The first of a long-running monthly collection of short humorous anecdotes, all illustrated by the ‘artistic contributors’ to The Strand Magazine.
We feel sure the many readers of The Strand Magazine will welcome a new feature–the Chronicles of the Strand Club. By one of the rules of this interesting organization–which is, by the way, mainly composed of the literary and artistic contributors to The Strand–each member must furnish either a story or a picture for the edification of the monthly gatherings. Although commonly the story precedes the picture, yet sometimes, as we shall see, the process is reversed, and the picture precedes the story.
Adopting the language of Pickwick, we may say that “the first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brilliancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Strand Club is involved,” takes the form of a legal anecdote in which an author, an artist, and two famous lawyers are involved. At the outset rumour has it that the Strand Club was avowedly and exclusively an artists’ club. It met in quite an unpretentious way at a rendezvous situate somewhere or other in that illustrious thoroughfare which begins near the church of St. Clement Dane’s and ends at Charing Cross. There was nothing in the constitution, by-laws, rules, or regulations which suggested the possible intrusion of literary characters, and various legends are afloat as to the way the barrier was broken down; by far the most plausible appears to be this.
One evening a well-known artist–it may have been Mr. Phil May, or Mr. Raven-Hill, or Mr. Gould, or Mr. Furniss–was called upon, in accordance with the established custom of the club, for a story, to be illustrated on the spot by himself–also according to a peculiar custom of the club. He had to confess, amidst loud cries of “Shame!” and “Resign!” (it is said the disturbance was occasioned by certain Irish members), that for the life of him he couldn’t remember any story.
“I’ve been all day at the Law Courts,” said he, “making sketches for my next picture, ‘The Jocular Jury, or Six Men in a Row,’ and, although I’m dead tired, gentlemen, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll draw you a life-like picture of the back of the counsel who, for four hours and three-quarters, completely obstructed my view of the proceedings.” Whereupon he went up to the drawing board on the easel, and in a few minutes produced the first of the sketches given below.
There was naturally some applause, for the sketch was amusing and the members extremely sympathetic. Encouraged by this, our artist continued:–
“I will now endeavour to delineate the back of the barrister who obstructed my view for the remainder of the day’s proceedings.” And he then added the accompanying figure.
He had no sooner finished than a member arose and said: “Haven’t you any story to fit that picture?”
“Sorry; none whatever. You might call it the ‘long and short of the law.'”
“Well,” returned the other, “it’s a most extraordinary thing, but I have a friend here–by special courtesy of the club–who has just told me a story which fits that picture exactly. It’s really most extraordinary.”
“Bravo!” “Platform!” “Speech!” “Let’s hear the story,” cried the members of the Strand Sketch Club; and so, blushing and reluctant, the visitor was led forward, and instantly recognised as a well-known author, whom we will here describe as Garry.
Garry (taking up his place in close proximity to the above lightning sketch): Gentlemen, I think I may say that the chief merit of my–ah–little tale lies in its application (waves a stout briar pipe towards sketch). You all know, I dare say, that Sir Edward Clarke and Sir Edward Carson are leading lights of the Bar. One stands five feet two in his brown boots and gaiters; the other six feet three in red silk socks. On the occasion I am going to tell you about they were arguing, as opposing counsel, an ecclesiastical case, when Carson, towering above his opponent, said, with some sarcasm:–
“Of course, my learned friend here is omniscient in such matters. As everybody knows, he was originally intended for the Church.”
Sir Edward Clarke sprang to his feet.
“I do not know, m’lud; I am not aware whether my lofty friend here was or was not originally intended for the Church, but I think you will agree with me, m’lud, that he was much better fitted for the steeple!”
Nothing could have been more pat (no allusion being here intended to the nationality of both K.C.’s), and, the laughter having subsided, a motion was duly put, seconded, and carried, that in virtue of his exploit Garry should be, any rules and by-laws to the contrary notwithstanding, elected a member of the club. That was the beginning, and now, a proper test having been imposed, there are amongst the fifty almost as many “literary” as “pictorial” members, and the labour of amusing one another at the monthly meetings is agreeably divided. Sometimes an author is called upon to provide, impromptu, a story for a sketch, likewise impromptu. At other times a Strand artist has to illustrate, on the spur of the moment, an author’s anecdote. In either case the contest is amusing enough, and the roars of laughter which greet the failures are almost as great as those which reward the successes. But let us introduce the reader to one of the evenings of the Strand Sketch Club.
The Chairman (watch in hand): I call upon Mr. Alfred Pearse for a sketch and Mr. J. J. Johns for an explanation.
(That, by the way, is the peculiar humour of our club; it is always assumed that all our artists are as occult as William Blake and as esoteric as Rossetti and Burne-Jones. None of their pictures speak for themselves, or but very rarely, as will be shown later.) Here is Mr. Pearse’s drawing. He has, you see, offered a presentment of a weary but muscular organ-grinder, grinding away on the pavement his instrument of torture. It is a good character-study, especially when it is considered in how brief a time it was executed. Of course, we were all anxious to see how our humorist, Johns, acquitted himself on this occasion. It was a trying moment.
Johns: Gentlemen, you see before you a middle-aged organ-grinder, blind and likewise deaf and dumb. (Cries of “Oh, oh!”) This afflicted organ-grinder once took up his stand–or, more properly, his sit-down–in a certain country town. Here his absolutely futile musical efforts excited the indignation of a stingy old agriculturist who thought the man was strong enough to work for a living. An idea struck him. He lay in wait for the poor, blind, and deaf and dumb organ-grinder, helped him to his accustomed pitch, and on the way substituted a churn for the barrel-organ. The poor musician then ground out four pounds of excellent butter instead of “Maisie is a daisy”; the farmer came and put twopence in his saucer and kindly helped him a few steps on his way home again. It is a touching instance of mutual human helpfulness.
