Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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more for the paper to which, until then, he had
been a constant contributor.

Another round table I remember was in Port-
land House, North End, Fulham. The house is
still standing, and is within a stone's throw of the
bridge on the King's highway overlooking the
Addison Road Station. It belonged to my father,



then Stipendiary Police Magistrate for Greenwich
and Woolwich. As he was " beak " of two
courts, the Government allowed him a horse to
ride or drive from place to place. I remember
one horse, " Polly," then when she died we had a
second mare, " Polly the Second." I was a very
small child in socks and a sash. But I remember
that little table covered with books in my father's
study, with the bright, cheery-looking gentleman
talking to him in. the candle-light. The bright,
cheery-looking gentleman in the candle-light was
the literary lion of the hour, the century, perchance
the ages — Charles Dickens.

I am under the impression that Dickens had
called to see my father about dramatizing one of
his Christmas books. Charles had been a little
disheartened by the trial trip at the St. James',
and did not venture upon dramatic authorship
until he joined hands with Wilkie Collins, and
produced " No Thoroughfare " at the old Adelphi
Theatre with Charles Fechter as Obenreizer.
And again, the remuneration of dramatists was
simply scandalous at the commencement of the
nineteenth century. It is said that because
Benjamin Webster declined to give Dion Bouci-
cault the regulation remuneration — ^£ioo an act —
for " The Colleen Bawn," the playwright made his
fortune. Dion accepted a percentage on the
receipts in lieu of a sum down, and cleared
£20,000 by the alteration. Again, it was scarcely
worth Dickens' while to dramatize his own works,
and so he got his two friends, G. a B. and Mark



Lemon, to convert " The Chimes " from a story
to a play to outwit the pirates. My father and
his editor on the paper they both assisted to found,
worked in collaboration. My father — a busy
man at the court all day — wrote the piece and
Lemon rehearsed it. And as they were both
doing very well with their pens in other directions,
no doubt they were quite willing to help their col-
league, Charles Dickens. Knocking up a piece
was only child's play to them.

During the present year a Dickens Exhibition,
organized by the Dickens Fellowship, was held
at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street. It
was deeply interesting, and was visited by hun-
dreds of working men. One of the exhibits (1359)
was a photograph of Charles Dickens, his family,
and friends, at Gadshill. There are nine portraits
of the novelist, his eldest son with his wife, his
two daughters, and his sister-in-law, together
with Fechter, the actor, and Charles and Wilkie
Collins. '' The tenth and last figure," says the
catalogue, ''is that of a Mr. Hamilton Hume,
the photographer." Poor Hamilton Hume ! We
were co-editors once on a time of a paper called
Black and White. He had been an officer in the
army, and served in the Crimea. An excellent
journalist and a thoroughly good fellow. The
photograph was published in a magazine of which
Hamilton Hume was the editor. It caused some
trouble, I remember, because it interfered with an
arrangement that had been made by the great
novelist to sit for his portrait to a firm of photo-



graphers. Hamilton Hume was a dramatist in
a small way himself, and knew Charles Fechter.
Hence the introduction. At the time the photo-
graph was taken Fechter had retired from his
Lyceum management, and was playing in " No
Thoroughfare" at the Adelphi. Charles Dickens
and Wilkie Collins were the authors, and Charles
Fechter was the leading actor.

I can quite understand Dickens' objection to the
pirate dramatist. *' The Mystery of Edwin Drood "
was left a fragment, but I saw at the Surrey The-
atre a piece (in which I think Mr. Henry Neville
played the principal character) which finished the
work for the author. The secret of the death
of the hero was the mystery left unsolved. The
dramatist of the version to which I refer laid his
last act in the crypt of Rochester Cathedral. He
sent the comic man into a lower vault, and then
brought Rose Budd (the heroine) and Jasper (the
villain) together. The villain put his knife to
Rose's throat. Then emerged the comic man
from the vault below. " \Vliy ? " asked the
villain, annoyed at being interrupted in his
murder of the heroine, " \Vliy this intrusion ? "

After my father's death I met one of his col-
leagues, Richard, otherwise "Dicky" Doyle, in a
club of which he was a member. The club was
composed entirely of members of the Church of
Rome. Subsequently the club was practically
absorbed by thejunior Athenaeum. I had come
to see " Dicky " — every one called him by his
little name — to ask him to join a paper I proposed



to produce, which, annexing a title used thirty
years earUer by my father, I intended to call
Figaro in London. I was a lad of two-and-
twenty, and " Dicky " was twice or thrice my
age. Would he join my staff ? He smiled.
Well, he was not doing very much work just then
— only drawings of gnomes and the like for private
friends who made the commissions a business
matter — but he was pleased with the idea. He
would consider it. I showed him the cover —
we had got as far as a cover — and he approved of
it. The last cover he had designed was for The
Owl — did I remember it ? Of course I did, and I
recalled the names of Borthwick, Ashley, and
Thomas Gibson Bowles — the latter had been an
occasional contributor.

Naturally we talked of other things. He had
been a great friend of my father. He told me that
he had illustrated The Almanack of the Month
for him from cover to cover, and he spoke of
Leech and Thackeray. The latter had been
anxious to work with him, and through his in-
strumentality he had drawn a second series of
" The Manners and Customs of the English " for
Thackeray's publishers and Thackeray's maga-
zine. The first series had appeared in a paper
of which my father had been one of the founders
and " Dicky " Doyle a very early contributor.
He had severed his connexion with that paper
for conscientious reasons. I asked him — for I
had heard rumours to the effect — had the sever-
ance come as a surprise that had caused great



inconvenience to the proprietors ? " Not at all,"
said ''' Dicky," " I expressed my opinions very
strongly at the table from week to week, and when
the attacks on the spiritual Powers of the Papacy
became intolerable I tendered my resignation."
The table was an institution in Bouverie Street
which Thackeray had christened the " Mahogany
Tree." Round that table sat Doyle, Mark Lemon,
Percival Leigh, John Leech, and my father. I
understood " Dicky's " allusions. I could quite
believe the story of the surprise was without

Then we spoke of The Owl. " Dicky " was not
on the staff, although a friend of most of its
members. The Owl had no illustrations, but
only a cover. It appeared only during the session.
" Why ? " I asked. " Because the contributors,
who were principally private secretaries to
Ministers, wanted a holiday quite as much as their
masters." But in spite of its intermittent appear-
ance The Owl was a great success. The staff
(including the proprietor) had souls above filthy
lucre, and the profits were said to be absorbed by
boxes at Covent Garden and dinners at the Star
and Garter. Altogether a very agreeable arrange-
ment. " A Richmond Edition of Bouverie Street ? "
I suggested, but Doyle did not answer my question.

I am sorry to say that my projected paper did
not appear, and consequently I did not have the
honour of numbering Richard Doyle as one of my
contributors. Before we parted that evening we
had a long chat about illustrations. I told him



that I had come across a " cartoon" from the
Figaro in London appearing as a headpiece to
a cheap comic song. He laughed, and told me
that my father in the days of his youth delighted
in adapting his blocks to all sorts of purposes. He
once illustrated a more or less serious novel with
blocks of a distinctly political character. I once
myself had to use old blocks to illustrate a story
I called The Mystery of Mostyn Manor. The
publisher provided me with some engravings — he
said he could afford nothing better — of a man with
a long beard breaking open a writing desk, a
fellow clean-shaven killing somebody, and a
person in a short moustache reading a letter in the
Tropics. The individual so treated was evidently
intended for my villain, so I used him — with his
beard at the commencement of my story, made
him an assassin — disguised without it towards
the end, and, saving him from the gallows by
procuring for him a commutation of the death
sentence to transportation for life, sent him (in the
last chapter) to repent — with his moustache — in

''How will that do ? " I hear again. The
speaker is standing in front of my father in the
study of 10, Hyde Park Gate South. He is a
neighbour of ours who lives a little nearer Hammer-
smith than we do, and he has come over to chat
with my father on the latter' s return from his
court at Southwark. He is showing him a drawing
is this tall sporting looking gentleman with the
scarf and the scarf-pin. I know him very well —



