Landseer and the Count d’Orsay visit the ExhibitionA frightNorfolk farmer’s account of Queen Victoria’s visit.
About the year 1845 the celebrated Count d’Or-say, being, as usual, in a desperate state of impecuniosity, was absolutely afraid to venture out of Gore House (where now stands the Royal Albert Hall), except on, Sunday, for fear of being arrested and imprisoned for debt.
It so happened that a portrait of one of the members of the Royal Family, painted by the Count, was just then in process of engraving, and it was necessary before the proofs could be struck off that d’Orsay him-self should see and correct the work of the engraver. To do this the Count would be obliged to go to the engraver’s house, and that gentleman, being of a devout and Sabbatarian turn of mind, utterly refused to receive d’Orsay on Sunday.
Finding himself in this difficulty, the Count asked the advice of his friend, Sir Edwin Landseer.
“I should risk going on a weekday, if I were you,” said Sir Edwin. “Wrap yourself up carefully, come and have breakfast with me in St. John’s Wood Road, and then we will go together to the engraver.”
This they accordingly did, and, greatly to Landseer’s relief, the Count passed through the streets unrecognised.
Not content, however, with escaping thus far, d’Or-say found his freedom so delightful that he became reckless, and did not seem at all disposed to return in any haste to his captivity.
“It is so long since I have seen London on any day but Sunday, I will enjoy myself now,” said he. “Can’t we go to some place of amusement together?”
Landseer suggested Madame Tussaud’s, an Exhibibition which d’Orsay had never before seen; and to Baker Street they went. The Count, charmed with the novelty of the wax figures, was childishly delighted with all he saw, until a moment when he became conscious that his footsteps were being dogged by two suspicious-looking individuals.
“Do you see those men?” said d’Orsay. “They never take their eyes from me.”
“Yes, I see them, “answered Landseer, who had really noticed them for some time, but thought it wiser not to say anything on the subject to his friend. “Let us go into the Chamber of Horrors.”
Accordingly they paid their extra sixpences and entered the mysterious inner room. The two men followed them. Landseer gave up his friend for lost. After a few moments of suspense one of the two men advanced towards d’Orsay, hat in hand, and, making an elaborate bow, said :
“Have I the honour of speaking to M. le Comte d’Orsay?”
No escape seemed possible now, so the Count drew himself up and answered with much dignity: “Sir, I am he.”
“Then, if M. le Comte will be so very kind as to allow me, Madame Tussaud presents her compliments, and she will be greatly honoured if M. le Comte will give her some sittings and will permit us to add his illustrious figure to those already in our establishment.”
Finding that all his anxieties were at an end, d’Orsay forgot his dignity in a moment, almost embracing the man in his sudden joy, and exclaiming, with his ac-cents of broken English :
“My dear fellow, you shall do what you like.”
The handsome face and distinguished figure of the Count were, of course, sufficiently remarkable to attract attention anywhere, and Madame Tussaud had too keen an eye for business ever to let slip so excel-lent an opportunity.
This may be regarded as an interesting reminiscence of the old rooms in Baker Street and the people who used to frequent them three-quarters of a century ago.
Although we know that Queen Victoria came to visit the Exhibition in Baker Street as Princess Victoria, there is no direct evidence that she ever came as Queen.
There is, however, a story that on one occasion Her Majesty paid a private visit with her children. When it is remembered that the Cattle Show used to be held in the rooms underneath the Exhibition, and that Her Majesty used to pay it at least one annual visit in those days, it is quite reasonable to suppose that the Queen would take an opportunity of going upstairs.
The story goes that seventy years ago, a fortnight after an auctioneer had murdered Mr. Jermy, Re-corder of Norwich, and his family, at Stanfield Hall, near Wymondham, a Norfolk farmer came to London for the Cattle Show, and was an unconscious inter-viewer of Queen Victoria in the Exhibition.
I will give the narrative in his own words, being unable to vouch for its authenticity.
“After,” said the farmer, “I had been to the show and carefully examined the different animals, and given my meed of praise to the breeders and their feeders, I thought I would devote a spare hour to Madame Tussaud’s celebrated Exhibition. Accordingly I presented myself at the door, and paid my money.
“On entering, I was surprised to find that I was the only spectator. Undisturbed for some time, I wandered about, looking with astonishment at the waxen effigies, habited in their gorgeous apparel.
“In a few minutes some ladies and children arrived, and, standing near to one of the former I said, `What ugly, grim-looking people some of those kings and queens are!’ The lady smiled and answered, `I perfectly agree with you; they are!’
“My attention was soon arrested by hearing one of the party, pointing to a figure, mention Lord Nelson, when, proud of having been born in the same county as the illustrious sailor, I could not help exclaiming, `Ah, he was from my neighbourhood!’ Upon which one of the ladies, advancing, said to me, `Then you are from Norfolk? Pray can you tell me anything about poor Mrs. Jermy with whose melancholy fate I so deeply sympathise? Have you any information different from that which has appeared in the public papers?’
“To this I replied, `No, madam, for I have been some days from home.’
“Scarcely had this conversation ended when Madame Tussaud herself entered, and seeing me there asked me how I got in, and if I did not know she had forbidden the entrance of anyone. I replied I did not; but, having paid my money had walked in as a matter of course.
“Judge of my surprise when she informed me I had had the honour of speaking to no other than our good and gracious Queen, and that the lady whose tender anxiety had been so warmly expressed for the injured widow of Stanfield Hall was the same illustrious per-son whose exalted rank does not, however, so elevate her but that the misfortunes and afflictions of others can reach her heart and excite her generous commiseration.
“The party who accompanied Her Majesty were the royal children and their attendants.”