A Wizard's Wanderings from China to Peruby John Watkins Holden
ALEXANDRE DUMAS, père, laid down the dictum that 'prefaces were for failures.' However that may be, I fear it is not possible to dispense with one here, as, though I am pretty well known in the professional world, I fear the general reading public on first glancing at these pages would naturally ask: 'Who the dickens is Dr./i>
From the INTRODUCTION.
ALEXANDRE DUMAS, père, laid down the dictum that 'prefaces were for failures.' However that may be, I fear it is not possible to dispense with one here, as, though I am pretty well known in the professional world, I fear the general reading public on first glancing at these pages would naturally ask: 'Who the dickens is Dr. Holden?' Well, if you please, I was born very young on the 1st February, 1844, at the good old city of Worcester, and christened there on the following Palm Sunday, which might possibly account for my early love of 'Palming, or Sleight-of-hand!' As my youthful record is on a par almost with that of the hero in 'A Bad Boy's 'Diary;' I think I had better charitably draw the line here and pass it over.
At sixteen, I found myself under fire, fighting under a foreign flag for some quixotic craze they called Liberty, with two other Englishmen only, instead of returning to England and entering Her Majesty's Navy, as my pater who was Lord Lieutenant of his county and Member of Parliament, had intended me to do. Estranged from my family, I determined to be independent of everybody, and thus early commenced my Bohemian life.
It was whilst travelling through Morocco that I first gave any serious thoughts to the 'Magic Art.' At Castillejos, my travelling companion, a Hungarian Count, and myself, arranged to join a famous conjurer, one Sed Hamlah, and make the grand tour through some outlandish parts of Africa, calling ourselves the 'Cold Hot Iron Doctors.' The natives believe in burning the part afflicted with pain to effect a cure, so we simply took with us a stock of lunar caustic and, shall I add 'brass.' Through Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, Tripoli, Egypt Proper, Nubia, Darfur, &c, we travelled, meeting with adventures such as I fancy few other Englishmen have gone through. This gave me an excellent insight into the mysteries of Oriental Magic, and an acquisition of many strange and incomprehensible wonders, which I have since worked up to suit our Occidental ideas. I often think to myself, could the late poor old Sed Hamlah get leave to come up from the 'Shades' for a night, he would hardly recognise many of his old tricks in the guise I present them to my Mayfair patrons!
Having learnt all I required in the East, I next thought it necessary to be able to address an audience, not only in the Queen's English, but from an elocutionary point of view as well. An opening offering itself, I engaged with 'Drake's Diorama of India,' as Lecturer and Cicerone and very soon made my mark. Mr. Drake is still on the road, and, I am sure, he will be pleased to hear that some of the most agreeable memories of the past are associated with the several tours made under his direction. In these days of bogus managers it is quite a relief to speak with unqualified praise of the honourable and conscientious manner, Mr. Drake ever behaved to his Company when on tour. It was now time to try the anxieties and routine of an Acting Manager's life; so, after a short experience with Mr. Simontin, of Dublin, Dr. Corry, of Belfast, and the late Mr. Hodges, of the Aberdeen Theatre Royal, I became Acting Manager of the 'London Opera Company,' which gave me a good insight into the taking of theatres, advertising, billing, &c. It also gave me an opportunity of addressing larger and more fashionable audiences, as, Gibus in hand, and left hand on heart, I would come before the curtain and ask 'the indulgence of the audience for the Prima or Seconda Donna (as the case might be), who was suffering from a severe cold, &c, &c, &c.'....
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