Chapter i. Family History.
ii. Early Recollections.
iii. At School with Cecil Rhodes.
iv. First Business Experiences.
v. George Baxter and his Methods.
vi. Lithography and its Limitations.
vii. Athletics and Rowing in the Seventies.
viii. Thirty-six years of “Vanity Fair”.
x. Merely Anecdotal.
xi. Theatrical Memories.
xii. Home Life.
xiii. I reach Port Sixty
Chapter i. Family History.
OLIVER ARMSTONG FRY
First among Editors
To accept my attempts at writing
And who has been mad enough to
Encourage my present enterprise
This volume is
It has been said of the Elder Matthews that a friend once enquired of him how he secured such a hold upon his audience, and the reply was :
“Directly I come upon the stage, I look for some good-natured fellow in the pit : I then play to him and in doing so generally succeed in entertaining the entire company.”
27, Hornsey Rise Gardens,
It is at times a good thing to desist from studying ourselves with complacency in order to consider how much of any real worth and interest that we possess arises from those who have preceded us.
This will lead us to consider to what extent we owe these advantages to the mother who first taught us at her knees to address the All-Father in words of which we then understood not the meaning; or to the earthly father who introduced us to the discipline of life and by example and precept guided our infant steps aright.
In regard to my ancestry I am unable to go back more than a couple of generations on either side, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that both my grandfathers were reputable tradesmen; the one a Bookseller and Stationer with a turn for Literature that led him into the company of Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Shelley and William Godwin, the author of “Caleb Williams”: the other a Music Publisher of repute highly thought of by the musical men of his time as a thoroughly fair-dealing man.
John Brooks of Oxford Street, as my Stationer grandfather was frequently termed, had spent a considerable portion of his early life in Virginia, accompanied by one William Robinson from the neighbourhood of Carlisle. They are said to have acquired land near Richmond, but I am quite unaware what become of it; they, however, returned in time for the Waterloo rejoicings.
My grandfather’s Western experiences could not have been entirely devoid of result, for about 1813 he set up in business at what was then 421 Oxford Street, just opposite to the Western end of where Frascati’s now stands and brought as his wife a young lady of great beauty and considerable attainments.
Her maiden name was Elizabeth Steggall and her attractions are vouched for by an interesting miniature by Charles Hayter that still exists. She was an amateur actress of distinction, her performance of Mrs Malaprop and Mrs Candour in Sheridan’s two great Comedies being much admired.
On October the 25th 1815 my dear father was born and was christened Vincent Robert Alfred. Two brothers and one sister followed at short intervals in the order named. The last mentioned, it is a joy to know is still living as Mrs Buttfield at Bush Hill Park, Enfield.
From 1820 onwards John Brooks was actively engaged in politics, being intensely interested in the agitation that culminated in the first Reform Bill, and subsequently quite in the inner circle of those who carried on the Chartist Movement. So much was this the case that in 1827 he printed and posted what was held to be a seditious bill, of which I am able to supply a reproduction.
The idea was to cause a run on the bank of England and thus stay the political efforts of the Duke of Wellington. The story of this bill and its posting was recently recorded over again in the Columns of the Newcastle Chronicle as under.
Perhaps the most important political work that he did was in regard to the removal of the Paper Duties, or the “Taxes on Learning” as they were called, in this he was associated with William Watson, and he bore a very large share of the expenses of the prolonged agitation. By this means he dispersed a very considerable proportion of the money that he had made, so that when he retired to Jersey shortly afterwards he was by no means the wealthy man that he might have been thought judging from his apparently prosperous career.
Among his efforts to publish...
I was born on December 21st 1848 in the same room at 421 Oxford Street in which my father had been born thirty-three years previously. The weather I should perhaps describe as “seasonable” for my uncle Sidney had been there overnight and had assured my mother that she might rest comfortably, for no self-respecting baby would start life’s journey in such unpropitious weather. However, he met the doom of those who prophecy before they know, and the morning scared to St. Thomas of the enquiring mind found me making my earliest observations on things in general.
The records of the Parish Church, St. Ann’s, Soho, bear witness that a little later the label “Frederick Vincent” was attached to me in solemn form, and certain promises were made on my behalf in which Miss Castell, a girl friend of my mother, took part: for a long time I thought that her name had been added to the others.
At school I was always known as “F.V.C. Brooks”, which my schoolfellows used to suggest savoured of a redundance not wanting in other directions : but on going to the Church Registry many years after I found that the extra name was a myth.
I had been preceded in the family history by my brother Alfred William whom, although, I am rejoiced to say still alive, had never had very robust health, and my parents seem to have considered that now they were getting a family around them they might with advantage follow the idea then forming in the minds of the younger members of the business community, that it was no longer necessary to follow the example of their forebears and live “over the shop” ; the matter was being much discussed, for the new idea was spoken of by others as “putting on airs”, but my father then as ever was with the reformers and made the plunge.
So the day that I first recollect, the one on which the Duke of Wellington was buried – November 1852 – found us living at Grafton Place, Kentish Town, a row of houses now merged in the Prince of Wales’ Road: this day is well fixed in my memory as my maternal grandfather, William Wybrow, was left in charge of me while my parents witnessed the procession from Prouts, the well-known Chemists closely adjoining to Temple Bar on the south side of the Strand.
My worthy grandfather had by that time developed a habit which frequently took him upon licensed premises, and the usual method of procedure when we reached such an establishment was to exclaim “oh Fred, I believe they sell very nice Rock Cakes here”; and this process having been repeated several times I was very poorly indeed when my father and mother arrived home.
The stuttered explanations of my old grand-dad I well remember, and I should now imagine that he was in a condition little better than his charge.
I suppose that my temper had by this time unduly developed for one day when I had a few friends to tea, my uncle, to whom I had given the name of “Mr Funniman”, arrived at the door in a cab: great was the excitement when the children gathered at the window, saw him alight: dressed up in a white tie and a black gown, and a face that might have been modelled on a miniature harp, he made a most impressive entrance into our midst, and requisitioning a large flower-pot, a cork ( most important ) and an old tray, he announced himself as having come for the internment of the temper that had been the source of so much trouble. The cork having been inserted in the hole at the bottom of the flower-pot, and my mother having certified that it was well and securely fixed, the work of getting the temper out of me and between the pot and the tray was completed by a variety of comic passes that were intended as a burlesque of one of Professor Mesmer’s séances, and we formed a small and admiring procession to the end of the garden where the last rites were performed to the satisfaction of everyone. I still believe that this little farce did me good as a child, and I am firmly convinced that it has done me good as a father by suggesting alternative and sometimes humorous ways of enforcing my views upon my offspring.
Shortly after this incident, my father having taken premises with good living accommodation attached at 40, King Street, Covent Garden, we migrated there.
Well do I recollect our regina. It took place in a Clarence cab; closely packed inside were my mother, a maid, whose name I forget but whom I looked upon for many years as my guardian angel so many scrapes did she get me out of, my brother and self, with about two parcels each and with boxes to match on top.
Coming down Tottenham Court Road I was much struck by the Omnibuses, yellow then as now: they certainly appeared of a size not less than a tram-car would appear to me at the present time and I was amused to hear them described as “mustard pots” a name for these yellow vehicles that has not quite disappeared.
Two things stand out during our residence at King Street, Covent Garden, and they are the fire at the Opera House, which we witnessed from our back windows, and which I find by reference took place on March 5th, 1856, after a Bal Masque during the management of Professor Anderson, known as “the wizard of the North”, and the other a very serious fall that my mother had for which I fear I was responsible.
My home life here was rather dull although I was sent to school in Wells Street, Jermyn Street, kept by Mrs Castell, the mother of the Miss Castell before referred to. Mr and Mrs Castell were kindly natured people, but the latter had a sister whom I still look upon as the very incarnation of cruelty : one of her methods was to supply me for dinner with a huge portion of potatoes baked under the meat which I was quite unable to eat on account of the sharp edges cutting my gums, and then compelling me on the ground that I was obstinate to sit with these in front of me all the afternoon while the other boys and girls attended to their lessons. I have since heard of many educational methods but surely none quite so ineffective as this.
Mr Castell was a highly cultured man and a much respected reader for the press in the employment of Messrs Clowes & Son. He greatly prided himself that he had for a number of years been responsible for the corrections of that important work the “Nautical Almanac” : he lived to a ripe old age, and in the seventies he was a persona grata on the balcony of the then newly built London Rowing Club Boat House at Putney, where he was familiarly known as “Grandpa”.
The dullness of my child life was largely caused by my mother’s intensely nervous disposition and her extreme devotion to house-work : whenever I try to recall her memory, as at this time, I see her with a duster in her hand – there was intense energy all the morning and a sort of Early Victorian primness as the tea hour approached; the ugly furniture, of which I still hold a sufficient stock, was the object of veneration. I once said “Mummy is it possible to worship tables and chairs?” “No, my child: why?” “Because I sometimes think you do,” was the reply. The number of “don’ts” that I had to put up with each day under these conditions may be imagined, while over all there was an intense religious element, with prayer in the morning and grace before and after each meal, so that only an energetic youngster could feel that “joy of living” that is so natural to childhood.
I do not by these words wish to suggest any irreverence or a dislike for observances : my aspect to religion is far otherwise ; but there is a form of dull Calvinism which I have never been able to appreciate.
About this time I fear I must of got on my mother’s nerves, I certainly got on her dress and caused a very serious fall down a long flight of stairs. My terror and dismay as I saw her hurtling down will never pass from my mind, and when I found that the result was a dislocated shoulder my grief and agony of self-reproach were unbounded.
I at once rushed into the office at the foot of the stairs where I found my father showing a first proof of a lithograph, three-quarter length portrait to Earl Stanhope, [who was then I think Minister for War], they both rushed out and carried my mother within, while a doctor was sent for. Over this there was some delay as all the doctors were out on their rounds, so his Lordship who was intensely kind went off in his brougham and fetched one that he knew.
In those days there were no anaesthetics and my mother often spoke of the intense pain caused by the resetting of the joint.
It is perhaps little to be wondered at that shortly after this there were suggestions of sending me to boarding school. Some very old friends of my parents, Mr and Mrs Jacob, had upon retirement gone to live on Mitcham Common, so a school in that neighbourhood was selected and at the early age of eight I was admitted a pupil at The Poplars, Figs Marsh, Mitcham, then kept by a Mr Spencer. It was selected on account of it’s nearness to the Jacob’s and very kindly did look after me, Mrs Jacob paying me many visits at the school and frequently inviting me to her beautiful little cottage on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Sometimes these excursions were especially interesting by reason of a drive in their pony carriage to Croydon.
I shall never forget my feeling of home-sickness when my father and mother turned their backs to leave me on the first day. I felt as if my heart would break, and no consideration would lead me to place so young a child away from home. For some time I was inconsolable, and being much taunted by the other boys it was little wonder that when dear Mrs Jacob came to see me for the first time I was described as looking “puny”.
As there were in those days no scientific body-building foods, Mrs Jacob prescribed half a pint of London porter daily and she said that it should be sent in from the “Three Kings”.
