Magic Trick: Fire-eating

This was another trick performed remarkably well by my Chinese. It is, I should think, one of the best-known in England, for every country fair has its fire-eater; but it is not everyone who knows how it is performed. In the first place, prepare some thick, soft string, by either boiling or soaking it in a solution of nitre (saltpetre). Take a piece, from 1in. to 2in. in length, and, after lighting it, wrap it in a piece of two as large as an ordinary walnut. Conceal this piece under a heap of loose tow, the whole of which is put on a plate, and so exhibited to the audience. The string will burn very slowly indeed, and the very little smoke issuing from it will be quite smothered by the tow. Show the mouth empty, and then put a little two into it. Commence chewing this, and, after a little time, put in some more. Repeat this three or four times, taking the chewed portion secretly away each time you put any fresh tow into the mouth, and in one of the bunches include the piece containing the burning string. Do not chew this about at all, in reality, although you will make great gestures as if so doing. Take a fan, and fan the ears, and presently take in a good breath at the nostrils, blowing it out at the mouth. This will cause some smoke to be ejected, the volume of which will increase as the breathings are kept up. Always be careful to draw in at the nostrils, and eject at the mouth; otherwise you will be choked. Renew the fannings (merely for effect), and, by continued breathings, the tow in the mouth will be brought into a glow, and one or two sparks will issue from the mouth. When this has continued sufficiently long, take in more tow, and so smother the burning string again, extracting the piece containing it under cover of a loose bunch. There need be no fear of burning the mouth, as, directly it is closed, the light becomes a mere spark. The trick causes great effect, not to say alarm on many occasions.

A very pretty and laughable termination to the above trick is to pass, unperceived, into the mouth (under cover of a piece of tow, as usual) a little ball composed of a long band of coloured paper, about half an inch or so wide. Take this by the end, and draw it out through the teeth. Tightly rolled up, a ball may contain several yards of paper. It should be composed of three or four different colours, in lengths, each pasted to the other, for there must be no break. The end should have a piece of cotton attached to it, or it will be next to impossible to find it in the mouth. The cotton will adhere to some portion of the mouth, and so be easily found. These balls of paper are supplied at all conjuring shops, as is also an article known as the Barber's Pole. This consists of a spiral of paper, which shuts up into a very small compass, but assumes a great length on being merely twisted. A long pole appears to come out of the performer's mouth.

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