Chabert – from the Chronicle, London, September, 1829
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The following detailed account of the latter challenge appeared in the Chronicle, London, September, 1829 and is quoted in Miracle Mongers And Their Methods By Houdini
THE FIRE KING AND HIS CHALLENGER.—An advertisement appeared lately in one of the papers, in which a Mr. J. Smith after insinuating that M. Chabert practised some juggle when he appeared to enter an oven heated to five hundred degrees, and to swallow twenty grains of phosphorus, challenged him to perform the exploits which he professed to be performing daily.
In consequence M. Chabert publicly accepted Mr. J. Smith's challenge for L50, requesting him to provide the poison himself. A day was fixed upon which the challenge was to be determined, and at two o'clock on that day, a number of gentlemen assembled in the Argyle-rooms, where the exhibition was to take place. At a little before three the fire-king made his appearance near his oven, and as some impatience had been exhibited, owing to the non-arrival of Mr. J. Smith, he offered to amuse the company with a few trifling experiments. He made a shovel red-hot and rubbed it over his tongue, a trick for which no credit, he said, was due, as the moisture of the tongue was sufficient to prevent any injury arising from it. He next rubbed it over his hair and face, declaring that anybody might perform the same feat by first washing themselves in a mixture of spirits of sulphur and alum, which, by cauterising the epidermis, hardened the skin to resist the fire.
He put his hand into some melted lead, took a small portion of it out, placed it in his mouth, and then gave it in a solid state to some of the company. This performance, according to his account, was also very easy; for he seized only a very small particle, which, by a tight compression between the forefinger and the thumb, became cool before it reached the mouth.
At this time Mr. Smith made his appearance, and M. Chabert forthwith prepared himself for mightier undertakings. A cruse of oil was brought forward and poured into a saucepan, which was previously turned upside down, to show that there was no water in it. The alleged reason for this step was, that the vulgar conjurors, who profess to drink boiling oil, place the oil in water, and drink it when the water boils, at which time the oil is not warmer than an ordinary cup of tea. He intended to drink the oil when any person might see it bubbling in the saucepan, and when the thermometer would prove that it was heated to three hundred and sixty degrees. The saucepan was accordingly placed on the fire, and as it was acquiring the requisite heat, the fire-king challenged any man living to drink a spoonful of the oil at the same temperature as that at which he was going to drink it. In a few minutes afterwards, he sipped off a spoonful with greatest apparent ease, although the spoon, from contact with the boiling fluid, had become too hot for ordinary fingers to handle.
"And now, Monsieur Smith," said the fire-king, "now for your challenge. Have you prepared yourself with phosphorus, or will you take some of mine, which is laid on that table?" Mr. Smith, walked up to the table, and pulling a vial bottle out of his pocket, offered it to the poison-swallower.
Fire-king—"I ask you, on your honor as a gentleman, is this genuine unmixed poison?"
Mr. Smith—"It is, upon my honor."
Fire-king—"Is there any medical gentleman here who will examine it?"
A person in the room requested that Dr. Gordon Smith, one of the medical professors in the London University, would examine the vial, and decide whether it contained genuine phosphorus.
The professor went to the table, on which the formidable collection of poisons—such as red and white arsenic, hydrocyanic acid, morphine and phosphorus—was placed, and, examining the vial, declared, that, to the best of his judgment, it was genuine phosphorus.
M. Chabert asked Mr. Smith, how many grains he wished to commence his first draught with. Mr. Smith—"Twenty grains will do as a commencement."
A medical gentleman then came forward and cut off two parcels of phosphorus, containing twenty grains each. He was placing them in the water, when the fire-king requested that his phosphorus might be cut into small pieces, as he did not wish the pieces to stop on their way to his stomach. The poisons were now prepared. A wine-glass contained the portion set aside for the fire-king—a tumbler the portion reserved for Mr. Smith.
The Fire-king—"I suppose, gentlemen, I must begin, and to convince you that I do not juggle, I will first take off my coat, and then I will trouble you, doctor (speaking to Dr. Gordon Smith), to tie my hands together behind me. After he had been bandaged in this manner, he planted himself on one knee in the middle of the room, and requested some gentleman to place the phosphorus on his tongue and pour the water down his throat. This was accordingly done, and the water and phosphorus were swallowed together. He then opened his mouth and requested the company to look whether any portion of the phosphorus remained in his mouth. Several gentlemen examined his mouth, and declared that there was no phosphorus perceptible either upon or under his tongue. He was then by his own desire unbandaged. The fire-king forthwith turned to Mr. Smith and offered him the other glass of phosphorus. Mr. Smith started back in infinite alarm—'Not for worlds, Sir, not for worlds; I beg to decline it.'
The Fire-king—"Then wherefore did you send me a challenge? You pledged your honor to drink it, if I did; I have done it; and if you are a gentleman, you must drink it too."
Mr. Smith—"No, no, I must be excused: I am quite satisfied without it."
Here several voices exclaimed that the bet was lost. Some said there must be a confederacy between the challenger and the challenged, and others asked whether any money had been deposited? The fire-king called a Mr. White forward, who deposed that he held the stakes, which had been regularly placed in his hands, by both parties, before twelve o'clock that morning.
The fire-king here turned round with great exultation to the company, and pulling a bottle out of his pocket, exclaimed, "I did never see this gentleman before this morning, and I did not know but that he might be bold enough to venture to take this quantity of poison. I was determined not to let him lose his life by his foolish wager, and therefore I did bring an antidote in my pocket, which would have prevented him from suffering any harm." Mr. Smith said his object was answered by seeing twenty grains of genuine phosphorus swallowed. He had conceived it impossible, as three grains were quite sufficient to destroy life. The fire-king then withdrew into another room for the professed purpose of putting on his usual dress for entering the oven, but in all probability for the purpose of getting the phosphorus out of his stomach.
After an absence of twenty minutes, he returned, dressed in a coarse woolen coat, to enter the heated oven. Before he entered it, a medical gentleman ascertained that his pulse was vibrating ninety-eight times a minute. He remained in the oven five minutes, during which time he sung Le Vaillant Troubadour, and superintended the cooking of two dishes of beef steaks. At the end of that time he came out, perspiring profusely, and with a pulse making one hundred and sixty-eight vibrations in a minute. The thermometer, when brought out of the oven, stood at three hundred and eighty degrees; within the oven he said it was above six hundred.