Thursday, 26 May 2016
Of course, we have all heard about Houdini, the great escape artist. A sideline to his story is what happened after his mother died. Distraught and grief-stricken, he sought the aid of mediums in order to contact her. By his own account, he wanted to believe. But it was a mistake for any medium to let a top class professional magician into the séance. Immediately, he saw that everything was not as it seemed. Behind the raps, the levitations, the slate-writing, the ectoplasm, and so forth lay the most blatant fraud. It was amazing how simple were many of the stage tricks involved. Thus began his crusade against Spiritualistic trickery. And most amazing of all was the desperate will to believe by their dupes. Many people, including his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle insisted that he himself must be a medium, performing his work by with the aid of the spirits, despite his constant avowals that they were merely tricks.
The upshot was his book, A Magician Among the Spirits (which can be read or downloaded here), appropriately dedicated to his mother. And on pages 245-6 he describes his own amusing adventure.
Saturday, 7 May 2016
Well, not exactly a baron, but what other English word is there to translate the Japanese daimyō? They were the feudal lords of Japan, and even the small island of Hirado, 20 miles long by 5 wide, off the southeast coast of Kyūshū, had one. Shigenobu had been daimyō until 1589, after which he had been officially deposed in favour of his grandson, but it was the old man himself who really held the reins of power. However, Captain Saris of the English ship, the Clove persisted in recording his name as "King Foyne" because, for some reason, he was unable to pronounce Shigenobu. In any case, the Dutch had set up a "factory", or trading post, on the island in 1609, and now the English were going to try their hand. When they arrived on 10 June 1613 they were in terrible shape.