An Englishman of note came to me with a letter of introduction, and I asked him whom he would like to meet. He said: "I think principally Mr. P. T. Barnum." I told this to Barnum, who knew all about him, and said: "As a gentleman, he knows how to meet me." When I informed my English friend, he expressed his regret and at once sent Barnum his card and an invitation for dinner. At the dinner Barnum easily carried off the honors with his wonderful fund of unusual adventures.
My first contact with Mr. Barnum occurred many years before, when I was a boy up in Peekskill. At that time he had a museum and a show in a building at the corner of Ann Street and Broadway, opposite the old Astor House. By skilful advertising he kept people all over the country expecting something new and wonderful and anxious to visit his show.
There had been an Indian massacre on the Western plains. The particulars filled the newspapers and led to action by the government in retaliation. Barnum advertised that he had succeeded in securing the Sioux warriors whom the government had captured, and who would re-enact every day the bloody battle in which they were victorious.
It was one of the hottest afternoons in August when I appeared there from the country. The Indians were on the top floor, under the roof. The performance was sufficiently blood-curdling to satisfy the most exacting reader of a penny-dreadful. After the performance, when the audience left, I was too fascinated to go, and remained in the rear of the hall, gazing at these dreadful savages. One of them took off his head-gear, dropped his tomahawk and scalping-knife, and said in the broadest Irish to his neighbor: "Moike, if this weather don't cool off, I will be nothing but a grease spot." This was among the many illusions which have been dissipated for me in a long life. Notwithstanding that, I still have faith, and dearly love to be fooled, but not to have the fraud exposed.
Wyndham, the celebrated English actor, was playing one night in New York. He saw me in the audience and sent a messenger inviting me to meet him at supper at the Hoffman House. After the theatre I went to the hotel, asked at the desk in what room the theatrical supper was, and found there Bronson Howard, the playwright, and some others. I told them the object of my search, and Mr. Howard said: "You are just in the right place."
The English actor came later, and also a large number of other guests. I was very much surprised and flattered at being made practically the guest of honor. In the usual and inevitable after-dinner speeches I joined enthusiastically in the prospects of American contributions to drama and especially the genius of Bronson Howard.
It developed afterwards that the actors' dinner was set for several nights later, and that I was not invited or expected to this entertainment, which was given by Mr. Howard to my actor friend, but by concert of action between the playwright and the actor, the whole affair was turned into a dinner to me. Broadway was delighted at the joke, but did not have a better time over it than I did.
The supper parties after the play which Wyndham gave were among the most enjoyable entertainments in London. His guests represented the best in society, government, art, literature, and drama. His dining-room was built and furnished like the cabin of a yacht and the illusion was so complete that sensitive guests said they felt the rolling of the sea.