George Smith, Memoirs and Anecdotes of Mr. Love, the Celebrated Ventriloquist (1831)

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).
In conclusion, we shall lay before the reader the opinions of several scientific characters, as to the manner in which the singular phenomena of ventriloquy are effected; and although a considerable diversity of sentiment upon the subject, at present exists, and in all probability, (from the very great rarity of meeting with the faculty in question, and the very limited opportunities which those who have written on the art have possessed, of conferring with talented professors of it; and, of consequence, the imperfect notion physiologists in general, however splendid their talents in other respects may be, entertain, of the first principles of ventriloquism,) ever will exist; yet the scientific reader, who may be curious enough to interest himself upon the point, may, by having the opinions of many placed before him at one view, be assisted in forming a judgement of his own, which may, perhaps, be more satisfactory to himself, than any among the number which are here presented. 

It is asserted by Magendie, Bell, Oscander, and other physiologists, that the term `Ventriloquy,' which is usually employed to designate that art which Mr L. professes, is not correct; [There is no doubt but a better term might be used: perhaps `Pectoraloquism' or `Alioloquism,' would be more correct than any which has hitherto been employed.] but as neither of these gentleman have ventured to present the world with a better appellation, we must be content to retain that which we have, until another, possessing a better claim to propriety, be introduced.] 

Mr Nicholson was of opinion, that ventriloquists, by continual practice from childhood, acquire the power of speaking during the inspiration of the breath, with the same articulation as the ordinary voice, which is formed by expiration. 

M. Richerand thinks otherwise. He says, that every time a professor of ventriloquy exhibits his power, he suffers distension in the epigastric region; and supposes that the mechanism of the art, consists in a slow, gradual expiration, drawn in such a way, that the artist either makes use of the influence exerted by volition over the parietes of the thorax, or that he keeps the epiglottis down by the base of the tongue, the apex of which is not carried beyond the dental arches. 

He also observes, that perfect ventriloquists have the power of making an unusually strong inspiration just before this long expiration, and thus convey into the lungs an immense quantity of air, by the skilful management of the egress of which, they produce such astonishing effects upon the ears and minds of their auditors. Therefore, repletion of the stomach, he asserts, is a considerable disadvantage to this faculty, as it prevents the diaphragm from descending sufficiently to admit of a dilatation of the thorax, in proportion to the quantity of air that the lungs should receive. By skillfully accelerating and retarding the egress of the air, the professor is enabled to imitate an indefinite number of voices, and cause his auditors to imagine  that the interlocutors of a dialogue sustained by himself, without assistance, are stationed in different parts of the apartment. [There can be no doubt but that that delusive faculty of the human mind, the imagination, assists in creating the Illusions of Ventriloquism. But, in this respect, it is by no means singular: it has similar effects in the occurrences of every day. The act of walking over a narrow, shaking bridge, standing on the summit of a lofty building, or on the verge of a precipice, and looking downwards on the objects below; will frequently, through the mere force of a deceptive fancy, cause us to shudder, turn giddy, and cling for support to any thing that happens to be near us. The sight of delicacies we are partial to, will often cause a flowing of the saliva; and should we chance to behold any disgusting object, especially after repletion, it would almost invariably cause a disposition to vomit. A disagreeable grating noise, will, by the same fantastic power, `set the teeth on edge;' and the sight of a person yawning, will often be the cause of the same action in ourselves. Innumerable instances of a similar description might, if necessary, be adduced.] 

M. Magendie asserts, that professors of ventriloquy have no internal organization essentially different from other men; but that the organs of voice and speech are invariably found very perfect. He thus attempts to explain the foundation of the art: - 

"Experience," says he, "has taught us instinctively that sounds are frequently altered by a variety of causes; - for example, that they become weak, more confused, and that their expression varies according as they are at a greater distance from us: we will suppose that a man at the bottom of a well is desirous of speaking to an individual at the top: he calls out; - but his voice will not reach the ear of the person above, until it has received a certain modification, dependent upon the distance. 