Great was the excitement on the following day when the pot boy was seen coming up the poplar avenue in front of the house, that gave the school its name, and solemnly delivering “Master Brooks’ beer”. Mercifully it was taken to the kitchen door, and I have ever felt that it was due to the timely intervention of the cook that I have been saved from habits of intemperance. Certainly it was “small beer” by the time it reached me, and the flavour seeming to be approved by the domestic aforesaid the so-called half pint was always a diminishing item.
Soon after this incident the school changed hands and was taken over by a Mr Albert Grover, a really first rate teacher of the young who, I believe, is still engaged in tuition at Broadstairs although he must, of course, be a very aged man.
I believe that Grover grounded me thoroughly in my studies, for in each succeeding school I was placed in class higher than my age would have suggested : he was a stern disciplinarian but possessed of much kindness and tact. A curious habit he had was to compose rhymes, certainly of rather doubtful merit, and make the boy who had offended repeat them over and over again at the midday meal ; this in fact punished all to a certain degree, for the offender worried all, much as the turning on of a gramophone would at the present time, the desire to avoid infliction improved the tone of the school. I have always believed that this rhyming habit induced a similar habit with me of which more may be said hereafter, for I have never been able to refrain from breaking out into verse, like Silas Wegg, on both suitable and unsuitable occasions.
How different were the schools of those days in the home comforts to what they are now? But then I imagine that the fees were much lower. For example we always had a plentiful supply of pudding, chiefly of a roly-poly sort, before meat and never did we see a particle of fire till November 1st, by which time we had got so to long for it that we sat round our first fire of the season almost worshipping it, as so many little Parsees might do.
The school was on the direct road to Epsom and the Derby Day was a great event with us. We were habitually formed in a row looking over the fence, as I now believe, as much by way of an advertisement of the school as for our pleasure, and many were the trifling presents we had thrown at us by the merry throng.
On one of these occasions two men dressed up in green veils, white hats and dust coats, just as you see the men in Leech’s and Phiz’s pictures, came along in a dog cart and pulled up at our school gate: to my great surprise it turned out to be my sporting uncle and a friend who wanted to take me along with them. My master, quite reasonably as I can now see, declined the suggestion having no authority from my parents and the sportsmen drove off in considerable dudgeon; their hats decorated with the wooden dolls that were then so customary, and brought with them quite good-naturedly a huge basket filled with oranges, nuts, and dolls for me to distribute to my little friends who were all loud in their declaration that he was “something like an uncle”. I am not certain as to the date of this event but the curious in such matters can look it up for themselves for “Blink Bonny” had won and placed her name among the few mares who have secured the Blue Ribbon of the Turf.
Living close by the school and subsequently at the school-house itself was a widow lady named M’Rae whose husband had been in the Indian Army : she had several sons who were my principal friends while here, especially do I recollect Archibald and Henry who both became Colonels in the Indian Service to which their father had belonged. Colonel Archibald Spiers M’Rae did nearly all his preparation for a commission under Mr Grover, to whom his pupil’s success in getting through the entrance exam, was a great pride and joy, for they were sincerely attached to each other and continued so till the Colonel’s death in 18__.
Well do I recollect the evening that Archibald M’Rae, my brother and I spent together a few days before M’Raes departure to take up his commission ; my good friend John Mitchell, of the Royal Library, Bond Street, to whom in after life I was so much indebted, placed at my disposal, the well known “Cocker” box at Drury Lane Theatre.
At that time the popularity of the pantomime began to wane it was customary to shorten it by lopping off the Harlequinade and by outing some standard piece on in front, and that evening we had indeed a full bill, viz., Mr Samuel Phelps as Sir Pertinax Mac sycophant in the “Man of the World”, and the Pantomime, I think “King Pippin”, with Master Percy Roselle in the title part. “Master Roselle” was in no way young at the time but was very successful in keeping up his juvenility.
From our point of vantage, the box immediately adjoining the stage on its prompt side, we could see the easy familiarity of the so-called boy with the ladies of the Company, so that when shortly after his entry he exclaimed in a childish treble :
To keep our parents pliant,
And of we find we don’t succeed
There will be time to get a giant.”
The effect on our section of the audience was not very convincing.
Phelps as Sir Pertinax was magnificent, M’Rae especially approved of his Scotch accent.
In 1859 my father moved his business from King Street, Covent Garden, to 1, Chandos Street close by, the corner now occupied by the Civil Service Stores, taking over the remainder of the lease that had been granted by the Duke of Bedford to Mr Griffiths, the very celebrated silk mercer, a relic of Georgian times.
He was a benevolent and dignified looking person who is immortalized by Mulready in his celebrated painting “Choosing the Wedding Gown” where he appears in the wig and the habit as he lived.
The business had so extended that space could not be found in these new premises for the household and my father and mother came to live at a house called the Hut on Mitcham Common and I became a day scholar at the Poplars to my great joy.
This arrangement only last for a year, as the journey to town was found to be too trying; a bleak walk across the common and a poor service of trains when repeated twice a day formed a very serious addition to the labours of one whose working hours were already arduous and long.
While I had been at school at Mitcham my brother Alfred had been at various farms and small schools in the country as it was felt to be better for his health. Among these places was Oxted to which he used to go in a carrier’s cart starting from Scotland Yard, Whitehall, and with the aid of “memory’s sweet but brief encore” I can now see him seated in his cart-contained chair preparing to start.
Our next home was at Sussex Villa, Clapham Rise, where we had a large and productive garden well-planted with pear and other trees of considerable size, the fruit trees seeming at the less crowded time to flourish well on the London clay. There I went to the Stockwell Grammar School of which the Rev. Watson was the head master; it was in some way associated with King’s College, Strand, and I imagine that a fairly high standard of classical reading was taken in the higher forms, for compositions in Greek and Latin verse were very much in evidence on the Speech Day. When I went there I was only eleven years of age, but was rather popular with the bigger boys. This popularity may have arisen from the fact that I was even then able to give them useful help in the production of the Prologues and Epilogues that were custom on the occasion of the annual prize giving. In fact they were nearly all mine on the year that I last attended the function.
I am afraid that I was rather artful even in those days, for having but “little Latin and less Greek” I who was helping the bigger boys was myself helped by a ripe scholar living in Kennington who supplied me with the classical allusions, references to the Pierian Spring, etc. , that were such essential features in these productions.
This gentleman was Mr Townsend and I retained his friendship till his death. He was a literary man of some distinction and with a very kindly heart to any aspiring youth ; his chief work on which he spent many years was “The Manual of Dates”, a sort of Haydn on a new system, which formed a most valuable book of reference.
On its completion he brought me a copy in recognition of some work I had been able to put in his way through my friend Mr S.O.Beeton, who was such a pioneer in popular publications for boys.
On that day we strolled down Holborn and my friend seemed very distressed and told me that he was much worried with money matters, that his portly volume had been such a prolonged task that he had already drawn all and more than was due to him. By the time we got to Chancery Lane we were preparing to part company. At that time a very first rate confectioner’s was at one corner and The Radnor, then as now a much frequented dining house. At the other, so I suggested a glass of wine at either of the establishments; he said he would rather have a bun!
I at once took in the situation and suggested a lunch at The Radnor over which we lingered for a considerable time and had much pleasant talk. A few days later I was startled by a paragraph reporting an inquest on my friend : he had died apparently from starvation at his room near Kensington Gate.
The cause of my leaving Stockwell Grammar School was that in the summer term of 1862 when I was approaching fourteen years of age I was the victim of an entirely undeserved and unmerciful flogging from the headmaster, who was a man of absolutely uncontrollable temper and quite unsuited for a schoolmaster.
A window was broken in the playground during play time : we all took to our heels and ran to the other side of the building, but the drill master and caretaker, a certain Sergeant Tully, caught me and ran me in to the “Head”. In vain did I plead that I had not thrown the stone but had only run away with the rest, my master was boiling over with rage and either could or would hear nothing.
Dr. Watson at once proceeded to birch me in the most brutal manner, while the sergeant held down my head : so excited did the master become that in his passion he tore his gown with the hand that was free. When he was exhausted he changed places with the sergeant and the agony of the fresh and stronger man “laying on” was unbearable and blood flowed freely.
This took place more than a mile from my home and when dismissed I started my journey there on foot as I had no money and felt unequal to facing my school-fellows to borrow any. Fortunately when about half way home I was overtaken by my form master, Mr Mansell, whom I remember as at all times a most gentle and kindly man : he was very sympathetic, put me in a cab and handed me over to the care of my mother more dead than alive.
My father, although a man of great kindness, was of a Spartan disposition in regard to bearing pain and I imagine never fully realised the agony I had been through. He, however, wrote a strong letter and removed me from the school.
It would indeed have been better if he had taken Police Court proceedings, though he would in those days have had difficulty in getting a summons granted, for shortly afterwards Dr. Watson’s temper again got the better of him ; this time it was at his home and he killed his wife with a carving knife in a paroxysm of rage while they were seated at the table.
The evidence at the trial showed that he had buried the body under the floor but eventually got a carman to take the box elsewhere. For some time the disappearance of Mrs Watson was a great mystery, but a large reward being offered the carman came forward and cleared it up.
Watson was convicted and sentenced to death, but great efforts were made for a reprieve; these were successful at the last moment, and after great pressure upon the Home Secretary Sir George Grey.
Had the execution taken place it would have been one of the two last at Horsemonger’s Lane Gaol. I remember that a man named Samuel Wright was executed on the day appointed, Jan. 12th 1864, and after the law had taken its course in his case there were persistent shouts for Watson.
Considerable protests were made in the press for it was felt that he had been spared on account of his cloth. The Doctor was sent away into penal servitude for life, but his detention was not to be prolonged for he committed suicide by jumping from a circular staircase – a truly appalling end to a life rich in opportunities.
While I was at Stockwell the first great craze for collecting stamps broke out and many of the boys after school were in the habit of tramping to town and back to attend a market that was held after business hours in the wide part of Birchin Lane. The venue was well chosen for there was little traffic through the Lane, and it was an interesting sight to see some hundreds of diminutive connoisseurs plying their trade. The plan was not without its advantages, for there was distinct code that regulated the dealing, and the lads, I have often thought, attained to precise and business habits that in after life stood them in good stead. On one of there journeys to town we witnessed the great Tooley Street fire in which the chief of the Brigade, Mr Braidwood, was killed : it continued for many days and the scene from London Bridge was very striking.
Our Summer holiday of 1862 was spent at Broadstairs, where my father took a furnished house jointly with Mr Edward Stanford, the well-known Map Publisher, then of Charing Cross, and his son the present proprietor of that business was one of the party.
As might be expected my recent experience at Stockwell was a prominent topic of conversation between the seniors, and Mr Stanford promised to make enquiries with reference to a good school for the completion of my education, with the result that the High School at Bishop Stortford was selected on account of the excellent reports that were forthcoming of the qualifications of the Rev. Godfrey Goodman the head master.
I have never had the least reason to regret the choice, for I spent three very happy years there, while Mr Goodman, though not a man of lofty attainments or high degree, was really great as a teacher, and the way he could either enforce a moral principle or interest boys in their studies was remarkable.
The High School was founded, according to a paper that I have in front of me, in the sixteenth century, and a list of Preachers and Stewards from 1696 is in existence, though there is a break from 1768 to 1850 during which time the school was in abeyance.
In the latter year through the energies of the Rev. F. W. Rhodes, the father of Cecil John Rhodes, who was Vicar of the Parish and a man of much educational zeal, the school was reconstructed.
