Richardson – first name unknown – was a magician living in the 1600s, who specialised in fire eating and other tricks with fire. He was well known in France as well as in England, and an article was devoted to him in the Journal des Savants for 1677. The Journal des Savants, was a sort of encyclopaedia of scientific wonders.
He had a successful tour of London in 1672, and whilst in London Richardson’s performance was observed and recorded for posterity by noted diarist John Evelyn on October 8, 1672. The observation is of this performance and comes from Evelyn’s diary.
Evelyn wrote that Richardson devoured ‘brimstone and devoured coals’ then melted pitch and wax with sulphur and ‘drank it down as it flamed’. In addition Richardson also placed a hot coal in his mouth with a raw oyster and, with a bellows, flamed and sparked the coal until the oyster opened from the steam.
As with all magicians, Richardson’s act comprised of a fair amount of sleight of hand, in addition to genuine fire manipulation and his sleight of hand methods were eventually disclosed by his servant and resulted in the collapse of his popularity, which is a shame, as there is every reason to believe he did possess more interesting magical skills.
Friar Herbert Thurston was a Catholic priest, a member of the Jesuit order and an historian. He wrote extensively on Catholic mysticism and psychic phenomena and was a member of the Society for Psychical Research. He was also widely read on this subject. He is described as ‘an honest skeptic’., and once said ‘the role of Devil’s advocate is a thankless one and does not make for popularity’. And Friar Herbert Thurston says:
Friar Herbert Thurston - The Physical Phenomenon of Mysticism
Obviously the performer in this case made no pretence of any religious mission. He was simply a common juggler, but it is difficult to see how such feats could be executed in a private drawing-room if they were entirely faked. Where there is a stage and the opportunity of using apparatus, illusions might be produced much more easily.
It is worth adding that Evelyn’s description is the more accurate of any that subsequently appeared, as he was an eye witness.
The account given of this juggler's performance in the Journal des Savants for 1677, for example, is in exact accord with Evelyn's description, but it magnifies rather than attenuates the wonder, saying for example that "he holds a red-hot iron in his hands for a long time without any mark being left by it afterwards."
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