Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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As I have referred to Figaro in London, it may
be well to set at rest a discussion that has arisen
about the cartoonist Richard Seymour. It has
been said that tliis artist, whose illustrations to
Pickwick were interrupted by his self-inflicted
death, committed suicide on account of a quarrel
he had with my father. Nothing could be more
unfair or ridiculous than such a statement.
Gilbert Abbott a Beckett severed his connexion
with Figaro in London at the end of 1834. Sey-
mour killed himself three years later, and the
quarrel between my father and the cartoonist
was a storm in a teacup. But first let me quote
the preface of the third volume of Figaro in
London, which records my father's connexion
with the paper. Gilbert Abbott a Beckett writes :
" This is the third volume, and closes the publica-
tion as far as the projector and original editor
is concerned, who is no longer responsible for
anything that may appear in any periodical
bearing the title of Figaro. Our labours in this
work comprise three volumes — it being little
more than three years since the first number
of Figaro in London was sent forth, without being
preceded by even one solitary advertisement.

36



EARLY DAYS

Its popularity was soon great, owing, however,
more to the novelty of the plan and the oppor-
tunity given for ridicule by the position of political
parties than to any merit the execution of the
design could boast of. It is gratif3dng to the
editor to feel that he abandons the work from
none but a voluntary cause, and that the public
still patronises the little paper to an extent that
renders it in a pecuniary point of view a sacrifice
to abandon it. The venomous, who are always
sure to be idiotic, will very probably send forth
a stupid cry of obvious and commonplace sar-
casm. This ignorant howl will experience no
contradiction from us. The Figaro is known to
be at this time a very profitable work; and even
if it were not generally known, the publication
of the fact would be to us a matter of utter in-
difference. A thousand surmises cannot over-
turn one fact — which one fact is to us perfectly
satisfactory. We have often alluded to rivals
of this work. We need not say that they have
all long ago departed. We now at once bid our
readers one and all farewell." And with these
last words my father's connexion with Figaro in
London ceased — to be renewed for a brief interval
some five years later, just before the first appear-
ance of Pitnch.

And now as to my father's quarrel with Robert
Seymour. Gilbert a Beckett, as I have said,
was a youngster of one-and- twenty when he took
up the reins of editorship. Seymour was consider-
ably his senior. Accustomed to meet at his

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THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

father's house people of (to quote DisraeU) " hght
and leading," he had not that awe for talent and
age that Seymour would have liked him to possess ;
moreover, he had come from Westminster with
that contempt for those who were not public
school men that young men possess until they
have turned five-and-twenty. So unfortunately
from the first my father was inclined to treat
Seymour in a kind of " Hail fellow, well met! "
spirit that was distinctly repugnant to the artist's
feelings. Probably Seymour allowed Gilbert a
Beckett to see that this feeling of good-fellowship
belonged exclusively to the editor, and consequently
was not shared by the artist. My father evidently
retaliated by praising Seymour's work in Figaro
in London in the most extravagant fashion.

I find as I look through the pages of the paper
that my father was always referring to his col-
league's work as " magnificent," " splendid," and
the like. When ''the Birthday honours" were
announced, my father said that Seymour would
be in the next batch of peers, and so on, and so on.
I can quite believe that this kind of praise, coming
from a youngster just out of his teens, must have
made Robert Seymour very angry. However,
editor and cartoonist had to meet to arrange the
weekly cartoon, and all went fairly well for a
couple of years. At last Seymour could not stand
this extravagant praise any longer, and there was a
quarrel. He told the youngster that he would no
longer discuss with him the subject of the cartoon,
and would send in what he pleased. Gilbert a

38



EARLY DAYS

Beckett smiled^ and waited to see the next draw-
ing. It came, and I have it before me as I write.
It was published on the 30th day of August, 1834.
Lord Chancellor Brougham was represented with
an enormous nose, tearing with that organ a copy
of the Times. He was also snapping his fingers.
From the Times came hands holding pens and
wielding them as daggers. The sum total was
that Brougham was being attacked by the Times,
and did not mind the assault. Up to this date
my father had been writing up to the cartoon,
giving it a title and supporting with the pen the
meaning of the pencil. These attendant articles
had, however, been growing more and more
" chaffy " for some time. Of the cartoon pub-
lished July 19, 1834, i^'^y father had written :
** We, however, refer our readers to the caricature
itself. It must be confessed Seymour delights in
exercising the imagination of the British public,
and with this view confines much of his genius
to the dark and shadowy region of hieroglyphic
mystery." This was scarcely kind. When my
father had the Brougham mystery thrust upon
him he wrote up to it in the following fashion :
Lie began without a heading, and then continued :
" The above caricature is so purely hieroglyphical
that we decline any attempt at explaining it.
The artist when he conceived it must have been
under some strange and baneful influence which
we cannot possibly attempt either to enter or
elucidate. We suspect that he was labouring
under some frightful stagnation of his vital

39



THE a BECKETTS OF "PUNCH"

functions, and the result has been a vivid affair
which we can only describe as a pictorial frenzy.
The fact is that our caricaturist has been so long
and deeply impregnated with the horrible aspect
of political affairs that his mind has at last be-
come in some degree impressed with a hectic
extravagance that has now vented itself in a
caricature, which must take its place by the side
of the grand effect to make which an Italian
painter crucified his own servant that he might
the more forcibly represent the agony on the
Cross, which he had selected for his subject.
Seymour has, as it were, undergone a sort of
mental crucifixion, and the result is the awful
sketch which heads the present number of our
periodical. It would be almost impiety in us to
attempt a solution of the sacred mystery, and we
can only pay a tribute of reverence to the artist's
over-excited imagination and morbid fancy. If,
however, any of our readers can solve the pious
problem, and tell us what the deuce is the meaning
of the above design, we would gladly bestow upon
him a reward of £ioo, for he who solved the
Sphinx would be but a fool in comparison with
the gentleman who can make head or tail of the
caricature that surmounts the present article."
Naturally a row followed, and Seymour refused
to send in further work to the paper. Now,
strange to say, something very hke this happened
in Punch about a quarter of a century ago. My
friend Mr. Linley Sambourne sent in a cartoon
without an explanation, and the present editor

40



EARLY DAYS

" wrote up " to it in the same spirit as my father
wrote up to Seymour's pious problem. But the
chaff of the present editor of Punch was more
genial than the chaff of my father. Linley Sam-
bourne laughed and enjoyed the joke. Seymour
frowned and had a quarrel. But it is simply
ridiculous to suggest that three years afterwards
this incident (which, by the way, ended with the
resignation by my father of the editorship) so
weighed upon his mind that he committed suicide.
Seymour was pompous ; my father was not blessed
with the organ of veneration. Had my father
stood in awe of great personages, the Comic
Histories of England and Rome would never have
been written. Seymour hated chaff; my father
loved it. The successful and pompous artist met
the typical public school boy, not caring a jot
for any one, and the result was a quarrel. If I
had been Seymour I should have anticipated
the precedent set by Mr. Linley Sambourne, and
treated the incident as a good or even a bad joke.
But always as a joke. Seymour went on his way,
and picked out Charles Dickens as a suitable
person to write up to his sporting adventures.
My father busied himself with play-writing, and
gave up Figaro in London. Then after three
years' work Seymour commits suicide. A great
many things had happened since August 30, 1834
(the death day of my father twenty-two years
later), and much water had flowed under the
Pont Neuf. I repeat, it is ridiculous, it is wicked
to suggest that the incident in the Figaro in any

41



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

way led to Seymour's death. Of the dead, let
there be said nothing but good things, but I have
always felt that Seymour treated my father, the
boy of one-and-twenty, badly. The quarrel led
to my father's resignation of what was his liveli-
hood. And what did he do ? Why, he faced the
future bravely, worked his hardest as a stock
author for some of the minor theatres, and later
on for the St. James', and ultimately came up
smiling to help to found the successor of Figaro
in London : Punch, or the London Charivari. He
did not commit suicide, although I am afraid his
early, too early death, was to a large degree
attributable to over-work. He was within a week
of writing his last copy when he met Douglas
Jerrold early in August on the sands of Boulogne.
He was so pleased to think that he and " Douglas "
were good friends. It was a tradition in his days
that peace and brotherly love should reign round
the mahogany tree in Bouverie Street. " What
is the good of quarrelling with the fellow ? "
exclaimed Thackeray with a smile after an en-
counter with Douglas Jerrold. " I shall have to
meet him next Wednesday at the Pimch dinner."

