The P.T. Barnum of the
Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton
In England Again
EGYPTIAN HALL AND THE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS--THE SPECIAL
TRAIN--OXFORD--STRATFORD-ON-AVON--GUY OF WARWICK RELICS--PURCHASE OF THE "HAPPY
FAMILY"--RETURN TO AMERICA.
In London the General again opened his levees in Egyptian
Hall, with increased success. His unbounded popularity on the Continent, and his
receptions by King Louis Philippe, of France, and King Leopold, of Belgium, had added
greatly to his prestige and fame. Those who had seen him when he was in London months
before came to see him again, and new visitors crowded by thousands to the General's
Besides giving these daily entertainments, the General
appeared occasionally for an hour, during the intermissions, at some place in the suburbs;
and for a long time he appeared every day at the Surrey Zoological Gardens, under the
direction of the proprietor, Mr. W. Tyler. This place subsequently became celebrated for
its great music hall, in which Spurgeon, the sensational preacher, first attained his
notoriety. The place was always crowded, and when the General had gone through with his
performances on the little stage, in order that all might see him, he was put into a
balloon, which, secured by ropes, was then passed around the ground, just above the
people's heads. Some forty men managed the ropes and prevented the balloon from rising;
but, one day, a sudden gust of wind took the balloon fairly out of the hands of half the
men who had hold of the ropes, while others were lifted from the ground, and had not an
alarm been instantly given, which called at least two hundred to the rescue, the little
General would have been lost.
In October Barnum made a flying visit to America, remaining
long enough to renew the lease of the Museum building, and to attend to various other
business matters. When he returned he was accompanied by his wife and daughters. They took
a furnished house, which, during all their three months' residence, was the scene of
constant hospitality, all the distinguished people in London being entertained there.
When the engagement at Egyptian Hall expired they made an
extensive tour through England and Scotland, going as far north as Aberdeen. The General's
Scotch costumes, his national dances and the "bit of dialect" which he had
acquired had long been a feature of the performance and was especially admired in
Scotland. The party travelled much of the time in Barnum's own carriage, the General's
carriage, ponies and other properties being conveyed in a huge van. They found this way of
travelling more comfortable than the other, besides enabling them to visit out of the way
places, where often the most successful exhibitions were given.
There was one occasion when their carriage broke down, and,
as they had advertised a performance in Rugby that evening, they decided to take the cars;
but on arriving at the station they found the last train gone. Barnum immediately looked
up the superintendent and told him that they must have an extra train for Rugby, without
an instant's delay.
"Extra train?" said he, with surprise and a
half-sneer, "extra train? why you can't have an extra train to Rugby for less than
"Is that all? well, get up your train immediately, and
here are your sixty pounds. What in the world are sixty pounds to me, when I wish to go to
Rugby, or elsewhere, in a hurry."
The astonished superintendent took the money, bustled about,
and the train was soon ready. He was greatly puzzled to know what distinguished person--he
thought he must be dealing with some prince, or, at least, a duke--was willing to give so
much money to save a few hours of time, and he hesitatingly asked whom he had the honor of
"General Tom Thumb."
The performance at Rugby netted L160, which not only covered
expenses but left a handsome margin.
When they were in Oxford, a dozen or more of the students
came to the conclusion that, as the General was a little fellow, the admission fee to his
entertainments should be paid in the smallest kind of money. They accordingly provided
themselves with farthings, and as each man entered, instead of handing in a shilling for
his ticket, he laid down forty-eight farthings. The counting of these small coins was a
great annoyance to Mr. Stratton, the General's father, who was ticket-seller, and after
counting two or three handfuls, vexed at the delay which was preventing a crowd of ladies
and gentlemen from buying tickets, Mr. Stratton lost his temper, and cried out:
"Blast your quarter-pennies! I am not going to count
them! you chaps who haven't bigger money can chuck your copper into my hat and walk
Mr. Stratton was a genuine Yankee, and thoroughly conversant
with the Yankee vernacular which he used freely. In exhibiting the General, Barnum often
said to visitors that Tom Thumb's parents, and the rest of the family, were persons of the
ordinary size, and that the gentleman who presided in the ticket-office was the General's
father. This made poor Stratton an object of no little curiosity, and he was pestered with
all sorts of questions; on one occasion an old dowager said to him:
"Are you really the father of General Tom Thumb?"
"Wa'al," replied Stratton, "I have to support
This evasive answer is common enough in New England, but the
literal dowager had her doubts, and promptly rejoined:
"I rather think he supports you!"
Although Barnum was in Europe on business, he made the most
of his opportunities for sight-seeing, and in his few leisure hours managed to visit
nearly every place of interest both in England and on the continent.
While in Birmingham, with his friend Albert Smith, then
author and afterwards a successful showman, he visited Stratford-on-Avon, where lived and
wrote the greatest of English poets--Shakespeare.
While breakfasting at the Red House Inn, at Stratford, they
called for a guide-book of the town, and to Barnum's great delight the volume proved to be
Washington Irving's "Sketch-book." His pleasure was even more increased when he
discovered, on reading the vivid and picturesque description of Stratford, that Irving had
stopped at the very same hotel where they were awaiting breakfast.
After visiting the house as well as the church where is the
tomb of the poet, they took a post-chaise for Warwick Castle, fourteen miles away.
The Earl of Warwick and his family being absent, the visitors
were shown through the apartments. One guide took them over the Castle, another escorted
them to the top of "Guy's Tower," another showed them the famous Warwick Vase.
