John Maskelyne stands with sword in hand and a snake on his arm, appearing to make a body float above a flaming goblet through magical suggestion. This lurid image rather misrepresents the famous stage acts of Maskelyne and Cooke, which, while designed to make an audience gasp, also proceeded from the notion that there was no such thing as magic.
Styling themselves ‘Royal Illusionists and Anti-Spiritualists’, Maskelyne and Cooke had a strong sideline in re-performing and explaining the apparently supernatural feats of other illusionists. Indeed, ‘The Miracle of Lh’asa’ being performed here was a popular conjuror’s trick of the time, inspired by the supposed ability of Tibetan monks to levitate. The venue for this act – The Egyptian Hall in London’s Piccadilly – was actually owned by John Maskelyne at this point. On its demolition in 1905, he bought St George’s Hall in Langham Place, which then became known as Maskelyne’s Theatre.