29 DECEMBER 1866, Page 19


Mr. DuTrox COOK has written us a very humourous little tale for our holiday reading, which may not only be warranted to amuse, but very safely warranted not to instruct us. It is to a novel what a rough pen-and-ink sketch is to a finished picture, mere outline, and yet for that very reason perhaps often more successful than the finished article. It contains just the strokes of which the author felt certain, for the sake of which he made his picture, and no more. There is no dilution, no padding, in order to bolster up the characters into something more substantial than the writer had imagined them. Now, of course, there are artists in whom the after-strokes are not only as good as, but even better than, those preliminary lines which constituted the conception to their own inner imagination ; as they go on painting they go on discovering that of which they had themselves previously got only an imperfect conception. They go deeper and deeper with every fresh line, and reach their own truest thought only as they are putting in the last finishing strokes. Such an artist was Thanks- ray. He scarcely penetrated fully to his own inner conception of Colonel Newcome until perhaps those last words, in which the poor old Colonel's memory of his boyhood at Greyfriars flickered up ill his dying moments, and he answered to the sound of the accus- tomed bell with the ' Newcome adsum of his youth. And this is the reason why Thackeray's Christmas tales were usually so dis- appointing beside his greater works. There was a falsetto note in them. He knew that he could not, in his space and within the limits of his plan, do anything that really suited his genius, and hence he had to fill up with laughter which had a certain shrillness and artificiality in it, not in the best sense proper to Thackeray. But Mr. Dutton Cook's style of art is lighter. His first touches are usually his best. He does not often deepen the touches as he accumulates them. He has a true eye for character, and a real humour for its contrasts and inconsistencies, but he gets fatigued with dwelling on the same character, and needs variety to freshen up his fancy. Hence we think this light little story is one of the best he has ever written. No doubt it borders on farce. There is not a touch of depth in any of the sketches. The hero, Mr. Francis Hobson, is a young man who not only ill deserves his good luck,—which may be said of most of us,—but who gains it by his least meritorious acts. He goes down to see a worldly maiden aunt with the deliberate design of marrying her even more selfish and worldly niece for her money, in spite of a complete absence of regard for her, and Wills instead, almost against his will, though not against his wish, an affec- tionate and disinterested little wife. He drinks mahogany- coloured brandy-and-water with an irascible old gentleman at his hotel, makes himself scandalously drunk thereby, and finds it eventually the most fortunate act of his life, as it brings him, previously briefiess, briefs in great plenty from the irascible old gentleman, who turns out to be the great political solicitor of the Tory party. It will be seen, then, that llobson's Choice is not a novelette written with an improving purpose.' If any young person were so silly,—which probably no young person is,—as to act like the heroes of the novels he reads, in the hope of sharing their ultimately distinguished fate, he would be induced by perusing the history of Mr. Francis Hobson to risk marrying for money and getting very drunk on mahogany-coloured brandy-and- water, in the hope that he might win the money eventually, or as much of it as he wished for, without paying the penalty, and, by the favour of fortune, out of theivery steps which seem so ill calcu- lated to do anything but lower him in his own eyes. That is not a very noble moral. But in real life morals of any real value are only got by going a little deeper into the heart of the matter than Mr. Cook takes us in this amusing little story, and plenty of morals' quite as bad might be extracted from real life, if the upper current of circumstances alone were taken, as Mr. Cook has alone taken them, in this bit of comedy. For the rest, the idea of the tale,—to work out the proverbial meaning of Hobson's choice into a story with a Hobson for hero, • Hothon't C110i4e. A Story. By Dutton Cook. Londou Sompt,oa Low. —has been very happily effected. Hobson's choice, however, turns out, as Hobson's choices (which are, indeed, a species of natural selection in Mr. Darwin's sense) not unfrequently do, decidedly better than the ordinary results of a more voluntary selection. Mr. Francis Hobson does not choose his wife out of the two articles submitted to him, but is virtually chosen for; that is, he takes the only one whom it was open to him to take,—the conflict for existenee having prompted a hungry curate to deprive him already of the young lady with money though she appears to be disengaged. In this case, however, the conflict for existence has given, unintentionally, the advantage to the least forward man, instead of the most forward, and Mr. Hobson profits more by the process of natural selection,' though apparently worsted, than "betting Barlow" his competitor. The little secret at the bottom of the story is capitally kept, and the true character of Hobson's choice most humorously brought out at the fitting moment.

There are two or three sketches of character, one of them purely comic, in this little story, which are really good. As usual, the hero and his Sophy Brown are not very interesting, though Mr. Hobson's own private perplexities, as he strives against the natural selection which nature has in store for him, are cleverly given,—especially his sudden shame when his letter of pro- posal to one lady crackles in the pocket against which he is squeezing the arm of the other young lady to whom manifest destiny assigns him. But the cleverest sketches by far are those of his Aunt, Miss Fanny Hobson, and his strong-minded cousin, the emphatic blonde, Miss Matilda Milner,—or rather, perhaps, Mrs. Barlow. Miss Hobson, or "old Aunt Fanny," as the hero of the tale designates her, is rather a new shade of maiden lady,— a maiden lady of a new shade of selfishness remarkable for its moderation,—in novellettes. Her moderation in everything ex- cept jealousy, even in coldness and selfishness, the tepid interest she takes in seeing things nice about her,' which is nevertheless the chief interest of her life, her very great toleration for the escapades of men, due not so much to any self-control on her own part, as to a deliberate belief that men are by nature a brutal kind of creature from whom no good can in general be ex- pected, are all admirably touched off. The following will give a good idea of the sketch :— "Miss Hobson, from the heights of propriety and civilization looking down upon men generally as 'outer barbarians,' addicted to disorderly views on most subjects, and as to religious matters, very thinly par- titioned from a distressing paganism,—Miss Hobson, possessed with these views, deemed that there was cause for sell-congratulation when very slight concessions were made by the other sex on her account. She had long since' as it were, written off man as a thoroughly bad debt, and considered that she had reason to be both satisfied and sur- prised when she found him tendering a small payment on account of the large sums owing to herself and society in the way of decorous demeanour. She had been thoroughly prepared for her nephew, Frank Hobson,—in his carrying into action the corruptness and indelicacy natural, as she held, to male methods of thinking—posing himself at Beachville as a Sabbath-breaker and excursionist: markedly avoiding attendance at church, among many other malefactions and short- coming. In this respect, however, she had been agreeably disappointed. Frank Hobsonhad appeared at morning service at St. Jude's. Miss Hobson regarded his conduct in such wise as a compliment to herself, and was proportionately grateful. But her views upon the worthless- ness and culpability of man's nature were in no way changed or dis- placed. His good deeds were, in her eyes, matters of accident and eccentricity—by no means part of a system; upon their recurrence it was not possible for any one to rely ; whereas his evil doings were regular and concentric, and constituted the economy of his existence. She was not therefore disposed to overrate the importance of Mr. Hob- son's attendance at St. Jude's; was, indeed, careful to demonstrate that she did not desire to regard that single act of duty at all in the light of a precedent, or as justifying expectation that a new career of exemplary conduct was thereby instituted. It was gratifying for the moment, and there was an end of it. It was not to be considered as hopeful or promising for the future. Men only behaved well fitfully, and invari- ably backslided. Frank Hobson had attended divine service in the morning ; but Miss Hobson did not view that as a reason for expecting that he would go to St. Jude's again in the evening ; but rather the contrary. She did not even permit herself to count upon his attend- ance in the morning at St. Jude's in the event of his paying any future visits to Beaehville. There's no knowing for certain what men will do,' Miss Hobson argued ; but it's pretty safe to rely upon their doing whatever's most improper and ontrttgeous.'—'If you want any more vine, Frank, you know you've only to ring for it,' said Miss Hobson, as she rose from the dinner-table. ' Mogford will bring you what you want ; and when you're tired of sitting here, you'll find me upstairs in the drawing-room. I'm seldom equal to going to church in the evening.' This was of course said upon the assumption that her nephew would not go again to St. Jude's. Then, lest she might be considered to have proceeded too completely upon that assumption, Miss Hobson added, 'The girls generally attend evening service. There is seldom any difficulty about obtaining seats at St. Jude's in the evening, if you like to accompany them.' Miss Hobson, her prejudices against mankind apart, was disposed to be equitable and just in her dealings. She would not have it said that, by taking too much for granted the heathenism of her nephew in common with the rest of his sex, she had thereby hindered or nipped in the bud any inclinations towards a right

line of conduct he might otherwise have developed.—' Oh, thank you V said Mr. Hobson, simply ; and Miss Hobson understood without snrprisa or sorrow—because the event chimed in so completely with her own anticipations in that respect—that her nephew did not purpose to accompany his cousin and Miss Brown to evening service at St. Jude's."

Miss Matilda Milner is still better. We know the cold, placid, selfish, well filled-out blonde beauty,—such a one as Dlr. Rochester in Jane Eyre disrespectfully called an "armful"—with her artificial emphasis on some one word in every sentence to give the impression of warmth, as well as if we had made a special study of her in real life, and far better than if we had merely met her. The third sketch of some merit, Mr. Verulam Tomkisson, is, perhaps, a little of the stagey- comic class, but no one can well help laughing at his dis- comfiture when he finds that his fair Boulogne widow has two " encumbrances " after he is engaged to be married to her ; and the scene in which he welcomes Mr. Hobson after the first flow of briefs to his area chambers in Lincoln's Inn is very lively indeed. On the whole, we may promise our readers that an afternoon, spent on Hobson's Choice will be spent pleasantly, and produce no small crop of apparently causeless laughs in secret places afterwards, as the better passages return suddenly upon the memory.