History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
The Begum of Bhopal pays us a visit—Lord Rosebery and Lord Annaly—Lord Randolph Churchill—Lady Beatty, Lady Jellicoe, and Mrs. Asquith.
IT was on the 29th of June, eight years ago, that we had a visit from the Begum of Bhopal, a lady who rules over millions in India.
She was in London for the coronation of King George and Queen Mary. As the Begum was a Moslem, we were somewhat concerned as to how we should receive Her Highness, it being rumoured that she could not be chaperoned by one of the opposite sex. I must deny the story that we had to turn all the males out of the Exhibition, for there was no occasion to do so.
The Begum was dressed in brown, with a flowing white yashmak hanging from a quaint head-dress shaped like a top-hat of the Leech period. This veil, by the etiquette of her country, is worn in the company of men, the wearer looking through two eye-holes.
In order that the exhibits might be explained to her, my wife and a friend of hers, Mrs. Arthur Dulcken, who spoke Hindustani fluently, acted as guides. Two turbaned gentlemen were in attendance, and the Begum walked between her little grandson and grand-daughter, whose hands she held.
Her knowledge of English history was surprising. Even the Prince, who was only six years old, prattled about different English kings, though he insisted that the good King Alfred, shown in the neatherd's cottage, where he is being rated by the shrew for allowing her cakes to burn, was a fairy-tale like that of the Sleeping Beauty.
When the party came to the Grand Hall in which King George and Queen Mary sat arrayed in their coronation robes, with six Princesses of the Royal House standing around them, "Bara Salaam," said the Begum, as she bowed to the Emperor of India.
Before the scene which shows Queen Victoria receiving the news of her accession to the throne the little lady halted.
"She was very beautiful," she said, "and so wise and kind and sympathetic."
It was the tribute of one woman ruler to another. "She was very beautiful," she said again, "and so small. In Bhopal we think small people beautiful." The Begum's inches were some sixty-two.
She glanced approvingly at the model of Tom Thumb, and proudly placed her grandson by the figure of the Russian giant to accentuate her admiration for small people.
As she passed through the Chamber of Horrors, with its guillotine and gallows, she said, with some degree of satisfaction, "We do not execute in Bhopal."
"I thank you," she said, as she departed in state; and her retainers added an official word of praise:
"The Begum has found Madame Tussaud's extremely interesting."
Lord Rosebery has more than once visited Madame Tussaud's, and made a fairly long stay on each occasion.
Only very recently he and Lord Annaly, Lord-in-Waiting to the King, came to the Exhibition together. Our lecturer happened to notice them among the visitors in the building, and observed the two noblemen makes a careful inspection of the exhibits, conversing in a lively manner, and occasionally calling each other's attention to models which struck them as being specially interesting.
It is, of course, difficult to judge whether they were prompted by any particular motive, or paid the visit merely to enjoy a few minutes' respite from the more serious affairs of life; but they both minutely examined the relics of the French Revolution and, curiously enough, the figures of the criminals in the Chamber of Horrors, where they spent some considerable time.
Lord Rosebery, as a citizen of Edinburgh, called his friend's attention to the striking figures of Burke and Hare, with the story of whose crimes Lord Rosebery must, of course, have been familiar. These ghoulish men perpetrated a series of murders in the Scottish capital in the year 1828 for the purpose of obtaining money by selling the bodies to anatomical schools as subjects for dissection.
It may not be generally known that the verb "to burke" is derived from the villainous miscreant of that name.
One would like to have heard what passed between Lord Rosebery and Lord Annaly as, having left the abode of criminals, they stopped in front of the former's portrait in the main hall of the Exhibition.
As they were leaving the building our representative, as an act of courtesy, opened the middle gate to let them pass with greater freedom, and, in doing so, said, "Good-night, my lord." Lord Rosebery smiled in response like one who is pleased at being recognised. It was evident from their demeanour that both the peers had enjoyed their experience.
Lord Randolph Churchill once said that the two proudest moments in his life were neither his first election to Parliament nor his first appearance on the Treasury Bench, but the publication of a speech of his in leaflet form and the appearance of his effigy at Madame Tussaud's. He added that he had long wished to see how he looked there, but had never dared to go. Notwithstanding this remark he was seen in the flesh on more than one occasion at a later date sauntering through the Exhibition rooms.
That the wives of famous men invariably feel curious to see the models of their husbands goes without saying, and very many instances might be cited of their having done so. Among those who visited the Exhibition during the war were Lady Jellicoe, Lady Beatty, and Mrs. Asquith.
Lady Beatty made a very intelligent criticism of the Admiral's portrait, and as the result of her suggestons certain alterations were made.
Lady Jellicoe's criticism was quite favourable. "You have been extremely fortunate in catching my husband's expression," she said.
Mrs. Asquith did not make any comments, but her young son; who came with her, derived not a little amusement from his distinguished father's presentment, and showed his appreciation by coming again and bringing a boy friend to see it the very next day.