Harriet Martineau's Autobiography

Source: Harriet Martineau (ed. Maria Weston Chapman), Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography vol. 1 (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1877), p. 15

Text: When I was four or five years old, we were taken to a lecture of Mr. Drummond’s, for the sake, no doubt, of the pretty shows we were to see, — the chief of which was the Phantasmagoria of which we had heard, as a fine sort of magic-lantern. I did not like the darkness, to begin with; and when Minerva appeared, in a red dress, at first extremely small, and then approaching, till her owl seemed coming directly upon me, it was so like my nightmare dreams that I shrieked aloud. I remember my own shriek. A pretty lady who sat next us, took me on her lap, and let me hide my face in her bosom, and held me fast. How intensely I loved her, without at all knowing who she was!

Comments: Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a British essayist and sociologist, who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a social analyst in her lifetime. Her posthumously published autobiography goes into great detail about her childhood memories and their significance. The Phantasmagoria was a combination of the magic lantern, back projection, mobile machinery and lighting effects to create ghostly apparitions before an audience. It was presented as a public entertainment in in London in 1801 but Martineau may be referring to a local, less elaborate entertainment (her family lived in Norwich).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography

Source: Harriet Martineau (ed. Maria Weston Chapman), Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography vol. 1 (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1877), p. 15

Text: When I was four or five years old, we were taken to a lecture of Mr. Drummond’s, for the sake, no doubt, of the pretty shows we were to see, — the chief of which was the Phantasmagoria of which we had heard, as a fine sort of magic-lantern. I did not like the darkness, to begin with; and when Minerva appeared, in a red dress, at first extremely small, and then approaching, till her owl seemed coming directly upon me, it was so like my nightmare dreams that I shrieked aloud. I remember my own shriek. A pretty lady who sat next us, took me on her lap, and let me hide my face in her bosom, and held me fast. How intensely I loved her, without at all knowing who she was!

Comments: Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a British essayist and sociologist, who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a social analyst in her lifetime. Her posthumously published autobiography goes into great detail about her childhood memories and their significance. The Phantasmagoria was a combination of the magic lantern, back projection, mobile machinery and lighting effects to create ghostly apparitions before an audience. It was presented as a public entertainment in in London in 1801 but Martineau may be referring to a local, less elaborate entertainment (her family lived in Norwich).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Narrative and Explanation of the Appearance of Phantoms and other Figures in the Exhibition of the Phantasmagoria

Source: William Nicholson, ‘Narrative and Explanation of the Appearance of Phantoms and other Figures in the Exhibition of the Phantasmagoria. With Remarks on the Philosophical use of common Occurrences’, Journal of Natural Philosophy, February 1802, pp. 147-150

Text: A very striking application of the magic lanthorn has been made this winter to the public amusement by M. Philipsthal at the Lyceum. The novelty consists in placing the lanthorn on the opposite side of the screen which receives the images, instead of on the same side as the spectator, and suffering no light to appear but what passes through, and tends to form those images. His sliders are therefore perfectly opake, except that portion upon which the transparent figures are drawn, and the exhibition is thus conducted.

All the lights of the small theatre of exhibition were removed, except one hanging lamp, which could be drawn up so that its flame should be perfectly enveloped in a cylindrical chimney, or opake shade. In this gloomy and wavering light the curtain was drawn up, and presented to the spectator a cave or place exhibiting skeletons, and other figures of terror, in relief, and painted on the sides or walls. After a short interval the lamp was drawn up, and the audience were in total darkness, succeeded by thunder and lightning; which last appearance was formed by the magic lanthorn upon a thin cloth or screen, let down after the disappearance of the light, and consequently unknown to most of the spectators. These appearances were followed by figures of departed men, ghosts, skeletons, transmutations, &c. produced on the screen by the magic lanthorn on the other side, and moving their eyes, mouth, &c. by the well known contrivance of two or more sliders. The transformations are effected by moving the adjusting tube of the lanthorn out of focus, and changing the slider during the moment of the confused appearance.

It must be again remarked, that these figures appear without any surrounding circle of illumination, and that the spectators, having no previous view or knowledge of the screen, nor any visible object of comparison, are each left to imagine the distiance according to their respective fancy. After a very short time of exhibiting the first figure, it was seen to contract gradually in all its dimensions, until it became extremely small and then vanished. This effect, as may easily be imagined, is produced by bringing the lanthorn nearer and nearer the screen, taking care at the same time to preserve the distinctness, and at last closing the aperture altogether: and the process being (except as to brightness) exactly the fame as happens when visible objects become more remote, the mind is irresistably led to consider the figures as if they were receding to an immense distance.

Several figures of celebrated men were thus exhibited with some transformations; such as the head of Dr. Franklin being converted into a skull, and these were succeeded by phantoms, skeletons, and various terrific figures, which instead of seeming to recede and then vanish, were (by enlargement) made suddenly to advance; to the surprize and astonishment of the audience, and then disappear by seeming to sink into the ground.

