You are here: Archive Home > A Society Clown> Chapter VIII
 
   
The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive  

A Society Clown
Reminiscences
BY
GEORGE GROSSMITH


CHAPTER VIII

A Very Snobbish Chapter

CAPTAIN HAWLEY SMART, at the Garrick one day, at lunch, gave me a valuable friendly warning.

“In your book,” said he, “do not fall into that diary mistake, characteristic of most autobiographers; and some autobiographers indulge in it very badly. I mean writing: ‘May 14th. – Dined at the Duke of A——’s: present, Lord and Lady B——, Count C——, Marquis of D——, &c.’ Much better write down a list all the people you have met, and say: ‘Dined with, or met, this lot some time or other.’”

Unfortunately, I do not keep a diary, and have no list of “people I have known;” but I can truthfully say that during the last twelve or fourteen years I have had the privilege of meeting what the Society papers repeatedly call “everybody, who is anybody.” What! everybody? Well, nearly everybody! I have met Royal Princes in their palaces, and Republicans in their republic houses. I am personally acquainted with Bishops and Bradlaugh. I have shaken hands with Sarah Bernhardt and Miss Bessie Bellwood. I have been visited by millionaires who are nobodies, and beggars who are somebodies. I have exchanged courtesies with Gustave Doré, and another celebrated painter has exchanged umbrellas with me. I know Sims Reeves and “Squash.” I manage to get on with peers and peasants; I talk a little about the weather to the former, and a little (very little) about the crops to the latter.

I believe I am a Conservative, but I own to a great admiration for Gladstone. I am not alone in that respect, except that I “own up” my admiration, and other Conservatives do not. I regret exceedingly that I never met Lord Beaconsfield; but when I commenced to “go out,” he had almost ceased doing so. I met Mr. Gladstone at a garden party as recently as the autumn of 1887, and was asked to meet him in June, 1888. It is a pleasure to converse with him, or, rather, to hear him converse with you. At the former party, a lady said to me, “If that horrid man comes here, I shall walk through that window on to the lawn. I would not stay under the same roof with him.” She evidently thought there was no chance of his coming; in point of fact, she afterwards admitted as much to me. When he did arrive, she followed him about, curtsied as he passed, as if he were the Queen, repeatedly offered him her chair, and indulged in that particular kind of adoration in the presence which is usually indulged in by people who are ultra-bitter during the absence.

But though I have not kept a list of the notable people I have met, I have kept the letters of those who have written to me as a friend or acquaintance. I cannot count myself as one of the “pestilential nuisances who apply for autographs,” as Gilbert describes them in The Mikado; still, I must plead guilty to pasting in a book, or keeping in my desk, every letter addressed to me personally that has a good name attached. When I say every letter, I do not include letters addressed to me professionally or purely on business matters: those are of merely passing value to me. I simply treasure the letters of those with whom I have become actually acquainted. This collection is the collection of a Snob, no doubt; and I can only beg of those of my readers who are sensitive to Snobbish actions to pass this chapter over, for my sake as well as theirs.

I would add that my wife and I do not possess a card-basket, where the only countess’s card will keep shifting up to the top, of its own accord, in the most remarkable fashion; nor do we advertise our evening parties in the Morning Post, nor publicly announce that we have removed to a hired cottage at Datchet during the fixture of a telephone pole to the roof of our family mansion in Dorset (pronounced Dossit) Square.

I will take the letters as they come, simply calling attention to the contents or the writers as I imagine they may interest or amuse the readers. The first – the most interesting to me, perhaps, as it turned the tide of my professional life – is the letter from Arthur Sullivan, asking me to go on the stage, which has already appeared in a former chapter. The next is from J. R. Planché, whom I shall always remember with the greatest pleasure, and whose little parties were delightful.

The following is characteristic of J. R. Planché’s well-known courtesy:

    6 Royal Avenue,
      Chelsea, S.W.,
        5th August, 1875.

Dear Mr. Grossmith, – Nothing could give me more pleasure than doing anything which is agreeable to you. I estimate highly your talent, and am flattered by your friendship. With kindest regards from all of us to you and your amiable and gifted wife,

  Believe me,
    Very sincerely yours,
      J. R. PLANCHÉ.


The above is very flattering, and so is the following from Frederic Clay; and if I were a truly modest man, I should publish neither:

        64 Seymour Street,
          Portman Square.

Dear Grossmith, – Miss Kate Santley has asked me to write her a light song for the piece she is now playing. Since Miss Santley immortalised “Nobody knows as I know” for me, my humble pen has always been at her disposal – in fact, I have composed a couple of operas for her – but just now I am night and day at work on this Brighton Cantata; nor can I dream where to find words without being vulgar.

As you were good enough to give me more real amusement and enjoyment at Arthur Blunt’s than I have known for many a long day, I could not help suggesting your name to Miss Santley, telling her that, if you can find time for the purpose, she could not be in safer or more accomplished hands than yours…

    Yours very sincerely,
      FREDERIC CLAY.


I afterwards became very intimate with Frederic Clay; and a great portion of one of his subsequent works (the Black Crook, I think) was composed while he was staying with my wife and myself at a tiny cottage which we rented during the autumn each year at Datchet. His last work of all he chiefly did at Datchet. It was called, I think, The Golden Ring, and the book was by G. R. Sims. He hired a cottage a few doors from mine, and as I passed to and fro of a morning I used to see him writing hard at his desk in front of the open window, and invariably greeted him with “Good-morning, Freddy; do you want any of your harmonies corrected?” – “Shall I score the drum parts for you?” – or some such nonsense. It will be remembered that he was seized with a serious illness after the production of the piece at the Alhambra. I grieve to say I seldom see him now, as he lives away in the country very quietly. He wrote a charming letter in pencil some months ago respecting a favourable notice he had seen of the pianoforte-playing of my little girl Sylvia at a “pupils’” concert. I have kept many of his letters, and value them. I wanted to see him about something, and suggested we should meet at the Beefsteak Club. This was his reply:

At the old Gallery of Illustration, in 1875, Corney Grain was suddenly indisposed, and I sang for him; and I was very pleased at the thought of giving a sketch at the very piano on which John Parry had played. Subsequently I received the following letter from Mrs. German Reed:

... Please accept my best thanks, and with them a handkerchief which Mr. John Parry used in his song, “Mrs. Roseleaf’s Evening Party.” You said you would be pleased to have it. The little piece of cotton in the middle he always had tied to prevent confusion in folding while singing.

  With kind compliments to your wife,
    Sincerely yours,
      PRISCILLA REED.


I sang and acted at the Gallery of Illustration on another occasion. Corney Grain was required to give his “Sketches at a Country House,” where he was to meet the Prince of Wales; and I undertook, besides giving my sketch “Theatricals at Thespis Lodge,” to act the part of the young lover (Grain’s part) in Very Catching, an excellent little piece by F. C. Burnand, and music by Molloy. In this, both Mrs. German Reed and Arthur Cecil played. I had to sing a sentimental duet with Miss Fanny Holland, “O’er the stones go tripping,” during which she had to rest on my shoulder as I led her from stone to stone. But there happened to be a great difference in the height of Grain and myself; and when Miss Holland found she could not stoop low enough to reach my shoulders, and that the strip of artificial water, which was arranged to well cover Grain’s ankles, was up to my knees, she fairly burst out laughing on the stage.

Next come rather amusing letters from the late Duchess of Westminster and Lady Diana Huddleston. The former concludes her letter thus:

If you have any of the Philtre to spare, there is nothing I can think of I should like much better!

  Believe me, dear Mr. J. W. W.,
    Yours sincerely,
      CONSTANCE WESTMINSTER.


The initials had reference to John Wellington Wells, the part in The Sorcerer I was playing at the time.

I had sent Lady Diana the name of a professional spiritualist, and here is an extract from her reply:

Thank you so much for writing to E——. I am all for a medium who stands no nonsense with the spirits, but has them up there and then. I fear W—— lets his ghosties give themselves airs, as both “Petre” and also “John King” have always thrown me over. Who was John King?…

  Yours very sincerely,
    DI. HUDDLESTON.


Letters of invitation follow from Frank Holl, R.A., George du Maurier, Nita Gäetana (Mrs. Moncrieff), Kate Field, and Earls of Fife and Wharnecliffe. Then comes a letter from F. C. Burnand, respecting my proposer for the Beefsteak Club. He suggested Sir Arthur Sullivan; but eventually Corney Grain proposed me. I think Frank Burnand is the most amusing man to meet. He is brimful of good humour. He will fire off joke after joke, and chaff you out of your life if he gets a chance. His chaff is always good-tempered. No one minds being chaffed by Burnand. I will not sing a song when he is in the room if I can possibly help it. He will sit in front of me at the piano, and either stare with a pained and puzzled look during my comic song, or he will laugh in the wrong places, or, what is worse still, take out his pocket-handkerchief and weep.

A short time ago we were dining at Mrs. Lovett Cameron’s, and were seated on either side of her. Throughout the dinner I had purposely been making some rude observations respecting the dishes, with which Mrs. Cameron was immensely amused. Eventually a “sweet” was handed round, consisting of little hard cakes of something resembling dark-brown toffee or hardbake, with cream piled on. Mrs. Cameron said to me, “You must not pass this dish – do have some.” I replied, “Well, I won’t have any of the cream – only some of the glue,” which the sweet certainly resembled. Burnand promptly replied. “Oh, are you going to stick here all night?”

Burnand’s parties are to be envied, and not forgotten. At one of his evening entertainments in Russell Square, he suggested we should get up a “bogus” band. I fell in with his idea at once, and it was left for me to arrange. I decided upon the overture to Zampa; and, to give a semblance of reality to the performance, arranged with Mr. Charles Reddie to preside at the piano; and, chaos or no chaos, he was to go steadily on. Frederic H. Cowen was the violoncello; the first violins were played by Mr. Samuel Heilbut, a capital amateur violinist, and by my brother, who was nearly as good. I played second violin, and was simply awful. Rutland Barrington played the piccolo; but as he could only play in one key, which, unfortunately, was not the one we were playing, the effect can be imagined. Last, but not least, Corney Grain conducted.

The time arrived for the performance, and the music-stands were placed in a circle in the crowded drawing-room; and, in order that there should be no jumble at the commencement, we decided to take the overture at exactly half its proper time.

I shall never forget the surprised look on the faces of Sir Julius Benedict and Mr. W. G. Cusins when we began. There was no idea, at first, it was a joke. We played the next andante movement with sublime expression and perfectly correctly, with the exception of Barrington’s piccolo, which was here more terribly conspicuous than before. This was rendered all the more ridiculous by the sweet, satisfied smile which Grain was assuming, after the fashion of an affected conductor.

The audience began to suspect something was up; but their suspicions were soon set at rest when the subsequent quick movement arrived. Reddie played on, and Heilbut stuck to it. Fred. Cowen, Weedon Grossmith, and myself put down our instruments and stared up at the ceiling, as if we had a few bars’ rest. Barrington played a tune of his own; and Grain, in an excited manner and in the German tongue, demanded him to desist. Barrington, who also speaks German, retaliated.

This German row was most natural and funny, and created roars of laughter. J. L. Toole, who was in the audience, and who did not see why he should not join in, forced his way through the people and seized hold of Weedon’s old Italian violin, and was about to bang it on the back of a chair. Weedon had a genuine fight to recover his fiddle, and had to remind Toole that it was not one of his own “properties.” Reddie and Heilbut still seriously stuck to the piano and violin. Grain then bullied me for not playing. A general altercation ensued; and as the final chords of the shortened overture were played, Grain seized me up under his arm, as if I had been a brown paper parcel, and marched out of the room with me.

After supper there was an extemporised Christmas Pantomime, in which Grain, Arthur Cecil, Fred. Leslie, Chas. Colnaghi, William Yardley, the brothers Grossmith, and Mrs. Cecil Clay (Miss Rosina Vokes) took part. It was great fun for audience and performers, and Miss Vokes was excellent. At the final tableau, Fred. Leslie and myself struck two matches to represent coloured fire. I dare say all this seems silly; but I have seen many very serious people silly after a jolly supper with jolly people, so I hope some allowance will be made for the Society Clown.

A little pencil sketch, by W. S. Gilbert, comes next in my book; “Bab” is an excellent draughtsman, as everyone knows. Next on the list are Annie Thomas (Mrs. Pender Cudlip) and Florence Marryat. The latter often signed herself “The Ship,” because one of the Birmingham papers, speaking of the “Entre Nous” entertainment, described her as “of pleasant appearance, with bright, frank features, somewhat massively moulded, unaffected manners, and with a carriage reminding one of the stately motion of one of those noble vessels of which the glorious old Captain loved to write.” The same paper, continuing, observes: “In the second costume recital of ‘Joan of Arc in prison,’ she appeared in the usual grey tunic and with massive manacles on her waist; Mr. Grossmith, sitting at the piano as a sort of mute but comical gaoler, ready to accompany her in a musical scéna at the end.”

I have before said that Arthur Cecil took a kind interest in me, and favoured me with many a valuable hint. I therefore print a letter of his (dated 1878, when I knew him only slightly) in full, with the assurance, from experience, that jealousy in the theatrical profession is the exception and not the rule:

      Beefsteak Club,
        King William Street,
          Strand, W.C.
My dear Grossmith, – I am so delighted to hear you “obliged again” on Wednesday, at Grosvenor House, after I left.

I was most anxious that you should be at your best before the Prince and Princess, and only regretted I could not stop to suggest the things that I consider your happiest efforts. I am sure “The Muddle Puddle Porter” must have been all right.

  Yours ever,
    ARTHUR C. BLUNT.


It was a charity concert, and I may incidentally remark that I had to appear early in the programme, and when my turn came their Royal Highnesses had not arrived. Arthur Cecil, who was announced later on, said: “The Prince and Princess have heard my song, so you take my place.”

The above voluntary suggestion on his part needs no comment.

This letter is followed by ordinary letters from Irving, Toole, A. W. Pinero, Countess of Charlemont (the late), Viscountess Combermere, Herbert Herkomer, A.R.A., Earls of Londesborough and Dunraven, Mrs. Charlie Matthews, Mrs. Kendal, the Hon. Lewis Wingfield, Emily Faithful, and Kate Terry (Mrs. Arthur Lewis). Then comes a letter from Thomas Thorne, which is interesting because it is an invitation to dine with him to celebrate the thousandth night of Our Boys. Then follow Robert Reece (he persuaded me to set to music one of his songs, “A Peculiar Man,” which he need not have done, for he is a most excellent musician himself), John Oxenford (dated 1868 – a birthday congratulation), J. Ashby Sterry (who always addresses me “dear young Jaärge”), R. Corney Grain, Hermann Vezin, Lord Otho Fitzgerald, and Viscountess Mandeville. The letter from Lady Mandeville, referring to some of my songs, is amusing – an extract from which I give:

Thanks a thousand times for the songs, which were delightful. We tried them all last night and I am sure some of the neighbours wished us at the North Pole. ... I have sent to America for a charming pathetic song for you; the last line is “Let me hit my little brother before I die.”

A letter from J. B. Buckstone, giving me permission to play Paul Pry (en amateur); a most amusing letter from Howard Paul, describing his futile attempt to learn “The Muddle Puddle Porter” while “going up and down the Lake of Lucerne, under the shadow of the Rigi, and within sight of the historical Tell’s Platte;” a most flattering letter from Sir Julius Benedict, which modesty, &c., will not permit of my reproducing; Jacques Blumenthal (he simply had “a message to send me” inviting me to dine) and Henry J. Byron. I knew Byron when I was a boy, and I loved him because he was not above playing cricket with me on the sands at the seaside, when I was in trousers, or rather knickerbockers, which they resembled through my having outgrown them. In 1878 I wanted to purchase some clever words of his with a refrain, “Yeo, heave ho.” He wrote back from the Haymarket Theatre:

Dear George, – I wrote to you, saying you might have the song gratis, and posted the letter to J. S. Clarke instead of you.

  Yours ever sincerely,
    H. J. BYRON.


Everybody knows Byron was about the best punster existing. He was also the worst. I heard him make this observation at Margate: “I don’t like cockroaches because they ’encroaches.”

