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The P.T. Barnum of the Barnum and Bailey Circus
by Joel Benton

In France


Barnum having returned from a preliminary trip to France, in which all arrangements, even to starting the first paragraphs in the Paris papers were made, now went back accompanied by Tom Thumb. They reached Paris some days before the exhibition was opened, but on the day following their arrival, a special command reached them to appear at the Tuileries on the next Sunday evening.

At the appointed hour the General and his manager were ushered into the presence of the King, the Queen, the Count de Paris, Prince de Joinville, the Duchess d'Orleans, and a dozen more distinguished persons, among whom was the editor of the Journal des Debats.

At the close of the General's performances, which he went through with to the evident delight of all present, the King gave him a large emerald and diamond brooch, at the same time saying to Mr. Barnum: "You may put it on the General, if you please." Which command was obeyed, to the gratification of the King and the immense delight of the General.

The King was so condescending and affable that Mr. Barnum at length ventured to ask a favor of him. The Longchamps celebration was close at hand--a day once devoted to religious ceremony, but now conspicuous for the display of court and fashionable equipages in the various drives and parks--and after the King had conversed with Mr. Barnum on various topics in a familiar manner, the diplomatic showman remarked that he had hastened his arrival in Paris for the express purpose of taking part in the Longchamps celebration. The General's carriage, he explained, with its ponies and little coachman and footman, was so small that it would be in great danger in the crowd unless the King would graciously permit it to appear in the avenue reserved for the court and the diplomatic corps

The King smiled, and after a few minutes' consultation with one of the officers of his household. said: "Call on the Prefect of Police to-morrow afternoon and you will find a permit ready for you."

After a two hours' visit they retired, the General loaded with presents.

The next morning all the newspapers chronicled the royal audience, the Journal des Debats giving a full account of the interview and of the General's performances.

Thus all Paris knew that Tom Thumb, in all his glory, was in the city.

Longchamps day arrived, and conspicuous among the splendid equipages on the grand avenue, Tom Thumb's beautiful little carriage, with four ponies and liveried and powdered coachman and footman, rode along in the line of carriages bearing the ambassadors to the Court of France. The air was fairly rent with cheers for "le General Tom Ponce."

The first day's receipts were 5,500 francs--over three hundred dollars, and this sum might have been doubled had there been room for more visitors. The elite of Paris flocked to the exhibition. There were afternoon and evening performances, and seats were reserved in advance at an extra price for the entire two months.

The papers were full of praises for the performance; Figaro gave a picture of an immense mastiff running away with the General's horse and carriage in his mouth.

Statuettes and pictures of "Tom Ponce" appeared everywhere; a cafe on one of the boulevards took the name of "Tom Ponce," with a life-size statue of the General for a sign. Eminent painters here, as in London, asked to paint his portrait, but the General's engagements were so pressing that he had little time to sit to artists. All the leading actors and actresses came to see him, and he received many fine presents from them. The daily receipts continued to increase, and the manager had to take a cab to carry home the silver at night.

Twice more was the General summoned to appear before the royal family at the Tuileries, and on the King's birthday a special invitation was sent him to view the display of fireworks in honor of the anniversary.

The last visit to the Court was made at St. Cloud. The papers, in speaking of the General's characterizations, mentioned that there was one costume which Tom Thumb wisely kept at the bottom of his trunk. This was the uniform of Napoleon Bonaparte, and by special request of the King, it was worn at St. Cloud. The affair was quite sub rosa, however, none of the papers mentioning it.

At the end of the visit each of the royal company gave the General a magnificent present, overwhelmed him with kisses, wishing him a safe journey through France, and a long and happy life. After making their adieux they retired to another part of the palace to permit the General to change his costume and to partake of a collation which was served them. As they were leaving the palace they passed the sitting-room where the royal family were spending the evening. The door was open, and some one spying the General there was a call for him to come in and shake hands once more. They went in, finding the Queen and her ladies engaged in embroidering, while one young lady read aloud. They all kissed and petted the General many times around before finally permitting him to depart.

After leaving Paris they made a most profitable tour, including the cities of Rouen, Orleans, Brest, and Bordeaux, where they were invited to witness a review of 20,000 soldiers by the Dukes de Nemours and d'Aumale. Thence to Toulon, Montpelier, Nismes, Marseilles, and many other less important places. At Nantes, Bordeaux, and Marseilles the General appeared in the theatres in a part written for him in a French play called "Petit Poncet."

During their stay in Paris, Barnum made a characteristically profitable investment. A Russian Prince, who had lived in great splendor in Paris, died suddenly, and his household effects were sold at auction. There was a magnificent gold tea-set, a dinner service of silver, and some rare specimens of Sevres china, the value of which were impaired by the Prince's initials being on them. The initials were "P. T ," and Mr. Barnum bought them, and adding "B." to the other letters, had a very fine table service appropriately marked.

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