History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Queen Victoria's copperplates—Another Royal Persian visit—"Perished by fire"—"Viscount Hinton" and his organ—The Coquette's jewels lost and found.
IN the early part of 1898 we purchased from an enterprising journalist four interesting copperplates —three of them etched by Queen Victoria and one by the Prince Consort. Of the four plates, three were done by the Queen within a year of her marriage.
Although not altogether faultless from an artistic point of view, the work is most conscientiously executed, showing how painstaking was the Queen even in comparatively trivial matters.
After her marriage Her Majesty found in the Prince Consort a fellow craftsman, and forthwith a room in Buckingham Palice was fitted up as a sort of combination studio and workshop. Here, under the guidance and advice of Sir Edwin Landseer, assisted by Mr. Henry Graves, the fine art publisher, the young couple worked for two or three hours in the morning.
Nor would the Queen allow any portion of the process to be performed by an assistant. Even the printing was done either by herself or her husband, a small press being set up for that especial purpose.
It is understood that portraits of the royal children thus reproduced are preserved in the print-room at Windsor Castle.
I have already described how the Shah of Persia (Nasr-ed-Din) paid a private visit to the Exhibition in the year 1873. .
I must now relate the circumstances that attended the visit of his son, Muzafir-ed-Din, who came to this country for the coronation of King Edward in 1902, thirty years later.
The "Brother of the Sun" came on the 19th of August. He was attended by the Earl of Kintore and Sir Arthur Hardinge, and I received His Majesty, while the orchestra played the Persian National Anthem.
The first model he asked to see was that of his late father, but unfortunately his picturesque parent had disappeared to make room for more up-to-date people.
The horrible fact of the remelting to cast a possibly much less distinguished personage could not, of course, be divulged to the royal visitor. A hint to the entourage was sufficient. "Perished by fire—great accidental fire," explained Sir Arthur Hardinge with the aplomb of a true diplomat. "Big fire," echoed the sombre Persians sadly in their own tongue.
The Shah listened to a description of the models in French and made his comments in Persian, a course of procedure which was not helpful to those who would have liked to glean His Majesty's impressions.
By this time the news that the Shah was in the building had spread, and the people began to throng around him. It was difficult to say whether he appreciated the curiosity of the crowd or not. A merry little party of Japs beamed upon the dusky potentate from the Far East, and the two extremities of Asia thus metaphorically rubbed shoulders.
The tableau of "Queen Victoria at Home" pleased the Eastern sovereign most. He looked at it longest.
The scene depicting the Gordon Highlanders storming the Heights of Dargai also captivated him. The place where the battle was fought was not very re-mote from the borders of His Majesty's dominions, and he was, no doubt, familiar with the history of the wild tribesmen of the northwest frontier of India. He was an eager auditor while the Gay Gordons' feat was narrated in French and Persian.
Face to face with his own portrait model, the Shah addressed some presumably humorous remark to it, for sovereign and suite relaxed their facial muscles simultaneously, and a Persian outburst of mirth succeeded. The stolid monarch( artually laughed outright. It was the only recorded laugh of His Majesty during his visit to this country.
But what did he say to that waxen presentment? The features of the model were certainly rather darker than those of the Shah, but the observation in Persian of the monarch was darker still—at any rate to me. Turning aside, he remarked, in French, that though the features were excellent, the complexion was not quite fair enough—a disclosure of an undoubted Eastern vanity.
He closely scrutinised the figures of reigning sovereigns, and on coming to that of the young Queen of Holland he exclaimed, in French, "Ah, I have seen Her Majesty." The Shah quickly noticed Mr. Bal-four among the group of politicians, and gazed eagerly at the representation of the meeting between Lord Roberts and Cronje at Paardeberg.
Whether the Shah was made nervous through the proximity of the crowd, I cannot say, but he neglected to visit the Chamber of Horrors and the Napoleonic relics (which latter he had expressed a desire to see), and made a straight line for the exit before those who were chaperoning him realised the meaning of the movement.
The Chamber of Horrors would have been an attraction to at least one member of the suite. This gentleman was fascinated by the group in the Hall of Tableaux representing the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. He stood gazing with dilated eyes upon the scene, and had to be called on by a touch on the arm before he could be made to realise the unreality of the drama.
At an Exhibition supper at which "Viscount Hinton" was present, we having modelled his figure and purchased his organ on the death of the old Earl, to which title he now laid claim, a speaker, in proposing my health, began "Mr. Chairman, my Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen." That was enough for "Earl Poulett.'' He rose and bowed in recognition of the compliment paid to his degree, and when the speaker finished he made a speech in which he referred to a few incidents in his organ-grinding career.
He sat to me for his model, and we bought the suit of clothes he was wearing, although a friend of his told his "lordship" that he would not have picked them up from the gutter.
It appears that "Hinton" went to the Bank of England with the £50 note we gave him, and, as is customary, he was asked to sign his name. With a flourish he wrote down "Poulett," whereupon the cashier said, "Christian name as well, please." Hinton drew him-self up and said, "We earls always sign our names like that," a remark which, doubtless, duly impressed and abashed the cashier.
In June, 1901, as the Exhibition was closing for the day, several pieces of jewellery, valued at between so and 6o guineas, were discovered to be missing from the figure of the Old Coquette, facing the model of the sardonic but courtier-like Voltaire, who is seen raising his hat to her. The gems had served to adorn the representation of this curious-looking old dame for a period of more than a century.
As soon as the discovery was made the usual notification was given to the police. Strange to say, while the detective-officer was in consultation with us discussing the most likely means of recovering the articles, a bulky envelope, bearing the mark of the Earl's Court postal district, was handed in containing the missing property, with the following short note enclosed : "Found at Madame Tussaud's thrown down."