Then come Arthur à Beckett, Countesses of Wharnecliffe and Bantry, S. B. Bancroft, Lionel Brough, Viscounts Hardinge and Baring; a charming letter from Clement Scott, asking me for a contribution to a collection of theatrical stories; Sir Algernon Borthwick, Duke of Beaufort, Earl of Hardwicke, and Mrs. Keeley. The letter (dated 1882) from the latter lady, I value most highly, of course:

      10 Pelham Crescent, S.W.

Dear Mr. Grossmith, – I was at the Savoy on Thursday evening with Miss Swanborough, and delighted we were with the performance. Trusting yourself and Madame are well, and with kind regards,

  Ever yours sincerely,
    MARY ANN KEELEY



      17 Finchley New Road,
        Thursday.

Dear Mr. Grossmith, – I am not going to use any flourishing phrases, but simply ask you if you would be so extremely good as to appear in the concert I arrange for the poor exiles at Walmer. It is to be on the 15th or 18th of this month, in the house of Lord Denbigh. I am going to play a little French piece with M. Berton, and I asked some artists to play and sing. I hope you will frankly tell me if you can do it or not, as I certainly should not like you to put yourself to any inconvenience for my sake. I know how busy you are, and it is a great impudence on my part to give you some more work. With many kind regards,

  I remain, always sincerely yours,
    HELENA MODJESKA.


“Next, please,” as Mr. T. Thorne would say, as Partridge.

H.S.H. the Duke of Teck, Countess of Kenmare, James Albery (author of The Two Roses), Henry Labouchere, Miss E. Braddon, Joseph Hatton (a very old and esteemed friend of mine) and Professor Pepper.

The following is interesting to me, coming, as it does, from the most successful entertainer of his day. His songs, “A Life on the Ocean Wave,” “Cheer, Boys, Cheer,” “The Ivy Green,” “The Ship on Fire,” etc., will be ever remembered:

    Hanover Square Club,
      Nov. 22nd, 1883.

My dear Grossmith, – Many thanks for your kind letter. I leave for Boulogne to-morrow (Friday), or I should be only too glad to avail myself of your generous offer. I have been for years one of the warmest admirers of the great talent you possess; and all I can say is, that if you want to confer a favour on me, you will, without hesitation, jump on board the Boulogne boat, and, after two hours of “a life on the ocean wave,” come direct to the Hotel du Nord, where I reside, and where you shall have a good dinner, a glorious weed, a first-class bottle of Château Margaux, a shake-down, and a sincere warm welcome from your old friend,

  HENRY RUSSELL.



        Grand Hotel, Stockholm,
          June 13th, 1882.

Dear Grossmith, – I have just remembered you have received no reply to your invite for the “small and early.” ... We left London on the 6th, and since then have visited Hamburg and Copenhagen. To-night we start for Christiania on our way to the North Cape. Should any friends ask my address, tell them for the next three weeks, “Arctic Ocean.”

  Kind regards from Mrs. and self to Mrs. G. and self.
    Yours sincerely,
      EDWARD TERRY.


The following is from Nellie Farren:

    Gaiety Theatre, Strand,
      Friday.

Dear George, – Will you repeat yesterday’s performance on the 23rd of this month for your old friend,

  NELL.


Alfred Scott Gatty, Hamilton Aïdé Duke of Abercorn, Earl of Onslow, William J. Florence, (the popular American comedian), John Hare, W. Kuhé, W. Maybrick, (his “Nancy Lee” still haunts me), Chas. Wyndham, W. J. Hill, Oscar Wilde, and J. McNiel Whistler, from whose epistle I give an extract:

“Je tu savois brave – mais je ne tu savois pas plus brave que moy!”

  Ton roy, HENRI.

Which means, my dear Bunthorne, that “I knew you amazing! – but I did not know you more amazing than I”!

    Thine

Then appears the well-known “butterfly” signature.


Madam Dolby, Madam Liebhart, Viscountess Folkestone, Lady Coutts Lindsay (whose charming collections of people at the Grosvenor Gallery some years ago will not be easily forgotten), Beatty Kingston, Frederick Boyle, Manville Fenn, Lady Chas. Beresford, Marchioness of Ormond, Lady Chesham, G. H. Boughton, A.R.A., Pro. Ray Lankester, Sir Coutts Lindsay, Earl and Countess of Donoughmore. Her ladyship writes:

... I am afraid we cannot go to London this season. There is an idea that digging turnips at Knocklofty would be a pleasing change. I should not mind the turnips if kind friends would come and help dig them. Have you and Mrs. Grossmith any sharp spuds, and would you like to race me in a drill? (I don’t know if turnips are planted in drills – potatoes are.) Are you afraid of the sea? It’s not very rough, and your chicks could play and fight with mine all day, and we would have a good time somehow.


Mrs. Alfred Wigan, Carlotta Leclercq, Viscountess Pollington, Harry Furniss, E. Willard, Sir Morell Mackenzie, Duchess of Abercorn (a kind letter referring to my severe illness in Jan., 1887), Harry Payne (certainly the best clown in my time), Rutland Barrington, Fred. Leslie, Mayer Lutz, Earl of Clarendon.

Pro. Hubert Herkomer, A.R.A., writes, in reply to my enquiry whether he was busy:

I am now at work on my thirty-first portrait this year – which does not count water-colour subjects. Can’t you spend a Sunday with me?


Milton Wellings, Lord Hay of Kinfauns, Arthur Stirling.

        July I5th, 1887.

Dear Grossmith, – We are looking forward with very great pleasure to lunching with you next Monday.

  My duty to your wife.
    Yours ever,
      DOUGLAS STRAIGHT.



