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THE BLACK-WAFERED HORSE.
tobacconist. There was little difficulty in the mere displacement of the figure; the troublesome part of the business was to get the bare-legged Celt home to the museum, where probably many a Liliputian of his race was already awaiting him. A cloak, a hat, and Hook's ready wit effected the transfer. The first was thrown over him, the second set upon his bonneted head, and a passing hackney-coach hailed by his captor, who, before the unsuspecting driver could descend, had opened the door, pushed in the prize, and whispered to Jehu, “My friend -very respectable man—but rather tipsy." How he managed to get him out again at the end of the journey we are not told.
Hook was soon a successful and valuable writer of light pieces for the stage. But farces do not live, and few of Hook's are now favorites with a public which is always athirst for something new. The incidents of most of the pieces-many of them borrowed from the French-excited laughter by their very improbability ; but the wit which enlivened them was not of a high order, and Hook, though so much more recent than Sheridan, has disappeared before him.
But his hoaxes were far more famous than his collection of curiosities, and quite as much to the purpose ; and the impudence he displayed in them was only equaled by the quaintness of the humor which suggested them. Who else would have ever thought, for instance, of covering a white horse with black wafers, and driving it in a gig along a Welsh high-road, merely for the satisfaction of being stared at? It was almost worthy of Barnum. Or who, with less assurance, could have played so admirably on the credulity of a lady and daughters fresh from the country, as he did at the trial of Lord Melville? The lady, who stood next to him, was naturally anxious to understand the proceedings, and betrayed her ignorance at once by a remark which she made to her daughter about the procession of the Lords into the House. When the bishops entered in full episcopal costume, she applied to Hook to know who were those gentlemen ?"
“” “Gentlemen," quoth Hook, with charming simplicity; “ladies, I think you mean; at any rate, those are the dowager peeresses in their own right. Question followed question as the procession came on, and Theodore indulged his fancy more and more. At length the Speaker, in full robes, became the subject of inquiry.
, “ And pray, sir, who is that fine-looking person
?" “That, ma'am, is Cardinal Wolsey,” was the calm and audacious reply. This was too much even for Sussex; and the lady drew herself up in majestic indignation. “We know better than that, sir, she replied; "Cardinal Wolsey has been dead many a good year.” Theodore was unmoved. “No such thing, my dear
THE BERNERS STREET HOAX.
madam,” he answered, without the slightest sign of perturbation: “I know it has been generally reported so in the country, but without the slightest foundation; the newspapers, you know, will say any thing."
But the hoax of hoaxes, the one which filled the papers of the time for several days, and which, eventually, made its author the very prince of hoaxsters, if such a term can be admitted, was that of Berners Street. Never, perhaps, was so much trouble expended, or so much attention devoted, to so frivolous an object. In Berners Street there lived an elderly lady, who, for no reason that can be ascertained, had excited the animosity of the young Theodore, who was then just of age.
Six weeks were spent in preparation, and three persons were engaged in the affair. Letters were sent off in every direction, and Theodore Hook's autograph, if it could have any value, must have been somewhat low in the market at that period, from the number of applications which he wrote. On the day in question he and his accomplices seated themselves at a window in Berners Street, opposite to that of the unfortunate Mrs. Tottenham, of No. 54, and there enjoyed the fun. Advertisements, announcements, letters, circulars, and what not, had been most freely issued, and were as freely responded to. A score of sweeps, all “invited to attend professionally," opened the ball at a very early hour, and claimed admittance, in virtue of the notice they had received. The maid-servant had only just time to assure them that all the chimneys were clean, and their services were not required, when some dozen of coal-carts drew up as near as possible to the ill-fated house. New protestations, new indignation. The grimy and irate coal-heavers were still being discoursed with, when a bevy of neat and polite individuals arrived from different quarters, bearing each under his arm a splendid ten-guinea wedding-cake. The maid grew distracted; her mistress was single, and had no intention of doubling herself; there must be some mistake; the confectioners were dismissed, in a very different humor to that with which they had come.
But they were scarcely gone when crowds began to storm the house, all “ on business.” Rival doctors met in astonishment and disgust, prepared for an accouchement; undertakers stared one another mutely in the face, as they deposited at the door coffins made to order-elm or oak—so many feet and so many inches; the clergymen of all the neighboring parishes, high church or low church, were ready to minister to the spiritual wants of the unfortunate moribund, but retired in disgust when they found that some forty fishmongers had been engaged to purvey "cod's head and lobsters” for a person professing to be on the brink of the grave.
SUCCESS OF THE SCHEME.
The street now became the scene of fearful distraction. Furious tradesmen of every kind were ringing the house-bell, and rapping the knocker for admittance-such, at least, as could press through the crowd as far as the house. Bootmakers arrived with Hessians and Wellingtons—“as per order”—or the most delicate of dancing-shoes for the sober old lady; haberdashers had brought the last new thing in evening dress, "quite the fashion,” and “very chaste;" hatmakers, from Lincoln and Bennett down to the Hebrew vendor in Marylebone Lane, arrived with their crown-pieces; butchers' boys, on stout little nags, could not get near enough to deliver the legs of mutton which had been ordered; the lumbering coal-carts still “stopped the way.” A crowd-the easiest curiosity in the world to collect—soon gathered round the motley mob of butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers, and makers and sellers of every thing else that mortal can want; the mob thronged the pavement, the carts filled the road, and soon the carriages of the noble of the land dashed up in all the panoply of state, and a demand was made to clear the way for the Duke of Gloucester, for the Governor of the Bank, the Chairman of the East India Company, and last, but oh! not least, the grandee whose successor the originator of the plot afterward so admirably satirized the great Lord Mayor himself. The consternation, disgust, and terror of the elderly female, the delight and chuckling of Theodore and his accomplices, seated at a window on the opposite side of the road," can be more easily imagined than described ;" but what were the feelings of tradesmen,
professional men, gentlemen, noblemen, and grand officials, who had been summoned from distant spots by artful lures to No. 54, and there battled with a crowd in vain only to find that they were hoaxed, people who had thus lost both time and money, can be neither described nor imagined. It was not the idea of the hoaxsimple enough in itself—which was entitled to the admiration accorded to ingenuity, but its extent and success, and the clever means taken by the conspirators to insure the attendance of every one who ought not to have been there. It was only late at night that the police succeeded in clearing the street, and the dupes retired, murmuring and vowing vengeance. Hook, however, gloried in the exploit, which he thought “perfect."
