Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

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

Jenny Lind


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 sing.

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 if required.

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. Barnum.

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 best class.

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.




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.


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' performances.

I certify the above to be a true extract from the letter.

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 worth.

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 shoulders."

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 enthusiasm.

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.

Previous | Contents | Next


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus