Sunday, March 27, 2011
April 4, 1846 --- Killed by Tom Thumb?
Unfortunately for Haydon, however, also holding court in the Egyptian Hall is the sensational 31-inch dwarf Tom Thumb. The disconsolate artist can only complain to his diary: "They rush by thousands to see Tom Thumb. They push, they fight, they scream, they faint, they cry help! ... They see my bills, my boards, my caravans, and don't read them ... It is an insanity, a rabies, a madness, (etc). I would not have believed it of the English people."
In desperate newspaper ads, Haydon reminds the public that he has "devoted 42 years to improve the taste of the people," but the tactic serves only to add to his debts. In one week, Haydon recorded: "Tom Thumb had 12,000 people. B.R. Haydon had 133 1/2." The exhibition closed on 18 May, with Haydon owing the Hall over £111. Prime Minister Peel, hearing of the artists's distress, provided £50 pounds. But on 22 June, in his studio, in front of his newest canvas, "Alfred the Great and the First British Jury," Haydon shot himself after first cutting his throat. His 16 year old daughter, one of four children, found the body and his diary; the final entry read: "God forgive me! Amen. Finis."
The obituary in The Times, amid polite comment on his work, noted that Haydon's demise had "been hastened by pecuniary embarrassment." Another contemporary account, however, was more to the point: "It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that poor Haydon, the historical painter, was killed by Tom Thumb."