Portraits of Celebrities, New Series: Canon Edward Lyttelton, Clara Butt, W. W. Jacobs (July 1905)

The Strand Magazine ran a series of portraits of celebrities from its very first volume – this is the first of the new series. Edward Lyttelton had just been appointed the headmaster of Eton College, and would hold the post until 1916 (when he resigned following a sermon calling for a generous post-war settlement for the German nation). Clara Butt, a celebrated concert singer, was made a Dame in 1920. W. W. Jacobs continued to be a popular writer, mainly of stories of sea-farers and village life, although his best known work these days is the supernatural short story The Monkey’s Paw



We believe that our readers will welcome the revival, in a new and improved form, of a series which proved so popular a feature of our pages some years ago.

No I.–HON. CANON EDWARD LYTTELTON.

Youngest but one of eight distinguished brothers, the Rev. the Hon. Canon Edward Lyttelton was born in London on the 23rd of July, 1855. His father was the late George William, fourth Baron Lyttelton, and his mother a daughter of the late Sir Stephen Glynne. His younger brother Alfred is the present Colonial Secretary, and among the others are the late Bishop of Southampton, the present Lord Cobham, Lieutenant-General Sir Neville Lyttelton, Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, and the Hon. G. W. Spencer Lyttelton, who was private secretary to Mr. Gladstone for several years. All were educated at Eton, and all covered themselves with greater or lesser glory in the cricket-field. Perhaps, as compared to his eldest and youngest brothers, the lesser share of glory fell to the young Edward; nevertheless, both in his Eton and Cambridge days he enjoyed a position of considerable distinction as a cricketer. He was in the Eton eleven in 1872, 1873, and 1874, being captain of the side in his last year. He was on the winning side against Harrow twice and three times against Winchester, his best score against the latter school being 61 in 1873.

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On leaving Eton he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, as a Foundation Scholar, winning fresh distinction in the cricket-field, notably in 1878, when he ranked as one of the great batsmen of the season. In the same year he took a second class in the Classical Tripos.

He left the University to take up teaching, and was for two years assistant-master at Wellington College, returning to Eton as classical master in 1882. In whatever light the present generation of Etonians may regard his appointment as head master there can be no doubt as to his extreme popularity in those former days, or of the loyal affection and admiration which he won from every schoolboy under him. It was not only that he was good at games, though that is a recommendation that goes to the heart of every normal boy, but he may be said to have instituted at Eton, or in any case greatly developed, that good-fellowship and comradeship between master and boy which is one of the distinguishing features of our public schools, as opposed to the very different feeling which exists in foreign colleges. When he took orders his sphere of influence was further enlarged, and his forcible and practical sermons in the chapel rarely failed to attract and interest that most difficult and critical of congregations–a number of growing boys.

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In 1888 he married Miss Caroline West, daughter of the Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin; and in 1890, after eight successful years at Eton, he was appointed to the head-mastership of Haileybury.

As to his recent appointment to Eton in succession to Dr. Warre, it is so recent as to be still fresh in the public mind. It is among the traditions of Eton that none but an Etonian and a divine should be chosen to fill this most important post, whose influence is far-reaching enough to be called Imperial in its widest sense, and in Canon Lyttelton both conditions are fitly met.

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Some people were inclined to take an alarmist view of things when the new election was made known. So great a reformer, they said, will hardly be in place in a conservative establishment like Eton. But we may be sure that Canon Lyttelton’s good sense will prevent him from taking undue liberties with his Alma Mater, and even those who are “plus royaliste que le roi” may perhaps admit that in one or two particulars reform might be desirable, even at Eton.

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No one will, of course, deny that the Canon is a man of very pronounced views on questions of education, hygiene, and the general training of boys, and he has both written and spoken on the subject at some length. His publications are “Cricket,” “Mothers and Sons,” “Are We to Go On with Latin Verses?” and “Training for the Young in the Laws of Sex,” which last appeared in 1900. He has a strong leaning towards vegetarianism, believing that the average English boy eats far too much meat; and it is said that more than one young Etonian looks forward with fear and trembling to a possible change of diet under the new regime, and dolorously wonders whether he will henceforward be required to live on cabbage and potatoes.

Speaking last year on the subject of the unnecessary luxury of the modern boy’s life, Canon Lyttelton referred to the luncheons which form an important part of so many cricket matches, and told a story of a gamekeeper, quite unsophisticated in the matter of cricket, who was hastily chosen to supply an unexpected vacancy. After the match a friend asked him: “Well, Bill, how do you like cricket?” “Oh,” he replied, “I liked it well enough, all except the running about between meals.”

