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

At Home Again


In 1859, Barnum returned to the United States. During his trip abroad he had secured many novelties for the Museum, the Albino Family, Thiodon's Mechanical Theatre, and others.

These afforded him a liberal commission, and he had beside made considerable money from the Tom Thumb exhibitions and his lectures.

All this, his wife's income, as well as a large sum derived from the sale of some of her property, was faithfully devoted to the one object of their lives--paying off the clock debts.

Mrs. Barnum and her daughter, Pauline, had either boarded in Bridgeport or lived in a small house in the suburbs during the entire four years of struggle. The land purchased by Mrs. Barnum at the assignee's sale in East Bridgeport had increased in value meanwhile, and they felt justified in borrowing on it, some of the single lots were sold, and all this money went toward the discharge of the debts.

At last, in March, 1860, all the clock indebtedness was extinguished, except $20,000, which Barnum bound himself to take up within a certain time, his friend James D. Johnson guaranteeing his bond to that effect.

On the seventeenth day of March, Messrs. Butler and Greenwood signed an agreement to sell and deliver to Barnum on the following Saturday their entire good-will and interest in the Museum collection. This fact was thoroughly circulated, and blazing posters, placards, and advertisements announced that "Barnum is on his feet again." It was furthermore stated that the Museum would be closed for one week, opening March 31st, under the management and proprietorship of its original owner. It was also promised that Barnum would address the audience on the night of closing.

The Museum, decked in its holiday dress of flags and banners, was crowded to its utmost capacity when Barnum made his appearance. His reception was an enthusiastic one, cheers and shouts rent the air, and tears filled the showman's eyes as he thought of this triumphant conclusion of his four years' struggle.

Recovering himself, he bowed his acknowledgments for the reception, and addressed the audience as follows:

"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I should be more or less than human, if I could meet this unexpected and overwhelming testimonial at your hands, without the deepest emotion. My own personal connection with the Museum is now resumed, and I avail myself of the circumstance to say why it is so. Never did I feel stronger in my worldly prosperity than in September, 1855. Three months later I was so deeply embarrassed that I felt certain of nothing, except the uncertainty of everything. A combination of singular efforts and circumstances tempted me to put faith in a certain clock manufacturing company, and I placed my signature to papers which ultimately broke me down. After nearly five years of hard struggle to keep my head above water, I have touched bottom at last, and here to-night I am happy to announce that I have waded ashore. Every clock debt of which I have any knowledge has been provided for. Perhaps, after the troubles and turmoils I have experienced, I should feel no desire to re-engage in the excitements of business; but a man like myself, less than fifty years of age, and enjoying robust health, is scarcely old enough to be embalmed and put in a glass case in the Museum as one of its million of curiosities. 'It is better to wear out than rust out.' Besides, if a man of active temperament is not busy, he is apt to get into mischief. To avoid evil, therefore, and since business activity is a necessity of my nature, here I am, once more, in the Museum, and among those with whom I have been so long and so pleasantly identified. I am confident of a cordial welcome, and hence feel some claim to your indulgence while I briefly allude to the means of my present deliverance from utter financial ruin. Need I say, in the first place, that I am somewhat indebted to the forbearance of generous creditors. In the next place, permit me to speak of sympathizing friends, whose volunteered loans and exertions vastly aided my rescue. When my day of sorrow came, I first paid or secured every debt I owed of a personal nature. This done, I felt bound in honor to give up all of my property that remained toward liquidating my 'clock debts.' I placed it in the hands of trustees and receivers for the benefit of all the 'clock' creditors. But at the forced sale of my Connecticut real estate, there was a purchaser behind the screen, of whom the world had little knowledge. In the day of my prosperity I made over to my wife much valuable property, including the lease of this Museum building--a lease then having about twenty-two years to run, and enhanced in value to more than double its original worth. I sold the Museum collection to Messrs. Greenwood & Butler, subject to my wife's separate interest in the lease, and she has received more than $80,000 over and above the sums paid to the owners of the building. Instead of selfishly applying this amount to private purposes, my family lived with a due regard to economy, and the savings (strictly belonging to my wife) were devoted to buying in portions of my estate at the assignees' sales and to purchasing 'clock notes' bearing my indorsements. The Christian name of my wife is Charity. I may well acknowledge, therefore, that I am not only a proper 'subject of charity,' but that 'without Charity, I am nothing.'

