The P.T. Barnum of the
Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton
The Trials of an Impressario
ST. LOUIS--THE SECRETARY'S LITTLE GAME--LEGAL ADVICE--SMOOTH
WATERS AGAIN--BARNUM'S EFFORTS APPRECIATED--AN EXTRAVAGANT ENCONIUM.
The concerts at Natchez and Memphis were extremely
successful. The sixty-first concert was given in St. Louis, and on the morning of their
arrival in the city Miss Lind's secretary came to Mr. Barnum, commissioned, as he claimed,
by the singer, and told the Manager that as sixty concerts had already been given, Miss
Lind proposed to avail herself of one of the conditions of the contract and cancel the
engagement next morning. Much startled by this sudden complication, but outwardly
undisturbed, Barnum asked if Miss Lind had authorized the notice. "I so understand
it," was the secretary's reply. Thinking that it might be another scheme of her
advisers and that Miss Lind herself might possibly know nothing of it, Barnum told the
secretary that he would see him again in an hour. He then proceeded to his old friend Sol
Smith for legal advice. They went over the contract together, Barnum telling his friend of
the annoyances he had suffered from Miss Lind's advisers, and they both agreed that if she
broke the contract thus suddenly, she was bound to pay back all that she had received over
the stipulated $1000, for each concert. As she had been paid $137,000, for sixty concerts,
this extra money amounted to something like $77,000.
Barnum then went back to the secretary and told him that he
was ready to settle with Miss Lind and to close the engagement.
"But," said he, evidently much surprised, "you
have already advertised concerts in Louisville and Cincinnati, have you not?"
"Yes," answered Barnum calmly, "but you may
take the contracts for halls and printing off my hands at cost." He further offered
the assistance of his agent and his own personal services to give Miss Lind a good start
on her own account.
The secretary emboldened by this liberality then made a
proposition so extraordinary that Barnum at once saw that Miss Lind could have had nothing
to do with the scheme.
"Now suppose," he asked, "Miss Lind should
wish to give some fifty concerts in this country, what would you charge as manager?"
"A million dollars a concert," answered Barnum
promptly; then he added, "Now see here; I don't believe Miss Lind has authorized you
to make this proposition. If she has, just bring me a line to that effect, over her own
signature, and her check for the amount due me by the terms of our contract, some $77,000,
and we will close our business connection at once."
"But why not make a new arrangement," persisted the
secretary, "for fifty more concerts, by which Miss Lind will pay you liberally, say
$1,000 a concert?"
"For the simple reason that I hired Miss Lind, and not
she me," replied Barnum, "and because I ought never to take a farthing less for
my risk and trouble than the contract gives me. I have voluntarily given Miss Lind more
than twice as much as I originally contracted to give her, or as she expected to receive
when she engaged with me. Now if she is not satisfied I wish to settle instantly and
finally. If you do not bring me her decision to-day, I shall ask her for it in the
The next morning Barnum asked him again for the written
communication from Miss Lind; the secretary replied that it was all a "joke,"
and that he merely wanted to see what the manager would say to the proposition. He begged
that nothing would be said to Miss Lind concerning it. So it is altogether likely that she
knew nothing of it. The four concerts at St. Louis were given and the program as arranged
for the other cities was carried out, with no more troublous incidents occurring.
To show that Barnum's efforts as manager of the Jenny Lind
enterprise were appreciated, we copy the dedication of Sol Smith's Autobiography published
in 1854. Smith was one of the characters of his time, being celebrated as a comedian, an
author, a manager and a lawyer:
"TO PHINEAS T. BARNUM, PROPRIETOR OF THE AMERICAN
"Great Impressario. Whilst you were engaged in your
grand Jenny Lind speculation, the following conundrum went the rounds of the American
" 'Why is it that Jenny Lind and Barnum will never fall
out?' Answer: 'Because he is always for-getting, and she is always for-giving.'
