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

The Trials of an Impressario


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 morning."

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:


"Great Impressario. Whilst you were engaged in your grand Jenny Lind speculation, the following conundrum went the rounds of the American newspapers:

" '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,


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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