The first ventriloquist who came to the attention of the general public, and was well known, was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sir Arthur was a member of an early troupe and had been known as “the clown” in New Zealand. He was a “furniture dealer”, and used to entertain people on his horse, the “Mister Sherlock Holmes”.
The story of Sir Arthur shows that the art of comedy is not restricted to the West. It originated in Latin, and developed in Britain and the West. It must be remembered that this was not the first time the name “croupier” or “cocktail” was applied to a clown. It would seem to have been a well known name in Britain even before Shakespeare.
The earliest description of a ventriloquist in literature dates from the 1600s. It is in the English version of the 1624 edition of Thomas Hulwood’s “Toys and Tricks” book. Hulwood states that “there was a gentleman by the name of Arthur, a contrivance of comedy…” He describes Arthur as “furniture dealer” and in this context means that he sold “boxes of furniture”.
This was probably a name which would have been applied widely amongst Londoners, to anyone who possessed a box of furniture or decorative objects, either for his own pleasure, or for sale. This would then have allowed anyone to buy the boxes by the dozens, which they would put in their pockets to entertain friends with.
It is possible for a ventriloquist to be very well known within a small group, even if he or she is not famous, but the name Sir Arthur would be very likely to get people’s attention.
In Shakespeare’s time, the term “croupier” did not have common currency. It did not become synonymous with “jester”, and the term “croupier” came to be used to characterize those with a particular set of tricks, rather than to identify anyone as a ventriloquist or comedy performer. Sir Arthur was certainly an interesting character, who played to the very wealthy crowds of Europe.
The first public account of a ventriloquist can be found in “The Mystery Solver”, written about 1606 by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and published in 1609. The story is about a young man who discovers a large sum of money hidden in a box in his attic. He puts on a ventriloquist’s