Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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himself airs and them none." This feeble joke gave
unUmited delight to the two editors. For ever
afterwards Mr. \Vhalley was known as the author
of the " Triple jeu de mots." On December 13,
1828, an editorial banquet was reported. It was
described as being of " dazzling and dreamy magni-
ficence," to which had been invited the friends and
male contributors to their work. From the em-
phasis on the " male " it would appear that ladies
were also on the staff. After announcing them-
selves, the editors call attention to the presence of a
noble marquis, " whose name we could not learn,"
" the archbishop," and "the author of the ' Triple
jeu de mots.'" The report continues, "The hall in
which the dinner took place presented a perfect
scene of enchantment, for as the editors had deter-
mined to devote the whole of the enormous profits
of the publication to this one occasion several
ruined noblemen had actually been brought over
from the continent incognito for the sole purpose of
devising extravagances." The description is very
amusing. " From the ceiling depended three
chandeliers of real emerald, each supported by a
chain of golden circled hair culled from the brows
of all the poetesses of England." After the chair-
man had proposed the toast of the sovereign,



" Crito " rose and ^'proposed success to The Censor
with 999 times 999, and after the arithmetician en-
gaged for the occasion had calculated the required
number of hips the toast was drunk amid the most
hearty cheering and plaudits ever heard within the
island of Great Britain." Then the author of the
" Triple jeu de mots" proposed the Editor, and after
the response (fully reported) palanquins glided into
the banquet room ; " into these the Editors grace-
fully threw themselves^ in which state they were
conveyed to their respective mansions, and in a few
minutes the once crowded and illumined hall was
dark and desolate." The account is delightful
reading and wonderfully clever considering that
it was the work of a boy in his teens.

My father was dramatic censor, and wrote on
April 4, 1829 : " We enter upon this portion of
our work not without regret, conscious that we
are addressing our readers (at least through the
columns of The Censor) for the last time." Gilbert
Abbott a Beckett had no intention of abandoning
the field of journalism. By this time his elder
brother was studying at Lincoln's Lm, on the
road to a call to the Bar, while Thomas Turner
(his immediate senior) had settled down to work
at Golden Square. The Censor stopped with the
sixteenth number, and William a Beckett, the
future Chief Justice, gathered together his verse
and published A Volume of Poems, by Sforza,
with the kind assistance of Messrs. Hurst and
Chance, of St. Paul's Churchyard. This was in
1828 — sixty years afterwards Messrs. Hurst and



Blackett were publishing for me in Great Marl-
borough Street. And by the way, I may note
that my father adopted in The Censor the nom
de guerre (I should like to write nom de plume,
as it seems more appropriate) of " Bertie Vyse,"
a signature I assumed when I wrote my earliest
comedy for the Royal Court Theatre, "About
Town" some thirty years ago. Moreover, I fol-
lowed in my father's footsteps, succeeding him
in his creation of " Mr. Briefless " as his son,
" A. Briefless, Junior." The three young editors
of The Censor parted company, but William kept
long in touch with his younger brother. When
he was a dignified Chief Justice in Melbourne he
contributed to and, I believe, helped to found,
the Melbourne Punch. Through his recommenda-
tion my father wrote a London letter for one of
the Australian papers — I fancy the Melbourne
Argus — and now for nearly a century a Becketts
have been doing their best to keep up the prestige
of their name on both sides of the world. The
eldest son of "Sforza" diedonly the other day. He
inherited from his grandfather the love of genealogy,
and was said to be the best amateur herald at the
antipodes. When he left England — it turned out
to be for the last time — he spoke of a package
he proposed taking with him. " I am going to
have it stowed below, since I shan't want it
on the voyage." " What is it ? " I asked. " Some-
thing to surprise them with over yonder," said
he with a laugh : "a hatchment." He actually
was making arrangements for his own funeral !



Poor fellow ! W.A.C. he was called (William
Arthur Callender) was a good sort. He was
eccentric, but a very clever fellow. During the
Gavan Duffy Ministry he represented the Govern-
ment of Victoria in the Upper House.