This part of the exhibition, which by the agitation of the spectators appeared to be much the most impressive, had less effect with me than the receding of the figures; doubtless because it was more easy for me to imagine the screen to be withdrawn than brought forward. But among the young people who were with me the judgments were various. Some thought they could have touched the figures, others had a different notion of their distance, and a few apprehended that they had not advanced beyond the first row of the audience.

As I have given this account, of an exhibition on which an ingenious mechanic in part depends for his support, it will not be impertinent to my present and future readers to add, that the whole, as well as certain mechanical inventions, were managed with dexterity and address, and that his gains in London have been very considerable. The figures for the most part are but poorly drawn, and the attempt to explain the rational object, or purpose of the exhibition was certainly well intended; but unfortunately for the audience his English was unintelligible. His lightning too, being produced by the camera was tame, and had not the brisk transient appearance of the lightning at the theatres, which is produced by rozin, or lycopodium powder, thrown through alight, which in Mr. P’s utter darkness might easily have been concealed in a kind of dark lanthorn.

My young pupils on their return made drawings, and applied the magic lanthorn to a sheet in a door way between two rooms. Some of their drawings were made on thin paper and varnished, to render them transparent, and others were on glass. The paper figures were less bright than the others; but an advantage may be had in this material by those who cannot draw, because they may colour and varnish small figures, engraved in aqua-tinta or in any other manner without stroke.

A plate of thin sheet iron, such as German stoves are made of, is an excellent instrument for producing the noise of thunder. It may be three or four feet long, and the usual width. When this plate is held between the finger and thumb by one corner, and suffered to hang at liberty, if the hand be then moved or shaken horizontally, so as to agitate the corner at right angles to the surface, a great variety of sounds will be produced; from the low rumbling of distant thunder, to the succession of loud explosive bursts of thunder from elevated clouds. This simple instrument is very manageable, so that the operator soon feels his power of producing whatever character of found he may desire; and notwithstanding this description may seem extravagant, whoever tries it for the first time will be surprized at the resemblance. If the plate be too small, the sound will be short, acute, and metallic.

Comments: William Nicholson (1753-1815) was a British chemist and the principal contributor to the early scientific journal, the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts. The Phantasmagoria was a combination of the magic lantern, back projection, mobile machinery and lighting effects to create ghostly apparitions before an audience. It was first put on in Paris in the 1780s by Philidor, aka Paul Philipsthal, a German showman. Philipsthal presented his Phantasmagoria at the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1801. Nicholson’s report on this show subsequently formed the basis of a much better-known account on Philipstahl’s show by David Brewster published in 1831 in Letters of Natural Magic (see separate Picturegoing post). The above transcription has changed the ſ in Nicholson’s text to s, for ease of reading.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Letters of Natural Magic

Source: Sir David Brewster, extract from ‘Letter IV’, Letters on Natural Magic (London: Chatto & Windus, 1883 – orig. pub. 1831), pp. 158-159

Text: The power of the magic lantern has been greatly extended by placing it on one side of the transparent screen of taffetas which receives the images while the spectators are placed on the other side, and by making every part of the glass sliders opaque, excepting the part which forms the figures. Hence all the figures appear luminous on a black ground, and produce a much greater effect with the same degree of illumination. An exhibition depending on these principles was brought out by M. Philipstal in 1802 under the name of the Phantasmagoria, and when it was shown in London and Edinburgh it produced the most impressive effects upon the spectators. The small theatre of exhibition was lighted only by one hanging lamp, the flame of which was drawn up into an opaque chimney or shade when the performance began. In this “darkness visible” the curtain rose, and displayed a cave with skeletons and other terrific figures in relief upon its walls. The flickering light was then drawn up beneath its shroud, and the spectators, in total darkness, found themselves in the middle of thunder and lightning. A thin transparent screen had, unknown to the spectators, been let down after the disappearance of the light, and upon it the flashes of lightning and all the subsequent appearances were represented. This screen being half-way between the spectators and the cave which was first shown, and being itself invisible, prevented the observers from having any idea of the real distance of the figures, and gave them the entire character of aerial pictures. The thunder and lightning were followed by the figures of ghosts, skeletons, and known individuals, whose eyes and mouth were made to move by the shifting of combined slides. After the first figure had been exhibited for a short time, it began to grow less and less, as if removed to a great distance, and at last vanished in a small cloud of light. Out of this same cloud the germ of another figure began to appear, and gradually grew larger and larger, and approached the spectators till it attained its perfect development. In this manner, the head of Dr. Franklin was transformed into a skull; figures which retired with the freshness of life came back in the form of skeletons, and the retiring skeletons returned in the drapery of flesh and blood.

The exhibition of these transmutations was followed by spectres, skeletons, and terrific figures, which, instead of receding and vanishing as before, suddenly advanced upon the spectators, becoming larger as they approached them, and finally vanished by appearing to sink into the ground. The effect of this part of the exhibition was naturally the most impressive. The spectators were not only surprised but agitated, and many of them were of opinion that they could have touched the figures. M. Robertson, at Paris, introduced along with his pictures the direct shadows of living objects, which imitated coarsely the appearance of those objects in a dark night or in moonlight.