As I shall have more to say about my father's
relations with Charles Dickens, with whom he
was on the most intimate terms of friendship,
I may here refer to his cordiality to Thackeray.
My father of course was his near neighbour at the
Punch table, and they invariably supported one
another. There was another bond of union :
they were both public school boys. And although

42



EARLY DAYS

I whisper it with bated breath in these days of
universal equality, years ago the three colleges
of royal foundation, Eton, Winchester and West-
minster, ranked before Charterhouse. Thackeray,
Silver and Leech had been educated at Charter-
house, and my father represented Westminster,
the Westminster of the Eton-and- Westminster
boat race, the Westminster that sent Queen's
scholars to Christ Church and Trinity. In those
days, to be a Westminster boy meant a good deal.
Thackeray respected my father on account of his
school, and also regarded him with a kind of comic
awe as a Metropolitan Police Magistrate. I am
fond of quoting from the Ballads of Policeman X,
wherein my sire is called " a Beckett the beak "
and "that respected Magistrate." Moreover,
Thackeray had a great admiration for Fielding,
and, it is said, always looked towards the Magis-
terial Bench where the author of the History
of Jonathan Wild had sat, with envy. If
Thackeray had ever practised at the Bar, I think
he would have applied for a Magistrateship, and
this was the opinion of my father, who laughingly
referred to his colleague in one of our morning
walks from Kensington to Southwark. So the
friendship of the two men was founded on mutual
respect. My father was quiet and very kind. I
am happy to think at his death he did not leave
an enemy, and he died in the prime of manhood
before age had come to wipe off old scores and
reconcile old enemies. Thackeray was cynical,
and certainly had no wish to efface himself. My

43



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

father's relations with Dickens were of quite a
different character. As a young man, as will be
seen from my references to Figaro in London,
my father was absolutely irresponsible. He
bubbled over with good spirits, and laughed at
everybody and everything. In Charles Dickens —
pressman, actor and author — he had a man after
his own heart. They could talk shop about the
theatre and the newspaper office to their hearts'
content. And throughout his short life he was
friends to both, and when he died Thackeray
and Dickens offered spontaneously to help the
a Beckett family if there were need for assistance.
If I had been a few years older I, a third son,
might have gone to Oxford at the expense of the
two greatest novelists of the nineteenth century.
But I was not old enough, and my father's two
friends, acting in unison, were able to show their
kindness to the family of their dead friend in
another manner. They both supported the ap-
plication for a Government pension to my mother,
and were able to be of the utmost service to my
brother, a student at Christ Church, at the time
of our father's death, when he was preparing to
make his way in the world as a civil servant,
and subsequently as a dramatist, an essayist
and a journalist.

I consider that from 1834 until 1841 the way
was being made clear for the appearance of
Punch. There was a group of young men strug-
gling to make ready the road for a worthy comic
paper. Figaro in London was the advance guard.

44



EARLY DAYS

For the first time a humorous periodical rested
upon something better and purer than vile per-
sonal abuse. The miserable scurrility of the
Satirist and sheets of that class was abandoned
for healthy genuine fun. I have said that my
father was no respecter of persons, and he cer-
tainly " went for " one of the Royal Dukes pretty
regularly. Every week he used to publish an
article which he used to call " Gloucesteriana."
In it the Duke of Gloucester was made to per-
petrate a pun upon some topic of the day to the
delight of his aide-de-camp, a most worthy gentle-
man of the name of Higgins. Here is a specimen :
" The other day Higgins and the Duke were con-
versing on the subject of the Calthorp Street
affair and the attack made by the police upon the
public. Both were joking over the fun of smash-
ing people's heads with staves. ' For/ said the
Duke, * such staves must have made the people
sing out very enchantingly.' * Yes,' replied Hig-
gins, ' but one of the C Division of police is killed.'
'Is he ? ' responded Billy ; ' then it serves him
right, for what could he have been doing on land
if he belonged to the sea Division ? ' Higgins and
his master tripped out of the apartment dancing
the gallopade." This article was one of the
features of the paper, and so my father supple-
mented it by publishing " Broughamiana," which
related the jests of the Lord Chancellor. In both
articles there was nothing offensive, only good-
natured chaff. The mildest witticisms of the
Royal Duke were received with delirious joy by

