Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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and sedate. I had done the same sort of thing
before as the editor of a serious daily and a
humorous weekly.

I did my best, but I cannot claim to have
rivalled the feats of a friend of mine, a brother
journalist of those distant days, who managed
to mingle the tragic with the comic in a most
effective fashion. He described the last moments
of a dying Englishman who had joined the French
Army. The poor sufferer noticed a dog and two



men with a kind of theatre on the field of battle.
They were camp followers and also street per-
formers. To cut an admirably recounted story
short, the dying Englishman's last moments
were soothed by a performance of " Punch and
Judy." The tale ended somewhat after this
fashion : " The sun sank on the horizon, leaving
the cannon in silhouette ! The warrior smiled
at the hero of the drama knocking down the
ghost ! The curtain fell, hiding from view the
sorrowful face of dog Toby ! All was silent !
The Englishman in the French uniform was at
rest ! "

To be up to date. At this time when, thanks
to the patriotic action of King Edward, our good
neighbours the French are becoming better and
better neighbours, it is well to remind them of
our action more than thirty years ago — not to
boast, but as a guarantee of goodwill. The
moment Paris was thrown open we rushed in food,
the outcome of a public subscription, to the aid
of the starving inhabitants. During the war
our sympathy was entirely with our neighbours.
I myself, acting for the Standard, had something
to do with getting up a fund to help the French
prisoners on the Rhine. And this was only one
of many benefactions of a similar character.
Lastly, when the rival songs of France and Ger-
many were sung at the Alhambra, the British
public cheered to the echo the first, and hooted
the last. How we loved the French in those
days of disaster to the French nation! "We



shall be avenged by our children," said Herve,
the composer, to me on the stage of Covent Garden.
And I did not smile. It occurred to me after-
wards that the children of Herve must have been
in arms — not altogether a bad example to their
fathers. But let that pass. It is pleasant to
remember that nowadays, when France is strong
and prosperous and our good friend, that she
was equally our good friend, so far as we were
concerned, in the days of the Terrible Year

A propos of Paris.

I am dining once more at a round table. This
time it is in the Hotel du Helder, Rue du Helder.
The dinner has been foretold by a friend at the
British Embassy at the Rue Faubourg St. Honore
as the probable climax to a projected duel. A
brother journalist — thirty years my senior — has
called me out. Unfortunately, during my \isit
to Paris, a paper of which I had been the titular
editor had contained a rather savage attack upon
my host. Unconscious of the article, I had visited
the great litterateur, and asked him to write for us.
He had received — as press censor for the Emperor
— an early copy of my paper. He was indignant.
I was the editor : who wrote the article ? Very
sorry — against journalistic etiquette to give up
the name of the contributor. I had not seen the
article, but I would accept responsibility. He
would commence an action for libel. A bow.
Had the article appeared on the French side of
the Channel, the Aggrieved One would have



settled it as gentlemen wearing swords were wont
to settle affairs in the last century. Saw a gleam
of light. Anything better than an action for
libel. In a nervous voice, " Very pleased to give
him the satisfaction of a gentleman, but might I
please choose swords ? " N.B. — Had learned single-
stick as a boy under the supervision of Dominie
Birch, and had noticed that, in the French duels,
the combat terminated after the first scratch.
All I would have to do would be to avoid running
on my adversary's sword. The Aggrieved One
was rather startled at my suggestion — I was not
two-and-twenty — but he ultimately consented.
Rushed to my diplomatic friend at the Embassy.
" You will not fight," said he ; "he will forgive
you on account of your youth, and ask you to
dine with him at the Hotel du Helder. In the
meanwhile. Major Byng Hall can represent you."
The prophecy was fulfilled. My subsequently
good friend Whitehurst, of the Daily Telegraph,
did forgive me on account of my youth, and
asked me to dine at the little round table in the
Hotel du Helder. A much pleasanter function
than weapons for two, and coffee for one.

