over, Barnum. This rediscovered gem tells the true tale of a
Victorian circus showman.
Dancing off the page like a
real-life Dickens, this autobiography of Victorian circus pioneer
‘Lord’ George Sanger is dark, fun and irresistible. As befits a man
who lived by his wits, he tells a great story – letting us enter the
wild world of 19th century peep-shows, menageries, freaks and
Written in 1910, this neglected gem
of Victorian life has been wonderfully rediscovered. The new edition
adds gorgeous illustrations, many from Dickens collaborator George
Cruikshank, plus a useful introduction and index, and a foreword by
Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame.
While most people today know of
American showman P. T. Barnum, few, even in Britain, have heard of
‘Lord’ George Sanger. That’s odd, for Sanger was then as famous in
Europe. He was also the American’s equal in skill, pluck and cheek.
‘While Barnum’s story is often
sanitised, this book is as rooted in the darkness as the spectacle
of both men’s lives.’
By 1871 Sanger was running twelve
circuses across Britain. One show alone gathered on stage 700
actors, 13 elephants, 9 camels, and 52 horses, plus ostriches, emus,
pelicans, deer, kangaroos, buffaloes, bulls and, at the centre of it
all, two African lions.
But it’s his early years that most
enthrall. Born in 1827, George grew up in a caravan. By the age of
six, he was declaiming recent murders to spellbound audiences. Life
was violent and lawless for travelling showfolk.
Sanger voyages boldly through a
fast-changing Britain. One minute he’s bare-knuckle fighting in an
East End pub, the next entertaining toffs on the Isle of Wight. He
claimed to have played to every community in Britain of more than
100 inhabitants. And he was as happy recruiting a fake tribe of red
Indians from Liverpool slums, dodging the fury of a Chartist riot or
chatting with Queen Victoria about elephants.
SEVENTY YEARS A SHOWMAN is not just
an unputdownable treatise on showmanship, but a unique insider
glimpse into Victorian life.