Juggling and Indian Jugglers

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  • Topic: Juggling, William Hazlitt
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  • Published : December 12, 2010
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Indian Jugglers and the meaning of life
I've just come across a superb essay entitled 'The Indian Jugglers' from William Hazlitt's 19th century collection Table Talk (1828). Hazlitt starts the essay by describing his absolute astonishment upon watching Indian Jugglers perform in London's Olympic Theatre. Hazlitt was known for his wildly exaggerated style. However, his genuine amazement is clear:

"Coming forward and seating himself on the ground in his white dress and tightened turban, the chief of the Indian Jugglers begins with tossing up two brass balls, which is what any of us could do, and concludes with keeping up four at the same time, which is what none of us could do to save our lives, nor if we were to take our whole lives to do it in. Is it then a trifling power we see at work, or is it not something next to miraculous! It is the utmost stretch of human ingenuity, which nothing but the bending the faculties of body and mind to it from the tenderest infancy with incessant, ever-anxious application up to manhood, can accomplish or make even a slight approach to. Man, thou art a wonderful animal, and thy ways past finding out! Thou canst do strange things, but thou turnest them to little account! - To conceive of this effort of extraordinary dexterity distracts the imagination and makes admiration breathless."

Hazlitt was clearly gobsmacked. He goes on to state next that "As to the swallowing of the sword, the police ought to interfere to prevent it.". But it was the juggling act that astounded Hazlitt to such an extent that he was left questioning his own worth:

"The hearing a speech in Parliament, drawled or stammered out by the Honourable Member or the Noble Lord, the ringing the changes on their common-places, which any one could repeat after them as well as they, stirs me not a jot, shakes not my good opinion of myself: but the seeing the Indian Jugglers does. It makes me ashamed of myself. I ask what there is that I can do as well as this!...
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