Mr. Leech. He has been a fellow-student with my
uncle and namesake, the doctor who won decora-
tions on the medical staff of the expedition under
Sir de Lacy Evans in Spain, and a contemporary
of dear " Professor " Leigh, another of my father's
oldest friends. I know Mr. John Leech very well.
He is kindly and fond of boys. Why, his book
about Master Jacky's Holidays was founded upon
my brother Gilbert's mythical adventures on
his return home from St. Peter's College, West-
minster. I see him standing in the firelight talking
to my father about the newest work they have in
hand in collaboration. They have written and
drawn together The Comic Histories of England
and Rome, and are fast friends. It must have been
something very urgent that brought Mr. Leech
to Hyde Park Gate South, because he and my
father were wont to meet one another every
Wednesday round the Mahogany Table, in Bou-
verie Street. My father urges him to stay to
dinner, fixed for the then regulation hour of six
o'clock, but he cannot. He is engaged to another
neighbour of theirs — Thackeray. In those days,
Kensington, the old court suburb, was full of
representatives of the pen and the pencil.

I am reminded by this recollection of Mr. Leech's
visit to my father of the working day of a barrister-
journalist in the early fifties. My father was up,
dressed, and breakfasted by nine o'clock. Then
for the sake of exercise walked over to Southwark.
Then he spent six or eight hours in a badly-venti-
lated police-court dispensing justice, and drove



home to arrive at Kensington by about half-past
five. He dined at six ; slept from seven to eight.
Then until two in the morning he was writing his
daily articles for The Times and weekly contri-
butions to the Illustrated London News and the
paper he helped to found. He was very proud of
his contributions to the latter^ and pasted them in
a book which I possess — ^it was saved from the fire
that destroyed his library — and showed that he
was a contributor from the day of its birth to the
week of his death. On one occasion he wrote the
whole of the leaders of the day's issue of The Times
— a feat which, I believe, has been equalled by two
living contributors to the great organ of Printing
House Square. But all this varied work I fear
was too much for him— he died before he had
completed his forty-fifth year.

John Leech was very fond of sport, especially of
hunting, and my father's delight was to object to
the cruelty of killing a fox, unless to rid the country
of vermin by shooting ! A famous successor to
Leech at Bouverie Street, Sir John Tenniel, also
loved the sound of the pack in full cry, and I
carried on in my day the family tradition of
laughingly denouncing the best-liked pastime of
English country gentlemen. My father wrote
A Quiziology of the British Drama (the cover
was by John Leech), which contained parodies of
the dramatists of the day. In a long sporting
speech, burlesquing the famous description of a
race by Lady Gay Spanker, my father described a
fox being followed for ten miles down a high road,



and ultimately being killed by meeting face-to-face
a sheep-dog ! Leech turned his experiences in the
field to good account in his delightful illustrations
to the Jorrocks' Series.

The drawings of John Leech are scarce and
valuable. Unfortunately they are nearly all un-
finished sketches, because the finished work
appeared from the artists' hand on to the wood-
block, and of course vanished in the engraving.
The application of photography to the repro-
duction of pictures doubled the incomes of the
leading draftsmen in chalk, lead, and ink. I
remember that Mr. Mark Lemon took a deep
interest in the subject — as he naturally would as
an editor — and had some plan for reducing and
enlarging blocks made of indiarubber. Then came
the earliest development of process graphotype,
which required the artist to draw with a fine brush
on a chalk surface. But photography worked in
the interest of the artist as process had come to the
aid of the proprietor. Had photography reached
full development in the days of John Leech the
world would have been richer for scores and
hundreds of finished original drawings in lieu of
a few studies and tracings, the property of literary
clubs or collectors in black-and-white.

Although Leech overflowed with humour in his
drawings, there were very few '* good stories " told
about him. He was quiet and reserved, and
perhaps that was the reason he was so closely
associated in his work with my father, who after
an adventurous boyhood, commencing with his



Westminster schooldays, sobered down at an
exceptionally early age into a dignified ornament
of the Bench. The two friends found a third in
Thackeray. Thackeray, Leech, and my father
lived in Kensington, and once a week for years
travelled the same road home from Bouverie
Street, although there may have been occasional
visits to the Garrick Club — then in King Street —
of which Thackeray and my father were both
members. And here I may say that I have recently
read in some magazine — I think it was in the Pall
Mall — an article dealing rather harshly with the
early days of the famous Table. As an antidote
I quote —

Here let us sport,
Boys as we sit,
Laughter and wit
Flashing so free.
Life is but short
When we are gone.
Let them sing on
Round the old Tree.

