5 DECEMBER 1952, Page 33

The Creator of Jorrocks

R. S. Surtees. By Leonard Cooper. (Arthur Barker. 15s.) JORROCKS stands, for Mr. Cooper, with Falstaff and Sir Toby uelch, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Micawber in the gallery of the great comic characters in English literature. It is a claim often joyfully asserted by Surteesians who, for at least three generations, have quoted Handley Cross, Soapy Sponge and Facey Romford at oae another without persuading the rest of the world that the creator of their heroes was much more than a period chronicler of the hunting held. There have been exceptions from Kipling to Virginia Woolf and including Maurois who once wrote, " Si vous voulez connaitre le . Surtees is a hard novelist for whom to win converts because so does the approach of a fisherman with a story on his lips. chef d'oeuvre du roman anglais, lisez Jorrocks." The first sound of such tributes leaves the non-sporting lover of fiction as wary as much of his writing is concerned with horses and riders, and it is no use trying to hide this from the potential new reader of his books. Scenes set at the covert-side or in stables need no excuse for anyone

with a relish for vivid racy prose, whatever it may be about, but the suspicion that masters and hounds are bores in print will never be dispelled. Allow that and add that Surtees, bringing out Jorrocks in serial parts just before Pickwick began, drew marvellously on his impressions of pre-Victorian London and Brighton—and still the full case for him is not made. He is an enigmatic novelist, and pleasure in his stories leads to curiosity about his life. Too little, unfortunately, is known about it. A brief and inaccurate notice in the Dictionary of National Biography has been supplemented bY the fruitful researches of Mr. E. D. Cumming and Mr. Frederick Watson, to which Mr. Cooper has now added a critical biographY that will at once delight the faithful and provoke them, heie and there, to disagreement.

The gap in knowledge of the biographies of great and of less than gteat writers is remarkable. The most ardent Dickensian or

Thackeray'an may well blench at tomes of letters and other small change that show no signs of stopping. Surtees remains a shadowy figure in the literary world. He had the acquaintance of Thackeray ; he quarrelled with Ainsworth and worked with Leech • but he spent much of his comparatively brief life in a remote North CountrY home, and references to him are few and far between. He left no heirs to carry on his name, although, through his younger daughter; he was the giandfather of Field Marshal Lord Gort. Thus Mr. Cooper, like those who have gone over the ground before him, frequently finds himself checked. Still, he is able to sketch a fascinat- ing rough study of the town and country environment on which Surtees drew for raw material.

It was a time when Croydon was a great sporting centre, and the railways were only just beginning to bring about a social revolu-

tion. Surtees was a shrewd observer, and, as Mr. Cooper says, a master of dialogue. He made his servants a thieving, disreputable lot and scamped his women because he had to fit the deep vein of comedy in hint to the needs of serial publication for a hearty public accustomal to knock-about in its favourite periodicals. SurelY Mr. Cooper is lapsing from his normal tone of genial understanding

when he rather pompously belabours Surtees for tteating the ladies in a way " hardly to his credit either as a man or as a writer." Mr. Cooper must expect a roar of protest against his unpardonable remark that the death of Jack Spraggon is less moving than it might have been because that " fine natural blackguard " is " a character whose passing it is impossible to regret." Strong men, Mr. Cooper, have had tears in their eyes at the thought that they had heard the last of Lord Scamperdale's better half. Mr. Cooper will be forgiven when the reader reaches his apt choice of adjectives for the conversa- tion in Surtees—" crisp, accurate, colloquial, amusing and, abov 0 all, natural." Even hare-hunters may forgive him for describing their sport as no more ancient that the parvenu (as they see it) chase of the fox.

Anyone who does not know Surtees will find in Mr. Cooper sound

reasons for wishing to make up for lost time, even if, in the ',locos, he comes to different conclusions about stories and characters. The chapter-headings, chosen deliciously from Beckfoi d and Jorrocks, will win the hearts of all who know how well worth exploring is this

branch of light literature.

The Folio Society, having alleady reproduced three volume bringing in Sponge and Jorrocks, have now done Romford prou Ii with a well-produced text and a wealth of colour-plates by Luc