45



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

the A.D.C. " Higgins loosened his cravat to
prevent convulsions," " Higgins swallowed his
pocket handkerchief at one gulp to check his risi-
bility." At length the chaff grew too fast and
furious, and Higgins called upon my father. The
A.D.C. turned out to be a most amiable and ac-
complished gentleman. He brought a message
from the Duke of Gloucester that he was a great
admirer of Figaro in London, and therefore could
not be such a donkey as it was the fashion to
represent him. My father told me that he was
taken aback ; if Colonel Higgins had threatened
him, or even called him out, he would have been
equal to the occasion. But for a good-natured
soldier to " speak to him like a father," and gently
suggest that it was too bad to talk about his
dancing gallopades and the rest of it, was too much
for him. As the result my father dropped ** Glou-
cesteriana," and was ever afterwards on excellent
terms with the Royal Duke and his faithful A.D.C.
During the three years of my father's connexion
with Figaro in London he was continually starting
other papers. He produced the Wag and the
Comic Magazine. The first was on the lines of
the Figaro, but was sold at a higher price ; then
he produced a periodical which was made up of
extracts from its contemporaries. Nowadays it
has a successor in Public Opinion, and I produced
something of the sort myself in connexion with
the Glowworm, called the Eclio. To this paper of
his my father gave a title which would have re-
joiced the hearts of the Institute of Journalists

46



EARLY DAYS

who object to *' lifting " — he called it the Thief.
In those days, as well as these, there was a good
deal of interchange of printed copy, and my father,
who, when he had views, never hesitated to express
them, stigmatized the " lifting " with what he
considered an appropriate appellation. The paper
was made up of the work of others, so he called it
the Thief. Later on, when Bunn made an attack
upon his three enemies — Lemon, Jerrold and
a Beckett — he gave a list of my father's literary
failures. It was rather a long one, and proved
that his energy must have been untiring. At the
time of the production of these ephemeral peri-
odicals he was also a playwright, and for a short
time the manager of a London theatre. Besides
this, he read for, was called to, and practised at
the Bar. I am not surprised at his early death.
The mind was too great for the body ; he killed
himself with overwork.

I dwell upon these early days of my father's
literary activity because I can see in them the
collection of those men who were subsequently to
become the initial staff of Punch. He was a
journalist and a dramatic author, and the initial
members of the staff of Punch were drawn from the
world of the Press and the Stage. Lemon, whose
early career — as Bunn suggested later on — ^was in
a direction away from literature, was bitten with
the desire to write for the theatre. This was no
doubt the link of union between " Gil " and
" Mark." I have a collection of my father's plays,
and after a time I find they were written in col-

47



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

laboration with Lemon. During the Figaro period
my father was writing without a colleague, but
shortly after his rupture with the paper Lemon
came on the scene to help him. My walks with
my father enabled me to learn the nature of the
collaboration. The scenario of the piece was pre-
pared by both, and then my father set to work
and wrote the play straight off. Then he gave it
to Lemon to read, and suggest alterations if it so
pleased him. Finished, he handed the play over
to Lemon for production. My father absolutely
loathed rehearsals, and by his collaboration with
Mark Lemon he escaped them. As a boy he was
immensely fond of the theatre. In the Censor, a
publication to w^hich I have referred, he possessed
himself of the control of the dramatical critical
department, and this he directed at the age of
nineteen. As I have said, it has been a tradition
in my family that Dickens drew the character of
Nicholas Nickleby from his friend, my father.
So Gilbert a Beckett was for ever seeing the proto-
types of the Crummies family, and had been often
called upon to write up to " the real pump and
splendid tubs." My father was a very rapid
worker. I find in Figaro of January 14, 1834, a
notice written by himself of his first play. Here
it is —

A new farce from our pen will have been produced here
(the Fitzroy) before this number gets into the nation's hands,
though we go to press too early (for the purpose of supplying
the whole world) to know what reception it will experience.
It is called "The King Incog," and anticipating a failure, we
will be beforehand with our apology. The following history
of the thing must be the excuse for its errors —

48



EARLY DAYS

Commenced on Friday,

Finished on Saturday,

Copied by Monday,

Parts distributed on Tuesday,

Rehearsed on Wednesday,

Acted on Thursday,
and, for what we know.

