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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Theodore Hook (1788–1841)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
IT is impossible to draw the figure of Theodore Hook without his cap and bells. In London society he filled the place of the court jester; and the extraordinary vogue of his books in the London world of letters, art, and fashion was due doubtless to his personal agreeableness. He had a remarkable gift for improvising verse and music, and for throwing off farces, burlesques, and jeux d’esprit, which made him an invaluable guest, and gave him a famous name. Much of the volatile aroma of his literary work, the distillation of the hour, has now evaporated.  1
  Theodore Edward Hook was born in London September 22d, 1788, the son of James Hook, a popular composer. The father, discovering his son’s peculiar talent for making verses, took him from school and set him to turning rhymes for his own musical compositions. This delighted the indolent boy, who greatly preferred the praise of the cleverest actors, authors, and wits in London to the dull routine of Harrow. For this appreciative audience he played, sang, made puns, flashed epigrams, or laughed at dignitaries, and caricatured greatness. These private entertainments soon expanded into farces and comic operas, successfully presented on the stage before Hook reached the age of twenty. At thirty he founded and edited a Tory paper called John Bull, publishing in this ‘The Ramsbotham Papers,’ in which Mrs. Ramsbotham anticipated the ingenious Mrs. Partington in the fun which arises from the grotesque misapplication of words.  2
  In 1824 Hook published his first series of ‘Sayings and Doings,’ tales that delighted his contemporaries. The jester lacked the constructive faculty, and therefore his novels may be called literary improvisations, conceived in the same happy-go-lucky spirit as his farces. In his own day they were much esteemed, and they still mirror faithfully the bygone fashions and manners and reigning follies of the London of George IV. and the Sailor King. One and all, they illustrate the theory of Sir Walter Scott that “every comic writer of fiction draws, and must draw, largely from his own circle.” ‘Gilbert Gurney’ is autobiographic, and many of his own mad pranks as a practical joker are recorded in it. Thomas Moore appears in ‘A Man of Sorrows’ (afterwards recast as ‘Merton’), as Mr. Minus, while other notable persons wear other disguises.  3
  Of Hook’s thirty-eight volumes all except ‘Maxwell,’ ‘The Parson’s Daughter,’ ‘Love and Pride,’ ‘Jack Brag,’ and ‘Births, Marriages, and Deaths,’ now gather dust on the library shelves. The citation here given shows not only his cleverness in farcical writing, but that apprehension of the dangerous tendencies of popular education which in his time disturbed the comfortable Tory satisfaction with things as they were. Hook died at Fulham Bridge, near London, August 24th, 1841. The best account of his life was published in 1849 by his friend Barham, “Thomas Ingoldsby,” like himself one of the still famous circle of London wits in the early decades of the century.  4
 
 
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