"Now if a person pay a particular attention to this modification, and try to imitate it, he will produce an acoustic illusion, which would deceive the ear in the same manner as the sight of objects through a magnifier would deceive the eye. [M. Magendie is in error to suppose that the acoustic illusion here spoken of, bears any affinity to ventriloquism. The illusion, if it may be so called, could not be produced, except by expansion, whereas, Ventriloquism is always caused by compression. There can be no doubt but he has been misled by making observations upon some person who professed the art without possessing it; for it is a matter of notoriety, that several individuals have, of late years, put in a claim to the appellation of Ventriloquists, and have even succeeded in amusing crowded audiences (and unprincipled impostors have been found who have had the assurance to profess to teach it,) by means of the acoustic illusion mentioned by the doctor; but it falls immeasurably short of Ventriloquism, in point of distance, power, and variety of expression. Of course, means must be adopted to screen these deficiencies. The method generally employed, is to engage the attention of the audience with mechanical changes of dress, wigs, &c. &c. However laughable and amusing the management of such auxiliaries may be, in the hands of a good mimic, they are not at all essential to the performance of a genuine ventriloquist, as his Illusions would be equally perfect without them, and he would, of course, take more credit to himself for completely deceiving the senses of his auditors, without the aid of artificial contrivances than with them.] 

"These illusions will, of course, be more or less numerous and complete, in proportion to the talent of the performer. The art of ventriloquism is to the sense of hearing, what painting is to that of sight." 

"Mr Gough, in a paper containing an investigation of the method whereby mankind judge by the ear of the position of sonorous bodies relative to their own persons, attempts to explain the phenomena of ventriloquism on the principles of reverberated sound; and considers it as consisting in the talent of making the voice issue only from the mouth; whereas, he thinks that in ordinary cases, the different vibrations which are excited by the joint functions of the several vocal organs in action, pass along the bones and cartilages from the parts in motion, to the external teguments of the head, face, neck, and chest; from which a succession of similar vibrations is imparted to the contiguous air; thereby converting the upper half of the speaker's body into an extensive seat of sound. He thinks that the voice proceeding from the mouth of a ventriloquist, is uttered in such a direction, that the hearers may receive the impression of some echo with much more force than they can receive the original sound." - Manchester Memoirs, vol. V. part ii. p. 622. [This is undoubtedly a fallacious argument. The echoes Mr Gough alludes to cannot possibly take place in any theatre or other building filled with company.] 

Mr Love is of opinion that Mr Gough, and the other gentlemen named above, have failed in giving a satisfactory explanation of the phenomena of ventriloquy. He denies that it is an imitative process, but supposes that some, though not a considerable portion of the effect produced may depend upon the imperfect manner in which mankind judge of the angle of position by the ear alone. Were a man's eyes blindfolded, he would probably have an imperfect, and perhaps false idea of the place from which a sound issues. We sometimes, especially at night, hear a carriage approaching the house, and cannot distinguish from which point it is coming. The performer, therefore, taking advantage of this imperfection in the human ear, generally places himself, so that his own line of distance shall make but a small angle with the line drawn from the spectator to the subject. Still, however, the voice of a ventriloquist will undoubtedly appear, even to himself, to rise and fall. For instance, in speaking to an imaginary character supposed to be above the ceiling, the ventriloquial voice would cause a sensation to be distinctly felt in the upper part of the body of the ventriloquist. Change the position, and suppose the imaginary characters beneath the floor, the sensation would be felt lower than the diaphragm. The same remark will hold good, though not to the same extent with respect to the different sides of the theatre. How these phenomena are effected will probably, notwithstanding the labour and industry of physiologists, for ever remain an impregnable mystery." [sic closing quotes - no indication where they open] 

In speaking sounds which are not formed by the larynx, such as the imitation of the noise of machinery, &c. &c. in which Mr Love is unquestionably unrivalled, M. Magendie observes, "It is a task of great difficulty, to account for the mechanism of the production of these different sounds: we have nothing on this point but approximations." Considered, whether in a physiological or a psychological point of view, it is equally astonishing and inexplicable. 

George Smith, Memoirs and Anecdotes of Mr Love, the Celebrated Ventriloquist; To Which is Added, An Explanation of the Phenomena of Ventriloquy; Wherein the Errors of Former Writers on the Subject Are Clearly Pointed Out (London: John Lowndes, 1831), pp. 37-44