CHAPTER VII

My first visit to the office of the Illustrated London News — The office-boy and my drawing — Mr. Mason Jackson, the Art Editor — I meet Mr. William Ingram — His encouragement and acceptance of my drawing — A fateful morning for me — Engaging personality of Mr. William Ingram and his brother Mr. Charles Ingram — Their remarkable ability — Fascination of the office — A private club — Interesting men there — Lunching places in the neighborhood — Carr's — The Devereux — Wilkinson's à la mode beef shop — Illustrated journalism in those days — Drawing on the wood — The art of the wood engraver — The "special artist" — An amusing anecdote

I HAD not been long in my new studio when something came to pass which had a very important bearing on my ultimate career. One fine morning when I felt it would do me no harm to have a few hours off, it suddenly occurred to me to try my luck and submit a black and white drawing to one of the illustrated papers, so selecting a specimen of my work that I had given special care to, I put on my best suit of clothes, made myself look as smart as possible, and went down to the office of the Illustrated London News. In those days the editorial office was in an old building in Milford Lane, almost opposite the present one, and known as Milford House.

I had anticipated no difficulty whatever in seeing the Editor, for it was the first time I had ever called on one, and therefore did not know of the obstacles to be surmounted before admittance to an editorial sanctum could be obtained, if one was quite unknown; — so I was a bit disappointed when a mere office boy informed me that if I gave him my drawing he would take it in to the Art Editor, Mr. Mason Jackson, and I could wait if I liked, but that he did not think he would see me, as he was very busy, or something to that effect. This was scarcely what I had expected, but there was no help for it, I felt it was the usual procedure, so I took the drawing out of its paper and the youth picked it up with bored carelessness and left me standing in the passage.

I shall never forget my first impression of the office of the News, and even now, after all these years, the smell of printers' ink always recalls it.

George Augustus Sala used to say that a mere glimpse of the interior of Charing Cross Station when he passed by in the Strand was sufficient to always remind him of Italy and the Sunny South, and make him long to be catching a train and going abroad.

How it came about with me I do not know, but I recollect that whilst waiting in the dingy office visions rose in my mind of wars — of perilous travel in far-away lands — of glorious adventure, and all the exciting and arduous work of the "Special Artist" or correspondent of a big paper, and in the few moments I was kept waiting I had made up my mind what my career should be henceforth if I could have any say in it. No humdrum studio life for me, I would see the world — and if needs be exchange the brush for pen and pencil.

I was aroused from my train of thought by the return of the office boy, who informed me to my delight that the Editor would see me, and I was forthwith ushered into Mr. Mason Jackson's room.

If I had been impressed with the outer office, it may be imagined what my feelings were now. I felt like a child in a toy shop. The room was littered with copies of the paper — photographs and black and white drawings, wood blocks were everywhere — on shelves, in open cupboards, and on the floor. At a table in the center sat a benevolent looking elderly gentleman with a grey beard; this was the Art Editor. Standing by his side was a young man to whom he was giving instructions with reference to a print he had before him.

"Mr. Price, sir," introduced the boy.

Mr. Jackson looked up, and said did I mind waiting a moment — of course I didn't.

His table was covered with war sketches evidently just received from Melton Prior who was at the time in Egypt, and there was, as it were, I thought an atmosphere of the battlefield, strangely out of keeping with the room, about these thin sheets of paper lying carelessly about. After a few moments the young fellow left the room, and Mr. Jackson rising from his seat came towards me with my drawing in his hand. In kindly tones he expressed his regret that he could not make use of it, but if I had anything else at any other time to show him he would be glad to see it — mere polite platitudes, I thought — so I felt very mortified and dejected as my hopes had gone up on the strength of his seeing me, for I was young then, and unused to disappointments.

There was nothing to be said, so I started wrapping up the drawing again. As I was doing so a gentleman came bustling into the room — a breezy cheerful looking man of about thirty-five years of age, he held a proof sheet of a picture in his hand, and from his manner was evidently some one of importance. It was Mr. William Ingram, the present baronet, and one of the proprietors of the paper. If he had come in two minutes later I should have been gone. He saw me tying up my parcel.

"What have you got there — a drawing? Let me see it."

I took it out again, and he went with it to the window, where he examined it critically, and then turning to me asked about my work and where I had studied. He seemed interested, and after a pause said, "I'll use this drawing; come and see me when you've got some more to show. You might do some work for me."

I felt too delighted and excited to say more than to express my thanks. In the light of my subsequent travels and campaigns for the paper that meeting with Mr. William Ingram that morning was indeed fateful.

From that day I got on most friendly terms with him and his brother Charles, whom I subsequently met. Scarcely a week passed without my going down to the office and submitting a drawing or a suggestion for work — of course with varying success.

I found the Ingrams' charming personalities, and I always felt flattered to be reckoned amongst their friends. William Ingram was then Editor in chief, manager, and, in fact, everything in the office, although he was ably seconded by his brother. I was not long in realizing that underlying their remarkable unconventionality, and almost boyish impetuosity, was a wonderful faculty for grasping in an instant the possibilities of any suggestion laid before them. If they said "no" to anything it was practically certain there was "nothing in it." It was the personal magnetism of the two brothers that somehow made me stick to the News, for, curiously enough, although there was never anything of a binding nature between me and the paper, yet I should not have dreamed of offering my black and white work elsewhere, and I never had cause to regret it.

