Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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and-twenty years my position attained its
majority ! I was on the editorial staff of Punch,
as the " literary books of reference " put it.
Very shortly after the present editor assumed
the reins of leadership, Mr. Sketchley, who was
not too strong and had a great deal to do as a
Government official, resigned, and dear Professor
Leigh continued his work as usual of sending in
his quantum of copy, which I have shown was
not always available for publication. And here
let me say there was no one more generous or
helpful than the Professor, who did all in his
power to make the path smooth in my new
position. Here is one of his letters he wrote to
me after his accident, and when the arrangement
had been for years in force —

''Oak Cottage,
"201, Hammersmith Road, W.

" My dear a Beckett,

" Accept many thanks for your kind note. You

217



THE a BECKETTS OF "PUNCH"

will be glad to hear that I am getting on tolerably
well, though still too lame to attempt getting
into a 'bus, and, as you surmise, the late bitterly
cold weather has retarded my recovery, but I
hope the change will hasten it. I am glad Frank
Burnand has had a better climate in Paris. I
noticed in the Times a death that I thought might
be that of a relation of Guthrie's.

" With kindest regards to my lady your wife
and congratulations on your management of
Punch in Frank's absence,

*' Believe me always,
" Yours truly,

''February lo, 1889." " Percival Leigh."

I have gone rather fully into the question of
the control of Punch after the death of Tom
Taylor. From that date until 1902 it will be
seen I had occasionally direct control. I venture
to believe the subject is of considerable import-
ance. There is no paper in the world that has
— I will not say had — greater influence in the
creation of public opinion than Punch. I am
proud to know that for over twenty-one years
I was able to give my best energies to advance
the interests of that periodical — a paper my father
loved so well as the child of his brain and the
originator of his title, ** a Beckett of Punch."

In Mr. Spielmann's admirable History of Punch,
which must always be of great assistance to those
who require information on the subject of The
London Charivari, appears this passage —

218



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

" In August, 1880, after the death of Tom
Taylor, Mr. Burnand, who had been acting-
editor in his last illness, was called upon to take
up the task of restoring to Punch its ancient
reputation for liveliness and fun."
[■ In my annotations to Mr. Spielmann's amus-
ing volume I say : " This attack upon Taylor's
editorship is scarcely fair. Punch's reputation
for liveliness and fun did not require restoration.
During Tom Taylor's editorship F.C.B. contri-
buted his best work to the paper." I might have
added that Tenniel, Du Maurier, Sambourne and
Keene were also in their prime, and that the
literary staff, besides the present editor — then a
host in himself — had the advantage of Milliken's
'Arry papers, and a mass of matter contributed
by Sketchley (a very polished writer), and several
promising outsiders. With appropriate modesty
I refrain from referring to my own copy, which
extended to an average couple of columns a week.
My work was continually quoted in the Times
— on one occasion for thirteen consecutive weeks
— and therefore seemed to be appreciated not only
in Bouverie Street but in Printing House Square.
The two earliest appointments to the table under
the new editorship were my brother Gilbert, who
was one of those promising outsiders on Tom
Taylor's list, and the other after Milliken had
tried his hand as a Parliamentary reporter with
no great success to a trained gentleman of the
gallery, Mr. H. W. Lucy. Later on the literary staff
was greatly strengthened after the death of my

219



THE a BECKETTS OF ''PUNCH'*

brother by the invitation to join the table ad-
dressed to my friends, R. C. Lehmann (editor of
the Grantd) and Anstey Guthrie, the author of
Vice Versa. But certainly the pictorial side of
the paper received a great accession in strength
by the appointment of Mr. Harry Furniss to the
table. He illustrated Mr. Lucy's amusing con-
tributions signed " Toby, M.P." — a succession to
the "Essence of Parliament" created by Shirley
Brooks — and was very helpful.

Looking over old letters, I found one the other
day addressed to myself shortly after his ap-
pointment. He seemed from it to be most
industrious. His connexion with the paper (four-
teen years) was too brief. As we sat near one
another for so long a spell, it is pleasant to me to
have my old colleague associated with me in the
chief work on the newest of the comic papers.
I refer to the paper I founded on Coronation Day
(1902) under the title of John Bull.

