Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lemon, Mark

LEMON, MARK (1809–1870), editor of ‘Punch,’ eldest son of Martin Lemon, hop-merchant, by his wife, Alice Collis of Boston, Lincolnshire, was born in a house at the north-east corner of Oxford Circus, London, on 30 Nov. 1809. His father dying in 1817, he was brought up by his grandfather, also Mark Lemon, a farmer long settled at Hendon, and was sent to school under the Rev. James Wilding at Cheam in Surrey. At the age of fifteen he went to his uncle, Thomas Collis, a hop-merchant at Boston, to learn his business, and then, through the influence of his mother's second husband, he was appointed for a time manager of Verey's brewery in Kentish Town. But his real genius was for journalism and the stage. From an early date he was in the habit of sending poems and tales to the magazines, and in 1835 he began his prolific career as a playwright. On 25 April 1835 there appeared at the Strand Theatre the ‘P.L., or No. 30 Strand,’ and this was followed at the Adelphi, at various times, by ‘Domestic Economy,’ ‘Jack-in-the-Green,’ ‘The Slow Man,’ ‘A Moving Tale,’ and ‘The Railway Belle,’ the last two being played in 1854. ‘Destiny’ was the first of his plays acted at the Surrey Theatre, and it was followed by a five-act drama in blank verse, ‘Arnold of Winkelried,’ in July 1835. In several of his best-known plays, such as ‘Hearts are Trumps,’ produced at the Strand Theatre in 1849, and ‘The Silver Thimble,’ Mrs. Stirling and the Keeleys appeared. Between 1841 and 1844 the following works of his were played at the Olympic: ‘The Little Gipsy,’ ‘Gileso Scroggini,’ ‘My man Tom,’ ‘Lost and Won,’ ‘Captain pro tem,’ ‘Self Accusation,’ ‘The Gentleman in Black,’ ‘The Ladies' Club,’ ‘Love and Charity,’ ‘The Adventures of a Gentleman,’ ‘Love and War,’ ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ ‘Whittington and his Cat,’ ‘The Demon Gift,’ and ‘Gwynneth Vaughan.’ ‘Mrs. Webster at Home’ appeared at the Adelphi in April 1853, and ‘Number Nip’ in 1854; ‘Paula Lazarro’ at Drury Lane in 1854, and ‘Medea, or the Libel on the Lady of Colchis’ in 1856. Others of his plays are ‘The M.P. for the Rotten Borough,’ ‘Bob Short,’ ‘What will the World say?’ a five-act play which appeared in 1841, ‘The Turf,’ performed in 1842 at Covent Garden, and ‘Grandfather Whitehead.’ He wrote several farces—‘The School for Tigers,’ and others. ‘The Ancestress’ and ‘Self-Accusation’ were melodramas; ‘The Pacha's Bridal’ and ‘Fridoline,’ of which the music was written by his brother-in-law, Frank Romer, and ‘The Lady of the Lake’ were operas; ‘The House of Ladies,’ ‘Love and Charity,’ and ‘The Gray Doublet’ burlettas; ‘The Chimes,’ ‘St. George and the Dragon,’ ‘Number Nip,’ and ‘Peter Wilkins’ extravaganzas. In some of these, and also particularly in his adaptation of Dumanoir's and Dennery's ‘Don César de Bazan,’ he collaborated with Gilbert à Beckett. His plays numbered some sixty in all.

Meanwhile he contributed to ‘Household Words,’ ‘Once a Week,’ the ‘Illustrated London News,’ and the ‘Illuminated Magazine.’ His first editorship was that of the ‘London Journal,’ for which he had written the Christmas story almost from its commencement. For a short time he edited the ‘Family Herald’ and ‘Once a Week.’ He also established and edited the ‘Field.’ Being an intimate friend of Herbert Ingram, founder of the ‘Illustrated London News,’ he acted as his secretary, and assisted in the management of his paper for some years. The first Christmas supplement that it published was from his pen.

It is as one of the founders and first editor of ‘Punch’ that Lemon is best known. From 1841 his history is the history of ‘Punch.’ Whether the title of that paper was borrowed from Douglas Jerrold's ‘Punch in London’ or not, the conception of the journal itself is due to Lemon and Henry Mayhew, and occurred to them in June 1841, at Lemon's house in Newcastle Street, Strand, where Lemon drafted the first prospectus. The first number was published by Bryant on 17 July 1841, and the periodical was owned in equal shares by Ebenezer Landells the engraver, Last the printer, and Lemon and Mayhew, who jointly edited it. For some time it was most unsuccessful, and was only saved from disaster by the money which Lemon was making by his plays. The paper was then purchased by Bradbury & Evans. Mayhew retired from the editorship, and the sole charge was left to Lemon, who retained it to his death. His salary at first was 30s. a week; at the last it was 1,500l. per annum. During the twenty-nine years of his control of ‘Punch’ it not only attained the position of a social power, and numbered among its contributors almost all the humorists of the day, but it was singularly free from all virulence, undue personality, or grossness—the best proof that there can be of the purity and good nature of Lemon's singularly amiable and honest mind. In addition to his work on ‘Punch,’ he was busy with other enterprises. Late in life he began writing novels, though with indifferent success. ‘Wait for the End’ appeared in 1863, ‘Loved at Last’ in 1864, ‘Faulkner Lyle’ in 1866, ‘Leyton Hall’ in 1867, and ‘Golden Fetters’ in 1868. ‘The Taffeta Petticoat,’ though finished, was not published before he died.

He was an amateur actor of much talent and humour. His performances began in 1845 at Miss Kelly's Theatre in Soho, in connection with the Guild of Literature and Art. He took the parts of Brainworm in Jonson's ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ which was repeated at Knebworth, Hertfordshire, in 1847, and of the Mysterious Stranger in ‘Two o'clock in the Morning.’ He acted in 1847 in Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham, and in 1849 appeared at Devonshire House as Sir Geoffrey Thornside in a performance before the queen of Lytton's ‘Not so bad as we seem,’ and in 1856 and 1857 he took part in performances of the ‘Lighthouse’ and of Wilkie Collins's ‘Frozen Deep’ at Tavistock House, playing Lord Crayford, and in 1867 he played in the ‘Wolf in Sheep's Clothing’ at the Adelphi, in a performance arranged by the ‘Punch’ staff for the benefit of the widow of Charles Bennett, a contributor to the paper. He also gave readings, especially of an adaptation of his own play, ‘Hearts are Trumps,’ in 1867, and he arranged and took the chief part in a series of scenes from the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor,’ which he entitled ‘Falstaff,’ first at the Gallery of Illustration in Regent Street, and subsequently in 1869 at various places in the north of England and in Scotland. A portrait of him in this character by John Tenniel appeared in the ‘Illustrated London News,’ and is prefixed to Joseph Hatton's ‘With a Show in the North,’ which gives an account of this dramatic tour. He wrote also at different times a considerable number of fairy tales: ‘The Enchanted Doll,’ 1850, ‘The Lost Book,’ ‘Legends of Number Nip,’ adapted from the German, in 1864, ‘Tinykin's Transformations’ in 1869, and ‘Leyton Hall,’ ‘Tom Moody's Tales,’ and ‘A Christmas Hamper;’ and he published a well-known collection of jests as ‘Mark Lemon's Jest-Book,’ and in 1867 the ‘New Table-Book.’ He had delivered at the Gallery of Illustration, from January 1862 till some time in 1863, a series of historical and descriptive lectures called ‘About London,’ illustrated by set scenes on a small stage, which subsequently appeared in ‘London Society’ in 1867 as ‘Up and Down the London Streets,’ and were separately republished. On 23 May 1870 he died at Vine Cottage, Crawley in Sussex, where he had lived for some time, and was buried at Ifield Church. A testimonial was subscribed after his death for the benefit of his widow and children. ‘Uncle Mark,’ as he was widely called among his friends, was in person robust, handsome, and jovial, humorous rather than witty in his conversation, indefatigable and prolific in production. He married, in September 1839, Helen Romer, who died in 1890, by whom he had three sons and seven daughters. The second son, Harry, wrote ‘The Co-operative Movement’ in 1868 and a few other farces, and was assistant to his father in his work on ‘Punch,’ as well as contributing to that periodical. His daughter Betty married, in 1864, Sir Robert Romer, lord justice of appeal 1899–1906.

[See Joseph Hatton's True Story of ‘Punch’ in London Society, vols. xxviii. xxix. xxx.; Shirley Brooks in Illustrated London News, 4 June 1870; Willert Beale's Light of Other Days; Athenæum, 28 May 1870; Times, 24 and 30 May 1870; Forster's Life of Dickens, ii. 156; Scott's Life of E. Laman Blanchard; Edmund Yates's Reminiscences; Spielmann's History of ‘Punch,’ 1895; private information.]

J. A. H.