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One thing seems to be pretty obvious, that the effect of which we are conscious depends on the mechanical impression connected with the direction in which the last impulse is made on the organ of hearing; but how this impulse is modified according to the position of the sonorous body, (although that it is so, our daily experience leaves no doubt,) it is not an easy matter to imagine.
If this conclusion be admitted, the imitation of the ventriloquist (in so far as direction is concerned) would appear to be not only unaccountable, but quite impossible; insomuch as the effect on the hearer's ear, which serves to him as a sign of the place of the object, does not depend on any particular modification of sound which a mimic can copy, but on the actual direction in which the sound falls upon the organ.
Mr. Gough himself seems to be sensible of this, and, accordingly, he supposes the art of the ventriloquist to consist in a power of throwing his voice at pleasure towards the different walls of a room, so as to produce an echo in that particular direction which suits his purpose. His own words are : "He "who is master of this art, has nothing to do but to place his "mouth obliquely to the company, and to dart his words, if I "may use the expression, against an opposing object, whence "they will be reflected immediately, so as to strike the ears of "the audience from an unexpected quarter, in consequence of "which, the reflector will appear to be the speaker." But to this theory two obvious and insurmountable objections occur: 1st, Supposing the ventriloquist to possess this very extraordinary power of producing an echo in a room where none was ever heard before, it still remains to be explained, how this echo comes to drown, or rather to annihilate the original sound. In every case of echo, two sounds at least are heard. Whence is it, then, that the echo of the ventriloquist's voice should so completely supplant the original sound, as to occupy solely and exclusively the attention of the audience?
2d, Mr. Gough's theory proceeds altogether on the supposition, that the art of ventriloquism can be practised only within the walls of a room; whereas I apprehend the fact to be, that it may be exercised, at least, with equal advantage, in the open air. If this last statement be correct, it puts an end to the controversy at once.
I was much pleased to observe the coincidence between both these remarks, (which struck me when I first read Mr. Gough's paper,) and the following strictures on his theory of ventriloquism, in a very ingenious article of the Edinburgh Review.
After quoting the same passage which I have already referred to, the reviewer proceeds thus:
"Though this comprehends the scope of the author's doc"trine, we are of opinion that it affords a deficient and inade"quate explanation even of the case that he relates, in which "the ventriloquist performed his operations in a confined room. "The power of projecting the voice against a plain wall, so that "it shall be reflected to a given point, is difficult, and we may "almost say impossible of attainment. But, granting that this 66 power were attained, the reflected tones of the voice must be a mere echo, whilst the sounds proceeding immediately from "the mouth of the speaker, being both louder in degree, and "prior in point of time, must necessarily, as is the case in every "echo, drown the first parts of the reflected sounds, and make "the remainder appear evidently different from the original. "The author seems to have been led into this theory by the "analogy of light, without perhaps duly considering that the 66 particles of light move successively in direct lines; whereas "the undulations of sound must necessarily expand and en"large, as they proceed on from the sounding body. But the "feats of ventriloquism are often performed sub dio, when no 66 means for reflecting the voice can be present, and where, of course, the author's doctrine cannot in any respect apply. "He has omitted to mention a cause which has a very power"ful influence in effecting the deception, viz. the expectation "excited in the spectator or hearer, by the artist having pre"viously informed him from whence he proposes to make the "sounds proceed. This circumstance, of raising expectation "almost to belief, aided by a peculiarly happy talent for imi"tating singular or striking sounds, such, for example, as the "cries of a child in the act of suffocation, is perhaps a more "probable explanation of the phenomena of ventriloquism.
In the conclusion of the foregoing passage, the reviewer alludes to the influence of Imagination in aiding the allusions of the ventriloquist; a circumstance which Mr. Gough has altogether overlooked, but which in my opinion, is one of the chief principles to be attended to in this discussion. Indeed, I am strongly inclined to think, that the art of the ventriloquist, when he produces a deception with respect to direction, consists less in his imitative faculty, than in the address with which he manages the imaginations of his audience. In this respect ventriloquism and painting appear to me to be exact counter
Edinburgh Review, Vol. II. pp. 194, 195.
parts to each other. The painter can copy, with mathematical accuracy, the signs of different direction; but it is impossible for him to copy all the signs connected with difference of distance, for this obvious reason, that the objects in his representation are all at the same distance from the eye, and, consequently, are viewed without any change in its confirmation, or in the inclination of the optic axes. The ventriloquist, on the other hand, can copy the signs of different distances, but not the signs of different directions. We know, however, in the case of the eye, that if all the signs of different direction be copied, as in a correct perspective drawing, the imagination is able to supply, in a considerable degree, the signs of different distances. The imitation may not be so perfect as to produce any thing approaching to a deception; but the effect is powerfully assisted by the imagination of the spectator, who, in this, as in all other imitative arts, consults his own pleasure most effectually, when he yields himself up, without resistance, to the agreeable delusions practised on him by the artist. In like manner, in the case of the ear, is it not probable, from analogy, that if the ventriloquist can imitate the signs of different distances, the imagination may supply the signs of different directions? For this purpose, however, it is necessary that the imagination should be under the management of the ventriloquista management which a little experience and address will easily enable him to acquire; and also, that the ear should be deprived of every aid which it is accustomed to receive from the eye, in judging of the local situations of objects. That both of these things are, to a certain extent, within the reach of his art, will appear from the following slight remarks.