I feel sure that Mr. Spielmann will forgive me
for tliis note upon his important book, but Tom
Taylor was a friend of my father, and called me
to the Punch Table. Moreover, I honestly be-
lieve that Punch was quite as prosperous in 1880
as in 1903, and had as great a reputation for
liveliness and fun then as it enjoys to-day.

And here, as I have referred to Mr. Spielmann's
book, I may note that he calls attention to the
present editor's power of pun making. Says
Mr. Spielmann, "When a fictitious dinner of the
Punch staff at Lord Rothschild's was reported in

220



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

the Press, Mr. Burnand briefly dismissed the
matter with the remark that the only dish was
canard.'' The Press had only mistaken one
brother for another. The dinner was given by
Mr. Alfred de Rothschild, of whose hospitality
I have a grateful recollection. It conjures up a
memory.

A very large round table indeed. I am present
as a member of the staff of a paper my father had
helped to found, and I am meeting my host in
that capacity (like most of my colleagues) for the
first time. But my host is a most charming
person. He has sent good things for our columns,
and is altogether a delightful companion — excel-
lent fellow — hon enfant. I am quite pleased to
think that the fact that I happen to be on the
staff of a paper that my father helped to found has
gained for me the invitation to be present on this
occasion. Round about me are a Right Hon.
Member of the Cabinet, an eminent physician, an
influential member of the Lower House (on the road
to a peerage), and above all and before all, Lord
Randolph Churchill. It was the first time I had
met one of the brightest intellects of the age, and,
as it happened, it was the last. The occasion of
our meeting was towards the close of his career.
I was told that he was not in his best form, but
for all that he was immensely amusing. His
conversation reminded me of his elder brother's.

I recall another round table, where the late
Duke of Marlborough was the principal guest
of the evening. It was a festive board, and

221



THE a BECKETTS OF ^' PUNCH"

every one present was considered to be somebody.
The gathering was the precursor of the celebrated
Octaves of Sir Henry Thompson — the perfection
of pleasant hospitality. My immediate neigh-
bour was James Payn, the novelist, an admirable
raconteur, but the Duke led the conversation. All
sorts of subjects came up, but he was able to
speak wisely and wittily about them all. We
others were out of it, although as journalists
most of us were omniscient. I felt that Fleet
Street had lost a most promising recruit in not
having secured this Admirable Crichton. With
his knowledge and flow of language what an
excellent leader-writer he would have made, to
be turned on a few minutes before the formes
were sent down to the foundry. When the
printer was leaving a space over and the com-
positors were hard at work on short takings and
" making even " from one another's sticks, he
would have been the ideal producer of copy.
He spoke slowly and in perfect English. When
his speech was taken down and printed, the proof
— so far as the author was concerned — would
have been a clean slip.

I have said that on the occasion to which I
refer my neighbour was James Payn, the novelist.
I had just read By Proxy, and congratulated him
on the local colouring. I asked him how long he
had stayed in China. " I have never been in
China," he said, with a smile. " You can get
plenty of local colouring by keeping your eyes
open, and paying an occasional visit to the Read-

222



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

ing Room of the British Museum." I expressed
surprise — I was very young at the time — that
such local details could be secured without a
personal visit to the places described. " Not at
all difficult to manage," said Payn. " Why, I
knew a writer who had never been farther from
London than the Isle of Thanet, and yet he was
always writing thrilling tales of the other end of
the earth. He made quite a little fortune out of
a book called The Wolf Boy of Japan. He did
indeed ! "

To return to the dinner at which I had the
pleasure of meeting Lord Randolph Churchill.
He was the life and soul of the party, although
the company was of the very best. I have a
particular purpose in recalling this ever- memorable
occasion. I have often been asked what gave
me the idea of the John Bull Dinner ? I reply :
That pleasant gathering under the presidentship
of that most genial and hospitable of hosts in
Mayfair. Our good friend wished to bring into
communication a troupe of trained writers and
artists, with distinguished members of (what I
may be permitted to term in this connexion) the
outer world. Both of my neighbours on the
occasion to which I refer were bearers of names
of world-wide celebrity. We had the pleasantest
evening imaginable. All that wealth, kindness,
and good taste could suggest was at our disposal,
and I could not help regretting — with a recollec-
tion of having assisted at a staff dinner, at which
I presided, consisting of Sir John Tenniel and

223



THE a BECKETTS OF "PUNCH"

myself — that all this excellent material could not
be turned to good account. When circumstances
made it necessary for me to organize a John
Bull Dinner for the consideration of the weekly
cartoon of the paper I have the honour to edit,
the delightful entertainment in Mayfair occurred
to me. I have to thank my kind and honoured
host of that ever-memorable occasion for giving
me the suggestion which has fructified into what
I venture to suggest, is accurately described as
" the famous John Bull Dinner."

