Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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And as the status of the actor has given rise to
many angry discussions I will steer clear of the
subject. I will merely say that the actors of
yesterday — say half a century ago — were very
different from the actors of to-day.

If the hon. member for Northampton were in
an anecdotal humour I believe he could tell many
a good story about his tenancy of the Queen's.
He had a most excellent company, and amongst
the last a gentleman of the name of John (other-
wise Jack) Ryder. This gentleman belonged to
the old school, and had such a way with him that
he could give vent to the most questionable senti-
ments, and yet receive the heartiest applause

249



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

from the gallery. On one occasion when he was
playing in one of the earlier pieces of the late
Sir Augustus Harris, he — as an old country vicar —
had to remonstrate with his son for getting into
an *' entanglement " of a mercenary and em-
barrassing character. " When I was a curate,
my boy," he said, or words to the same effect, " I
got into a similar entanglement myself , but when
I found that she stood in the way of my pro-
fessional advancement, I cast her off for ever ! "
This announcement was always received with
thunders of applause. Jack Ryder was stage
manager at the Queen's Theatre, Long Acre, and
was attending a rehearsal of a thunderstorm.
" That won't do," he shouted, as there was a
rather feebler roll than usual. " Please, sir," said
the official in charge, " that's not my thunder, it's
real thunder. There's an awful storm going on
outside." " Well, real thunder isn't good enough
for Jack Ryder. Now let's try something
better ! " He was quite right ; things must be
written large on the stage. The cheek requires a
tinge of rouge, and the storm ultra-bright lightning
and ultra-loud thunder.

At the Boz Club banquet Sir Henry suggested
that in spite of Crummies, the " real pump and
two splendid tubs," Charles Dickens dedicated
Nicholas Nicklehy to Macready. This reminds me
that there was a point of resemblance between the
author and the actor. When Dickens was playing
in an amateur performance before Queen Victoria
and the Prince Consort, a request came to the great

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TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AT THE TABLE

novelist that he should present himself as he was
in the Royal Box. Charles Dickens waited until
he had divested himself of his stage costume^ and
was ready to appear in evening dress. Macready
would never allow his son (who was at Westminster)
to see him act. He made one exception to the
rule : he allowed the boy to be present at his fare-
well performance. Both actor and novelist be-
lieved in keeping the stage life distinct from the
vie intime.



■i\>\



Chapter VIII

MY FATHER'S FRIENDS

ONE of the best cartoons ever drawn by my
friend, Mr. Linley Sambourne, was one de-
picting " The Mahogany Tree," on the occasion of
Mr. Punch's jubilee. It was pubhshed as a supple-
ment, and my friend, Mr. Spielmann, says of it
that the temple in which the banquet was held was
as unlike the real room as possible. Well, I suppose
he was right. The portraits of the staff were good
enough. I remember what trouble Mr. Sam-
bourne took to get us all right. One by one we
sat at a table with an imaginary banquet before
us, holding up a glass in the pose devised for us
by the eminent artist, who " snap-photoed " us
to his heart's content. The photo he took of my
brother Gilbert is far away the best portrait of
him that we have in the family. It was cleverly
arranged, and the men were placed at Mr. Punch's
hospitable board in the order in which they
actually sat every Wednesday at the Bouverie
Street table. And there was an air of hon
camaraderie quite characteristic of the staff as it
existed in 1891. The ])resent editor was presid-

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MY FATHER'S FRIENDS

ing, supported by the pens and pencils of his
staff, and pledged by the two principal proprie-
tors, William Bradbury and William Agnew.
Then, round the room were memorials of the
departed. Charles Keene had only recently died,
and we still had with us George du Maurier. Then
there were portraits of the past editors, and
statues of Thackeray and Leech. Very unlike
the real room, and yet very like it. Now and
again, when I was an every Wednesday guest at
the Punch table, I used to be left alone in that
room writing perhaps a note to Mr. Swain, the
engraver, or to the official who kindly undertook
the production of the photographs required by
the artists for their cartoons. And on more than
one occasion I fell into a reverie and conjured
up, " in my mind's eye, Horatio," some of those
who had been our predecessors. First there was
my father. I saw him as I knew" him seated, with
his head resting on his right hand in the old
familiar fashion. He was silently taking note
of everything, and smiling as he made some
humorous sally that set the table in a roar —
generally at the expense of Douglas Jerrold, that
great energetic little man, with the mane of a lion
and the clear blue eyes, frank, free, and clear as
the eyes of a British sailor. Smiling approval
was Thackeray, in whose defence the thrust
was delivered. Thackeray — maybe to restore
peace — would ask my father about some police
court case that had found its way into the evening
papers. *' I think it will do for Policeman X,"

