T. Martin Wood.

George Du Maurier, the Satirist of the Victorians online

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them with an acuteness that became to him an inspiration. With du
Maurier the enjoyment of social life, so manifestly evident in his art
at one time, may well have been entered into with something of the
fierce delight with which we take our sunshine in a rainy summer. In
later years he became home-staying in his habits. One imagines he felt
that he had taken from Society all that it had to give him - the
knowledge of life necessary to him in his work, and friends in
sufficient number. It is from about this time that his art shows
evidence that an intimate contact with the social movement was no longer
sustained. The tendency to repeat himself, to produce his weekly
picture by a sort of formula, becomes noticeable; and the absence of
variety in his work becomes oppressive.

Du Maurier was a man of great natural versatility. For some reason or
other he was not fond of the theatre, but he was in possession of a
considerable genius for monodrama, and often delighted his friends by
his impersonations. We have seen that it was once within the bounds of
possibility that he would have become a professional singer. His
conversational gifts were great. He was a writer of singular
picturesqueness. A considerable interest in the progress of science was
noted in him to the last. If we look back at the record of the lives of
artists to find what manner of men as a rule they were, we shall find
that, in contradistinction to poets and musicians, they were pre-eminent
as men of the world. Skill in plastic art seems a final gift imparted to
men very highly constituted. It steals them entirely away from other
aims, but exists side by side with, while yet it transcends the ability
to achieve remarkable performances in dissimilar directions. Perhaps it
is because, of all men, the true artist regards the material world with
the clearest vision, living in no world of dreams, finding reality
itself so delightful.

The artist never at any stage of his life lost the rollicking spirit of
a boy. It broke out in conversation and in his letters. In narration he
reserved the right of every _raconteur_ to make a point by some
exaggeration. In letters of his that I have seen the note of high
spirits may be said to be the prevailing one.

For instance, to the head of the _Punch_ Firm, after a _Punch_ dinner:

"_Jan._ 14.

"Would you allow one of your retainers to look under the table and
see if I left a golosh there - and if so, tell him to leave it at
Swain's, to be returned by his messenger on Monday? I must have
been tight, and the golosh not tight enough, and I appeared at the
Duchess's with one golosh and my trousers tucked up. H.R.H. was
much concerned about it, and said, 'It's all that - - _Punch_
dinner!'"

To the same:

"I'm on for the 25th at the Albion and much delighted. Is it
evening dress? If not, tip us a card. If you do not I shall
conclude it is, and appear in full togs, which I will get out for
the evening.

[Illustration:

O
|
/|\
/ | \
O O O

(Attenborough)]

"I had really hoped to have got down to Bouverie Street yesterday,
but the conviction forced itself on me as the day wore on that I
should never get a cab to bring me back. I know I am a back-slider
in the matter of the _Punch_ dinner (and all other dinners when I
can help it). I can get thro' my work so much better after the
frugal home repast, and in bed before 11 P.M. Not that I have been
able to indulge in the early couch these holidays, for Hampstead,
slow as it is, is a fearful place for juvenile dissipation, and
parents have to sit up night after night at Xmas time. I hope you
Wandsworthians have more sense."

In an earlier stage of the book we fixed the period at which du
Maurier's work in _Punch_ was at the height of its vitality at about
1879 - and on into the early "eighties." And the artist himself seems to
have had a strong feeling of increasing power at this time. In January
1880 he approached _Punch_ for a revision of the prices at which he was
then working. By the courtesy of Mr. W. Laurence Bradbury I am able to
quote in part from letters bearing out the inference that it was at this
time that du Maurier entered into consciousness of his own worth:

"_Jan._ 1, 1880.

"DEAR BRADBURY, AGNEW, & Co., - The time has come when I think I may
fairly ask you to make an increase in my salary.

"The quality of my work has greatly improved of late years and my
popularity has grown in proportion, and these results have been
obtained at great expense of thought and labour, and I find as a
rule that the more time I devote to each production, the more
favour it meets with from the public.

"It is now a good many years (seven or eight I believe) since you
were kind enough at my request to raise the payment of the quarter
page....

"Since that period I have gradually become enabled thro' the
improvement in my health to give much more of my time to my _Punch_
work - all the drawings selected by you for 'English Society at
Home' have been done since then - and whatever other qualities they
may possess, they are very careful and elaborate in most instances,
and without this care and elaboration they would lose most of their
value in the world's eye...."

Then follows details as to the revision of the prices. And then a day
or two later he sends the following letter:

"_Jan._ 4, 1880.

"Mr DEAR BRADBURY, - Many thanks for your kind note. It is really a
painful effort to me to 'ask for more,' and I've been putting it
off from day to day these six months. The pleasure and enthusiasm
with which I have got to do my work for _Punch_ (since I have got
better in health and so forth) are such that I should be content to
go on so for ever, without any rise, if it weren't for my having
such a deuce of a family! but what's a fellow to do!

"You've no idea what it is to go trapesing up and down, hunting for
a subject, _while all the time the hand remains idle. Punch_
requires such a lot of thought, you see - and then when the time
comes for the hand to do its work, you can see what care and time
are taken with the execution....

"I only wish it would suit the convenience of _Punch_ to take all
the work I could send on a scale of prices literally fixed by
myself! (ye modern Hogarth!! 10,000,000 a year! R.A. - P.R.A. - Sir
George!!!)"

At the foot of this letter is a thumb-nail picture of "Chang," du
Maurier's huge Newfoundland, leading a blind man, initialled D.M. The
dog holds a tin and begs from a passing fine lady, a well-known beauty
of Society and the Stage, and the legend "Sic transit Gloria Mundi"
describes the situation.

[Illustration]


§ 8

The above letters were dated from New Grove House, Hampstead, where the
du Mauriers lived for twenty-one years. They had moved into this house
from Church Row, where they had gone when they first came to Hampstead,
and where their youngest son was born. During the period of their long
residence in New Grove House they frequently took a furnished house for
the winter season in Town for the convenience of going into Society. It
was the inaccessibility of Hampstead before the days of the Hampstead
Tube that made du Maurier latterly relinquish many social engagements,
and developed the disinclination for theatre-going which I have seen
ascribed to an aversion from the drama.

Sir Frederick Wedmore says that it was at Hampstead evening parties that
du Maurier found his type of the Adonis up-to-date. Alas, that even by
Sir Frederick Wedmore the type should be regarded as salient of du
Maurier's pictures. It is further evidence that the artist is only
remembered by his later pictures. It is in these the type
monotonously appears. But we feel better disposed towards Hampstead
when the eminent critic adds that Church Row itself gave du Maurier more
than one of the models in whom one recognises his ideal of youthful
feminine charm.

[Illustration: Manuscript of "Nocturne"

"Sun of the Sleepless - Melancholy Star!" - BYRON.

Translated into French by George du Maurier.

_The English Illustrated Magazine_, September 13, 1886.]

Du Maurier's tastes were very quiet. His interests were centred in his
home, and he found no companionship more acceptable than that of his own
children. He was not at all fond of being alone. He preferred even to
work with people round him; writing his novels in the drawing-room
standing with the MS. upon the top of the piano, and walking up and down
undisturbed by the conversation of his family round him. It caused him
no annoyance when members of his family broke into his studio during
working hours. His work both as draughtsman and writer was always
produced without any of that pathetic travail which for many artists and
writers lies between conception and expression. He did not exhibit the
most unpleasant of the traits of a talented person - the overstrung
condition of nerves which makes a man unpleasant to a household; he
preserved the serenity that pertains to greater genius still. His house
was always an open one, and the life in it must have been highly
typical of that English family life of which he was the pre-eminent poet
in his drawings.

Du Maurier was elected a member of the Athenæum Club under Rule 2. He
showed his appreciation of this Club by not making use of any other,
though he was such a highly sociable man. He was early a member of the
Arts Club, though using it less frequently after its removal to the
Dover Street house, of old-world distinction. At the Athenæum he
frequented the billiard-room as a sociable place, though he was not very
fond of billiards or card games. He could get on quite well in life upon
"conversation" as a recreation, interspersed with music.

After the great _Trilby_ boom, and when he was writing _The Martian_ - in
fact, only a year before his death, the artist moved into town to live
in Oxford Square. He was partly influenced in this by the expiration of
the twenty-one years' lease upon which he held the Hampstead property.

In a paper contributed to the _Hampstead Annual_ for 1897, the issue
following the artist's death, Canon Ainger traced various Hampstead
spots to be identified as the backgrounds of du Maurier's subjects, and
recalls how on Hampstead Heath many subjects for _Punch_ came to be
discussed between them in the course of conversation. He describes the
way that one of the artist's most famous jests, in the days of Maudle
and Postlethwaite, took its final shape one day in Hampstead, and by a
singular chance arose out of a University sermon at Cambridge.

A certain well-known humorist of the time had remarked that the
objection to Blue China (it was the special craze at the moment) was
that it was so difficult to "live up to it." This utterance had been
lately taken somewhat over-seriously by a special preacher before the
University who, discoursing on the growing extravagances and frivolities
of the age, wound up an indignant tirade by an eloquent peroration to
the effect that things had come to a sad pass when persons were found to
talk of "_living up_ - to a Tea-pot." At this juncture the jest seemed
ripe for treatment, and du Maurier thereupon produced his famous drawing
of the æsthetic bride and bridegroom comparing notes over the precious
piece of crockery in question: "Oh! Algernon! Let us live up to it!"

Speaking of fifteen years of constant companionship in walks upon the
Heath, the Canon says no one could have had a better opportunity of
tasting the unfailing charm of du Maurier's conversation, the width of
his reading and observation, and his inexhaustible fund of anecdote. In
these conversations Canon Ainger heard every detail of his companion's
school life, his studio-life in Paris, which afterwards found a place in
the pages of his three novels.

Referring to the long years of uninterrupted achievement of the artist's
life at Hampstead, "only once," says his friend, "in all the years I
knew him was he forced to lay his pencil by for a season. His solitary
eye had temporarily failed him, but, with spirits unsubdued, he promptly
took up the art of lecturer with marked success, although from the first
it was against the grain. When, however, after an interval his sight
returned to him, and the literary instinct, encouraged doubtless by the
success of his lectures, began to quicken, he gained, we all know,
though then past fifty years of age, a new public and a new career in
writing fiction." "Except," proceeds Canon Ainger, "to his intimate
friends and to his colleagues on _Punch_ the display of this gift was an
absolute surprise.... He wrote with extraordinary and even dangerous
facility. It is fair, however, to add that his best passages were often
produced as rapidly as all the rest. For instance, the scene in _Trilby_
when the mother and uncle of Little Billee arrive in Paris, hearing of
the engagement, and have their first interview with Taffy, was written
straight off one evening between dinner and bed-time." This scene, in
the judgment of Ainger, represents du Maurier at his high-water mark as
a novelist and as a worthy follower of the great master on whom his
style was undoubtedly based.

"Hampstead," continues the Canon, "was a real foster-mother to George du
Maurier, not only in what it brought him but in what it saved him from.
He was by nature and by practice one of the most generous and hospitable
of men. He loved to entertain his friends from town, and to take them
afterwards his favourite walks. But he disliked dinners and evening
parties in London, not because he was unsociable, but because good
dinners and long journeys 'took it out of him' and endangered the task
of the following morning. The distance from town and the long hills made
late hours inevitable. To listen to some new book read aloud in the
studio, which was also the common sitting-room of wife and children,
made the chief happiness of his evening."

"We owed it," says his friend, "to Hampstead air with its many sylvan
beauties that du Maurier was able for so long, notwithstanding defective
sight and health gradually failing, to prosecute his daily work with
scarce an interruption."

The link between the place and the work produced in it is in the case of
du Maurier, apart from the fact that Hampstead scenes so frequently
recur in his pictures, anything but a superficial one. "Hampstead," the
artist wrote, "is healthy but dull." It was the very monotony of the
place, the even conditions under which it was possible to work there in
his day - when it was farther away than it is in the present age of
"tubes" - that assisted the building up of the remarkable record in
_Punch_ - the indispensable contribution made every week by du Maurier to
the journalism which, in the days when the fashionable world counted
several influential journals devoted to itself, placed _Punch_ in its
unique position among them. Society reserved quite a touching deference
for the opinions of Mr. Punch. It gives us some idea of the position
into which the paper had worked itself a generation ago when we find
Ruskin, the greatest social critic of his day, going straight to it for
an authoritative picture of the time. People have not sufficiently
remembered how often when they have referred to _Punch_ they were really
referring to du Maurier, or what is left now of his tradition - his way
of dealing with the foibles of society. The position of the paper in
Society was won by appositeness of political criticism, and the delicate
edge of its satire. It was du Maurier who put that edge on. Society
returned fascinated after every wound to inspect the weapon. Keene's pen
brought immense artistic prestige to _Punch_, but its social prestige it
owes to du Maurier more than to anyone; we only become aware that Leech
had begun a tradition in its pages by its supreme fulfilment in du
Maurier's art.


§ 9

Henry Silver, a member of the _Punch_ staff, who came to the table in
1858, kept a diary of the talk of the table until he retired in 1870.
The present writer was the more touched by the honour of being permitted
to look into this interesting document from the fact that the pen of the
exquisite E.V. Lucas has but lately inspired itself at the same source.
This was for a paper of Thackerayana which concluded, after reference to
the death of Leech, Thackeray's friend: "On November 7th (1864) Leech's
successor, George du Maurier, took his seat at the Table, and so the
world goes on."

Thackeray bulks more largely in the diary than even du Maurier, for du
Maurier's genius in the table conversation was wholly for asides. We
have already mentioned his comparative lack of interest in the debates
over the large cartoon. And this Silver himself draws attention to: "Du
M. and H.S. generally mute when the 'L.C.' is discussed." The
conversation at each meeting is for some time closely confined to the
discussion of the cartoon, then it spreads to every imaginable topic.
One feels that one assists at the making of history when the Great
Cartoon, or Cut, as they called it, is discussed - as, for instance, when
the design for the one representing Disraeli on the side of the Angels
is decided upon, after his famous speech at Oxford in 1864. The
desultory conversation reported in the diary on each occasion after
settlement of the cartoon throws a light upon things uppermost in the
public mind at the time. It is noted when the Queen comes out of
retirement into the world again. And a vivid reflection is to be found
of the horror felt at the news of the assassination of Lincoln. Men as
closely united as the _Punch_ staff have prejudices as clearly defined
as those of an individual. There was great hostility to the Swinburne of
the sixties. Du Maurier on one occasion sticks up for Swinburne as "the
writer of lovely verses - the weaver of words - the rhymer of rhymes." "Du
M. and H.S. agree in thinking Tennyson will live 'chiefly by his songs
and minor lays.'"

[Illustration: George du Maurier

From a photograph.]

"Du M. thinks _Vanity Fair_ a little Bible," "Rather an epistle by the
Corinthians," says Shirley Brooks.

One night after dinner du Maurier walked home in the wet. "My carriage
is waiting for Silver," he said. "My carriage is waiting for gold,"
answered Shirley Brooks.

Sometimes the discourse at the table is of Religion. "Du M. believes in
God, and that whatever we do God will not punish us."

"A comfortable faith," adds Silver.

Once the discussion turned upon suicide. "Du M. says before he married
he often felt tempted to suicide."

In heading his diary shortly after du Maurier joined the table, Silver
writes "Du M." and then corrects it "(no: DU M.)." And in another place
he writes, "Du Maurier says fellows write to him de Maurier: 'give the
devil his du.'"

In 1865 the proprietors, getting old, have put their sons in their
stead, and taken the Agnews into partnership. The staff talk
sentimentally of old times. They drink success to the Firm. Mark Lemon,
the Editor, proposes the health of Bradbury & Evans, saying, "men work
well together because they are liberally treated. Thought our loss last
year (death of Leech) would have seriously affected _Punch_, but it did
not. And no single loss will." Bradbury, replying, speaks of the
brotherly affection between the editor and the proprietors. "Says if you
want men to serve you well treat them well, and win their sympathy and
esteem.... Evans is emphatic on the Brotherhood of the Punch table."
Thackeray's "Mahogany Tree" is sung; du Maurier sings a French song, and
F.C.B. also singeth a song with no words to speak of, &c. &c. &c. "So we
pass a jolly evening, and bear in mind - that Sociality is the secret of
the success of _Punch_."

On another occasion there is the paper's "Silver Wedding." A watch and
chain with eleven links - the mystic number of the _Punch_ staff - is
handed over to Mark Lemon. In the morning he has received a letter with
a hundred guineas. He claims, in replying, "that the _Punch_ Brotherhood
is one of the most extraordinary literary brotherhoods the world has
seen."

Shirley Brooks hands him letters written by the staff individually,
testifying their gladness at the gift proposed. Du Maurier wrote the
longest and Charles Keene the shortest.

We have extracted the following items from the diary, quoting exactly,
except for the substitution sometimes of the full name for initials:

_November 7th_ - _Monday_. "S.B., du Maurier (his début), H.S.,
J.T., M.L., P.L., F.C.B., H.M., T.T.

"(The initials stand for Shirley Brooks, Henry Silver, John
Tenniel, Mark Lemon, Professor Leigh, F.C. Burnand, Horace Mayhew,
Tom Taylor.)

"Du Maurier tells of Whistler and Rossetti's rage for old china,
and how Rossetti once left his guests at dinner and rushed off to
buy a piece before Whistler could forestall him."

_May_ 17, 1865. "Du Maurier was presented with a son and heir on
Saturday, so we baptized the infant in a bumper of Champagne."

_December_ 20, 1865. "While the Great Cut is being hatched,
Burnand, du Maurier, and Silver all make little cuts of their
initials on the _Punch_ table. Henry Silver between William
Thackeray and John Leech - Burnand where à Beckett sat and du
Maurier where Leech."

"Miss Bateman retired from the stage (at Her Majesty's) on
Friday - she has rather proved herself a one-part actress, and so
has Sothern, whom Burnand denounces as a practical joker - most
unscrupulous in tongue."

"Du M. thinks it harder to write a poem than to paint a picture.
But surely there's no comparing them. One mind expresses itself
with a pen and another with a brush."

_Jan_. 17, 1866. "Du Maurier tells of the gas blow-up at his 91
Great Russell Street on Boxing-day. Girl dressing in the shop for
Hairdressers' Ball - turned on two burners and lit one and left it
burning. Du Maurier and wife dressing on top floor - bang! like a
hundred pounder, and then rattle - smash - crash. 'O! the children!'
'D - n it! They're all right!' first time he ever swore before his
wife. Sister tried to jump from window, but Armstrong held her
back. Baby crowing in his arms at the fun as he came downstairs.
The nursemaids had run away of course. Lucky no one on the stairs,
or they'd have been killed."

_April_ 4, 1866. "In reference to a Ball on the Haymarket
stage - 'Would you like to go?' said S.B. to du Maurier. But du
Maurier's dancing days are over - only cares for dinners now! Fancy
the old fogydom of thirty!"

_November_ 7, 1868. "Du Maurier cut down to five cigarettes a day,
resolves to ride daily and live frugally: frightened by his eye
this summer!!"

_February_ 24, 1868. "Tenniel has almost given up smoking! Used to
smoke an ounce a day. Can eat a better breakfast now. Nearly all
our _Punch_ folk smoke less. Tom Taylor has given up cigars and
only takes a pipe occasionally. Du Maurier takes cigarettes four a
day in lieu of forty. H.S. never smokes at all after dinner. Only
Keene and Mark and Shirley stick to their tobacco."


§ 10

Sir Francis Burnand, till recently the distinguished Editor of _Punch_,
was du Maurier's senior on the paper by a year or two. He has very
kindly sent the writer the following impression of the artist: "That he
was beloved as a cheery, witty _confrère_, goes without saying. Rarely
did he mix himself up with politics in any shape or form. I doubt if he
ever gave us any assistance in devising a political cartoon. What his
politics were I am unable to say, and I do not think he troubled himself
about the matter. In 'the old days' he delighted in chaffing Horace
Mayhew, with whom he exchanged 'slang' in French. With the jovial
proprietor, William Bradbury, he was always on the best of terms of
friendly nonsense, being invariably his left-hand neighbour at 'The
Table.' He was a genuine Bohemian of the artistic fraternity (as given
in his _Trilby_) with the true polish of an English gentleman, of the
kindest disposition, and of the warmest heart. All who knew him well
loved him, and none missed him more than his fellow-workers on _Punch_."

"His religion," Sir Francis volunteered in a further note, "as that of


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Online LibraryT. Martin WoodGeorge Du Maurier, the Satirist of the Victorians → online text (page 8 of 10)