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Barnum's life, and althougb we here record our admiration of Barnum as the most magnificent impostor of the day, we feel it the more necessary, from the extensive circulation which we think the book will obtain, tò paint the narrative in its true colors.
Claude Duval, the gentleman highway-man, who dressed so elegantly, took purses with so polite an air, and such a fascinating bow, who rode so gracefully, and only pistoled the discourteous traveller who would not quietly stand and deliver, was a great favorite in bis day, and possessed 80 many good qualities, and such engaging mauners, that many people were very much disposed to admire the hero of the highway, and to lament his ungentlemanly not to say untimely exit. In his day he was the Magnus Apollo of discontented apprentices, and dissipated students; and if the chroniclers may be believed, even some of the fair and haughty dames, whom he relicved of their superfluous jewellery, were disposed to pity the handsome young man. Plain matter of fact people, lowever, who had no romance in their composition, and thought that some regard should be paid to the laws of meum and tuum, took another view of his case, and as a crucl judge, and twelve naughty juryunen, happened to be amongst this latter class, he went the way of all robber flesh. Now as the morality of Mr. Barnum seems to us of a kind likely to lead astray a much more important class than foolish boys or giddy wonen of fashion, as in our opinion its tendency is to corrupt not alone our great business class, but all who engage in buying or selling—the great mass of society, we consider it our duty to take up the task of trying this life, and if after a full consideration and investigation of the
a case, we should find it guilty, to pronounce the necessary sentence. The present popularity of Mr. Barnum with his countrymen is owing, we are inclined to think, to his dollars, although we very much doubt that dollars, in his case, were the result of both those qualities of which, according to Colonel Diver, dollars are the necessary consequence : when asked by Martin Chuzzlewit, of what the aristocracy of New York was composed, “ of intelligence, sir,” replied the Colonel,
of intelligence and virtue, and of their necessary consequence in this republic-dollars, sir.” It is because of the spurious lalo 'which dollars and success have spread about this man, and the immense numbers who are likely to read this book, and to be more or less injured by it, that we
stoop to a work which its literary pretensions would render unworthy of notice.
Before we got this book into our hands, an additional triumph achieved by Barnum had presented itself to our gaze in the public papers. It was the sale by auction of the manuscript and copyright of his Life at the enormous sum of £15,000. Mr. Barnum, however, has himself let us behind the scenes, and though he does not in this matter take us into his confidence, yet from other disclosures, we can have no diliiculty in putting upon this transaction a name and interpretation which, were it not for the ingenious tricks of that respectable gentleman we should never have dreamt of, though not a bit more simple-minded than the generality of our neighbours. The name we should give it is-a swindle, and the interpretation—that the biddings were fictitious, for the purpose of attracting public attention and exciting public curiosity, and, as Mr. Barnum would call it, advertising the book.
Our specific charge against this prince of tricksters is, that by his writing, though not venturing openly and directly to encourage fraud, and trickery, and lying, he has covertly and indirecily encouraged them by relating his own successful mancuvres, glossing over the rascality, gilding it with the net-amount of profits realized thereby, making a good joke of it, (a thing which may be done, and has been attempted in other days, with nearly every vice in the calendar, from adultery to manslaughter,) and inferentially telling his reader, if he wants to amass money, rejoice in a princely residence and forture, and excite the wonder and envy of his fellowman, to go and do likewise. We are, however, delaying too long from our task.
In his introduction he tells us, that "my paternal grandfather was Captain Ephraim Barnum, of Bethel
, a Captain of the Militia in the Revolutionary War. His son Philo was my father. He too was of a lively turn of mind, and relished a joke better than the average of mankind. These historical facts I state as some palliation for my own inclination that way--' what is bred in the bone, &c.
It is to be hoped, for the sake of his ancestors, that they took a different line of joking from their worthy descendant, as people in these countries
, especially if they knew anything about legal matters, would feel inclined to call his jokes “ob
taining money under false pretences."
After informing us that he was born on the 5th of July, 1810, or in his own words, that "the canyon had ceased to thunder forth their remembrances of our National Anniversary, the sinoke had all cleared away, the drums had finished,” (it is to be hoped they concluded with "See the conquering hero comes,”) “and when peace and quiet were restored, I made my debut," — he proceeds to give us some details of his boyish days and companions, pursuits, turn for trading ginger-bread and sugar-candies, first visit to New York, and other equally interesting facts, which he expects will be read with the same avidity as the record of the boyhood of Pitt, of Byron, of Edmund Burke, of Moore, or of any other of those men equally great with himself. Mr. Barnum appears to have learned some of the tricks of bookmaking in addition to his other accomplishments, for he informs us with the most charming naiveté, that knowing what tricks his grandfather, in the character of a professed practical joker, had played off, he pumped the old gentleman for facetiæ to swell his volume. These anecdotes, with a great many more of liis own experience or invention, fill a considerable part of the book, and may be briefly described as details of low roguery, or coarse horse play, with all the vulgarity, without the fun or extravagance of Sam Slick's selections from American humorists. While on this matter we shall give one of this collection, a case of diamond cut diamond, which is, it must be admitted, a very wonderful specimen of that 'cuteness for which Yankees are proverbial.
“ What is the price of razor strops," inquired my grandfather of a pedlar, whose waggon, loaded with Yankee notions, stood in front of our store.
“A dollar each for Pomeroy's strops," responded the itinerant.
“ A dollar a piece," exclaimed my grandfather, “they'll be sold for half the money before the year is out."
