Arthur William À Beckett.

London at the end of the century : a book of gossip online

. (page 13 of 19)
Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 13 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

refer to the well l^own love of the Irish people for
peace, and their equally marked aversion to anything
connected with " a row." He said that he was a
lover of harmony, not only as an ecclesiastic, but as
a native of the Emerald Isle. Then he described a
beautiful picture that he had seen during the season
hanging to the walls of Burlington House. It was a
sketch of the calm and silvery Thames. The sun
was setting, and the atmosphere spoke eloquently
of rest and solitude.

" When I gazed upon this lovely painting," said his
Grace, or rather his Lordship, for he then was only
Bishop of Peterborough, '* I felt that even curates
might play with me with impunity ! "

Then another admirable speaker was the late
Charles Dickens, whose orations have since his death
been gathered together in a single volume, which is
quite worthy of taking its place on the shelf reserved
for his novels. Thackeray never cared for oratory,
and preferred to write rather than to talk — at a public
meeting. As a conversationalist he was admirable,
and was the feature of the Garrick Club when that
brilliant crowd of clever men foregathered in the old
quarters at King Street, Covent Garden. Sir Edward


Bulwer Lytton, afterwards Lord Lytton, and the
father of the late " Owen Meredith," " read better than
he wrote." His delivery was extremely artificial, and
he found considerable difficulty in modulating his
voice, no doubt because he suffered from the infirmity
of deafness. I remember seeing him at the old Port-
land Club, in the days when that cercle was situated
at the corner of Stafford Place, Oxford Street. As
a rule whist was negotiated in silence, but on the
occasion to which I refer there had been such ex-
tremely bad play on the part of one of the quartette,
that at the end of the rubber there was considerable
" reclamation." Hot words were spoken that a hun-
dred years earlier might have led to a matutinal visit
to Chalk Farm. But Lord Lytton heeded them not.
He sat like a statue, unmindful of their utterance.
Both Lyndhurst and Brougham learned their speeches
by heart before they delivered them, and Lord John
Russell was the last of the statesmen who used the old
pronunciation for " oblige," invariably calling the word
" oblege."


Thanks to scores of reporters, we know the charac-
teristics of all the speeches of most of our modern
statesmen. The " Devonshire yawn " has taken the
place of the " Hartington slumber," marking the ele-
vation of the popular statesman from the Commons


to the Peers. Mr. Goschen, when he has no notes,
and can speak without a paper held close to his fince
nez, is also a favourable specimen of the talent of the
House of Commons. Mr. Arthur Balfour has just a
touch of the Hartington-Devonshire weariness. He
is very much on the alert when seated in his place,
but the moment he rises to address the House he
seems just a trifle lackadaisical. This was particu-
larly noticeable when he was engaged a few years
ago in answering the questions of the Irish members.
Mr. Chamberlain has a "smooth" manner, but his
smoothness is not unsuggestive of the calm of oil of
vitriol. Mr. Labouchere smiles sweetly when he says
the absurdest things ; and Colonel Saunderson beams
with good nature when he delivers his most pointed
sallies. Nowadays we have no wags. For some time
Sir Wilfrid Lawson was accepted as a wit, but I am
afraid of late his humour has been considered as much
out of date as the good things of the late Mr. Joseph
Miller. Dr. Wallace before his lamented death was
coming to the front as a humorist. His claim to
be considered one of the House's " funny men " was
neither allowed nor disallowed.

I have been told, for I cannot speak from experi-
ence as I have never had the honour of sitting in
the House myself, that " the parliamentary manner "


is everything. Young fellows who have come fresh
from the " U.D.C.'s " of Oxford and Cambridge,
unless they can catch the mode are nowhere. Many
a man who has made a reputation even in oratory
outside the House has lost it the moment he has
passed the portals guarded by the Serjeant-at-Arms.
And a first impression is very important. A man very
frequently does more in his initial couple of sessions
than in his whole parliamentary career. If he fails
he falls like Lucifer never to rise again. An " old
Parliamentary hand " once told me that a first oration
should be short and good, so that the rest of the
House might ask for more. The " member of the
maiden speech " should know his subject well and
have something to say worthy of attention. If pos-
sible, it should be new and certainly true. The day
may come when the good young man may enhance
his reputation by laying himself open to correction,
and then pave the way to that most popular of per-
formances, " a personal explanation." And at first he
should be as reliable as Truth (the person and the
periodical) themselves — he cannot indulge in imagina-
tion until he is at least five sessions old.