      11 Melbury Road, W.
        20th April, 1887.

My dear Grossmith, – No congratulations I have received have given me more pleasure than those coming from old friends, and among them I was gratified to have yours; for we have known each other a long time, and I believe with corresponding regard. Accept my very best thanks for your nice letter; and with best wishes for yourself and your wife,

  I am, sincerely yours,
    LUKE FILDES.


Sir Edward Sieveking, Baroness Burdett Coutts (a kind invitation for my wife and myself to see the Jubilee procession), Paul Rajon (the French etcher), E. Gilbert (whom the Daily Telegraph flattered me by designating the French Grossmith).

The following, from Hamilton Clarke, had reference to a small theatre work of mine which I had to score for an exceedingly limited orchestra:

Dear George, – Yardley tells me to send you a list of the band at —— theatre.

I regret to say that, owing to the fact that the accommodation for the musicians is about the dimensions of a third-class railway compartment (I believe the trombone-player has to play lying down), the “orchestra” is limited to the following list: …. No chance of the slightest delicacy or fancy! Only plain, straightforward English slogging.

Long live the cornet and side-drum – Briton’s boast.

  Yours sincerely,
   

HAMILTON CLARKE.

 



    33 Longridge Road,
      Earl’s Court,
        December 20th.

Dear George, – £3, if you don’t mind; and I am so sorry for the poor lady. I’ve just come back from Paris, and your letter had been sent there and back here after me, or you would have heard from me before. Hope you are very well. With love to you both,

  Yours ever,
    ELLEN TERRY.

I’m having a lovely Christmas holiday.



Percy Fitzgerald (I shall naturally look forward to his Chronicles of Bow Street with special interest), Emily Lovett Cameron, Joseph Hollman, Duchess of Westminster (the present), H. S. Marks, R.A., Arthur Roberts, C. D. Marius, Wilford Morgan, George Giddens, Dr. Anderson Critchett, Bottesini, H.S.H. Prince Leiningen, Sir Frederick Leighton, P.R.A.

    White Lodge,
      Richmond Park,
        January 7th.

Dear Mr. Grossmith, – I thank you for sending me your photos; it was a very kind thought of you. I trust Ko-Ko and yourself to be in the best of spirits. I must go to the Savoy again, and I hope you will from thence proceed with me to the Bachelor’s and have some supper.

  Yours sincerely,
    TECK.



      33 Untere Promenade,
        Homburg,
          Saturday.

Dear Grossmith, –The Prince of Wales hopes that Mrs. Grossmith and you will dine with him at the Kinsaal on Monday evening, at 7.15.

 

Yours truly,

    H. TYRWHITT-WILSON.


I had promised to write David James a song for Little Jack Sheppard, at the Gaiety, – a promise which I failed to keep. I had a good “intention,” but not an “idea.” The reward for my failure was this amusing letter:

      14 Buckingham Street,
        Adelphi,
          May 2nd, 1886.

Dear Grossmith, – The song you wrote for me for Blueskin goes IMMENSELY every night, and everybody is asking who is the author and composer. Now, as you cannot come and bow your acknowledgments at night, you might as well come and do so in the morning; and what better morning than Thursday, the 20th of May, at my matinée benefit at the Gaiety? I want all my old pals to be there … Like a good boy, come and sing and play, and very much oblige

  Your old “partic.,”
    DAVID JAMES.


A. Goring Thomas, Percy Reeve, Sir Percy Shelley, Fred. Barnard (with humorous sketch), John T. Bedford (author of “Robert,” in Punch).

      Lyceum Theatre,
        16th February, 1887.

Dear Grossmith, – Greeting! Right hearty congratulations on your recovery and reappearance this evening.

  Sincerely yours,
    H. IRVING.


A letter from Lady Freake reminds me of (to me) a memorable performance at Cromwell House. The musical triumviretta, Cox and Box, formed part of the programme:

Box   MR. ARTHUR CECIL.
Cox   MR. GEORGE GROSSMITH.
Serjeant Bouncer   MR. CORNEY GRAIN.
Piano   MR. ALFRED CELLIER.
Harmonium    SIR ARTHUR SULLIVAN.

I remember seeing at this entertainment the Dowager Countess of Waldegrave, who was the daughter of John Braham, the celebrated singer. But what most impressed me was an incident at the first rehearsal. Cecil, Grain, and I were under the impression that we had the well-fitted little theatre to ourselves; but suddenly two elderly and very prim ladies came and sat in the front row and watched us. There is nothing so disconcerting to actors as to be watched at the preliminary rehearsal. I cannot bear it even at the dress rehearsal. In the present instance we grumbled to ourselves and delayed commencing, hoping the two ladies would take the hint and depart. No such luck. One of them, the mother of an exceedingly clever amateur who has played Cox and Box all his life (I believe he was born playing it), suddenly said, in a loud voice:

“Why don’t they begin? Don’t they know what to do? I wish Johnnie were here; he could show them at once.”

      Royal Princess’s Theatre,
        March 23rd, 1886.

Dear Grossmith, – I know one “little piece” only, “Gone with a handsomer man.” If that will do, I am ready to help you; unless it should be the date on which Clito is produced. I expect to play it earlier than that. Kind regards.

  Faithfully yours,
    WILSON BARRETT.


Miss Hope Glen, Isidore de Lara, Wilhelm Ganz, Linley Sambourne, Charles Warner, Fred. H. Cowen, E. W. Royce, Miss Fortescue (informing me of the breaking off of the engagement between herself and Lord Garmoyle, now Earl Cairns), John Clayton, Lady Mildred Denison, Lady William Lennox, Lady Ventry, Lady Ardilaun, M. Rivière, Sir John Bennett, Madame Lemmens-Sherrington.

