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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."
The gentleman politely replied that no apology was necessary, that he was most happy to see him, and that any information which he could impart regarding that or any other portion of the country should be given with pleasure.
"Thank you," replied Sherman; "I will not trouble you except on a single point. I have seen all that is important in Dublin and its vicinity, and in and about Donnybrook; there is but one thing respecting which I want information, and that is the stone tower or castle which we see standing on the hill about a quarter of a mile south of your house. If you could give me the name and history of that pile, I shall feel extremely obliged."
"Oh, nothing is easier," replied the gentleman, with a smile. "That 'pile,' as you call it, was built some forty years ago by my father -- and it was a lucky 'pile' for him, for it was the only windmill in these parts, and always had plenty to do; but a few years ago a hurricane carried off the wings of the mill, and ever since that it has stood as it now does, a memorial of its former usefulness. Is there any other important information that I can give you?" asked the gentleman with a smile.
"Not any," replied Sherman, rising to depart; "but perhaps I can give you some, and that is, that Ireland is beyond all dispute the meanest country I ever travelled in. The only two objects worthy of note that I have seen in all Ireland, are a lime kiln and the foundation for a wind-mill!"
Upon resuming his seat in the carriage, Sherman laughed immoderately, although he evidently felt somewhat chagrined by this second mistake in searching for ancient castles.
For my own part, I was exceedingly pleased with the Irish people. The educated classes are as refined and courteous as any persons I ever was acquainted with, and the poorer classes are blessed with a "mother-wit" which softens the rigors of their sorrowful necessities.
I had abundant reason to be pleased also with the English and the Scotch, though I acknowledge that the hilarity of the French character was more in unison with the merriment of my own spirit. I must therefore devote a few pages to incidents of our tour in la belle France.
In Paris, we found great difficulty in procuring a proper interpreter for the General's public exhibitions. We engaged half a dozen different ones, each of whom proved more incompetent than his predecessor; for they were all English, and their pronunciation of the French was so bad that they were sure to he laughed at. At last I engaged a Frenchman, who was a professor of one if the colleges, and although he spoke English indifferently, he, of course, gave the public pure French. He was, withal, a perfect gentleman, and I found some difficulty in engaging him, as he feared it would be compromising his dignity. I however, at last, convinced him that to be the preceptor and interpreter of "Gen. Tom Pouce" would not be considered a menial office, and he accepted the situation. On arriving at the Belgian frontier, he had no passport, whereupon I remarked, "Monsieur Pinte, you will never be a good showman till you learn to remember every thing, and not thus be caught in a scrape through your own negligence or forgetfulness."
"Do you consider me a showman, then?" asked Monsieur Pinte, whose dignity was evidently wounded.
"Certainly," I replied, laughing; "we are all showmen, and you can make nothing else of it."
The poor fellow was in a brown study for the next four hours. He felt that his dignity had departed, and that the quondam "professor" was now nothing more nor less than a travelling showman. He, however, at last concluded to suffer the indignity, for he was quite a philosopher, and a good fellow at heart.
After a few hours, he good-naturedly said to me, "Mr. B., what are the requisite qualifications of a good showman?"
I smilingly replied, that "the first qualification necessary was a thorough knowledge of human nature, which of course included the faculty of judiciously applying soft soap."
"And what is that you call 'sof sup?'" eagerly inquired the anxious professor Pinte.
I told him it was the faculty to please and flatter the public so judiciously as not to have them suspect your intention.
In passing the custom-house we had a large quantity of medals, books, and engravings, (lithographs of the General.) I knew that these were subject to duty, but I was very prodigal in presenting them to the custom-house officers, and by that means got them through duty-free.
"Is that what you call 'sof sup?'"inquired Professor Flute.
"Exactly," I replied.
After passing the frontier, the directors and servants of the rail-way, who had witnessed my liberality in giving away the engravings, came begging for some. I could do no less than give them.
"The people have very dirty hands in this country, to require so much 'sof sup' to keep them clean," remarked Monsieur Pinte, with a laugh, which seemed to indicate that he was fast becoming reconciled to his lot as a "showman."