Invisible at a short distance, very fine silk and hair are invaluable adjuncts to the conjurer's repertory, both in the drawing-room and on the stage. The celebrated and fascinating Japanese butterfly trick is performed with the aid of a piece of fine black silk or horsehair. The former is, in my opinion, immeasurably the superior of the two. Hair is most difficult to manipulate, from its springy nature, and requires a great deal of coaxing before it will con-descend to be tied in a knot. In the butterfly trick, the performer sustains one or more butterflies, made from rice (or tissue) paper, in the air, by means of the current caused by the motions of a fan. When this trick was first brought out, "all the world wondered," for no one, even after long practice, could keep the paper butterfly hovering in a given space for a single moment. I tremble to think of the number of fans I destroyed in my early days over this trick, before I knew the secret of it. The fan used should be a very strong and large one, of the old shape—not the circular—and be composed of paper and wood only, so as to be free from superfluous weight. Affixed to the top waistcoat button, or any other convenient spot, have from 3ft. to 4ft. of the finest black silk floss or hair, with a knot at the free end. Have, also, a piece of crisp tissue (or rice) paper, and a pair of scissors. Let the audience examine the paper, and then proceed to cut out the rough form of a butterfly, explaining your action as you go on, giving the centre a twist or two, for the double purpose of forming a body to the insect, and concealing the knotted end of the silk or hair, which it is as well to have between the fingers before commencing operations, as it is not allowable to grope about for it in view of the audience. When finished, the butterfly's wings should have the appearance of being three parts extended, and should be slightly concave from beneath. A little care bestowed on its formation will be repaid by an increased steadiness when in the air. When all is ready, hold the butterfly in the air at the full stretch of the connecting medium, and fan pretty briskly with the other hand, not immediately underneath the paper, but from the body, and along the silk or hair, which must always be kept at a stretch, or nearly so, or control over the butterfly will be lost.
Notwithstanding the aid of a connecting medium, there is more skill required to perform this trick really neatly than is generally supposed. After a time, practice will enable the performer to cause the butterfly to settle on a flower or on the edge of another fan, and also to sustain two in the air at one time, which has a very pretty effect indeed. When two butterflies are used, it will be found almost necessary to have two fans, one in each hand, and each insect must, of course, have a separate thread. Some use wax at the end of the connecting medium, but this is a bad plan, as it deters the performer from giving round the butterfly to be examined after performing the trick. Whilst cutting out and twisting up the paper, it is as well to call attention to the fact that the trick is performed by some people with the aid of a thread—an assistance which you will say you utterly despise, as will be perceived. This will totally disarm those people who may have bought the trick (it is sold universally), and are yet only tyros at performing it.
There is a second method, in which two butterflies are joined by a thread or hair a few inches long. These do not require to be attached to the performer's person, the partnership being sufficient to enable him to keep them in mid-air.
Speaking of the Chinese, it is a most noticeable thing that their methods of vanishing and concealing articles are the same as those practised by ourselves, which fully demonstrates the fact that there is only one proper way; for there is only one thing more highly improbable than that we learnt the minutice of the art of conjuring, practised by us for centuries, from the Chinese, and that is that the Chinese learnt from us. It is only during the present century that we have been sufficiently familiar with the Chinese to borrow their ideas on magic, did we wish to do so.