I am frequently asked, when singing professionally in private houses, if I am friendly with Mr. Corney Grain. Here is an extract from one of his letters. I had been suffering from sore throat, and could not fulfil a certain engagement, and he kindly sang in my stead. In return, I sent him a small souvenir in the shape of a “Tantalus.”

Dear George, – Thank you very much for your very handsome – and, moreover, very useful – present. It shall be entirely at your service from March 21st till the 6th April, when I hope, barring accidents, to be at The Willows, Datchet, where you have, not a general, but a particular invitation during that period.

Another of his letters terminates thus:

Then farewell my trim-built wherry.
  From that sheer hulk,
    R. CORNEY GRAIN.


Countess of Bective, Marshall. P. Wilder (the American humorist), Gordon Thomson, Sir John Millais, John Hollingshead, Earl of Hopetoun.

At a party at Sir Arthur Sullivan’s one evening, I was asked to sing the Lord Chancellor’s enormous patter song. I could not remember it; so Lord Hopetoun, himself a most excellent humorous singer, volunteered to prompt me. The effect was most ludicrous; for Lord Hopetoun had really to sing quickly the whole of the song about one bar ahead of me. After this, Sir Arthur sat at the piano, and Lord Hopetoun and myself arrayed ourselves in a few antimacassars and performed a graceful ballet; that is to say, as graceful as the circumstances would permit.

A kind letter from my old friend, Alfred Cellier, respecting the death of my father, reminds me of another evening at Sir Arthur Sullivan’s. We had been previously to a dinner-party and subsequent reception at Lady Sebright’s, where I was introduced to Mrs. Langtry – it being, I believe, her first introduction to London Society.

Subsequently, Sullivan persuaded Cellier, Arthur Cecil, and myself, and I fancy a few others including Archibald Stuart Wortley, to return to his rooms at 9 Albert Mansions, where the gifted composer was then residing. We stayed very late – much later than I would dare stay up now. I left with Alfred Cellier, and he asked me if I could drop him in Park Lane, as he had another party to go to. There was every excuse for my being astonished, considering it was half-past four in the morning and the beautiful daylight had long since appeared. I acquiesced, and the next day asked Cellier if he did not find that everybody had gone.

“No, indeed,” replied Cellier ; “in fact, I was the first arrival.”

Rather an early card party!

Speaking of Mrs. Langtry, recalls to my mind a curious incident affecting both of us. I was asked to a musical party in Prince’s Gardens, and proceeded there after my work at the theatre. On arriving in the locality, and seeing the awning out, and the usual line of footmen, and the will-o’-the-wisp linkman, I shouted to the cabman, who was passing the door, to stop. I gave up my coat and walked into the drawing-room, being announced in the usual way. I found, however, that a ball was in full swing. I could not discover my host or hostess, although I met many people I knew. I soon ascertained that I had come to the wrong house, and, instead of being at Mrs. G——’s musical party, was at Sir William D——’s ball. I slipped downstairs – having explained the matter to a friend of Sir William’s – got my coat, and went to Mrs. G——’s, which was a few doors off. As I was proceeding upstairs I met Mrs. Langtry coming down, and she said:

“Oh, Mr. Grossmith, I’ve made such a mistake! I’ve come to the wrong house. I ought to be at the ball at Sir William D——’s. I couldn’t understand how it was there was singing and no dancing upstairs, and have only just discovered my mistake.”

I replied, “You maybe comforted; I have been to Sir William D——’s by mistake, when I ought to have been here.”

Lady Greville, Madame de Fonblanque, Brindley Richards. Henry S. Neville (asking me to play “Paul Pry” at the Crystal Palace), Earl of Desart, who, in kindly sending me an invitation, described the whereabouts of his house thus:

“There ‘s a place called Victoria Lodge,
  It lies in Victoria Street;
To find it, I’ll tell you the dodge —
  Ask ev’ry policeman you meet.”

H. Beerbohm Tree, Countess of Wilton, Miss Millward, Dr. Louis Engel, H. Bracy, Kate Vaughan.

      Marlborough House,
        Pall Mall, S.W.,
          June 30th, 1885.

Dear Mr. Grossmith, – By direction of the Prince and Princess of Wales, I send you the accompanying pin, which their Royal Highnesses hope you will accept as a small souvenir of your visit to Marlborough House on the evening of the 14th inst.

  Believe me, yours truly,
    D. M. PROBYN.



      Court Theatre,
        Sloane Square, S.W.,
          March 30th.

My dear George, – Many thanks for your kind letter. The play, so far, promises to exceed The Magistrate.

  Yours truly,
    JOHN CLAYTON.



      145 Harley Street, W.,

Dear Mr. Grossmith, – I have been asked by people right and left; but put my name down, and if I can recite – I will.

  Yours faithfully,
    MADGE KENDAL.



      156 Cambridge Street,
        Warwick Square, S.W.

My dear Grossmith, – One line to say “Thank you;” another from my mother to repeat the “Thank you.” The two joined make the words bear their fullest measure of truth, and your kindness is very pleasant to

  Yours sincerely,
    CLIFFORD HARRISON.



Dear Mr. Grossmith, – I will ( D . V .) be there on the 4th. Many thanks.

  Yours ever truly,
    M. E. BANCROFT.



      46 Russell Square,
        March 19th, 1884.

Dear Gee Gee (“I’ve spotted you”), – You’d do much more good if you’d just leave Cox and Box alone, and stick to writing what I ask you to. I chuckled over this week’s Very Trying, No. VIII. Capital. I’ve written to Committee, and told ’em Weedon is a much better fellow than you are. Ergo, if they like you, they’ll elect Weedon; if they don’t like you, still they’ll elect Weedon.

