The Lost Museum Archive

Diapers and Dimples, U.S. Democratic Review, April 1855

This article from the U.S. Democratic Review, the leading journal of the Democratic party, assailed Barnum's baby show before it had even happened, on the basis of advertisements and Barnum's reputation for fakery. It begins by sarcastically defending the baby shows and concludes with a harsh condemnation of the proposed show and an exhortation to the "Mothers of America" to shun the contest.

This is the age of novelties -- of the prostration of old ideas -- of the introduction of new, and the development of physical as well as moral progress. Of all the nations of the earth, this country claims to take the lead in pioneering out the march of intellect; and, as an humble fugleman to the grand advance, we propose to ourselves to indite a prose paean in honor of and to commemorate the last decisive stage at which the progression of humanity has arrived.

Arma virum-que, we do not sing; nor of Morse, with his telegraph; nor of Fulton, with his steam; nor yet can the ruins of Sebastopol claim from our sympathetic hearts the memorial of a clergy. The Southern Cross now rising in the Australian wilderness must yet awhile wave its silken folds, if not unhonored, at least unsung, so far as we ourselves are concerned.

A mightier theme claims our notice -- a more ancient, though perpetually renewing, fact-a subject which comes back many myriad breasts legitimately, (and to many bachelors "in a hand-basket") -- a fountain from which we ourselves have risen, and which, if a more general diffusion could be effected, would greatly tend to allay the present distressing agitation for "women's rights."

There have been poems on the subject; but all of them of the very simplest and most inartistic order; most of them the work of the female mind, and merely of the gentle, maternal, and material intellect, at that. There are no metaphysical subtleties, no super-terrene hifalutinism, no telescopic affection in these effusions, such as Miss Lucy Stone or the Rev. Miss A. L. Brown would throw into any specimen of her literary composition. They come from the heart-not from the head; they are merely kindly, and natural, and touching; and as such, are of course behind the requirements and expectations of the age. We allude to the volumes printed, published, and edited by our respected and venerable friend, "Mother Goose."

To come down to the matter in one word -- though it took us nigh a quarter of a century to rise therefrom we speak of babydom in general, and of Barnum's grand baby-show in particular. It is the latest, the greatest, the queerest, the wildest, the mildest, and likely to be the most successful of all Phinny Feegee's exploits. If not absolutely a new thing under the sun, it is, at least, a novelty in this civilized metropolis; and we know that many interested mothers, and many who are as yet only interesting, look forward to it with the most unbounded hope. Their bosoms swell as they think of the pride a certificate for the fattest baby would give them, and their "needles, once a shining store," are now more assiduous than ever in the making of microscopic shirts and Lilliputian linen night-caps.

This show was advertised with all the necessary months for preparation; it comes off, we believe, in the Crystal Palace, and the notice which the old directors appended to their circulars, may not be without advantage at present -- it is this "Exhibitors are requested to have their goods on hand at the earliest possible moment."

But this is not a theme for jocosity; for babies are very serious affairs, as the many restless nights we have passed, and, no doubt, caused to be passed, attest. We cannot describe, precisely, our own infancy; but we have heard, on the most reliable authority, that, except for a ugly temper, a most ravenous appetite, a disposition to scratch, tear, and destroy, and a voice that could run through the whole gamut of agony and rage upon theslightest, either real or fancied, opposition, we were the "dearest-earest-icky-dicky baby" that ever a mother bore. We, therefore, think we have a right to speak of behalf of the model infants, and our words should be of weight with all the swarming progeny not emerged from diapers and a milk diet. We would recommend them to encourage these shows; to grow fat to facilitate them; to exercise their voices to the utmost, lest they be passed over by the carelessness or deafness of the judges. They should insist upon rehearsals, moreover, so that no "stage fright" should mar the public exhibition; they should form associations together, and refuse to appear unless fed for the preceding month upon any quantity of cake and comfits their infant stomachs may consume.

But some there are, some dead-to-the-spirit-or-progress, forty centuries behind the age, ridiculously-and-old-fashionedly-squeamish people we have met, who object to these exhibitions as indelicate." Indelicate, forsooth! Indelicate while Barnum manages them! Why, they occupy in the exhibition-room the throne vacated by Joyce Heth, the woolly horse, the Fejee mermaid, and the calf that had twenty legs! Have we not had fat pigs and Shanghai roosters cackling and grunting in the very spot where the prize cradles are about to be located? Has not the "moral American drama" (with a distressed and distressingly virtuous seamstress, in corkscrew ringlets and despair, and a "titled miscreant" in corked moustachios, cotton gloves, and a passion) been exhibited directly overhead? Has not General Tom Thumb been there, and is not Barnum a philanthropist and a philosopher?But seriously, this matter of Baby-shows is an important, and what Carlyle would call a significant fact. It seems that this material age is rapidly swallowing up all the finer and more delicate emotions of man's nature; there is nothing sacred from its clutches, andall, in which we live and move and have our spiritual (our only real) being, is now to be brought down to the auctioneer's hammer and ticketed at a set value.

Even children, those living dolls, whose smiles delight, whose pranks amuse, whose little sicknesses and troubles endear, while they alarm us, the cherubs of the hearth and of the heart, who repay our care with infinite though voiceless pleasure, who reconcile us to the burden and the toils of life -- in whom we see ourselves reproduced as we were in those days of childhood to which, as years advance and the weariness and the futility of life grow more apparent, we more earnestly, more fondly refer -- the inheritors of our blood and name, of the features of her who stood with us before the alter in the long-past, unforgotten days of love and joy -- even children, we say, must now be considered as "commodities of value," as marketable ware, and the vows that were pledged at the alter become the mere license to manufacture a human article for exhibition!

Often as Barnum has outraged decency and patriotism -- played, as he has, with our veneration for our country's father by the dwindling representation of a filthy and decrepit negress, lied, as he has, about the woolly horse, which Colonel Fremont never DID catch among the Rocky Mountains -- forged, as he has, the horrible abortion of a mermaid, and vouched it by perjurious witnesses, traduced us, as he has, in that thing which he calls a book, whose aim and object is to elevate his own peddling 'cuteness at the expense of the common sense of our national character-this Baby-show we do not hesitate to denounce as the meanest, vilest, most degraded and degrading of all his dollar-getting schemes. Let him but be successful in this, and we shall soon have the exhibition of wives, of husbands, of brawny sinews and finely rounded limbs! Where dollars can be made, what cares the chuckling panderer to human gullibility? Let him be but successful in this pig-baby-and Shanghai exhibition, and there will be a second edition of his book to carry word to Europe (ever eager for every libel on America) of the coarseness, the rapacity, the brute indelicacy of our country's matrons.

With that dull, rooted, callous impudence,
Which, dead to shame and every nicer sense,
Ne'er blushed, unless, in spreading vice's snares,
She blundered on some virture [sic] unawares!

Mothers of America! as you love your children -- as you would retain the respect of your husbands and of the world as ye would not see yourselves classed in the category with feculent swine and feathered fowl -- discountenance, deny this black attempt to lower your position!