by M. R. Werner. New York; Har-eourt, Brace & Co. 8vo. xii+381 pp. Illustrated. $3.50.
THIS magical book portrays the greatest entertainer of the world, the man who made a fortune out of the human passion for amusement, who milked the gullibility of mankind to absolute exhaustion. Whatever you may think of Barnum’s methods — and he himself recognized that some of them were doubtful — it must be admitted that he contributed to the sum of diversion more than almost anyone who ever lived. He estimated that he had exhibited to over eighty-two million persons, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, w ise and unwise; and, if the entertainment was not always elevating, it was usually harmless, and sometimes distinctly profitable. He made a show of everything, and he w:as himself, in many respects, the greatest show of all, displaying his own expansive, jovial personality in the arena, on the platform, and especially in the innumerable pages of his strange, amusing, sincere, self-reflecting, ‘Autobiography.'
He understood that you musl not only know how to make entertainment, you must know how to sell it. Coming at the beginning of the great age of publicity, he at once appreciated the force of that mighty instrument and played upon it with a master hand. He beat the drum and blew the trumpet at the door of his circus-tent, till the whole wide world was driven to look at him. ‘ If it had not been for printer’s ink,’he said. ’I should have been no bigger than Tom Thumb.’ But he used far more than printer’s ink; he used every cunning device that could be conceived for stimulating the endless curiosity of men and women and coining it into dollars.
He was as thoroughly American as he was human. He had the infinite American resourcefulness: if he could not get his end by one means, he would try another. He had American democracy, believed in the average man, in his intelligence, his uprightness, his good intention. He had American good-nature, could make a joke and take one, and face trouble with a smile. The first of typical Americans was Franklin, the second was Lincoln, and Barnum was no contemptible third.
Mr. Werner has told the story of this large, complex, winning, vulgar personality with admirable success and effectiveness. He has probed all possible sources of information, but he does not bore you with them, simply gives a straightforward narrative, with all due light and shade, and with all major and minor episodes, — like the triumph of Jenny Lind, or the suicide of the artist Haydon, after his hopeless competition with Tom Thumb—developed in their proper places and not over-developed. The biographer has evident profound sympathy with the large humanity of his subject, but is in no way duped by the trickery, or the vulgarity, or the swift, extraordinary, limitless prestidigitation in the matter of words.
In short, we have a thoroughly American sul>ject, handled in a thoroughly American fashion, and the book will be read by thousands of Americans with pleasure and profit.