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THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

Thackeray would say. " Got one in hand,"
Lemon would observe, " and not often the case.
You are terribly behindhand with your copy
sometimes, and do not fear the power of the
brigand chief." Thackeray would smile at his
editor's assumption of melodramatic dignity —
he was accustomed to it. Next Ponny May hew
would hand my father a book : it was intended
for his godson, my younger brother. " Hope he
will turn out as a good, amiable, ruffianly, benevo-
lent tyrant, like his father before him." My
father would smile and say, " They have sent me
a bust of you, Ponny, labelled Horace. You
look very classical, as if you had just been pub-
lishing the Odes." " Of Poland, of course,"
would put in the Professor; " but we won't hear
it on this occasion." " No, and spare us your
recitations from Shakespeare," would put in
Shirley Brooks, the man with the best memory
for quotations in the assembly. " Anything for
me ? " Leech would ask, and Lemon would say
that there were still a number of initials in the
cut book, but he would get some proofs posted
to him for his inspiration. Then the vision
would fade away, and I would be still in front of
the letter I was writing to Mr. Swain or the
gentleman who kindly saw to the photographs
needed by the cartoonist. But even then I saw
Lemon bidding all his "merry men" — "Mark's
merry men" — good-night, and telling some of
them that he would call upon them in the morning.
It was the custom of the best of editors to visit

254



MY FATHER'S FRIENDS

his artists on the day following the creation of
the cartoon, to see " that everything was ship-
shape,"

How many men have sat at the famous table
with its oblong boards, with the initials of the
diners cut deep therein ! Charles Dickens has
been there — he who sent one witticism to Punch,
which was rejected by Mark Lemon ! Well,
Dickens shared the same fate as the Rt. Hon.
Joseph Chamberlain, who told me that he too had
had a witticism rejected by the powers that were
in Bouverie Street. Then there was another
eminent outsider in the person of Joseph Paxton.
He was the head gardener at Chatsworth, the seat
of the Duke of Devonshire. He was a friend of
Dr. Mark, and on one occasion " the merry men "
paid a visit to the ducal conservatories. Paxton
designed the Exhibition of 185 1, which came to
be called the Crystal Palace. It was on the lines
of a huge conservatory. I can just remember as
a child in arms the opening of the Exhibition of
1851. I have in my possession the season ticket
that was owned by my father, with his signature
thereon inscribed. I can recollect a model
frigate in the Serpentine, and that it cost my
mother half a crown to get from one side of the
road to the other opposite Sloane Street — that
was the regulation charge of the cabmen. I
remember my father's return, and hearing him
talking about a lady cousin of his (the widow of a
captain in the Royal Navy) hanging on to my
father's arm and passing the cordon of police

255



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

(" who made way for the magistrate "), to his
great indignation.

" You know, we don't see the woman from
year's end to year's end, and yet when it serves
her purpose she clutches hold of one's arm as if
she \vere one's wdfe."

" My cousin Fanny always knew how to take
care of herself, dear," puts in my mother; "but
we got rid of her when we entered the building."

Then Cox announces that dinner is ready, and
I am sent to bed, for it is only when company
are present that I am allowed to come down to
dessert. I retire to rest, and am alarmed by the
portrait of an old lady said to be by Holbein,
and reputed an ancestress. If she were she was
a very stern a Beckett — for the women of the
family have the tradition of better profiles than
the men. Later at night my father (who had
written a leader for the Times) himself went to
bed.