Mr Rhodes would seem to have been associated in the matter with Mr John Archer Houblon the principal land owner in the district, who acted as Steward at the 1850 Speech Day and President of the School while I was there, liberally supporting our Sports.
The school was a very popular local feature at the time receiving much support from the officers and troopers of the First Herts Light Horse who had a strong squadron in the town. Among the former I recollect Major Odams, Captain Fourman, Lieutenant Percy Taylor and Adjutant Launcelot ; both these and the privates figure in my memory as a very smart and excellently mounted body of cavalry. Their marches out with band playing caused great excitement among the boys who cheered them heartily; this feeling was reciprocated by the support given to any school enterprise that we had on hand. Mr Percy Taylor had a good cricket eleven who played an annual match with the boys.
At the time of my entry I do not think there were more than sixty boarders at the newly built school in the Hadham Road; it was even at that time a commodious building on up to date lines with large dormitories, ample supply of baths, etc., while outside there was an excellent pleasure and kitchen garden, reserved for the head master, and good open and covered play-ground for the boys.
A field across the road provided us with football and hockey in Winter and a practice ground for cricket in the Summer, our cricket matches taking place in the excellent cricket field of the Bishop Stortford Club some distance away from the school.
When I first went there, Michaelmas term 1862, the school seemed to be invariably termed the “High School”, but from examination papers of 1865, my closing year there, I see that it is called Bishop Stortford School, as I imagine because the Nonconformist Grammar School, that is now such an important educational centre, had been opened and that there was a quite natural desire on the part of those connected with the old foundation that it should not lose any of its prestige through the coming of the new institution.
The two schools were situated close together and the High School boys looked upon the others as intruders so that at first there was some friction and a few fights, but as our boys walked down from the school house to the class rooms on West Hill in “crocodile” formation this state of affairs did not last for long.
My memory of Mr Goodman is of a rather stout man of less than average stature with a mass of jet black hair rather “fuzzy” in character; his mobile face was indicative of kindness. He was described on the earlier prospectus of the school as Associate of King’s College, but while I was under him the then Bishop of Rochester Dr. Money-Wigram conferred the degree of Doctor of Divinity upon him. This gave great satisfaction to the boys and their parents and was widely welcomed in the neighbourhood, so that the position of the school was strengthened thereby.
Dr. Goodman was a churchman of an evangelical type, but his views had broadened out in advance of Dr. Colenso’s writings, and he had with his own hand ruled out certain statements made in Pinnock’s Scripture Reader that he thought were ungrounded and were made in the effort to reconcile recent scientific discoveries with the early chapters of Genesis.
The head master of the school was also a Chaplain of the Union at this time, and just before leaving I went with him on several Sunday afternoons to the Workhouse and read the lessons. On one of our walks there I used the world “altar” in reference to the communion table, and he said “I do not think Brooks I would use that word, for the altar implies a sacrifice whereas I delight to look at the Sacrament as a Commemorate Sacred Feast” and my Churchmanship ( I spell it with a big C ) has always remained of the order that that remark suggests.
Among my very pleasant memories the classical master the Rev. T.C. Pallett holds a prominent place. He had been educated at the Blue Coat School whence he proceeded to Lincoln. I used to call him to his face a “dear little soul” and although he has been dead many years that is the aspect in which I still regard him.
Mr Pallett was a very diminutive man with an enormous head, in appearance not very dissimilar to Professor Huxley, but with a nature that suggested Tom Pinch; the liberties that he would allow myself and certainly others to take with him surpassed belief, but he never tolerated mere rudeness. He evinced a profound interest in my commercial instincts, picked up at the Birchin Lane Stamp Mart, and winked at certain illicit dealings that he perhaps ought to have suppressed for I had not been there long before I had a definite agency for a stamp dealing firm who wrote from Bath.
Among other thing that were “taboo” I took up an agency for a man named Latrielle hailing from Walworth who sold an elixir for “producing hair on the smoothest faces,”- I can but feel that I did it for the fun of the thing, but in any case the effort was a complete failure and not a single order was booked, but when as a final effort I induced my mother to let me take back as a play-box a hair trunk decorated with brass nails that had been my grandmother’s and solemnly declared that it was the deal box of last term after a period of treatment, he joined in the fun of the thing and called me a “sophisticated commercial traveller”. Mr Pallet was very much inclined to spoken Latin and Greek so that we took Cicero and Terence for Latin at a much earlier stage than is usual, and from the latter he and I used to get much fun by knocking up dog-Latin at which he certainly was very proficient.
The head master showed his practical nature by the importance he placed on Chemistry, not nearly so much taught at that time as now, for which study we had a very able teacher in Mr E.V. Gardner, who had preceded Professor Pepper of Ghostly fame at the old Polytechnic in Regent Street.
He gave us lectures with experiments to which the public were sometimes admitted, while certainly for one term Mr Gilbert of Harpenden, the associate of Sir John Lawes, gave lectures on the Chemistry of Agriculture: but the countrybred boys sons of prominent farmers as many of them were, laughed him to scorn, and at the close of the series he announced that he should not continue next term as only the two boys, Letts the son of the Diarist and myself, had made the least use of the instruction given.
The attitude adopted by the boys towards the subject was that they could learn what was necessary of practical farming from their fathers; but although many of our ancestors have excelled us in the Arts and Crafts this does not hold good in those progressive fields in which Science is concerned, where the only safe rule seems to be “if it was good enough for my father it is not good enough for me”.
It would appear that on joining the school I was placed in the third class for I received a prize in that form for general proficiency in regard to Lent Term 1863. It was entitled “Wild Sports of the West”[correction:...of the World], by James Greenwood whom I afterwards knew quite well as a Pressman and the author of a series of Articles in the “Pall Mall Gazette” under the pseudonym of “The Amateur Casual”. The coloured plates were by W. Dickes, one of George Baxter’s licences, after drawings by Zwecker the animal painter. I was very proud to be able to point out to Dr. Goodman that the maps were engraved by my father, and on my return to explain to him that they were executed by an entirely new process, of which I shall speak hereafter, by which each letter was stamped in, and the very animals with which the maps were studded were executed in the same way.
At this time I must have been putting in some good work for at Christmas of the same year I passed the Junior Local Examination at Cambridge with two other boys one of whom was named Burder and became an architect of repute, but I have lost trace of him, to my regret, for many years. I recollect that we were mightily proud of ourselves for we were deposited by the Doctor at rooms in Downing Street approved by the Examination Syndicate, so that we felt ourselves budding undergraduates and frolicked in our comparative freedom from school restraint. Our breakfast was sent to us each morning, and having on the first occasion made the acquaintance of the Cambridge Sausage, we were never inclined to attempt any variation during our short stay, and a habit was formed that even now has not lost its hold upon me.
This success led to a very handsome prize, a volume just issued before the Speech Day of 1864 entitled "A Chronicle of England”, written and illustrated by James E. Doyle and published by Messrs Longman & Co.; the numerous coloured illustrations mingled in the text were the work of the late Mr Edmund Evans and are beautiful examples of the work of the period.
With over forty-five years of colour printing experience I raise my hat to that work and am amazed and ashamed that so little progress has been made in the art of book illustration. The cost must have been very great and I should doubt whether the book ever paid, but the great publishing houses of that day used at times to “let themselves go”, and a magnum opus such as this was the result.
On the same occasion I received a couple of other prizes, including Mr Archer Houblon’s for History and geography: it took the form of a well fitted leather-covered writing desk by Leuchars of Piccadilly and that it was a good one may be judged by the fact that I am writing on it now.
In one way at least these prizes had an undesirable effect on me, for soon after my return from the summer holidays Dr. Goodman called me into his study and told me to take a seat. He then said that since I took those prizes last term I appear to have an exaggerated idea of my own importance and he felt that a course of Astronomy would do me good, for if I had but the smallest acquaintance with the wonders of stellar space I should come to the conclusion that if I was the only boy with any gifts in the school, or even the whole county, I was only a mere speck in the Infinite: “Yes”, said he in dismissing me, “I will speak to Mr Badham the mathematical master about the Astronomy.”
The lesson was perhaps a severe one but it did me a wonderful amount of good, the idea was so similar to what my father might have expressed that it seemed a case of heredity and environment pulling in the same direction, in which case something of importance is achieve as surely as the sun and moon on conjunction cause a high tide, or working in opposition cause a lowering of the level.
In the summer term of 1863 the occasion of the Prince of Wales’ marriage was a day of mark with us, I think in fact that we had two days holiday and that on the first day we were invited to a town lunch in a large meadow known as Silver Leys some distance along the Hadham Road: and that on the second we took our share in sports and rejoicing in the cricket grounds. Among the other items there were towards the close a pig-hunt and climbing of a greasy pole. The scholars were supposed to be home by this time but with one or two others I stayed behind and got into serious trouble by attempting the greasy pole. As I had a new suit of flannels on for the occasion and the effort necessitated the taking up with you a bag of cinders, it may be imagined that I was a pretty beauty when I arrived home and had the misfortune to meet the Doctor before any change could be effected in my appearance.
The period of my school life most fixed in my memory is that containing the Lent and Summer term of 1865, for it was then that Cecil John Rhodes became a member of the school, and my mind has frequently gone back to the time in consequence.
Rhodes was then under twelve when I was over sixteen, so that in ordinary circumstances I should not have seen much of him, this would also have been brought about by the fact that he was only a day scholar, but from the position of his father as Vicar and Visitor of the school as well as reviver of the foundation, Cecil’s joining was a welcome event to us, notwithstanding that his brothers Ernest and Frank had previously been in the school.
This was much added to by a charm of manner that I well remember: he was as I recollect him a fair-haired boy with blue eyes and a good physique. On one or two occasions I was brought into intimate contact with him.
The first of these was in the Lent term when I was being prepared for confirmation. The influence of Dr. Arnold on school life was at the time much affecting Dr. Goodman: the boys were put much more on their honour and given a larger measure of freedom, and it was remarkable how well the change worked. We were allowed at certain periods an opportunity of strolling about the town or going for walks in small parties: certain places and shops were called “inbounds” and certain other “out of bounds” while monitors were appointed of whom I was one.
The “Lent” was the great time for cross country runs and in my new capacity I took charge of one of these on a Saturday afternoon, our destination being Harlow. However on arriving at Sawbridgeworth one of my boys fainted and I was obliged to take him to an inn: assisted by the landlord and his wife I got the lad on a bed and applied the usual restoratives: the faint however was a prolonged one so that I felt it desirable to send for a doctor, who said that it was caused by too violent exercise after a meal. On getting downstairs again I was faced with another difficulty for some of the boys had been ordering “shandygaff” and one had clearly had too much. I at once decided that we must get home, so hiring a tumbral that was going back to Stortford empty I started the rest of the boys on their return run and got into the cart with my invalid and the culprit. But the jolting did not suit the latter and about half way home he made a bolt and jumped from the cart striking his head on the ground rather severely.
On getting home I sought out the housekeeper and we bound up his head and got him to bed: but on his round of the dormitories that evening the Doctor caught sight of him and was intensely angry with me but, as I now think very wisely – for I had been subject to a good deal of mental strain – said little that night. At the close of school the following morning, he sent for me: on entering he looked very grave and I felt at once that I was in for a special dressing down, but was scarcely prepared for the very serious aspect that the Doctor took of the matter.
