deal of laughter is caused by these comic assistants. I have often wondered why jugglers did not combine some of the tricks of magicians with their own feats. An elegant effect could be had, for example, by combining the billiard ball trick with the juggling of balls in the air. As I have said in a previous article, the juggler has a decided advantage over the wizard. Expose the mystery of a magicians tricks and you kill his business. You cannot expose the feats of a genuine juggler, for there is no mystery about them; they are dependent on sheer dexterity. Only a few can acquire the juggler's art and excel at it, whereas hundreds of amateurs can learn to do magic very well indeed, with comparatively little practice.

The juggler and the conjurer are first cousins. Their arts, though not the same, have some affinity. A juggler on a magic program is always well received. Alexander Herrmann had D'Alvini with him many seasons, and the combination was a happy one. There can be no rivalry between the conjurer and the juggler, for their arts are so different. I always thought it a mistake for Kellar to have Paul Valadon with him. Two magicians on a program are one too many. The public are apt to draw invidious comparisons between them, and jealousy is aroused. True, Valadon was more of a sleight of hand performer than an illusionist, and Kellar more of an illusionist than a hanky-panky man. But the combination did not work well. It seldom does. Far better for Kellar to have engaged a clever juggler or shadowgraphist to support him instead of a magician. Sad to relate, Valadon made matters worse by criticizing the Dean of Magic behind his back. His remarks were carried to the master and a separation took place.

Herrmann was always felicitous in his support. Who can forget the grotesque dancers and contortionists he had with him for so many years, the three Lorellas, also D'Alvini, Val Vose, the ventriloquist, etc. A magic show demands something of this kind. Too much of one man, clever though he may be, becomes tiresome. Imagine Hamlet "hogging the stage" for three hours without giving anybody else a chance to get himself or herself over the footlights. And so, brethren of the magic circle, take heed and get a juggler, a shadowgraphist, a ventriloquist, or even a Punch-and-Judy man to assist you, that is if you are presenting an entire evening's entertainment. "Two hours of magic", said Robert-Houdin, "are sufficient"; and the past grand master of prestidigitation knew what he was talking about. Magic demands great concentration of attention on the part of an audience. Too much of it fatigues the mind. Such is the psychology of the case. It is always a relief to see "something different" in a magic show. Herrmann knew this and so did Kellar, and so did the famous Maskelyne of Egyptian Hall, London.

I have seen many jugglers in my time, but the greatest of them, in my opinion, was Paul Cinquevalli, who died not long ago. I do not know whether he was a Frenchman or an Italian by birth, but the name he appeared under seemed to be Italian, although it is compounded of a French and an Italian word. That he was of Latin origin, however, admits of no doubt. His feats were of a remarkable character. William G. FitzGerald, in the Strand Magazine, London, some years ago, spoke of him as "the greatest juggler in the world". After witnessing one of his performances at the Empire Theatre, London, in the early nineties, I am convinced that Mr. FitzGerald was correct in his designation. Cinquevalli was always devising new feats of equilibrium. In honor of England's "afternoon tea", he invented the following, described by the foregoing author: "He juggled first of all with a cup, a saucer, a lump of sugar, and a teapot half full of tea. Suddenly the cup descends as if by magic into the saucer, the laggard sugar joins the cup a second later, and before you can count three, Mr. Cinquevalli is gallantly pouring out a 'nice hot cup' - not indeed for one fair lady, but for a mixed multitude."

In 1886, the celebrated equilibrist gave a performance before the Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward VII, and a brilliant gathering of English nobility at Marlborough House, London. The special feat that excited the admiration of the Prince is thus described by Mr. FitzGerald: " Mr. Cinquevalli's assistant holds two open razors and from these are suspended a couple of loops of twisted paper, made before the audience. In the loops is hung a broom-handle. The juggler then takes a heavy oak stick, and sharply strikes the broom-handle, breaking it in halves, but without in any way injuring the paper loops that are hung on the razor-edges. Sometimes the trick is varied by placing the broom-handle on two clay-pipes, these pipes being smoked, more or less placidly, by a couple of assistants."