Another of my father's friends — Albert Smith.
I cannot help thinking that he has been rather
roughly handled by some of those who pretend
to know a great deal about the secrets of the
Round Table. I have seen it suggested that he
quarrelled with Punch, or, rather, Punch quarrelled
with him, because he reproduced in the London
Charivari some translations from the French
comic papers. The writer of the articles to
which I have more than once referred, which
appeared in the Pall Mall Magazine, makes the
suggestion. I know there was some sort of a

256



MY FATHER'S FRIENDS

tradition to the same effect in Bouverie Street.
But, on consideration, it appears a little absurd.
First, it was not considered a very great crime
this translating from the French in the early
days of the nineteenth century. It will be re-
membered that Crummies regretted that every
actor and actress could not speak French. If
they had been linguists to the necessary extent,
the stock authors would have been superfluous ;
the ladies and gentlemen of the company could
have translated the French play as they ran
through it at rehearsal. I remember as a boy
that every dramatic author w^ent to Paris for
inspiration, and never thought of making the
slightest reference to the colleague on the other
side of the Channel. The fact of thinking in
English thoughts that had already been thought
in French gave to English authors a distinct
right to originality. So, if Albert Smith had
" annexed " a few ideas from the Boulevards, I
do not think it would have been considered such a
serious crime by Mr. Mark Lemon. Next, to the
last Albert Smith was on the best of terms with
the Punch people. At the opening of his enter-
tainment of " Mont Blanc," if I am not much
mistaken, Ponny Mayhew appeared dressed as
a French gendarme, and insisted upon seeing
the passports of the invited guests. The pass-
port was the card of invitation, and a copy was,
and probably is, hanging up in Mr. Punch's
dining-room. Then one of the prettiest of Leech's
drawings represents the great St. Bernard dog

257 R



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

who used to parade in front of the proscenium
between part one and part two. I remember
the dog well and the attention he used to receive
at the hands of the beautiful young ladies who
used to occupy the front row of the stalls. Then
there was the burlesque in which Albert (he used
to be called Albert by my father) took part, in
conjunction with a number of other Punch men.
If the author of Ledbury had been turned from
Mr. Punch's door in disgrace, it was scarcely
likely that all these memorials of him would have
been allowed to appear in Punch's pages and on
Punch's walls in Bouverie Street. When there
is a desertion, the paper is not always in the right
—there may be many other reasons undiscovered.
Probably Albert Smith found Douglas Jerrold
uncongenial company, and, being able to keep
his head above water without the assistance of
Bouverie Street, trusted to his own resources,
and, as it happens, with the luckiest results.
" Mont Blanc " at the Egyptian Hall was one of
the best and cheapest of entertainments. It was
— to use the phrase of the picture galleries — a
one man show. I use the phrase to explain
that it was worked by a solitary individual, Albert
Smith, a man to work the scenery and a pro-
scenium. Albert was a very good musician, and
used to play his own accompaniments. I remem-
ber the entertainment now perfectly as if I had
been there but yesterday. The proscenium
represented a Swiss chalet. In the foreground
was a trench containing real water and water-

258



MY FATHER'S FRIENDS

lilies. In front ol the chalet was the small piano
upon which were placed Albert Smith's properties
— a model of a diligence, a wooden pipe with a
bowl filled with water, and a copy of Galignani's
Messenger. Mr. Smith used to enter from a door
in the chalet and then introduce his entertain-
ment. He used to describe the journey to
Chamounix — here the model of the diligence was
useful — and his remarks were illustrated by views
shown in the chalet, which turned out to be a
built-up curtain. The end of part one was a long
yarn by the engineer on board the Austrian Lloyds
steamer. " He told me the stupidest story I
heard in my Hfe," said Albert Smith. " Now,
ladies and gentlemen, with your kind permission,
I will attempt to tell it to you." Then Albert
Smith used to sit down with his hookah and repeat
a long rambhng tale about nothing in particular,
emphasizing the points with gurgles from his pipe.
End of Part I., and appearance of the dog with
boxes of chocolates for the children of the enter-
tainer's friends. I was one of those children,
and can declare that the chocolate was excellent.
By the way, the presentation of bonbons was
subsequently imitated by Mr. J. L. Toole, who, as
it happened, was another friend of my father.
" Johnnie " told me how once my father took
the chair at a meeting where " Trying a Magis-
trate " was to be recited. My father, according
to my friend Mr. Toole's account, was selected
for the pleasure and honour because he happened
to be the magistrate of the district. In the

259



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

course of the entertainment " Johnnie " men-
tioned a name. Immediately some one in the
audience got up and said that the name was his
own, and that Toole intended to insult him.
There was a row, and my father, as a magistrate,
had to use his authority to keep the peace.

