The French Conjuror Val in England

The French conjuror Val made his first appearance in London in the spring of 1803 at Willis’s Rooms, charging an admission of seven shillings. Val, like other conjurors, performed tricks that usually involved some sort of sleight of hand and appeared to be magical. However, those who saw Val quickly discovered he was no ordinary conjuror and that his performance was superb. They loudly praised him stating:

“Willis’s Rooms are metamorphosed into the Temple of Fashion, as often as M. Val, surnamed the Unique gives specimens of his most extraordinary art; nor is it astonishing they should rove the favourite lounge of polite society, while this wonder-working man, like a Magnet, attracts all that centre; in effect, it is strictly impossible to form to one’s self a correct idea of M. Val’s performance without being a witness of his surprising dexterity; and even then the spectators think themselves transported into Fairy Land, and surrounded by all the delusions of inoffensive Magic, not knowing which to admire most, the grand variety of deceptions and rare experiments or the performer’s happy talent of exhibiting.”[1]

Willis’s Rooms. Public Domain.

One English newspaper pronounced Val superior to the Italian conjuror Pinetti, who had founded the classical school of magic and toured Europe in the 1780s. London’s Morning Post also praised Val and provided the following accolade:

“M. Val, on his arrival in this capital, performed in the presence of the Hero of the Nile, and of Copenhagen [Lord Nelson], who honoured him with his peculiar approbation; he also exhibited at Lady Mansfield’s, where there was a most brilliant circle of fashion and beauty to witness his astonishing experiments. – M. Val’s performance is admirably calculated to arrest the attention of those who are partial to curious and scientific deceptions. M. Val, it is said, means shortly to take his departure hence for St. Petersburgh, where he has an establishment, having obtained a pension from Alexander I.”[2]

Sir William Farquhar. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Various private parties were thrown in England and featured Val as the entertainment. For instance, one party in April 1803 was given by Sir William Farquhar, an employee of the East India Company and the first British Resident and Commandant of colonial Singapore. Farquhar’s honored guest at the party was the Prince of Wales, which resulted in this interesting tidbit about the Prince’s reaction to Val’s abilities:

“His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales dined on Friday at S. W. Farquhar’s, who, on the occasion, strenuously exerted himself for the honourable purpose of affording every species of entertainment to his greatly illustrious guest. M. Val, the much celebrate natural philosopher, was invited to perform several of his rare and unexampled experiments, and his Royal Highness felt so eminently gratified by the Exhibition, that, with his wonted condescension, and as Protector of the Arts, he repeatedly expressed his admiration and pleasure, declaring frequently that his astonishment had never been so completely excited, which his Royal Highness also testified to Val, by his applauding suffrage.”[3]

George Canning. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In June, Val left London for St. Petersburg and along the way stopped in Berlin and Vienna. He spent the winter in St. Petersburg and returned to London in the spring of 1804. However, by that time, a German showman and conjuror, named Moritz, was all the rage in London.

Although Moritz may have replaced Val, Val was not forgotten. Over twenty years later, the British statesman and Tory politician, George Canning, wrote a poem called “The Grand Consultation.” He satirically attacked Henry Addington’s Administration, and in one stanza mentioned Val:

And instead of the jack-pudding bluster of Sherry,
With his “dagger of lath,” and his speeches so merry!
Let us bring to the field — every foe to appal —
Aldini’s galvanic deception — an all
The sleight of hand tricks of Conjuror Val.[4]

References:

  • [1] Morning Post, “Sporting Intelligence,” April 27, 1803, p. 3.
  • [2] Morning Post, “The Ladies Townsends’ Ball,” April 2, 1803, p. 3.
  • [3] Morning Chronicle, “Old Bailey, Saturday, April 30,” May 2, 1803, p. 3.
  • [4] Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, “The Consultation,” August 12, 1827, p. 2.

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