Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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Hampstead or Stanhope Terrace, Hyde Park.
Almost the last time I saw him he was hard at
work on his illustrations for his own novel, The
Martian. I had to see him about some editorial
matter and was shown up to his studio.

" My dear boy ! " he cried, " you are just the
fellow I want. Turn the back of your head to me
and it will do nicely for my Cardinal's." Then he
apologized for choosing the back of my head.
" Of course your face is preferable, but there is
more force of character in the back of the head.
So think your hardest, because remember you are
a cardinal."

He was the most charming of companions and
delighted to hear all the chit-chat of Bouverie
Street. Moreover, he was very sympathetic — I
hold many valued letters that he sent me. When
I was married, and when I lost my eldest son, when
I had to mourn my brother's death — the first note
of congratulation or sympathy came from Du
Maurier. He was fond of the Army, and knowing
my foible used to draw me out. But he was
immensely pleased when his eldest son got his
commission, and it would have been a delight to
have learned that that son had become a D.S.O.
Sometimes we spoke of serious things as we sat at
the Punch Table. He said he wished to believe,
but did not know. But I feel that his was the
nature that belonged to the best of men — those
men who obtain most readily the mercy we all
require.

199



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

Charles Keene was very reserved. When I
joined the Punch Table he was quieter than the
rest. He seemed to enjoy the jokes that flew
about in more or less profusion. But he was
aihng. He had been a most active and enthusi-
astic volunteer but had retired from the service.
He was a constant smoker, and the cruellest
deprivation was to give up, under doctor's orders,
tobacco. I copy a letter I received from him
shortly before he died.

" 112, Hammersmith Road,

" West Kensington.
" Dear a Beckett,

" Thank you for your kind note. I would like
very much to come to the dinner to-morrow, but I
don't feel well enough. I enjoyed the meeting last
Wednesday week and the dinner. But careful as I
was, the healthy profusion of the feast tempted me
and I suffered afterwards ! Commend me to all
who turn up, and I hope I may get my tobacco
taste back again, and be able to ply a better knife
and fork than I can do now. I noticed the change
in the cut, but editors are an obstinate sort !
" Yours ever,

" Charles S. Keene."

I had written to him during the dead season
when I was locum tenens for the present editor, and
I fancy, too, that I must have had to smooth him
down about an alteration in the legend to one of
his cuts. Charles Keene was sometimes a little

200



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

mysterious in his jokes. There was one about
Westminster, which to this day remains unsolved.
When he was asked for an explanation — quite in
earnest — he used to laugh and take it for our joke
that we did not understand him.

Of coui-se the letter I have quoted from Charles
Keene was written several years after our first
meeting. But to use a colloquialism he '* was out
of it " with the other contributors. When I joined
he told me by request his favourite story about a
Bakewell pudding. The point of it was that a
man said that no one knew the secret of its con-
coction.

** Well J I eat one the other day."

*' Impossible ! How was it made ? "

** First there was a layer of toast."

" Yes," with indifference.

** And then a layer of marmalade."

" Yes " — still uninterested.

" Then a layer of bread crumbs."

" Yes," deigning to pay attention.

** Then a layer of blackberry jam."

** Yes," awakening.

** Then a layer of junket."

" Yes," really interested.

** Then a layer of eggs mixed with treacle."

*' Yes," much interested.

** Then a covering of blancmange and raspberry
jam."

" Yes," excited.

** Then a tomato stuffed with brown sugar."

" No ! "

20 1



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

" And boiled for an hour with a black pudding
and served piping hot on a saucepan Kd ! "
A pause, and then in a tone of awe —
"By Jove ! it was a Bakewell pudding ! "
I may say that this version of the story is
imperfect — I have been forced to imagine the
ingredients of the celebrated comestible.

Well, for the next six years I was a constant
attendant at the Punch Table under the kind and
considerate editorship of Tom Taylor. He was
full of hints and was for ever writing to the younger
of his contributors. About this time I had a
passage of arms with Edmund Yates, who at that
period was always attacking the Punch men . I had
crossed swords before when I had defended
Hatton in the pages of the Edinburgh Courant, of
which I had been the London correspondent.
" E. Y." would insist upon calling my editor " Tum
Taylor," which was neither pretty nor appropriate.
" The Celebrities at Home " were making the for-
tunes of the World, so I tried my hand at them.
Tom Taylor, who took a deep interest in them,
touched them up and wrote one of them out of all
recognition. They irritated Edmund Yates, and
he went for " Tum " and myself, calling me
" O'Buckett," which I do not think was a much
better joke than the other.