To return to Albert Smith. The second part
showed the actual ascent of Mont Blanc, with a
comic picture of the descent. The panorama
w^as rather on a small scale, but I perfectly
well recollect Les grands Moulds with realistic
effects. The last feature was a topical comic
song written up to date from entertainment
to entertainment. It turned upon Galignani's
Messenger as a paper being "the best of them all."
Albert Smith used to accompany himself on the
piano, and sing or almost talk his song with great
effect. A very pleasant entertainment, to which
all London flocked. I am quite sure there was no
ill feeling between Mr. Albert Smith and the
Punch staff. The Egyptian Hall was associated
with the entertainments of Albert Smith for
several years. When " Mont Blanc " became
antiquated, I remember it was replaced by a
show about " China." And in this last produc-
tion Albert Smith gave great offence to some of
his warmest supporters. Although Albert Smith
could always count upon a certain number of
people moving in society, the bulk of his audience
belonged to that class of persons who hated the
theatre and patronized the productions of Mr.
and Mrs. German Reed. Talking of Christian

260



MY FATHER'S FRIENDS

Missions in China, Albert Smith said that the
show convert was a not too respectable billiard
marker. Immediately there were ''reclamations."
I forget how the matter ended. I fancy that
Albert Smith died about this time. He was
very good looking. Long before the " beard
movement," as it was called, he used to wear a
bushy hirsute adornment that might have caused
the envy of a Crimean veteran. Poor Albert Smith !
my recollections of him were of a kindly, amusing
gentleman, fond of his friends and with very few
enemies. I do not think he was likely to get on
with Douglas Jerrold. The latter was a demo-
crat of democrats, and the former had no objec-
tion to a title. Not that Albert Smith was a
snob; but his lines lay among those whom
Thackeray used to call the " upper suckles,"
and Douglas Jerrold resented the undoubted
fact.

I have already said that I met my friend John
Tenniel at the Egyptian Hall. It was when he
was accompanied by George Rose, the narrator
of " Mrs. Brown." I was present at the opening
of Mrs. Brown's entertainment. Arthur Sketch-
ley, no doubt recollecting " Mont Blanc," had
devised an entertainment called " Paris." Not
to clash with the earlier show, the route chosen
was via Newhaven and Dieppe. I was present
in the dual capacity of critic and friend. George
Rose had become possessed of a mechanical
piano — then a novelty — and he proposed trying
it on the occasion. Somehow or other the stops

261



THE a BECKETTS OF "PUNCH"

had got out of order, and it did not matter what
tunes were set, the piano, after a few bars, always
ground out the National Anthem. The result
was, that whenever the piano was set playing, there
came in a few minutes the musical signal for
departure. Then in this same Egyptian Hall I
was present at the debut of Artemus Ward, who
had become a great friend of George Rose, and
probably secured the room at his suggestion.
The reception the lecturer obtained on his ap-
pearance was very cold. A British audience
had to understand him. Artemus Ward was
sad to a degree, and said the absurdest things in
a voice suitable to a funeral. But when the
audience discovered the pleasantry, they simply
roared. I had met Artemus Ward at George
Rose's, and went round to see him. " I was just
scared," said he, " when I saw them just looking
like a row of ghosts. I never heard, sir, any-
thing more welcome in my life than that laugh ! "
At that time I was editing the Glowworm, and
was very anxious to have Artemus Ward as a
contributor. But his terms, with our limited
capital, were prohibitive. However, he was se-
cured by Mark Lemon for Punch, and appeared
for a number of weeks in the London Charivari.
His articles were not a great success. They
had not the freshness and spontaneity of his
customary copy. I fancy he was as nervous
with his British readers as he had been with his
British audience, and did not let himself go. His

lecture in Punch reminded me of " Mrs. Brown

262



MY FATHER'S FRIENDS

at the Play," with half the humour left out. He
seemed to have formed his style for British readers
on that of his friend George Rose. He was in ill
health when he came to England, and died, poor
fellow, in this country. I went to his funeral.
He dined with me once at the Civil Service Club —
a building to which I have already referred — and
introduced the son of the American Minister.
He was the best of good company, but always
kept that grave face. He would laugh, however,
on occasions, and when he did he laughed long
and heartily.