There was to me an indescribable fascination about "the office" which I should have found it difficult to explain, though perhaps it was because I was always hoping, Micawber-like, that something would turn up, and at any moment I might get "marching orders," and be off somewhere across the seas. I realized that there was within me a latent fire of restless activity which impelled me to go down to the office. Meanwhile I soon found out that once one had one's entrée at the News you could drop in whenever you chose. There was no necessity to send in your name; it was almost like a private club where they were pleased to see you, and you were pretty sure of meeting a friend to have a yarn with, and hear all the gossip of the paper in which we all felt we had an interest. Such a delightfully free and easy state of affairs could not exist in a newspaper office nowadays.

I realize more than ever the march of time when I go down to the palatial offices of the paper now and try and recall the building as it was twenty-five years ago, when I used to go there as a youth — for all is so changed now that it is unrecognizable. What an interesting crowd of men it was, too, that one met there. Old William Simpson, the veteran of War Artists (who was out in the Franco-German War); Melton Prior, the ubiquitous "Special," seldom in London for long; Caton Woodville; Forestier, with his delightful pen and ink work, newly arrived from Paris; Montbard, the communist, another clever French draughtsman; Seppings Wright, the News authority on warships, and dear old John Latey, the popular editor of the Penny Illustrated. Perhaps, though, one of the most important men at the office in our eyes, after the Ingrams, was the genial cashier, Lister Goodacre, because he could hurry the checks through, and many an I.O.U. would he cash on his own responsibility; but this was years before the paper was turned into a big company, and in the palmy days of the newspaper artist.

Several of us would often go out and lunch together, either across the road to Carrs, where many well known journalists used to gather, or round to the "Devereux," a quiet little old-fashioned place where you got perhaps the best chop or steak and boiled potatoes in the neighborhood, or else, if we wanted to do it on the cheap, to Wilkinson's à la mode beef shop in Fleet Street, where for less than a shilling you could have quite a good feed if you did not mind the crowd, which was pretty rough. And after lunch, if Melton Prior was in town, we would perhaps go up and have a smoke in his room in the building in the Strand before returning to our work.

Those were the days of drawing on the wood and the wood engraver, and to be of any real use to an illustrated paper one had to be proficient in this particular branch, which was almost an art in itself. It took some little time to get accustomed to drawing on the block itself, as, of course, everything had to be reversed.

Art reproduction has made such vast strides since those days that it may possibly be of interest to recall the tedious methods by which a newspaper drawing was then reproduced by wood engraving before the advent of mechanical reproduction. The wood block was made up of several pieces of boxwood keyed together so perfectly as to form a smooth surface on the front. When the drawing, which was either in wash or pencil, was finished, the block was handed to the wood engraver, and if it was required urgently it would be un-keyed and the pieces given to several men to work on, the head engraver having previously marked his suggestion for the general direction of the lines, so that all tallied ultimately. When the engravers had finished, the pieces would be re-keyed, and an "electro" made from the block for the Press, as the printing was not often made from the wood direct as in olden times, for fear of damaging the block.

In these days, when a picture can be reproduced in a few minutes practically, the tedium therefore of wood engraving may be realized. Still it was a wonderful art in itself, and some fine results were often obtained if time were no object, and it seems almost a pity it should have completely died out. Of course a successful reproduction of one's drawing was largely dependent on the engraver's intelligence, who apparently would often, if embarrassed, follow out Punch's famous advice to bad spellers, "When in doubt make a blot."

Photography in those days had not yet even commenced to oust the draughtsman, and the "Special Artist" still had it all his own way when any war or big event was on the tapis, for the rich amateur correspondent with a camera had not yet put in his appearance, fortunately, so the work was entirely confined to a few men who had made reputations by their pencils in many arduous campaigns and expeditions. Now and again, of course, a new aspirant would come forward when something unexpected happened, and if the regular men were abroad would get his chance of distinguishing himself; but it was seldom they achieved honors, for "Special Artists," like war correspondents, are born, not made.

There was a story of an artist who was sent out to a war by one of the illustrated papers. It was his first experience, and he made a failure. The sketches he sent home being very poor and at times quite unintelligible.

One day on his return he was in the Editor's room, and endeavoring to explain that it was not quite his fault if his work had been unsuccessful, as there was no time to draw carefully under the circumstances. The Editor agreed with him in that respect; but pointed out that if he had not time to make a recognizable sketch of anything it would have been better to have indicated in writing what it was intended to represent, and picking up one of the artist's sketches, he continued: "Take this one, for instance — since you say you were in such a hurry that you had not time to draw it more carefully, why not have written above it 'This is a windmill'? Then our artist here would have known what it was intended for, instead of which he had to guess."

"But it isn't a windmill; it's a man on horseback," replied the artist.

My ambition was to become one of the small group of "Specials," and I never missed an opportunity of bringing this idea of mine before the Ingrams. My chance was to come later; but for the moment I had to be content with the peaceful atmosphere of a London studio.




Proceed To Next Chapter

Go To Table Of Contents

Return To BohemianLit.com Home Page