History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Last scene of all—Madame Tussaud's appearance and character—Her Memoirs, published in 1838—Her last words.
IF I have recounted many stories relating to incidents that have taken place long after Madame Tussaud passed away, it is because the flow of anecdote prompted by her genius has continued in an unbroken course down to the present times.
But the atmosphere of romance that pervades this history belongs in the main to her days, and it is only fitting that with the close of her days it should practically come to an end.
She died some eight years before I was born, but from my father and from those of his generation who spent the best part of their lives in her company I learnt so much about her that it is difficult for me to realise that I had not enjoyed her personal acquaintance. Her model that stands at the head of the "Sleeping Beauty," I have always been given to understand, is a speaking likeness.
In figure she was small and slight, and her manner was vivacious. Her complexion was fresh, her hair dark brown with never more than a sprinkling of grey, and her soft brown eyes were keen and alert when her interest was aroused. She was a great talker, her conversation was replete with reminiscences, and, moreover, she was blessed with a faultless memory. Austere in her habits of life, exacting in her likes and dislikes, she showed a ready sympathy with those in distress, and, above all, she was generous to a fault.
Unfortunately her Memoirs, published in 1838, although they were penned more than a decade before she died, do not bring us into any very close relationship with either her personality or her life.
This would not be surprising to those who knew her, or who were acquainted with the circumstances in which they were written. She seldom could be brought to speak of herself and her own painful experiences; and at no time did she betray the slightest disposition to thrust herself upon the public. She was seventy-eight years old at the time, and her desire for seclusion grew stronger as years advanced, until her entourage became narrowed down to the simple companionship of her immediate family circle.
The Memoirs came to be written in this wise :
Her two sons, Joseph and Francis, in collaboration with an old literary friend of the name of Francis Hervé, settled in their minds that the old lady should be induced to leave behind her an account of her career.
As she had declared her unwillingness to busy herself with the task of compiling her autobiography —and in certain matters we knew her to have been immovable—they decided that the best way of accomplishing their design would be to record the sub-stance of those conversations in which they rightly surmised they would have little difficulty in inducing her to take part when in the humour.
In spite of the facilities these gentlemen had for obtaining the matter used in their publication, it may be well conjectured that they did not always find their course run smooth, and at times they must have been put to odd shifts and a good deal of careful strategy when gathering what they wanted from the shrewd old lady without arousing her suspicions.
For these reasons the Memoirs have failed to supply what is best worth knowing, such as details giving an insight to her own life—an omission which, I fear, can never now be made entirely good. That work is, therefore, made up of disjointed, scrappy matter, avowedly well written, but somehow obviously strung together for the making of a book.
In perusing its pages the reader thus finds himself confronted by a mere procession of notables whom the old lady happened to have known or to have seen in her day, each with an encyclopædic quantum of information tagged to his or her name that might well have been culled from any biographical treasury. So it is she is to be found speaking of others when her reader's one desire is that she should be induced to talk of herself.
Neither does this "Romance" claim to be a biography. Such an undertaking would demand of us closer and more careful study than these brief sketches have entailed, and much diligent research. Moreover, such has not been the purpose of these pages.
By those who had the best authority to speak of her I have been often reminded of the trials and hardships against which she had to battle during her long and strenuous career, showing a courage and determination that might well have broken the spirit of many a man. In estimating her character and her achievements, my mind turns to events of the past few years which have demonstrated how capable women are of enacting a great part in the drama of human life.
Madame Tussaud brought cheerfulness and geniality to bear upon the tasks that lay before her, and therein lay the secret of her triumphs. She was diligent and attentive to her business, devoted to her family, and attached to her friends.
The measure of her years far exceeded the allotted span, and she was rewarded, despite the slightness of her frame, with an almost unbroken continuation of good health, until, on the 15th of April, 185o she passed peacefully and painlessly away at her house attached to the Exhibition in Baker Street.
Forty years of her life had been chiefly spent in Paris and the latter fifty years mostly in London; so that her biography may be said to comprise a tale of two cities. She was buried in the catacombs of St. Mary's Church, Cadogan Place, Chelsea.
The last words she spoke in this world were characteristic of this wonderful woman's indomitable spirit. Calling her sons, Joseph and Francis, to her bedside, she gently upbraided them for showing distress at her departure, rather than gratitude that she had been spared to them so long. Her farewell exhortation was, "I divide my property equally between you, and implore you, above all things, never to quarrel."