"But, ladies and gentlemen, while Charity thus labored in my behalf, Faith and Hope were not idle. I have been anything but indolent during the last four years. Driven from pillar to post, and annoyed beyond description by all sorts of legal claims and writs, I was perusing protests and summonses by day, and dreaming of clocks run down by night. My head was ever whizzing with dislocated cog-wheels and broken main-springs; my whole mind (and my credit) was running upon tick, and everything pressing on me like a dead weight.

"In this state of affairs I felt that I was of no use on this side of the Atlantic, so, giving the pendulum a swing, and seizing time by the forelock, I went to Europe. There I furtively pulled the wires of several exhibitions, among which that of Tom Thumb may be mentioned for example. I managed a variety of musical and commercial speculations in Great Britain, Germany, and Holland. These enterprises, together with the net profits of my public lectures, enabled me to remit large sums to confidential agents for the purchase of my obligations. In this manner, I quietly extinguished, little by little, every dollar of my clock liabilities. I could not have achieved this difficult feat, however, without the able assistance of enthusiastic friends--and among the chief of them let me gratefully acknowledge the invaluable services of Mr. James D. Johnson, a gentleman of wealth, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Other gentlemen have been generous with me. Some have loaned me large sums without security, and have placed me under obligations which must ever command my honest gratitude "but Mr. Johnson has been a 'friend in deed,' for he has been truly a 'friend in need.'

"You must not infer, from what I have said, that I have completely recovered from the stunning blow to which I was subjected four years ago. I have lost more in the way of tens of thousands, yes, hundreds of thousands, than I care to remember. A valuable portion of my real estate in Connecticut, however, has been preserved, and as I feel all the ardor of twenty years ago, and the prospect here is so flattering, my heart is animated with the hope of ultimately, by enterprise and activity, obliterating unpleasant reminiscences, and retrieving the losses of the past. Experience, too, has taught me not only that, even in the matter of money, 'enough is as good as a feast,' but that there are, in this world, some things vastly better than the Almighty Dollar! Possibly I may contemplate, at times, the painful day when I said 'Othello's occupation's gone'; but I shall the more frequently cherish the memory of this moment, when I am permitted to announce that Richard's himself again.'

"Many people have wondered that a man considered so acute as myself should have been deluded into embarrassments like mine, and not a few have declared, in short meter, that 'Barnum was a fool.' I can only reply that I never made pretensions to the sharpness of a pawnbroker, and I hope I shall never so entirely lose confidence in human nature as to consider every man a scamp by instinct, or a rogue by necessity. 'It is better to be deceived sometimes, than to distrust always,' says Lord Bacon, and I agree with him.

"Experience is said to be a hard schoolmaster, but I should be sorry to feel that this great lesson in adversity has not brought forth fruits of some value. I needed the discipline this tribulation has given me, and I really feel, after all, that this, like many other apparent evils, was only a blessing in disguise. Indeed, I may mention that the very clock factory which I built in Bridgeport for the purpose of bringing hundreds of workmen to that city, has been purchased and quadrupled in size by the Wheeler & Wilson Sewing-Machine Company, and is now filled with intelligent New England mechanics, whose families add two thousand to the population, and who are doing a great work in building up and beautifying that flourishing city. So that the same concern which prostrated me seems destined as a most important agent toward my recuperation. I am certain that the popular sympathy has been with me from the beginning; and this, together with a consciousness of rectitude, is more than an offset to all the vicissitudes to which I have been subjected.