When I commenced this chapter, I had every in-
tention of dealing with the art of public speaking
generally — parliamentary, municipal, and social — but


I find that I have already exhausted my patience in
touching upon the first branch of the subject. How-
ever, that I may get away from the Theatre Royal,
Westminster, to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, and
(old) Prince of Wales's I refer to two pieces that con-
tained speeches supposed to be delivered by candi-
dates for parliamentary honours. The first was a play
at " the little house," in which Mr. Charles Mathews
took part. He acted as an agent, and Buckstone was
in the cast. The old Haymarket company supplied
the remainder of the dramatis fersonce. I fancy that
Buckstone was the fugleman of a band of voters
whose opinions were emphasised with bludgeons.
They were called " lambs," and existed long before
the days of the Nottingham scandals. If my memory
does not play me false, the piece was called The
Contested Election. Then there was a piece by
Mark Lemon called, strangely enough, The Member
for Wrottenboroiigh, and of course Tom Robertson's
Society. In the last I first saw Sir Squire Ban-
croft, who played Sydney Daryll long before his
charming wife had changed her name from Wilton to
Bancroft. No one noticed the Squire's " drawl " in
those distant days, but then the popular actor had
yet to play Captain Hawtree in Caste. I remember
the effect of the speech at the end of Society
spoken " off." Bancroft's voice was accepted as
pathetic, without a trace of the " swelldom " that was


its chief characteristic when he appeared as the extra-
heavy dragoon, and the oration " went " with thun-
ders of applause. Time has thinned the old cast.
" Johnnie " Clarke and Dewar have joined the ma-
jority, but we still have the Bancrofts and Hare.
Society must have been produced some thirty years
ago, and The Contested Election (written if I am
not wrong by Tom Taylor) a decade or two earlier.
Of the cast of the last I fancy none remain — the last
to go were Mrs. Charles Mathews and Mr. Henry




Two Sundays in April a large number of people
(they are called " smart " in the Society journals)
spend their time in visiting Chelsea and St. John's
Wood in search of the pearls of the studios. A
great many of them possibly know as little about
art as anything else, and the vast majority probably
make the customary rounds because it is the thing
to do. A select few, no doubt, are actuated by
nobler motives. These genuine lovers of pictures
put in an appearance to see their favourites' work
before the canvases are annexed by Burlington
House and the New Gallery. After all, the best
place of inspection for a painting is the studio.
When it is resting on its easel all its beauties can be
fully recognised, especially should its author be in
attendance. It is placed in the best light, and in-
congruous neighbours are warned off. No doubt the


Hanging Committee of the Royal Academy and the
Managing Directors of the New Gallery do their best
to secure appropriate surroundings to all the works
entrusted to their care; still accidents will happen.
If one painting is killed by another, and a third is
rendered ridiculous by the presence of a fourth, the
excuse must be that space is limited, and bad hang-
ing (from an artist's point of view) is better than no
hanging at all. So given that the best place in
which to see a picture is its native studio, and an
excuse is found for the crowds who congregate in
Chelsea and the Regent Park during the April


As I write there is no more enviable position
in the wide world than the Presidentship of
the Royal Academy. A season or two ago I
happened to be present at the meeting of two
Royal Academicians in the rooms at St. James's
Palace. They were both in Court dress, and
both had paid their respects to the Representa-
tive of their Sovereign. They looked and were
cultured and comely gentlemen. Amidst the glitter-
ing throng of scarlet and blue uniforms the two
members of the Royal Academy more than held
their own. They were excessivement distingue.
And I could not help contrasting with these


admirable representatives of modern English art
the sort of worker that found his pictorial embodi-
ment in Keene's sketch of " Stodge." The painter
of twenty or thirty years ago was a Bohemian pur
et simph. He had hosts of friends, and these
friends chaffed him unmercifully if he showed the
slightest inclination to go "into the world." If a
man appeared after dark in a studio in evening dress,
he was held up to ridicule as " a swell ; " if he
accepted an invitation to stay a week or so at a
country house he was regarded with real concern as
a dangerous madman. Charles Keene's " Stodge "
was the companion sketch to Tom Robertson's
"Stylus." The latter was the "literary hack" of
Bohemia. They both were thoroughly good fellows
—in the best sense of the word gentlemen— but I
am afraid, from a society point of view, just a little
"impossible." Nowadays "Stodge" is all that he
should be, and " Stylus " is nothing that he shouldn't
be. They are welcome in halls of dazzling delight
in Belgravia and Mayfair, and are asked to meet
all sorts of august personages. Very right and
proper. A king picked up an artist's pencil, and for
centuries our principal portrait painters have received
the honour of knighthood.

The old affectation (for it was nothing more) of
preferring clay pipes and beer to cigars and wine,
has passed away. Long hair is nowadays scarcely a


sign of genius, and a tail coat does not bar the road
to distinction. In a word, artists and journalists have
rejoined the company that ages ago included
Sheridan and Reynolds, Goldsmith and Dr. Johnson.


Leaving social questions out of consideration, and
merely regarding Art as a profession, there is no
doubt that when successfully followed it is most
lucrative. When certain wills come to be proved I
fancy that it will be discovered that painters make
quite as much money as popular physicians and
celebrated ^solicitors. The pick of the work (from a
commercial point of view) is portrait painting. I
have been told that every Royal Academician can
secure as much as he pleases of this kind of work if
he hkes to accept it. Of course, men of the standing
of Mr. Sargent, Mr. Luke Fildes, and Professor
Herkomer must be pestered with people wishing to
give them commissions. That goes without saying ;
but I fancy all the Brethren of Burlington House
could turn portrait painters if they pleased. I believe
that there a number of "subjects" who give com-
missions on the understanding that their portraits
must be exhibited either at the Royal Academy or
in the New Gallery. This body (a large one) would
serve as a clientele. However, be it said in honour


of art that the R.As. are reticent in painting portraits.
Those who practise or have practised this branch of
their profession have invariably been worthy of their
tasks. Some of the best pictures of the century have
been portraits painted by Millais, Fildes, Ouless,
Herkomer, and Frith. After portraits, perhaps
Scriptural subjects are the most lucrative. A
painting that can be shown in a separate room,
and then engraved, is "a little fortune" to anyone
who can acquire it. " Pot-boilers " of pretty children,
military exploits, and "made-up" reproductions of
popular resorts are not to be despised. They all
bring grist to the mill, and in considerable quantities.
The printsellers are great allies of the artists, and so
are the advertisers. Soap-sellers have immortalised
"Cherry Ripe" and the cigarette makers have
caused many a clever sketch by a worker in black
and white to be continually perpetuated on the
metropolitan hoardings.


To sum up. The profession of an artist in
London, instead of being considered as the
" occupation " of an idle dreamer, is now regarded
as an excellent opening for a young man who
can boast talfent as well as birth and breeding.
A successful artist must be a well-read and polished



gentleman. Of course, like Tennyson, he may shun
society, but when face to face with his fellows he
must be able to hold his own. Of course I do not
say that genius may not raise an artist from the
ranks as it raises men in every other walk of life
from the same source. The stories of the Chancel-
lors have told us that many a keeper of a sovereign's
conscience has had forbears of the humblest origin.
But such exceptions have proved the rule that in
intellectual callings early associations with refinement
are of the last importance. Nowadays family por-
traits intended to continue the series of centuries are
painted by the artistic scions of the race depicted,
and even millionaires find no fault with the occupa-
tion regarded from the standpoint of L. s. d. So
given talent, there can be no pleasanter career for a
man than that which makes a studio not only a place
of recreation but a source of income.