When the above feat was exhibited before the Prince of Wales, he was greatly struck with it, and asked the juggler to repeat it again and again, in order that he might himself select razors, broom-handle, and striking stick, and also make the paper loops. The foregoing experiment is something of a physical phenomenon, and has enlisted the attention of scientists.

Among the list of jugglers whom I have seen, I must mention William Everhart, of Columbus, Ohio, who achieved especial fame as a "hoop rolling expert," in addition to his juggling tricks with a ball and a lighted lamp. Chicot, in the New York Telegraph, described the feat as follows: "Everhart calls his act 'hoop rolling', but he might, with truthfulness, announce a flying ring act, since he distributes his hoops pretty well all over the stage. He applies the familiar principal by which a forward and retrograde motion is given the hoop at the same time. This results in the return of the ring when its initial momentum is exhausted, and in the same principle he throws hoops all over the stage, assured that he will not have to run after them or give undue exercise to the small boy in red plush, who is there to act as his caddy."

Everhart would send seven hoops to the other end of the stage, one by one, and they would return to him, roll around him, pass between this legs, crawl up his back and then down his extended arms to be caught and sent out again twisting, spinning and bounding. He used, if I remember correctly, the wooden rings of bicycle wheels instead of the conventional hoops, once propelled along the streets of our cities and towns by little children in the seventies and eighties. Everhart when playing in England was commanded to appear before Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Buckingham Palace. He acquired a considerable fortune, and retired to his home in Ohio, where he built a pretentious residence. I do not know whether he is still in the land of the living or not, but if he is I should like to hear from him.

And who among the old-time theatre goers can forget the picturesque personality of D'Alvini, the juggler, whose real name was William Peppercorn? He was born in London in 1847, and was a cousin of the celebrated clown Governelli. Although calling himself by an Italian name, he made up like a Japanese, and was known as the "Jap of Japs". In fact he had a strongly marked Japanese physiognomy, which lent reality to his assumption of Japanese costumes and mise en scene. He brought over the first company of Japanese Jugglers that ever exhibited in this country or in Europe. It was while performing in Japan that D'Alvini decided to abandon the conventional attire of a Western juggler and conjurer. He gave entertainments before Queen Victoria of England, Napoleon III of France, the Mikado of Japan, the Sultan of Turkey, Emperor William of Germany, and Czar Alexander of Russia. One of his feats, the "Fairy Fountain", was a triumph of balancing. In this act, "he build a species of Japanese pagoda out of blocks of wood, resting the foundation on his chin. When the pagoda was finished a stream of water gushed out of it, the structure revolving all the time. The climax was reached when in place of the water, streams of ribbon and showers of paper issued out of the fountain." He also performed with great skill the "Magic Portfolio", which was invented by Robert-Houdin's method. After showing the portfolio empty, he placed it on an ordinary table and produced form it ladies' bonnets, shopping bags, bouquets, four large trunks, ducks, doves, canary birds in cages, rabbits, and, last but not least, a small boy. I very much admired his presentation of the "Magic Portfolio". It is perhaps needless to remark to my sophisticated readers that the bonnets, shopping bags, bird cages, and trunks were of the collapsible variety, being concealed in the body of the trick table and cleverly introduced into the portfolio by the magician. Everything D'Alvini touched proclaimed his originality; he invented most of his feats. He was the first juggler I ever saw who combined sleight of hand tricks with feats of balancing, etc. D'Alvini has a curious playbill, at the top of which he depicted his rivals performing the same old tricks, while he, the "Jap of Japs", occupied the rest of the picture doing the most impossible things.

D'Alvini died in Chicago, Ill., on July 3, 1891.

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© 1938 Linking Ring. Reprinted with permission.
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