"In conclusion, I beg to assure you and the public that my chief pleasure, while health and strength are spared me, will be to cater for your and their healthy amusement and instruction. In future, such capabilities as I possess will be devoted to the maintenance of this Museum as a popular place of family resort, in which all that is novel and interesting shall be gathered from the four quarters of the globe, and which ladies and children may visit at all times unattended, without danger of encountering anything of an objectionable nature. The dramas introduced in the Lecture Room will never contain a profane expression or a vulgar allusion; on the contrary, their tendency will always be to encourage virtue and frown upon vice.

"I have established connections in Europe, which will enable me to produce here a succession of interesting novelties otherwise inaccessible. Although I shall be personally present much of the time, and hope to meet many of my old acquaintances, as well as to form many new ones, I am sure you will be glad to learn that I have re-secured the services of one of the late proprietors, and the active manager of this Museum, Mr. John Greenwood, Jr. As he is a modest gentleman, who would be the last to praise himself, allow me to add that he is one to whose successful qualities as a caterer for the popular entertainments, the crowds that have often filled this building may well bear testimony. But, more than this, he is the unobtrusive one to whose integrity, diligence, and devotion I owe much of my present position of self-congratulation. Mr. Greenwood will hereafter act as assistant manager, while his late co-partner, Mr. Butler, has engaged in another branch of business. Once more, thanking you all for your kind welcome, I bid you, till the re-opening, 'an affectionate adieu.' "

The speech was received with wild enthusiasm, and after the re-opening of the Museum the number of visitors was at once almost doubled.

Among the many newspaper congratulations he received, none gave Barnum more pleasure than a poem from his old admirer on the Boston Saturday Evening Gazette.


Barnum, your hand! The struggle o'er,
You face the world and ask no favor;
You stand where you have stood before,
The old salt hasn't lost its savor.
You now can laugh with friends, at foes'
Ne'er heeding Mrs. Grundy's tattle;
You've dealt and taken sturdy blows,
Regardless of the rabble's prattle.

Not yours the heart to harbor ill
'Gainst those who've dealt in trivial jesting;
You pass them with the same good will
Erst shown when they their wit were testing. You're the same Barnum that we knew,
You're good for years, still fit for labor,
Be as of old, be bold and true,
Honest as man, as friend, as neighbor.

At about this period, the following poem was published in a Pottsville, Pa., paper, and copied by many journals of the-day:


Companions! fill your glasses round
And drink a health to one
Who has few coming after him,
To do as he has done;
Who made a fortune for himself,
Made fortunes, too, for many,
Yet wronged no bosom of a sigh,
No pocket of a penny.
Come! shout a gallant chorus,
And make the glasses ring,
Here's health and luck to Barnum!
The Exhibition King.

Who lured the Swedish Nightingale
To Western woods to come?
Who prosperous and happy made
The life of little Thumb?
Who oped Amusement's golden door
So cheaply to the crowd,
And taught Morality to smile
On all HIS stage allowed?
Come! shout a gallant chorus,
Until the glasses ring--
Here's health and luck to Barnum!
The Exhibition King.

And when the sad reverses came,
As come they may to all,
Who stood a Hero, bold and true,
Amid his fortune's fall?
Who to the utmost yielded up
What Honor could not keep,
Then took the field of life again
With courage calm and deep?
Come! shout a gallant chorus,
Until the glasses dance--
Here's health and luck to Barnum,
The Napoleon of Finance

Yet, no--OUR hero would not look
With smiles on such a cup;
Throw out the wine--with water clear,
Fill the pure crystal up
Then rise, and greet with deep respect,
The courage he has shown,
And drink to him who well deserves
A seat on Fortune's throne.
Here's health and luck to Barnum!
An ELBA he has seen,
And never may his map of life
Display a ST HELENE!

It is of interest to observe that the phrase "Napoleon of Finance," which has in recent years been applied to several Wall Street speculators, was first coined in honorable description of Phineas T. Barnum, because of his honesty as well as his signal success.

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