The December release of the New-York Historical Society’s American Pamphlets includes a publication by the inventor of the flea circus (with descriptions of more than 15 individual acts), a glossy promotional pamphlet from a 19th-century beer brewery, which offers a room-by-room tour of their Manhattan plant, and a brief book about elephants with striking engravings.
The history of the flea; with notes, observations and amusing anecdotes. By L. Bertolotto, the original inventor of the exhibition of educated fleas (1876)
Legs have I, and never walk,
I backbite all, but never talk.
Mr. Bertolotto lived in London where he claims he was the first to exhibit what came to be known as a flea circus. This is his account of how he manipulated the fleas into unusual behavior and developed that “invention” into his exhibition of their performances for many of the crowned heads of Europe. Apparently, it was a sensation. He begins with a scientific examination of the insect:
Pulex, the Flea, in Zoology, a genus of insects belonging to the order of Aptera. It has two eyes, and six feet, fitted for leaping, the feelers are like threads, the rostrum is inflected, setaceous, armed with a sting, and the belly is compressed.
He notes that: