Arthur William À Beckett.

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

. (page 12 of 21)
Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 12 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


that post for the private secretaryship of the Duke
of Norfolk.

So ended my connexion with the Tomahawk.
It was wielded wisely or unwisely in the days of
my early manhood. When the hatchet was
buried I was friends with all my staff and knew
most of the contributors of Punch, which in truth
had never been a rival publication. So the hatchet
was buried in peace.

182



chapter VI

MY EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH"
TABLE

I HAVE to thank the present editor of Punch
for my appearance at the Punch Table.
From the time of our working together on the
Glowworm, during the season I was connected with
the Tomahawk (a periodical which gave his por-
trait as one of the distinguished contributors
to Britannia, my magazine), until 1874, my first
appearance in Punch, our friendship remained
uninterrupted. Early in this year he had brought
up my name at the Punch Table. Tom Taylor,
the then editor, had objected to one of the articles
that had appeared in the Tomahawk. In this
article, published a good six years before, the
writer was supposed to have turned into ridicule a
marriage of two celebrities. My friend asked for an
explanation and I turned up the article. On
inspection the article was found to be absolutely in-
offensive to the celebrities. It was a skit upon
the practices of certain of the public, rushing to see
sights and treating a church as if it were a theatre.
On the occasion to which the article referred,
the clergyman conducting the marriage ceremony
had absolutel}^ to remonstrate with the congrega-
tion, who were standing on the seats of pews

I S3



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

and using opera glasses. My friend arranged to
carry down a volume of the Tomahawk with the
alleged wicked article and challenge criticism.
He again brought my name forward and once
more the objection was raised. " How about that
marriage article ?" asked Tom Taylor. The
volume was produced, the paper was read, and
found to be absolutely without offence.

" It is the kind of article his father would have
written/' said good old Professor Leigh, an'd I
understand that the suggestion was adopted by
the two men who could confirm it, Tom Taylor
and John Tenniel. A revulsion of feeling fol-
lowed. Tom Taylor was the most generous of
men — his kindness of heart was proverbial. Very
shortly after that Punch Dinner, I was invited
by the editor to call upon him in Bouverie Street.
Strange to say I had about this time received a
letter from my old friend Matt Morgan, then
settled in America, inviting me to resuscitate
the Tomahawk. I showed this letter to Frank
Marshall, who was enthusiastic on the subject
and wanted to recommence the publication at
once. But it w^as too late. I was now fairly on
the road to the staff of Punch. I called upon
Tom Taylor by appointment on May 13, 1874.
I have an entry in my diary for that day — ** Saw
Tom Taylor about Punch. He was very civil."
Yes, he was indeed. Our interview was a sharp
contrast to that I had enjoyed some ten years
before. Everything was changed — even I think
the room. Tom Taylor spoke to me of my father

184



EXPERIENCE OF THE " PUNCH " TABLE

and said how pleased he was to greet his son. He
had seen some of my work and thought I could
turn out the kind of thing that they wanted.

" Would I like to write for Punch ? "

I absolutely beamed with pleasure. " Would
I ? Wouldn't I ! "

Tom Taylor smiled at my genuine enthusiasm
and told me I might send in what I pleased. I
would know doubtless the sort of stuff needed.

*' Of course there is only one Mr. Punch, and he
has no rival/' said Tom Taylor with a kindly
smile. "But I think you are not entirely
unfamiliar with comic copy." Of course, this
was a reference to the Tomahawk, and I smiled
too and assured him I would do my best.

" Whatever you do, keep it short. All of us
are tired of long screeds, and if you can only keep
your matter down to half a column, you will be
invaluable to us. And mind, write legibly — you
can't imagine what a difference it makes to the
compositor when the copy is legible."

He spoke quite seriously and I was also grave.
I found out subsequently that there was no more
illegible writer in the world than Tom Taylor.
On referring to my diary I see that on one occasion
I actually had to take him his letter so that he
might read it to me himself.

" What ! not understand this ! " he exclaimed.
" Oh ! you are joking ! " He handed the note
back to me. I am convinced he could not read
it himself. Pleased as Punch I left Bouverie
Street and set to work at once to provide comic

185



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

copy. According to Mr. Spielmann : ** A curious
success attended his opening chapters. His first
paper on * A PubUc Office ' (p. 226, vol. Ixvi).
as well as the twelve following, that is to say, his
contributions to thirteen consecutive numbers,
were all of them quoted in the Times.*' True
enough, but why call it a curious success ? Mr.
Spielmann says that " I was put on the salaried
staff after my fourth number, and asked to the
Table in August, 1875." Again yes, but this is
a prosaic way of recording what was to me an
event of gigantic importance. My diary is full
of notes of exclamation about this time. On
Monday, September 27, I have this entry in my
diary : " Did some of my copy. Found on my
return home an invitation to the Punch Dinner ! ! !
Hurrah ! ! ! ! Wrote to Taylor and Bradbury
thanking them." Then, two days later, I find this
entry : " Wednesday, September 29. In Punch
as usual — my seventy-first appearance therein.
Unsettled all day on account of the Punch Dinner.
Went for the first time to the Punch Dinner ! ! ! ! ! !
I was received most cordially. My health was
drunk and I think I made a very favourable
impression. There were present Tom Taylor,
Tenniel, Sambourne, F. Burnand, Sketchley and
Bradbury. As I said in returning thanks : It
was the proudest moment of my life ! Hurrah ! ! ! ! "
Dear me ! how pleased I was ! But I have this
excuse for my genuine delight . I had been brought
up upon Punch. My father was a Beckett of
Punch. And I could wish for no prouder dis-



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

tinction than to succeed to his title. Yes, it was
indeed — up to that date — the happiest moment of
my life.

So far as I can remember — unfortunately my
diary is silent on the subject — I dined for the first
time with my Punch colleagues at the Bedford
Hotel. I was not quite sure of the costume, so I
appeared in evening dress, which I subsequently
found was optional. As it happened there were
only a portion — a small portion — of the staff
present. I knew them all with the exception of
Mr. Sketchley, who was a recruit in the days of
Mark Lemon. According to custom Tom Taylor
drank my health, but my speech in reply was
quite superfluous. Fortunately for me I had not
the full strength of the company present or I
might have had to fear any amount of good natured
chaff. And, as it happened, I had scarcely the
brightest possible specimens of the Punch men
to welcome me. Of course the present editor
was a host in himself. He was writing his best,
and always amusing company. But Tom Taylor
was a httle heavy, and I was rather afraid of
Tenniel. Naturally I stood in awe of him, as
the contemporary and personal friend of my
father. But he did his best to put me at my
ease. He insisted upon dropping the " Mr. "
which I wished to bestow upon him, as the intimate
of a senior generation. I had not met Mr.
Sketchley before, and, excellent fellow as he was,
he was scarcely an amusing rattle. William
Bradbury I knew as an exceedingly kind man,

187



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH " ^

who had alreadj^ given me two commissions :
one The Doom of St. Quirec, to be concocted mth
the present editor, the other a Scotch Holiday Book,
to be illustrated by my friend, Linley Sambourne.
So I can quite understand why I suddenly rose
in my place and made a speech. As my intro-
ducer, the present editor of Punch naturally held
his peace and let me down gently ; Tom Taylor,
at the head of the table, did not refuse to hear
me. Tenniel listened with unmoved attention
and Sketchley and Bradbury cheered courteously.
But I do not think I should have been allowed
to continue very long had Du Maurier been there,
and I think Sambourne, and even Charles Keene,
would have interrupted the flow of my eloquence.
However, I was treated with extreme courtesy,
and my suggestion for the cartoon of the week —
which I had already discussed with the present
editor — was received with much respect. I was
intensely delighted at having at length reached
the summit of my ambition, so everything was
couleur de rose. Had I not experienced the
glamour of success I think I should have come
to the conclusion that the proceedings at the
Punch Table were of a sedater character than I
had anticipated. But as will be seen by my
diary — " I thought I had made a good impres-
sion."

Here I interpolate a word about diary keeping,
for the benefit of my friends of the pen. For
nearly forty years I have kept a record of my
doings day by day, but only the briefest record.

Ib8



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

My diary has been a very small one, allowing about
two inches to each day, and those two inches I
have iilled regularly. Had I had more to fill
I should have no doubt neglected the duty and
got into arrears, and once in arrears it is all up
with a diary. In this diary of mine I merely jot
down the brief est notes. I have been to a theatre
and seen a piece. Down go the name of house
and play. Now comes criticism — " feeble," " not
bad," " good," '* excellent." I go to a place and
stay at an hotel^ — criticism on hotel : " Fairly
comfortable," " dear," "to be avoided," " first
rate," and so on. As a specimen I give an extract
from the diary in 1875, for a date immediately
before my call to the Punch Table. I was writing
my Scotch Holiday Book for Bradbury and Agnew.
" Saturday, September 4. At Edinburgh. Lin-
ley Sambourne spent the whole morning in the
cold, sketching Edinburgh from the National
Monument. Paid our bill at the Royal, not a
heavy one, and came on to Stirling. Put up at
the Royal. Comfortable. Wrote two articles
for Punch but did not post them as Sambourne
said he would illustrate one of them. Met Charley
CoUette opposite the Post Ofiice, Edinburgh."
Now this was written eight and twenty years ago,
and in a moment I remember every detail. I see
my friend hard at work with bis drawing for our
book. As I was not wanted for "a figure in the
foreground," I took a stroll now and again, coming
back to him to see how he was getting on. Then
I remember that we were both a little surprised

189



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

about Scotch prices, which we had heard before
starting were sure to be high and mighty. I
record my rehef : " Paid our bill at the Royal,
which was not a heavy one, and came on to Stir-
ling." The arrival at Stirling comes back to
me — the old fashioned hotels with " slappers "
— slippers — provided for any guest who wanted to
take off his boots, and then at the end of the day's
doings the reference to Charley Collette. In a
moment my old friend of the 3rd Dragoon Guards,
now popular actor and entertainer, rises before me.
I had been very pleased to meet him again after
a long pause. The last time we had met had been
at Colchester,where his regiment was stationed. We
had been playing in amateur theatricals. The piece,
'' Under False Colours," was by Mrs. Steele, the
sister of Lady Barrett Leonard, who, with her
husband. Sir Thomas, high sheriff of the county,
had taken part in the performances. The cast
had also contained Augustus Spalding, then in the
Admiralty, as I then was in the War Ofhce. As
luck would have it, I had to play in the piece a
War Ofhce clerk. Spalding, who had an idea that
it rather lowered the dignity of the Service to use
liis own name, always appeared on the boards
under the nom de theatre of Mr. Montague. He
ventured on some gag about the War Office and
asked me what Was doing in town.

" Nothing," I replied, " the only sign of real
hard work is Spalding snoring at the Admiralty."

Of course this little retort met with a roar,
as my dear old friend Augustus Spalding was well

190



EXPERIENCE OF THE ^' PUNCH" TABLE

known minus his incognito to " our friends in
front." Then, between the acts, who should
march in to greet his sister the authoress and
Lady Barrett Leonard but Captain Evelyn Wood !
The gallant soldier has been promoted since those
distant days; he is now a field marshal. All
this is conjured up by reading the short extract
in my diary. So my advice to literary men and,
in fact, to everybody, is " keep a diary "—the
smaller the better — but always a diary. It has
been invaluable to me in composing this volume.
Here are another couple of entries. " Thursday,
September 30. Wrote and posted three articles
to Punch. Received civil letter from Cowen.
Wrote to Joe Hatton about papa's connexion with
Punch. Went to bed early. Dining at the Punch
Table before I am one and thirty — on the staff
before I was thirty ! Papa would have been
pleased to have known this." " Friday, October i.
Worked away at Punch's Pocket Book and posted
it. In the evening Frank Burnand dined with
me at the Raleigh and we went afterwards to see
Irving in * Macbeth.' He was good." Then on
October 3 I come to another entry : * Eighty-
seventh letter to the Perthshire Advertiser. In
Punch as usual ; my seventy-third appearance
therein. Wrote and posted an article for Punch.
Was introduced by Dick Grain to a French
novelist who knew me as the ' Foe of the Em-
peror.' Dined at the Punch Dinner. Present :
Tom Taylor, Du Maurier, Tenniel, Frank Burnand,
C. Keene, Percival Leigh, Sketchley, Sambourne,

191



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

and Bradbury. The full staff. Heard that R.
Doyle was coming back to Punch, very pleased.
Made a mistake in the time of the dinner. The
next week I found my suggestion for the cartoon
adopted." Now the allusion to Dick (Corney)
Grain immediately recalls the incident to which
I refer. We lived in chambers in 4, Pall Mall
Place, I on the third etage, he on the fourth. I
remember when I was hard at work upon my
article for Punch, he rushed down to tell me that
I must come upstairs to be introduced to a French-
man who had insisted upon seeing me. He said
that the attacks on the Emperor Napoleon in the
Tomahawk had overthrown the Empire — had
saved France ! He was enthusiastic, so Dick said,
about my power, my iron will, my magnificent
enmity to one who had betrayed France ! I must
come up ! I was wearing a dressing gown and
looking anything rather than pugnacious. In
fact my general appearance was suggestive of
mildness at its mildest. But I came up. Dick
threw open the door and ushered me in to the most
desperate looking desperado I have ever met, with
the words : '' Behold the foe of the Emperor ! "
Upon which the desperado seized both my hands
and went down on his knees before me ! I was
never more startled in my life, and my embarrass-
ment was increased when he insisted upon hailing
me "as the saviour of La Belle France ! " All
I could do was to say, " Not at all," and that he
was ''very good."

Then the reference to R. Doyle takes me by

192



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

surprise. As I have said, I had seen Dicky Doyle
in the early days of the Tomahawk. It was at
the time when the Anglo-Indian became possessed
of the property and the staff were contemplating
starting an opposition. The name of the new
paper was to have been Figaro, and I hoped to add
to the existing staff of the Tomahawk Doyle and
one or two others. This was ten years earlier
than my record in my diary. And the matter
was mentioned at a meeting of the full staff.
I wonder how the matter came about. Evidently
the idea was favourably received. Practically,
the place occupied by Doyle had never been filled
up. Shortly after his secession from Punch his
work had been taken up to some degree byTenniel.
The great cartoonist could, and, I venture to add,
can turn his hand to anything. It was as easy for
him to draw the gnomes and fairies that delighted
Richard Doyle, as to compose the cartoons for the
House of Lords, contribute to the Royal Institute
of Painters in Water Colours, or supply the Punch
cartoon. Now, for a time, Linley Sambourne to
some extent took up the running, but there was no
real successor to the quaintness of Doyle, until
Bennett joined the staff. He died young, and then
the post of artist in the beautiful and grotesque
to Punch became vacant. So it is interesting to
note that on October 13, 1875, there was a rumour
in the air at the Punch Table that Richard Doyle
was reconciled to his old friends and thought of
returning to his old allegiance — an allegiance which
was as absolute as any of his colleagues until the

193 N



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

force majeure of religion made him hand in his
resignation.

From the date I have given I was a constant
attendant at the Punch Table, until June 4,
1902. Following the precedent set by my father
I was seldom absent from the Council Room.
During the editorship of Tom Taylor I had com-
paratively an easy time. In 1887 I even managed
to get away for a month's or five weeks' holiday,
which I spent in a trip to Switzerland and Italy.
But when I was enjoying myself in Venice I got
a kindly reminder from Tom Ta3dor that the cuts
for the Almanac would be settled early in October
and would I get back as soon as I could. Of course
obedience was the first law of Punch's service, and
post haste I travelled back to Bouverie Street,
leaving my wife and her mother to follow me more
leisurely. But in the days of Tom Taylor it was
a pleasant servitude. All the members of the
staff took part in the discussion of the cartoon.
The subject was nearly invariably started by the
editor. Then the ball commenced and every one
had his say. As a rule, especially on any subject
connected with Russia, the editor's proposal was
severely criticised. Tom Taylor, however, took
the strictures in perfectly good part, merely re-
marking every now and again. " My dear fellows,"
he used to say confidentially, " do you know that
you are talking strong-expressioned nonsense?"
At this declaration of opinion we all laughed, and
then renewed our objections.

When I took my place at the Punch Table in the

194



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

historic quarters in Bouverie Street, all the staff
were known to me, with the exception of Keene
and Du Maurier, whose acquaintance I then made.
Linley Sambourne, as will be seen from the extract
I have given from my diary, had taken share in a
tour in the Highlands of Scotland in the last
autumn, so we met as travelling companions. But
I had known my friend for many a year before we
paid our visit in common to North Britain. He
had come on behalf of Punch to Aldershot during
the first autumn manoeuvres when I was doing
wonders with a company of militia. My regiment,
now the Seventh Battalion of the Prince Con-
sort's Own Rifle Brigade, has been immortalized
by Charles Keene. The artist very kindly pre-
sented me with the original drawing in exchange
for the joke. Keene drew himself as an adjutant
in an orderly room, interviewing a rather under-
sized militiaman.

" And who may you be ? " asked the adjutant.

" Please, sir, I am the Seventh Battalion of the
Prince Consort's Own Rifle Brigade, better known
as the Tower 'Amlets Milishy." And we were
better known by the latter territorial title.

