As with any youngster starting into magic, it represents a certain amount of separation from the herd: "I can do this and you cant." This is specific secret, arcane knowledge perhaps. And on the otehr hand, I have always looked upon Houdini's career and the career of any magician as escapism. And I don't mean that as a pun. It is an escape from a real world, a real world in which you are limited by the laws of nature. Houdini, you know, could stand no rivals. I mean, the idea that any magician could be considered greater than he was intolerable to Houdini.
Robert-Houdin was probably the most famous magician in history. Houdini, although he took his name from Robert-Houdin, then wrote a book trying to show that all the things claimed for Robert-Houdin were false: that Houdin had not revolutionized magic, that he had not even written his memoirs, that he was a second rate magician. A long list, trying to expose him as a sham. Its the way Houdini treated anybody who could be regarded as a rival.