American Humbug

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Let me read this manifest
What is worst and what is best?
What is it that could be hidden in the belly of this groaning ship?

All broken biscuits and china cups
Perfumes and parchments
Canvases and tweeds
A length of hemp and a sack of hops
A quantity of fine oak beams
A box of bulbs and seeds
Eleven of the rarest orchids still living under glass
A quantity of Belgian lace
Twenty phials of dragon's blood
Pictures and periodicals
Tin tubes and rubber plants
Pamphlets and iron jackets
Cherries and immigrants
Stamped and sealed documents
Red velvet drapes
A range of leather harnesses

Some silver plate that tarnishes
Two barrels of mercury
One barrel of the cold black earth
Who will take this string of pearls and tell what they are worth?

Coloured ribbons and dried flowers
A roll of printed Chinese silks
Fourteen pairs of soft kid gloves
The finest cork is Portuguese
Tins of mussels and Spanish anchovies

Cases of vinegar
Vermouth and opium
Bottles of German hock
Finest French cognac

Goat's skin and peacock plumes
Fine purple twine
The chimes from six grandfather clocks
A mynah bird that sometimes talks
Two barrels of mercury and one barrel of the cold black earth?
Who will take this string of pearls and tell me what it is worth?

In among the motley and the mess
There must be one precious cargo
She will be my triumph with the first rank of society
I bring you, singer of great renown, of purest piety

The crowned heads of Europe are walking in a trance
Their glance is dimmed as if trimmed by some sleeping drug or draft
Accolades and faint applause are no match for catch sprung by the King of American Humbug

Frauds and freaks walk incognito
Curiosities that seem to speak
Now from the man who brought you:

The Fiecee Mermaid!!!
Made from a monkey's torso and a desiccated fishtail

George Washington's nursemaid!!!
Who was really a blind and penniless slave
I buried the bill of sale

Or the tiny Tom who was General Thumb
Who rode in a coach and Shetland Four through each and every court

The New York throng are rarely wrong
They are not taken in by hoaxers and fakers
Or bootleggers who end their days as kingmakers

Jenny sailed from Liverpool having thrilled both one and all inside the Philharmonic Hall
Victoria and her German cousins by the gross and by the dozens wept into their ermine robes as sainted Jenny sailed around the globe

The cheers became hysterical and frantic as she descended from the S.S. Atlantic
The multitude called loud and long
Almost seven thousand strong
To hear her first American song

How, but by trickery alone could so many hear her silver tones?

Twenty Turkish strongmen will exhale to waft the breeze unto the ears of every swell and hale
20,000 butterlies will beat their wings until they die to send Italian melodies way up into the galleries
30,000 silk worms spin a web of gauze as her voice soars high above the wild applause
50,000 glow worms or more will illuminate the curtain that will rise upon each encore

Sold for 625 dollars to Mr. Ossian F. Dodge, the auctioneer hollers

So, gentle folk beg to consider, tickets to the highest bidder
Pay once more and pay no less
"This way to the egress"
Find yourself where you began
In what seems a tiny span
The study of this lizard-like man...

American Humbug (unreleased song)
Written byElvis Costello
Performed byElvis Costello

 Written for Elvis' unfinished chamber opera The Secret Songs.
Known performances:
October 8, 2005, Copenhagen, Denmark
October 9, 2005, Copenhagen, Denmark
October 10, 2005, Aarhus, Denmark
     (3 known performances)

Category:Unreleased songs1999-00-00 live.jpg

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