"I have never asked you the question directly, whether
you, Mr. Barnum, started that conundrum, or not; but I strongly suspect that you did. At
all events, I noticed that your whole policy was concentrated into one idea--to make an
angel of Jenny, and depreciate yourself in contrast.
"You may remember that in this city (St. Louis), I acted
in one instance as your 'legal adviser,' and as such, necessarily became acquainted with
all the particulars of your contract with the so-called Swedish Nightingale, as well as
the various modifications claimed by that charitable lady, and submitted to by you after
her arrival in this country; which modifications (I suppose it need no longer be a secret)
secured to her--besides the original stipulation of one thousand dollars for every
concert, attendants, carriages, assistant artists, and a pompous and extravagant retinue,
fit (only) for a European princess--one-half of the profits of each performance. You may
also remember the legal advice I gave you on the occasion referred to, and the salutary
effect of your following it. You must remember the extravagant joy you felt afterwards, in
Philadelphia, when the 'Angel' made up her mind to avail herself of one of the
stipulations in her contract, to break off at the end of a hundred nights, and even bought
out seven of that hundred--supposing that she could go on without your aid as well as with
it. And you cannot but remember, how, like a rocket-stick she dropped, when your business
connection with her ended, and how she 'fizzed out' the remainder of her concert nights in
this part of the world, and soon afterwards retired to her domestic blissitude in Sweden.
"You know, Mr. Barnum, if you would only tell, which of
the two it was that was 'for-getting,' and which 'for-giving;' and you also know who
actually gave the larger portion of those sums which you heralded to the world as the sole
gifts of the 'divine Jenny.'
"Of all your speculations--from the negro centenarian,
who didn't nurse General Washington, down to the Bearded Woman of Genoa--there was not one
which required the exercise of so much humbuggery as the Jenny Lind concerts; and I verily
believe there is no man living, other than yourself, who could, or would, have risked the
enormous expenditure of money necessary to carry them through successfully--travelling,
with sixty artists; four thousand miles, and giving ninety-three concerts, at an actual
cost of forty-five hundred dollars each, is what no other man would have undertaken --you
accomplished this, and pocketed by the operation but little less than two hundred thousand
dollars! Mr. Barnum, you are yourself, alone!
"I honor you, oh! Great Impressario, as the most
successful manager in America or any other country. Democrat, as you are, you can give a
practical lesson to the aristocrats of Europe how to live. At your beautiful and tasteful
residence, 'Iranistan' (I don't like the name, though), you can and do entertain your
friends with a warmth of hospitality, only equalled by that of the great landed
proprietors of the old country, or of our own 'sunny South.' Whilst riches are pouring
into your coffers from your various 'ventures' in all parts of the world, you do not hoard
your immense means, but continually 'cast them forth upon the waters,' rewarding labor,
encouraging the arts, and lending a helping hand to industry in all its branches. Not
content with doing all this, you deal telling blows, whenever opportunity offers, upon the
monster Intemperance. Your labors in this great cause alone should entitle you to the
thanks of all good men, women and children in the land. Mr. Barnum, you deserve all your
good fortune, and I hope you may long live to enjoy your wealth and honor.
"As a small installment towards the debt, I, as one of
the community, owe you, and with the hope of affording you an hour's amusement (if you can
spare that amount of time from your numerous avocations to read it), I present you with
this little volume, containing a very brief account of some of my 'journey-work' in the
South and West; and remain, very respectfully,
"Your friend, and affectionate uncle,
"CHOUTEAU AVENUE, ST. LOUIS, "NOV. 1, 1854."
Although Barnum never acknowledged it, there was a vast deal
of truth in Mr. Smith's statements.
Whenever Miss Lind sang for charity she gave what she might
have earned at a regular concert; Barnum always insisted upon paying for the hall,
orchestra, printing and other expenses. But Miss Lind received the entire credit for
liberality and benevolence.
It is but just to say, however, that she frequently
remonstrated with Barnum and declared that the expenses ought to be deducted from the
proceeds of the concert, but he always insisted on doing what he called his share.
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