The P.T. Barnum of the
Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton
DARING VENTURE--BARNUM'S AMBASSADOR--UNPRECEDENTED TERMS
OFFERED--TEXT OF THE CONTRACT--HARD WORK TO RAISE THE GUARANTEE FUND--EDUCATING THE
AMERICAN MIND TO RECEIVE THE FAMOUS SINGER.
The next enterprise undertaken by Barnum was an entirely new
departure. It was justly regarded by him as bold in its conception, complete in its
development, and astounding in its success. To the end of his days he looked upon it with
pride and satisfaction. Probably it did more than anything else in all his career to give
him a permanent and supreme position in the esteem of the public.
This enterprise was the bringing of Jenny Lind to America for
a concert tour.
Miss Lind, often called the "Swedish Nightingale,"
was one of the most remarkable singers of the world, in that or any generation. All Europe
was enraptured by her art, and her fame had encircled the globe. Barnum had never heard
her, as she had not visited London until a few weeks after his return to America. But her
reputation was enough to determine him to engage her, if possible, for an American tour.
So he sent Mr. J. H. Wilton, an English musician, who was visiting New York, back to
London to negotiate terms with her. Barnum agreed to pay Wilton his expenses if he had to
return without her; but a handsome sum if he succeeded in bringing the songstress to
America with him. He told Wilton to engage her on shares if possible. If not, to engage
her for any sum up to a thousand dollars a night, for any number of nights up to 150,
besides paying all her expenses, including servants, carriages, etc., and not more than
three musical assistants. He also offered to secure her by placing the whole $150,000 in
the hands of her London bankers in advance!
Wilton went to London, had some correspondence with her, and
then went to Lubeck, where she was singing. She told him frankly that she had, since he
first wrote to her, been busy making inquiries about Barnum's character, trustworthiness,
etc., and that she was perfectly satisfied with what she had found out. There were,
however, four other men negotiating with her to the same end. One of these gentlemen was a
well-known opera manager in London; another, a theatrical manager in Manchester; a third,
a musical composer and conductor of the orchestra of Her Majesty's Opera in London; and
the fourth, Chevalier Wyckoff, who had conducted a successful speculation some years
previously by visiting America in charge of the celebrated danseuse, Fanny Ellsler.
She also insisted that, under whatever auspices she should go
to America, she should have as an accompanist Mr.--afterwards Sir--Julius Benedict, the
composer, and Signor Belletti, an eminent Italian singer.
Finally, on January 9, 1850, Wilton succeeded in his mission.
Miss Lind agreed to come to America under Barnum's management, and an elaborate contract
was drawn up and signed This historic document was as follows:
MEMORANDUM of an agreement entered into this ninth day of
January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty, between John Hall
Wilton, as agent for PHINEAS T. BARNUM, of New York, in the United States of North
America, of the one part, and Mademoiselle JENNY LIND, Vocalist, of Stockholm, in Sweden,
of the other part, wherein the said Jenny Lind doth agree:
First. To sing for the said Phineas T. Barnum in one hundred
and fifty concerts, including oratorios within (if possible) one year or eighteen months
from the date of her arrival in the city of New York--the said concerts to be given in the
United States of North America and Havana. She, the said Jenny Lind, having full control
as to the number of nights or concerts in each week, and the number of pieces in which she
will sing in each concert, to be regulated conditionally with her health and safety of
voice, but the former never less than one or two, nor the latter less than four; but in no
case to appear in operas.
Second. In consideration of said services, the said John Hall
Wilton, as agent for the said Phineas T. Barnum, of New York, agrees to furnish the said
Jenny Lind with a servant as waiting-maid, and a male servant to and for the sole service
of her and her party; to pay the travelling and hotel expenses of a friend to accompany
her as a companion; to pay also a secretary to superintend her finances; to pay all her
and her party's travelling expenses from Europe, and during the tour in the United States
of North America and Havana; to pay all hotel expenses for board and lodging during the
same period; to place at her disposal in each city a carriage and horses with their
necessary attendants, and to give her in addition the sum of two hundred pounds sterling,
or one thousand dollars, for each concert or oratorio in which the said Jenny Lind shall
Third. And the said John Hall Wilton, as agent for the said
Phineas T. Barnum, doth further agree to give the said Jenny Lind the most satisfactory
security and assurance for the full amount of her engagement, which will be placed in the
hands of Messrs. Baring Brothers, of London, previous to the departure, and subject to the
order of the said Jenny Lind, with its interest due on its current reduction by her
services in the concerts or oratorios.
Fourth. And the said John Hall Wilton, on the part of the
said Phineas T. Barnum, further agrees, that should the said Phineas T. Barnum, after
seventy-five concerts, have realized so much as shall, after paying all current expenses,
have returned to him all the sums disbursed, either as deposits at interest, for
securities of salaries, preliminary outlay, or moneys in any way expended consequent on
this engagement, and in addition, have gained a clear profit of at least fifteen thousand
pounds sterling, then the said Phineas T. Barnum will give the said Jenny Lind, in
addition to the former sum of one thousand dollars current money of the United States of
North America, nightly, one-fifth part of the profits arising from the remaining
seventy-five concerts or oratorios, after deducting every expense current and appertaining
thereto; or the said Jenny Lind agrees to try, with the said Phineas T. Barnum, fifty
concerts or oratorios on the aforesaid and first-named terms, and if then found to fall
short of the expectations of the said Phineas T. Barnum, then the said Jenny Lind agrees
to reorganize this agreement, on terms quoted in his first proposal, as set forth in the
annexed copy of his letter; but should such be found necessary, then the engagement
continues up to seventy-five concerts or oratorios, at the end of which, should the
aforesaid profit of fifteen thousand pounds sterling have not been realized, then the
engagement shall continue as at first--the sums herein, after expenses for Julius Benedict
and Giovanni Belletti, to remain unaltered, except for advancement.
Fifth. And the said John Hall Wilton, agent for the said
Phineas T. Barnum, at the request of the said Jenny Lind, agrees to pay to Julius
Benedict, of London, to accompany the said Jenny Lind, as musical director, pianist, and
superintendent of the musical department, also to assist the said Jenny Lind in one
hundred and fifty concerts or oratorios, to be given in the United States of North America
and Havana, the sum of five thousand pounds (L5,000) sterling, to be satisfactorily
secured to him with Messrs. Baring Brothers, of London, previous to his departure from
Europe, and the said John Hall Wilton agrees further, for the said Phineas T. Barnum, to
pay all his travelling expenses from Europe, together with his hotel and travelling
expenses during the time occupied in giving the aforesaid one hundred and fifty concerts
or oratorios--he, the said Julius Benedict, to superintend the organization of oratorios
Sixth. And the said John Hall Wilton, at the request,
selection, and for the aid of the said Jenny Lind, agrees to pay to Giovanni Belletti,
barytone vocalist, to accompany the said Jenny Lind during her tour and in one hundred and
fifty concerts or oratorios in the United States of North America and Havana, and in
conjunction with the aforesaid Julius Benedict, the sum of two thousand five hundred
pounds (L2,500) sterling, to be satisfactorily secured to him previous to his departure
from Europe, in addition to all his hotel and travelling expenses.
Seventh. And it is further agreed that the said Jenny Lind
shall be at full liberty to sing at any time she may think fit for charitable
institutions, or purposes independent of the engagement with the said Phineas T. Barnum,
with a view to mutually agreeing as to the time and its propriety, it being understood
that in no case shall the first or second concert in any city selected for the tour be for
such purpose, or wherever it shall appear against the interests of the said Phineas T.
Eighth. It is further agreed that should the said Jenny Lind,
by any act of God, be incapacitated to fulfil the entire engagement before mentioned, that
an equal proportion of the terms agreed upon shall be given to the said Jenny Lind, Julius
Benedict, and Giovanni Belletti, for services rendered to that time.
Ninth. It is further agreed and understood, that the said
Phineas T. Barnum shall pay every expense appertaining to the concerts or oratorios before
mentioned, excepting those for charitable purposes, and that all accounts shall be settled
and rendered by all parties weekly.
Tenth. And the said Jenny Lind further agrees that she will
not engage to sing for any other person during the progress of this said engagement with
the said Phineas T. Barnum, of New York, for one hundred and fifty concerts or oratorios,
excepting for charitable purposes as before mentioned; and all travelling to be first and
In witness hereof to the within written memorandum of
agreement we set hereunto our hand and seal.
L. S. JOHN HALL WILTON, Agent for Phineas
T. Barnum, of New York, U. S.
L. S. JENNY LIND.
T. S. JULIUS BENEDICT.
L. S. GIOVANNI BELLETTI.
In the presence of C. ACHILLING, Consul of His Majesty the
King of Sweden and Norway.
Extract from a letter addressed to John H. Wilton by Phineas
T. Barnum, and referred to in paragraph No. 4 of the annexed agreement:
NEW YORK, November 6, 1849.
MR. J. HALL WILTON:
Sir. In reply to your proposal to attempt a negotiation with
Mlle. Jenny Lind to visit the United States professionally, I propose to enter into an
arrangement with her to the following effect: I will engage to pay all her expenses from
Europe, provide for and pay for one principal tenor, and one pianist, their salaries not
exceeding together one hundred and fifty dollars per night; to support for her a carriage,
two servants, and a friend to accompany her and superintend her finances. I will
furthermore pay all and every expense appertaining to her appearance before the public,
and give her half of the gross receipts arising from concerts or operas. I will engage to
travel with her personally, and attend to the arrangements, provided she will undertake to
give not less than eighty, nor more than one hundred and fifty concerts, or nights'
PHINEAS T. BARNUM.
I certify the above to be a true extract from the letter.
J. H. WILTON.
There was no Atlantic cable in those days, and Barnum did not
know the result of Wilton's embassy until the latter returned to America. Barnum was in
Philadelphia when Wilton landed in New York, on February 19. Wilton at once telegraphed to
him that he had secured the singer, who was to come over and begin her concerts in
September. The great showman was startled, and felt pretty nervous; and as so long a time
was to elapse before she came over, he thought it best to keep the whole matter a secret
for a time.
When we reflect how thoroughly Jenny Lind, her musical
powers, her character, and wonderful successes, were subsequently known by all classes in
this country as well as throughout the civilized world, it is difficult to realize that,
at the time this engagement was made, she was comparatively unknown on this side the
water. We can hardly credit the fact that millions of persons in America had never heard
of her, that other millions had merely read her name, but had no distinct idea of who or
what she was. Only a small portion of the public were really aware of her great musical
triumphs in the Old World, and this portion was confined almost entirely to musical
people, travellers who had visited the Old World, and the conductors of the press.
Barnum telegraphed to Wilton to keep the matter secret, and
next morning set out for New York. But it was too late. When he got to New York, he found
the news of the engagement in full in all the papers. Everybody was talking about it, and
wondering who Jenny Lind was, and Barnum soon perceived that he must improve the time,
from then to September, in educating the public up to an approximate appreciation of her
His first act was to send, as per agreement, the sum of
$187,000 to Miss Lind's bankers in London. It was not altogether easy for him to do this.
After he had scraped together all his available cash he was still short a large sum. He
had plenty of securities in the form of second mortgages that were perfectly good, but no
one in Wall street would lend him a dollar on them.
In his extremity, he at last went to the president of the
bank where he had transacted his business for the past eight years. "I offered
him," said Barnum afterward, "as security for a loan, my second mortgages, and,
as additional security, I offered to make over to him my contract with Jenny Lind, with a
written guaranty that he should appoint a receiver, who, at my expense, should take charge
of all the receipts over and above $3,000 per night, and appropriate them toward the
payment of my loan He laughed in my face, and said: 'Mr. Barnum, it is generally believed
in Wall street that your engagement with Jenny Lind will ruin you. I do not think you will
ever receive so much as $3,000 at a single concert.' I was indignant at his want of
appreciation, and answered him that I would not at that moment take $150,000 for my
contract; nor would I. I found, upon further inquiry, that it was useless in Wall street
to offer the 'Nightingale' in exchange for 'Goldfinches.' I finally was introduced to Mr.
John L. Aspinwall, of the firm of Messrs. Howland & Aspinwall, and he gave me a letter
of credit from his firm on Baring Brothers, for a large sum on collateral securities,
which a spirit of genuine respect for my enterprise induced him to accept.
"After disposing of several pieces of property for cash,
I footed up the various amounts, and still discovered myself $5,000 short. I felt that it
was indeed the last feather that breaks the camel's back.' Happening casually to state my
desperate case to the Rev. Abel C. Thomas, of Philadelphia, for many years a friend of
mine, he promptly placed the requisite amount at my disposal. I gladly accepted his
proffered friendship, and felt that he had removed a mountain-weight from my
And now nothing remained to do but to arouse public curiosity
and interest. Barnum was a master-hand at that work, and never did he show himself more of
a master than on this occasion. He kept the press literally teeming with notices in one
form or another. Here is a sample of the strain in which he wrote:
"Perhaps I may not make any money by this enterprise;
but I assure you that if I knew I should not make a farthing profit, I would ratify the
engagement, so anxious am I that the United States should be visited by a lady whose vocal
powers have never been approached by any other human being, and whose character is
charity, simplicity, and goodness personified.
"Miss Lind has great anxiety to visit America. She
speaks of this country and its institutions in the highest terms of praise. In her
engagement with me (which includes Havana), she expressly reserves the right to give
charitable concerts whenever she thinks proper.
Since her debut in England, she has given to the poor from
her own private purse more than the whole amount which I have engaged to pay her, and the
proceeds of concerts for charitable purposes in Great Britain, where she has sung
gratuitously, have realized more than ten times that amount."
And so it came to pass that, before September rolled around,
curiosity, interest and enthusiasm over the great singer were at fever heat, and New York
thought and dreamed only of her coming.
Never, in the history of music or in the history of
entertainments in America, has the advent of a foreign artist been hailed with so much
A large share of this public interest was natural and
genuine, and would, in any event, have been accorded to Miss Lind. But a considerable
portion of it was due to the shrewd and energetic advertising of Mr. Barnum. Under any
auspices the great singer's tour in America would have been successful; but under no other
management would it have approximated to what it was under Barnum.
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