Samuel Foote.

Bon-mots of Samuel Foote and Theodore Hook online

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B O N - M O T S.



©JiMTUHa If(0)©2S21

LONDON: Published by J, M. DENT and Company
at Aldine House in Great Eastern Street, E C,


" The arrival of a fttej-ry-andrew in a towi is
more beneficial to the health of the inhabitants than
twenty asses loaded with medicine ^

' ' Now, as / never invent a jest tnyscl/^ so I make
it a rule never to laugh at other people' s." — Swift's
Dull Man.

^' Let the wits and humorists he consoled ; they
have the best of it— and the dull ones know it."'—


" He that will lose his friend for a jest desemes
to die a beggar by the bargain^ — Fuller.

'•'■ Act Jreely, carelessly^ capriciously ; as if our
•veins ran rvith quicksilver ; and not utter a phrase
but what shall come forth steeped in the very brine
of conceit, and sparkle like salt in fire.'' — Ben


1 N T R O D U C T I (J N.


COME writer of the time, with a turn for
nick-names, dubbed Samuel Foote "the
English Aristophanes," and every writer
"echoes the conceit." As an author of
satirical farce and broad comedy, as a mim-
etic actor, and as a ready wit, he stood alone
during the third quarter of the eighteenth
century. Petted and admired for his fortunes
— he ran through three — and for the life and
spirit with which he made himself one of the
gay world, he was feared, and more or less
cordially detested, as a man of ready and un-
measured wit, and of powers of mimicry which
have never been equalled. His qualities as a
social wit, as a teller of good stories, an utterer
of bon-mots when " i' the vein" and among
congenial company, are borne witness to by
many of his friends and acquaintances. Even
Doctor Johnson, "the Caliban of literature,"

6 Introduction.

could not resist him. "The first time I was
in company with Foote was at Fitzherbert's.
Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was
resolved not to be pleased ; and it is very diffi-
cult to please a man against his w ill. I \\ent
on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting
not to mind him. But the dog was so very
comical that I was obliged to lay down my
knife and fork, throw myself back upon my
chair, and fairly laugh it out. No, Sir, he was
irresistible. He upon one occasion experi-
enced, in an extraordinary degree, the efficacy
of his powers of entertaining. Amongst the
many and various modes which he tried of
getting money, he became a partner with a
small-beer brewer, and he was to have a share
of the profits for procuring customers amongst
his numerous acquaintance. Fitzherbert was
one who took his small-beer ; but it was so bad
that the servants resolved not to drink it. They
were at some loss how to notify their resolu-
tion, being afraid of offending their master,
who they knew liked Foote much as a com-
panion. At last they fixed upon a little black
boy, who was rather a favourite, to be their
deputy, and deliver their i-emonstrance ; and,
having invested him with the whole authority
of the kitchen, he was to inform Mr Fitzherbert,
in all their names, upon a certain day, that they
would drink Foote's small-beer no longer.
On that day Foote happened to dine at Fitz-

Introduction. 7

herbert's, and this boy served at table ; he
was so dehghted with Foote's stories and
merriment and grimace, that when he went
downstairs, he told them, ' This is the finest
man I have ever seen. I will not deliver your
message. I will drink his small-beer 1' " And
thus it was that the "small-beer" of Foote's
somewhat coarse nature was put up with for
the sake of his wit and his " loud, obstreperous,
broad-faced mirth." David Garrick, Samuel
Johnson, and many lesser luminaries, might
fear their being "taken off" on the Hay-
market stage, and threaten the mimic with
chastisement legal and physical, yet they all
unite in praise of his humour and wit. His
humour was decidedly Aristophanic ; that
is to say, broad, easy, reckless, satirical, with-
out the slightest alloy of bonhomie, and full
of the directest personalities. — A meteor that
delighted by the splendour cf its blaze. — The
meteor of the moment who possessed every
species of wit. — He was of that sort that he
would rather lose his friend than his jest. — He
never stopped the career of his bon-inot out of
respect to persons ; it as readily struck a royal
duke as a poor player. — His conversation was
of such a description that "nought but itself
could be its parallel!" Teeming with fancy,
and various knowledge, fearless of con-
sequences, and privileged in the character
of a wit, he took his stand with confidence,

8 Introduction.

and threw his shafts around him with the
dexterity of a master, the first and the last of
his own school. — ^Whatever we talked about —
whether fox-hunting, the turf, or any other
subject — Foote instantly took the lead and
delighted us all. — Very entertaining, with a
kind of conversation between wit and buffoon-
ery. — He has a great range for wit, he never
lets truth stand between him and a jest, and he
is sometimes mighty coarse. — He has wit to
ridicule you, invention to frame a story of you,
humour to help it about ; and when he has set
the town a-laughing, he puts on a familiar air
and shakes you by the hand. — He came into
the room dressed out in a frock suit of green
and silver lace, bag-wig, sword, bouquet, and
point ruffles, and immediately joined the
critical circle of the upper end of the room.
Nobody knew him. He, however, soon boldly
entered into conversation ; and by the brilliancy
of his wit, the justness of his remarks, and the
unembarrassed freedom of his manners, attracted
the general notice.

The following is his life in briefest outline : —
1720. Born in January at Truro, Cornwall.
His father was a commissioner in the prize-
office, and one time M.P. for Tiverton and
Mayor of Truro. His mother, Eleanor
Goodere, was a woman of fortune. — Foote
was educated at Worcester. — 1737. Matricu-
lated at Worcester College, Oxford. Pro-

Introduction. 9

ceeding to London, he entered the Temple
and became noted as a fashionable man of
the town. — 1744. Acted, anonymously and
unsuccessfully, in Othello. — 1745. .Acted at
Drury Lane. — 1747. He opened the Hay-
market Theatre ; turning his talents as mimic
to account in a concert, a farce, and an en-
tertainment of his own called the Diversions of
the Morning. This performance being stopped
by the authorities, Foote invited the public to
partake of "a dish of chocolate" and "a
dish of tea " ; which were the same kind of
thing under another name. — 1747. November,
Tea at 6.j>oat the Hay market. — 1748. Chocolate
in Ireland, and An Auction of Pictures. — 1749.
March, The Knight, comedy.— r Having inherited
a second fortune, Foote went abroad for a few
years. — 1752. Taste, a comedy, at Drury Lane.
— 1753. The Englishman in Paris, Covent
Garden. — 1756, The Englishman returned from
Paris. — 1757. The Author. Visited Dublin. —
1759. Visited Edinburgh and Dublin. — 1760.
The Mirror. — 1762. The Orators ; The Liar.- —
1763. The Mayor of Garratt. — 1764. The
Patron. — 1765. The Commissary. — 1766. Owing
to an accident when riding Foote lost a leg. —
1768. The Devil upon Tiao .Sticks. — 1770. The
Lame Lover. — 1771. The Maid of Bath. — 1772.
The Nabob. — 1773. The Bankrupt, The Primi-
tive Puppet Shmo, and The Handsotne House-
maid, or Piety in Pattens. — 1774. The Cozeners.

lo Introduction.

— 1776. The Capuchin. — 1777. October 21, Died
at Dover on his way to France. Buried in
Westminster Abbey.

W. J.


The actual reputation of Theodore Hook
is, says Doctor Garnett, '• that of a great
master in a low style of humour, and the most
brilliant improvisatore, \\hether with the pen or
at the piano, that his country has seen." As
such indeed, is he shown to us in contemporary
records from the time when, as a youth, he
astonished an older and more polished wit
— Sheridan — with his extraordinary powers
of improvising, to the time when, done up in
purse, in body, and in mind, he lay jesting upon
his deathbed. In the art of punning he was
without a rival, as he was also in the exercise
of the still less legitimate form of humour
contained in hoaxes. Early left motherless, he
was injudiciously brought up by a father pleased
to turn his precocious talents into a profitable
channel ; the result is too well-known to need
enlarging upon. " Handsome, witty and
happy," he was soon made free of the green-
room and other centres of exhilarating life ; he
became a much-sought-after member of society
on account of his wonderful entertaining powers,

Introduction. ii

and to be much in society during the earlier
part of this century meant too often consequent
dissipation, and Hook paid the penalty both in
character and in body for the life into which he
had thus been placed, while yet a mere youth.
Entirely unaccustomed to anything in the shape
of business routine, he received a responsible
position in the Mauritius, from which he was
removed later on, there being found a deficiency
in his accounts of some twelve thousand pounds;
Hook, although not made criminally respon-
sible, was adjudged a debtor to the Crown for
that amount. Let us, however, turn to the
records of this brilliant and unflagging wit,
and see how his powers as a conversationalist,
an improvisatore, and sayer of good things, im-
pressed those among whom the good things
were said. It may be noted, in passing, as
curious that despite the unanimity with which
his improvising powers were spoken of as
unique, but few of the improvisations have
got committed to paper, — It seemed as if his
talent was essentially oral, and refused to give
itself wholly to a more permanent means of
sustaining his reputation. — The exuberance of
his fun was irrepressible. — Unabating spirit
and unflagging mirth made him the soul and
centre of the convivial circle. — Since the days
of Sheridan no more brilliant luminary had
flashed across the realm of fashion. — All Hook's
wit and gaiety was original, impromptu, the

12 Introduction.

offspring of the moment. — His conversation
was an unceasing stream of wit of which he was
profuse as if he knew the source to be inex-
haustible. — His jest was always ready, and his
repartee so prompt and so surely a hit, slight
if playful, but heavy if provoked, that all around
him soon became aw are that his fires were either
innocuously glancing or scorching as the cir-
cumstance infiamed or called them forth. — He
was, as entirely as any parents of bon-mots we
have known, above the suspicion of having pre-
meditated his i^oint. — The unvaried and irre-
pressible ebullience of Theodore Hook's vivacity,
which was a manifest exuberance from the
conjunction of rampant animal spirits, a suf)er-
abundance of corporeal vitality, a vivid sense
of the ludicrous, a consciousness of his own
unparalleled readiness and self-possession, not
to say an effrontery that nothing could daunt. —
He was tall, dark, and of a good person, with
small eyes, and features more round than weak ;
a face that had character and humour, but no
refinement. — He continued to sparkle humour
even when exhausted nature failed, and his
last words are said to have been a brilliant
jest. — No definition either of wit or humour
could have been framed that must not have
included him. — His life, in outline, is as follows :
— 1788. Theodore Edward Hook was born in
London on September 22. His father, James
Hook, was a popular composer ; his mother,

Introduction. 13

whose maiden name was Madden, wrote several
novels. — Educated at private schools ; a short
time at Harrow and Oxford. — 1805. The
Soldier's Return, a drama. — 1806. Catch him
ivho Can and Killing no Murder, farces. —
1809. Berners Street hoax. — 1813. Appointed
accountant-general and treasurer of the island
of Mauritius. — 1817. Returned to England. —
1 8 19. Exchange no Robbery, farce ; The Arca-
dian, an ephemeral magazine ; Tentamcn, a
satire on Queen Caroline. — 1820. ^Appointed
editor of John Bull. — 1823-25. In prison for
debt to the Crown. — 1826-29. Sayings and
Doifigs. — 1830. Maxwell. — 1832. Life of Sir
David Daird. — 1833. The Parsons Daughter
and Loi

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Online LibrarySamuel FooteBon-mots of Samuel Foote and Theodore Hook → online text (page 1 of 8)