Comments: Sir David Brewster (1781-1868) was a British scientists and inventor with a particular interest in optics. The Phantasmagoria was a combination of the magic lantern, back projection, mobile machinery and lighting effects to create ghostly apparitions before an audience. It was first presented in Paris in the 1780s by Philidor, aka Paul Philipsthal, a German showman, and was copied by the Belgian Étienne-Gaspard ‘Robertson’ Robert at the end of the century. Philipsthal presented his Phantasmagoria at the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1801. Though this is a famous account of the Phantasmagoria, Mervyn Heard, in his Phantasmagoria: The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern (Hastings: The Projection Box, 2006) points out that is was adapted from an account by William Nicholson in the Journal of Natural Philosophy, February 1802 (see separate Picturegoing post).

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Harriet Martineau's Autobiography

Source: Harriet Martineau (ed. Maria Weston Chapman), Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography vol. 1 (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1877), pp. 11-12

Text: Of all my many fancies, perhaps none was so terrible as a dream that I had at four years old. The impression is as fresh as possible now; but I cannot at all understand what the fright was about. I know nothing more strange than this power of re-entering, as it were, into the narrow mind of an infant, so as to compare it with that of maturity ; and therefore it may be worth while to record that piece of precious nonsense, — my dream at four years old. I imagine I was learning my letters then from cards, where each letter had its picture, — as a stag for S. I dreamed that we children were taking our walk with our nursemaid out of St. Austin’s Gate (the nearest bit of country to our house.) Out of the public-house there came a stag, with prodigious antlers. Passing the pump, it crossed the road to us, and made a polite bow, with its head on one side, and with a scrape of one foot, after which it pointed with its foot to the public-house, and spoke to me, inviting me in. The maid declined, and turned to go home. Then came the terrible part. By the time we were at our own door it was dusk, and we went up the steps in the dark; but in the kitchen it was bright sunshine. My mother was standing at the dresser, breaking sugar; and she lifted me up, and set me in the sun, and gave me a bit of sugar.

Such was the dream which froze me with horror! Who shall say why? But my panics were really unaccountable. They were a matter of pure sensation, without any intellectual justification whatever, even of the wildest kind. A magic-lantern was exhibited to us on Christmas-day, and once or twice in the year besides. I used to see it cleaned by daylight, and to handle all its parts, — understanding its whole structure; yet, such was my terror of the white circle on the wall, and of the moving slides, that, to speak the plain truth, the first apparition always brought on bowel-complaint; and, at the age of thirteen, when I was pretending to take care of little children during the exhibition, I could never look at it without having the back of a chair to grasp, or hurting myself, to carry off the intolerable sensation.

Comments: Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a British essayist and sociologist, who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a social analyst in her lifetime. Her posthumously published autobiography goes into great detail about her childhood memories and their significance. Her childhood was spent in Norwich.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive

Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography

Source: Harriet Martineau (ed. Maria Weston Chapman), Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography vol. 1 (Boston: James R. Osgood, 1877), pp. 11-12

Text: Of all my many fancies, perhaps none was so terrible as a dream that I had at four years old. The impression is as fresh as possible now; but I cannot at all understand what the fright was about. I know nothing more strange than this power of re-entering, as it were, into the narrow mind of an infant, so as to compare it with that of maturity ; and therefore it may be worth while to record that piece of precious nonsense, — my dream at four years old. I imagine I was learning my letters then from cards, where each letter had its picture, — as a stag for S. I dreamed that we children were taking our walk with our nursemaid out of St. Austin’s Gate (the nearest bit of country to our house.) Out of the public-house there came a stag, with prodigious antlers. Passing the pump, it crossed the road to us, and made a polite bow, with its head on one side, and with a scrape of one foot, after which it pointed with its foot to the public-house, and spoke to me, inviting me in. The maid declined, and turned to go home. Then came the terrible part. By the time we were at our own door it was dusk, and we went up the steps in the dark; but in the kitchen it was bright sunshine. My mother was standing at the dresser, breaking sugar; and she lifted me up, and set me in the sun, and gave me a bit of sugar.

Such was the dream which froze me with horror! Who shall say why? But my panics were really unaccountable. They were a matter of pure sensation, without any intellectual justification whatever, even of the wildest kind. A magic-lantern was exhibited to us on Christmas-day, and once or twice in the year besides. I used to see it cleaned by daylight, and to handle all its parts, — understanding its whole structure; yet, such was my terror of the white circle on the wall, and of the moving slides, that, to speak the plain truth, the first apparition always brought on bowel-complaint; and, at the age of thirteen, when I was pretending to take care of little children during the exhibition, I could never look at it without having the back of a chair to grasp, or hurting myself, to carry off the intolerable sensation.

Comments: Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) was a British essayist and sociologist, who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a social analyst in her lifetime. Her posthumously published autobiography goes into great detail about her childhood memories and their significance. Her childhood was spent in Norwich.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive