Arthur William À Beckett.

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

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Siege of Sebastopol," then the all-absorbing topic
of the hour. Before it was over my little brother
complained of headache, and we left the booth
with our nurses. The next I remember was
visiting my father's bedroom, and kissing him,



and crying when I found that his chin was rough
from want of shaving. My father tried to con-
sole me. He was taking his breakfast in bed ; he
did not feel very well. My tears increased in
volume. He smiled his well-remembered smile,
and told me I must not be stupid. Then I turned
round and found my godfather in the room :
William Gilbert, father of William Schwenk
Gilbert, was standing near me. He had
been staying, I think, at Folkestone, and had
run over to Boulogne to see my father. My
godfather was a doctor, and he looked at me
sharply. " He had better go away," he said as
he led me to the door. I turned round to say
good-bye, and once more met the face of my
father, with that well-remembered smile. It was
the last time I saw him. I was taken to my room.
I recollect feeling hot and ill. I remember seeing
the face of our old family doctor, who had been
present at my birth. He prided himself upon hav-
ing the sternness of Abernethy, and was one of the
kindest men in the world. " Wrap him in a
blanket," said Dr. Nichols, " and send him to
London." I have a dim recollection of getting
back somehow to Hyde Park Gate South. And
then there comes a long blank. My first recollec-
tion after this blank is a number of copies of
Punch in their wrappers waiting to be opened on
the hall table. Then my elder sister told me
gently that my father was dead, my brother
was dead, that I had only narrowly escaped
death after running through the stages of typhus



fever. The wretched drains of Boulogne-sur
Mer were responsible for a disease known as
"Boulogne sore throat/' now recognized as diph-
theria. My father and brother succumbed to
both. It was a terrible time, and I read the
account of their deaths years later in Douglas
Jerrold's Life. As I have said, Douglas Jerrold
wrote my father's obituary notice in Punch, and
it was copied on his tombstone at Highgate
Cemetery. His merits as a magistrate, a
scholar, and a gentleman were recognized. A
reference was made to the Punch table at which
he had sat. Said Douglas Jerrold, speaking of
my father, *' His place knows him not, but his
memory is tenderly cherished."



Chapter III


ND now I will assume that Gilbert Abbott a
Beckett has joined the Punch table and passed
through the various adventures connected there-
with recorded by Mr. M. H. Spielmann in his
excellent work, A History of Punch, to which
I have already referred. As I have said, my
father took a great pride in his contributions to
the London Charivari, and saw that they were
cut out and pasted in a book for future reference.
No doubt he intended, at the time, some day to
republish them. But they have remained in
their paper book for half a century, and I fear
may continue there to lie until the end of the
chapter. As scenes of the times they are no
doubt interesting, and as specimens of perfectly
good tempered and wholesome fun they have
also their value. But in these days event follows
event so rapidly, that the story of the near past
ceases to attract much attention. But the
collection proves to me, that my father was a
great believer in illustration. Most of his longer
articles are adorned with pictures. He does not
seem to have written up to cuts, but to have had
his work " drawn up to." There is one work



which has a worldwide celebrity that did not
appear in Punch, but which was illustrated by
a Punch man. I refer to the Comic Histories of
England and Rome. After my father's death,
when my eldest brother was looking over the
MS. that had been left by him, he came across
a batch of copy intended for Volume III of the
Comic History of England. Neither Gilbert nor
I were then on terms with Messrs. Bradbury &
Agnew, the proprietors of Punch. Subsequently
we were both called to the table and were inter-
viewed by the late William Bradbury, into whose
hands the MS. had passed. Our father had
brought up the history to the end of the reign
of George II, and the new copy dealt with the
reign of George III. Mr. Bradbury suggested
that we should take the history to the end of that
monarch's tenure of power. But we were not to
touch more than we could help upon the Regency,
as we should then be nearing the time of living
celebrities, or the immediate ancestors of men
of the time. Gilbert and I undertook the
commission, and supplemented our father's work
to the extent of matter for a third volume. It
was set up in type, and possibly still exists in
proof in the office of Messrs. Bradbury &
Agnew, Limited. It was pleasant work, and I
found no difficulty in following my father's style,
with the exception of turning out puns. My
brother and I arranged to take point to point
dates and to compare notes when our work was
done. After a pause of twenty years it is a


