History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Count Léon—The Shah of Persia's visit —A weird suggestion; no response—King Koffee—Cetewayo.
ABOUT this time I met Count Léon, the natural son of Napoleon the Great. The Count was then nearing seventy years of age, and had taken refuge in this country after the great débâcle of 187o. He lived in modest lodgings at Camden Town, and to pay his way set about selling the last remaining relics of the Imperial Family he had in his possession.
In a diary I now have before me I find that my father visited him on the 31st of January, 1873, the Count having expressed a wish to show him the family heirlooms, with the view to their finding a permanent resting-place among the many Napoleonic memorials at Madame Tussaud's.
The Count offered him a fine miniature of Napoleon I's brother, Lucien; a terra-cotta bust of Napoleon's mother, "Madame Mère"; and a snuff-box left by Napoleon with Count Léon's mother. The box contained a portion of the snuff which the Emperor had been using. There was also a lock of hair belonging to Napoleon's son, the Duc de Reichstadt, known in high Imperial days as the King of Rome. One or two of these relics were acquired for the Exhibition.
The Count bore a striking resemblance to the Emperor, except in two particulars : his figure was cast in a larger mould, and his eyes were hazel, whereas Napoleon's were blue-grey. Count Léon returned to France, leaving behind him in London his son Charles, for whom I obtained a position in a City warehouse, where he remained engaged for several years, being at no pains to disguise his identity. My readers will readily see that the name granted to his father by the Emperor was composed of the last four letters in "Napoleon," a whimsical touch of Imperial humour.
Count Léon finally settled at Pontoise, some twenty miles north-west of Paris, first at the Villa Davenport in the Rue l'Hermitage and afterwards in the Rue de Beaujon. This was his last stage. The room that he made his final refuge he adorned with four portraits of Napoleon, "my glorious father."
To what depths had the Emperor's son fallen ! The old man's shirts were in rags; he could not afford clean linen; he had to forgo tobacco. He died on the 14th of April, 1881, and without pomp or ceremony his body was laid in a pauper's grave. His only memorial was a grassy mound and a little black wooden cross that soon rotted and fell to pieces.
On the 2nd of July, 1873, the Shah of Persia, accompanied by his numerous suite, visited Madame Tussaud's, and was accorded a private view with some pomp and formality. His visit to the Exhibition was deemed of such importance that it gained the unusual distinction of a special reference in the Court Circular. Members of our Royal Household in considerable numbers attended in state, and formed an imposing assemblage. The public was excluded.
The domes of the building were specially darkened to give effect to the internal illuminations, which were very beautiful. None enjoyed the function more than the Shah himself, who laughed heartily as he pointed at models he was able to recognise, and several times turned from a figure to a person present, indicating by a gesture and a chuckle his pride at discerning the likeness. The merry monarch even went so far as to pose among the figures as a real, live royal model.
Before leaving the Exhibition the Shah called for pen and paper, and, surrounded by the distinguished company, wrote in Persian the following: "Whilst staying in London I visited Madame Tussaud's Exhibition, and wrote these words here by way of memorial to my ViSit.—NASSERDIN CHAH KADJAR, 1290 Haegira (1873)."
The above free translation was there and then made by one of His Solar Highness's secretaries, and it possesses the charm of its own defects.
The "king of kings" was in his most humorously autocratic vein among the unhallowed figures of the Chamber of Horrors. He seemed to gloat over the collection of criminals and notorieties, examining with unaffected delight the guillotine which cut off so many heads during the French Revolution.
The lunette in which the necks of the victims were held in position greatly fascinated the Shah, who hinted that a condemned prisoner should be brought from one of the English gaols to be decapitated on the spot for the edification of himself and his attendants.
It was pointed out, as an evasive measure, that no condemned man was available at that moment, where-upon His Majesty turned to the members of his suite and called for volunteers.
Such a thing, however, as an execution at Madame Tussaud's was out of the question, even to gratify the whim of so illustrious a personage; and the Shah's retainers looked genuinely relieved when they gathered that their royal master was not to have his way.
This period seemed to inaugurate a series of little wars, which, nevertheless, then excited the interest of the people, whose descendants may well remark how comparatively small these wars were. The Ashantee campaign ended in the fall of Coomassie on the 4th of February, 1874, and Sir Garnet Wolseley added fresh laurels to his fame. It was with real regret that the public looked in vain for the portrait of King Koffee at Madame Tussaud's. As the dusky potentate had evidently never had his photograph taken, and as "sittings" were out of the question, we could not very well gratify the public curiosity for lack of the necessary data.
Not only did people expect to discover King Koffee's portrait, but they also clamoured to see his famous umbrella, which Wolseley "borrowed" from His Majesty's mud-palace at Coomassie, and obviously failed to return, for the umbrella was accepted as a gift by Queen Victoria from the gallant Commander of this brief and brilliant expedition. We confessed then to a twinge of envy that the celebrated gamp had not found its way to Madame Tussaud's. We were, however, amply compensated by the public favour with which the portrait of Sir Garnet was received.
The deposed King of the Zulus, Cetewayo, who was subsequently restored to a portion of his kingdom, made a considerable stir when he visited this country as the "guest of the Government." A friend who was appointed to take shorthand notes when Cetewayo at-tended at the Foreign Office enabled me to gain a view of the burly black monarch, and I had an opportunity of comparing the original with the many published portraits.
He was a handsome type of a fine race, and looked a king even among the stalwart members of his suite, everyone of whom seemed to be six feet at least in height and well-proportioned.
Cetewayo's figure had been in the Exhibition some time before, and it now became possible to bring it up to date. Everything was done to impress Cetewayo with the strength of the British Empire; but it was discovered that the objects which appealed most to his savage taste were the cattle in the fields, the cloth in the factories, and the gewgaws and jewels in the shop windows.
"He is uglier than that," said an envoy of the IndunaKing, Gungunhana, critically scrutinising Cetewayo's figure, when he visited the Exhibition in June, 1891.
This native envoy rejoiced in the name of Huluhulu-Untato, his companion being Umfeti-Inteni.
They thought the figures were really dead bodies which had been preserved from decay. When told that they were merely waxen images the Indunas expressed disappointment that the white man had not completed his work by putting breath into the bodies.
When Huluhulu came before the figure of Queen Victoria he saluted Her silent Majesty, and stood audibly worshipping her for a minute or two.