But the hoaxing dearest to Theodore-for there was something to be gained by it-was that by which he managed to obtain a dinner when either too hard
one, or in the humor for a little amusement. No one who has not lived as a bachelor in London and been reduced-in respect of coin -to the sum of twopence halfpenny, can tell how excellent a strop is hunger to sharpen wit upon. We all know that
“Mortals with stomachs can't live without dinner;" and in Hook's day the substitute of “heavy teas” was not invented. Necessity is very soon brought to bed, when a man puts his fingers into his pockets, finds them untenanted, and remembers that the only friend who would consent to lend him five shillings is gone out of town; and the infant, Invention, presently smiles into the nurse's face. But it was no uncommon thing in those days for gentlemen to invite themselves where they listed, and stay as long as they liked. It was only necessary for them to make themselves really agreeable, and deceive their host in some way or other. Hook's friend, like little Tom Hill, of whom it was said that he knew every body's affairs far better than they did themselves, was famous for examining kitchens about the hour of dinner, and quietly selecting his host according to the odor of the viands. It is of him that the old “ Joe Miller" is told of the "haunch of venison.” Invited to dinner at one house, he happens to glance down into the kitchen of the next, and seeing a tempting haunch of venison on the spit, throws over the inviter, and ingratiates himself with his neighbor, who ends by asking him to stay to dinner. The fare, however, consisted of nothing more luxurious than an Irish stew, and the disappointed guest was informed that he had been “too cunning by half,” inasmuch as the venison belonged to his original inviter, and had been cooked in the house he was in by kind permission, because the chimney of the owner's kitchen smoked.
The same principle often actuated Theodore; and, indeed, there are few stories which can be told of this characteristic of the great frolicker, which have not been told a century of times. For instance: two young men are strolling, toward 5 P. M., in the then fashionable neighborhood of Soho; the one is Terry, the actor—the other, Hook, the actor, for surely he deserves the title. They pass a house, and sniff the viands cooking underground. Hook quietly announces his intention of dining there. He enters, is admitted and announced by the servant, mingles with the company, and is quite at home before he is perceived by the host. At last the dénouement came; the dinner-giver approached the stranger, and with great politeness asked his name. “ Smith” was, of course, the reply, and reverting to mistakes made by servants in announcing, etc., Smith hurried off into an amusing story, to put his host in good-humor. The conversation that followed is taken from “ Ingoldsby:"
• But, really, my dear sir,” the host put in, “I think the mistake on the present occasion does not originate in the source you allude to; I certainly did not anticipate the honor of Mr. Smith's company to-day.”
“No, I dare say not. You said four in your note, I know and it is now, I see, a quarter past five; but the fact is, I havebeen detained in the City, as I was going to explain
Pray,” said the host, “ whom do you suppose you are addressing ?”
“Whom? why Mr. Thompson, of course, old friend of my father. I have not the pleasure, indeed, of being personally known to you, but having received your kind invitation yesterday," etc., etc.
“No, sir, my name is not Thompson, but Jones,” in highly indignant accents.
“ Jones !" was the well-acted answer : “why, surely, I can not have-yes I must-good heaven! I see it all. My dear sir, what an unfortunate blunder; wrong house—what must you think of such an intrusion ? I am really at a loss for words in which to apologize; you will permit me to retire at present, and to-morrow
“Pray, don't think of retiring," rejoined the host, taken with the appearance and manner of the young man.
- Your friend's table must have been cleared long ago, if, as you say, four was the hour named, and I am too happy to be able to offer
you a seat at mine." It may be easily conceived that the invitation had not to be very often repeated, and Hook kept the risible muscles of the company upon the constant stretch, and paid for the entertainment in the only coin with which he was well supplied.
There was more wit, however, in his visit to a retired watchmaker, who had got from government a premium of £10,000 for the best chronometer. Hook was very partial to journeys in search of adventure; a gig, a lively companion, and sixpence for the first turnpike being generally all that was requisite; ingenuity supplied the rest. It was on one of these excursions that Hook and his friend found themselves in the neighborhood of Uxbridge, with a horse and a gig, and not a sixpence to be found in any pocket. Now a horse and gig are property, but of what use is a valuable of which you can not dispose or deposit at a pawnbroker's, while you are prevented proceeding on your way by that neat white gate with the neat white box of a house at its side? The only alternative left to the young men was to drive home again, dinnerless, a distance of twenty miles, with a jaded horse, or to find gratuitous accommodation for man and beast. In such a case Sheridan would simply have driven to the first inn, and by persuasion or stratagem contrived to elude payment, after having drunk the best wine and eaten the best dinner the house could afford.
Hook was really more refined, as well as bolder in his pillaging.