Q.E.D.

  Yours ever,
    F. C. BURNAND.



            6 Hill Street,
              24th May, 1884.

Dear Mr. Grossmith, – I am very much obliged to you for your note and the photos sent with it. My daughter will write her own thanks for your note addressed to her.

I take the liberty of sending you one of my photographs in return for those you have so kindly sent me.

  With many thanks,
    I remain,
      Very truly yours,
        WOLSELEY.



        May 14th.

My dear Grossmith, – I am desired by the Duke of Albany to invite Mrs. Grossmith and yourself to lunch at Claremont, on Friday next, before the concert. A train leaves Waterloo for Esher at 12.15, by which I hope you will come. Please send a line in reply to the Comptroller of the Household, Claremont, Esher; and

  Believe me,
    Yours very sincerely,
      ALEC YORKE.



            Sainte Croix,
              Upper East Sheen,
                Mortlake.
                  June 13th, 1887.

My dear George Grossmith, – I hope there is no doubt about you and your wife giving us the pleasure of sharing our housewarming on the 6th prox; for, in addition to the gratification of having you both with us, I want you to volunteer a song on the occasion. … You mustn’t ridicule the idea of my giving a housewarming at my time of life, for on the 27th inst. I shall have achieved my 70th year; but the meeting of old friends under a new roof will be a cheery event to look back upon by an aged pilgrim who is starting a new family home in his 71st year.

With kindest regards to Mrs. Grossmith,

  Believe me,
    My dear George Grossmith,
      Faithfully yours,
        T. GERMAN REED.


The following is from the once famous clown, the legitimate successor to Grimaldi, with whom he played:

        51 Upper Lewes Road,
          Brighton,
            October 8th, 1885.

My dear Mr. Grossmith, – Yours to hand. Many thanks for the kind epistle respecting my birthday and health. I should like to have seen you. Pray give me a call next time you visit Brighton. God bless my dear, kind, good old friend, John L. Toole. Excuse my being brief. Shakespeare says, “Let those who play your clowns, speak no more than is put down for them.”

  So I remain,
    Very faithfully yours,
      TOM MATTHEWS.

Eighty years of age October 17th, 1885.

Excuse all mistakes, my sight is bad.



He does not show it in his letter; for he had sketched, in coloured crayons, a tiny representation of himself in the motley – head and shoulders.

Sir Rivers Wilson, Eric Lewis, Lord Garmoyle (now Earl Cairns), Frank Miles, Herman Merivale, Kyrle Bellew, Jules Lasserre, Brandon Thomas, Alfred German Reed, Lady Fanny Fitzwygram, Mrs. Arthur Stirling, Alice Barnett (Lady Jane in Patience), Leonora Braham, Jessie Bond, Jenny Lee (Jo), Carlotta Addison, Alfred Scott Gatty, Countess of Londesborough (asking me to sit with his lordship and “cheer him up” at the time of his dreadful accident), Lady Dorothy Nevill.

Everybody knows that Lady Dorothy Nevill gives very charming luncheon parties, their chief characteristic being the odd assortment of celebrities. On one of these occasions the announcement of the guests, who, somehow or other, arrived in strange couples, was especially amusing. The servant threw open the drawing-room doors, and announced “Lord Pembroke and Mr. George Grossmith.” As I am only five-feet-five in height and comic in appearance, and his lordship is six-feet-six and rather serious, it is not to be wondered at that those already assembled indulged in a titter. The next announcement by the servant was “The Earl of Wharnecliffe and Mr. Justin McCarthy.” For political reasons alone, this was amusing. Then came “The Duke of Wellington and Mr. Corney Grain.” I don’t know why, but this sounded very funny. It is only fair to Lady Dorothy to state that these are not “surprise” parties. Her guests are always informed whom they are to meet.

The following letter is à propos of my débût at the Opéra Comique:

        The Green Room,
          10 Adelphi Terrace, W.C.,
            December l0th, 1877.

Dear George, – Let me congratulate you very heartily on your success. I read with very great pleasure the good notices about you. I shall hope to hear you soon; because when at “The Globe” I shall cut a hole in the wall, and hope to listen to the charming music whilst I’m going through my own performance.

With kind regards to your wife and self, and all good wishes for your continued success in your new arena,

  I am,
    Yours sincerely,
     

J. L. TOOLE.



Besides being a very old and privileged friend of the famous and popular comedian, I have had the pleasure of being associated with him in business, having composed the music for Mr. Guffin’s Elopement and The Great Tay-kins, written by Arthur Law, and produced at Toole’s theatre.

Toole is fond of stories about other people. Here is one about him. Not being a musician, and not being a quick study, it becomes no easy task to drum a song, or especially duet, into his head. In The Great Tay-kins there was a “one-line-each” duet between him and Mr. E. D. Ward. I could not get Toole to get the rhythm right. He kept saying it was all right, but it was not. This is what it ought to have been:

Musical illustration

This is how Toole first got it:

Musical illustration

After a dozen rehearsals of these few bars, he got it thus:

Musical illustration

The company were in roars of laughter; but Toole struggled on perfectly seriously until he got it. He was then as pleased as Punch, and insisted on my lunching with him, an invitation I was not likely to refuse.

The following is from Sir Algernon Borthwick, who was my proposer for the Garrick Club:

      Morning Post,
        February 17th, 1883.

Dear Grossmith, – You were elected this after-noon, not only unanimously, but with warmest expressions of welcome and goodwill. I never saw so cordial and sympathetic an election.