But the idea of Mr. Alfred de Rothschild had
been partially anticipated. At his dinner, the
staff of Punch, as I have said, met celebrated
outsiders who were able to discuss the current
topics of the hour, if it so pleased them. As a
matter of fact, " business " of that kind, I fear,
was neglected, and " shop " was rather the ex-
ception than the rule. In the John Bull Dinner
to which I have referred, the guests come to the
dinner to assist in the concoction of the cartoons,
and so far it has worked admirably well. But to
inaugurate the present Editor's appointment to
the chief command, every one who had been
connected with Punch that could be found was
invited to a banquet. It was held at the Albion,
and I really forget how many sat down to dinner.
Quite fifty, if not more. The moment dinner
was over, and after a little necessary speechifica-
tion, the new editor announced that the cartoon
had to be decided. The suggestion was taken
quite seriously by several of those present. My

224



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

friend, Mr. Clement Scott (who had done excellent
service to Ptmch with his capital poems), had
really a first-rate idea for a cartoon — at this dis-
tance of time I forget its exact nature — but his
suggestion was received with roars of laughter.
And then it leaked out that the regular staff
were playing a practical joke upon their col-
leagues of outside Bouverie Street. Earlier in
the day we had decided the large cut, and we
only were there to thoroughly enjoy ourselves,
with thanks to the proprietors and the new
editor. But really, with my increased experi-
ence, I am not at all sure that the combined
intelligence of all those present could not have
been utilized to have schemed out the subject of
a cartoon. Of course, the number present on
the occasion to which I refer was unwieldy. The
average number — ^in the season and not during
holiday time — of the Punch Table is about ten or
a dozen. This can be increased to eighteen —
the average number of the John Bull dinner,
counting staff and guests — without becoming
unwieldy. Of course, fifty was too large a num-
ber, but if the experiment had been tried of ob-
taining the subject of a cut, I do not think it
would have ended in disaster. But no doubt it
was better as it was, as a pun maker might have
felicitously observed: "There were many other
cuts — from the joint. Not only cuts from the
joints, but cuts of some of the entrees, as the
m^nu was an exceptionally long one."

But certainly, if the table staff was not materi-

225 p



THE a BECKETTS OF "PUNCH"

ally increased, the art of outside contributors
was largely widened. In the days of my father,
and when I joined the staff, to write for Punch
was an exclusive privilege. It was confined to
men of the standing of Thackeray, Jerrold, and
(perhaps I may be permitted under the circum-
stances to add), a Beckett. But this widening
had two disadvantages — if it were a disadvantage
— of allowing Talbot, Howard, and Plantagenet
to be able to boast of being Talbot, Howard, and
Plantagenet of Punch. But this policy, I fancy,
has recently been reduced to some extent. Now-
adays, Talbot, Howard, and Plantagenet, if they
become " of Punch," are recommended not to
become Talbot, Howard, and Plantagenet of any
rival paper. Still, it must be remembered that
everything has a commencement, and the Talbot,
Howard, and Plantagenet of yesterday may be-
come the peers of the most celebrated writers to-
morrow. Besides these lesser lights, a glance at
Mr. Spielmann's list shows how stars of the
past may be included in Mr. Punch's firmament.
Sometimes those stars might have been mistaken
for comets on account of their sudden appear-
ance and disappearance.

The title selected for this volume of necessity
causes me to talk a great deal about Punch. To
me naturally it is an entrancing subject, but I
trust that the enchantment of the name will not
make me forget that there are other things in the
world, and that the chief object of an author
should be to prove entertaining to his readers

