History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Royal visitors—King Alphonso and Princess Ena—The late Emperor Frederick—A penniless trio—Princess Charles—The Prince of' Wales and Prince Albert.
MADAME TUSSAUD'S was one of the last places visited by the King of Spain and Princess Ena before they left this country for their wedding at Madrid in May, 1906.
Somehow there seemed to be at the time an atmosphere of anxiety attending the visit of this vivacious royal couple, and I feel sure this uneasiness was felt by many who observed them pass freely and jocularly among tile visitors, who were very numerous that after-noon in the Exhibition rooms. Disquieting rumours had reached this country that an attempt would be made by certain disaffected ruffians to interfere with their marriage. Plots and threats of a sinister character were in the air, and, as we all know, these culminated in a trime of a particularly atrocious nature in the Spanish capital.
Yet none seemed to be less affected by these disturbing influences than the young royalties themselves, while I am quite certain neither of them was acting a part. They were simply as happy as a bride and. bridegroom ought to be who were counting the days till they should be united.
The young King took a positive delight in moving among the visitors, and none was less self-conscious than he. I was amused to find him bubbling over with fun and frolic standing in front of his own portrait.
Then he did the thing one almost expected he would do. To the amusement of all beholders he exclaimed, "Let me shake hands with myself," suiting the action to the words, and laughing heartily with his bride and her friends. It is for traits like this that King Alphonso enjoys popularity wherever he goes.
The visit passed off happily, and I for one felt somewhat relieved when they had taken their departure without molestation, although I had no tangible reason to harbour the doubts that possessed me.
On returning to this country soon after the tragic accompaniments of their marriage, the light-hearted young King took an early opportunity of revisiting the Exhibition, and in passing gave a familiar nod of recognition at his own portrait, as one might salute an acquaintance in the street.
He roamed about the place in the least ostentatious way, and took a noticeably keen interest in the figure of the great Duke of Wellington, who, among his numerous foreign honours, received the titles of Duque de Ciudad Rodrigo and a Grandee of the first class, 1812—titles granted by predecessors of King Alphonso on the Spanish throne. As was the case with the King of Spain and his bride, members of the Royal Family on numerous occasions have paid their shillings and gone in "with the crowd," their object being to stroll round without having to undergo the worry of a "reception" and its attendant red baize and "blowing of trumpets."
Soon after his marriage with our then Princess Royal, the late Emperor Frederick of Germany, who was at that time Prince Frederick of Prussia, decided to pay us a visit. This was rather more than fifty years ago.
Hearing of his intention, my father decided to withdraw his figure, deeming it to be too youthful and out-of-date to bear a favourable comparison with its living counterpart—a severe test for even the best of portraits.
When the Prince arrived it appeared that he had come with the main object of inspecting his own model, for he had not been long in the place before he ex-claimed, "Where is my figure?"
This was a question that rather nonplussed the member of my family who had undertaken to cicerone His Royal Highness through the Exhibition.
There was nothing for it but to make the plain, straightforward admission that it had only just been removed, and to give the reason for this having been done.
Nothwithstanding this, the Prince's request to view the portrait was reiterated, and he was so emphatic and persistent that there was nothing to be done but to replace the figure before his very eyes.
It was a strange proceeding, that of having to withdraw the model from the side room into which it had been removed, to march it through the spacious galleries with the Prince amusedly looking on the while, and ultimately to dump it down in its old place among the figures in our big royal group.
The Prince, with great good-humour, scanned it with a lenient eye, and pronounced it to be by no means a portrait 'of which anyone need be ashamed; in fact, he appeared quite pleased with it, and when he left the Exhibition he seemed to be highly delighted with his unique and interesting experience.
Many years ago, in the late seventies, Alexander III of Russia (then the Tsarevitch), accompanied by the Tsarevna and her sister, the Princess of Wales, visited the Exhibition in Baker Street.
On reaching the entrance to the Napoleon Rooms and the Chamber of Horrors, where an extra admission fee of sixpence is charged, my uncle, who was standing near, heard the Tsarevitch say to his companions that he had no money.
The Princess of Wales was obliged to admit that she was in the same penniless plight, while the Tsarevna exclaimed with emphasis, "Et mot aussi; je n'ai pas un penny dans ma poche!"
Here, then, it may be said, was a trio of monarchsto-be in the amusing predicament of not having a sixpence among the three of them !
My uncle was bound to respect the royal visitors' incognito, and so could not venture to "pass them in," which, of course, he would have been very proud and happy to do.
The difficulty was overcome by one of the gentlemen in attendance on the royal party, who came up shortly afterwards and produced the necessary fees.
Princess Charles of Denmark is reported to have said many years ago, "I sometimes get tired of being a royal, especially when I am looked at and wondered at as though I were one of Madame Tussaud's wax models. I even think how glorious it must be to be able to jump on the top of a 'bus, pay my fare like any ordinary person, and have a day out. I have never tried to do so yet, but I think I shall some day."
Mention of this brings to my mind one of several visits paid to the Exhibition by the Princes of' our own Royal House.
I was notified by telephone that the present Prince of Wales and his brother, Prince Albert, were visiting the Exhibition. They were received by me, and I conducted them over the place.
The royal boys needed very little "conducting," as they were soon engrossed in all they saw around them, and seldom found it necessary to address any questions to me.
I was amused to find that they preferred to dispense with the Catalogue, taking a boyish delight in recognising the figures for themselves and displaying what knowledge they possessed, which was considerable. Nor did they seem in the least concerned to know whether members of the general public recognised them, as I could see many did from the way they contrived to keep near to them.
Among the Napoleonic relics the Princes lingered an unusually long time, as if reluctant to leave them; and the Prince of Wales betrayed so much interest in the carriage in which Napoleon was all but captured after the Battle of Waterloo that he was invited to sit in it, if he cared. Without a moment's hesitation he embraced the opportunity, and his brother joined him.
It happened that we were just then about to have the carriage glazed in, as it has been since, to protect it from ruthless souvenir hunters, whose mutilations necessitated our keeping in stock rolls of cloth of the same pattern to renew the lining from time to time.
I wonder how many people in different parts of the world now show their friends strips of cloth purporting to be taken from the original lining of the Napoleon carriage, whereas the "souvenirs" are really "relics" of the looms of Yorkshire.
The last to sit in Napoleon's carriage were the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert.