Arthur William À Beckett.

The à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons online

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3 1210 01956 0166

^ - ^■,







Memories of Father
and Sons





Butler & Tanner,

The Selwood Printing Works,

Frome, and London.












TOURING the long career of The London Chari-
^^ vari, extending from 1841 till 1902, there
have been three a Becketts closely associated with
Punch. Gilbert Abbott a Beckett, the father of
the others, was the chief a Beckett. The pur-
pose of this work — which I venture to suggest is
a good one — will disclose itself upon perusal. As
the subject of my father's connexion with Punch
has been recently discussed and may be discussed
again, I have thought it advisable to say my say
about the matter. I have an additional reason
for the course I have adopted. My father was the
firm and constant companion of Charles Dickens
and Thackeray, and everything connected with the
lives of the two great novelists of the nineteenth
century has its value. I have certainly written
nothing in malice, and hope and believe that these



pages are free from anything that can wound or
give offence.

For the rest, I am told that reminiscences are
very popular. I trust that my recollections of the
life of a working j ournalist spent in the pleasantest
toil amongst the most delightful of companions
may consequently prove attractive and perchance
even instructive. As the book has been written
in some haste at a time when I have been excep-
tionally busy, there may be slips of the pen here
and there discernible. If there be, these blemishes
can be easily removed in the next edition. The
date of that interesting issue will depend upon the
will — the good will — of that best friend of the
Author, the kind, the indulgent and the presently-
appropriately-epitheted person-; — the gentle reader.


Garrick Club,
September, 1903.


Early Days ........

Reason for such Title. — Gilbert Abbott a Beckett the
Magistrate. — Scenes in Court. — From Figaro in London to
Punch, or the London Charivari. — Twenty years' service in
Bouverie Street. — William a Beckett of Golden Square and
The Grange, Hampstead, and his four Sons. — Gilbert k
Beckett meets Dickens. — Nicholas Nickleby in Dotheboys
Hall. — "In Memoriam Fratris " — The Career of the
Censor. — " Bertie Vyse " and " A. Briefless, Junior." —
Henry Mayhew and Last. — A Dramatic Interview. —
Figaro in London and its rivals. — The Quarrels with Robert
Seymour. — Paper Feuds. — Initial Attack upon Charles Kean
and the Poet Bunn. — " The King Incog." — Joseph Glossop of
the Body Guard and the Royal Coburg Theatre. — Mrs. Gilbert
Abbott a Beckett {n&e Mary Anne Glossop) writes an opera
for the opening of the St. James' Theatre under Braham's
management. — " Agnes Sorrell " and its contemporaries. —
" The Village Coquettes." — Bonds of Union between
Dickens, a Beckett, Henry Mayhew and Jerrold. — End of
Figaro. — Commencement of Punch. — The Author claims for
his father his proper share in the production of Punch.




Some Nights at Round Tables . . . . 6i

Early Meetings in Bouverie Street. — "Briefless" and
" Dunup." — "A. Briefless, Junior." — ^George Cruikshank. —
The Comic Blackstone brought up to date. — The Bouverie
Street tradition. — " Loyalty to Punch." — The earliest
Contributors. — Percival Leigh. — " Ponny " Mayhew. —
Douglas Jerrold. — " Putich's Railway." — The Death of
Gilbert Abbott a Beckett.

The Work of a Boy Editor 102

" The Days of my Youth." — A Dinner with Charles Reade.
— Cardinal Manning as Critic. — Offering the Glowworm to
York Place. — " Latest Sporting and Ecclesiastical." — An
Interview with Mark Lemon. — The Idea of the Tomahawk.
— Collecting the Staff. — Financial Arrangements.

Concerning the " Glowworm " . . . . 115

The Effects of my Father's Death. — The Comic Guide to
the Royal Academy. — The Difficulties of Unknown Authors.
— My First Meeting with the present Editor of Punch. — The
Origin of the Glowworm. — Its Career. — A Libel Action. — An
Offer to Archbishop Manning. — My Interview with Mark
Lemon and what came of it.




A Saturday Journal of Satire : , . . i6i

The First Number of the Tomahawk. — Beales and Walpole.
— Drawing the Cartoons. — The Tomahawk Sampled. — Mr.
Punch and the Tomahawk working side by side. — Relations
between the Stafifs of the two Papers. — A Common Pohcy.


My Experience of the *' Punch " Table . . . 183

I join the staff of Punch. — My first Punch Dinner. —
Keeping a Diary. — Amateur Theatricals at Colchester. —
My Colleagues in Bouverie Street. — Working with Sam-
bourne. — Charles Keene's Pudding. — Edmund Yates. — ,
William Bradbury's Love of Sensational Starts. — The Latest
Brand. — Tom Taylor and the Large Cut. — E. J. Milliken. —
Death of Tom Taylor. — I am asked to the Interregnum

Twenty-five Years at the Table . . . 216

I am appointed Assistant Editor. — Percival Leigh expresses
approval of my conduct in the Chair during the Editor's
Absence. — The Punch Staff dine with Mr. Alfred de Roths-
child. — Distinguished Guests. — The germ of the John Bull
Dinner. — Another huge Punch Dinner. — My Work during
the Editor's absence. — The Story of the "Maske of Flowers."
— The Dramatic Authors' Society. — Adventures of an
Unacted Comedy. — Concerning certain Play Houses.




My Father's Friends :::::. 252

The Punch Table in the Forties. — Albert Smith Vindicated.
— Artemus Ward. — Some Tenants of the Egyptian Hall. — A
Visit to Paris. — Swords better than an action for libel. —
Breakfast with M. de Blowitz. — The Cohesion of Paris in
theTdays ofJthe^Third Empire.

Memories of Bouverie Street and Elsewhere . 272

Change in the Policy of Punch. — Final Reference to a
Word with Punch. — The Author as Lecturer. — Sir John
Holker helps to settle a Cartoon. — Chat with Lord Leighton.
— A Memory of Mrs. German Reed. — An Interview with
Cardinal Manning. — " The Golden Rose " as a Jubilee Gift.
— Sir Frank Lockwood and Punch. — The Parnell Commis-
sion. — The Policy of the a Becketts of Punch.

Advice Gratis. A Few Words on Parting . . 293

Journalism as a Profession. — A Talk with Sir Walter
Besant. — The Duty of an Editor. — The Value of Civility. —
Relations between Editor and Staff. — The Corrector, Mr.
Pincott. — The News Investigator. — " Over Zeal." — " Log
Rolling." — The Benefit of an Agreement. — The Notice
Question. — Last Tribute to Gilbert Arthur, the Second
4 Beckett of Punch.

Chapter I


I HAVE ventured to use the sub- title '' Memo-
ries of Father and Sons/' as it explains
the source of half of my information. Punch
was started in 1841, and my father, Gilbert
Abbott a Beckett, was one of the little band of
writers who contributed the copy to the initial
number. He died in 1856 before I had entered my
teens, but as a child I was a great friend of his. It
may appear strange to make such an assertion, but
it is a fact. My elder brothers and sister were at
school, and although I had plenty of home lessons
I was not sent to a boarding school — except once
as an experiment for a few weeks — until after his
death. I was an extremely delicate child, and I was
carried by a nurse until I was six years old. It was
in the days before the discovery of perambulators,
and I imagine that our dear old family doctor must
have ordered gentle exercise. Be this as it may, I
used to walk across the park with my father from
our house in Kensington to his court at Southwark
very frequently. On certain special occasions I
was allowed to accompany the magistrate on to the
Bench itself, and these were my special delights.



My father, who was in complete sympathy with his
httle son, used to make remarks for his delectation.
In spite of his adventurous boyhood Gilbert Abbott
a Beckett the moment he was appointed a magis-
trate — when he was in his thirties — became in
manner the sedatest of the sedate. He frequently
smiled but scarcely ever laughed, and used to say
the most amusing things with a gravity that em-
phasized their incongruity. As I write I see before
me the little court house with my father seated in
front of his official desk on the raised platform of
the Bench. On his right sits myself, a little boy
with my legs dangling over the floor. My father
has before him two females who have cross-
summoned one another. It is the case of these
ladies that each of them has tried to kill the other.

" She clutched hold of my hair and tore it out by
handfulls, your Majesty," cried one of the litigants.

" I see," returned my father, " and I suppose
that huge bundle under your arm contains your

" It does, your Majesty."

" And who are you ? " asked my father, turning
to the other party in the case.

" I am a poor lone widow, and she has treated
me "

" What was the occupation of your husband ? "
interrupted my father.

" He sold rags, your Lordship, and cherries
strung on sticks."

" Ah, I see ; a rag and cherry merchant."

And then the case continued, and whenever my



father had occasion to refer to the widow she was
always surnamed " the widow of the rag and cherry
merchant." On one occasion I remember my
father was cheered by the cabmen. This was due
to a decision that the roadway of a railway station
was a public place, and cabmen had a right to ply
there for hire without paying toll for admission.
But the " Railway Interest," always a strong body,
were determined to have the ruling reversed, and
they had their way. I do not know whether the
matter was taken up to the Lords, but at any rate
the famous decision which had provoked such
enthusiasm among the cabmen was not upheld.
It has been said that my father had a decided
objection to cabmen, and that when my uncle
Sir William a Beckett, first Chief Justice of
Victoria, came over to England, the initial question
my father asked him was, " How much has your
cabman asked you ? " As a matter of fact there
was no kindlier or more sympathetic man than my
father, and he was charitable to a degree. It was
his delight to help his poorer brethren, as he called
them. I remember once that my father sup-
ported with his custom a bootmaker by paying him
West End prices for very inferior boots. There
were recriminations from the rest of the family.

" Very well," said Gilbert a Beckett, "I will at
any rate wear the boots Johnston provides for
myself." And he did.

So I cannot credit my father with harshness. In
the forties and the fifties the cabmen were very
mixed. Some of these fellows were good enough,



but others were unmitigated brutes. It was their
pleasure to take possession of some unfortunate
old woman with luggage and then to fleece her to
their hearts* content. With these bullies my
father was very severe. So it came to pass that I
had to take my morning walk with my sire, and
during my peregrinations had to hear a good deal
about the topics of the day. For my father was
anxious to improve my mind ; he used to ask my
opinion about everything, and correct it when in
his judgment my view was at fault — so much for
an explanation.

I shall have to say much about my father, for in
my opinion he was the originator of Punch.
Mr. Spielmann in his History of Punch has shown
that he wrote in the first number and was by far
away the most copious contributor, but he has
said little about the papers which preceded the
leading comic of the day. I shall briefly trace
Punch to his predecessor Figaro in London , which.
my father founded and wrote. This will be the
scheme of this work. If it proves to be a little
egotistical I must ask pardon but plead force
majeure. From the moment of joining the staff in
1874 to my last dinner in Bouverie Street on
June 4, 1902, I abandoned every scheme of my life
to Punch. I was called to the Bar and had a fair
prospect of success, but Punch claimed my services
and I retired from practice. I had a chance of
success as a novelist, for my initial romance was
extremely well received by such papers as the
AthencBum and the Spectator , but Punch claimed



my services and I practically abandoned this branch
of literature. I wrote some half-dozen plays for
the London theatres — none of them failed and they
were all well received, but I abandoned writing for
the stage for the simple reason ''Punch" claimed my
services and I had no time for attending rehearsals
and the rest of it. Lastly my great delight was my
connection with the Militia. For four weeks out
of the fifty-two I was an officer on duty, a soldier,
something more than in name, but Punch claimed
my services, and after an attempt to dodge the
training by exchanging from one battalion to
another I had to give it up. But until June 4, 1902,
I did not regret my life devotion to Punch. I was
proud of the paper that my father had helped to
found, and loyal to its interests to the backbone.
For a moment there was a pang, because it looked
to be a misspent life. But on reflection I do not
regret a moment of my twenty-seven years' service
— that twenty-seven years' service that during the
last score of it yielded a holiday of not as many
weeks. No, for I can look at that service as given
to the paper founded by Mark Lemon and Gilbert
a Beckett, and contributed to by my father's
friends, Thackeray, Leech, Shirley Brooks, Dickey
Doyle, Douglas Jerrold, Tom Taylor, Horace
Mayhew and last, but not least, my dear old friend,
John Tenniel. Of all those I have mentioned only
one survives, John Tenniel. John Tenniel retired
from Punch a couple of years before my place dis-
appeared from the dear old table. At that table
he and I had sat tete a tete concocting the cartoon of



the week when every other member of the staff
was away on a hoHday. So I dedicate my Hfe's
work, such as it has been, to the giants of the
Punch table — to the great dead. But mark me
well, I do not write as a man with a grievance —
let the past look after the past.

My father had three brothers and they were sons
of a solicitor. I remember my grandfather as a
very dignified old gentleman living at the Grange,
Haverstock Hill, devoted to genealogical studies ;
it was his pleasure to walk about the cricket field
in rear of the Grange and introduce me to every one
he met. I was toddling along carrying with both
my hands his walking stick.

" This young gentleman," he would explain, " is
Arthur William a Beckett, third son of my third
son, Gilbert Abbott a Beckett, Esquire, Metro-
politan Police Magistrate, and nephew of my eldest
son. Sir William a Beckett, Chief Justice of Vic-
toria." Then I used to take off my hat (or rather
his, for he used to lend me an old wide-awake which
came down over my eyes),return it, and go on riding
his walking stick as a horse in front of him. He
was always very kind to me, was this terrible old
gentleman. But he was perhaps feeling remorse,
for he quarrelled with all his boys. Three left Eng-
land for Australia, and one, my father, remained at
home. But they were none of them on terms of gen-
uine cordiality with him until they had all succeeded
in life. Then they approached the old gentleman
and the past was ruled out as forgotten. Of
course I knew nothing of these domestic jars at my



tender age, but I remember thinking it strange that
my grandfather, who was as proud as Lucifer, but
not in the least a snob, should be so anxious to
emphasize the positions secured by his children.
No doubt he was saying in his heart of hearts,
" They have risen to this, thank God — in spite of

My father, who was born on February 17,
181 1, was sent to Westminster School with his
three brothers William, Thomas Turner and Arthur
Martin. His elder brother and he were great
friends and both had literary tastes. My uncles
William and Thomas Turner soon left Westminster,
one to read for the Bar and the other to prepare for
the other branch of the legal profession with a view
to his entering the firm created by his father. So
Gilbert Abbott a Beckett was left behind for
Arthur Martin was not yet old enough to join him.
It was then that he made great friends with one of
his school-fellows, Henry Mayhew, whose people
knew his people " at home." At the time of
which I am writing the bullying at Westminster
was world-renowned. Forty years later, when my
brother Gilbert Arthur a Beckett became a Queen's
scholar, subsequently to proceed to Oxford as a
student of Christ Church, the "ragging" was suffi-
ciently severe, but in the twenties it was terrible.
My father, who was not a strong child — he died be-
fore he had completed his forty-fifth year — com-
plained to his parent in Golden Square. My grand-
father treated the appeal with contempt. " It
would do him good," said the old martinet, who



prided himself upon the commission he held as
Captain of the St. James' company of what now are
the Queen's Westminster Volunteers. " It will do
him good." Finding he could get no redress my
father withdrew himself from Westminster, and
never saw his father again on cordial terms until
he had become a Metropolitan Police Magistrate.

Left to his resources he determined to make his
way in the world, and this was to be done without
any appeal to Golden Square. In spite of the bully-
ing, Westminster had turned my father out a good
scholar, and he was able to rely upon his knowledge.
He applied for and obtained the post of usher, and I
have always heard that much of the discipline des-
cribed in Dotheboys Hall was founded on my father's
description of his experiences. Charles Dickens
and my father were fast friends, and in Nicholas
Nickleby I can trace more than one family likeness.
Nicholas himself was my father in his youth, and
there is in Ralph Nickleby a suggestion of the stern
old man in Golden Square. Not that Mr. William
a Beckett was disliked by his neighbours — on the
contrary, as my father told me with a smile, " he
was greatly respected in the parish," so much so
that the ratepayers presented him with a portrait
which he subsequently engraved at his own expense.
His father being so much respected, a serious thing
for Gilbert Abbott a Beckett to do was to produce
a paper that would outrage the feelings of Golden
Square — so out came Cerberus, or the Hades Gazette,
I am not sure that the second title was not more
understandable by the people. The plan of the



paper was that of the Court Circular. A Hst was
given of arrivals and those shortly expected. But
it never appeared — at the last moment the printer,
alarmed at the character of some of the letterpress,
went to Golden Square and sought an interview of
the Captain. It was accorded, with the result that
the type of Cerberus was turned into " pie " and the
printers' bill was paid up-to-date. Unconscious of
the fate of his paper my father and his eldest brother
were watching the fortunes of an agent who, dressed
as Mephistopheles, was distributing handbills. Un-
fortunately a boys' school broke up as he was pass-
ing the house dedicated to study, and the urchins
surrounded him : the poor man had to fight for his
life. My father came to the rescue with a constable ;
what was left of Mephistopheles was conducted to
the police office and there released at the instigation
of his employers. I believe this was the first literary
venture of my father's and was undertaken when he
was still at Westminster. There were several
others, amongst the rest The Literary Beacon and
The Censor. In editing the latter he had the help
of his brothers Thomas Turner and William. The
latter was a poet in a small way. He wrote under
the nom de guerre of Spforza, and sometimes turned
out decent verses, and on his return from Australia
shortly after my father's death he published The
Earl's Choice and other poems. From the latter I
quote one which referred to my father. It has the
condescending tone of the elder brother to the
younger, the Chief Justice to the magistrate, but it
is neither displeasing nor inaccurate.

17 B



He died in prime of manhood, not without
Repute beyond what he had hoped to gain,'
Yet full of cares success could not shut out
From a too anxious heart and chafing brain,
The intellect, whose wit's too ready vein
Won Folly's laugh and Wisdom's kindly smile,
Fretted for loftier office, and the while
The world applauded, he with self disdain
Oft from liis work recoiled, for in him lay
Capacity of nobler toil and thought
Than wake the utterance that suits the day ;
■ And 'twas his hope, ere dying, to have wrought
A monument of more enduring fame
Than that which links the ■ ' Comic " with his name;

The Censor was published for the first time on
Saturday, September 6, 1828, when my father was
in his nineteenth year. In this initial number
appears a notice of Charles Kean. Speaking of
Mr. Price, lessee of Drury Lane Theatre, The
Censor (three gentlemen rolled into one, as the
writers explain in an introductory article) says :
" He commenced the season by introducing to the
stage Mr. Kean, junior, a young gentleman who
possesses no qualification whatever to fill the
station to which he aspired, a fact which Mr. Price
must or ought to have found out before he per-
mitted the youth in question to appear upon the
boards ; but the wary manager reUed on the name
of the performer to fill his house, and to effect that
object he did not care what disgrace he brought
upon the theatre. We shall however waste no
more of our valuable space upon this unimportant
subject." And here we have the tradition of the
paper. Years afterwards in 1841 (the date of the



appearance of Punch) it was the tradition to chaff
Charles Kean. No doubt the buttons were taken
off the foils when Douglas Jerrold quarrelled about
*' Dorothy's Fortune " at the Princess' Theatre. In
later years I was introduced to both Charles Kean
and his wife and found them both most kindly and
delightful gentlefolk. But I never heard my father
say a word in praise of the actor, and the last piece
he wrote for the stage was a burlesque upon " The
Corsican Brothers/' which he called '' Oh ! Gemini,
or the ^' Brothers of Corse." I remember that he, to
quote my uncle's lines, ** with self-disdain from his
work recoiled." He said that burlesques and the
Bench should be kept wide apart, and though he
wrote to the very last for Ptmch and The Illustrated
London News he had no more to do with the stage
door of the theatre. For some time before coming
to his decision he had collaborated with his friend
Mark Lemon on the understanding that the rehear-
sals and production should be undertaken by his
colleague. To return to the Censor — it cost three-
pence — the price of Punch — and was very smartly
written. Here is an extract : "If you would make
others laugh, laugh yourself, there is much in sym-
pathy, and besides, if you utter a good thing without
appearing thoroughly to see the wit of it your
auditors will very naturally suppose it to be the
effect of chance ; and you will lose the credit of it
accordingly," On one occasion a schoolfellow of
the two brothers, a Mr. Whalley by name, wrote a
paragraph called " Triple jeu de mots," which ran
as follows : '* At a great public dinner lately one



of the party had agreeably entertained the company
with some comic songs ; and on account of the heat
of the apartment proceeded to open the window,
when he was mianimously sohcited to re-exert his
lungs for his friends' amusement, but the singer
thereupon expressed his determination " to give

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 1 of 21)