Evenings we knew
Happy as this.
Faces we miss
Pleasant to see ;
Kind hearts and true,
Gentle and just ;
Peace to your dust
We sing round the Tree.

The lines are signed ** W. M. Thackeray."

I have said that amongst other work my father
contributed a daily leader to The Times. I give
an experience in this connection.



A small table in Serjeants' Inn. It is contained
in a corner house of the square, and I have come to
it with my father (who has business with his editor)
from the Theatre Royal Adelphi, where there is
being performed a piece by Buckstone, with a cast
containing Webster, Wright, and Madame Celeste.

I am a boy of eight, anxious to get back to the
playhouse, and listen rather impatiently to the
conversation carried on by my father and his
editor, which turns on the subject of a leading
article. When we left the house, my father bade
me remember the occasion. " You have missed
the farce," said he, " but you have had the honour
of making the acquaintance of Mr. Delane, editor
of The Times''

It was said of Delane that he controlled the
writing of others, but seldom wrote himself. He
was certainly devoted to the interests of the great
paper of which he was the literary director. The
leading journal, or as it used to call itself when
advertizers wanted to quote it in its own columns,
" a morning paper," was regarded with deep
admiration by the general public, and absolute
devotion by its regular staff. The Briton carried
with him everywhere his sense of the power and
justice of The Times. I remember once finding
myself at Amiens in the time of the Franco-
German war before a group of officers who wanted
to kill me because my passport was marked with
a German vise. Fortunately I got out of the
awkward position by producing my commission.
But I still have my doubts whether it would not



have been better to have told those angry warriors
" that if they dared to shoot me I would certainly
write to The Times."

The respect paid to the British journal abroad
was merely a reflection of the honour in which it
was held at home. To this day only one paper
receives an invitation to be present at the Banquet
in Burlington House, held on the eve of the opening
of the Royal Academy. Read the list of guests
and you will find " Times Reporter." Even that
representative of the British Press was ignored by
that august body, the Royal Academicians, until
there was a difficulty about " taking " a speech
of the late Prince Consort. One of the most
important orations of the evening one year went
wrong. It was decided to introduce the Press for
the future. In other words, The Times.

Taking down from my bookshelves a volume
of The Mask, edited by Alfred Thompson, ex-
Carbineer, and one of the founders of the A.D.C.
at Cambridge, and Leopold Lewis, solicitor and
adapter (for Sir Henry Irving) of Le Juif
Polonais, otherwise The Bells, I find a carica-
ture of the staff of The Times. It appeared nearly
forty years ago. I copy the key : Mr. Delane as
Jupiter, the Thunderer of Printing House Square ;
Dr. Dasent as Juno ; Mr. Mowbray Morris,
Mercury ; Mr. John Forster, Vulcan ; Mr. Vernon
Harcourt, Minerva ; Rev. Lord Sydney Godolphin
Osborne (S.G.O.), Neptune ; Dr. Russell, Mars ;
Mr. M. J. Higgins ('' Jacob Omnium "), Hercules ;
Mr. Davison, Apollo ; Mr. Tom Taylor, Cupid ;



]\Ir. John Oxenford, Bacchus ; and Mr. Walter,
the Eagle (a bird with Proprietary Rights).

I am particularly drawn to one caricature in
that sketch in The Mask — John Oxcnford repre-
sented as Bacchus, God of the Drama and Wine.
He was the leading dramatic critic of the sixties,
and the best of good fellows, excellent confrere,
and kindly creature. I heard him say once when
responding to his health, that when he wrote a
critique, as a dramatist himself he never forgot
the labour and anxiety represented by a first night,
and objected to setting down scathing sentences
about actors. "I didn't want anyone," said he,
" to have to hide away my notices from the wife
and the children."

