À Beckett, Gilbert Arthur (DNB01)

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À BECKETT, GILBERT ARTHUR (1837–1891), writer for 'Punch' and for the stage, eldest son of Gilbert Abbott à Beckett [q. v.], by his wife Mary Anne, daughter of Joseph Glossop, clerk of the cheque to the hon. corps of gentlemen-at-arms, was born at Portland House, Hammersmith, on 7 April 1837. He entered Westminster school on 6 June 1849, became a queen's scholar in 1851, and was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1855, matriculating on 7 June, and graduating B.A. in 1860. In the meantime, on 15 Oct. 1857, he had entered at Lincoln's Inn, but he was never called to the bar. In June 1862 he became a clerk in the office of the examiners of criminal law accounts, but in the course of a few years, as his literary work developed, he gave up this appointment. For a time he contributed to the 'Glowworm' and other journalistic ventures. He also sent occasional contributions to 'Punch,' but at this time was not admitted to the salaried staff. He turned his attention to writing for the stage, and among his plays, original or adapted, are 'Diamonds and Hearts,' a comedy (Haymarket, 4 March 1867); 'Glitter, a comedy in two acts' (St. James's, 26 Dec. 1868); 'Red Hands, a drama, in a prologue and three acts' (St. James's, 30 Jan. 1869); 'Face to Face, a drama in two acts' (Prince of Wales's, Liverpool, 29 March 1869), and 'In the Clouds, an extravaganza' (Alexandra, 3 Dec. 1873). Among the numerous libretti that he wrote the most notable were those to Dr. Stanford's operas 'Savonarola' and 'The Canterbury Pilgrims,' both produced during 1884, the former at Hamburg and the latter at Drury Lane. He also wrote several graceful ballads, to which he furnished both words and music.

In the meantime, in 1879, Gilbert à Beckett had been asked by Tom Taylor, the editor of 'Punch,' to follow the example of his younger brother Arthur, and become a regular member of the staff of 'Punch.' Three years later he was 'appointed to the Table.' The 'Punch' dinners 'were his greatest pleasure, and he attended them with regularity, although the paralysis of the legs, the result of falling down the stairway of Gower Street station, rendered his locomotion, and especially the mounting of Mr. Punch's staircase, a matter of painful exertion' (Spielmann, Hist. of Punch, 1895, p. 383). To 'Punch' he contributed both prose and verse; he wrote, in greater part, the admirable parody of a boy's sensational shocker (March 1882), and he developed Jerrold's idea of humorous bogus advertisements under the heading 'How we advertise now.' The idea of one of Sir John Tenniel's best cartoons for 'Punch,' entitled 'Dropping the Pilot,' illustrative of Bismarck's resignation in 1889, was due to Gilbert à Beckett.

Apart from his work on 'Punch,' he wrote songs and music for the German Reeds' entertainment, while in 1873 and 1874 he was collaborator in two dramatic productions which evoked a considerable amount of public attention. On 3 March 1873 was given at the Court Theatre 'The Happy Land: a Burlesque Version of W. S. Gilbert's "The Wicked World,"' by F. L. Tomline (i.e. W. S. Gilbert) and Gilbert a Beckett. In this amusing piece of banter three statesmen (Gladstone, Lowe, and Ayrton) were represented as visiting Fairyland in order to impart to the inhabitants the secrets of popular government. The actors representing 'Mr. G.,' 'Mr. L.,' and 'Mr. A.' were dressed so as to resemble the ministers satirised, and the representation elicited a question in the House of Commons and an official visit of the lord chamberlain to the theatre, with the result that the actors had to change their 'make-up.' In the following year A Beckett furnished the 'legend' to Herman Merivale's tragedy 'The White Pilgrim,' first given at the Court in February 1874. At the close of his life he furnished the 'lyrics' and most of the book for the operetta 'La Cigale,' which at the time of his death was nearing its four hundredth performance at the Lyric Theatre. In 1889 he suffered a great shock from the death by drowning of his only son, and he died in London on 15 Oct. 1891, and was buried in Mortlake cemetery. 'Punch' devoted some appreciative stanzas to his memory, bearing the epigraph 'Wearing the white flower of a blameless life' (24 Oct. 1891). His portrait appeared in the well-known drawing of 'The Mahogany Tree' (Punch, Jubilee Number, 18 July 1887), and likenesses were also given in the 'Illustrated London News' and in Spielmann's 'History of Punch' (1895). He married Emily, eldest daughter of William Hunt, J.P., of Bath, and his only daughter Minna married in 1896 Mr. Hugh Clifford, C.M.G., governor of Labuan and British North Borneo.

[Illustr. Lond. News, 24 Oct. 1891; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1716-1886; Barker and Stenning's Westminster School Register; Gazette, 21 March 1821; Times, 19 Oct. 1891; Athenæum, 1891, ii. 658; Era, 24 Oct. 1891.]

T. S.