When Sambourne joined me — he found me, I
hope, no end of a soldier. I was delighted with
my men, every one a good sort. They were nearly
all costermongers in private life and could march
on for ever. I was in command of a company,
and it was my duty to see that my men were safely
under canvas before I looked after my own com-
forts. So on one occasion when we had to pitch

195



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

our tents I found that the supply of pegs was
exhausted before my own modest shelter was
put up. ** Never mind, capting," said one of my
men, " don't you worry yourself — wait till its
dark and we will see to your tent." They were
as good as their word. When I returned to my
quarters I found them a mass of pegs. I did not
inquire too severely from whence the supports
came. I have no further knowledge of the
matter, save I was told later on that many of the
tents in the lines near our battalion had come to
grief. The general opinion was that in the hurry
of pitching the canvas it had been underpegged.

As General Opinion was evidently my superior
officer, I thought it strict discipline to adopt his
view rather than to accept my own private
judgment.

Sambourne and I had thorouglily enjoyed our-
selves. I managed to get away with a brother
officer to dine with my future Punch colleague at
a local inn. Truth to tell, as we were in the enemies'
country, if we had been taken prisoners we should
have been liable to all sorts of imaginary punish-
ments. WTien we bade our host good-bye we had
to run the enemies' sentries.

" Who goes there ? " said one of these guardians.

" A friend ! "

" Pass friend and give the countersign."

" Don't know it," returned my comrade, im-
agining that our next nioment would be our last
of liberty ! '' Don't know it ! "

" But I do ! " replied the sentry, a volunteer,

196



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

"it's 'Windsor.' " And then we got home safely,
very much impressed with the thorough efficiency
of one of our citizen soldiers, or, as some one has
called them, " our twenty-third line of defence."
During our trip in the Highlands, Sambourne
had collected a number of most admirable draw-
ings. He never lost a chance. Once when we
were in Gareloch, on the Sabbath, he would make
a drawing that nearly incensed the entire fisher-
man population to lynch us. My poor friend was
suffering from faceache, but still stuck to his easel
in spite of a murmur of indignation. He got rid
of me by insisting that I would improve the com-
position by standing in the foreground. I was
regarded as a heathen because, according to my
drawing, I was unable to go to church (kirk),
and the population thought I was as bad as the
other man. Fortunately, before we had furnished
the subject for a paragraph under the heading of
** Popular Murder of Two Writers for Punch,'' the
faceache drove Sambourne within and I followed
him. So I repeat my friend Sambourne (who sat
beside me for many years at the Punch Table),
was no stranger to me when the publishers of
Punch entertained me for the first time in Bou-
verie Street. The Professor was in constant
correspondence with me when Tom Taylor was
away, as his locum tenens. A few years later,
when the present editor succeeded to the chair
I acted for him as Leigh had acted for Taylor.
I have spoken of my friendship with Mr. Tenniel.
The last time I had seen him in town before meet-

197



THE a BFXKETTS OF " PUNCH "

ing him in Bouverie Street, was at the Egyptian
Hall, where we were in company with the present
editor of Punch, and Mr. George Rose, who wrote
and entertained under the title of " Mrs. Brown."
On that occasion a conjuror who called himself
Dr. Lynn, was contributing a trick. He asked
for somebody's hat. George Rose promptly offered
his own.

" Are you sure it is quite empty ? '*

" Think so ! "

" Why, what is this ? " and the doctor pro-
duced a loaf and some cheese.

*' That is my lunch," promptly replied George
Rose. ^* I forgot to tell you that I had left it
there. And if you look more closely you will find
my wig. Please give it to me at once, as I am in
a draught and can't get on without it."

Dr. Lynn promptly returned George Rose his
hat and asked for another from some other member
of the audience.

The two men who were quite new to me
were Du Mauricr and Charles Keene. One sat
next to me and the other opposite to me. I was
delighted with Du Maurier, to whom I have referred
in another part of this work. He was as kind as
could be, and although he seldom started the sub-
ject of a cartoon himself, always supported the
suggestions of others and proposed a detail that
added strength to the picture. He was the missing
link between the writer and the artist, the pen and
the pencil. Although towards the close of his
life he came rarer and rarer to the Punch Table, he



EXPERIENCE OF THE ''PUNCH" TABLE

was always glad to see his colleagues at either


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 12 of 21)