My friend, Mr. M. H. Spielmann, in The History of
Punch, has devoted much time to the considera-
tion of the founders of Punch. He has given the
world his views upon the originator of the title
and the earliest composition of the staff. I do
not wish to introduce any very contentious matter
in this volume. My desire is to be faithful to its
title, The d Becketts of ''Punch " — Memories of
Father and Sons. The late Gilbert Abbott a
Beckett is the father, and I am a son. My
father contributed to the first number of Punch,
and wrote regularly without a week's break until
the day of his death, August 30, 1856. I began
to write for the paper some eighteen years later,
and continued my work until June 4, 1902. My
father was on Punch for fifteen years, I for eight-
and-twenty ; so between us we were on the staff
for forty-three years — a fairly long record for
two generations. Then besides my father and
myself, there was my brother Gilbert, who joined
after I had been received at the table, and sent
his last copy from his death-bed. And my elder
brother, in the days of Mark Lemon's editorship,
had sent a few articles to Punch, which appeared
in the paper some time between 1856 and 1874,
so that the connexion of the a Becketts with
Punch was maintained in the pause between one



generation passing away and another growing
up to take its place. But I repeat, I have no wish to
introduce very contentious matter into this vohime.
I wish to show how my father came to join the
staff of Punch, and do not desire to discuss whether
he founded it. He certainly was a contributor
to the first number, was the friend and school-
fellow of Henry Mayhew, the co-editor with
Sterling Coyne, and Mark Lemon and the printer
Last. The printer I have named I met myself,
and he spoke of my father with great respect.
" He was a very clever man, sir, and brought out
a lot of my papers," said he, when I, as Secretary
of the Strand Printing and Publishing Company,
Limited, was making arrangements for the pro-
duction of the Gloumorm. " And so you are his
son, are you, sir ? Well, for the sake of your
father, I wish you luck." And in this connexion
I am reminded that my first and only chat with
Henry Mayhew was in connexion with Last and
the Glowworm. In its proper place I propose to
tell the story (an amusing one) of the rise and fall
of the Glowworm, but here it may be appropriate
to mention under what circumstances I came
across Henry Mayhew. Joseph Last had been
engaged by the Directors of the Company to which
I refer to print the paper. We were some months
in making our preparations, and to fill up the
time Last produced and published a periodical,
The Shops and Companies of Great Britain. I
am afraid that prompt payment to the contributors
was not the order of the day, for continually our



Board Room (where I sat in state) was bombarded
by angry authors demanding at any rate a cheque
on account. I was then about twenty, and
inclined to be conciHatory, I used to permit my
angry visitors to say what they hked to my dis-
paragement, and then explain that I and my
Board had nothing to do with their grievances ;
upon this they apologised. I replied, " Not at
all," and then they withdrew in some confusion.
However, the incidents were not absolutely of a
pleasant character, so " my Board " gave direc-
tions that no one connected with The Shops and
Companies of Great Britain was to be permitted
on the premises of the Strand Printing and Pub-
lishing Company, Limited. I had noticed on
my way to the Board Room a gentleman with
very pronounced features standing behind the
counter in the publishing department ; full of zeal I
asked the publisher for the name of this gentle-
man, and learned that he was connected with
The Shops and Companies of Great Britain. " And
what is his name ? " I asked. The reply was that
he was the celebrated Mr. Henry Mayhew, whose
work on London Labour and the London Poor was
one of the books of the season. I approached my
visitor, and asked him if he would kindly follow
me to my room. Mr. Mayhew bowed his head,
and allowed me to usher him into our Board
Room. I begged him to take a chair. " Mr.
Henry Mayhew," said I, ''it is a great honour
for me to have the pleasure of making your
acquaintance, but unfortunately I have a painful



duty to perform. I am the Secretary of the
Strand Printing and Pubhshing Company, and
have received orders from my Directors that no
one connected with a publication called The
Shops and Companies of Great Britain is to be
permitted on the premises. Now, I know you
wrote London Labour and the London Poor, a most
admirable work, my dear sir, a most admirable

** You are very good," said Henry Mayhew,

"And I know what you did in Punch, 3.nd how
you were connected with Figaro in London."