226



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

Years ago there was a comic song in one of the
burlesques that owed its popularity to its refrain
that " such a thing was good — but only enough
of such a thing, not too much of such a thing,
but just enough of such a thing." So in writing
this volume, I want to speak of Punch, but not
too much of Punch, but just enough of Punch.
So I may say briefly that during the performance
of my duties of assistant editor for twenty-one
years I did my best to fulfil the duties attaching
to the office with diligence and propriety. That
I succeeded I have reason to believe, from the very
kind and gratifying communications I have re-
ceived during that period from proprietors,
editor, and other members of the staff. I have
a large number of letters testif3dng to this pleas-
ing appreciation, which will be, I hope, preserved
as heirlooms by my sons and (if any) future
generations. When the editor w^as absent I filled
his place and presided over the deliberations of
the Knights of the Round Table. But until he
died I had the greatest assistance from my friend
and colleague, the late E. J. Milliken, who was
always ready to support me in the hour of diffi-
culty. He has been very properly described by
Mr. Spielmannas " a writer of all work and general
utility in the best sense." I myself had had fair
experience in the same field of labour, but when I
was fagged out (as must happen in the records of
the best regulated writers), he was always ready
when possible — he was terribly handicapped by
ilihealth, poor fellow — to come to the rescue. I

227



THE a BECKETTS OF ''PUNCH"

have the last letter he wrote to me. It runs as
follows. (In addition to my labours on Punchy
I was editing the Naval and Military Magazine,
which explains a reference.)

" WOODCOTE,

" 83, LouGHBORo' Park, S.E.
''August 4, 1897.
" My dear Arthur,

" I am mending — but 'tis mighty slow work.
I had hopes of being able to attend the Table
to-night, but when the hour arrived I felt far too
weak to venture ; still, I am on the mend. I
have been out for my first totter. Next week I
hope to turn up as usual. Meanwhile, if there
should be anything special you wish done, either
for Punch or your own magazine, / can do it.

" I presume that Frank is away and that you
are locum tenens. I am sorry not to have been
with you to-night. I hope you are well and
flourishing.

" Yours ever,

"E. J. MiLLIKEN."

He was right : I was locum tenens, and pre-
sided at the dinner supported by my friends,
Tenniel, Lucy and Guthrie, E. T. Reid, Phil May,
and Bernard Partridge. The next entry in my
diary is a sad one. " nth August. Presided at
the Punch Dinner. Present : Tenniel, Milliken,
Reid, Lehmann, and Partridge. Last appear-
ance of poor E. J. Milliken at the Punch Table.
I had a very cheery chat with him — poor fellow."

228



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

I added these last words on hearing of his death.
He died on August 26, just fifteen days later.

And this reference to the death of Milliken
reminds me that, like him, my brother, Gilbert
Arthur a Beckett, also died in Punch's harness.
Literally, he wrote copy for Bouverie Street on
his deathbed. When the History of Punch came
to be written, I had to see Mr. Spielmann, who
was staying at Malvern, about my father's con-
nexion with Punch. It occurred to me that I
might ask him how he had dealt with my brother.
I had in my possession a paper that had been
written by some one who did not know my
brother's history, which stated that probably
Mr. Spielmann would say that my brother had
done very little work while he was stajdng at
Dinan. I was to ask Mr. Spielmann to alter this
passage, as I knew that my brother had worked
very hard for Punch in Brittany, and, moreover
that I might call attention to his gaining the
prize for English verse open to all the School at
Westminster at an unusually early age. When I
reached Malvern I asked Mr. Spielmann if he would
mind telling me what he had said about my
brother ; or, at any rate, let me know if he had
made any reference to his stay at Dinan. Mr.
Spielmann said he had written that my brother did
not do very much for Punch while he was sojourn-
ing in Brittany. Then I handed Mr. Spielmann
the document I had received, and from this docu-
ment Mr. Spielmann corrected the proof of the mat-
ter dealing with my brother's connexion with

229



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

Punch. My brother was proud, like my father,
of his connexion with Punch, and when I saw
him during his last illness was most anxious to
know if the editor was satisfied with his copy.
Years before he had edited a most clever paper
called Junius, to which I contributed, and I am
pleased to think that every paper I ever edited
had my brother as a contributor. To quote Mr.
Spielmann : " When he died — on October 15,
1891 — a chorus of unanimous regret arose in the
Press, for he was one of those few men who count
none but friends amongst their wide circle of
acquaintance."

