|P.T. Barnum publicity poster|
When I read the excerpt from "The Writer's Almanac" for September 1, 2020 included below, I was a bit startled to realize that Emily Dickinson heard the “Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny Lind, sing in live performance and that Dickinson had not been as isolated as I had thought. We are even able to read some poetic words Dickinson wrote about Lind.
Lind performed around the United States starting in 1850 in a tour arranged by circus impresario, P.T. Barnum, when Dickinson was about 20. And, come to think of it, Amherst, Dickinson' home in Western Massachusetts. is not all that far from Boston. By the 1840s, many stock companies were touring the country, and people flocked to their productions.
"In early 1850, Dickinson wrote that 'Amherst is alive with fun this winter ... Oh, a very great town this is!'"
After reading about the surprising intersection between the lives of world-famous Jenny Lind and Emily Dickinson, who only became famous after her death, I'm experiencing something like the mental churning that had to happen before I could adjust my view of Thoreau for another reason. I read one time in a book of Minnesota history that, a few years before his death, Thoreau travelled to Minneapolis and joined an excursion boat tour in the northwest direction up the Minnesota River to watch the women of a tribe of Ojibwe Indians play lacrosse, naked. I was shocked to see him as a tourist, like so many others, a seeker after curiosities, with money and leisure enough to travel!
From The Writer's Almanac September 1, 2020
Read more from "The Writer's Almanac" for September 1, 2020, here.
It was on this date in 1850 that P.T. Barnum brought Jenny Lind to New York. Lind, the “Swedish Nightingale,” was a gifted soprano who was wildly popular in Europe, and Barnum became aware of her in 1849, as she was wrapping up her third London season. He convinced her to tour the United States, even though he had never heard her sing and had no ear for music. Her reputation as a box-office draw was enough for him. Barnum offered her a thousand dollars a night, plus expenses. He usually paid artists after their performance, but Lind required the full amount for all of her 150 scheduled shows up front. Barnum mortgaged everything he had and still came up $5,000 short, so he borrowed the rest from a Philadelphia clergyman who believed that Lind would set a good moral example for American audiences. Lind was a well-known philanthropist, and was hoping to endow some schools in Sweden; she saw an American tour as a great opportunity to help others, and she distributed money to local charities everywhere she went. The public adored her.
"Barnum publicized her visit in the months leading up to the start of her tour. His first press release really emphasized her moral qualities, saying, “A visit from such a woman who regards her artistic powers as a gift from Heaven and who helps the afflicted and distressed will be a blessing to America.” Lind had been virtually unknown in the States, but Barnum created so much buzz that 30,000 fans met her ship when it docked in New York City on September 1. The tour was a huge financial success, although Lind was uncomfortable with Barnum’s publicity tactics. She ended her contract with him in 1851, but toured for another year under her own name. Emily Dickinson was in the audience for one of her performances, and wrote rapturously: “... how bouquets fell in showers, and the roof was rent with applause — how it thundered outside, and inside with the thunder of God and of men — judge ye which was the loudest; ... she has an air of exile in her mild blue eyes, and a something sweet and touching in her native accent which charms her many friends.”
|Emily Dickinson (1846 or 1847)|
|Jenny Lind (1850)|