Well, the warfare went on until one day I was
asked (July 3, i879)out by a friend in common, when
I met " E. Y." face to face. We were perfectly civil,
but of course behaved as if we had never met
before. It was my pleasure to have to take down

202



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

Mrs. Yates to dinner. We talked much for a course
or two and then got back into the easy terms of
not so long ago. Our host was a Government
official who was fond of entertaining celebrities,
and I have a suspicion he knew something about
the feud and wished to see an end to it. The
Government official was very proud of his cook,
and used always to make a point of asking one of
his juniors to act as an assistant exhibitor.

" Jones," he said on this occasion, " you have
seen that piece of plate that was given to me when
I left the Blank Office for the Dash Department ? "

" Yes, sir."

" Would you kindly read the inscription ?"

Inscription read.

" And now what did you think of that new
entree my chef introduced ? I mean the one with
truffles, oysters, ortolans and caviare. What did
you think of it ? "

" Well, sir," said the poor man, blushing with
nervousness at finding that he had the ear of the
table, " I thought it tasted like periwinkles."

" E. Y." exchanged glances with me, smiled and
five minutes afterwards shook hands never to
quarrel again. I entered the occasion in my diary.
** I made it up with Yates. Very pleased."

He was always amused at my reminiscences,
saying that he would never be surprised to find me
turning up anywhere, either as a commander of a
fleet or a leader of an army. Not long before his
death I had been writing a series of articles for the
Stmday Times called " How things are done," and



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

had drawn upon m}^ recollections of the Bar. He
wrote to me as follows —

" Hotel Metro pole,
" Cannes,
"January 5, 1894.
" My dear Arthur,

" Tell us more about when you were in practice
at the Bar and cross-examined the man about that
diary. Meantime both of you take our love and
best wishes for '94.

** Always yours sincerely,

" Edmund Yates.
" Blowing two gales and cold as Ramsgate."

I have already referred to Tom Taylor's illness
and death. Before the six years of his reign were
over I was doing a good deal of work of various
kinds. The present editor of Punch, before I
had joined the staff, had secured for ourselves a
commission from Messrs. Bradbury and Agnew to
write a Christmas Annual. It was to be called the
Doom of St. Querec. Our idea was the transmi-
gration of souls. We started with a legend
invented for the purpose of attracting public
attention. We laid the scene of *'the doom" in
Brittany, to which agreeable country we had paid
a visit. The idea was that the Evil One could take
possession of a vacant body and restore it to life.
He gets hold of the body of a very good young man
and " plays the deuce " with the rest of the
characters. The good young man's body, before

204



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

the commencement of the evil One's tenancy
has married a rehgious peasant girl. The good
young man's body — plus the Evil One — appears
and fails to recognize his wife. Ultimately all ends
happily by the Evil One getting smashed in a fall of
masonry, while the good young girl marries an
equally good young man. It was a very thrilling
story and worked out well. We christened it
the Doom of St. Querec. We did not get the
Saint's name from the calendar, unless it were
from the Racing Calendar, as "St. Querec " was
suggested by Dorling's Correct pronounced
" creckt " Card.

After this we wrote another story called The'
Shadow Witness. Both of these have been drama-
tized, but have never seen the light, or rather the
footlights.

When I joined the Punch Table the relations
between the proprietors and the members were
perfectly delightful. William Bradbury was never
so happy as when he was entertaining his colleagues
of Bouverie Street, and in the character of host
was perfect. I have before me a letter from him
in which, asking us to dinner, he writes — " Excuse
brevity, levity, and bring your own jollity. —
Yours, W. H. Bradbury. Arthur a Beckett, Esq."
The first idea of our stories was to bring them out
in monthly numbers to continue for some time,
as my edition of my father's Comic Blackstone
was produced, but ultimately the book complete
in itself was decided upon.

