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“Fine shirts, fine ties, fine talk, fine trinkets go a long way towards furnishing the character with many.” Says Surtees and ‘Fine Billy’ Pringle is a cipher of the ‘not quite a gentleman’ type. In this rollicking story he lurches from hunt to hunt and girl to girl with one eye in the mirror and neither foot in the stirrup. An illustrative moment occurs at The Hit-im-and-Hold-im-shire Hunt supper – where he is fleeced into sponsoring a cover “thinking that that would be a sharp thing .. to rank with the lords.”
Surtees here retrieves some characters from Young Tom Hall that he put in the recycling Bin when crossed by his publisher and the novel is full of toe-curlingly funny moments and oddly painful insights. Major Yammerton never disappoints as a grimy, cash-strapped Somerville and Ross type neer-do-well. Elsewhere the arriviste Sir Moses Mainchance’s interview with the hapless owner of Doblington’s starved acres might have been overhead by Cobbett on his Rural Rides “there isn’t a fence ‘ill turn a foal – the hars eat all wor tormots – we’re perfectly ruined wi rats..”