little difficult to recollect what one has written,
still I remember that I had to deal with the
Anglo American War, and was much struck with
the history of the struggle. I discovered that
had England shown a little more energy the
American Colonies would not have been lost to
us. At the last moment, Washington's militia
were on the eve of disbanding themselves and
scattering. They could not get their pay, and
had not the slightest enthusiasm. At this critical
moment Washington had his way, and the British
Government capitulated. I went for my in-
formation to Bancroft's history, which I found
in the excellent library of the Junior United
Service Club. But most of my reading and
writing took place in the British Museum. I
was sufficiently fortunate to obtain a "green
ticket," which constitutes a life membership of
the reading room. During the course of my
investigations I came across A Word with " Punch."
the scurrilous pamphlet which attacked my father
and his two colleagues, Mark Lemon and Douglas
Jerrold. I had known that my father had a
feud with Bunn, from the date of Figaro in
London. In the thirties, the poet was suffering
from the chaff of the period. I am afraid it had
grown into a second nature with Gilbert Abbott
a Beckett to laugh at " the Poet Bunn." My
father, as I have also shown, had written opera
librettos himself, and the " words to songs " by
the score for my mother, who was a prolific
composer. So, added to a hearty contempt for



the really absurd lyrics of Mr Bunn, there was
just a soupcon of professional jealousy. So it
was the tradition " to pitch into Bunn." The
poet's retaliation was to publish an attack
upon the three men he believed responsible for
the chaff — a Beckett, Lemon, and Jerrold. He
was not sufficiently clever to write the brochure
himself, so he called to his aid the late George
Augustus Sala, who refers to the authorship in
his Life and Adventures. I had the pleasure of
the late Mr. Sala's acquaintance, having had the
honour of editing him when he contributed '' Echoes
of the Week" to the Sunday Times. Nay, more,
when he was unable to write his quota in Sala's
Journal, I took his place at the request of those
responsible for that publication. So I was on
fairly intimate terms with *' G.A.S." When his
Life and Adventures came out, and he owned up
to writing A Word with ''Punch,'' I took an
opportunity of asking for "further and better par-
ticulars." My friend was apologetic, and pointed
out to me the very flattering references he had
made to my father in his Life and Adventures,
and pleaded that he was quite a youngster at the
time. " The young have their indiscretions,"
said Sala. " It was an indiscretion to have
written A Word with 'Punch' ." It was a kindly
concession, and a great one too, from such a
pugnacious writer as '' G.A.S." I had felt very
keenly the attack upon my father, as I remem-
bered the effect it had upon him. It appeared
at the time when he had been appointed to his



magistracy, of which I have shown he was very
proud. I recollect as a child his returning home
in a state of the deepest depression. He was
absolutely bowed down with sorrow and talked
about retirement. He felt the attack so deeply
that from that moment until I was engaged in
collecting materials for the third volume of the
Comic History of England, in the Reading Room
of the British Museum, I had never wished to see
A Word with " Punch.''

But looking over the catalogue I found that
A Word with "Punch'' was entered under the
names of Jerrold, Lemon, and a Beckett. I
immediately sent for it and read it. Well, all
that Sala, speaking for Bunn, had to say against
my respected sire, was that in the days of his
earliest manhood he had been financially un-
successful in connection with a theatre and several
papers. The information was given in as in-
sulting a manner as possible. I was disgusted
with such an attack — a blow levelled below the
belt. In some articles furnished to the Pall Mall
Magazine within the present year by Sir F. C.
Burnand, Editor of Punch, I read a reference
to A Word with ** Punch," with a caricature
of the three gentlemen abused reproduced. My
father was depicted as the worst enemy of man.
He was wearing the robes of a barrister, from
which were peeping the cloven hoof and the
Mephistophelian tail. However, I did not take
offence at this picture, as no doubt my father,
when he was in practice at the bar, had " devilled "