The Egyptian Hall was a Home of Mystery on
the night of Artemus Ward's first lecture, as it
has become again now that it is in the hands of
the accomphshed Mr. Maskelyne, who represents
Maskelyne and Cook. Very many years ago I
was invited by my brother Gilbert to see the
entertainment with a view to joining him in
writing an entertainment for the firm. But
some extremely clever manipulation of plates did
not inspire me. Since then the " Sketches "
have become quite excellent and amusing, and I
regret that I lost on behalf of my brother and
myself the chance of becoming a stock author.
The Egyptian Hall, too, was the scene of an
entertainment given by Edmund Yates and
Harold Power. The latter was a great friend of
the Punch men, and accompanied them on their
visit to Manchester when the staff of Punch went
to the rescue of the family of their colleague
Bennett. I knew Harold Power very well, and

263



THE a BECKETTS OE "PUNCH"

he was a kind, good fellow, with an audacity
that was perfectly amazing. It is a tradition
that when he went to Manchester he returned
thanks for every health on the toast list. In
every case he was up before the speaker told off for
the reply, and literally took the words out of his
mouth. So goes the story. I was not present on
the occasion, so can only rely on the report of others.

Round and about the Egyptian Hall great
changes are taking place. Piccadilly is to be
further widened, and the coaches that used to
start from the White Horse Cellar, I fancy, have
found other points of assembly. The reference
to the White Horse Cellar recalls to me a memory.

I had seen the Derby won from the top of a
coach on the Hill, and, according to the custom
of the day, was talking over matters with those
" who had come on " at a small table in Cremorne
Gardens. A month ago, looking over some papers,
I came across my season ticket for the year. It
is signed by Mr. Baum, a gentleman who also ran
the Alhambra after that place of entertainment
had changed from a rival to the Royal Polytechnic
Institution (under the title of " The Panopticon ")
into a competitor with the Oxford and Canterbury
Music Halls. Cremorne Gardens was on the wane
in 1870, and usually a very dreary place. It
woke up a little on Derby night. There was
some dancing going on at the central platform,
and there was a parade of men about Town,
round and round, round and round, round and
round the dancers. No one ever thought of

264



MY FATHER'S FRIENDS

dancing save, perhaps, on Derby night, and then
the dancer would be restrained by his friends
under the friendly superintendence of the uni-
formed " chucker-out." But people were " a
bit off colour " in 1870, and in no mood for sky-
larking, for war was in the air. A quarrel was
brewing between King William of Prussia and the
Emperor Napoleon of France. The King was
being forced into a war by Bismarck, and the
Emperor, dissatisfied with the recent plebiscite,
was preparing to stake his own existence as a
monarch on the hazard of the sword. Still, all
Englishmen took the deepest interest in the finish
of the Derby. It was run at Epsom at 3.29 p.m.,
and the result was known in Bomba.y at 5.57, and
in Calcutta at 6.25. So related the newspapers
of June 2.

Many of my companions w^ere journalists, the
guests of a very popular peer, who prided himself
upon his Derby gatherings. We were talking of
the chances of war, and where those chances
might take us. I myself had no idea that I should
be off to France and Germany, but before the year
was out I was destined to act as a " special "
for the Standard and Globe in both countries.
Every one knew that Dr. William Howard Russell
would be sure to represent the Times ; the other
appointments were less certain. Of one thing
no one dreamed — that by Christmas the Emperor
would be a dethroned prisoner, the Empress and
Prince Imperial exiles in England, and Paris cut
off from London save by balloon post.

265



THE a BECKETTS OF ''PUNCH"

A propos of the siege of Paris. After this pause
of more than thirty years, there are still two
special correspondents left amongst us who acted
for newspapers in the surrounded city. They
are both members of the House of Commons.
The first is Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles, who
represented the Morning Post, and the second Mr.
Henry Labouchere, who, as "a besieged resi-
dent," wrote a most delightful description of
Paris day by day for either the Daily News or
the Star. At the time the authorship of these
letters was a secret, and it is just possible that
they may have appeared in the Standard. I
cannot remember, but they were most amusing.
I was in sympathy with the author, as my duty
was to supply, as "a Roving Commissioner,"
light copy to the Globe (then edited by Mr. Mar-
wood Tucker, and managed by Mr. Madge), and
" heavy work " to the Standard, under the control
of the late Captain Hamber. It was not alto-
gether a novel experience to have to deal with
the same subject from two points of view — comic


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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 16 of 21)