I am seated at another round table. This time
I am enjoying breakfast with M. de Blowitz, the
great correspondent of the Times, who took the
lead once enjoyed by Whitehurst. I have been
introduced by my friend the late Sir Augustus
Harris. The great correspondent is a little out
of temper because I have experienced a difficulty
in finding his fiat, and consequently have arrived



rather late. He takes his revenge by caUing
me by the name of a paper my father helped to
found. The paper for more than half a century
has been renowned for its wit and wisdom. So
when I accept or refuse a dish, or ask some one to
pass the salt, M. de Blov\itz cries out, " Excellent !
There spoke Punch.'" Notwithstanding this, I
am very much impressed with M. de Blowitz.
He is an excellent fellow. Before I leave he
presents me with a book describing his adven-
tures in a train with a restaurant car, on his road
to Constantinople. In spite of his admirable
contributions to " the leading journal," he seems
prouder of this guide-book than all his journalistic
work put together.

How many times I have visited Paris ! All my
life. I knew the Gay City in the days of the third
Empire, when Offenbach and Hortense Schneider
reigned supreme at the Varieties. I was at the
first night of "La Grande Duchesse de Gerol-
stein," and saw it reproduced at the St. James's
Theatre, when their present Majesties were in the
Royal Box, and our dear Queen, who was then
our dear Princess, was delighted with the drolleries
of the rise and fall of ex-Commander-in-chief
Private Fritz. I was in Paris just before the
march a Berlin. I was there after the Commune,
when the ruins of the destroyed city were still
smouldering. I have dined later on with Edmund
Yates at the Cafe Anglais, when we enjoyed the
best possible Bisque soup. I have seen all the
Exhibitions from the first in 1855 to the last of a



year or so ago. To the last but one I went in the
company of a number of hfe-long friends, repre-
senting the staff of a paper to which I contributed
every week for a quarter of a century or there-


Chapter IX


IN days gone by it was the tradition to keep
everything connected with Punch a secret.
Those who were summoned to the Bouverie Street
Board were " tiled." But with the pubUcation
of the History of Punch, with the sanction and
assistance of the proprietors and the hearty aid of
the staff, a new regime commenced. Since that
day the secrets of the prison-house, or rather the
stories of the dehghtful banqueting-hall, have been
revealed with the greatest frankness. Certainly
nowadays the public take a deep interest in the
doings of our papers, especially in that paper which
has "the comic" added to its name. For twenty
years it was my duty to see the correspondence of
Punch, and I can testify to the great interest taken
by outsiders in the conduct of the paper. If by
an oversight a joke got into its columns which had
appeared earlier elsewhere, there were always two
or three correspondents to point out the error.
If some clergyman — the clergy were generally the
culprits — had sent in some remotely biblical quip
or crank, there was always a censor ready to de-
nounce any frivolous reference to sacred things.



Only those who have been in the inner circle of
Mr. Punch's offices can fully appreciate the immense
importance the long-established comic paper has
in the eyes of scores, nay, hundreds of its readers.
If there is a variation in the policy, an almanac,
say for instance, produced almost entirely without
letterpress, some rearrangement in the pages of
the advertisements, or the adoption of short stories
in competition with the monthly magazines,
enthusiastic connoisseurs are ready with criticism.
It is a saying in newspaper land that *' change in
a paper is a tacit admission of failure," but such
an assertion is of course confined to the older
generations. The more modern method is to try
everything, in the hope that something will
** catch on " and please the British public.

Punch has not been behind the spirit of the age.
Comparing the current issue with the numbers of
the past, the progress is easily discernible. The
larger size, the more serious turn of thought, the
absence of that objectionable jollity which was
wont to pain the judicious, are latter day features
which no doubt have decided attractions for the
general reader. And the staff themselves, consist-
ing of men who, although well over forty or there-
abouts, have not reached the extreme old age (from
the present century standpoint) of five and fifty, are
quite able to hold their own and more. Speaking
personally, my twenty-seven years spent with
Punch had many compensations. In Bouverie
Street I made many friendships. I shall never
forget the names of Leigh, Tenniel, Taylor, Du

