And yet, by all accounts, he was a wholly amiable ne’er-do-well—a wonderful flyfisher, an extremely clever amateur artist, a lover of horses and dogs and children (surely, if we except a chapter of Victor Hugo’s, the children in Ravenshoe are the most delightful in fiction), and a joyous companion.
“To us children,” writes Mr. Maurice Kingsley, “Uncle Henry’s settling in Eversley was a great event.... At times he fairly bubbled over with humour; while his knowledge of slang—Burschen, Bargee, Parisian, Irish, Cockney, and English provincialisms—was awful and wonderful. Nothing was better than to get our uncle on his ‘genteel behaviour,’ which, of course, meant exactly the opposite, and brought forth inimitable stories, scraps of old songs and impromptu conversations, the choicest of which were between children, Irishwomen, or cockneys. He was the only man, I believe, who ever knew by heart the famous Irish Court Scenes—naughtiest and most humorous of tales—unpublished, of course, but handed down from generation to generation of the faithful. Most delightful was an interview between his late Majesty George the Fourth and an itinerant showman, which ended up with, ’No, George the Fourth, you shall not have my Rumptifoozle!’ What said animal was, or the authenticity of the story, he never would divulge.”
I think it is to the conversational quality of their style—its ridiculous and good-humored impertinences and surprises—that his best books owe a great deal of their charm. The footnotes are a study in themselves, and range from the mineral strata of Australia to the best way of sliding down banisters. Of the three tales already republished in this pleasant edition, Ravenshoe has always seemed to me the best in every respect; and in spite of its feeble plot and its impossible lay-figures—Erne, Sir George Hillyar, and the painfully inane Gerty—I should rank The Hillyars and the Burtons above the more terrifically imagined and more neatly constructed Geoffry Hamlyn. But this is an opinion on which I lay no stress.