The graveness of it was that I, being a monitor, had not been entirely frank with him: in vain did I point out the difficulties of the position and that I had done the very best I could for my two charges under the embarrassing circumstances, and that I felt he might have expelled the delinquent lad had the facts come to his knowledge. The Doctor remained quite unmoved. I was at the time preparing for conformation and he said he must withdraw my name as he could not possibly present me to the Bishop for that solemn rite after such serious conduct. On leaving I went downstairs from the library, we were at Windmill Hill, feeling very sad and on reaching the schoolroom I met young Rhodes. “What is the matter ‘flea” he said, and I told him the whole tale, and, junior that he was, he was most sympathetic. After a few minutes chat he suggested that I should ask Dr. Goodman to see his father on the subject, for as a Vicar he was preparing many boys and girls for the forthcoming Confirmation, “and meanwhile”, said Rhodes, “I’ll do a ‘bunk’ and square the Guv’nor.”
I at once took his advice and fortunate in catching the Dr. just as he was preparing to leave for the School House: he took my intrusion very kindly and bade me be seated. I then unfolded my suggestion on the grounds that Mr Rhodes took such an interest in the school and that my mother, who was very strict on such matters, would feel that I had committed some awful crime if I were withdrawn from confirmation. I then mildly suggested that he should as a personal concession take the second opinion on my conduct – that of Mr Rhodes.
Our scheme worked: Mr Rhodes, as my master afterwards informed me, laying stress on the care that I had of the sick boy, rather than justifying my conduct in shielding the other: so that in due course the Bishop’s hands were for good or ill laid upon my offending cranium.
There still existed at the time faint echoes of the Regency: one of these was that a number of pedestrians who had mostly become aged, wandered about the country-side doing exhibition runs. They received kindly support from the local press who gave free advertisement in the form of paragraphs, so that when a man was due to arrive there was, in most cases, a goodly crowd to receive him, and a wild rush of two or three hundred people of ten brought the weary man to his goal. The proceedings were generally followed by a collection, as many less mundane matters are.
At this time sport was rather in the air with us, for it was May and we were preparing for our Athletic Meeting, so I secured for myself and a couple of forms leave to go and meet a man named George Mountjoy who was due to arrive at Stortford one evening. He was a little behind scheduled time so that we got about four miles along the road before we met him: he turned out to be a very old man and his progression a mere “hobble”, but the veteran was much encouraged by what he felt was a polite attention, so that our “friendly” lead bucked him up and we finished up in good style, the number of company gradually increasing as we neared the town.
This took place on the Friday so that we were but poor qualified for the collection and as the man was staying in the town I invited him to come up to the school House playground on Saturday afternoon: when he came he brought some very worn out looking lithographed portraits of himself, which I was much gratified to find contained the imprint at the corner “Vincent Brooks Lith,” and he sold a fair number to us.
This increased my already growing interest in the old man. It is curious in this department as well as others what a bond of union grows up between you and the fellow to whom you have given a “friendly lead”, I noticed this many years after on the occasion of Weston’s first great endurance, “Go as you please,” at the Agricultural Hall where the American set up a record for a weeks’ walk and showed us the flat-footed method of progression, or “wobble” so essential for success in a prolonged effort.
Great interest was taken in this walk and the Sporting Press appealed for amateurs to form relays to keep him going especially in the night and early morning when the hall was so dreary and depressing: I was among those who responded, induced thereto by my friend Mr W.H.Leverell, one of the last Editors of Bell’s Life, and I remember how much I became linked up with the man and how rejoiced I was when the time came for my hour’s “trudge”. Weston, it may be mentioned, set up what was then a “go as you please” record of ____ miles_____ yards for the six days.
To [cut] this rather long story short we formed a small club and kept Mountjoy (for that was his name) in the town training us for our sports which took place on May 16th and by his attention he largely induced the success of those who had joined in the little scheme.
I reproduce here a copy of the Sports card as it will be of interest in recalling the names of some of the boys contemporary with Cecil Rhodes: it would be interesting indeed to use it as a roll call and to ascertain how many whose names appear are alive at the present time. Rhodes name will be noticed as running in the 100 yards for boys under twelve, but I am unable to say with what result. I see from a letter to my mother I did very well in these Sports taking the half mile and the hundred yards and coming in second for the mile. I well recollect the mile, for Silver had been showing such good form in practice that we all felt it useless to start, but pressure was put on me in order that this the most important feature should not fall through and in the race I put up so good a bid for victory that one of the Stewards sent me up a cricket bag as an additional reward.
Our cricket was done in grand style, and we always had a good lunch on he ground when we received visitors, the Doctor, however, especially spread himself when we went to other schools. During the summer term of 1865 I went with a second eleven team to Chigwell and acted as Captain: we, second eleven that we were, had a brake and four with postillions, and Rhodes was of our number. From a contemporary sketch that I made of the field I see that he fielded as shorts slip and that I kept wicket. After the match I have, unfortunately no note or recollection of the result: we had high tea at the school, I think it was called Forest School, and when the time for returning came we found that the post-boys had refreshed themselves unduly and there was nothing to be done but find a couple of boys to take their places. Rhodes was in great glee dancing round with excitement and claiming as the youngest boy that he was entitled to ride the leading horse. I conceded his claim to ride one of the horses but was inclined to ride the leader myself, and with a merry twinkle in his eye he said it would look “cock-eyed” for the taller boy to be in front, and further that it was a case where “seniores priores” did not apply. I very soon found that he had done this to avoid the inconvenience of the pole and he chaffed me unmercifully as to my discomfort all the way to Sawbridgeworth where we pulled up, and after a conference and in compliance with the pleading of the men we formally restored them to their office on the ground that they had attained to a reasonable level of post-boy sobriety.
Our School Professional was named Jefferies and he was umpire on that day, but I have some recollect that one of the Silcock family – I think it was Frank – used to give us special bowling in our practice.
I believe that I made good progress in the educational side of my school work at this time for I see by correspondence that the headmaster was making considerable efforts to induce me to continue at the school and compete for the Senior Mathematical Scholarship, but my father was rather unwilling to do this as he was feeling the strain of his hard work considerably and was desirous of my joining him in his business as soon as possible.
He, however, consented to my going in for the Scholarship and I secured it. It was tenable for two years at the school and was of the annual value of £30. But second thoughts prevailed and I did not take it up and trust that I did not deprive any one of it to whom it would have been of service. Had I gone to Cambridge as I had hoped, I think I should have made a special study of law which, otherwise than as a litigant, has always had a great charm for me. This prediction had arisen from the headmaster’s interest in the subject: he used to say that if a Frenchman arriving at Dover was supposed, as Blackstone asserted, to know the whole of British Law, how important was it that a well educated English boy should know the general principles of it and how it had been handed down to us.
The Scholarship to which I have referred, was taken next year by E.A. Beck who did so well at the ‘Varsity and who, I am glad to say, is now living and Master of Trinity Hall, the principle college for legal studies at Cambridge, so that it is quite probable that the same influence affected him.
We had at the school a visiting master of Elocution whose methods always appeared to me to be slightly those of a quack, for he advertised extensively in the papers that he taught “Members of Parliament and others” the English Language. He was very unpopular with the other masters especially the clerical ones for he was in the habit of giving examples of how he had heard the Bible and the Church Service read in Cathedrals and elsewhere.
Rhodes proved to be an apt pupil of his for he took the Professor’s Gold Medal in 1865, the first year of his presence at the school. I am afraid I was the Elocutionist’s particular aversion, for on that Speech Day, having retired to the back of the hall, I suppose to see how our voices travelled, and when I was repeating the line of Macaulay,
“Samothracial knows thee well,”
he exclaimed loudly, “Sammy, Sammy, Sammy, who?” I took the interruption quite complacently and afterwards was much congratulated by Dr. Goodman, the Vicar, and other, on my calmness. Mr Rhodes was especially cordial and after asking me if I were going home that night, invited me round to the Vicarage for the evening.
The only incident I remember was that I spoke rather disparagingly of a boy whose father was a prominent tradesman in the town. The Vicar took me up rather sharply with “Brooks! Brooks! That is unworthy of you! Had my father been a milkman the only point of any importance to me would be whether he sold good milk!” It is only of recent years that I found the remark was not so hypothetical as I thought, for it is now well known that Cecil Rhodes’ grandfather was a purveyor of milk in a large way of business in North London, and that he was an ambitious one is indicated by the fact that his business aim was to own one thousand cows!
After the summer holidays I returned to school but only to introduce a new boy and his father, both good friends of mine: and perhaps about seven years after I went down to, and played in, an old Boys’ Cricket Match, when I fancy the Captain of the school was of the well known Hereford Havegal family.
During the whole of my period at the school I heard much talk of George Porter, who had gone up to Christ College, Cambridge. He had apparently been a very popular head-boy and his career was followed with interest. At the commencement of my last term he left the University and became a master and I am indebted to him for many useful notes in regard to the school.
After a time Mr Porter went into the Church and took his M.A. degree, and many “Old Stortfordians” will be glad to know that he is residing in Bournemouth, and though retired from active duties is in fairly good health.
Although disappointed that my education was cut short in consequence of my father’s urgent need for help in his business, and especially so that I was not to have the advantage of a University career, it must be admitted that a young man could scarcely have entered into his life work as a Lithographer & Printer at a happier time or with more fortunate surroundings.
My father had much of the pioneer instinct about him: his interest in any invention or process that concerned his business was immense. He was in this respect the product of the Birkbeck Institute and the Penny Magazine.
A man of ideas himself, he was most patient and attentive to inventors: these he encouraged by his mere good nature, but as may be easily imagined he encountered a number of harpies from whom he suffered loss. He would seem, however, to have benefited by experience, for one day an inventor called and I tried to stall him off but he was obdurate in wishing to see my father, and as he had an introduction I let him through, but went with him as a sort of “caveat”. My father with old time courtesy insisted on his visitor being comfortably seated and asked what he could do for him. The inventor then proceeded to unfold his scheme which was of the wild-cat order. At the finish my father with a voice suggestive of emotion exclaimed, “And the inventor I understand is dead!”, “No sir, I am the inventor”, was the reply, and with the words, “Then I am afraid we cannot do any business for I never buy an invention till the inventor is dead”, my father closed the interview.
This form of reply, rather more austere that I expected, arose from the fact that my father had recently given a man a moderate sum for what was little more than a happy thought and within a few days notwithstanding agreement to the contrary he was vending his nostrum to competitors in the trade.
The business which as already stated had its headquarters at No.1 Chandos Street, Covent Garden, was conducted under the name of Vincent Brooks until 1868 when financially assisted by the late Mr Henry Graves the Printseller of Pall Mall. He bought the celebrated business of Day & Son, Limited, that had gone into liquidation, and although without a partner for many years, traded under the name Vincent Brooks, Day & Son, a style that has been maintained ever since, and which, with the addition of the word Limited, is still the imprint of my firm.
