Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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was ushered in, and found my dear friend looking
far from well. He met me with his customary
smile, and, referring to the interview we had had
some twenty years ago, said —

'* Well, Mr. a Beckett, have you come to offer
me another sporting paper ? "

** No, your Eminence," I replied, " I have not.
But I have a scheme to lay before you that I hope
will be more practicable."

" I hope so too."

But, alas ! it was not. My idea was that no
crowned head had ever deserved " the Golden
Rose " so thoroughly as Her Majesty Queen
Victoria. I suggested that it would be a grand
thing, both for our Church and our Sovereign if
" the Golden Rose " could be bestowed upon
Queen Victoria. Cardinal Manning was very
sympathetic. He took a deep interest in the
matter. Could it be done ? As to the personal
claim there was no doubt. Never had a better
woman lived. As Queen, wife, and mother, she
had merited universal respect. And now, at the
close of her long blameless and honoured life, the



peoples of the world — yes, outside, but including
her own subjects — were willing to honour her, full
of affection and veneration. Would not the Church
of Rome, which had conferred upon her ancestor
her proudest title, " Defender of the Faith," do
something to associate itself with the universal
acclamation ?

" ' The Golden Rose ' ! " said the Cardinal. " It
would be a grand thing if the Holy Father would
bestow upon Her Majesty * the Golden Rose.' "

We discussed it. The Cardinal told me that
the late Pope Leo XIII had a deep personal friend-
ship for the late Queen. They had met at Brussels,
where the Holy Father had been Papal Nuncio,
and the future Pope used to sit next Her Majesty
at dinner. There was this difficulty. " The
Golden Rose had never been bestowed upon a sove-
reign outside the pale of the Church. But, I
argued, there had been no active attack upon the
Church. The Queen had been brought up in the
faith of her forefathers for some generations.
Would that get over the difficulty ? The Cardinal
said he would think it over and see what could be
done. Then there were the pains and penalties
of premunire. Could the Queen safely accept
*• the Golden Rose " from the'^' Bishop of Rome ? "

" I should like to see any one object ! " I ex-
claimed. " I can speak for the Press : why, there
would be a shout of execration from Fleet Street
to — to everywhere ! "

" Ah ! there spoke the journalist, Mr. a Bec-
kett," commented the Cardinal ; " you are not



leading up to repeating your offer about the
Glowworm ? "

When I left him the Cardinal Archbishop said
that he would see what could be done. The idea
was quite good, and he was sure that the Holy
Eather, if he could, would adopt it. To a recep-
tion given by Cardinal Manning to Monsignor
Persico, the Papal Legate, I was invited. The
monsignor had brought with him a magnificent
mosaic, the gift of the Pope to the Queen. Car-
dinal Manning said a few words to each of his
guests as they greeted him. After I had kissed
his ring he murmured with a smile —

" The dear lady has received a very beautiful
mosaic from Rome. It would have been * the
Golden Rose' had it been possible."

Here is another letter from my friend Sir
Frank Lockwood —

"26, Lennox Gardens,

*^PoNT Street, S.W.

'' July 19, '89.
*^My dear a Beckett, —

"Very many thanks for your book, which I
prize very much. I am glad to be out of the

" Yours ever,

"Frank Lockwood."

The book to which my friend referred was a
reprint from Punch of my Briefless articles, under
the title of Papers from Pump-Handle Court.



The Commission was the Parnell Commission,
which had a fascination for me. Punch had claimed
a seat at the reporters' desk, which had been
granted, and the present editor had commissioned
me to report thereon. During the course of the
inquiry I was in constant touch with Frank
Lockwood, who was continually sending me up
admirable caricatures of the principal personages
in the proceedings. I urged him to send them to
the editor of Punch, but he was very modest and
most reluctant. Some time after the end of the
Commission we had a chat about his drawings.
He wrote me as follows —

''2, Paper Buildings,

''July 7, '90.
''My dear a Beckett, —

"I enclose some very rough ideas of that I men-
tioned to you the other day. If you think Mr.
Reed can make anything out of them I should be
very glad, and could supply him with more. I
have neither the time nor the talent to do any-
thing fit to be seen myself.