1st, The ventriloquist, by concealing the motions of his lips, may contrive to bring the whole of his exhibition under the cognizance of the ear alone. Of the few persons of this description, whom I have happened to see, I have uniformly observed, that all of them contrived, under one pretext or another, to conceal their faces, while they were practising their imitations. One of the number remarked to me, that the art of ventriloquism would be perfect, if it were possible only to speak distinctly, without any movement of the lips at all.*
Are not the deceptions of this kind, exemplified in some of the exhibitions of Mathews, facilitated by the slight paralytic distortion of his mouth to one side of the face? In consequence of this accident, when he wishes to conceal the motion of his lips, he has only to turn the other side of his face to the spectators. They, however, who have had the pleasure of seeing him, will readily acknowledge, that this circumstance goes but a very little way to account for his powers as a
2d, The ventriloquist may direct the imagination towards that particular quarter from which the sound is supposed to proceed. The possibility of this appears from many facts. have seen a person, by counterfeiting the gesticulations of a performer on the violin, while he imitated the music with his voice, rivet the eyes of his audience on the instrument, though every sound they heard proceeded from his own mouth. I have seen another, by imitating the barking of a lap-dog, direct the eyes of a whole company below the table.
A mimic of considerable powers, (the late Savile Carey) who, among his various other exhibitions, imitated very successfully the whistling of the wind blowing into a room through a narrow chink, told me, that, by way of experiment, he had frequently practised this deception in the corner of a coffeehouse; and that he seldom failed to see some of the company rise to examine the tightness of the windows; while others, more intent upon their newspapers, contented themselves with putting on their hats, and buttoning their coats.
The same thing is exemplified on a greater scale in those theatres. (formerly not uncommon on the Continent,) where a performer on the stage exhibits the dumb-show of singing, with his lips and eyes, and gestures, while another, unseen, supplies the music with his voice. The deception in such cases, it is well known, is so complete (at least at first) as to impose on the nicest ear and quickest eye. The case I suspect to be very similar with the deceptions of the Ventriloquist; whose art seems to me to amount chiefly to a certain degree of address or trick, in misleading the imagination with respect to direction.* The rest resolves entirely into a particular modification of mimickry-that of the signs of distance-superadded to the other powers which mimics in general possess. Among these powers, that which ventriloquists seem in general most carefully to cultivate, is the power of imitating the modification of sounds which arises from their obstruction; of imitating, for example, the voice of a person heard from the adjoin
Ventriloquist. It may contribute something to give a freer scope to their exercise; but by far the greater part of the illusion depends on his singular talents as a mimic, combined with that ascendant over the imaginations of his audience, which he owes to a superiority of comic genius and of theatrical skill, seldom found in union with that secondary accomplishment.
*Mr. Gough, who had the misfortune to be blind from his infancy, could not possibly form any judgment, from his own experience, of the length to which this last species of deception may be carried by the help of false intimations or signs skilfully addressed to the eye. It is not, therefore surprising, that he should have been led to adopt some of those conclusions which I have already taken the liberty to controvert. His paper, on the whole, reflects the highest honour, both on his philosophical sagacity, and on his talents as an accurate and skilful observer.
ing apartment, or from the floor below; or the rattling of a carriage as it passes along the street.
The deception, after all, has but narrow limits; and, I suspect, owes no inconsiderable part of its effect to the sudden surprise which it occasions. It may make up completely for a small difference of direction, but is easily detected, if the difference be considerable, and if the experiment be continued for a length of time. Accordingly, it is only in very large theatres, that the division of labour, which I have just now mentioned in the art of the opera-singer, has been attempted with any considerable degree of success. In the progress of the entertainment, I have, in general, become distinctly sensible of the imposition: and have sometimes wondered that it should have misled me for a moment.
It is generally imagined that ventriloquists possess some peculiar organic faculty which is denied to other men. By the ancients they were supposed to have a power of fetching a voice from the belly or stomach. Hence they were called Eyyor. Mr. Gray, in his comments upon Plato, seems plainly to have "Those "" given credit to this supposition.. (says he) "who are possessed of this faculty," (that is, of fetching a voice from the belly or stomach,) "can manage their voice in so “wonderful a manner that it shall seem to come from what "part they please, not of themselves only, but of any other person in the compauy, or even from the bottom of a well, "down a chimney, from below stairs, &c. &c. of which I my"self have been witness. In what manner this faculty of fetching a voice from the belly or stomach should enable the possessor to work all these apparent miracles, Mr. Gray has not attempted to explain. Among the moderns, a different theory has become prevalent,-that this peculiar faculty consists in the power of speaking in the act of inspiration. Hobbes is the earliest author, by whom I have found this idea started: "A man" (says he) "that has practised to speak by "drawing in his breath, (which kind of men in ancient time
were called Ventriloqui,) and so make the weakness of his "voice seem to proceed, not from the weak impulsion of the "organs of speech, but from distance of place, is able to make very many men believe it is a voice from Heaven, whatsoever he pleases to tell them." The same theory has been
Gray's Works, Edit. by Mathias, Vol. II. p. 424.
Hobbes Of a Christian Commonwealth, Chap. xxxvii.-If the ventriloquist really possesses this power, it is probably much less by weakening the voice, (as Hobbes supposes) than by divesting it of all the common marks of direction