History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Tussaud's as educator—Queer questions—Wanted, a "model" wife—Quaint extract from an Indian's diary.
AN American visitor to the Exhibition once said to me, "You know, this show is a liberal education, a history of Europe in kind. I never learned so much history in any one afternoon. Why don't you write your reminiscences?"
I told him that I probably should do so one day, and he replied characteristically:
"There is no time like the present. Get on with it, and put me down as a subscriber."
A French Ambassador is reported to have said : "A day in Tussaud's is worth a year at Oxford; it fixes history as no tutor could."
On more than one occasion schoolmasters have made a similar remark with reference to the value of the figures and exhibits in Madame Tussaud's as a means of impressing the minds of their boys with the episodes of history. Teachers often bring their pupils, and I am constantly receiving appreciative letters after a visit.
Schoolboys themselves, I have always noticed, take the keenest possible interest in all they see, and I frequently overhear them eagerly challenging one another concerning the identity and lives of historical person-ages as they confront their models.
The Exhibition has been frequently consulted as an authority upon innumerable historical subjects, especially with regard to matters dealing with portraiture, biography, and costume, and many of the questions submitted might well have puzzled even the compiler of ail encyclopedia. Queries are almost always coupled with an urgent request for immediate reply.
Peculiarities of well-known people are fruitful topics for inquiry. The following are a few of the questions put:
"On which side of Cromwell's face did his warts grow' ?"
"Which was the arm that Nelson lost, and which was his blind eye?"
"Was Byron's club-foot the right or the left?" "Did Mary, Queen of Scots, have brown eyes or blue?"
Again : "What was the height of Napoleon?"--the Most frequent question of all.
Other popular problems relate to costume :
"Did the Black Prince really wear black armour? Or to what was his cognomen due?"
We were consulted during the period when preparations were in progress for the late King Edward's coronation so as to decide what was the correct tone of purple for the royal robes. As we have in our possession the robes actually worn by George IV at that King's coronation, we allowed a broad hem on one of the trains to be unstitched, thus revealing the original colour, unchanged by exposure to dust and light.
In this connection the following quotation from Thackeray's The Four Georges, published in 1861, is interesting:
Madame Tussaud has got King George's coronation robes; is there any man now alive who would kiss the hem of that trumpery'? He sleeps since thirty years.
The same author also mentions the Exhibition in the following extract from The Newcomes:
For pictures they do not seem to care much; they thought the National Gallery a dreary exhibition, and in the Royal Academy could be got to admire nothing but the picture of M'Collop of M'Collop, by our friend of the like name : but they think Madame Tussaud's interesting exhibition of Waxwork the most delightful in London : and there I had the happiness of introducing them to our friend Mr. Frederick Bayham; who, subsequently, on coming to this office with his valuable contributions on the Fine Arts, made particular inquiries as to their pecuniary means, and expressed him-self instantly ready to bestow his hand upon the mother or daughter, provided old Mr. Binnie would make a satisfactory settlement.
On one or two other occasions our relics and historic pictures have been specially veiwed by those who had charge of the arrangements, for the express purpose of settling points in regard to precedence and costume at royal functions.
Inquiries from members of the public often come about through a dispute which has ended in a wager, but many and various are the reasons that are assigned by the questioner for his query. Sometimes my correspondent is a writer of books, who wants to give a correct description of a character or incident.
This leads me to the subject of misconception, and it is surprising how deep-rooted are the inaccuracies that have crept into the minds of visitors with regard to t1 e models they have seen in the Exhibition. Many of our patrons express themselves as absolutely certain that figures have done things which I am equally positive they never did and never could do at is the use of telling individuals that the originator of Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, William Cobbett, who turns his head from side to side, does not take snuff, when they insist that they have actually seen him lift his hand from his snuff-box to his nose'? Yet this is a widespread fallacy.
The figure of Marat dying in his bath never has breathed; it is the bosom of the Sleeping Beauty that rises and falls as she reposes in slumber.
Neither does Henry VIII turn his head to inspect his six wives. Those who think he does must be confusing him with the aforesaid Cobbett, although not a few readers of history think that the head of Bluff King Hal, who caused so many people to be beheaded, must itself have been "turned."
Some years ago an elderly bachelor from the Midlands called to ask whether we could make him a model of a lady based upon his own description and sketches and dressed in clothes designed by himself.
I should have attached no importance to the mat-ter had I not, my curiosity being whetted, asked a few questions of the caller.
It then transpired that the model was to represent his ideal woman whom he had been unable to discover in real life. He was anxious to have a woman about the house "pleasing to the eye, but at the same time somewhat less loquacious than the usual run of females," as he put it.
He proposed that the model should be placed in an adjustable chair and be jointed, so that at meal-times it could sit at the head of his lonely table and at other times could recline at ease beside the fire, opposite his own armchair.
Needless to say, the commission was not accepted.
It is very natural that such an institution as Madame Tussaud's should include the "curious" among its diversified store of anecdote.
One quaint document in our archives is the published diary of an Indian officer, Jemadar, No. 1427, Abdur Razzak, of the 15th Madras Lancers, from which I give the following extract relating to a visit he paid to the Exhibition :
On the 5th June, 1893, we went to see the Wax Work "Madame Tussaud," where we first saw a woman in red dress with a basket full of different kinds of flowers all made in wax with her, which was very difficult to make out that she was an image, but when we entered the building we saw lots of images of emperors and kings, and remarkable persons both men and women with rich and poor dresses on.
I really say that I was very much admired to see these images, and was in many places in the buildings mistook the visitors to be of them when they were standing still, but when they moved was very much ashamed on account of my misunderstanding; by 'this we made our minds to be little far from both the images and the visitors and servants in the building.
We saw the throne of Her Majesty just the same we have seen on the 9th May, 1893, besides this one more image in shape with Her Majesty in a room writing something on a table with a candle on it, and this too quite astonishing.
We also saw a gentleman on elephant's back in a jungle has hunted a tiger, the pair of which attacked the elephant round its trunk taking to him and the elephant putting its head down and a gentleman on it, aiming to fire on the tiger.
We saw a room in which were the images of almost all the assassinators with the particulars of their deeds. We also saw a place in which all the weapons, etc., to take revenge of assassinators, such as scabbard, hanging, &c.