''Yours ever,

"Frank Lockwood."

But subsequently I think he did pluck up cour-
age, and some of his ideas went into Punch from
the originals. He was accustomed to send his
friends every year a Christmas card, and all the
designs were delightful. While I was in the Com-



mission Court I heard the cross-examination of
Pigott — a very painful experience. The man,
wlien he was cornered by Sir Charles Russell
— subsequently Lord Russell of Killowen — tried
at first to laugh off the terribly crushing effect of
the questions put to him. He attempted to join
in the merriment of the Court, and then paused.
" Are you not ashamed of yourself ? " asked Sir
Charles. Then the manhood of the witness who
had just given proofs of his perjury made a feeble
effort to assert it, and he expressed indignation
in a trembling voice. It was pitiable. Later on
I was amused to find a very excellent portrait of
myself seated in the background listening to
Pigott, who, to quote a favourite phrase of Sir
Augustus Harris, was the " central figure." It
came about in this way. There was a dispute
about seats, and as Mr. Punch had a place re-
served for his representative, I retained it, much to
the chagrin of a well-known artist, who coveted
my coign of vantage. As a joke he put me in the
same composition with Pigott. I hope I served
as a contrast. I have heard two pieces of the
grandest oratory in my life. And, strange to say,
they both were connected with what may be called
the Irish Question. The first was the address that
Barrett, the Fenian convict of the Clerkenwell
explosion, made to tlie judge when he was called
upon to show cause why he should not be executed.
It was really deeply impressive, and caused the
judge to express genuine regret that so gifted an
orator should have to be condemned to death.



There was not a scrap of bombast in it, and was
the speech of a patriot who had never counted the
cost of his action — had never intended to be a
murderer. The second magnificent burst of
oratory was the peroration of Lord Russell of
Killowen at the end of the Parnell Commission.
When it was over my old chief, the President of
the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division (it
was and still is my division at the Bar), who was
also the President of the Commission, sent a line
to Sir Charles congratulating liim upon his speech.
By the way, it was notable that from first to last
Sir John Day never uttered a word during the
whole of the Parnell Commission. For his reti-
cence his Lordship was called to account by some
of the Press. It must have been difficult for him
to keep silence, because Sir John off the bench was
one of the wits of the day, and there was plenty
of opportunity for a sally during the weary length
of the Commission's sitting. But Sir John from
the first made up his mind not to utter a word,
and he kept to his determination.

Then I come to a letter that leads me to another
train of thought. Here it is —

" 6, Alfred Place West.

^^ Friday.

"Dear Mr. a Beckett, —

" We produce your comedy * About Town ' on
the withdrawal of ' Marriage Lines.' Will it be
convenient for you to read on Monday at i o'clock ?

289 T


If you can look in here on Sunday, I should like
to see you.

''Very sincerely,

"M. Litton."

This referred to the play I had written which
led to my second piece that was called " The
Old Love " and a number of other titles. I re-
member perfectly well going to the Royal Court
Theatre and meeting the company face to face.
I had received a tip from Dion Boucicault, who I
knew intimately — he had written a feuilleton for
the G'owworm — which let me into the secret of
securing the attention of the dramatis personae.

" Look here," said Dion Boucicault, " when you
have to read a piece, take your time. Ask for a
tumbler and a glass of water, putting the script
on the table. Take out your watch and chain and
a notebook, and before you begin look at your
watch. Then make a note of the time in the note-
book, and then you can begin."

