Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tom Paine, Houdini, Bessie Braddock, and the Fabians

Not long ago anyone who talked about "magic" or a "magician" was immediately understood to be talking about a form of family entertainment. The word "magic" immediately conjured up visions of such famous stage performers as as David Devant (1868-1941), Will Goldstone (1878-1948), and the master of them all Harry Houdini (1874-1926).

Today things are very different. Words like "magic" and "magician" usually mean some form of neo-Paganism or WICCA. Such a change in the use of these words would have horrified the great performers of the past. One of the common ties between all magicians was a strong rationalism that let them to expose what they saw as the quackery of spiritualism and all claims to supernatural magic.

As mentioned in an earlier blog my hobby as a teenager and young adult was magic. That is stage magic and in this I was schooled by a local inventor of magical tricks Normal Hazeldine who lived in Stockport, England. Along with selling me his tricks and instructing me on how to perform them Norman also lent me the works of people like William Blackstone (1723-1780), Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891) and Annie Besant (1847-1933).
These were indeed strange books for an apprentice gas fitter to be reading, but the fact that I read them was not considered strange. Within the working class in Manchester there was a strong rationalist tradition and people like Tom Paine were known and sometimes read even by otherwise uneducated laborers.
Of course, this tradition went hand in hand with support for the Labour Party and a great respect for people like "battling" Bessie Braddock (1899-1970) the colorful Member of Parliament for Liverpool. It also fitted well with respect for the Fabian Society and non-revolutionary socialism.
Bessie Braddock monument
Thus my life was transformed in numerous ways in a relatively short period of time. Leaving the Methodism of my childhood I became an agnostic who saw all manifestations of spirituality as a blight on society.

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