The Canon, by the way, is an excellent speaker. His delivery is admirable, and his personality both striking and imposing.

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No. II–MME. CLARA BUTT.

Mme. Clara Butt, the celebrated contralto, was born at Southwick, near Brighton, on February ist, 1873. Two years later her family moved to Jersey, where they lived for some years, finally returning to England and settling in Bristol, where the famous singer received her preliminary training under Mr. Rootham. Her parents, however, never intended her for a professional career, and were indeed opposed to the idea, and it was not until 1890, when she gained a Royal Scholarship, with a prize of four hundred guineas, that they consented to let her go in for definite training as a singer. She came to London, entered the Royal College of Music, and studied for three years under Mr. Henry Blowden. Her first public appearance was made on December 5th, 1892, when she sustained the role of Eurydice in a students’ performance of “Orfeo” given at the Lyceum; but her actual professional debut took place a couple of days later in the Albert Hall, where she sang in “The Golden Legend,” in company with Mme. Albani, Mr. Ben Davies, and other noted artists.

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Never was success more instantaneous and complete. The whole world, musical and social, seemed to be ringing with the praises of the new star that had arisen in the firmament of song. Success followed success, engagements poured in, the young contralto was “commanded” to sing at Windsor and afterwards at Balmoral, and in 1894 her talent received supreme recognition and she was elected to sing at the Handel Festival. Far from resting upon her laurels, Miss Butt, as she then was, devoted herself to her studies more assiduously than ever, and to this end went abroad, studying both in Paris and Berlin, and perfecting herself in French, German, and Italian pronunciation.

She sang with unvarying success both in France and Germany, and among her Paris triumphs recalls with pleasure a most touching compliment received from Mme. Gounod, widow of the great composer. “My child,” she said, “you are an artist–you have tears in your voice. For the first time I have heard my dear husband’s song sung as he would have wished to hear it. Let me thank you.”

In Berlin, too, both the Emperor and Empress evinced the greatest admiration for the English singer, and showed her much personal kindness. The Empress’s favourite song was “Light in Darkness,” a song which Mme. Butt, who feels every word she sings, is unable to this day to sing without tears. But the occasion when she was most deeply moved was when she sang to the soldiers in Westminster Abbey, on Thanksgiving Sunday in Diamond Jubilee year, the solo of “God Save the Queen.” The tears ran down the great artist’s cheeks; but it is stated that in the matter of emotion she had the entire Army, as there represented, with her.

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After her studies abroad she returned to England to score fresh triumphs, and was engaged for all the leading musical festivals–in particular, Leeds, Birmingham, Norwich, and the Three Choirs Festival.

Then in 1900 she sang in the Handel Festival again, and a few days later, on June 26th, was married in Bristol Cathedral to her fellow-artist, Mr. Kennerley Rumford. Universal interest was felt in the wedding, and a large circle of friends and admirers assembled to witness the ceremony, a number of well-known artists being present, among others Mme. Albani, Mme. Melba, Mr. Edward Lloyd, and Mr. Ben Davies. The members of the Handel Festival Choir presented the bride with a bracelet bearing an inscription to the effect that it was in commemoration of two events: the singer’s marriage and the Handel Festival, 1900.

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Two children have been born of the marriage: the elder one, Joy Clara, was born in the summer of 1901, and the second baby in the autumn of last year. They are surely to be envied the possession of a mother who can sing such exquisite lullabies.

Mme. Clara Butt’s most notable successes have perhaps been made in oratorio and sacred song, but those who have heard her rendering of a simple ballad will say that the real heart triumphs have been won there. She has indeed the gift of tears, and no one more fitly demonstrates the truth of the saying that, while the soprano is the voice we admire, the contralto is the voice we feel.

Mme. Butt has, perhaps, the ideal appearance for a singer. Surely a “daughter of the gods,” being over six feet two inches in height! She has a charming and graceful presence and delightful manners. Her brunette colouring is, possibly, due to some admixture of Spanish blood, but she also confesses to an Irish strain somewhere, and she certainly has her fair share of Irish magnetism. Some of her experiences in the Emerald Isle are very characteristic, and none more so, perhaps, than the following. An interviewer turned up in an inauspicious moment, when the famous singer was extremely tired and in no mood for confidences. “Oh, dear!” she exclaimed, leaving “what a nuisance!” to be inferred; “you want particulars of my career, do you? Well, where do I begin?” “Shure, just start with your death and work backwards,” said Patrick the irrepressible. And after that, who could fail to expand?