It is not so very difficult to write in the " to be

205



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

continued in our next " style. Not very long ago
the enterprising editor of a well-known ladies'
paper hit upon the idea of getting twelve authors
and twelve authoresses to write a story to be pub-
lished week by week between them. It was to be
called The Fate of Fenella, and the men and
the ladies were to take a chapter apiece alternately.
I think it was Miss Helen Mathers who led off and
painted the heroine as a very unpleasant young
person. Then came Mr. Justin M'Carthy, who
defended her. Then Mrs. Trollope, who pulled
her down. To poor Fenella's defence hurried (in
the next chapter) Dr. A. Conan Doyle, and so on,
and so on. From chapter to chapter, the light
went on until, about half way, poor Fenella reached
me partly saint, partly sinner. It was my very
agreeable duty to read the story up to date, and
add a chapter of my own. I need scarcely say it
was a delightful toil to peruse the admirable work
of my colleagues. I read my quantum, added my
chapter, giving the story a lift on its way, and
then left my eight successors to follow my example.
I do not know how the tale ended, as I never read
anything after my (the sixteenth) chapter. And
I was not singular in this, as I have reason for
believing that none of my colleagues ever read a
hne later than the final ten words of their own
contributions. In spite of this rather casual
method of turning out our work The Fate of
Fenella^ I have been given to understand, was a
great success.

A propos of writing in collaboration, this very

206



EXPERIENCE OF THE ''PUNCH" TABLE

Doom of St. Querec had for its initial chapter
a rather heavy opening. Wrote my partner —
" Brittany was all superstition till Christianity
appeared. The Bretons are of the same race as
the Cornishmen and the Welsh. They have the
same characteristics. For age after age the Devil
ruled in Brittany. He was worshipped with cruel
pagan rites." William Bradbury wanted some-
thing " a Httle more catchy/" so I furnished an
introduction as follows : " * He died here, sir ! '
I shuddered. ' In that very chair/ continued the
withered old creature, who was addressing me,
' I came in in the morning, and there I found him
sitting in that very chair. He was stark and cold.
His jaw had fallen, and his eyes were staring up at
the ceiling. I shuddered again, and I regarded
the chair with horror." This commencement was
voted entirely satisfactory, and with it we went to
press. When The Silent Witness was produced
I was called upon to undertake similar work.
" Something that will attract attention," said
WiUiam Bradbury. ** Quite so," I repHed, and
I began : " The murderer paused in his horrible
work ! " Again voted quite to the taste of the
public, and passed by acclamation.

During the editorship of Tom Taylor I received
nothing but kindness and consideration. He used
to look upon me as one near at hand to help him
in any emergency. For instance, when Morti-
mer Collins died he wrote to me to represent with
him and the Professor the staff of Punch. I had
known poor Mortimer Collins well when I was

207



THE a BECKETTS OF *' PUNCH "

editing the Glowworm. He had been our principal
leader writer in the days of our prosperity. He
was a delightful companion, but rather too fond
of invading the editorial sanctum in the hours
that should have been sacred to proof reading.
I found that he was not averse to a glass of wine,
although not by any means a devoted votary of
Bacchus. As it happened, we had taken some
awful stuff in exchange for an advertisement. I
will not mention the brand (besides it may have
matured during the passing of thirty years) as I
have a wholesome fear of the law of libel. When
Mortimer Collins turned up one day at twelve noon
to tell me in verse of the beauties of the river I
insisted upon his joining me in a glass of (shall I
call it) nectar in honour of the Thames. He enthu-
siastically pledged me, but put down the glass
after a mouthful.

" What on earth is this ? " he asked, pulling a
wry face. ** Where on earth did you get it ? "

I told him from whence it came and said that it
was largely drunk at our board meetings.

" Then I will never become one of your directors.
For if they can drink this they must be dangerous
lunatics."

Mortimer Collins had strong opinions and was
in favour of the execution of would-be regicides if
they were sane or not. " If they are mad," he
used to argue, " they will be happier in another
world." He wrote excellent leaderettes and
usually dropped into verse before he got to the

208



EXPERIENCE OF, THE "PUNCH" TABLE

peroration. Here is a specimen which appeared
in the Glowworm of July y, 1866.

" We quite agree with the Times that people
who want a pleasant holiday trip and would like
to avoid battlefields cannot do better than go to
Ireland this autumn. Its scenery is full of variety,
and its people, with all their little peculiarities of
Ribbonism, Orangeism, Fenianism and the like,
are uncommonly pleasant and hospitable. Peg
of Limaverody is dead or married we fear, for a
good many years have slipped away since Mr.
Thackeray fell in love with her ; but at many a
wayside inn you may see just such a maiden.

