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Dead medium: Robertson's Phantasmagoria; Lonsdale's Spectrographia; Meeson's phantasmagoria; the optical eidothaumata; the Capnophoric Phantoms; Moritz's phantasmagoria; Jack Bologna's Phantoscopia; Schirmer and Scholl's Ergascopia; De Berar's Optikali Illusio; Brewster's catadioptrical phantasmagoria; Pepper's Ghost
From: (Bruce Sterling)
Source(s): The Female Thermometer: 18th-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny by Terry Castle Oxford University Press, 1995
ISBN 0-19-508097-1

page 150

"Phantasmagoria shows rapidly became a staple of London popular entertainment. Mark Lonsdale presented a 'Spectrographia' at the Lyceum in 1802; Meeson offered a phantasmagoria modeled on Philipstal's at Bartholomew Fair in 1803. A series of 'Optical eidothaumata' featuring 'some surprising Capnophoric Phantoms' materialized at the Lyceum in 1804. In the same year the German conjurer Moritz opened a phantasmagoria and magic show at the King's Arms in Change Alley, Cornhill, and in the following year, again at the Lyceum, the famous comedian and harlequin Jack Bologna exhibited his 'Phantoscopia.' Two 'Professors of Physic,' Schirmer and Scholl, quickly followed suit with an 'Ergascopia.'

"In 1807, Moritz opened another phantasmagoria show at the Temple of Apollo in the Strand, this one featuring a representation of the raising of Samuel by the Witch of Endor, the ghost scene from *Hamlet,* and the transformation of Louis XVI into a skeleton. In 1812 Henry Crabb Robinson saw a 'gratifying' show of spectres == their 'eyes etc' all moving == at the Royal Mechanical and Optical Exhibition in Catherine Street. In De Berar's 'Optikali Illusio,' displayed at Bartholomew Fair in 1833, Death appeared on a pale horse accompanied by a luminous skeleton.

"How realistic were the 'ghosts'? Strange as it now seems, most contemporary observers stressed the convincing nature of phantasmagoric apparitions and their power to surprise the unwary. Robertson described a man striking at one of his phantoms with a stick; a contributor to the *Ami des Lois* worried that pregnant women might be so frightened by the phantasmagoria that they would miscarry. One should not underestimate, by any means, the powerful effect of magic-lantern illusionism on eyes untrained by photography and cinematography."


page 151

"Better images and a more complex technology were required. Brewster's own solution was the 'catadioptrical phantasmagoria' == an apparatus of mirrors and lenses capable of projecting the illuminated image of a living human being. 'In place of chalky ill-drawn figures, mimicking humanity by the most absurd gesticulations,' he wrote, 'we shall have phantasms of the most perfect delineation, clothed in real drapery, and displaying all the movements of life.'

"In the renowned show of 'Pepper's Ghost,' exhibited at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London in the 1860s, just such an apparatus was used to great effect. Wraithlike actors and actresses, reflected from below the stage, mingled with onstage counterparts in a phantasmagorical version of Dickens' 'The Haunted Man' on Christmas Eve, 1862. 'The apparitions,' wrote Thomas Frost, 'not only moved about the stage, looking as tangible as the actors who passed through them, and from whose proffered embrace or threatened attack they vanished in an instant, but spoke or sang with voices of unmistakable reality.'"

(((We have quoted rather extensively from Chapter 9 of Professor Castle's work, but no mere ascii can do justice to its many remarkable period illustrations, including a priceless depiction of Robertson's audience beset by phantom devils and in a stampeding panic -- bruces@well)))