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

Continued Triumph


All of Barnum's inventive powers were called into play effectually to advertise his song-bird. Biographies of Jenny Lind were circulated. "Foreign correspondence" raved over her talents, narratives of her benevolence filled the papers; her pictures and her name were seen everywhere. So when she made her first appearance, it was before an audience already wrought up to a high pitch of enthusiasm in her behalf. Never before, or after for that matter, was any singer so lauded by the press. The following editorial from the New York Herald of September 10th, 1850, is a fair sample:

"What ancient monarch was he, either in history or in fable, who offered half his kingdom (the price of box-tickets and choice seats in those days) for the invention of an original sensation, or the discovery of a fresh pleasure? That sensation--that pleasure which royal power in the Old World failed to discover--has been called into existence at a less price, by Mr. Barnum, a plain republican, and is now about to be enjoyed by the sovereigns of the New World.

"Jenny Lind, the most remarkable phenomenon in the musical art which has for the last century flashed across the horizon of the Old World, is now among us, and will make her debut to-morrow night to a house of nearly ten thousand listeners, yielding in proceeds by auction, a sum of forty or fifty thousand dollars. For the last ten days our musical reporters have furnished our readers with every matter connected with her arrival in this metropolis, and the steps adopted by Mr. Barnum in preparation for her first appearance. The proceedings of yesterday, consisting of the sale of the remainder of the tickets, and the astonishing, the wonderful sensation produced at her first rehearsal on the few persons, critics in musical art, who were admitted on the occasion, will be found elsewhere in our columns.

"We concur in everything that has been said by our musical reporter, describing her extraordinary genius--her unrivalled combination of power and art. Nothing has been exaggerated, not an iota. Three years ago, more or less, we heard Jenny Lind on many occasions, when she made the first great sensation in Europe, by her debut at the London Opera House. Then she was great in power--in art--in genius; now she is greater in all. We speak from experience and conviction. Then she astonished, and pleased, and fascinated the thousands of the British aristocracy; now she will fascinate, and please, and delight, and almost make mad with musical excitement, the millions of the American democracy. To-morrow night, this new sensation--this fresh movement--this excitement excelling all former excitements--will be called into existence, when she pours out the notes of Casta Diva, and exhibits her astonishing powers--her wonderful peculiarities, that seem more of heaven than of earth--more of a voice from eternity, than from the lips of a human being.

"We speak soberly--seriously--calmly. The public expectation has run very high for the last week--higher than at any former period of our past musical annals. But high as it has risen, the reality--the fact--the concert--the voice of Jenny Lind--will far surpass all past expectations. Jenny Lind is a wonder, and a prodigy in song--and no mistake."

Barnum had not hoped to manage such an enormous enterprise as this one, without some trouble and anxiety, but he soon discovered that in this case, realization far exceeded anticipation. He often declared that from the first concert, September 11th, 1850, until the ninety-third concert, June 9th, 1851, he did not experience a single waking moment that was free from care.

Miss Lind was utterly unprepared for the enthusiasm of her American audience, and it is scarcely to be wondered at that she should appear to listen at first to the dishonorable counsels of some of her friends, who constantly besought her to break her contract with Barnum, who, they urged, was "coining money out of her genius," and to take the enterprise into her own hands. But whether Miss Lind realized that Mr. Barnum's management was largely responsible for her triumph, or whether she was simply too high-minded to consider such a breach of honor, certain it is that she continued to stand by her contract. John Jay, her lawyer, took every occasion to interfere, and Barnum suffered much from his unreasonable intrusions. The following letter, written to Mr. Joshua Bates of Baring Bros. & Co., London, will show the difficulties which beset the perplexed manager:

"NEW YORK, October 23, 1850.


"Dear Sir: I take the liberty to write you a few lines, merely to say that we are getting along as well as could reasonably be expected. In this country you are aware that the rapid accumulation of wealth always creates much envy, and envy soon augments to malice. Such are the elements at work to a limited degree against myself, and although Miss Lind, Benedict and myself have never, as yet, had the slightest feelings between us, to my knowledge, except those of friendship, yet I cannot well see how this can long continue in the face of the fact that, nearly every day they allow persons (some moving in the first classes of society) to approach them, and spend hours in traducing me; even her attorney, Mr. John Jay, has been so blind to her interests, as to aid in poisoning her mind against me, by pouring into her ears the most silly twaddle, all of which amounts to nothing and less than nothing--such as the regret that I was a showman, exhibiter of Tom Thumb, etc., etc.

"Without the elements which I possess for business, as well as my knowledge of human nature, acquired in catering for the public, the result of her concerts here would not have been pecuniarily one-half as much as the present--and such men as the Hon. Edward Everett, G. G. Howland, and others, will tell you that there is no charlatanism or lack of dignity in my management of these concerts. I know as well as any person, that the merits of Jenny Lind are the best capital to depend upon to secure public favor, and I have thus far acted on this knowledge. Everything which money and attention can procure for their comfort, they have, and I am glad to know that they are satisfied on this score. All I fear is, that these continued backbitings, if listened to by her, will, by and by, produce a feeling of distrust or regret, which will lead to unpleasant results.

"The fact is, her mind ought to be as free as air, and she herself as free as a bird, and being satisfied of my probity and ability, she should turn a deaf ear to all envious and malevolent attacks on me. I have hoped that by thus briefly stating to you the facts in the case, you might be induced for her interests as well as mine to drop a line of advice to Mr. Benedict and another to Mr. Jay on this subject. If I am asking or expecting too much, I pray you to not give it a thought, for I feel myself fully able to carry through my rights alone, although I should deplore nothing so much as to be obliged to do so in a feeling of unfriendliness. I have risked much money on the issue of this speculation--it has proved successful. I am full of perplexity and anxiety, and labor continually for success, and I cannot allow ignorance or envy to rob me of the fruits of my enterprise.
"Sincerely and gratefully yours,

Miss Lind's benevolence had been so largely extolled that it was not surprising that she should have been continually beset by applicants for charity.

In almost all cases she gave liberally in sums varying from $20 to $1,000, and to one Swedish friend, it is said, she actually gave $5,000.

On her return from Boston to New York the whole party stopped at Iranistan, Mr. Barnum's Bridgeport place. The next morning Miss Lind was escorted over the grounds, the beauty of which delighted her. "Do you know, Mr. Barnum," she said, "that if you had not built Iranistan, I should never have come to America for you?" Mr. Barnum, much surprised, asked her to explain.

"I had received several applications to visit the United States," she continued, "but I did not much like the appearance of the applicants, nor did I relish the idea of crossing 3,000 miles of ocean; so I declined them all. But the first letter which Mr. Wilton, your agent, addressed me, was written upon a sheet headed with a beautiful engraving of Iranistan. It attracted my attention. I said to myself, a gentleman who has been so successful in his business as to be able to build and reside in such a palace cannot be a mere 'adventurer.' So I wrote to your agent, and consented to an interview, which I should have declined, if I had not seen the picture of Iranistan."

"That, then, fully pays me for building it," replied Barnum.

The night after Miss Lind's arrival in Boston, there was a display of fireworks, in her honor, in front of the Revere House, which was followed by a torchlight procession by the Germans of the city. At Philadelphia, they were met by such a dense throng of people that it was with the greatest difficulty that they pressed through the crowds to their hotel. Jenny was suffering from a very severe headache and retired at once to her rooms. Outside, the streets were packed with the thousands that had followed them to the door, and were now clamoring for Jenny Lind.

Knowing that the noise would seriously disturb the sensitive songstress, Barnum tried to induce the crowd to disperse; but they declared they would not until Miss Lind appeared on the balcony. In despair he finally put Jenny's bonnet and shawl on her companion, Miss Ahmansen, who went out on the balcony and bowed gracefully to the multitude, who gave three hearty cheers and dispersed.

Miss Lind hated crowds, and always wished her arrival in any city kept secret, so as to avoid the excitement of a public reception, but Barnum knew that the success of the enterprise depended in a large measure on this very excitement.

