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· CHAPTER XIV.
Theodore Hook-Improvisatore Talent-Poetry-Sydney Smith—The “ Dun Cow”—Thomas Hood–Gin-Tylney Hall—John Trot-Barham's Legends.
THEODORE HOOK was at Harrow
1 with Lord Byron, and characteristically commenced his career there by breaking one of Mrs. Drury's windows at the suggestion of that nobleman. His father was a popular composer of music, and young Theodore's first employment was that of writing songs for him. This, no doubt, gave the boy a facility, and led to the great celebrity he acquired for his improvisatore talent. He was soon much sought for in society, and a friend has told me that he has heard him, on sitting down to the piano, extemporize two or three hundred lines, containing humorous remarks upon all the company. On one occasion, Sir Roderick Murchison was present, and some would have been a little puzzled how to bring such a name into rhyme, but he did not hesitate a moment running on :
“And now I'll get the purchase on,
To sing of Roderick Murchison.” Cowden Clark relates that when at a party and playing his symphony, Theodore asked his neighbour what was the name of the next guest, and then sang :“Next comes Mr. Winter, collector of taxes,
And you must all pay him whatever he axes;
Horace Twiss tried to imitate him in this way, but failed. Hook's humour was not of very high class. He was fond of practical jokes, such as that of writing a hundred letters to tradesmen desiring them all to send goods to a house on a given day. Sometimes he would surprise strangers by addressing some strange question to them in the street. He started the “ John Bull” newspaper, in which he wrote many humorous papers, and amused people by expressing his great surprise, on crossing the Channel, to find that every little boy and girl could speak French.
He wrote cautionary verses against punning :“My little dears, who learn to read, pray early learn to shun That very silly thing, indeed, which people call a pun; Read Entick's rules, and 'twill be found how simple an
offence It is to make the self-same sound afford a double sense. For instance, ale may make you ail, your aunt an ant
may kill, You in a vale may buy a veil, and Bill may pay the bill; Or if to France your bark you steer, at Dover it may be, A peer appears upon the pier, who blind still goes to sea”
But he was much given to the practice he condemns-here is an epigram"It seems as if Nature had cunningly planned
That men's names with their trades should agree, There's Twining the tea-man, who lives in the Strand, Would be whining if robbed of his T.”
Mistakes of words by the uneducated are a very ordinary resource of humorists, but, of course, there is a great difference in the quality of such jests. Mrs. Ramsbottom in Paris, eats a voulez-vous of fowl, and some pieces of crape, and goes to the symetery of the Chaise and pair. Afterwards she goes to the Hotel de Veal, and buys some sieve jars to keep popery in.
Hook was a strong Tory, and some of his best humour was political. One of his squibs has been sometimes attributed to Lord Palmerston.
“Fair Reform, Celestial maid !
Michael's dinner! Michael's dinner!"
Among his political songs may be reckoned “ The Invitation ” (from one of the Whig patronesses of the Lady's Fancy Dress Ball,)
“Come, ladies, come, 'tis now the time for capering,
Freedom's flag at Willis's is just unfurled, . We, with French dances, will overcome French vapouring, And with ice and Roman punch amaze the world; There's I myself, and Lady L- , you'll seldom meet a
rummer set, With Lady Grosvenor, Lady Foley, and her Grace of
Somerset, While Lady Jersey fags herself, regardless of the bustle,
ma'am, With Lady Cowper, Lady Anne, and Lady William Rus
sell, ma'am. Come, ladies, come, &c."
There is a sort of polite social satire running through Theodore Hook's works, but it does not exhibit any great inventive powers. In “Byroniana,” he ridicules the gossiping books written after Byron's death, pretending to give the minutest accounts of his habits and occasional observations--and generally omitting the names of their authority. Thus Hook tells us in a serio-comic tone:
“He had a strong antipathy to pork when underdone or stale, and nothing could induce him to partake of fish which had been caught more than ten days-indeed, he had a singular dislike even to the smell of it. He told me one night that- told--that if--would only_ bim
she would--without any compunction : for her--, who though an excellent man, was no--, but that she never --, and this she told--and--as well as Lady -herself. Byron told me this in confidence, and I may be blamed for repeating it; but——can corroborate it; if it happens not to be gone to-w".
The following written against an oldfashioned gentleman, Mr. Brown, who objects to the improvements of the age, is interesting. It is amusing now to read an ironical defence of steam, intended to ridicule the pretensions of its advocates.
“Mr. Brown sneers at steam and growls at gas. I contend that the utility of constructing a coach which shall go by hot water, nearly as fast as two horses can draw it at a triling additional expense, promises to be wonderfully useful. We go too fast, Sir, with horses ; besides, horses eat oats, and farmers live by selling oats ; if, therefore, by inconveniencing ourselves, and occasionally risking our lives, we can, however imperfectly, accomplish by steam what is now done by horses, we get rid of the whole race of oat-sowers, oat-sellers, oat-eaters, and oat-stealers, vul. garly called ostlers.”
Sydney Smith especially aimed at pleasantry in his humour, there was no animosity in it, and generally no instruction. Mirth, pure and simple, was his object. Rogers observes “ After Luttrell, you remembered what good things he said-after Smith how much you laughed.”
In Moore's Diary we read “at a breakfast at Roger's, Smith, full of comicality and fancy, kept us all in roars of laughter.” His wit was so turned, that it never wounded. When he took leave of Lord Dudley, the latter said, “You have been laughing at me constantly, Sydney, for the last seven years, and yet in all that time, you never said a thing to me that I wished unsaid.”
It would be superfluous to give a collection of Smith's good sayings, but the following is characteristic of his style. When he heard of a small Scotchman going to marry a lady of large dimensions, he exclaimed,
“Going to marry her? you mean a part of her, he could not marry her all. It would be not bigamy but trigamy. There is enough of her to furnish wives for a whole parish.