" Oh, you got that from Mr. Last, who was
associated with both. But what do you want
with me ? "

" Well, Mr. Mayhew, if you are connected with
The Shops and Companies of Great Britain — ^for
it's sake I hope you are, for ours I hope you are
not — it is my painful duty to request you to retire,
or, to quote the words of the resolution, ' to put
you out.' "

I never in my life saw any one quite so angry.
He anathematised me in English first, and then
in a foreign language. I felt that he was calling
down the vengeance of heaven on my devoted
head. Then he suddenly asked for my name,
I presume to give further emphasis to his denuncia-
tion. I gave it. He started and became quite

" Not the son of Gilbert Abbott a Beckett ? "

" Yes, Mr. Mayhew, he was my father,"



" Your father was my dearest and oldest friend,
and you want to order me off the premises."

" No, I don't, Mr. Mayhew ; I am only obeying
the instructions of my directors."

" Well, yes, I see," said he. " You are very
like your poor father." Then he shook hands with
me, walked to the door, and opened it. Then he
turned round. *' Good-bye, my boy, and good
luck. But give this answer to your Board —
D n your Directors ! "

To return to my father ; at the mature age
of one-and-twenty he started Figaro in London.
In this paper I think we can trace the germs of the
coming Punch. It was suggested by a Parisian
prototype. In his preface to the first volume for
the year 1832,* my father wrote : " On the com-
pletion of our first volume we cannot help deviating
for a moment from our customary course of
modesty, and congratulating ourselves on the
success that up to this triumphant point has
attended us. Ever since we first made our
appearance in London we have been ' Figaro here !
Figaro there ! Figaro everywhere ! ' We did not
hope for a more favourable reception than attended
our prototype in Paris, but we have the pleasing
satisfaction of knowing by a return lately made
of the circulation of the French newspapers, that
Figaro in London sells more than four times the
number of its namesake in the French capital.
For this proud pre-eminence we feel we are in-
debted chiefly to the zeal with which we have
used our razor for the public good, and to the



liberality of those for whom we have so fearlessly-
wielded our formidable little weapon. It would
be indecent in us to exult over the demise of
one, and all those innumerable imitators which
our success tempted into ephemeral existence,
but in a preface (our annual opportunity for
indulging in egotism) we cannot refrain from
thanking the public for the singularly elevated
position its favour has awarded us."

Here we have the Figaro in London founded
on the Paris Figaro, as nine years later we find
the London Charivari founded on the Paris
Charivari. Next the scheme of Figaro in London
was the scheme of Punch, as it had for its chief
feature the large cut which dealt with the politics
of the week ; more than this, the editorial inspired
the cartoonist of Figaro in London as the editorial
inspired the cartoonist of Punch. Further, we
have the common link of the printer who knew
the staff of Figaro in London (in its later volumes)
and the printer of Punch in its earliest. The
editor of Figaro in London was my father, helped
by Henry Mayhew, his schoolfellow at West-
minster ; the editor of Punch, in conjunction with
Mark Lemon and Sterling Co^me, was Henry
Mayhew. Figaro in London closed its career
in 1839 ; Punch began in 1841. My father
severed his connexion with Figaro in London at
the end of the third volume. For years it con-
tinued, but fell from its high estate into a rather
obscure theatrical print. Quite at the close my
father was invited to try to revive it. It was too



late, but he was connected with it until 1839,
on the best of terms with Henry Mayhew and in
close touch with Joseph Last. It ceased. Then
in 1841 out came Punch, associated with Last,
Henry Mayhew and my father. I do not wish to
introduce very contentious matter into this volume,
but does this not tend to prove that my father
was practically the originator of Punch ? I
venture to suggest that it is something more than
filial piety that induces me to adopt this view.

The appearance and great success of Figaro in
London produced a number of imitators, and I
have seen it suggested that some of these rivals,
for instance, Punchinello in London, was the
original of Punch. However, this idea is nega-
tived by a paragraph under the heading " Notice
to Correspondents," which appeared on February
23, 1832. I quote it : "A new disease has lately
sprung up in the periodical world, for which we
hardly know how to find a name. It consists
of a strange goiU for imitating our work, and we
shall therefore call it ' Figaro-mania.' Several
cases have recently occurred, and of course a
number of deaths, and though the disease is
intended to be catching, it has not been found to
take. It has lately grown to so great an extent
that we think of giving a weekly report in imitation
of the plan adopted by the papers with regard
to the cholera. For example : Remaining at
last report, 10. Deaths — The Patriot, The Figaro
in Birmingham, The Critical Figaro, The Literary
Test, and The English Figaro. New cases, 3.