Sime: Does anybody know a good story of a landlady?
The Chairman: Yes, you do. If you don’t, you must invent one on the spot. (Calls of “Sime! Sime!”)
Whereupon one of our most humorous members approached the easel, and with a piece of black chalk produced the following drawing. When he had finished he undertook to explain it to the Club in, as he said, the landlady’s own words. “This, sir, is the bath–a nice bath–which, if ever you should think o’ usin’, I dessay we could find another place for the coals.” The laughter that greeted the story and the picture made the rafters of the building rock.
Mr. Harry Furniss, being called upon, strode to the easel and in an incredibly short space of time produced the sketch shown above. It looked easy enough to fit a story or repartee to such a picture, but Mullins, who was called upon, did not find it at all easy.
“If you had drawn something funny–” he began.
“But it must be funny,” protested the Chairman; “don’t you see the girl laughing?”
Furniss: That is not laughter. It is surprise, astonishment, embarrassment.
Mullins: Oh, of course, if you put it that way. But, then, women, some women, would look just that way if anybody told them a really funny joke. However, I just remember something that will fit that work of art. At a concert one evening a short-sighted colonel I know turned to his fair neighbour and said, “I do admire your husband’s singing so much.”
“That isn’t my husband,” she cried; “it’s my papa.”
“Indeed! How stupid of me! But he really does look much too young to be your father!”
Emberton: That reminds me of a good-looking painter who got a commission to paint the portrait of a rich City magnate. He improvised a studio down at his country place in Kent and spent about a couple of months on the job. One day he said to the purse-proud Moneybags, “I think your countenance, sir, most mobile. Is there any particular expression you would like to wear in this picture?”
” Well, since you ask it, there is. I particularly want a certain expression. By the way, have you met my daughter? ”
“Yes,” replied the artist.
“A charming girl, eh?”
“I’m glad you think so. I’ve spent a lot of money on that girl. Well, supposing you came to me and asked my consent to marry her.”
“Oh!” cried the painter.
The magnate smiled. “Perhaps you don’t quite follow me. At all events, the expression I want to wear in that picture is the expression you would see on my face on such an occasion. It is the only illustration I can think of–a sort of combination of disgust, stand-offishness, anger, and you-can’t-come-it-over-me-my-boy look. You see, I desire to place this portrait in the ante-room of my City offices to scare away money-seekers, and it occurred to me–”
“I see,” said the artist. “I will try and realize your idea. Perhaps you can help me. Can you oblige me with a sample of one of these expressions?”
The magnate beamed. “No, young man; I’m much too good-natured to-day. I’ve just floated two companies at half a million each.”
“No matter. Maybe I can help you. As a matter of fact, Sir Jabez, I fell in love with your daughter at first sight. I asked her to marry me, she consented, and we were married at a registry office yesterday.”
And as the millionaire struggled with his feelings, the painter added:–
“Ah, thanks; might I ask you to keep that expression as long as possible? The picture is bound to be a success.”
Mr. Hassall thereupon illustrated the story, causing much additional laughter by introducing a fellow-member, Mr. Dudley Hardy, as the artist-hero.
“My turn so soon?” cried Wornung. “Well, really, I was just about to make my excuses–a touch of Australian fever–but, since you press me, I don’t mind telling this, which I heard this afternoon.
“It seems that the other day a famous pianist dropped into a Strand barber-shop for a hair-cut. After a time he remarked anxiously to the operator: ‘Look here, haven’t you taken off about enough?’
“‘Oh, I think not, sir, I think not. I see you’ve been out into the country for some time, sir. You see, if I was to let it go like that, they’d take you for one of these ‘ere bloom-in’ foreign piano-thumpers.’ ”
To the above story Mr. Wallis Mills duly appended the picture which appears on this page.
A clever fellow-artist, Mr. Shepherd, next drew a couple of sketches which told the little joke of the horse and the jocular tramp so explicitly that explanation really became superfluous.
Lomack: Did I ever tell you the story of the uncanny fur coat? No? Well, one day in the Alps a friend of mine met an acquaintance in a peculiar fur coat. “Good gracious!” he cried; “what an extraordinary fur coat, Brown! What animal do you call it?”
“Just plain bear. I tracked it myself.”
“But what makes it stand on end like that? ”
“We must be near a precipice. The instinct is strong even in death. The bear saw me coming. It turned round to escape and found a precipice. Then it died of fright. I admit it’s a trifle awkward, old chap, but it’s saved my life no end of times when I’ve tried to cross Piccadilly in the road-repairing season.”
While the story was still in progress Mr. D. B. Waters was adroitly covering the sheet of cartridge-paper on the easel, and in little more than five minutes the drawing reproduced above was complete.
At this stage of the proceedings there was only one member remaining who had not contributed to the success of the evening, and immediately all eyes were fastened upon him. There arose vociferous calls for “Max! Max!”
With a deep gravity befitting his years Mr. Max Beerbohm bowed his acknowledgments.
“I have no story,” he said, “only an object-lesson. All the members of the Strand Club, this great and worthy institution which is doing so much to add to the gaiety of nations, are at liberty to interpret it.”
And he proceeded in dozen strokes to expose to the world the seductive smile of Mr. Bernard Shaw in the inimitable apologue of Mr. Bernard Shaw and John Bull.