History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Father Mathew sits for his model—Tsar Nicholas I. takes a fancy to Voltaire's chair—A replica sent to him—The Rev. Peter Mc-Kenzie's exorcism.
ONE of the greatest of all temperance reformers was Father Mathew, "the Noble Priest of Cork," who persuaded sixty thousand people in London alone to become teetotallers and to take a pledge to that effect. The apostle of temperance was induced to come to London in the early forties to give a series of lectures.
Some were delivered at Hall's Riding School (now a motor garage) in Albany Street, opposite Holy Trinity Church and close to Great Portland Street Station, and Mr. Francis Tussaud (grandfather of the writer) modelled him in one of the rooms of that place. He was constantly interrupted during the sittings by people of all classes and creeds coming into take the pledge. Most of them insisted upon kneeling to receive Father Mathew's blessing. They were probably actuated by respect for him, and also by the hope that the recollection of his blessing might strengthen their teetotal vows.
At the close of the sittings Father Mathew detached from his breast his temperance medal, which was attached to a ribbon round his neck, and handed it to the artist that it might be placed upon his model.
Father Mathew bore so striking a resemblance in face and figure to Napoleon I that the two were once oddly mistaken for each other by our own servants.
We had occasion to renovate the portraits of the soldier and the preacher. To do so it was necessary that the heads of both should be detached. The assistant who was responsible for taking the figures to pieces in this way mistook the one head for the other. The error was fortunately soon detected by Mr, Fran-cis Tussaud; who had modelled both the heads, and he soon had the mistake rectified.
There are persons still living who remember Father Mathew. An old and respected neighbour, Francis Draper by name, is one of the youngest men of eighty-seven one could possibly meet. Although born in 1832, he still possesses a wonderfully clear memory.
In 1842, when Father Mathew paid his visit to London, Mr. Draper a boy of ten years—was introduced to him at the Riding School. In an ante-room upstairs, to which Father Mathew retired between the times when he administered the pledge, he saw an artist modelling his face in clay, which he was told was for Madame Tussaud's Exhibition. He had an impression at the time that the artist was Fran-cis, a son of Madame Tussaud, and his surmise was accurate, for it was Mr. Francis Tussaud who was executing the model.
For many years afterwards he saw "The Noble Priest of Cork" standing in a group in Madame Tussaud's, with his medal suspended round his neck, and, he says, it was the best likeness of anyone in the rooms,
The assassination of Alexander II of Russia in March, 1881, recalls a quaint story of Voltaire's chair, which stands in a corner of one of the Napoleon Rooms, not far removed from a collection of heads of leaders of the French Revolution.
This chair is one of our most treasured relics. It was made to Voltaire's own design, and is unlike any other chair we have ever seen.
After the Entente Cordiale between France and England in the forties, the visit to Queen Victoria of Louis Philippe was promptly followed by the arrival in Lon-don, in 1844, of Alexander's father, Nicholas I of Russia, who, during his stay, was conducted over the Exhibition by Madame Tussaud's elder son, Joseph.
In the course of his tour round the galleries the Tsar's attention was arrested by the great Frenchman's wonderful chair. Being struck by its ingenious construction, he examined it very closely, and then, as so many persons have done, gave himself the pleasure of occupying the seat in which the famous satirist had spent many an industrious hour.
The chair was intended by Voltaire to facilitate his literary work, and, evidently taking account of his incessant labours, he had the arms extended without supports so that he could sit in any attitude and facing any direction, while a movable writing-slope was attached to be always within his reach.
So keen an interest did the Tsar take in the chair that we decided to make a replica and send it to him as a pleasant surprise. This was done, but no direct acknowledgment of the chair's delivery was ever received.
Months afterwards, however, two cases—one containing a splendid gallery portrait of Nicholas and the other a beautiful statuette of the same monarch—arrived at the Exhibition. These presents were accepted as a recognition, in practical form, of the chair. They could not have signified an Imperial bid for a place in the Exhibition, for a most lifelike model of His Majesty was already there.
Nearly forty years later, on the assassination or Nicholas's son, Alexander—to which allusion has been made—there appeared in one of our leading English illustrated papers, which gave pages to the story of the assassination, a full double-page picture of the Imperial study at St. Petersburg, and, behold, therein stood the identical chair which we had sent to Nicholas E.
It is interesting to note that on Wednesday, the 20th of October, thirty-six years later, a number of Princesses came to the Exhibition; and among them was Princess Alix of Hesse, then a happy young girl of eight, and now mourned as the late Tsarina, who, as reported, shared with the Tsar and his family a terrible death at the hands of diabolical assassins during the recent Russian Revolution. Among the royal party which came on that day were our own Princesses Louise, Victoria, and Maud of Wales.
A great Wesleyan preacher and lecturer in his day was the Rev. Peter McKenzie, who died in November, 1895. He deserves a place in these memoirs on ac-count of his characteristic and rather eccentric behaviour when he visited the Exhibition. In the course of his perambulation through the galleries he, like most of our patrons, found his way to the Napoleon Rooms, where Voltaire's chair immediately arrested his attention.
Striking an indignant attitude in front of it, the Wesleyan preacher exclaimed, "And this belonged to the man that was going to pull down the edifice of Christianity and sweep the religion of Jesus Christ from the earth!" So saying, he planted himself in the chair and, with a triumphant wave of his hand, declaimed to the wondering visitors gathered round the following verse of a well-known hymn:
Jesus shall reign where'er the sun