« PreviousContinue »
FORTUNE AND POPULARITY.
6. The Union Club is quite superb ; its best apartment daily is
The lounge of lawyers, doctors, merchants, beaux, cum multis aliis. "The Travelers are in Pall Mall, and smoke cigars so cosily,
And dream they climb the highest Alps, or rove the plains of Moselai.
" These are the stages which all men propose to play their parts upon, For clubs are what the Londoners have clearly set their hearts upon.
Bow, wow, wow, tiddy-iddy-iddy-iddy, bow, wow, wow,” etc. This is one of the harmless ballads of “Bull.” Some of the political ones are scarcely fit to print in the present day. We can not wonder that ladies of a certain position gave out that they would not receive any one who took in this paper. It was scurrilous to the last degree, and Theodore Hook was the soul of it. He preserved his incognito so well that, in spite of all attempts to unearth him, it was many years before he could be certainly fixed upon as a writer in its columns. He even went to the length of writing letters and articles against himself, in order to disarm suspicion.
Hook now lived and thrived purely on literature. He published many novels-gone where the bad novels go, and unread in the present day, unless in some remote country town, which boasts only. a very meagre circulating library. Improbability took the place of natural painting in them; punning supplied that of better wit; and personal portraiture was so freely used, that his most intimate friends-old Mathews, for instance—did not escape.
Meanwhile Hook, now making a good fortune, returned to his convivial life, and the enjoyment—if enjoyment it be-of general society.' He “ threw out his bow-window" on the
strength of his success with “ John Bull," and spent much more than he had. He mingled freely in all the London circles of thirty years ago, whose glory is still fresh in the minds of most of us, and every where his talent as an improvisatore, and his conversational powers, made him a general favorite.
Unhappy popularity for Hook! He, who was yet deeply in debt to the nation—who had an illegitimate family to maintain, who owed in many quarters more than he could ever hope to pay-was still fool enough to entertain largely, and receive both nobles and wits in the handsomest manner. Why did he not live quietly? why not, like Fox, marry the unhappy woman whom he had made the mother of his children, and content himself with trimming vines and rearing tulips ? Why, forsooth ? because he was Theodore Hook, thoughtless and foolish to the last. The jester of the people must needs be a fool. Let him take it to his conscience that he was not as much a knave.
In his latter years Hook took to the two dissipations most likely to bring him into misery-play and drink. He was utterly unfitted for the former, being too gay a spirit to sit down and calculate chances. He lost considerably, and the more he lost the more he played. Drinking became almost a necessity with him. He had a reputation to keep up in society, and had not the moral courage to retire from it altogether. Writing, improvising, conviviality, play, demanded stimulants. His mind was overworked in every sense. He had recourse to the only remedy, and in drink he found a temporary relief from anxiety, and a short-lived sustenance. There is no doubt that this man, who had amused London circles for many years, bastened his end by drinking.
It is not yet twenty years since Theodore Hook died. He left the world on August the 24th, 1841, and by this time he remains in the memory of men only as a wit that was, a punster, a hoaxer, a story-jester, with an ample fund of fun, but not as a great man in any way. Allowing every thing for his education—the times he lived in, and the unhappy error of his early life
we may admit that Hook was not, in character, the worst of the wits. He died in no odor of sanctity, but he was not a blasphemer or reviler, like others of his class. He ignored the bond of matrimony, yet he remained faithful to the woman he had betrayed; he was undoubtedly careless in the one responsible office with which he was intrusted, yet he can not be taxed, taking all in all, with deliberate peculation. His drinking and playing were bad—very bad. His improper connection was bad—very bad; but perhaps the worst feature in his career was his connection with “ John Bull,” and his ready giving in to a system of low libel. There is no excuse for this but the necessity of living; but Hook, had he retained any principle, might have made enough to live upon in a more honest manner. His name does, certainly, not stand out well among the wits of this country, but, after all, since all were so bad, Hook may be excused as not being the worst of them. Requiescat in pace.