I have mentioned the interesting state of affairs existing when I joined the business and I will no refer to this point in some detail. Messrs Thomas Agnew & Son having in contemplation the reproduction of a series of painting by John Leech, by enlargement of subjects that had appeared in “Punch”, my father was consulted, with others, and it was decided to have a limited competition of the three forms most likely to make a success of the enterprise, viz. Messrs Day & Son, Messrs Hanhart Bros. , and Vincent Brooks. The subject selected was Jorrocks who, as will be recollected by many, is represented as standing on a bank and tugging at his horse’s reins saying, “Come hup I say, you ugly brute.”
My father’s reproduction was held to be the most satisfactory: it was the work of his then leading Chromo-lithographic Artist, William B. Bunney, who had been one of his earliest apprentices and was a member of a family of Artists of some distinction.
This success was of considerable importance for it secured an abundance of work of this class which extended over ten years, for about twenty-four subjects were executed forming a first and second series and there were many reprints.
Messrs Agnew in their introductions dwelt on the future that the idea of the paintings being reproductions on Punch blocks should be maintained, and after my father suggested that to this end a good impression on white paper should be pulled from the original block and that this should be sent to Leech who with Chinese white should obliterate lines he did not require and reduce those that he wanted to be only slightly conspicuous. This amended pull he advised should be enlarged to about five times the scale, giving twenty-five times the area, be pulled upon the printer’s canvas, and having been duly fixed, put on a strainer for the Artist to work upon. This plan was adopted, the enlargement being made by Sir Henry James recently invented photo-litho process: this course was pursued in regard to the whole of the two series, and I remember in my early days at the office on several occasions going up to Leech’s house, taking with me an enlargement for a new painting. On one occasion I had spelt his new “Leitch” on the parcel and he said “oh you must not think of me as Leech with the itch.”
This description as to the making of the paintings may not be good news to the present owners of the pictures but will not distract from the real pleasure that their possession affords, and it may quite conceivably have been from this course that they were not publicly exhibited at the time. I am not quite sure whether the “Jorrocks” subject was done in this way, but if it was it would have given my father some advantage in the competition, as he would naturally use the enlargement as the basis of his lithographic work and thus be on the high road to a fac-simile.
It may be mentioned that I used the same idea as recently as the Boer War when by permission of Messrs Bradbury Agnew I enlarged Tenniel’s “Fight to a Finish” cartoon in the same way and, by adding a few printings, produced at a very small cost a war cartoon that had a large sale.
Beyond the great interest that he was taking in photo-lithography my father was at the time interested in three patents: one was for adding lettering to engraved maps with the aid of steel punches that had been invented by a Mr Lewis Becker the son of an engraver whose name appears on the title and frontispiece of Dickens’ “Chimes”. The younger Becker was an interesting man little inclined to the drudgery of engraving and therefore led to find alternative methods to get through his work.
The inventor was generally called Lieutenant Becker for he was the second in command of a private fire-brigade kept up by a certain Mr Hodge a distiller of Lambeth. This Brigade was very popular and effected many “stops”, and, as may be imagined, the regular Fire Service was very jealous of the notice this volunteer’s force received from the press. Hodge in return for Becker’s devotion to his brigade gave him financial aid in perfecting his invention, and the valuable machinery that resulted was at work at Chandos Street when I first joined the business but although it was a very useful system, and stamped on soft steel that was subsequently hardened with great sharpness and precision, nobody but Becker seemed to be able to work it and his application not being remarkable the plant soon fell into disuse and was returned to Mr. Hodge who had spent so much over it. Those interested in the matter will find excellent specimens of this work in Breton’s Dictionary where lions, tigers, crocodiles, etc. , are shown in their habitat with the aid of such punches.
Another recent invention was Gordon’s India-rubber pentagraph [sic] for enlarging or reducing block lithographs, and copper or steel plates. Impressions were pulled from the original surfaces on a sheet of rubber which, when reduction was required was already extended and allowed to contract under mechanical control, but when enlargement was the object the rubber was used in its natural condition and then placed in the apparatus for extension. Much beautiful work was being done by this method, especially two miniature editions for Messrs Longman, Green & Co.: the first was Macaulay’s “Laws of Ancient Rome” with illustrations mostly from the antique by George Scharf Junr. that had been engraved on wood at great expense; the second was Moore “Melodies” with illustrations by Maclise that had been very beautifully engraved on steel. This method is not at the present time much used for such work, having been superseded by improved methods of photo lithography, but in France and Germany, aided by improvements in the mechanical side of the process, it is used for the reduction of a whole set of colour stones with such precision that they fit as accurately in the reduced size as in the original.
By far the most interesting and abiding matter that had been recently taken up was the invention known as Willis’ Aniline Process of Photographic Reproduction, and it had the advantage of bringing me into contact with one of the most charming natures that I have met.
Mr William Willis, the father of the present William Willis the inventor of the Platinotype Process, was a Quaker artist and engraver of considerable ability, living at the time of his invention in Birmingham. Willis’s idea was to provide architects and engravers with a method of reproducing their tracings in a positive form, that is to say with black line on a white background, where that was the character of the original, the only method previously existing being the well-known Ferro-Prussiale Process, that had been invented by Herschell and gave white lines on a blue background from an original with black lines and was therefore what is called a negative process. The method comprised the development of a bichromate of potash image by vapour of aniline and gave very excellent reproductions of washes of Indian ink and a fair reproduction in monochrome of colour values.
The system was worked by my father and the inventor during the whole time of its patent career of fourteen years at St. Mary Cray, a village in Kent where we were living when I left school. William Willis was a persona grata, alike with Churchmen and Nonconformists, and formed a much needed link between them. Our Vicar a delightful cleric named Andrew Welch, whom I am glad to know is still living as Rector of Woodchurch near Ashford, used to describe Willis as “not too much a Quaker but just Quaker enough,” an excellent definition, for he was ever full of good works which were carried out in the quietist possible way and yet in no degree narrow-minded.
As an example I may state that in the intervals of pressure he would at once set his boys, who were chiefly the sons of farm labourers, some educational task, and there are those on each side of the Atlantic who have either directly or through their fathers benefited by his desire to impart knowledge.
William Willis’ name will come up again in this chronicle for he had come into my life for good in more many ways than one: but I have said all that is now necessary in regard to the beginnings of his process in this rather technical chapter which may perhaps have become already somewhat wearisome to readers not interested in printing matters.
Having acquired in about 1864 certain plant and premises in High Street Lambeth which had been the property of Messrs J.S.Hodson & Son, my father embarked in letterpress and colour block printing, and the branch was placed under the direction of my elder brother. The principal customers were Mr Edward Whymper, who though by trade a Wood Engraver was subsequently much better known as a Mountaineer and Lecturer, and that friend of my early days, Mr. S. O. Beeton the pioneer of special publishing for boys and the father of the Mr. Mayson Beeton now deforesting Newfoundland in order that the Daily Mail may never by any shortage of paper be absent from our breakfast table, in an incident that by some would be looked upon as the end of all things.
Mr Whymper’s work at the time chiefly consisted in coloured illustrations for the frontispieces of The Leisure Hour and Sunday at Home, published by the Religious Tract Society, for which he used to buy first rate drawings by Sir John Gilbert, James Mahoney, and others. Mahony was a protégé of my father for James Mahony senior, an Irishman as the name suggests, had been with him in business as an Artist for many years and was much loved by all his colleagues. The elder Mahoney died early leaving a widow and young family quite unprovided for.
In due time both the boys were apprenticed as Lithographic Artists, but the elder was evidently fitted for higher work and was released from his indenture that he might follow his bent for original work by joining Mr Edward Whymper’s staff of Art Workers at Canterbury Place, Lambeth.
“Jim” Mahony as we all called our Artist friend, was of a most excitable disposition and as might be expected from his nationality was an ardent supporter of France in the Franco-German War. He formed one of our party at the Alhambra in the autumn of 1870 when the chief feature in the entertainment was the singing of the national song of France and Germany, and his enthusiastic methods led to a free fight of considerable dimensions with the result that we were all evicted from the hall, an indignity that our Artist friend was little inclined to endure.
Mahony died young but left some good work behind him including the illustrations to “Scrambles among the Alps” in which Whymper so ably describes his Matterhorn and other adventures in Switzerland. I have heard no less an authority on the illustrator’s Art than Mr. Joseph Pennell single out Mahony for special approval, and have seen his work in the form of lantern slides, when it very well passed through the supreme test of enlargement. I find that Mr Pennell speaks of Mahony’s work with approbation in his work on Modern Illustrations and I notice by Algernon Graves’ Catalogue that Mahony exhibited six works at the Royal Academy, the last year in which his name appears being 1877.
Perhaps the most interesting work going on at Lambeth at the time was the printing of many of the Baxter subjects, but as that is a topic in which much interest is being taken at the present time, I shall deal with it in a special chapter, concluding this one with a couple of youthful experiences that may be of interest.
On arriving at Chandos Street one morning my father and I were very pleased to receive among the letters a Command from the Queen that our Mr Rudofsky should execute a lithographic reproduction of a portrait of Mr John Brown in Highland dress that had been painted by Mr Kenneth M’Cleary R.B.A. [Kenneth Macleay, R.S.A.] Rudofsky then the principal portrait artist of the firm was a Pole, and had already produced a portrait of Mr Archibald Brown that had met with Their Majesties’ approval: he was of a distinctly Bohemian tendency, and getting from time to time into every description of “Scrape”, he was at this period in Whitecross Street Prison for debt. My father at once decided to send me with the Command and a covering letter to the Governor of the prison to see what could be done to comply with the Queen’s behest. The Governor received me quite kindly and seemed to be rather tickled with the novelty of the situation though he did not see his way to part with his prisoner even under suitable guarantees, and asked whether the piece of work could be done there. I replied that I thought it could, if reasonable conditions could be provided, and he then accompanied me through the prison to the part where the artist was confined, We found “Ru” engaged on a frugal meal that he and a few others had sent out for.
My recollection of the scene and visit are a little hazy but the general impression on my mind was that to those who were inclined to make the best of all conditions of life, the situation was not very distressing as long as they were not totally without resources, and that to those who were not unwilling to be fleeced by the harpies around them, the March wind was considerably tempered.
The water-colour drawing and the necessary lithographs stone and drawing materials were shortly after sent to the prison and a portrait produced that secured the approval of Her Majesty and Mr Brown – what either would have said had they known the conditions under which it had been produced I cannot imagine, but it would be interesting to know whether Sovereign or subject would have been the more vexed or whether Her Majesty would have been annoyed at all or simply amused.
Shortly after this my father who was not very systematic remembered one morning at about ten o’clock that a dispute he had with a man was to be settled at the Sheriffs’ Court, Guildhall that very day. On this occasion he was the defendant. A pressmaker having delivered some goods too late for shipment, it had been found necessary to buy them elsewhere, so the goods when tendered were declined.
I was hurriedly given the summons, told something of the case and was to do the best I could, as the result would not be very serious if I lost. On arriving at the Court I was surprised to find that the plaintiff was to be represented by a solicitor of the touting sort. The Judge was Commissioner Kerr, and the lawyer in opening his case referred to a letter my father had written and began to suggest its contents, on which I exclaimed “Can we not have this letter your Honour?” to which came the reply, “What’s this? What’s this?” and I explained that this description of what it contained was not evidence, that if it could not be produced I should have been told to produce my copy which in all probability existed.
The Commissioner sat with eyes wide open seeming prepared to give me considerable latitude and on my finishing said to the plaintiff’s representative with a merry laugh, “I think the boy has got you, sir”. The judge then proceeded to ask me where I had got my law and I told him at school, and that I had always been taught that a Court was entitled to the best evidence it could get: “and a very good school too” was the reply. This incident has stood me in good stead as I always received marked attention from the late Commissioner when appearing before him as an expert witness as I have frequently done.
It may be mentioned that I won this my first County Court Case and my stock went up considerably at the office.
It was in 1866 that I first saw the University Boat Race. I spent the preceding night in the Strand over the well known cutlery shop looking up Bedford Street that was then the headquarters of Messrs John Weiss & Son, the Surgical Instrument Makers. It was always looked upon as one of the sights of the street for it had in its window a knife with a thousand blades that had been a source of attraction at the First Exhibition, and a vast blade with a horse for a handle which in earlier days had suggested to me that the blade was going off with the horse as a revenge for the “cow dish having run away with the spoon”.
I was that evening the guest of Mr Foveaux, a partner in the firm mentioned, who being of French origin had views not in accordance with the middle class conventions of the time, so that accompanied by Mrs Foveaux we went to the newly opened Oxford Music Hall and, under the chairmanship of Mr Sam Adams, we listened to “The Charming Miss Annie Adams”, to adopt the words of the programme, and Mr Jolly Nash. By the time I had supped off Welsh Rarebit, a delicacy much in vogue on such occasions, I felt that I was fully launched on London Life.
I made an early start alone for the Hammersmith the following morning, found my way on to the Bridge and was foolish enough to take up a position on its chain on the upper side and Surrey end of the structure. I little knew at the time the risk to which I was exposing myself for subsequent comers also followed my example and kept pushing me further up the chain till I reached the eminence for which I was little prepared. Fortunately the vibration caused by the traffic on the Bridge gave me warning of how firmly I should have to grip the steel chain when as I imagined the crowd would rush from the lower to the upper side of the structure in the desire to see as much of the race as possible. My expectations were very fully realised for the swaying of the Bridge was fearful as the crowd passed under; and a very wise thing was done when the use of the Bridge except for moving traffic was prohibited on similar occasions by the Police Regulation.
From my lofty position I was much amused by the proceeding of Cockney sportsmen on horseback who careered along to the obvious risk of the crowd in general. On my return to the office I found that three of our Artists had also seen the Race, Rudofsky who had been released from “durance vile”, Armstrong, afterwards a leading lithographer in Boston U.S.A, and James Lewis who became a gifted water colour Artist as well as a chromo lithographer of distinction, and remained with my firm for very many years. I enquired of Rudofsky how he had enjoyed himself and his reply was characteristic, “immense! We have been by horseback, by train back and by bus back!”
When after these experiences I got back to my piously conducted home at St. Mary Cray my outlook seemed different. My participation in morning and evening prayer was not less regular, but there was less concentration on the words read by my father, and I fear that it must be said that “my life’s medley” had commenced.
The reader who has followed me thus far, at times perhaps with much patients endurance, may very reasonably want to know what manner of man he has taken ship with, what his real views are outside of the ordinary routine of life, what is the “Kiblak” to which his thoughts turn in their more serious moments.
It was Octavius Birrell in his happy preparliamentary days who first took the word at the head of this chapter from the musty shelves of the lawyers and made it really public property, and it may be well to reprint Stowell’s definition that Mr Birrell places in the fore-front of his book.
“An “obiter dictum” is in the language of the law an unasked opinion, a gratuitous impertinence that bindeth no one even him who utters it.”
As a way of getting a free hand to write on any possible subject, it has, from its inception, ranked in my mind with Lamb’s fiction in regard to his friend Elia and is immeasurably superior to Macauley’s method of dragging in his views under the pretence of reviewing a book on some totally different subject. So here goes! And I trust that I may not weary you with my wanderings.
The brightest people I meet are those who secure their pleasure while encompassing the happiness of others. For pleasure seems to be the sugar of life, put your hand straight into the sugar tube and grab a handful –- result, -- nausea, apply the same quantity to reducing some of the aspersites of life, or sweetening this family jar of ours, and the result will be happiness.
I suppose hearts, like everything else, are the subject of evolution and perhaps the present may be looked upon as the coffin age, “just room enough for one,” or if the social nonentity can get far enough from himself to get married, he will promptly order “coffins for two,” and feel that all other claims are at an end.
Is it not reasonable to state that every properly constituted man or woman has a heart built after the manner of the temple? There is an inner shrine but there is an outer court and to contend that because a couple live happily and pleasantly in that inner shrine they have no concern with the heart throes and anxieties of those in the outer court, is a monstrous limitation of the rights and duties of humanity.
What “fine fretwork” as Charles Lamb might say is being made of Blackstone’s dictum that the foreigner on arriving at Dover is supposed to know the entire law of England. The dictum itself takes a little swallowing, but what are you to say of it when you include in English Law all that has got into it by various forms of local option or by the willingness or otherwise of authorities to adopt legislation. I live within a couple of hundred yards of a boundary that divides two such authorities, my sweep lives over the border; while on his side he is a free man and proclaims his errand lustily, as he crosses the dividing line he has to lower his voice and cry sweep! sweep! in the lightest of trebles so that I have often when half awake mistaken him for the first sparrow.
I am not inclined to find fault with constituted authority but those sent to the local Councils are not selected on account of their aptitude for legislation and certainly should not have the power of sending people to jail on an inability to pay a fine.
Our road is one of those select ones in which by local by-law no street cries are allowed and notices to that effect are freely fixed to the lampposts. But the cry of a coster may prove a positive tonic to the portly personage going up to business and leaving a well filled larder and cellar behind that might stand a siege, by reminding him that there are others than himself who have to make their living, and that there are larders made without hands which need to be replenished daily.
In what an amazing way is good mixed with evil in all that concerns the social fabric? The limited liability system is a case in point, no business man can contradict the benefits it has conferred, but it has certainly brought things other than benefits in its train. It certainly has had much to do with labour troubles by removing the personal contact between master and man, and the larger the organization the more complete is the sererance.
As will appear at a later stage of this Chronicle, I am Managing Director of a Company employing about eighty hands, with two exceptions the journeymen have all been apprentices of mine, while by the time that a new boy has been with me a couple me more than a couple of days, he feels that he has come to stay, that there will be no “blind alley” for him unless he makes one for himself and that a daily greeting, if we meet, is the custom of the house.
Have we any labour troubles? Certainly not, the staff is carefully selected by promotion from the lower grades and the work being high grade wages are well above the average.
As an example of how it works let me mention an interesting incident. A few years ago we had a very poor “streak” of business experience and there were no profits from when dividends could be paid; I called together in my office all those receiving more than normal wages and placed the facts before them, telling them that as they had for years received this excess they must forgo it till times were better. I did not press for an immediate answer, for I felt that homes and habits of life had been built up on the assumption that wages received would be continued; but in a few days two of the seniors wanted to see me and informed me that all agreed in accepting the suggestion but hoped that the matter would be re-considered in six months.
Well do I recollect that in six months, it was a merry time and as usual, the Gods helped those who helped themselves, so that an abundance of work presented itself and a semi-annual stocktaking that I devised “ad hoc” left no room for doubt as to the step that should be taken.
But something had happened beyond this, a remarkable “object lesson” had been provided. Many of us had thought what would happen if we had a contented Ireland and some of us are prepared to embark on a tremendous experiment to secure it, but what would happen if we had a contented England, the other nations of the world would indeed have a bad time, a microcosm of that contented England was secured by the rather original policy adopted on this occasion.
During these War times we frequently hear the exclamation made “Surely what the Germans can do we can do” Can we? Let us turn the proposition round and see how it works, - this is always a safe method, - What sort of luck do foreigners have when they try their hand in rivalling Manchester in the finer “counts” of the cotton trade, or if they drop down South and try to give us the produce of the Etruria and the Potteries generally. What sort of substitute do they give for Sheffield steel or English beef, can they, for the life of them grow a Ribston Pippin! Something must always be allowed for the “Genius loci” and the character of the People, heredity and even atmosphere. Nothing is to be got by a slavish imitation of German methods and German goods, but an effective substitute can be found and the public taste can be educated to adopt it. Some years since the engineering company in which I was concerned tried to do in Huntingdonshire what had been previously done in Wharfdale, the result was a complete failure, iron and coal had to be brought long distances, the men and women had to be brought down South and soon got homesick and could only be retained with wages out of all proportion.
In Victorian days people were always being pestered with confession books and among other things they were asked to name their pet aversion. My pet aversion is waste and I once startled a clerical audience who were considering Church Finance by stating that I considered Waste worse than Burglary. For a well executed burglary did provide a good square meal for the Burglar and his Children, while waste benefited the children of no one.
Perhaps there is no more time-honoured obsession than that a certain section of the Worlds inhabitants are the Chosen people and some individuals the very instrument of the Divine Will, so that when we come to distributing the Reward Cards at the close of this War we must be careful not to give the prize for originality to the boy William. Take the case of the Pilgrim Fathers about whom we are sometimes inclined to describe a quite unnecessary halo; while they were still on the Mayflower and before they had set up their own special brand of tyranny at Salem, they passed three portentous Resolutions, now don’t be afraid! I don’t remember them and should not be so cruel as to inflict them on you if I did, but a competent humorist with something of the gift of a précis-writer has summarized them as under:-
The earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof
The inheritance is with the Saints
Still no one was found to contradict
We are the saints
I am much averse to punishment by “fine or imprisonment” for I am convinced that the alternative often works unfairly and to the detriment of the poorer man, this very morning on passing the Bow Street Police Court I noticed a bill telling of an unnamed man who had been sent to prison for two months for assault on a lift-man, in lieu of a fine of 40/- which means that the mark of the jail-bird had been placed on that man because he could not pay a sum that a Duke would not have felt in the least.
A fine is nothing else than a debt to the state, and to imprison in lieu of it, is for the State to take a right against its debtor that is denied to individual members of the community and constitutes a bad example.
We live in a time when many things are in the Melting Pot new merchants, some coming from afar, are noisily proclaiming their wares --- some, none too polite, are conscious that their precious Melting Pots must be kept going, are vigorously shouting “Old Iron” while others in tones that a cooing dove might envy are simply suggesting that we shall accept “New Lamps for Old”. The Citizens, they of the old regime have come to their door-steps and window sills to see what all the bother is about and they themselves are divides into two classes,- those, who perhaps like myself no longer young, yet have an ear attuned to the least whisper that speaks the language of the progress that they love and those who stand foresquare opposed to the least breath of innovation.
How careful ought we to be in the use of words and how important it is to see that there is not an alternative meaning to ours, - to illustrate the first point, - there is a great difference between “A half toasted Scone” and “Half a toasted Scone” the former is sufficient without being satisfactory, the other satisfactory without being sufficient.
A fortnight ago I became conscious that Pheasant Shooting had commenced and having a few shillings in my pocket I went down the hill valiantly to secure a brace. On arriving at the Emporium I noted quite a collection of them marked “Selected” they struck me as cheap and I at once accosted the Manager and told him to give me a pair and pointed to the piece of Grinley Gibbons work that seemed to have got lose from its moorings, and bore them off in triumph. Oh! Those birds! I shall never forget that Sunday and the exercise they gave me. On Monday, in high dudgeon I went down the hill again, bent on blood. When the miscreant had been brought out from his den at the back of the shop, I explained that I always wanted the best, but he replied, “You asked for “selected” and said, you might select them for their youth, but we select these “old masters”, as we sometimes call them, for their antiquity. I went home a wiser and sadder man.