Bare her rounded arm,

Bare her Httle legges,
Vestris never showed

Ankles Hke to Peggy's,
Braided is her hair.

Soft her look and modest,
Slim her little waist.

Comfortably bodiced.

Take a trip to Ireland by all means."

Then when town was empty and most of the
staff were away on their holidays, either winter or
summer, Tom Taylor used to look to me to come
and help him with the cartoon of the week.

Here is one of his notes, written on a
half-page of paper and all but undecipherable
except by the compositor, assisted by " the
reader."

209 o



THE a BECKETTS OF "PUNCH"

Lavender Sweep,
Wandsworth,

January 4, 1876.

" Dear a Beckett,

" I am prevented from coming out by a bronchial
attack. I have written to ask them to put off the
dinner at the Bedford and to ask Tenniel to dine
here at seven instead. Will you come and settle
the I.e. (large cut). Many happy new years.

" Very truly yours,

" Tom Taylor.
" A. a Beckett, Esq."

The reference to the Bedford showed that
Bouverie Street was either under repair or the
dinner was expected to be so small that it
was considered better to hold it at the hotel
in Covent Garden then patronized by Mr,
Punch. It was at that hotel that I was re-
ceived as a new boy the year before. There
had been a long pause between my appear-
ance and " the new boy " who preceded me ; Mr.
R. F. Sketchley had been called to the Mahogany
Tree in 1868. But in 1877 there was to be another
"new boy" in the person of my friend the late
Mr. E. J. Milliken, who was a great addition to our
little party. When he first appeared he was
silent and apparently nervous. He took very
little part in the composition of the cartoons for a
while, but only for a while. He evidently was
taking stock of the company. Professionally,

210



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

from a Punch point of view, he was considerably
our junior. There were the veterans which ended
with the present editor, and even " the new boy "
(myself) was a son of his father, one of the founders
of the paper. But soon the quiet Mr. E. J.
Milliken, who created early in his Bouverie Street
career the character of 'Arry, began to make his
mark. His verse was better than his prose
(although many of his prefaces were polished per-
formances) and he had a natural talent for the
designing of cartoons. When everybody was lazy
(of course never the case) the custom was to fall
back upon Milliken. He used to wait until there
was a pause in the rather frivolous conversation
and then suggest something that was exactly
" right." There was an amused silence when he
took out his notebook and leisurely read from
its pages.

" Capital! " cried every one, with a sigh of re-
lief, especially Kiki Du Maurier, who was glad to
" cut the cackle and get to the 'osses," as Du Crow
was reported to have suggested when one of his
equestrian company got permission to put up
" Hamlet " for his benefit. Kiki liked to know
that business was over and the time for pleasure,
otherwise conversation, had been reached. But
E. J. M. was more than a cartoon concocter and
an author of 'Arry verse. He was equal to poetry.
I happen to have some verses that he wrote
especially for a song composed by my wife. Here
they are —



211



THE a BECKETTS OF ''PUNCH"

SUNSHINE IN SONGLAND.

Sunshine in Songland, roses are red,
Melodj^'s with us, mists now are fled —
Melody quickens, Hope beateth high
Shadowless under a shadowless sky.
Philomel pipes in the flowering grove,
The lark trills lyrics of dauntless love —
Who says the world's a round of wrong ?
Whilst life has sunshine and summer has song ?

Sunshine in Songland — there we will dwell
With radiant rose and the brave bluebell —
In golden June whilst the blood runs warm
And fears not winter and fears not storm.

Melody liveth in Memory still
When skies grow clouded, hearts grow chill,
True love is deathless, faithful, strong,
Who dream with summer and dwell with song —
Echoes of all the heart holds fair,
Whisper in Songland's mystical air —
True love is deathless, faithful, strong.
In that sweet dreamland of summer and song.
(This poem is copyright and may not be reprinted without permission.)

Here is another specimen, hitherto unpubUshed,
written for an autograph book —

EN PASSANT.

Muse ? What will you for my lady's book,

Which should glow with beauty and gleam with wit ?
Bright should it be as the babbling brook,

Light as the swallows that wheel and flit.
That pen whose point would these pages press

Not here, my Muse, may you flame or flow.
Just touch the leaf with a light caress

With lips like Dian's that kiss — and go.

But genial Wilham Bradbury, backed up by
his brothers-in-law, William, Thomas and John
Henry Agnew, believed that all work and no play

212



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

made Jack a dull boy, and in the interests of the
paper it was advisable to keep all the staff in good
spirits. So during the editorship of Tom Taylor
we had delightful outings. On one occasion the
entire staff went to the Derby on the top of a coach.
The other day I came across a rough photograph
taken on the course. It had nearly faded away
for it had never been properly fixed. But in it
I could see the faces of the Agnews, Bradbury,
Tom Taylor, Tenniel, the present editor, Sam-
bourne, Milliken and myself, and seated on the
top dear old Professor Leigh. We had a very
pleasant time, and the early snack before the
more substantial lunch that was to follow after
the big race was a dream that still floats before my
eyes unassociated with a subsequent nightmare.
We had a sweep, and I remember I won it. The
Wednesday before the Derby there is always a
sweep in Bouverie Street, and on several occasions
I have been the fortunate recipient of the first
prize. Then there were garden parties in Nightin-
gale Lane (where William Bradbury lived) and
Lavender Sweep, the headquarters of Tom Taylor.
These alfresco entertainments were very popular,
because it gave the wives of the staff (known in
Bouverie Street as the " Punch ladies ") the oppor-
tunity of foregathering. Thinking over the first
six or seven years of my connexion with Punch, I
feel that the memory is cloudless. I can under-
stand the devotion of my father to the paper he
helped to found. I can appreciate the reason
that caused him to hold dear the title of "a

213



THE a BECKETTS OF "PUNCH"

Beckett of Punch,'* as Thackeray was proud to
be known as a writer for Punch, as Douglas
Jerrold wished to be associated with Punch. My
father used to call Punch the blue riband of the
Press, and the title has found an echo in Fleet
Street. But I am talking of The London Charivari
of 1880, when Tom Taylor, William Bradbury,
Percival Leigh, John Henry Agnew, Thomas
Agnew, Charles Keene, George Du Maurier and
E. J. Milliken were alive and the world was nearly
a quarter of a century younger. But on July 12,
1880, I received the following letter —

" Whitefriars,
" London,
" Monday night.
" My dear k Beckett,

" I am grieved to inform 3^ou that our dear
friend and leader, Tom Taylor, died to-day.

*' Sincerely yours,

" William Agnew.
" A. a Beckett, Esq."

My diary has an entry two days later : " Dined
at the Punch Table. Present : P. Leigh, Tenniel,
F.C.B., Du Maurier and Milliken. Heard that
poor Tom Taylor had died at seven o'clock on
Monday morning. He had been well on the
Sunday, but got out of bed to get a book, com-
plained of faintness and was dead in live minutes.
The clot of blood got to the heart. General sorrow
at his loss." Then on the Saturday following I

214



EXPERIENCE OF THE "PUNCH" TABLE

received a summons to dine on the coming Wed-
nesday at the Bedford Hotel at a dinner at which
only Percival Leigh, the present editor, Tenniel
and myself had been invited to attend. I was
present at the meeting — the editorship of Punch
was in commission. On July 28 the present editor
occupied the vacant chair.



215



Chapter VII
I

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

I MUST confess that T was not a little flattered
at being summoned to the special interregnum
dinner. Not that it was entirely unexpected.
The appointment of the editor was naturally by
precedent considered by the literary members of
the staff, so the artists were missed out, with the
exception of the principal cartoonist, who of
necessity must be present. Percival Leigh had
acted as locum tenens during the absence of
Tom Taylor for years, and the present editor,
the senior member of the literary staff, was
of course present. It may be that I was
possibly selected from the other three members
of the staff as I represented the traditions of the
paper as the son of my father. It was not by
my claim to seniority that I was present, for,
although I was senior to Milliken, I was junior to
Sketchley. However, I came, and my diary
records my presence. At the meeting Professor
Leigh made it clear to us that he did not wish to
continue the part of locum tenens, and I have it
recorded in my diary that the matter was subse-
quently discussed by the present editor and

216



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

myself, how that vacancy should be filled in
the case of his expected succession. A corre-
spondence of a satisfactory character followed,
and on October 9 the newly appointed editor
informed me that he would look to me to take his
place when he was absent, at an increased salary.
So from October 9, 1880, to December 31, 1901,
I occupied the position of locum tenens, an
appointment that was subsequently described,
when my rooms had to be ear-marked in the new
building, as " Assistant Editor." So after one-


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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 13 of 21)