“ If one of Pomeroy's strops is sold for fifty cents within a year, I'll make you a present of one," replied the peilar.
“I'll purchase one on these conditions. Now Ben, I call you to witness the contract,” said my grandfather, addressing himself to Esquire Hoyt.
• All right," responded Ben. “Yes,"said the pedlar,“I'll do as I say and there's no back-out in me."
My grandfather took the strop and put it in his side coat.pocket. Presently drawing it out and turning to Esquire Hoyt he said, " Ben, I don't much like this strop now that I have bought it. How much will you give me for it ?” " Well, I guess, seeing it's you, I'll give fifty cents,” drawled the squire, with a wicked twinkle in his eye,
which said that the strop and the pedlar were both incontinently sold.
“ You can take it. I guess I'll get along with my old one a spell longer," said my grandfather, giving the pedlar a knowing look. The strop changed hands, and the pedlar exclaimed, “I
acknow. ledge, gentlemen ; what's to pay?"
“ Treat the company, and confess you are taken in, or else give me a strop," replied my grandfather.
“ I never will confess nor treat,” said the pedlar, " but I'll give you a strop for your wit;" and suiting the action to the word, he handed a second strop to his customer. A hearty laugh ensued in which the pedlar joined.
“ Some pretty sharp fellows here in Bethel,” said a byestander addressing the pedlar.
“ Tolerable, but nothing to brag of," replied the pedlar ; “ I have made seventy-five cents by the operation.”
- How is that?" was the inquiry.
“I have received a dollar for two strops which cost me only twelve and a balf cents each,” replied the pedlar; “ but having heard of the cute tricks of the Bethel chaps, I thought I would look out for them
I and fix my prices accordingly. I generally sell these strops at twentyfive cents each, but, gentlemen, if you want any more at fifty cents a piece I shall be happy to supply your whole village." Our neighbours laughed out of the other side of their mouths, but no more strops were purchased."
The first recorded specimen of ingenuity (some people would call it by a harder name) worthy of note of which this excellent Barnum gives us the details, was practised at somewhat about the age of sixteen. The only thing that scems puzzling to us in the matter is, that it should have been for the benefit of his employers, and not a little private speculation of his own. It may be, however, that he wished to test the gullibility of the public, the experiment being made at another's risk. We have learned from himself quite enough of his proficiency in scheming, but we doubt if his natural or acquired love for dirty ways would have been a sufficient inducement for him to exercise his abilities when he did not expect a fair share of the profits.
We shall permit Mr. Barnum to tell the story in his own language :
“ On one occasion a pedlar called at our store with a large waggon filled with common green glass bottles of various sizes, holding from half a pint to a gallon. My employers were both absent, and I bantered him to trade his whole load of bottles in exchange for goods. Thinking me a greenhorn he accepted my proposition, and I managed to pay him off in unsaleable goods at exorbitant prices. Soon after he departed, Mr. Keeler returned, and found his little store half filled with bottles !"
After explaining that he had got the bottles at less than half the wholesale price, from the worthlessness of the goods he had given in exchange for them, he proceeded to broach his plan, which was to dispose, by a lottery, of the bottles and large quantities of tinware which had been in the store for some years, and had become begrimed with dirt and fly-specks :
“On the first wet day, therefore, when there were but few customers, I spent several hours in making up my scheme. The highest prize was twenty-five dollars, payable in any kind of goods the customer desired. Then I had fifty prizes of five dollars each, designating in my scheme what goods each prize should consist of. For instance, one five-dollar prize consisted of one pair of cotton hose, one cotton handkerchief, two tin cups, four pint glass bottles, three tin skimmers, one quart glass bottle, six tin nutmeg graters, eleven half-pint glass bottles, &c. &c.—the glass and hardware always forming the greater portion of each prize. I had one hundred prizes of one dollar each, one hundred prizes of fifty cents each, and three hundred prizes of twenty-five cents each. There were 1000 tickets at 50 cents each. The prizes amounted to the same as the tickets-500 dollars” (he means in value but has enough of grace not to say so). “I had taken an idea here from the church lottery in which my grandfather was manager, and had many prizes of only half the cost of the tickets. I headed the scheme with glaring capitals, written in my best hand, setting forth that it was a magnificent lottery ! 25 dollars for only 50 cents !-over 550 prizes ! only 1000 tickets !! goods put in at the lowest cash prices ! ! ! &c. &c.
The tickets went like wild fire: customers did not stop to consider the nature of the prizes."
The drawing takes place, and with the most perfect coolness Mr. Barnum relates
numerous amusing little details connected with the prizes :
“A young lady who had drawn five dollars would find herself entitled to a piece of tape, a spool of cotton, a paper of pins, sixteen tin skimmers, cups, and nutmeg graters, and a few dozen glass bottles of various sizes! She would beg meto retain the glass and hardware, and pay her in some other goods, but was informed that such a proceedling would be contrary to the rules of the establishment, and could not be entertained for a moment.
One man would find all his prizes to consist of tinware. Another would discover that out of twenty tickets he had drawn perhaps ten prizes, and that they consisted entirely of glass bottles. Some of the customers were vexed, but most of them laughed at the joke. My grandfather enjoyed my lottery speculation very much, and seemed to agree with many others, who declared that I was indeed a chip of the old block."
After confiding to his reader several of his vicissitudes as a storekeeper, a lottery office keeper, a clerk, &c. and his courtship and marriage at the precocious age of nineteen (certamly as