for some of his colleagues. But the letterpress
of A Word with " Punch " filled me with disgust
and indignation, that in the catalogue of the
British Museum such a work should be ascribed
to his authorship. The copy of A Word with
" Punch,'* that was brought to me contained,
moreover, an introduction by some partizan
giving a ridiculous account of the quarrel of
Bunn with his three opponents. I left my work
of writing the continuation of my father's history,
and interviewed the secretary of the British
Museum. He was most courteous, and described
himself as a friend of my father, of whom he
spoke in terms of the deepest respect. I appealed
to him. "Is it fair," I asked, " that a black-
guard brochure should be ascribed to my father
and his two friends, Douglas Jerrold and Mark
Lemon ? " " Well," he replied, " the brochure
referred to his works." " If that is a reason,"
I returned, *' I must ask you to be so kind as to
put in every single notice of my father's works —
I have hundreds of them (for he preserved them) —
and shall be glad to see them referred to in the
Museum catalogue. But if every author follows
the example, I am afraid the catalogue of the
British Museum, already a work of reference of
large dimensions, will have to be considerably
augmented." The secretar}^ laughed, and asked
" what he could do ? " " Well," I returned, " I
hope you will do something. For after I had
read the attacks upon my father and his two
dearest friends, I was inclined to tear the book



in half, and write across the introduction the
truth, ' The author of this twaddle is a liar/ and
I am afraid both proceedings would have been
contrary to the regulations." Then it turned
out that it was impossible to withdraw or touch
any book accepted by the library. But the
secretary promised to correct the catalogue, and
to take steps that the lying introduction should
no longer be seen. No one could have been more
kind, courteous, and conciliatory than the secre-
tary, whose place is now filled by an equally
worthy gentleman. If I had followed my own
feelings I would not have referred to A Word
with " Punch/' as I remember the deep distress
it caused that most sensitive of men, my dear
father ; but as A Word with ** Punch " has been
referred to within this last year, and may be
referred to again, I think it well to meet the
matter frankly.

I have given the history of my father's con-
nexion with the Fitzroy Theatre, and some
publications that were equally unproductive of
wealth. Without entering into details it must
be patent to every one that the position he sub-
sequently held as a magistrate was a proof that
any debt he may have contracted when he was
little more than a boy had been satisfied.

To return to my brother Gilbert's and my
continuation of the Comic History of England.
It was duly completed and handed to Messrs.
Bradbury & Agnew, with whom it remains.
During his lifetime, my valued friend, the late

1 08


William Bradbury, was anxious to produce it ;
but the difficulty was to find an artist to take
the place of John Leech. That difficulty proved
insurmountable. My own and honoured col-
league, Sir John Tenniel — the sole survivor of
those who sat at the Punch table with my father,
and with whom I have enjoyed an uninterrupted
friendship since I was a boy — was approached,
but unfortunately could not see his way to accept
the commission. There was practically no one
else, for it not only wanted an artist with the
spirit of John Leech, but an artist who had a
** knowledge of colour," for the large illustrations.
Sir John Tenniel, as all students of Punch know,
furnished our paper (as I venture to call it, re-
collecting the tete-d-tetes we enjoyed when we
were the solitary representatives of the Punch
staff at the Punch table) with some splendid
illustrations of Shakespeare adapted to topical
events. These " illustrations of Shakespeare "
were exactly in the spirit of Leech's drawings in
the Comic Histories, and more than worthy to form
a part of the series. But it was not to be so.
The third volume of the Comic History of England,
written by the late Gilbert a Beckett, the late
Gilbert Arthur a Beckett, and the yet living
Arthur William a Beckett, still awaits pubUcation.
Some day, it may be when " the late " can be
prefixed to the survivor of the trio, the work may
appear. If it does, I beg on behalf of my
colleagues that our joint work may be properly
revised. I can speak for the work of my father



and brother. Their " stuff " (to use the technical
term) was excellent. As to my own it was
common form "comic copy." It is refreshing to
be able to criticize one's own work before pub-
lication. And here, as the subject of employers
and employed in works journalistic has attracted
much attention I take the opportunity of referring
to the late William Bradbury, whose father had
been the friend of my father, and whose son was
one of my hosts for many years at the Punch
table. The reference recalls to me a memory.

I am sitting in the corner of a room in a restaur-
ant (Durand's) overlooking the Madeleine. The
host — for I am a guest — is a very good friend of
mine. It is not so very many years ago — the
date of the last Paris Exhibition but one. Only
the other day our well-loved Sovereign passed
close to the same window on his way from the
Rue Royale to the Rue Faubourg St. Honore.
His Majesty was on the road to the British Em-
bassy, which I used to know very well in the days
of the Third Empire, when Lord Lyons was *' His
Excellency," and Sheffield, Clay Kerr Seymour,
and Hubert Jerningham were members of his
staff. Dear Paris ! Slightly expensive, but for
all that, none the less dear Paris !

I had come over in very pleasant company.
There were three in particular who will never be
forgotten by me — George du Maurier ; my friend
and colleague, on and off, for the last twenty
years, Harry Furniss, and William H. Bradbury.
Of the latter, I reiterate I cannot help telling a



story — a story that it is wholesome to repeat in
these days of sudden journalistic " surprises,"
when a life's labour is worth six months' purchase,
without a remainder over. I had been working
for a score of years or so for Punchy of which
William Bradbury was a prominent proprietor.
I wanted to go to Paris, and I " thought out "
a book which would be worth the necessary
sum to pay for the holiday. I told him franldy
how matters stood — I wanted so much, and I
would earn that money by producing the book.
" I think your idea utterly absurd — your book
won't do at all ! " I got up a little down-hearted,
and said : " Well, I will think of something else."
** But stop," said William Bradbury. " Did you
not say you wanted a cheque ? Look here, you
have been worth more than we have been paying
you. So we are going to raise your salary, and
the cheque I shall send you up before you go this
afternoon will be retrospective — to wipe off
arrears ! " What would not a man do to serve
such a proprietor ?

It was a very pleasant jaunt. We started in
the early morning, lunched between Calais and
Paris, and dined at the dinner to which I have
referred in the restaurant overlooking the Made-
leine. Then we lunched twice in the Exhibition- —
once on the second etage of the Tour Eiffel, and
once at the Russian Restaurant. When we had
returned my friend, Mr. Harry Furniss, drew a
delightful caricature of those who had taken
part in the expedition. I must confess that I

1 II


was a little reluctant to show this picture to one
of my sons, as I feared he might be a little hurt
at seeing the unceremonious manner in which
his parent's personal peculiarities had been
handled. But my mind was instantly relieved.
" My dear father," said my son, roaring with
laughter. " Why, it's exactly like you ! "

Of all the men I have ever known, George du
Maurier was the most accomplished. The first
time I met him was when he was singing in an
amateur performance of Cox and Box, a perform-
ance subsequently repeated at Moray Lodge,
then the residence of the late Arthur Lewis, who
was soon to become the husband of that most
charming of actresses, Miss Kate Terry. Later
on I sat next to ** D.M." every Wednesday for
many years in Bouverie Street, and found him
the most delightful of companions. He could
draw, he could write, he could sing. His colleagues
were overjoyed with his success with Trilby.
The song I heard him sing, " Hush-a-bye, Bacon,"
had such a delightful setting by Arthur Sullivan
that the words were changed to those of a more
sentimental character. But I believe the second
version was scarcely a success — the odour of the
original bacon clung to it. And poor Arthur
Sullivan, I fancy, did not find the sale of his
sweet song, " Meet me once again," increase after
George du Maurier had published a " half page "
showing a tenor singing the refrain, to the evident
satisfaction of a " Tabby," who was recognizing
the cry of the cats' meat man. " Me — et me once



again, me — et me once again," was accepted by
pussy as an invitation to dinner.

