History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
The Berlin Congress—Lord Beaconsfield and the "Turnerelli wreath" —"The People's Tribute" finds a home at Tussaud's—The sculptor's despair—He constructs his tombstone and dies.
THE year 1876—in which we find the Prince of Wales arriving at Calcutta, the commercial metropolis of India; "Empress of India" added to the royal titles of Queen Victoria; and Disraeli's elevation to the Upper House as Earl of Beaconsfield—gave us subjects that kept our studios extremely busy, and also brought a constant stream of visitors to the Exhibition.
The portrait of the Queen had now to be remodelled; that of the Prince of Wales appeared in the garb of a big-game hunter; and Disraeli's doffed its ordinary attire for the robes of a peer.
Following these "moving" events, we now come to a period when the country became apprehensively aware of ominous happenings in the Balkan States.
Russia declared war on Turkey in 1877, and forced a clear road to Constantinople. This threat to our Eastern Empire aroused the spirit of war, particularly in London, and "gentlemen of the pavement," as Bismarck styled the men in the street, gloried in the ultra-patriotic sentiment which obtained the name of "Jingo"; while music-halls and taverns rang with the rousing chorus embodying that distinctive epithet :
We don't want to fight,
Lord Beaconsfield's prompt demand that a halt should be called to hostilities, for the adjustment of differences between the belligerents, led to the Berlin Congress, and gave us an excellent opportunity of adding an imposing group of the European statesmen who framed the Berlin Treaty.
Yet, so mercurial is the public taste, and so pronounced is the love of the British race for anything that is amusingly abnormal, that I doubt whether ten people did not come to see the "Turnerelli wreath" for one who came to scan the features of these great peace-makers.
"What was the `Turnerelli wreath' I" the present generation may ask. It was the pivot of a political comedy that set the whole nation laughing.
Edward Tracy Turnerelli, a sculptor's son, and himself a sculptor, instituted a penny subscription to present Lord Beaconsfield with a gold laurel wreath, which he called "The People's Tribute," in appreciation of his many services to the State and in commemoration of his great part in the deliberations of the Berlin Congress.
Fifty-two thousand workmen subscribed their pennies in vain, for Lord Beaconsfield courteously, but firmly, declined the gift, and it was left on Turnerelli's hands; while he, of course, could hardly be expected to refund the copper contributions.
I am indebted to Mr. J. H. Bottomley, Conservative agent for Clapham, for a copy of the following interesting autograph letter from Lord Beaconsfield, expressing his satisfaction that the course he had adopted in declining to accept the wreath had met with the approval of many who had been induced to sanction the proposed gift :
10 Downing Street, Whitehall,
DEAR SIR, August 11th, 1879.
I have the honour to acknowledge your letter of the 9th inst.
It gives me much satisfaction to learn that the course I felt it my duty to take with respect to a certain pseudo-testimonial has met with the approval of many of those who, originally, by misleading representations, were induced to sanction a surreptitious gift.
I am gratified by the suggestion, which, on behalf of various Conservative associations, you put before me, that I should receive a National Address of confidence as a substitution for the rejected offering, but when I call to mind that the present policy of Her Majesty's Government, unchanged and unshaken, is precisely the same as that which, scarcely a year ago, received an unanimous and most honourable _expression of approval from the Conservative Association of this country, I hope I am not presumptuous if, without now troubling them for its renewed avowal, I still venture to count on the continued confidence, which, then, was so welcome and so cheering.
The postman who delivered this letter to Mr. Bottomley offered him all his savings (£19 5s.) for the letter.
Mr. Bottomley received in five days, in 1879, more than 3,000 pennies from the working men of Oldham, together with the personal signature of each contributor, and he holds Mr. Turnerelli's receipt for the £13 5s. he sent him for the tribute.
The wreath was offered to us, and purchased at its gold valuation.
I looked at it today, and renewed my admiration of its artistic design and remarkable beauty. Every leaf is of gold, and under each one is inscribed the name of a town where a committee collected the pennies. The "tie" bears the inscription "Tracy Turnerelli, chairman."
