[ilds] "Difficulty of Determining From the Evidence Its Reality or Unreality"

Charles Sligh Charles-Sligh at utc.edu
Sun Jun 20 06:14:42 PDT 2010

Godshalk, William (godshawl) wrote:
> Well, okay, it's a hoax. And a young kid was taken in -- as many older folks were. Durrell thought that the hoax was the real thing. Houdini got away with hoax after hoax.
Professor Godshalk (a hand goes up in the back of the hall)--

What about the other sort of "rope tricks," sir? 

I mean, of course, the sort of "ropery" performed on the boards by 
Shakespeare and his gang of disreputable and dissolute Elizabethan fakers. 

Cf. the following selections, which show us that "rope-trick" clearly 
meant roguish rhetoric and tricks long before other storytellers 
exported the trick to India &c.

>         I pray you, sir, let him go while the humour
>         lasts. A my word, an she knew him as well as
>         I do, she would think scolding would do little
>         good upon him: she may perhaps call him half
>         a score knaves or so: why, that's nothing; an
>         he begin once, *he'll rail in his rope-tricks*. I'll
>         tell you what, sir, an she stand him but a little,
>         he will throw a figure in her face and so dis-
>         figure her with it that she shall have no more eyes
>         to see withal than a cat. You know him not, sir.
        /The Taming of the Shrew/ 1.2.107+

>         Marry, farewell!—I pray you, sir, what saucy merchant was
>         this, that was *so full of his ropery *?
        /Romeo and Juliet /2.5.130+

"I'm all for tightrope acts, and fakirs, and trolleys full of pins, 
provided they entertain" (Cf. /The Black Book/).  Let the "saucy 
merchants," showmen, and rogues thrive. 

Professor Godshalk and I will be keeping a close lookout for the "Rope 
Trick" when we go on expedition in July. 

We will write down in our notebooks and publish any findings that we 
make here. 

We will also be bound acknowledge that what we find or fail to find in 
Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana does not 
determine what may or may not be found elsewhere upon this vasty globe &c. 

On "&c.," cf. /Hamlet/ 1.5.

Admitting that I, for one, have never seen the Great Wall.


> *
> *Difficulty of Determining From the Evidence Its Reality or Unreality*
*Current Opinion LXVI (May 1919): 304 - 305.*
> INTEREST in the celebrated Indian rope trick has been developed by a 
> controversy in leading London newspapers and in organs of the black 
> art like The Magic Circular on the subject of the reality of the 
> phenomena and the historic evidence in support of them. The 
> controversialists, or most of them, concedes an expert in the London 
> Outlook, appear to have had some connection with India. The opinion 
> expressed by some of the disputants (distinguished men) is that the 
> so-called trick is a myth. The question suggests itself accordingly, 
> assuming the trick to be a sheer illusion, or rather a myth, how such 
> a wide-spread belief in it can have arisen. Some of the parties to the 
> dispute do boldly assert that it is not a myth at all and that they 
> have actually seen it. The force of their evidence is considerably 
> weakened by the fact that altho they describe the incidents of the 
> trick in detail they differ with regard to these in very important 
> particulars. According to some, the rope appears to be thrown up into 
> the air to a height of no more than eighteen feet and to resemble a 
> short and very slender rod or pillar up which a boy swarms and is then 
> visible sitting at the top. According to others, and here we have the 
> story in its old traditional form, says the London paper, the rope 
> rises into the sky until it is lost to sight and the climbing boy is 
> lost to sight along with it.
> This version of the trick, even on the supposition that a trick of 
> some such kind takes place, is vouched for by only one of the writers 
> who have recently made their views with regard to it public. Curiously 
> enough, this version, even tho corroborated by no contemporary 
> evidence, happens to correspond in the most minute of its essential 
> details with the evidence of a writer who declares that he himself 
> witnessed it as performed in China hundreds of years ago. This writer 
> is Ib'n Batuta, a wealthy Mohammedan of Tangiers, who .set out on his 
> travels about the time when Marco Polo was dying in Venice. The expert 
> in the London Outlook proceeds:
> "On one occasion a great entertainment was given in his honor in 
> Peking. The night being clear and warm, the guests, when the banquet 
> was over, were congregated in an open court, and were amused by 
> conjurors of a more or less ordinary kind. At last a man, followed by 
> a boy, came forward; and so far as my memory, which is fairly 
> accurate, serves me, I give what followed in the traveler's precise 
> words. The man, he says, had a leathern rope wound round him, which he 
> flung upwards, and which seemed to disappear in the starlight. He 
> ordered the boy to climb up it, which he did till he became invisible. 
> Then the conjuror shouted to him, telling him to come down. The call 
> met with no response. The conjuror shouted several times in
> succession, but with no better success. At last, with every sign of 
> anger, he drew out a formidable knife, climbed up the rope himself, 
> and became, like the boy, invisible. Then something happened. One of 
> the boy's bleeding limbs came tumbling down to the ground. This was 
> followed by another; 'and,' says the traveler, 'the spectacle was so 
> horrible that I fainted, and was conscious of nothing till I found my 
> host bending over me, and forcing me to swallow some sort of strong 
> liquor. "You needn't be afraid," he said with a complacent smile. "The 
> whole thing was merely a piece of jugglery." ' If the ropetrick is 
> really nothing more than a myth, how does it happen that the few 
> persons who declare that they have seen it ever conceived the idea of 
> so unlikely a performance, and agree so minutely with regard to its 
> essential details?"
> Ib'n Batuta was demonstrably a man of most accurate observation, as 
> many of the buildings described by him still exist. He was also 
> inclined to be skeptical rather than credulous. Thus he doubted the 
> existence of the great wall of China on the ground that he had failed 
> to come across a single human being who had seen it or could mention 
> any acquaintance who even pretended to have done so. Nevertheless, all 
> of us know the great wall to be a reality. May not the rope trick, 
> asks this writer, be a reality also, tho the question still remains 
> how the trick is performed? On the other hand, the editor of The Magic 
> Circular (London), Mr. W. S. Clarke, a high authority on tricks and 
> illusions of conjurors, doubted if anyone had ever seen the trick in 
> our time until two persons at the convention of magicians in England 
> last February announced that they had seen a version of the rope trick 
> performed. Here is an extract from the London Times:
> "One of the most interesting contributions to the debate came from 
> Lieutenant F. W. Holmes, V.C., who said that he had seen a version of 
> the trick on two or three occasions. On the last occasion, in 1917, he 
> was able to take a snapshot of the trick, which he produced. This 
> showed the fakir, with a taut rope or pole and the boy balanced at the 
> top of it Lieutenant Holmes declared emphatically that the boy never 
> disappeared from sight, and his own theory was that the fakir 
> substituted for the coil of rope a telescopic bamboo pole. Mr. A. 
> Yurif Ali, C.B.E., declared that as a boy of seven he saw the rope 
> trick performed, but never since, and he also saw the conjurer cut his 
> own tongue out, chop it up, and replace it. In the rope trick he is 
> convinced that the boy disappeared entirely."

Charles L. Sligh
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
charles-sligh at utc.edu

More information about the ILDS mailing list