And now for a confession. In spite of the
pleasant character of the hoUday trip to Paris,
I cannot recall a single good story connected
therewith. That may have been the penalty
of constant companionship. The ideal staff dinner
is one that associates with the contributor the
presence of the intellectual well-wisher and friend.
I have been a member of many a staff dining club
in my time, and that is my experience. A letter
from the late Charles Keene, the artist, in which
he spoke disparagingly of a staff dinner of which
he was a member, attracted some attention years
ago. It lives in my memory because it was pub-
lished in a book which was kind enough to say I
was dead. The report of my decease had already
reached a Scotch paper of which, in years gone
by, I had been the London correspondent. That
journal very amiably said that I " was greatly
respected and deeply regretted by a large circle
of friends and acquaintances." But the bio-
grapher of Charles Keene simxply gave my name,
and added in a footnote, " Since dead." The
announcement was not nearly such nice reading
as the half-column in the Perthshire Advertiser,
so I caUed the attention of the publishers to the
fact of my continued existence. They most
amiably stopped the press, and erased the prema-
ture announcement of my untimely — it will
always, from my point of view, be untimely —
decease. They also most courteously presented

113 H


me with the impression of the revised work.
But I regret that I did not have the " since dead "
edition — it is now of far greater value than the
later ones. Of course the earlier impressions of
Keene's drawings are ear-marked by " since


Chapter IV

I THINK I have suggested by what I have
written that I was, so to speak, brought up
upon Punch. From the days of my earUest
childhood the chief topic I heard discussed was
Punch. All the domestic arrangements of the
household depended upon the requirements of
Punch. My father's well deserved annual holiday
was made to fit in with the exigencies of Bouverie
Street. Every week I saw my elder sister, under
the supervision of my father, pasting in his con-
tributions to Punch. Most of my father's dearest
friends (inclusive of the proprietors) were con-
nected with Punch ; I lived in an atmosphere of
Punch. Was it then unnatural that my greatest
ambition should be some day in the distant future
to myself write for Punch ? It never entered into
my wildest dreams that I should sit at the same
table that my father had attended, and, as chance
would have it, at the very same place. And it
seemed an absolute impossibility that I actually
should be appointed assistant editor; and when the
editor was yachting, or away without an address,
I should positively edit Punch myself. And yet


in course of time all these pleasant things came to
pass. They seemed a dream in the days of my
boyhood, and they seem a dream now in the hour
of what I will call by stretching a point my middle
age. Yes ; my connection with Punch was and
is a dream. I do not propose to make this book
a volume of controversy. I merely desire to
record facts that I think may be interesting to
the general reader rather than to the large circle
of acquaintances it is my delight to believe take
a personal interest in my career.

My father was dead, and his death made, of
course, a great difference in our means. At the
moment he put off harness — it was the very last
moment, for contributions from his pen appeared
in Punch and the Illustrated London News on the
day of his first funeral — he was in the receipt of
an income of £2,500 or £3,000 a year. This was
made up as to half by his salary as a police magis-
trate, and as to the rest by the cash he received
as a contributor to Punch, the News, the Times
and the Express. Moreover, there was always
a decent income derivable from his stage works
on the list of the Dramatic Authors Society.
That income was expended on the household,
and those claims of the house to which I have
referred. Of course his death affected me. My
two brothers were some years my senior. One
was a midshipman in the Indian Navy, and the
other a student at Christ Church, Oxford. In
course of time the idea, I believe, had been that I
was to follow my elder brother to Oxford, and then



either become a clergyman or a barrister. I never
went to the University, and although I was called
to the Bar it was through my own exertions, much
as in the same way it was through my father's
exertions that he was called to the Bar. The
assistance in each case was from the same source.
We were both called to the Bar at Gray's Inn after
our marriages ; and here I cannot help suggesting
the strong resemblance that his career bears to
my own. We both were editors before we were
one-and-twenty. We both wrote for the stage,
both worked our hardest on Punch. W^e both
sat at the same place at the same table, and in
each case our place knows us not, as I once told
M. Zola. " I believe in heredity," I said to him.
" I trace a resemblance between our namesake,
St. Thomas of Canterbury, with whom we claim
a blood kinship, and ourselves. Look at him,
look at me. Eleven hundred years or twelve
hundred years ago he wrote the best of books
after waging war in France as a soldier. So the
career of St. Thomas of Canterbury. Now my
case ; I, too, have been a soldier, as an officer in

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettThe à Becketts of Punch; memories of father and sons → online text (page 7 of 21)