Chambers's Miscellany on VENTRILOQUISM (1846)

Compiled by Steven Connor. as part of The Dumbstruck Archive, a continuing, online supplement to Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Ventriloquism (or stomach-speaking) is a vocal mimicry of sounds, by which an illusion is produced on the hearer that the sound comes not from the mimic, but from some other appropriate source. When these imitations are made without moving the lips, features, or body, the illusive effect of the mimicry is perfectly magical. Of course the art depends upon a knowledge of the principles of acoustics - such as relate to distance, loudness of sound, pitch of voice, and the like - and also upon great command of features, coupled with long-continued practice. Another extraneous aid of great importance, is the direction of the auditors' attention, either by word, gesture, or look, to the quarter whence the sound is supposed to come. If any individual in company turn his head, with an air of attention, to any particular quarter, we involuntarily do the same, and upon the skilful management of this particular much of the ventriloquist's illusion in reality depends. In recent times, Italy, France, and our own country have produced very able ventriloquists, who could make voices proceed from any object around them, who could imitate echoes to perfection, counterfeit bands of music receding or approaching; in fact could, by a little dexterity, impose upon the most alert and attentive. The various kinds of divination amongst the nations of antiquity - alleged by the priesthood to be by a spirit, a familiar spirit, a spirit of divination - are now supposed to have been effected by means of ventriloquism. The art, indeed, seems to have been practised in the East for upwards of three thousand years; and those who have listened to the illusions of Mr. Love, can readily comprehend how efficient an instrument ventriloquism must have been in the hands of the ancient magicians and diviners. 

`Natural Magic', Chambers's Miscellany of Useful and Entertaining Tracts, 20 Vols (Edinburgh: William and Robert Chambers, 1844-7), Vol 9 (1846), p. 22 [article separately paginated, 1-32]