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The Life Of P.T. Barnum
Barnum was an extraordinary entrepreneur, an impresario, and a self-made man. He remade himself several times during his long career as a showman. The following is an excerpt from Barnum's first autobiography, published at the height of his antebellum success and fame. Barnum relates how he pulled himself out of financial danger with his purchase of the American Museum and how he achieved his first profits there by exhibiting the Fejee Mermaid and Tom Thumb. Moses Kimball of the Boston Museum was friends with Barnum and helped him obtain the Fejee Mermaid. Barnum was a master of promotion. Notice how he promoted the Fejee Mermaid. When he obtained the services of the five-year-old Charles Stratton, Barnum would use similar approaches in promoting the young man he called "General Tom Thumb."
On our second visit to the Queen, we were received in what is called the "Yellow Drawing Room," a magnificent apartment, surpassing in splendor and gorgeousness any thing of the kind I had ever seen. It is on the north side of the gallery, and is entered from that apartment. It was hung with drapery of rich yellow satin damask, the couches, sofas and chairs being covered with the same material. The vases, urns and ornaments were all of modern patterns, and the most exquisite workmanship. The room was panelled in gold, and the heavy cornices beautifully carved and gilt. The tables, pianos, etc., were mounted with gold, inlaid with pearl of various hues, and of the most elegant devices.
We were ushered into this gorgeous drawing-room before the Queen and royal circle had left the dining-room, and, as they approached, the General bowed respectfully, and remarked to Her Majesty that "he had seen her before," adding, "I think this is a prettier room than the picture gallery; that chandelier is very fine."
The Queen smilingly took him by the hand, and said she hoped he was very well.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, "I am first-rate."
"General," continued the Queen, "this is the Prince of Wales."
"How are you, Prince?" said the General, shaking him by the hand; and then standing beside the Prince, he remarked, "The Prince is taller than I am, but I feel as big as any body" -- upon which he strutted up and down the room as proud as a peacock, amid shouts of laughter from all present.
The Queen then introduced the Princess Royal, and the General immediately led her to his elegant little sofa, which we took with us, and with much politeness sat himself down beside her. Shortly rising from his seat, he went through his various performances as before, and the Queen handed him an elegant and costly souvenir, which had been expressly made for him by her order -- for which, he told her, "he was very much obliged, and would keep it as long as he lived."
The Queen of the Belgians (daughter of Louis Philippe) was present on this occasion. She asked the General where he was going when he left London?
"To Paris," he replied.
"Whom do you expect to see there?" she continued.
Of course all expected he would answer, "The King of the French," but the little fellow replied:
"I shall see Monsieur Guillaudeu in Paris."
The two Queens looked inquiringly to me, and when I informed them that Mons. G. was my French naturalist, who had preceded me to Paris, they laughed most heartily.
On our third visit to Buckingham Palace, Leopold, King of the Belgians, was also present. He was highly pleased, and asked a multitude of questions. Queen Victoria desired the General to sing a song, and asked him what song he preferred to sing.
"Yankee Doodle," was the prompt reply.
This answer was as unexpected to me as it was to the royal party. When the merriment it occasioned somewhat subsided, the Queen good-humoredly remarked, "That is a very pretty song, General. Sing it, if you please." The General complied, and soon afterwards we retired.
I ought to add, that after each of our three visits to Buckingham Palace, a handsome douceur was sent to me, of course by the Queen's command. This, however, was the smallest part of the advantage derived from these interviews, as will be at once apparent to all who consider the force of Court example in England.
The British public were now fairly excited. Not to have seen General Tom Thumb was voted to be decidedly unfashionable, and from the 20th of March until the 20th of July the levees of the little General at Egyptian Hall were continually crowded -- the receipts averaging during the whole period about $500 per day, sometimes going considerably beyond that sum. At the fashionable hour, between fifty and sixty carriages of the nobility have been counted at one time standing in front of our exhibition rooms in Piccadilly.
Portraits of the little General were published in all the pictorial papers of the time. Polkas and quadrilles were named after him, and songs were sung in his praise. He was an almost constant theme for the "London Punch," which served the General and myself up so daintily that it no doubt added vastly to our receipts.
The expenses of the hall were only £44 per month, and our family expenses (as we now kept house) averaged but one pound per week each. Altogether I reckon our entire disbursements, including printing, and every thing appertaining to the exhibition, at $50 per day.
Besides his three public performances per day, the little General attended from three to four private parties per week, for which we were paid eight to ten guineas each. Frequently we would visit two parties in the same evening, and the demand in that line was much greater than the supply.
The Queen Dowager Adelaide requested the General's attendance at Marlborough House one afternoon. He went in his court dress, consisting of richly embroidered brown silk-velvet coat and short breeches, white satin vest with fancy-colored embroidery, white silk stockings and pumps, wig, bag-wig, cocked hat, and a dress sword.