While London roared and cynics wrote satirical quips, the promoter of "The People's Tribute" took its rejection very much to heart. I have seen a cabinet-size photograph of the disappointed sculptor, taken immediately afterwards, showing him with head thrown back, resting. on his left hand, in a theatrical posture of profound despair.
Before the Beaconsfield wreath made the name of Turnerelli a byword, the public-spirited sculptor, who had spent a long time in Russia, vehemently opposed the Crimean War, as did also Mr. John Bright. Turnerelli was received by Lord Aberdeen on the subject, and the Prime Minister was said to have been impressed by the sculptor's sincerity and the cogency of his arguments. He also saw Lord John Russell, then Foreign Secretary, Lord Clarendon, and Lord Palmerston. In one particular he was vindicated. He declared that Cronstadt was impregnable, and as the war went on this proved to be the case.
Turnerelli, unluckily for himself, thereafter entertained the chimerical idea of presenting the golden laurel chaplet to Lord Beaconsfield, estimating that the cost of each leaf would be about £5. He succeeded, at any rate, in convincing sceptical people that there were at least 52,000 Conservative working men in the country. The wreath was made by Messrs. Hunt and Roskell, who put it on exhibition at their rooms. It was also shown to the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal Family before being exhibited at the Crystal Palace.
Turnerelli's own explanation of Lord Beaconsfield's refusal to accept the wreath was a curious one. He stated that a "high legal functionary" warned Lord Beaconsfield that the wreath was a typical "Imperial diadem" which could only be loyally offered to a sovereign, and that it would be an insult to the Crown if a subject were to accept such a gift.
This same legal authority, Turnerelli said, reminded him that the promoter of such a presentation would have been consigned, in previous reigns, to the Tower of London.
These warnings came too late for Turnerelli, who, had he known about them sooner, might have substituted an inoffensive golden inkstand or a pair of golden candlesticks. But the wreath was allowed to go on to completion, to be put on exhibition, and to be written about in a light and fleering spirit; while the statesman to whom it was to be presented offered no remonstrance until the pennies of the 52,000 working men had been spent on it.
Flippant people suggested that the whole affair was a "plant" on Turnerelli's part to win from Lord Beaconsfield some honour or emolument; but those who knew Turnerelli well scouted this insinuation, and attributed the whole proceeding to the guileless sincerity of the man.
Had he never embarked upon the wreath project, he might have preserved some reputation as a writer of topical political verse and pamphlets. The wreath, however, may serve to preserve his memory longer, as an episode in the life of the great Conservative statesman whom he artlessly, rather than artfully, desired to honour.
In a curious last will and testament Turnerelli said : "I leave the gold laurel wreath to the nation, provided my generous friends the Conservatives will help me to cover the hundred and fifty pounds or thereabouts I have personally expended upon it."
To a Birmingham gentleman, with whom he had almost completed negotiations for the sale of the wreath for £245, he wrote : "By the advice of influential friends I have determined to let Madame Tussaud & Sons have the privilege of exhibiting the, wreath." Turnerelli compensated the Birmingham would-be purchaser for alleged breach of contract.
Punch, of the 22nd of November, 1879, contained the following: "What the Wreath has come to.—The brows of Lord Beaconsfield at Madame Tussaud's. Punch said it would, and it has."
Funny Folks said: "The Beaconsfield Wreath is at Madame Tussaud's, probably worn by his lordship's effigy. Curious that this emblem of popularity should be on the wax, while the popularity itself is on the wane."
It may be stated that the gold wreath never rested on the waxen brows of Lord Beaconsfield, despite what Punch said to the contrary.
I am reminded that, in his latter days, Turnerelli sought consolation for worldly disdain in designing and constructing his own tombstone. This was erected in Leamington Cemetery about four year's before his death, and serves as a monument not only for himself, but also for his father, who was a famous sculptor in the early part of the century, and is buried in London.
After the erection of the tombstone the younger Turnerelli regularly went to gaze at it for an hour or two. The block is surmounted by an imitation in stone of the famous rejected wreath.
Turnerelli died at Leamington on the 24th of January, 1896, aged eighty-four years.