2 DECEMBER 1899, Page 10


Ou the whole, The Hooligan Nights (Grant Richards, 6s.) is a book which seems to us to ring true. At least we have no difficulty in believing Mr. Clarence Rook when he assures us that thus, or nearly thus, did an avowed and recognised young criminal from the courts about Lambeth Walk describe to him certain passages in his own career. And we are strongly inclined to believe that in the main these fragments of the criminal's pro- fessed autobiography correspond with the facts. Very possibly, finding that he had a good listener, young Alf, like other good raconteurs, embellished a little. But in their outlines his tales appear to us vraisemblables. They present, as here set forth, a vivid picture of the life led, and the point of view held, by "a section of Londoners that would suffice to people—say Canterbury," who are engaged in a predatory war upon society, and who wage that war with infinite cunning, with a high degree of courage, and for the most part not only without pity and without shame, but with a keen and buoyant sense of enjoyment. The young rascal chuckled as he recalled the look of a wretched servant-girl who was roused from her sleep, on the occasion of his first serious burglary, by having a wooden gag forced between her jaws. And Mr. Rook found that he was mistaken in thinking that he could detect a hint of apology in the tone in which young Alf told how he had " scooted " with fifteen shillings from the till of a shop kept by a kind-hearted woman who, seeing that his clothes were thin, had gone upstairs to fetch him a coat which had belonged to her dead son. Meanness and cruelty of soul, as we ordinarily reckon them, could hardly be more decisively exhibited than here. And yet this same boy, according to his own account, which it is hardly conceivable that he could have invented, allowed himself to be stopped on the occasion of another early burglary by the emerg- ency of a baby whom be found choking through its nightdress being tied too tight round its throat. How he delivered the infant, which of coarse squalled vigorously, and then held the assembled household at bay with the baby on one arm and an unloaded pistol in the other hand, and was ultimately offered a glass of wine and shown politely off the premises by the grateful father, is a piece of uncommonly good narrative. And the same boy it was—this Mr. Rook himself saw—who stopped a pair of runaway horses with a Pickford's van behind them at the 'Elephant and Castle,' hanging on for twenty yards before they pulled up. The firm offered him regular work in recognition of that gallant deed, but after thinking it over, he decided against giving up his life of adventure. How varied, and to any one not troubled with scruples of conscience, how interesting, that life must be this book certainly helps us to understand. And, on the whole, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that, if they could be got at young enough, in the right way, and certainly if they could be withdrawn from their surroundings, many of these terrible "Hooligans" and their heroes, such as Alf, would be found by no means incapable of transformation into useful citizens. As to the possibilities of the reclamation of the district, the informa- tion collected by Mr. Rook concerning the at least relatively respectable character of its female inhabitants suggests a not entirely discouraging view.