I am afraid there is but one survivor of all the
brilliant company depicted in caricature by Alfred
Thompson. But it may be said — remembering
his services to his country — the greatest of them
all. The first and best of War Specials — William
Howard Russell — appears as Mars. To Sir William
— known affectionately to his intimates as " Billy "
— the country owes the reform of the Army dating
from the dark days of the Crimean campaign. He
represents the censorship of the Press. In the
fifties that censorship was uncontrolled by the
professional censorship recommended at a later
date by Lord Wolseley in his Soldiers' Pocket
Book. " Look here," was the final instructions
of the Secretary of State for War to a trusted
subordinate on the eve of his departure for the
East to put things straight in Balaclava ; " mind



you are very civil to Russell of The Times'' But
all the civility in the world did not influence the
representatives of The Times in those days. And
the situation of half a century ago remains to this
moment unchanged. But if the third volume of
a Beckett's Comic History of England has yet to
appear (concerning which more anon), there was
another of my father's works which I was able to
bring up to date. My sire, in spite of his love for
journalism and the drama, always possessed what I
have seen termed a "legal mind." In his earliest
contributions to Punch he took the Bar under his
protection. He created the character of " Mr.
Briefless," a gentleman that I have attempted to
revive in the person of his son, " Mr. A. Briefless,
Junr." My father, with delightful gravity, told of
the comic struggles of poor luckless, cashless Brief-
less to keep the wolf from the door without losing
his dignity. He had a supporter in another
member of the Bar in ** Mr. Dunup." The
adventures of these two gentlemen used to
be received with delight by both branches
of the forensic profession, and I have reasons
for believing that my own contributions with
the signature of ** A. Briefless, Junr.," were also
very popular. At any rate, their popularity
was sufficiently marked to cause Messrs. Brad-
bury & Agnew, Limited, to publish Papers
from Pump Handle Court, by A. Briefless, Junr. J'
subsequently. My father, fond of his profession,
published The Comic Blackstone in 1844, three
years after the appearance of the initial number

8i F


of Punch. Much of the matter, if not the whole,
of this book appeared in the pages of the London
Charivari. It had but two illustrations — one
by George Cruikshank, and the other by John
Leech. I see that it is asserted in Mr. Spielmann's
excellent work that George Cruikshank only ap-
peared once in Punch, and then only in the
advertisement sheet. This no doubt must be
the case, but it will be seen that he must have
been on friendly terms with Messrs. Bradbury &
Evans (the then proprietors of Punch), or he
would not have been asked to illustrate my
father's Comic Blackstone. I may here mention
that I once had the pleasure of meeting George
Cruikshank, and in — of all places in the world ! —
the Westminster Aquarium. But the old place
of entertainment — now disappearing to make
room for a building to be erected by Wesleyan
enthusiasm — was on its best beha\dour on the
occasion to which I refer. It was its opening day,
when the late Duke of Edinburgh (with my old
friend Viscount Newry, now Earl of Kilmorey, in
attendance) declared the Royal Westminster
Aquarium at the service of the public. I sat
opposite George Cruikshank at the following cold
collation. We had the Royal Duke with his address
taken as read, and " his gracious reply " handed
over as read. Prince Alfred inspected the Royal
Naval Artillery Volunteers, who furnished a
guard of honour, and the fish that in the early days
were swimming in the tanks of the Aquarium.
Later on, both Volunteers and fishes disappeared.



The citizen sailors were not required by the Ad-
miralty, and the fishes found little favour in
the eyes of the sightseers of the Royal Aquarium.
George Cruikshank looked at me for some few
moments, and then repeated my name. " Any
relation of Gilbert Abbott a Beckett ? " he
asked. " I am his third son, Mr. Cruikshank," I
replied. " Your father was a good man, sir,"
said he ; " you cannot do better than try to equal
him." Then he relapsed into silence. Of course,
he was a very intimate friend of my father, who
edited Cruikshank's Table Book for him. George
was the brother of the Robert Cruikshank who
replaced Seymour on Figaro in London. No
doubt my father's friendship dated from those
early days. George Cruikshank illustrated my
father's " Ouizziology of the British Drama,"
which appeared in the Table Book, in company with
that delightful parody, Thackeray's A Legend of
the Rhine. By the way, I note here that the
moment my father gets an editorial appointment
he draws his staff from his colleagues at the
Punch table. Thackeray, of course, was a star
of the first magnitude, but there were minor lights
as represented by Horace Mayhew. In 1887
the proprietors of Punch asked me to bring the
Comic Blackstone up to date. I immediately saw
the propriety. When I was reading for the Bar,
some ten years earlier, my kindly '* coach" had re-

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 5 of 21)