This is not a part of 'My Life's Medley', but a speech made by Frederick's son Wilfred. As the piece is quite long we have decided to post it here instead of on the 'notes on a medley' page.
"Evidence of a growing revolt against all that was pretentious, tawdry and ill-proportioned in industrial art was described by Mr. Vincent Brooks, vice-chairman of the L.C.C School of Printing and Engraving, at a luncheon of the Lincoln branch of the National Council of Women at the Great Northern Hotel, Lincoln, yesterday." Lincolnshire Echo, Tuesday April 30, 1935
From January 5th to March 9th The Royal Academy of Arts ran an exhibition entitled British Art in Industry. Wilfred Vincent Brooks was Chairman of the commercial printing section and his speech below echoes the purpose of the exhibition itself. Britain's beset industry, in order to regain it's pre-war eminance, needed to embrace good design and it's consumers educated to exercise good taste.
"Chairman and Ladies,
When my sister Mrs. Herbert Newsum asked me to talk to your Council, I greatly appreciated the honour, but I was rather doubtful as to my abilities to make my talk sufficiently interesting. However, I decided to do my best.
The reason Mrs Newsum invited me to do this was I suppose because I was Chairman of the Printing (commercial) section of the recent exhibition at Burlington House of British Art in Industry.
I have decided to give my talk the following title:-
“How improved art in industry can help to conquer ugliness and
add to the happiness of our fellow countrymen”
I hope that the remarks that I have to make will show that greater attention to the artistic side of industry is essential if our manufacturers are to develop their domestic and overseas markets. Proof is not lacking that tariffs, however high, fail to keep foreign goods out of the country, if they possess qualities which the domestic article lacks, and you will agree I am sure that beauty is by no means the least telling factor among those which account for the appeal that an article makes, and in this connection it has been said that “The simplest thing if it fills its purpose is the right thing and the beautiful thing.”
A substantial improvement in the design of machine made goods especially of mass produced and cheap wares will go far to raise the average level of taste and give pleasure in countless homes. If these aims are to be achieved, industry in this country will have to improve its organization dealing with its artistic problem, on the lines already applied to the protection of its other interests.
The glory of God and the joy of men are the constant sources of beauty. To extend the one and give voice to the other are the aims to which Art aspires. If there must be a dividing line between the “fine” and the other arts, can it be said that the former are concerned with capturing and rendering the beauty that resides in all created things while the latter attempts to impart beauty to the work of mans own hands?
In either case the gift of the artist or craftsman – for again the line of demarcation is faint – is to experience the joy that comes from creative action, while his skill consists of communicating it to others through the medium of beauty. Joy lies at the root of Art as of beauty; and it will therefore radiate from every true artist’s lowest effort. Neither joy nor the happiness it brings are so plentiful in the world that we can afford to neglect the sources from which it springs.
To scatter beauty is to render a service of mankind. The spreading of ugliness is a crime and a root of further evil. That is why the conquest of ugliness is not the concern of Aesthetics, not a thing to be leisurely discussed in the rarefied atmosphere of sublimated thought. It is a rugged task to be firmly taken in hand by all men and women whose blood runs red enough through their veins, to give them joy in action and whose hearts are kind enough to make them feel the emptiness of those lives from which joy through beauty is absent. To make primitive and simple people respond to beauty is easy enough. Whatever the form in which it be placed them, so long as it is a worthy artist’s worthy endeavour there will be enough in it that is human to rouse a human response. Full understanding is not needed to derive joy from what one sees, though understanding may increase the measure of appreciation. But it is much less easy to stir this simple emotion amongst of the uncultured sections of so-called civilised peoples, whose constant immersion in squalor and ugliness has coated with a kindly crust of insensitiveness. If those who have to live amid some of the disgraceful surroundings and circumstances which most countries still tolerate were to be constantly aware of what they see and what they lack, their lives would be utterly unbearable. The absence of quick response to that which would rouse the normal emotions of more favoured human beings is their protective armour.
But just as callous hands are denied the joy of touching delicate objects, so those whose lives have forged a crust around their souls, cannot be expected to react spontaneously to the beauty that may come their way. Rather they should be gradually acclimatized to it by being enabled to enjoy decency in their surroundings. They should also be accustomed to using and seeing objects that are in good tastes. This would seem an easy aim to achieve since the buildings they will most often see are probably those erected by public bodies or important commercial concerns, and the objects that they will use are the outcome of machine production. In either case those that control the shaping of these buildings and these objects have the power to make them as decent as they wish, for it costs no more to make a thing conform to good taste than to turn it out in a form offensive to the cultured eye. Thus, especially at the lower end of the social scale, the introduction of decency and beauty into the lives of the people is a matter which is largely in the hands of builders and manufacturers. If they fail in their duty to the community, let them blame none but themselves. And let those of us who can give assistance do so, through public bodies or in our private capacities, for private initiative will always remain the source of the happiest improvements.
But lasting improvement – for those on the lowest rung of the social ladder – will never be achieved until at all levels above them certain general conceptions have gained common acceptance. Therefore, at all the social stages where the essential and superfluous are blended in varying proportions, we need a fair and growing appreciation of what brings beauty into our lives and a determination that it be made available. That is a task in which producers and artists must join hands if the results are to be satisfactory from an artistic point of view, while meeting economic requirements. Let us not overlook the economic factor; for though it be not the end of human aspirations, it is the solid basis upon which all other progress must be built. During the 150 years or so in which artists have intermittently admonished manufacturers for being Philistines they have all to rarely tried to see their point of view, or offered to lend a sympathetic hand towards achieving the aims of both. Far too often they have remained perched on their pedestals of their own erecting and have looked down with contempt – an attitude out of which no constructive action has ever yet come forth.
This attitude may have arisen from the misconception that art was a cerebral function, proceeding from thought, and proclaimed through words, when in fact it is dependent on emotion both for its creation and for its experience, and progresses only by being practised and enjoyed. Like many other un-English developments, this theoretical conception of art originates across the Channel, and though it came to be talked of in this Country, it never sufficiently took root in the souls of the people to lead to a movement of any National importance. In recent years we have suffered two waves of these aesthetic attacks. The first reached these shores from Paris in the years just before the war. The noxious gases which composed it were largely the decomposition products of the very proper reaction which had bare set in against the meaningless limitations imposed on the arts by the Paris Exhibition of 1900. But that reaction had almost spent itself by the time it came to be felt over here and had degenerated into mere affectation and cerebral acrobatics. A minor supporting wave of Continental theories blew over from Italy, but its “futurism’ was soon a thing of the past in Britain, and its dynamic force worked itself before it had well begun. The war saved us from the necessity of being further concerned with the futile meanderings of unoccupied minds.
After the war one might have expected in this country, and in France at any rate a revival of artistic activity based on National conceptions. For some reason it was not so, it was Germany which set the pace with an outburst of mechanised art, well attuned to the predilections of its people, but entirely alien to either the spirit of the English or the French. Nevertheless both countries for a while suffered acutely from this influence. Nothing was more marked in many of the French products shown at the Paris exhibition of 1925 than the undercurrent of purely Teutonic conceptions which had influenced their making.
In this country we are sometimes inclined to take our cue from France in matters of Art; at any rate for a start and until we find our own feet again, when that which has been borrowed may be turned into something more National in feeling and in style.
The lack of imagination with which some of our manufacturers have copied alien designs, without the true conception of what was good and sound in the underlying idea together with the queer exteriors of the objects and their exotic patterns to which alone they seemed to give thought in an attempt to sell so called modern goods to their customers, has resulted in a dreadful influx of inane designs from which some of our machine made goods and even some products of craftsmanship have suffered in the last decade. One came almost to understand the tendency in so called decorative arts which ruled not only all decoration but almost all objects, out of our modern rooms. Just as the ugliness of many electric fittings made one almost approve of concealed lighting, in itself an unsound and uneconomical means to the desired end.
By 1933 the receding tide of elimination had almost swept away everything worth looking at. In self defence the manufacturers came to ask themselves what they could do to make people want to ‘see’ things about them once more and consequently to buy them. The impulse on their part coincided as such things often do, with the culmination of a desire on the part of artists to take a practical share in remedying a state of affairs which was developing into a National calamity. Far better than others they realised that unless beauty could come into its own again a vitally necessary element in the building of National happiness and contentment was being destroyed. From all sides action had been converging towards a single aim: the rural beauties of England as well as the amenities of places already built on or intended to be covered in houses were made the object of competent care. A desire to improve the application of artistic design to production by machinery, grouped artists and others in all manner of enthusiastic bodies. The most enlightened manufacturers enlisted the permanent cooperation of artists, while the least competent were at least becoming uncomfortable about this troublesome new tendency. On top of all this came the steadying of conditions in Britain and the gradual return of confidence in the economic outlook. But what was still lacking was a definitive point around to which to rally enthusiasm without which no movement can ever gather speed. There was also the stubborn fact that in the complex organization standing between the primary producer and the ultimate consumer, there were always many obstacles to be overcome before improved products could be made to reach the public. It was with this idea in mind and with the full knowledge of the difficulties that would have to be faced and the criticisms that would be levelled at it that the recent exhibition at the Royal Academy was held.
Art and Daily Life
The importance of art to industry lies in the fact that art is a real force in the lives of the people. It is not a mere trimming on a garment but the very stuff and cut of our lives daily wear, and as the peoples main concern is with the quality and appearance of the coat or dress, the appeal of the products of industry will only have the effect in so far as these products conform to the sound dictates of Art.
A proper understanding and use of art has boundless possibilities. The right application of artistic principles to industrial production is of the greatest value to the people as a whole; it raises their standards of appreciation and their capacities of enjoyment and happiness. Hence the endeavour to establish active relations between designer and manufacturer is a matter of great concern, not to these two only but, to the whole nation.
Education today is on more enlightened lines than it was some years ago and does not neglect the cultivation of taste. In all classes of society there is evidence of a growing revolt against all that is pretentious, tawdry and ill-proportioned. The young generation in particular, show a dislike of the complication and confusion which design has heedlessly inherited from the haphazard ways of the past. There is a definitive awakening to the errors of the last 100 years, and bad shapes, inappropriate and excessive ornaments, poor patterns and insipid colours must give way to a better order of things.
Few may have though of the number of trades into which Art enters in a greater or lesser degree, or of the extent of its influence in industry, and many would be surprised that the commercial results achieved through its aid – results that would be even greater if Art were more encouraged and more ably applied, with consequent advantages to employers, employees and the country as a whole. But is only too well known, that owing to neglect of the artistic side of production in the past, our trade has suffered in many directions, and has failed at times to hold its own in home and foreign markets. Other nations have perceived how Art could help to improve their trade and they have made great profits in fields that we had once counted as ours.
But now many leaders of industry are aware of the truth and are working whole-heartedly with artists who put matters on a better footing. They have come to the conclusion that British manufacture, which is of the highest repute abroad, must be allied to good and attractive design, if in these days of intense competition, it is to assert and maintain itself in the markets of the world.