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No. III.-Mr. W. W. JACOBS.

William Wymark Jacobs–who is so well known to readers of this Magazine, in which his stories exclusively appear–was born in London on the 8th September, 1863. His father was manager of a wharf at Wapping, so that while yet a boy he became thoroughly familiar with river life, and doubtless met many of the old salts whom he subsequently depicted in his stories with such inimitable humour.

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Like many other writers he began his career in the Civil Service, where he was clerk in the Savings Bank Department from 1883 till 1899, and it was here, when he was in his twenty-second year, that his maiden effort in literature appeared in a Post Office journal known as the Blackfriars Magazine. He confesses himself that this early work was largely modelled on Max Adder’s “Out of the Hurly-Burly,” so much so, indeed, that his editor, while encouraging him to go on writing, suggested that original matter was far more likely to succeed than anything copied.

Mr. Jacobs very sensibly took the editor’s advice, and before long articles from his pen began to find acceptance in one or two popular journals and small periodicals. The turning-point in his career, however, came when he sent in a story entitled “A Case of Desertion” to Mr. J. K. Jerome, at that time editor of To-Day. No doubt humour leapt out to meet humour, for not only was the story accepted, but the writer was asked to supply others in the same vein, and in this way the series of stories known as “Many Cargoes” came to be written, and at once placed Mr. Jacobs in the foremost ranks of modern humorists. In view of the enormous success of the book, which within three years of publication ran into eighteen editions, it was curious to note that it was refused by no fewer than four publishers. His other works, “The Skipper’s Wooing,” “Sea Urchins,” “A Master of Craft,” “Light Freights,” “At Sunwich Port,” are almost too well known to need comment. “The Lady of the Barge” is better known in the dramatic garb–in the fashioning of which he had the collaboration of Mr. Louis N. Parker–in which it delighted the audiences of the New and Haymarket Theatres for so long. Mr. Jacobs is also joint author of the two curtain-raisers, “The Ghost of Jerry Bundler” and “The Monkey’s Paw.”

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As to his methods of labour, he has been questioned by more than one interviewer on the subject. In the matter of plot, he considers a man and a girl about the best base to work from, as being certain to lead somewhere. Sometimes, however, he begins a story with the mere conception of a character. Round this he groups a series of people and incidents likely to bring out its most salient points, and so a plot springs up without his quite knowing how.

He is no believer in burning the midnight oil, and does most of his work before dinner. He takes, on an average, about a month over a story, though “False Colours” was written in one day. That, however, was exceptional. It is interesting to note, in reference to this story, that though many of the characters he depicts are actual sketches of people he met in Wapping, or on some of the trips he took in little coasting vessels, “False Colours” is the only yarn he ever heard from a seaman that he was able to work up into a story.

Questioned once on the subject of humour, Mr. Jacobs refused to commit himself to a definition, but gave what he considered an example of true humour, devoid of brutality. “A little girl in her prayers at night asked to be made pure–absolutely pure–pure like Epps’s Cocoa!”

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Like Dickens, all of whose books he had read before he was in his teens, Mr. Jacobs attaches a good deal of importance to names, and the curious examples to be found in his stories have often been the subject of remark. Unlike Dickens, however, who manufactured most of his names, Mr. Jacobs simply keeps a list of all the odd real names he comes across, and refers to it when in search of one. On one occasion he received a letter from a correspondent in Somersetshire, whose surname he had used for one of his characters, and who asked him where he had heard it, as she had never come across it outside her own village. It so happened that he had seen it in the records of the Savings Bank Department in his Civil Service days.

As to the question of heredity in the matter of literary and seafaring tastes, it has already been stated that Mr. Jacobs’s father was a wharfinger at Wapping, and he also had a great-grandfather a seaman, and a great-aunt with a talent for poetry. As a boy he himself had a great longing to be a sailor, but gave up all such ideas after his first cruise, when he was extremely ill.

Mr. Jacobs’s personal appearance has, perhaps, been more frequently described than that of any living writer. It seems a matter of perpetual surprise to many people that he is neither bronzed nor burly, nor even breezy. His slightness of build, combined with extreme fairness of complexion, gives him an almost boyish appearance, and no amount of success or popularity has ever made him other than the quietest and most unassuming of men. Assuredly he is of those whom prosperity does not spoil.

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