273 s


Maurier, Keene, Millikeii, and Bradbury in the
past ; all of the bearers of these names were kind,
genial, considerate gentlemen. It might perhaps
be invidious to speak of those who still sit round
the mahogany tree that Thackeray immortalized,
and yet I cannot forget the delightful days I have
spent with Sambourne, Guthrie, Lehmann, nay,
all my old comrades with scarcely an exception.
As personal confessions are nowadays popular,
I may say that I have every reason to believe — I
have my doctor's opinion in support — that I am
not worn out, although forced to admit to have
reached and passed the age of twoscore and ten.
Certainly the work of an assistant editor is not
without its anxiety, and may have the effect of
ageing too readily. It will be gathered that my
own experience has shown that a journalist can
do quite well without a holiday. But as a journ-
alist speaking to brother journalists — and nowa-
days the entire British public, so far as I have been
able to judge, writes for the papers — I would
advise moderation in work. Certainly two weeks
in the fifty-two should be devoted to unadulterated
recreation. That I have not followed my own
teaching has nothing to do with it. A doctor is
never expected to take his own physic, and the
man who is guided by his own law is said by
experts to have a fool for a client. But again,
speaking for the benefit of my brother journalists,
taking stock of myself, I cannot say that I am
much the worse for wear. As an instance of this
I may note that, although I had many other



things to do, I knocked off the present volume
within the space of httle more than a fortnight.
I had seen indications that a certain part of the Hfe
of my father — Gilbert Abbott a Beckett, friend
of Thackeray and Dickens, Metropolitan Police
Magistrate, and man of letters, who died half a
century ago — was to be reviewed, and I thought
it advisable to appear as his champion. Not that
the man who died amidst the respect and the
regret of his fellow-countrymen on both sides of
the world — for his name and fame had reached the
antipodes — needed a champion even in the person
of his own son. But his portrait as a devil with
the pleasing likeness of his two friends Douglas
Jerrold as a serpent and Mark Lemon as a potboy
had been unearthed from a scurrilous brochure
and had been given to the world (see the Pall Mall
Magazine of the first quarter of 1903), and I thought
it time to say my say on the chance that the same
line of reminiscences might perchance be con-
tinued. My father had been proud of his title,
a Beckett of Punch, and I have done my best to
show that even when a schoolboy he was a good
journalist, and if in speaking of my father I have
incidentally shown that I have not been altogether
an absolutely unworthy son of such a sire, so much
the better.

But having said this, I hasten to add that I have
done my utmost to avoid wearying my readers by
becoming a bore. An author with a purpose or a
man with a grievance is usually a nuisance, so I
have tried to be as entertaining as I can by telling



stories, old and new. I hear it said on all sides
that the public taste points at present in the direc-
tion of anecdotage. My excellent friend Mr. T. P.
O'Connor has certainly made a great success with
his papers, which depend to a large extent for their
popularity on reminiscences. Again, I have re-
cently found that in a paper it has been necessary
for me to create — in spite of evidence to the con-
trary, one must live — short stories in paragraphs
are immensely popular. So I have tried in this
volume to combine the purpose with the paragraph.
Years ago I published a series in a paper called
" How Things are Done," and this is how this
thing has been done. In the same periodical, by
the way, I wrote a second series called " Written on
the Spot," which consisted of papers that never
were written on the spot. How can one write on
the spot during a shipwreck or in a battle charge,
for instance ? An artist can draw on the spot,
one knows from the pictures that appear in the
illustrated papers. Was it not Keene who had
that delightful cut in dear old Punch showing an
artist, kept from sinking by a lifebelt asking for a
piece of india-rubber as he wanted to alter a
sketch he was making of a sinking vessel ? So I
return to my muttons — let us hope no one will
write "chestnuts."

The task at the Punch Table, the way Punch
cartoons are settled, and the art of it, in my humble
opinion have been done to the death. Then there
have been lectures on Punch. I myself gave one
— by consent of the proprietors — a few years ago