Dead and d d by Friday,

which is about as concise a record as we are able to give of it.
Whatever may be its fate, we shan't care ; for it would be poor
philosophy in us not to bear a laugh at our own expense when
we indulge in so many at the expense of others. Whether
received with favour or the reverse "we bow (in the words
of an established clap-trap) to the decision of a British
audience."



As a matter of fact it was quite successful.
My father, in his preface to the pubhshed work,
wrote as follows —

ADVERTISEMENT.

" The King Incog," though received with great favour
when acted, may be in its printed form open to the detection
of many egregious errors, for litera scripta manet, that is to say,
" when they have you in black and white there is no escaping."
For the various anachronisms the author does not think it
worth while to apologize, and therefore does not attempt to
defend himself for having introduced " pink note-paper,"
" Jacob's Law Dictionary," and " the bump of benevolence "
into the time of Charles II. These matters are of small im-
portance to a farce, and even critics seem tacitly to admit the
fact, for they have in their notices of " King Incog " abstained
from remarks on an error which they could not fail to have
detected. For other deficiencies the only plea that can
be offered is the fact of its being the first dramatic effort of
the author and its having been written in two days, as well
as produced so hastily that it was not even rehearsed till the
morning before the night of its performance !

These and all other obstacles were triumphantly

49 D



THE a BECKETTS OF " PUNCH "

surmounted by the talents of the performers, and
the author^ equally grateful to all, acknowledges
his obligation to the whole strength of the com-
pany.

The success of " The King Incog " ended in my
father — with characteristic impetuosity — running
the Fitzroy Theatre. In Figaro in London the
venture can be traced in his notices. It is very
amusing reading. My father became a prolific
author, producing in rapid succession " The Son
of the Sun," " The Revolt of the Workhouse,"
and many other burlesques. " The King Incog "
was a farce in two acts, written in prose ; the
others were in verse. The music had evidently
been collected under the superintendence of my
mother, who was a composer of two operas,
" Little Red Riding Hood," played at the Surrey,
and " Agnes Sorrel," the initial production at the
St. James' Theatre under Braham's management,
and here I trace my father's connexion with Henry
Mayhew. " The Wandering Minstrel," in which
later on Robson scored so heavily, was produced
at the Fitzroy. Henry Mayhew wrote under the
nom de guerre of " Ralph Rigmarole, Esq." No
doubt this disguise was assumed to disarm the
criticism of Henry Majdiew's father, who was a
highly respectable solicitor, like my grandfather,
and who might have joined in the crusade against
" the boys." My father, with characteristic en-
thusiasm — for he was a very good friend to his
friends, and a good fighting enemy to his enemies —
wrote a criticism in advance as follows —

50



EARLY DAYS

A new farce, from the pen of Ralph Rigmarole, Esq.,-
was to be produced on Thursday, under the title of " The Wan-
dering Minstrel." We can venture in advance to announce
beforehand its triumphant success, for we know the piece to
be admirable ; and though the part was, we understand,
originally intended for Reeve, we are quite confident that
Mitchell will do it more justice, for he is sure to be perfect
in the character.



On referring to the caste of "The King Incog "
I find that Mitchell played a part of secondary
importance. So evidently there had been a
quarrel. Reeve had thrown up his part, and
Mitchell was promoted to " leading business."
The management of the Fitzroy was scarcely
suggestive of a couch of roses. I trace in the
Figaro a quarrel about the retention of some money
by a man who, " in a fit of extreme consequence, in
fact in the very last stage of a severe attack of
dignity, called himself sole manager of the Fitzroy."
There seems to have been a struggle of some sort,
for my father writes that some one had asserted
that Oilier (the name of the official) would have
been murdered but for a friend's interference.
Says my father, "the idea of taking the trouble to
murder Oilier is too rich to be entertained." But
the worries of the management of the Fitzroy


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