All very desperate, and almost certain next week
to be included among the deaths. Remaining up
to this date, 8. Recoveries, none.'* After a
pause of three weeks my father continued his
report. After referring to a new case which he
described as hasty and malignant, he wrote :
" Remaining at last report, 8. New cases, 4.
Deaths, TJie Devil's Walk in London and Life in
London. Total from commencement, 18. Deaths
from the commencement, 8. Remaining at the
present date, 10. Recoveries, none." In the
number for March 31, 1832, my father continues :
" The Figaro-mania is, we are glad to see, on the
decline. There has only been one new case, and
that will we have no doubt meet with a speedy
termination. There have been two deaths, one
of which has all along been anticipated by us ; and
indeed the poor thing has lingered much longer
than could have been expected. Remaining at
last report, 10. New cases, i. Deaths, Giovanni
in London and the Illnstrious Stranger. Recover-
ies, none." On April 7, 1832, my father wrote :
** We proceed to our report of the Figaro-mania,
which is, we hope, the last wdth which our readers
will be troubled. Remaining at last report, 9.
New cases, o. Deaths, Punchinello, WeeJdy Visitor
and New Figaro. Recoveries, none. In closing
our report, we have to state that we feel no unbe-
coming exultation over the defeat of a rival.
Gross indelicacy we have already protested against,
scurrility we despise, and want of culture we pity.
We feel therefore no compassion for any of the



works that are now deceased, with the exception
of Punchinello and the Weekly Visitor, both of
which were free at least from the two first
imperfections." My father kept his word ; no
further report was pubhshed, and an apology
offered to the editor of the Illustrious Stranger
for announcing the death of his periodical. But,
as my father added, " the statement was only
premature " — a fact that was proved in the
event. I think we may take it from the above
that Figaro in London was the original of its own
class of publications, and its imitators came to

As I consider Figaro in London the immediate
precursor of Punch, I ask permission to say some-
thing more about this wonderful literary work.
But here I may observe that it seems to me that
the reason my father did not wish to venture
upon the proprietorial side of Punch was because
he preferred a small certainty to a large prospective
profit. He was on the most excellent terms with
his colleagues. Under these circumstances I
think there is something in the suggestion that
Gilbert Abbott a Beckett was the originator of

It is interesting to notice how a feud is carried
on from paper to paper. I have already traced
the attack upon Charles Kean in Punch to Figaro
in London, and I find that the attack upon the
poet Bunn which ended, so far as Punch was
concerned, in a venomous brochure, had also its
origin in the earlier paper. His initial description



is "a small and raving mad amateur," and from
time to time the references to him are the reverse
of complimentary. But turning over the pages
of Figaro in London, and remembering that they
were written by a lad only one-and-twenty, one
cannot but be struck by the absence of malice and
the presence of good nature which characterises
them. They are full of chaff — schoolboy chaff —
but there is no offence in a line of them. They are
absolutely pure. Punch has been able to boast
that a girl might read it from cover to cover with-
out hurt to her modesty. The same assertion
might have been made by the editor of the first
three volumes of Figaro in London. But while
this can be said in his favour^ I find that he pays
off old scores. He goes for Preston, the second
master of Westminster School. He gives a notice
to the Westminser Play of 1833, and refers to the
pedagogue as follows : " The second master,
old Preston, whom we remember ever since we
recollect the school itself, has been doing a bit
of wit in the shape of an epilogue, in which he
attempts to satirise criticism, but he should
confine himself to his old trade of flogging boys,
leaving the flagellation of critics to a more skilful
wielder of the tomahawk. There is a great deal
of merit due to a man who, at his time of life,
tries to be funny ; for the utmost wit he ever was
guilty of is the stale classic pun of Caesar venit
in Galliani summa diligentia, which old P., with
a self-important chuckle, used to translate thus :
Caesar came into Gaul on the top of the diligence.