Many people have got into the way of thinking that certain classes of goods are better made by foreigners than by us. This notion is fostered and exploited by an unintelligent copying of imported articles, whereas it should be contested, and might well be disproved, by fresh and original developments of the lines of our National tradition adapted to the changing needs of the times. The public must show a quicker appreciation of our native production and by exercising their own taste they will stimulate our trade and bring more of our people into employment. A living art always springs from the life and the spirit of the people, as shown in the daily occupation and interests. There are of course many difficulties to be faced. We live in an age of rapid changes of adaptation to new conditions and of quick anticipation of what the coming generation will require. These problems cannot be solved by manufacturers and artists alone. The people have their part to perform and all – including distributors, who are the necessary link between producers and consumers must work together with goodwill and understanding if success is to be attained.
While the products of all industries must have in common general tendency towards the demands of contemporary life, each industry should give earnest attention to the kinds and degrees of beauty proper to its own products and should consider what changes are necessary from time to time in the training of its staff. For it is difficult to adapt old designs to modern ideas, and we have to discover new forms which are more suited to the spirit of the age. Today, wherever we go we see striking innovations of style and design, some of which are due to passing fancies, while others arise from fundamental changes in our needs. These changes have been hastened by mechanical and scientific inventions, the use of new materials and fresh demand from the ever-increasing number of decently equipped households.
I believe that the mechanisation of industry, if properly managed, is not opposed to Art, and that if artists and manufacturers work together in making machine and raw materials serve the requirements of good taste, all kinds of articles for our daily needs can be produced in this country, which will satisfy even the most fastidious, and will show points of superiority to much that is produced abroad. The day, I hope, will come when quality and quantity will come together in happy alliance and the most ordinary commodities will benefit in form as well as in substance. Ugliness is at all times and in all places to be vigorously rejected; it is a coarsening and debasing influence, a clear sign of deterioration in a nations life. Since the products of industry are so widespread amongst the people, there influence for a good or evil condition of taste is immense. Hence the conquest of ugliness is of even greater moment in industry than elsewhere.
The cultivation of a sense of beauty, in all varieties of forms is a necessary part of human education. In early years children should be taught to observe, compare, discriminate and form their own judgements on what they see and handle. This visual appeal to the minds is vital to the highest feelings; and a warm response to the beauty in man-made as well as natural things has no small part in a truly moral life. Many common evils would recede or disappear if people were in constant contact with things that were as beautiful as they were ordinary. Industry with its elaborate organisation and all pervading energy, is today the most effective means of spreading the primal influences of art among the people, if it chooses the right method for its welfare.
I will now say a few words about training the young Idea on the lines I have already indicated. I am amongst other duties Vice-Chairman of the L.C.C. School of Printing and Engraving and have inspected various Technical & Art Schools all over the country for the Board of Education.
A very big responsibility rests on all those who are entrusted with the teaching of Art and Craft to girls and boys for it is to them that their pupils may fairly look for guidance not only in learning to draw and paint, to embroider, to make furniture, but also a lead which will enable them to develop appreciation and discrimination in the chance of the things with which they will live.
In our public schools, secondary and even some of the elementary schools where older children are taught, the Art master or mistress is generally a specialist who deals with Art and Craft alone and should, by reason of his or her training, have the ability and initiative necessary to be able to inspire in their pupils a real love for beautiful things as well as to teach them some branch of craftsmanship and to draw and paint.
In most of our elementary schools, however, Art and Crafts are taught by teachers who have also to deal with other subjects. Sometimes a teacher in an elementary school who has had no special training in Art and Craft has been able, by reason of his or her own enthusiasm and interest, to devise a way of making the subjects a real joy to the pupils and to interest them keenly in the design of everything they have about them as well as in the beauty of nature.
It is not of course to be expected that many teachers who necessarily have to deal with a number of different subjects should be able to tackle Art and Craft so confidently as those who have been specially trained to do so, but it is to be hoped that there are very few teachers dealing with these subjects who have not at any rate a real interest in beautiful things and who desire to put them before their pupils even although their own personal ability in Art and their own knowledge and understanding of Art in the wider sense may not be very great.
The recent exhibition at Burlington House should have been a great help to teachers of all Art, but especially to the vast number in the last category, in their work with the younger generation, because they had the opportunity of seeing what Britain can do in the design of the simplest things of everyday use, and to pass on the discoveries they made to those pupils who were not able to see the exhibition for themselves.
It may be asked – “How can children be taught good taste” ? There are two ways in which the inherent good taste which is probably possessed by all of us can be brought out and trained – firstly, by making things ourselves and finding out in that way how best to use different materials, so as to achieve beauty and secondly, by having good examples of fine design and workmanship put before us, preferably in the original but also in pictures. The two methods should march side by side. A girl who has learned at school to print a simple repeating pattern on a piece of cheap material will look at all the curtains and dress fabrics in the shop windows with a new interest and will be all the more ready to appreciate the finest examples of printed textiles which she may see. In the same way the boy who has learned how to lay out a page of good pen lettering and to bind a book will look at all kinds of printed matter with the eye of one who himself knows something about the conditions under which books and magazines are produced.
It is through practising crafts that many children who cannot ‘draw’ in the ordinary sense of the word may be taught not only how to make something worth while, which will be a delight to them both in the making and after it is made, but also to appreciate and enjoy all sorts of things in a way which would otherwise not have been possible.
Teachers of Art and Craft in secondary and other schools who may have some measure of ability as artists or craftsman, as well as the elementary school teachers of Art and Craft who may be general teachers, must constantly have before them the important fact that the work which the pupils are doing in the Art room should not only provide a course of practical training but also be a lesson in good design, remembering that it is through practice that appreciation will surely be developed. They must one and all be very alive to the latest and best productions of manufacture in their own country, if they are to be in a position to give a lead to the younger generation which is growing up in the schools. Nothing would be more welcomed by manufacturers and retailers than an ever increasing growth of interest and discrimination on the part of the purchasing public, both as to the goods themselves and the way in which the goods are put before them. A discriminating public by encouraging good design in the home market will play an invaluable part by helping the manufacturer constantly to improve the appearances and utility of his productions, which is of course, all the more likely to enable him to be successful in foreign markets, where he may well expect to sell characteristically English goods, whereas mere imitations of the foreigners own production would fall flat.
I have said nothing so far about Art Schools but the part they should play is the most important of all. Quite apart from the work which they have to do in training future designers and craftsmen, they cannot be said to be fulfilling their proper function unless they do all they can to provide inspiration to all and sundry to appreciate and enjoy beautiful things and to demand beautiful surroundings.
Theirs is the responsibility for training the future specialist teachers of Art and theirs also is the responsibility for providing really inspiring and useful instructions in the form of evening and part time courses to be attended by the teachers from all kinds of schools of general education.
It cannot be too strongly insisted that the teacher of Art and Craft who is not keenly alive to the importance of developing and sharpening his or her own personal capacity, to appreciate beautiful things and to discriminate between good and bad design will not be able to inspire in the pupils a desire to learn to appreciate and discriminate for themselves. Boys and girls cannot learn to appreciate beautiful things by rules. They must be encouraged to find out for themselves the difference between one kind of design and another by a teacher who knows from personal experience how many things there are to be seen and talked about before deciding which cup and saucer and which table and chair are going to be the most delightful for an Englishman or woman to sit down to breakfast with every morning.
So much for the educational side and before finishing I will say a few words on my own particular subject – the Printing side.
In judging printed matter there are gauges and standards which can be brought into use for comparison. Everything that is made has to perform some function. With printing, as with other things, the final test be not only whether or not, and how competently it does this, but also how attractively it is done. The first thing every piece of printing presumably had to do is to convey a message in as direct a way as possible. But there are two categories into which we may divide printed matter.
That which we wish to read and that which someone else wants us to read. The two sometimes overlap in the same piece of work as for instance in the book and its loose jacket and in the title page. It may be that we know what we want to read and order our books by post without reference to their appearance.
In this case we have the right to expect that the book shall be of a size and weight that we can hold in our hands without discomfort, that the margin shall be adequate for our thumbs, and for the convenience of our eyes-that the type shall be easily readable and pleasant to the eye, with adequate space between the lines and not overmuch between the words, so that the eye travels with ease from word to word and is not drawn by the variations in the lines above and below. The space between lines is indeed necessary to allow for adequate length in the ascending and descending characters.
It is for the linking together of letters into word units and as a lead to the eye that the serifs or little cross strokes on the ends of the straight lines of the letter are useful. But much reading matter had been printed in recent years in “Sans” type i.e. letters entirely without these strokes and thogh such type is excellent in certain circumstances for short statements in text matter, the result is demonstrably difficult to read because the eye sees disjointed letters and is induced to spell out words rather than to pick them up as a whole.
These are all mechanical points affecting readability of book pages and as such of paramount importance. There is a further quality to be desired in the designing of type itself that of assured draughtsmanship and definition of a consistent character throughout the alphabet, together with an absence of unnecessary flourishes.
The length of the reading lines is another factor in the design of a good page. The eye must be able to travel down the page with ease and at the end of one line consciousness must not have been lost where the beginning of the next line may be picked up. This factor bears relation to the size of the type used for this governs to some extent the distance from the eyes at which the books will be held. In practice an average of ten words to a line may be cited as a guide to what is best. One should not need to keep a finger on the left hand margin of a page as a guide.
On the other hand, instead of ordering our books unseen, we may prefer to loiter in bookshops and allow ourselves to be attracted first by the outsides of the books displayed, and later by the title and preliminary pages of certain books we like the look of. Temptation besets the unwary designer when as is now frequently the case, the reader must be coerced into absorbing the message.
Title and preliminary pages must set out in clear and logical sequence the essence of the books contents and aims, giving emphasis sparingly and only where needed, so that all be not lost by exaggerated proclamations.
Into this second category of printed matter fall all kinds of advertising literature. Here, there are various functions to be performed – first to attract, second to deliver a message and in most cases a third to promote some desired action.
Illustrations should be simple and convincing. A little unusualness is refreshing but an overstrenuous effort to astonish will often defeat its own end by leaving no clear impression. Illustrations should be tidily arranged so that they do not disturb the reading and should be so placed as to be in clear relation to the relevant part of the text.
Straightforward photographs and pen drawings are usually the best suited to this purpose.
Exaggeration is not convincing. Elaborate retouching of photographs gives an unreal impression.
Lithography & Posters
In the consideration of Posters and other single sheet graphic announcements, which are usually produced by Lithography, very much the same qualities are to be looked for as have been outlined for the consideration of printed decorations, economy of means, directness of aim, with stress on dramatic and forceful composition and the simple use of the process selected for reproduction.
The message of the drawing must be capable of instant comprehension by everyone who may see it, whether trained in the matters of design or not.
Involved conceptions which render the message “in code” are apt to draw full appreciation from the trained eye but to miss the mind of the uninitiated majority.
Character in drawing, and the clever selection of vital and salient details are the essence of the problem.
The selection of a harmony of definite colours balanced and arranged with clarity and used with a minimum of controlled overlapping of one colour, and another, will produce clear prints, particularly when full advantage is taken of the vigorous natural qualities of Lithographic drawing qualities which are no less useful in good book decoration."