Freethought Archives > G.W. Foote > Arrows of Freethought (1882)

A PIOUS SHOWMAN.

(October, 1882.)

We all remember how that clever showman, Barnum, managed to fan the Jumbo fever. When the enterprising Yankee writes his true autobiography we shall doubtless find some extraordinary revelations. Yet Barnum, after all, makes no pretence of morality or religion. He merely goes in for making a handsome fortune out of the curiosity and credulity of the public. If he were questioned as to his principles, he would probably reply like Artemus Ward—"Princerpuls? I've nare a one. I'm in the show bizniz."

General Booth is quite as much a showman as Barnum, but he is a pious showman. He is a perfect master of the vulgar art of attracting fools. Every day brings a fresh change in his "Walk up, Walk up." Tambourine girls, hallelujah lasses, converted clowns and fiddlers, sham Italian organ grinders, bands in which every man plays his own tune, officers in uniform, Davidic dances, and music-hall tunes, are all served up with a plentiful supply of blood and fire. The "General" evidently means to stick at nothing that will draw; and we quite believe that if a pair of Ezekiel's cherubim were available, he would worry God Almighty into sending them down for exhibition at the City Road show.

Booth's latest dodge is to say the least peculiar. Most fathers would shrink from trafficking in a son's marriage, but Booth is above such nice scruples. The worst deeds are sanctified by love of God, and religion condones every indecency.

Mr. Bramwell Booth, whom the General has singled out as his apostolic successor, and heir to all the Army's property, got married last week; and the pious showman actually exhibited the bridegroom and bride to the public at a shilling a head. About three hundred pounds were taken at the doors, and a big collection was made inside. Booth's anxiety for the cash was very strongly illustrated. Commissioner Bailton, who has had a very eccentric career, was enjoying his long deferred opportunity of making a speech, when many of the crowd began to press towards the door. "Stop," cried Booth, "don't go yet, there's going to be a collection." But the audience melted faster than ever. Whereupon Booth jumped up again, stopped poor Railton unceremoniously, and shouted "Hold on, we'll make the collection now." This little manouvre was quite in keeping with the showman's instruction to his subalterns, to have plenty of good strong collecting boxes and pass them round often.

Booth's facetious remarks during his son's marriage according to the Army forms were well adapted to tickle the ears of his groundlings. The whole thing was a roaring farce, and well sustained the reputation of the show. There was also the usual spice of blasphemy. Before Bramwell Booth marched on to the platform a board was held up bearing the inscription "Behold the bridegroom cometh." These mountebanks have no reverence even for what they call sacred. They make everything dance to their tune. They prostitute "God's Word," caricature Jesus Christ, and burlesque all the watchwords and symbols of their creed.

One of Booth's remarks after the splicing was finished is full of suggestion. He said that his enemies might cavil, but he had found out a road to fortune in this world and the next. Well, the Lord only knows how he will fare in the next world, but in this world the pious showman has certainly gained a big success. He can neither write nor preach, and as for singing, a half a dozen notes from his brazen throat would empty the place as easily as a cry of "Fire." But he is a dexterous manager; he knows how to work the oracle; he understands catering for the mob; in short, he is a very clever showman, who deals in religion just as other showmen deal in wild animals, giants, dwarfs, two-headed sheep, fat women, and Siamese twins.

Fortune has brought to our hands a copy of a private circular issued by "Commissioner" Railton, soliciting wedding presents for Mr. Bramwell Booth. With the exception of Reuben May's begging letters, it is the finest cadging document we ever saw. Booth was evidently ashamed to sign it himself, so it bears the name of Railton. But the pious showman cannot disown the responsibility for it. He will not allow the officers of the Army to marry without his sanction; he forbids them to accept any private present; he keeps a sharp eye on every detail of the organisation. Surely, then, he will not have the face to say that he knew nothing of Railton's circular. He has face enough for almost anything, but hardly for this. There is one damning fact which he cannot shirk. Bailton asks that all contributions shall be made "payable to William Booth, as usual."

Bailton spreads the butter pretty freely on Booth and his family. He says that their devotion to the Army has "loaded them with care, and often made them suffer weakness and pain." As to Mr. Bramwell Booth, in particular, we are informed that he has worked so hard behind the scenes, as Chief of the Staff, that many of his hairs are grey at twenty-seven. Poor Bramwell! The Army should present him with a dozen bottles of hair restorer. Perhaps his young wife will renew his raven head by imitating the lady in the fable, and pulling out all the grey hairs.

In order to compensate this noble family in some degree for their marvellous devotion to the great cause, Bailton proposes that wedding presents in the shape of cash should be made to Mr. Bramwell Booth on the day of his marriage. Whatever money is received will go, not to the young gentleman personally, but to reducing the Army debt of 11,000. But as the Army property is all in Booth's hands, and Mr. Bramwell is his heir and successor, it is obvious that any reduction of the debt will be so much clear gain to the firm.

The General evidently saw that the case was a delicate one; so Bailton sends out a private circular, which he excuses on the ground that "any public appeal would not be at all agreeable to Mr. Bramwell's own feelings." Of course not. But we dare say the wedding presents will be agreeable enough. As this is a strong point with the firm, Bailton repeats it later on. "I do not wish," he says, "to make any public announcement of this." The reason of this secrecy is doubtless the same as that which prompts the General to exclude reporters and interlopers from his all-night meetings. Only the initiated are allowed in, and they of course may be safely trusted.

With the circular Bailton sent out envelopes in which the pious dupes were to forward their contributions; and printed slips, headed "Wedding Presents to Mr. Bramwell Booth," on which they were asked to specify the amount of their gift and the sin from which the Salvation Army had rescued them. This printed slip contains a list of sins, which would do credit to a Jesuit confessor. Booth has we think missed his vocation. He might have achieved real distinction in the army of Ignatius Loyola.

The circular is a wonderful mixture of piety and business. Nearly every sentence contains a little of both. The cash will not only gladden the hearts of the Booths, but "make the devil tremble," and "give earth and hell another shock." This last bit of extravagance is rather puzzling. That hell should receive another shock is very proper, but why is there to be an earthquake at the same time?

We have said enough to show the true character of this cadging trick. It throws a strong light on the business methods of this pious showman. Booth is playing a very astute game. By reducing the Army to military discipline, and constituting himself its General, he retains an absolute command over its resources, and is able to crush out all opposition and silence all criticism. He wields a more than Papal despotism. All the higher posts are held by members of his own family. His eldest son is appointed as his successor. The property thus remains in the family, and the Booth dynasty is established on a solid foundation. Such an impudent imposture would scarcely be credible if it were not patent that there is still amongst us a vast multitude of two-legged sheep, who are ready to follow any plausible shepherd, and to yield up their fleeces to his shears.



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