I followed the directions of my distinguished
friend with the happiest result. Messrs. Rignold,
Edgar Bruce, Edward Right on, and H. J. Hill were
all attention. So were Miss Litton — who had
heard the piece before — Mrs. Stephens, and Miss
Kate Bishop. I was immensely amused to notice
the demeanour of my company. At first every
one was attentive, waiting to learn what part was
destined for himself. I put the word in the mascu-
line, because all the ladies listened most kindly to
the end with gratifying interest. Then, as the



question of personal identification was answered,
the actors allowed their attention to wander when
they were not on the scene. It was like conduct-
ing an orchestra. The moment my baton-like
voice pointed to the serious lead, then the serious
lead became very attentive, and the rest of the
company looked about them. Then, when the
baton pointed to the junior lead, the serious lead
went off duty, and so on. However, I got through
the reading very pleasantly, acting the parts
according to the best of my ability. I am glad to
say that when the comedy was duly rehearsed the
acting was a considerable improvement on my
original. This was as it should be, for as a young
man I was exceedingly fond of amateur theatricals,
and for a long while enjoyed the reputation of the
worst amateur actor in London, according to the
valuation of my colleagues. I confess I had some
difficulty in learning my lines, but always at-
tempted to get my " cues " all right. When I had
to take a leading part (by order of the Master of
the Revels) in the " Maskeof Flowers" at Gray's
Inn, I partly overcame this difficult}^ As I had
the editing of the play, I so altered it that Invierno
— irreverently termed "Old Father Christmas"
by Mr. Punch — had a scroll brought to him, sup-
posed to contain a message from the Sun. But I
added to this message my own part, carefully
written out. After I got my scroll I was wonder-
fully " easy " with my words. But before the
scroll arrived "Old Father Christmas" was nerv-
ous and unhappy. I am glad to say, or rather



repeat, that " About Town " was quite a success,
and ran for 150 nights — quite a record career in
the early seventies.

And here I must stop. One recollection con-
jures up another, and if I exhausted my stock I
might at the same time exhaust the patience of
my readers. In looking over my correspondence,
I have dealt — with a couple of exceptions — with
the notes of those of my friends who are dead. I
have hundreds from those whose friendship I still
enjoy in the land of the living. They all by their
kindly terms remind me that I have spent the
best years of my life to the satisfaction of pro-
prietors, editors and staff. Should occasion arise
I may have the pleasure in the future of drawing
on my greatly valued store for a companion
volume to the one just completed.

I have called this book The d Becketts 0/ ''Punch."
My father was the first a Beckett of Punch. After
his death my brother came into the title, and after
his death I have had the same title bestowed
upon so unworthy a representative of the a
Beckett intellect as myself. But this I can say,
that whenever the honour has been conferred
upon a member of my family the recipient has
been proud of it, and has done his best to make
the title from the date of its receipt more and more
valuable, until the day has been reached for its
necessary surrender. And I say this on behalf of
my father, my brother, and myself.


chapter X


IT will be seen from what I have written that I have
been a journalist nearly all my life. And this
being the case, it may not be out of place to give an
opinion anent the Press as a profession. To speak
by the card, I suppose writing for newspapers can
scarcely be classed as following a profession. Pur-
ists would insist it was merely plying a calling.
Purists would be right, as the only recognized pro-
fessions are arms, law, divinity, medicine, and music.
Still the Press in a free country like our own ought
to be given a high place in the public esteem.
The journalist can do great good or much evil.
Would it not be as well — in these days of technical
training — to carry the education of journalists a step
further, and found a chair in one of the Universities
with the view to making the training of writers for
the Press much better ? That admirable body, the
Institute of Journalists, have taken a step in this
direction. It is now their plan to invite intending
members to undergo a preliminary examination.
But alas ! the submitting to the test is to be volun-
tary. Those who pass will get certificates which may



be and should be of value to them in their coming
careers. But membership of the Institute will still
be open on the existing terms — he must prove his
claim to the title of Pressman.

I have been led into making this suggeston by the
burning question at this moment agitating "news-
paper land " — the relationship existing between
employer and employed. Could there not be
classes for proprietors, editors, and staffs ? I had
very strong opinions upon the subject when I had
the honour of addressing my fellow -members of
the Institute as their president some years ago.
One of the finest passages in my speech — in my
opinion ; I do not know how far it was shared by
others — was an eloquent defence of the pressman
qua proprietor. I instanced the relations that
had existed in my own case between myself and the
proprietors of Punch. I spoke of the friendship that
had existed between the employers and the employed
for a couple of generations. I was moved almost
to tears by the touching picture of two famihes
living side by side, working side by side. My
friend Spielmann seems to have felt something of
the sort when with characteristic care he drew
in his grand work, The History of "Punchy a
family tree of the contributors to the celebrated
periodical. In this pleasant production the inter-
marriages between the members of the staff were
fully recorded. The general impression left upon
the intelligent reader was that Bouverie Street
not only contained a banqueting hall — but also
could claim to possess a veritable temple of Hymen.