This joke is nearly as old as Queen Elizabeth
(whose health, by the bye, the sapient West-
minsters still continue to drink once per annum),
and Preston shows a facetious animus, and that
must atone for the horrible* antiquity of his
witticisms." Here we have the scholar with
recollections of probably well-deserved punish-
ments going for his at-one-time tyrant. He refers
to him as "old Preston" and his love of flogging
boys, and the writer is scarcely out of his teens.
But in spite of his absolutely irresponsible attacks
upon those he singles out for censure, he has his
friends whose work he chooses out for the heartiest
commendation, and amongst them I am glad to
find the name of Douglas Jerrold. I have seen
it said that my father and his comrade on Punch
were on bad terms at this period of their lives,
and that the author of " Black-eyed Susan " actually
ran a paper in opposition to Figaro. If he had,
my father would certainly have chaffed him in his
own paper. But all through the pages of Figaro
in London there is but one tone about Douglas
Jerrold — the key-note of praise and respect.
Yes — " Douglas " and ' ' Gil " were friends, in spite of
an occasional passage of arms over the mahogany
tree in Bouverie Street. My father and Thackeray
were fast friends, and the latter did not get on
with Douglas Jerrold. Thus it may have come
to pass that my father did not keep up the old
friendship that saw its origin in the days of " The
Rent Day " and Figaro in London. But there was
a complete reconciliation the year of my father's

33 c


death. It was the only thiie I saw Douglas
Jerrold to my recollection, although he may have
been amongst those who were asked to lo, Hyde
Park Gate, South, to meet Mr. Thackeray. It
was the custom of my father and mother to take
us children to Boulogne, leave us there with our
nurses, and then start off for a short trip up the
Rhine or into Switzerland or Italy, returning
via Boulogne to take us home. My father and
mother had returned rather earlier than their
custom, so as to spend a week at the French
watering-place. The heat had been terrible,
and I remember that the sands in front of the
Casino (then called the Etablisment des Bains)
was the favourite meeting place. I remember
seeing Douglas Jerrold chatting with my father,
and I remember him addressing himself to me.
In another page I have referred to this meeting.
Here I may say it marked the perfect reconcilia-
tion between two old friends. Very shortly
afterwards my father died from what was then
known as " Boulogne sore throat," but which
now is called diphtheria. Douglas Jerrold wrote
the obituary notice in Punch, recording my
father's service — a record that was placed on my
father's tombstone in Highgate Cemetery. It is
delightful for me to think that my father left no
enemies. Of course I remember him at home as
the most affectionate husband and father, but
I had to trace him to Bouverie Street through
other eyes and ears. Of all the men who sat
round the Punch table with my father, but one



remains, my dear old friend Sir John Tenniel.
He has told me that my father was very quiet
and greatly liked. He pulled his weight in the
boat in the settlement of the cartoon, and gener-
ally said the best thing of the evening. But he
was very reserved and even nervous, in spite of
his long service, his close friendship with Lemon,
Leech and Thackeray. This description of my
friend Sir John has been confirmed by the only
original member of the Punch staff who survived
until recent times — Percival Leigh. He told me
before he died that from first to last my father
was loved. He quarrelled with no one, and speak-
ing when the occasion needed, was generally
silent. Perhaps it may be a proof of heredity
that my brother Gilbert, when he joined the staff
on the invitation of the present editor of Punch,
was also reserved, silent and beloved. My brother,
however, was a great invalid, and unable to stand
the sometimes rude chaff that was frequently
the specialite de la maison in Bouverie Street.
Speaking for myself, I fancy I was cheerful
enough when I first joined the table, but as my
old friends died off and new ones took their places.
I found that I was not quite so cheerful. In the
absence of the present editor, it was my duty
to take his place, and then I used to pull myself
together, and try to lead the conversation, as
Tom Taylor did to my knowledge, and as I have
always heard did Shirley Brooks and Mark
Lemon. But in the later days there was some-
thing wanting. So found Charles Keene — so



found du Maurier. I must confess that in the
days of my father's old friend, Tom Taylor, the
esprit de corps of the Punch table was unique.
During the course of this volume I may perhaps
say something about the decay of that esprit de
corps, although I have the strongest desire to
write nothing of a controversial character.

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 2 of 21)