The date of the death of my friend, Mr. E. J.
Milliken, in 1897, reminds me of an effort I made
ten years earlier to celebrate, according to pre-
cedent, the Queen's Jubilee at Gray's Inn, of
which my father — in common with myself — had
been a member. It certainly was a delightful time,
and none the less pleasant because Mr. Lawrence
Bradbury, son of my dear friend, Mr. Wilham
Bradbury, and his cousin, Mr. Philip Agnew,
were members of my company. It came about
in this way. On account of the Jubilee one
of our Benchers — His Royal Highness the Duke
of Connaught — consented to act as treasuier,
and it occurred to me that perhaps His
Royal Highness and the other Hon. Masters
of the Bench might like to do something in
the shape of a Maske — once a most popular
form of entertainment on state occasions. I
approached the Bench on the subject, and, to my

230



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

great delight, and, I confess, rather to my astonish-
ment, the masters took a most favourable view
of the project. I was appointed Master of the
Revels, and Assessor to the Maske Committee,
of which my old and valued friend, Mr. Hugh
Shield, K.C., was chairman. Our Royal treasurer
took a great interest in it, and when the perform-
ance was held acted as host, supported by Her
Royal Highness the Duchess of Connaught.
Amongst the other royalties present were the
Duchess of Edinburgh, Princess Mary Duchess of
Teck, and the Princess of Wales, then Princess
May of Teck. I say I had a delightful time of it.
I had been always fond of theatricals, and here
was something quite new. I was able to secure
an appropriate piece, the " Maske of Flowers,"
which had been performed at Whitehall before
James I by the Members of Gray's Inn. It had
to be edited, as I have said before, and I edited
it. Then I had to get a scene painter, and I went
to Mr. John O'Connor, who had painted the
scenery for the A.D.C. at Cambridge, and who
had reproduced some undergraduate rooms for
the Haymarket when Tom Taylor's piece, " The
Lesson for Life," was produced with " Lord
Dundreary " — Sothern — in the principal charac-
ter. Then the dresses were undertaken by my
friend, Lewis Wingfield (brother of Lord Powers-
court), and all was in readiness. Then, to my
sorrow, I found that, although Gray's Inn was
greatly respected in the Royal Courts, it did not
rank high from a dramatic and vocalistic point

231



THE a BECKETTS OF "PUNCH"

of view. We had one giant amongst us, Mr.
Louis Coward, and he very kindly accepted the
part of " Kawasha," but there was no other
Gray's Inn man available. So I had to go to the
Bar Musical Society for assistance, and ultimately
got together a company (including ladies) of some
fifty or sixty persons. We prided ourselves on
being members of the Bar, or (so far as the ladies
were concerned) with relatives belonging to the
Bar. As a matter of fact, all our fair friends
were either daughters or wives of barristers or
judges, with one exception. Lady Cadogan, who,
however, had forensic connexions. My friends,
Mr. Philip Agnew (son of Sir William of that ilk),
who was an accomplished musician — he had
taken his musical degree at Oxford — kindly con-
sented to learn the harpsichord for the occasion,
and Mr. Lawrence Bradbury, a capital actor and
a first rate vocalist, became a leading singer.
Both my friends were members of the Inner
Temple. Everything now progressed favourably.
We held our rehearsals in the libraries of Gray's
Inn, I hope to the satisfaction of the students.
Mr. Prendergast, who was responsible for the
music, looked after the singers. Mr. D'Auban,
the ballet master from Drury Lane, trained the
dancers, and I, as Master of the Revels, exercised
a vague superintendence over everybody and
everything. One day, when I expected certain
members of the Press who were coming to draw
the old Hall, two or three intellectual gentlemen
put in an appearance.

232



TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

" You come from the Graphic and the Illus-
trated ? " I suggested.

" No, Master of the Revels " — with a nasty
sneer upon the master — " we do not. We are
not surprised, however, to iind that you do not
recognize us, as we are only members of Gray's
Inn like yourself."

Now I took in the situation at a glance. I had
obtained permission as Master of the Revels —
everything was done as Master of the Revels —
to screen a request that Gray's Inn men who were
willing to take part in the ''Maske of Flowers"
should communicate with me without delay.

" I am delighted to meet you," I cried, " but I
have very little time at my disposal. Can you
sing ? "

*' Think so."

" Then in you go," and I opened a door. '* Mr.
Prendergast is trying all our voices. He says
I won't do because I can't take the upper C with
sufficient clearness and pathos. I am sure I could
if I tried. But seeing about fifty persons listen-
ing makes me so nervous. However, you may be


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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 14 of 21)