It is true that I could not trace one union between
the famihes of the proprietors and the famihes of the
staff, but that was a detail. In my speech to my fel-
low-members I pointed out what excellent people
proprietors always were. And I still hope they ever
will be. And yet I cannot help feeling that a special
class might be organized^say under the joint auspices
of the Newspaper Society and the Institute of Jour-
nalists, to teach proprietors the duties they owe to
those who serve them so long, earnestly, and faith-
fully. There has been much complaint of late that
men who have devoted the best years of their lives
to journalism have found themselves cast adrift at
middle age — when they have reached fifty — on the
score that younger fellows are required to perform
their duties. I have in my mind the case of one of
the best practical journalists I have ever met being
told to go for no other reason than that he had
reached half a century of years. As this case of dis-
missal was contrary to the traditions of the calling,
my friend had to submit to considerable derange-
ments of his domestic menage. In the days of old
long and faithful service was a recommendation to
continuance in office,and in some cases led even to a
not unmerited retiring annuity. But the modern
view is opposed to this praiseworthy generosity, and
now I fear most should look to Mr. Chamberlain to
include pressmen in his scheme for Old Age Pensions.
No one knows what the dim and distant future may
have in store for him. Other manners, other pro-
prietors. A life may have been spent in the service
of a journal, and one fine day a coming man may



actually airive, and the liver of the life may be asked
to go — with perfect politeness and gratifying expres-
sions of regret — on the score that having turned fifty
he is too old for a journalist, and his place is required
for men with newer ideas. Now, I am not sure there
should not be a class to study this question, to which
proprietors should be admitted for their own sake as
well as for the sake of those they employ. The jour-
nalist of the old school never gave a thought of ask-
ing for an agreement. Like the actor and the play-
wright of half a century ago he trusted the manager,
whose word he considered as valuable as his bond.
Taking my own case, I until quite recently have
never had an agreement in my life. I have edited
a daily paper, several weekly papers, a couple of
magazines, and have never had — until quite recently
— a written agreement concerning the question of
notice, etc., with any of the proprietors. So I know
from my own personal experience there can be un-
businesshke journahsts. I once was describing the
matter to my friend, the late Sir Walter Besant,
and told him that I had never had an agreement in
my life.

" What ! " he exclaimed. " Do you mean to tell
me that you have never taken the ordinary business-
like precaution of providing for the future ? What
would you do, if by some combination of circum-
stances you found yourself without a billet ? "

" But I never should fmd myself without a billet,"
I replied. " As long as I am equal to my work I
shall never lack employment, and if my brain fails
me my friends will look after mc. U 1 attain



extreme old age, no doubt my friends the proprietors
will consider my long and faithful services and give
me a pension if I required one."

" And you are really happy in that belief ? "
asked Sir Walter.

** Absolutely and entirely happy in that behef."

*' Then Heaven keep you."

" Amen/' I replied, and laughed heartily. Sir
Walter looked at me and said —

" You seem to have a great deal of faith in pro-

" Yes," I rephed, " I have. You see, I have been
fortunate enough to find my lines in pleasant places.
My father was one of the founders of Punch, my
brother was also on the staff of Punch. I have
worked for Punch for more than a quarter of a cen-
tury — for over twenty years as senior of the literary
staff after the editor and his locum tenens in his
absence — and I am sure of my position. I have any
number of letters from all concerned proving this
to me."

*' I see, I see," said Sir Walter ; " but supposing
Punch were to stop."

" You are supposing an impossibility."