“SMITH's reputation" - to quote from Lord Cockburn's “
“Memorials of Edinburgh"_"here, then, was the same as it has been throughout his life, that of a wise wit.” A wit he was, but we must deny him the reputation of being a beau. For that, nature, no less than his holy office, had disqualified him. Who that ever beheld him in a London drawing-room, when he went to so many dinners that he used to say he was a walking patty—who could ever miscall him a beau? How few years have we numbered since one perceived the large bulky form in canonical attire—the plain, heavy, almost ugly face, large, long, unredeemed by any expression, except that of sound hard sense—and thought, “ can this be the Wit?” How few years is it since Henry Cockburn, hating London, and coming but rarely to what he called the devil's drawing-room," stood near him, yet apart, for he was the most diffident of men; his wonderful luminous eyes, his clear, almost youthful, vivid complexion, contrasting brightly with the gray, pallid, prebendal complexion of Sydney ? how short a time since Francis Jeffrey, the smallest of great men, a beau in his old age, a wit to the last, stood hat in hand to bandy words with Sydney ere he rushed off to some still gayer scene, some more fashionable circle: yet they are all gone-gone from sight, living in memory alone.
Perhaps it was time: they might have lived, indeed, a few short years longer; we might have heard their names among us; listened to their voices; gazed upon the deep hazel, eversparkling eyes, that constituted the charm of Cockburn's handsome face, and made all other faces seem tame and dead: we might have marveled at the ingenuity, the happy turns of expression, the polite sarcasm of Jeffrey; we might have reveled in Sydney Smith's immense natural gift of fun, and listened to the “wise wit,” regretting, with Lord Cockburn, that so much worldly wisdom seemed almost inappropriate in one who should have been in some freer sphere than within the pale of holy orders: we might have done this, but the picture might have been otherwise. Cockburn, whose intellect rose, and became almost sublime, as his spirit neared death, might have sunk
into the depression of conscious weakness; Jeffrey might have · repeated himself, or turned hypochondriacal ; Sydney Smith
ODDITIES OF THE FATHER.
have grown garrulous : let us not grieve; they went in their prime of intellect, before one quality of mind had been touched by the frost-bite of
age. Sydney Smith's life is a chronicle of literary society. He was born in 1771, and he died in 1845. What a succession of great men does that period comprise! Scott, Jeffrey, Mackintosh, Dugald Stewart, Horner, Brougham, and Cockburn were his familiars—a constellation which has set, we fear, forever. Our world presents nothing like it: we must look back, not around us, for strong minds, cultivated up to the nicest point. Our age is too diffused, too practical for us to hope to witness again so grand a spectacle.
From his progenitors Sydney Smith inherited one of his best gifts, great animal spiritsthe only spirits one wants in this racking life of ours; and his were transmitted to him by his father. That father, Mr. Robert Smith, was odd as well as clever. His oddities seem to have been coupled with folly; but that of Sydney was soberized by thought, and swayed by intense common sense.
The father had a mania for buying and altering places: one need hardly say that he spoiled them. Having done so, he generally sold them; and nineteen various places were thus the source of expense to him and of injury to the pecuniary interests of his family.
This strange spendthrift married a Miss Olier, the daughter of a French emigrant from Languedoc. Every one may remember the charming attributes given by Miss Kavanagh, in her delicious tale, “Nathalie,” to the French women of the South. This Miss Olier seems to have realized all one's ideas of the handsome, sweet-tempered, high-minded Southrons of la belle France. To her Sydney Smith traced his native gayety; her beauty did not, certainly, pass to him as well as to some of her other descendants. When Talleyrand was living in England as an emigrant, on intimate terms with Robert Smith, Sydney's brother, or Bobus, as he was called by his intimates, the conversation turned one day on hereditary beauty. Bobus spoke of his mother's personal perfections: “Ah! mon ami," cried Talleyrand,“ c'était apparemment, monsieur : votre père qui n'était pas bien."
This Bobus was the schoolfellow at Eaton of Canning and Frere; and, with John Smith and those two youths, wrote the “Microcosm.” Sydney, on the other hand, was placed, on the Foundation, at Winchester, which was then a stern place of instruction for a gay, spirited, hungry boy. Courtenay, his younger brother, went with him, but ran away twice. To owe one's education to charity was, in those days, to be half starved. Never was there enough, even of the coarsest food, to satisfy