Devant was a member of the famous Maskelyne & Cooke company and performed regularly at the Egyptian Hall.
In 1905 he became a partner with John Nevil Maskelyne. He was succeeded by Oswald Williams. Devant is revered by magicians as an inventor and performer whose stature led to him being invited to participate in Royal Command Performances.
He was droll, engaging and a master of grand illusion and platform magic. The wit of his patter marked a departure from the pseudo scientific style of earlier conjurors. This humour can still delight, as evidenced by stage lines he includes in the treatise he wrote with Nevil Maskelyne, Our Magic. It has been claimed that Queen Alexandra laughed aloud during Devant's "A Boy, Girl and Eggs" routine at the first of his Royal Command Performances, where an assistant from the audience was given the (losing) task of keeping track of a bewildering number of eggs plucked from an empty hat by the magician.
Among Devant's signature routines was his "Magic Kettle", which produced, on demand, any alcoholic beverage called for by the audience, and "Mascot Moth", an instantaneous vanish of a winged assistant.
Critics of Devant claim many of the items in his repertoire were elaborated sketches in which the magical element was insufficient to justify the staging. In its day, however, Devant's magic was the talk of London. He was already a top-of-the-bill music hall star when he began sharing the stage with John Neville Maskelyne in 1893. In 1904, the two moved to St George's Hall, and their official business and professional partnership was established soon afterwards. It was to prosper for ten years.
Maskelyne and Devant's House of Magic became famous all over the world, and was the showcase for the premier magicians of the day, including Paul Valadon, Charles Bertram and Buatier de Kolta. In My Magic Life, Devant says that their theatre was "the veritable headquarters of the conjurer's art".
Milbourne Christopher, in his book Magic: A Picture History, wrote that "most British magicians agree, [Devant] was the master performer of his time".
Devant was a fixture in British entertainment and it was he who was selected to represent "the world of wizardry" at King George V's command performance at the Palace Theatre in London on 1 July 1912. Devant made headlines not long after when an escaped mental patient cornered him in London and insisted that the conjurer pull coins from the air as he had been seen to do on stage. Devant did so until attendants arrived from the hospital to take the disturbed spectator away.
Elliott O'Donnell featured the pair in his 1912 occult novel The Sorcery Club. A highlight is the exposure of all their tricks by a group of *real* sorcerers.
Devant was a pioneer of early cinema in London and introduced the theatrograph into the Egyptian Hall show, acquiring one of the first projectors ever made out of his own pocket. The theatrograph was invented by R.W. Paul.
Devant was still at the peak of his profession when his health began to fail during the war years, until the consequences of "paralysis agitans", as he identifies it in his autobiography, forced him to retire in 1920.
According to the magician John Booth, Devant managed to fool a number of people into believing he had genuine psychic ability who did not realize that his feats were magic tricks. At St. George's Hall, London, he performed a fake "clairvoyant" act where he would read a message sealed inside an envelope. Oliver Lodge who was present in the audience was duped by the trick and claimed that Devant had used psychic powers. In 1936 Devant in his book Secrets of My Magic revealed the trick method he had used.
Devant is remembered as the consummate exponent of entertaining magical theatre. He was the first President of The Magic Circle and the Society celebrates Devant by using his name for their function room in the Headquarters in London. His words about his own priorities in magic have often been quoted to budding young magicians - when confronted by a boastful magician who claimed he knew hundreds of tricks, Devant gently replied that he knew only a few dozen, but he was able to perform them very well. One of his trade mark phrases was that his magic was done "All by kindness".
Devant was the author of several manuals on conjuring, including Our Magic: The Art in Magic, the Theory of Magic, the Practice of Magic with Nevil Maskelyne.
He mentored Scottish-American magician Max Holden.
He lived in Hampstead, London, where a blue plaque commemorating his residence was affixed to the house in 2005.
The indie band David Devant & His Spirit Wife are named after him.
He is buried in Highgate Cemetery, North London
ArticlesA Conjurer’s Reminiscences. The Strand Magazine (January, 1913)
My Illusions. The Strand Magazine (February, 1913)
BooksWoes of a Wizard (1903)
Our Magic: The Art in Magic, the Theory of Magic, the Practice of Magic (1911, 1946) [with Nevil Maskelyne]
Magic Made Easy (1921)
Lessons in Conjuring (1922)
My Magic Life (1931)
The Best Tricks and How to Do Them (1931)
Secrets of My Magic (1936)
The Great London Mystery (1920)