" I know I am. But for the sake of argument,
supposing it did. What would you do then ? "

" If it pleased God to give me health and strength
I would begin my Hfe again."

But Sir Walter was obstinate. He was a dear,
kind, but extremely opinionated person. He still
insisted that every journalist should have an agree-
ment. And in the light of certain cases that have



come before me — especially in connexion with my
position in the Institute — I am inclined to agree
with him. Yes, perhaps it is as well that every
journahst should have an agreement. It can do no
possible harm and it may do an immensity of

And then in the proposed Press University there
should be lectures for editors. Speaking for myself,
I have done my best when an editor " to behave as
sich." On one occasion a would-be contributor
called upon me and asked me for work. He was a
complete stranger to me. I explained that we really
could not afford to employ him. I told him that
the paper for the sake of economy was practically
written in the office. I never saw any one so sur-
prised and so pleased.

" Well/' said he, clasping my hand, " I cannot
sufficiently thank you for your frank and cordial
explanation. I assure you that some editors have
almost insulted me. They have sent back my copy
sprawled over with blue pencil impertinence. I
have had to have it rewritten because it had become
useless, thanks to the disfigurement. I cannot thank
you sufficiently."

" For what ? "

" For treating me like a gentleman."

" What rot ! " I rephed, I fear not too elegantly.
" My dear fellow, if we can't give you coin we can at
least offer you courtesy."

Then there is another question that might be
dealt with in the proposed lecture to editors — the
return of unsolicited contributions. While I held



the assistant editorship of Punch (" in the days of
my youth," as my friend Mr. T. P. O'Connor might
add) it was part of my duties to examine the nume-
rous letters that were sent to the office containing
suggestions, reproaches, and contributions. I made
it a rule to return articles absolutely useless at once if
they were accompanied by a stamped and addressed
envelope. If they were good enough I submitted
them to the editor, or if I were acting as his locum
tenens dealt with them myself. There was as little
delay as possible considering the letters averaged,
I should judge, about fifty envelopes a day. But
some of the absolutely hopeless amateurs were rather
trying. If they did not get a reply almost by return
post they bombarded *^us" with remonstrances,
and sometimes threatened *' us " with legal proceed-
ings. I know that in some newspaper offices a long
time is taken before the editor answers the would-be
contributor, perhaps too long a time. I qualify the
stricture with a " perhaps " because I know how
soon the baskets devoted to ''Answers to Correspon-
dents " become congested.

Then, of course, the editor should be kind and con-
siderate with his staff. The great man (how often
I have been " a great man " myself !) should remem-
ber that those who call him their " chief " have
domestic arrangements on the same lines as himself.
It is unreasonable to be yourself selfish, and in
my opinion you are scarcely fair to your proprietor
if you overwork your subordinates. A man if he
does not get a fortnight's — nay, I will go so far as to
say three whole weeks' — leave once a year stands a



chance of becoming stale,and consequently unprofit-
able. And really it is to the editor's personal con-
venience to think of his sub. as himself. Besides the
claims of the paper, which are and should be para-
mount in the minds of every one, personal friend-
ships, readiness to evince kindnesses between col-
leagues, are of the greatest possible value in the
wellbeing of an important journahstic venture.
Speaking for myself as an editor past and present,
my relations with all my staff have been invariably
of the most delightful character. And in that staff
I include as a practical working journalist those
most important personages the Printer and the
Reader. If you are on good terms with your printer
— you should be, for they are one and all the best of
fellows — he will do his best to help you. And the
oldest journalist should not be too old to con-
sider suggestions from his printer. The man who
actually makes up the paper can give you many a
valuable hint of " how it will look " when you are
putting the pages together. I remember I was once
the editor of a paper — it was many years ago — when
we used to go down to press at 1.30 p.m. On one
memorable occasion there was a smash of the formes
before they had reached the foundry. But, thanks
to my clever printer and the capital Chapel of Com-
positors at his back, we were only half an hour late.
Oh, how we worked ! The galleys were ransacked
for anything that would do. We got together the
correspondence that had been " standing over " for
twelve months. The compositors set up at express

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 18 of 21)