On the first Monday in August all Londoners enjoy,
officially, the last summer outing for the year. If
the weather be fine, thousands and thousands go
rushing into the country on pleasure bent. The rail
and the boat carry them miles and miles away.
Before the day is over an immense number of our
fellow countrymen are able to boast that they have
been to France and back. A glance at the advertise-
ment columns of the weekly papers on or about this
time will show how many and varied are the dis-
tractions of " long distances in limited times." North
and south, east and west, people can go to see their
friends or to renew acquaintance with that universal
benefactress. Dame Nature, in her country residence.
My accomplished friend, Mr. Ashby Sterry, has shown
us in his " Tiny Travels " how many delightful
excursions may be made near poor old London.


Town to most Englishmen (and in the term I in-
clude Scots, Irish, and Welsh) is at all times a charm-
ing spot. I use the adjective advisedly. There is
something absolutely " charming " about the acces-
sories of London. A native is accustomed to the
magic of the two great cities, and expresses no
surprise. But the country cousin (who frequently
knows his London infinitely better than his metro-
politan relative) finds genuine subjects for wonder-
ment in such places as the Tower, the Crystal Palace,
the National Gallery, the group of Government
exhibitions in South Kensington, and the British
Museum. So, in spite of the rival attractions of the
provinces, I contend that our little village has many
claims upon our attention. London is not half a
bad place to recreate in, but (to quote a song already
old) " You have to know it first." Even on a Bank
Holiday life can be lived profitably in town.


I need scarcely say that it is a very excellent
thing, if you can manage it, to rise early. The late
George Augustus Sala has, I think, shown us, in
" Twice Round the Clock," that the initial hours of
the day may be spent to great advantage in either
Billingsgate or Covent Garden Market. It is some
years since I visited the first place at the time to


which I have referred, but my recollections of the
occasion are distinctly vivid. I was going by the
early morning boat to Boulogne, and at that time
there was a regulation in force that passengers were
only permitted to come on board an hour before the
departure of the vessel. In these circumstances, I
found myself a person with little to do, plus ample
time in which to do it; or, as our American cousins
might have termed me, a temporary member of the
" leisure classes." After leaving St. Katharine's Dock
at about two in the morning I walked by the Tower
Ditch, where I found a man engaged in a fight with
a lady who described herself (in language more suit-
able, perhaps, to Billingsgate than Pall Mall) as his
wife. As the female was getting the worst of it I
thought it my duty to interfere, when the couple,
recognising the unity imposed upon them by the
law, made up their difference immediately and " went
for me." I had to run, if not for my life, at any
rate for my personal safety. I was younger then than
I am now, and therefore could trust to my agility.
I was taught the lesson, however, to avoid interference
in domestic squabbles. It is dangerous to intervene
between man and wife — especially in the neighbour-
hood of the Tower before sunrise. My rapid retreat
took me to Billingsgate Market, brilliantly lighted
with gas, and full to overflowing with fish salesmen
and fish purchasers. The auctioneers are hard at


work knocking down the inhabitants of the vasty
deep with the celerity of Hghtning. Outside the
market for two or three hundred yards the streets
were congested with carts. Some years after the
date I have in my mind as I write, there was a
correspondence in the newspapers calling attention to
the crush, and declaring that some of the vehicles
crowded with fish never reached their destination.
A number of the correspondents insisted upon the
cruel waste caused by the confusion and interruption
of the traffic, and there were leaders of the usual
type suggesting that London was sacrificed to mis-
management and greed of gain. It was during the
** dead season " that these interesting communications
appeared, and for the moment everyone left in town
talked of nothing else. Then someone committed
a mysterious murder, or one of our agents in savage
lands got up a little war, or a bank came to grief, or
something of that sort happened, and Billingsgate and
its abuses were forgotten. I have no doubt that were
enquiry made it would be found that Billingsgate
stands where it stood and the abuses are just as
much a matter of the present as they were of the past.
No doubt we pay now just as much (and unjustly too
much) as we did then. A holiday-maker tied to
town on the next fete of St. Lubbock might pay
the place an early morning visit and see how things
are going. Always supposing that the feast does


not interfere with business, I imagine he would hnd
plenty of material for an indignant letter to the
papers. Let me recommend the experiment


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 13 of 19)