  Sincerely yours,
    ALGERNON BORTHWICK.



      March 29th, 1882.

My dear Grossmith, – If you are not too tired, and have no better engagement, will you come up and see my “show” – all portraits (Chamber of Horrors) – before they go to the R.A. on Friday evening? The usual business – not dress.

  Yours sincerely,
    FRANK HOLL.  


From MRS. JOHN WOOD.

      23 Gordon Square, W.C.,
        July l0th, Midnight.

My dear George, – I cannot go to rest to-night without thanking you really and truly for your invaluable help this afternoon, and for the very graceful courtesy you have shown through the entire affair. I can only say if at any time I can do anything for you, you will confer a favour on me by asking it. Your dear little wife cheered me by saying she and everybody were very pleased with us, and I don’t think she would have said so if she hadn’t meant it. So good-night to you both, and God bless you.

  Your faithful friend,
    MATILDA WOOD.


The following, from George M. du Maurier, the incomparable Punch artist, has reference to the death of “Chang,” the enormous dog which he possessed, and which he so often immortalised on the pages of the above periodical:

  New Grove House,
    Hampstead Heath.

We are all (especially I) much touched by your kind note about poor old “Chang,” whom we miss very much. Although his death was expected, it was very painful when it came, more so than I should have thought possible in the case of an animal. His bones have gone to the museum of the College of Surgeons, and his skin is coming back to me. He was so big that, having no groom or manservant to look after him, I had to be his slave, and nothing is so attaching as voluntary slavery; so that I cannot yet rejoice in my new-found liberty. Please thank your wife for me for her kind feeling.




      12 The Terrace,
        Kennington Park, S.E.,
          October 1st, 1885.

Dear Grossmith, – On the 29th inst. I make my last appeal to the public, and on that occasion I want all the friendly support I can obtain. May I ask the favour of your vocal assistance? If agreeable and convenient, the programme will be complete.

  Yours faithfully,
    WM. CRESWICK.      



      Marlborough House,
        May 16th, 1888.

Dear Mr. Grossmith, – The Princess has desired me to thank you for so kindly sending her that prettily bound collection of your songs. H.R.H. is delighted to have it, and will value and prize the book extremely.

  Believe me, yours truly,
    CHARLOTTE KNOLLYS.


I naturally conclude “my little list” with letters from Gilbert and Sullivan, to whom I shall ever feel grateful for their many kindnesses and the opportunities they have offered me of more or less distinguishing myself:

      19 Harrington Gardens,
        South Kensington,
          24th February, 1884.

My dear Grossmith, – Carte tells me you had made some engagement for to-morrow afternoon. If so, pray don’t trouble to come down to the theatre, as I know your business is all right. But some of the others have become slack, and want bracing up.

  Yours faithfully,      
    W. S. GILBERT.      


During my dangerous illness, Mr. Gilbert never failed a day to come up and enquire after me. He also came down to Brighton with D’Oyly Carte, and kept me in roars of laughter the whole time. This was one of the bright days during an anxious time. But to see Gilbert at his best, is to see him at one of his juvenile parties. Though he has no children of his own, he loves them, and there is nothing he would not do to please them. I was never so astonished as when on one occasion he put off some of his own friends to come with Mrs. Gilbert to a juvenile party at my own house.

The following had reference to a mock melodrama, written by myself, which Barrington, my brother, and I were to act at Sir Arthur’s on an occasion when he was entertaining the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh, and other distinguished guests:

      1 Queen’s Mansions,
        Victoria Street, S.W.

Dear Grossmith, – Are you down in this neighbourhood to-morrow any time? If so, we might run through the “melos” here, or I could meet you in town (Chappell’s) at 3.30. Send me a wire early, please.

I hope Mrs. Grossmith will come; and, furthermore, that she understands that I shall never send her a separate invitation, as I shall always be delighted to see her whenever you come. It does not, of course, follow that I shall be delighted to see you whenever she comes.

  Yours sincerely,
    ARTHUR SULLIVAN.



      Hotel de Paris,
        Monte Carlo,
          28th February, 1887.

Dear G.G. – The earthquake knocked me about so much mentally, that I could not write sooner to you to say how glad I am that you are all right again – for both our sakes. Don’t get ill again, but take care of yourself. We are all calm again here, but we had a nasty time of it. I think the suspense afterwards was worse than the shock itself…

  Yours sincerely,
    ARTHUR SULLIVAN.


The following is an instance of the good feeling that has always existed between the authors and actors:

      1 Queen’s Mansions,
        Victoria Street, S.W.,
          15th January, 1884.

My dear Grossmith, – Many thanks for your very kind letter. It is pleasant to be thought of when one is ill; and it is also pleasant to know that one’s works are in the hands, not only of artists, but of friends like yourself, who bring something more than a mere professional interest to bear on their work. I have had a very sharp and severe attack; but, fortunately, a short one. I have been out three times for a drive, and to-day go into the country till Friday. My kind remembrances to Mrs. Grossmith.

 

Yours sincerely,

     
    ARTHUR SULLIVAN.      


On second thoughts, I will conclude with a letter from myself to the purchasers of A Society Clown:

Dear Readers, – If I have succeeded in amusing or interesting you, I shall feel myself more than repaid for my trouble. If I have bored or disappointed you, I beg to offer my apologies; for it was not my intention to do so.

  Your grateful and obedient Servant,
    GEORGE GROSSMITH.
28 Dorset Square,
July, 1888.

FINIS.

Previous Chapter  

The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive   |  A Society Clown

Page modified 27 September, 2007 Copyright © 2007, The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive. All rights Reserved.