in aid of a hospital fund. I was naturally a little
nervous, as I had never appeared on a lecture
platform before. My friends the proprietors of
Punch had kindly allowed me to use any illustra-
tions I pleased, and I had collected about a hun-
dred. But I had been warned that when once I
got into the dark with only the disc I should have
to trust to my memory. So I carefully prepared
the lecture, and bought a small lantern to test the
shdes. I thought it well to have a rehearsal, so I
got my younger son to see to the views while I
spoke. There was one other member of my
audience, my wife. I began my lecture. The gentle-
man with the lantern murmured. ** What's the
matter ? " I asked. " I think that is an old joke,"
replied my son. " Oh, is it ? " and went on with
the lecture. Another sign of dissatisfaction.
This time from the lady of the trio. '* What's the
matter ? " "I don't think I would say that,
dear." *' Oh, wouldn't you ? " and I went on with
my lecture. But these interruptions annoyed me,
and I got very angry, raising and raising my voice,
and by the next morning was so hoarse that I
could scarcely speak, and the next day was that
fixed for the lecture. I faced the audience, and
then another contretemps happened. I had to put
my handkerchief to my nose. I stopped my
lecture, fortunately seeing the secretary of the
association near at hand. '' Ladies and gentle-
men," I said, '* I must now pause for a few minutes,
as your secretary wishes to make an announcement
of much importance." And I quitted the plat-



form. " What did you say about me ? " asked the
secretary. " I have no announcement to make."
" You must," I replied. " Don't you see that I
have haemorrhage at the nose ? " So on wenttlie
secretary, while I applied the customary remedies,
a cold key down the back and so on. The haemor-
rhage fortunately soon yielded to treatment and
I was able to resume my place on the platform.
Subsequently I asked what statement the secretary
had made. " I don't know," was the sad reply,
" I talked for three or four minutes against time,
but I can't remember what it was all about, and I
hope my forgetfulness will be shared by the
audience." I got through my lecture successfully,
but fancy those present were better pleased with
the pictures of Tenniel, Keene, Du Maurier, Phil
May, Partridge, Leech, and Raven Hill than my
yarns about how the cover came to be changed four
or five times. Stay, it is only right to add that
when the lecture was over my old friend Sir Henry
Thompson was kind enough to say that he had
never been more interested in a lecture in his life.
But in spite of this commendation by an expert
in good stories — for has not all the intellectual
world dined at the Octaves in Wimpole Street ? —
I will not give the chat of the banqueting-room
year by year, much less week by week. I have a
collection of autograph letters, and as I run through
them they may inspire me with suggestions.
Their faded ink may call to recollection under
what circumstances they came to be written.
Here is one from the late Sir John Holker —



'' May 7, 1881.
" My dear a Beckett, —

" I have been to the Carlton Club and everybody
says that Salisbury is the man. Vide also St.
James's Gazette of this evening.

" Yours very truly,

" John Holker."

The occasion I recollect was concerning the
leadership of the Conservative party in the House
of Lords. The subject chosen was the " Judgment
of Paris." Who was to be Venus ? And here
we have a proof of the difficulty of prophesying
unless you know. The cartoons of a comic paper
have to be settled, drawn and engraved or pro-
cessed seven days before they are published. So
on every Wednesday the seers of Bouverie Street
and 5, Henrietta Street look into the middle of
next week. I remember hurrying to my friend
Jack Holker, and getting him to promise to get me
the necessary information if he could, and in the
week he was able to send me the above letter.

Here is another letter of a different kind written
to me by a very old friend of mine, Mr. T. H. S.
Escott, who succeeded me as editor of the Glow-
worm, and wrote admirable articles (which would
bear republication) in my first magazine, the

" 38, Brompton Crescent, S.W.

" March 29, 1883.
" My dear a Beckett, —

" Will you kindly write a par. for the World,



about Mrs. Forbes Winslow and Lady Barrington?

" Yours,

"T. H. EscoTT."

This is a peep behind the scenes, showing the
work of a newspaper office. As a rule every
celebrity of the smallest importance has an
obituary notice set up and ready to be used at a
moment's notice. Most of them commence, " We
regret to announce the death of so and so, which
took place " — and here comes a blank. During
the jubilee of Punch I was asked by the editor of a
well-known illustrated paper to write the obituary
notice of one of my best loved Bouverie Street
colleagues. I objected : it was too grim an idea.
" What nonsense! " said the editor, " your notice
won't kill him. He will never read it ! " But I
could not get over my scruples to " join their
funeral party," as the editor pleasantly put it, so
I suppose my friend's obituary notice has been
written by some other pen. On the occasion
referred to by Mr. Escott the courtesy of Edmund
Yates was particularly shown. He knew that
Mrs. Forbes Winslow, who had died early in March,
was a lady I held in the highest esteem, not only
as the widow of my father's greatest friend, the
late Forbes B. Winslow, M.D., D.C.L. (Hon.)
Oxon., but as the mother of my wife. Lady Bar-
rington was her neighbour in Cavendish Square.
Of course I promptly obeyed orders.