One day Miss Lind remarked to Mr. Barnum, "I have just heard that you and I are to be married. Now how do you suppose such a report ever originated?"

"Probably from the fact that we are 'engaged,' suggested Barnum, the inveterate punster.

Miss Lind always went to church when she could do so without attracting too much attention, always inquiring for the Swedish church wherever it could be found.

One Sunday in Baltimore, Miss Caroline Barnum, now Mrs. David W. Thompson, of New York, went with a friend of hers who resided in the city, into the choir, where she joined in the singing.

A number of people in the audience had seen her with her father the day previous and supposed her to be Jenny Lind. Like lightning the news that Jenny Lind was in the choir, flew through the church, and when Miss Barnum, whose voice was not at all extraordinary, rose with the rest to sing, the congregation listened breathlessly. "Heavenly!" "Exquisite!" "Angelic!" sighed the excited audience. The two young ladies, all unconscious of the furore they had inspired were utterly astonished when, after church, the crowd pressed round them so closely that they had the greatest difficulty in reaching their carriage.

The day after their appearance in Washington, President Fillmore called, and left his card, Miss Lind being out. Jenny was very much flurried when she returned, and was prepared to call at the White House immediately, as would have been proper had Mr. Fillmore been the head of any European country. Barnum assured her, however, that etiquette was not so strict in America, and she postponed her visit until the next day, when with Benedict, Belletti and Mr. Barnum she spent several delightful hours in the President's family.

The President, the Cabinet and nearly every member of Congress attended both concerts. The great Statesman Webster was so pleased with one of her songs that he drew himself up to his full height and bowed profoundly, to Miss Lind's great gratification. Of all the distinguished men who called upon her in Washington, none impressed her like Webster. She walked up and down in great excitement after he had gone, exclaiming: "Ah! Mr. Barnum, what a man! I have never before seen such a man!"

Miss Lind was escorted through both Houses of Congress and through the Capitol and grounds, by Hon. C. F. Cleveland, Representative from Connecticut. She was very much pleased with everything and asked innumerable questions about the American Government.

During their stay in Washington, they were invited by Colonel Washington, then owner of Mt. Vernon, to visit the home and the tomb of the first President.

The party first visited the tomb and then proceeded to the house where they were introduced to Mrs. Washington and several other ladies.

Much interest was shown by Miss Lind in examining the various mementos of the great man, and when before leaving, Mrs. Washington presented her with a book from the library with Washington's autograph on the title page, she was overwhelmed with emotion.

Miss Lind had been through so much excitement in the North that she determined to see no callers during her stay in the South. One young lady, the daughter of a wealthy planter, was so determined to see her, that she bribed a maid to lend her her cap and apron, and let her carry in Miss Lind's tea. This incident amused Barnum immensely, but Miss Lind was much vexed, declaring the young lady's motive to be curiosity rather than admiration. The voyage from Wilmington to Charleston had been very rough, the trip requiring over thirty-six hours. When they arrived at last, the vessel had been given up for lost and the wreck had been telegraphed all over the country. The voyage to Havana was very much pleasanter, however.

Arriving there, they found the house which Mr. Barnum had sent a man on to provide for them, anything but comfortable. Miss Lind, especially, was much displeased, and, hiring a carriage, she drove off, accompanied by an interpreter. She was gone four hours, to the great alarm of the rest of the party. Returning, she announced that she had hired a charming house in the suburbs, and invited the whole company to be her guests during their stay in Havana. It is needless to say they accepted her invitation.

There, freed from all care and annoyance and away from the too zealous counsellors, she spent a delightful month, seeing no callers, coming and going as she pleased, and romping like a schoolgirl in the great court-yard back of the house. She used to force Mr. Barnum to play ball with her until he was exhausted and fain to beg off. Then she would laugh and say: "Oh, Mr. Barnum! you are too fat and lazy; you cannot stand it to play ball with me."

The celebrated Swedish authoress, Fredericka Bremer, spent a few days with them in their Havana retreat.

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