They were congratulating themselves on not being called upon for any more tips, when the
old porter at the lodge informed them that for a consideration he could show them more
interesting things connected with the Castle than any they had yet seen. They tossed him
his fee, and he produced what purported to be Guy of Warwick's sword, shield, helmet,
breastplate, walking-staff, etc. The armor must have weighed two hundred pounds and the
sword alone one hundred. Barnum listened, and gazed in silence at the horse-armor, large
enough for an elephant, and a pot called "Guy's porridge-pot," which could have
held seventy gallons, but when the old man produced the ribs of a mastodon which he
declared had belonged to a huge dun cow, which had done much injury to many persons before
being slain by the dauntless Guy, he drew a long breath, and feelingly congratulated the
old porter on his ability to concentrate more lies than anyone had ever before heard in so
small a compass.
"I suppose," said Barnum, "that you have told
these marvellous tales so often that you almost believe them yourself."
"Almost," answered the old man, with a broad grin.
"Come now, old fellow," continued Barnum,
"what will you take for the entire lot of these old traps? I want them for my Museum
"No money would buy these priceless relics of a bygone
age," replied the porter, leering.
"Never mind," exclaimed the showman; "I'll
have them duplicated for my Museum, so that Americans can see them without coming here,
and in that way I'll burst up your old show."
The porter was paralyzed with astonishment at this threat,
and Albert Smith was convulsed with laughter. He afterwards told Barnum that he first
derived his idea of becoming a showman from this day at Warwick, and Barnum's talk about
his doings and adventures in the business.
They visited that same day Kenilworth and Coventry, in which
latter place Barnum discovered the exhibition known as the "Happy Family," about
two hundred birds and animals of opposite natures, dwelling in one cage in perfect
harmony. He was so delighted with it that he bought it on the spot, and hired the manager
to accompany the exhibition to New York, where it became a famous feature of the Museum.
Albert Smith afterwards published a chapter in Bentley's
Magazine, entitled "A Day with Barnum," in which he said they accomplished
business with such rapidity that, when he attempted to write out the accounts of the day,
he found the whole thing so confused in his brain that he came near locating "Peeping
Tom" in the house of Shakespeare, while Guy of Warwick WOULD stick his head above the
ruins of Kenilworth, and the Warwick Vase appeared in Coventry.
With the exception of two brief trips to America, Barnum had
been abroad with General Tom Thumb three years. The season had been one of unbroken
pleasure and profit. They had visited nearly every city and town in France, Belgium,
England, Scotland, and the cities of Belfast and Dublin in Ireland. After this truly
triumphant tour, they set sail in February, 1847, for New York.
Barnum was a man who never could bear to see injustice done.
On one of his business trips to America he took passage on a Cunard steamer, commanded by
a Captain Judkins. Among the passengers was the celebrated preacher, Robert Baird. One
Sunday after dinner Barnum asked Mr. Baird if he would be willing to preach to the
passengers in the forward cabin. The captain had read the Episcopal service that morning,
but it was done as a mere matter of form, without the slightest suggestion of devotion in
Mr. Baird consented to preach, and Barnum, after mentioning
it to the other passengers, who were delighted at the prospect, went to the captain and
said: "Captain, the passengers desire to have Dr. Baird conduct a religious service
in the forward cabin. I suppose there is no objection?" The rest of the story may as
well be told in Barnum's own words. To his inquiry, the captain replied gruffly:
"Decidedly there is, and it will not be permitted."
"It is against the rules of the ship."
"What! to have religious services on board?"
"There have been religious services once to-day, and
that is enough. If the passengers do not think that is good enough, let them go
without," was the captain's hasty and austere reply.
"Captain," Barnum replied, "do you pretend to
say you will not allow a respectable and well-known clergyman to offer a prayer and hold
religious services on board your ship at the request of your passengers?"
"That, sir, is exactly what I say. So, now, let me hear
no more about it."
By this time a dozen passengers were crowding around his
door, and expressing their surprise at his conduct. Barnum was indignant, and used sharp
"Well," said he, "this is the most
contemptible thing I ever heard of on the part of the owners of a public passenger ship.
Their meanness ought to be published far and wide."
"You had better 'shut up,' " said Captain Judkins,
with great sternness.
"I will not 'shut up,' " he replied; "for this
thing is perfectly outrageous. In that out-of-the-way forward cabin you allow, on
week-days, gambling, swearing, smoking and singing till late at night; and yet on Sunday
you have the impudence to deny the privilege of a prayer-meeting, conducted by a
gray-haired and respected minister of the gospel. It is simply infamous!"
Captain Judkins turned red in the face; and, no doubt feeling
that he was "monarch of all he surveyed," exclaimed in a loud voice:
"If you repeat such language, I will put you in
"Do it, if you dare," said Barnum, feeling his
indignation rising rapidly. "I dare and defy you to put your finger on me. I would
like to sail into New York harbor in handcuffs, on board a British ship, for the terrible
crime of asking that religious worship may be permitted on board. So you may try it as
soon as you please; and, when we get to New York, I'll show you a touch of Yankee ideas of
Turning on his heel, he walked over to Mr. Baird and told him
how matters stood, adding, with a laugh:
"Doctor, it may be dangerous for you to tell of this
incident when you get on shore; for it would be a pretty strong draught upon the credulity
of many of my countrymen if they were told that my zeal to hear an orthodox minister
preach was so great that it came near getting me into solitary confinement. But I am not
prejudiced, and I like fair play."
The old doctor replied: "Well, you have not lost much;
and, if the rules of this ship are so stringent I suppose we must submit."
The captain afterwards came to Barnum and apologized for the
rude manner in which he had carried out the rules of the ship. Barnum was not at the time
a teetotaler, and the two men "washed down" their differences in a bottle of
champagne, and were excellent friends from that moment.
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