Here is another letter. It is written by the late
Lord Leighton.



'' 2, Holland Park Road,
" Kensington.
" Dear Mr. a Beckett, —

" I shall be very happy to show you my picture
on Sunday next — after three.

" Yours sincerely,

** Fred. Leighton."

I recollect this was in anticipation of Show
Sunday. I wanted to see Sir Frederick too about
the Royal Academy banquet. I was editing the
Sunday Times, and, do all we would, the Burlington
House authorities would only open their doors to
the Times representative. I have referred to this
matter in another place. I remember I had a long
chat with Sir Frederick, and that he was most
sympathetic. He said he was entirely in favour
of inviting reporters to be present as at any other
public function. But I subsequently heard that
in spite of his advice the powers that were refused
to alter their attitude. To this day only the Times
representative is permitted to be present on behalf
of the Press. However, nowadays amongst the
general company appear the names of the editors
of the principal papers. It is a kind of concession,
but not a very valuable one so far as the Press is
concerned. The editors are there as distinguished
individuals in their personal capacity — not as repre-
sentatives of the papers of which they are the

Here is another recalling the memory of a most
charming lady whose portrait appeared in Figaro



in London as " Ariel," but who, when I knew her,
was a grandmother —

" 26, Mortimer Street,

"March 18, 1876.
" My dear Mr. a Beckett, —

" Will any day after next Wednesday suit you
as well for our chat ? Mr. Reed has just lost a
brother, and of course that unsettles us till after
the funeral, which takes place next Wednesday;
Friday, if convenient to you, any time before three,
would suit us, or even Thursday before one o'clock.
Perhaps you will let me know ?
" Sincerely yours,

" Priscilla Reed."

This was from Miss Horton, who had married
Mr. German Reed and produced the once cele-
brated Mr. and Mrs. German Reed's Entertain-
ments. I was one of the stock authors, and a new
piece was needed — not that it ever was called a
piece, that would have been too much for the
audience, who prided themselves (most of them)
upon never entering a theatre. The respected
lady to whom Mr. Escott referred, for instance,
had a rooted objection to visiting a theatre, even
the opera, and yet was quite ready to go to the
St. George's Hall. The plays were called " First
parts " or " Second parts," and the " books of the
words " gave a precis of the stories, with every
character introduced as " Illustration." The
company was a very small one, Mrs. German Reed



(a hostess in herself), her husband (who was an
admirable musician and a fairly good actor), first
John Parry, and then R. Corney Grain, and then
a tenor and a young lady. Miss Fanny Holland
was for many years the leading singer. Then
came Arthur Cecil Blunt, who was for a long while
a member of the tiny company. Sometimes
actor-managers are a little thoughtless. The
German Reeds were a pattern of kindness and
courtesy. The above letter speaks for itself.

Here is another letter which has a particular
interest to me —

"Archbishop's House,

" Westminster, S.W.

''Feb. 17, 1887.
"My dear Mr. a Beckett, —

" I shall be most happy to see you this afternoon
before 5 o'clock, or to-morrow morning before i.
To make sure I will say lo-J.

" Believe me,
"Always faithfully yours,
"Henry E., Cardinal Archbishop."

This was from Cardinal Manning. I wanted to
see him upon a matter which I had very near at
heart. In common with all her subjects, I had
the deepest veneration for Her Majesty the late
Queen Victoria. It was in Her Majesty's honour
that I got up the "Masque of Flowers" at Gray's
Inn, and it was in her honour that I organized
(being subsequently assisted by the late Sir Walter


Besant and his friends, Sir William Robinson and
Sir Arthur Trendell) the Queen's Eightieth Birthday
Celebration Committee, of which I was hon.
secretary. Like all her subjects, I wanted to do
Her Majesty honour, and it occurred to me that
if the Church to which I belonged would join in
the chorus of praise, it would be a good thing.
So I sought an interview with Cardinal Manning,
and met, as usual, with a prompt response. I

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 17 of 21)