IT is the lot of some men of genius to be born as
if in the blank space, between Milton’s L’Allegro and Penseroso—their
proximity to both originally equal, and their adhesion to the one or the
other depending upon casual circumstances. While some pendulate
perpetually between the grave and the gay, others are carried off
bodily, as it happens, by the comic or the tragic muse. A few
there are, who seem to say, of their own deliberate option, “Mirth,
with thee we mean to live;” deeming it better to go to the house of
feasting than to that of mourning—while the storm of adversity drives
others to pursue sad and dreary paths, not at first congenial to their
natures. Such men as Shakspeare, Burns, and Byron, continue, all
their lives long, to pass, in rapid and perpetual change, from the one
province to the other; and this, indeed, is the main source of their
boundless ascendancy over the general mind. In Young, of the “Night Thoughts,” the laughter, never very joyous, is converted,
through the effect of gloomy casualties, into the ghastly grin of the
skeleton Death—the pointed satire is exchanged for the solemn
sermon. In Cowper, the fine schoolboy glee which inspirits his
humour goes down at last, and is quenched like a spark in the wild abyss
of his madness—”John Gilpin” merges in the “Castaway.”
Hood, on the other hand, with his strongest tendencies originally to the
pathetic and the fantastic-serious, shrinks in timidity from the face of
the inner sun of his nature—shies the stoop of the descending Pythonic
power—and, feeling that if he wept at all it were floods of burning
and terrible tears, laughs, and does little else but laugh, instead.
We look upon this writer as a quaint masquer— as
wearing, above a manly and profound nature, a fantastic and deliberate
disguise of folly. He reminds us of Brutus, cloaking under
pretended idiocy, a stern and serious design, which burns his breast,
but which he chooses in this way only to disclose. Or, he is like
Hamlet—able to form a magnificent purpose, but, from constitutional
weakness, not able to incarnate it in effective action. A deep
message has come to him from the heights of his nature, but, like the
ancient prophet he is forced to cry out, “I cannot speak—I am a
Certainly there was, at the foundation of Hood’s
soul, a seriousness, which all his puns and mummeries could but
indifferently conceal. Jacquez, in the forest of Arden, mused not
with a profounder pathos, or in quainter language, upon the sad pageant
of humanity, than does he; and yet, like him, his “lungs” are ever
ready to “crow like chanticleer” at the sight of its grotesquer
absurdities. Verily, the goddess of melancholy owes a deep grudge
to the mirthful magician, who carried off such a promising votary.
It is not every day that one who might have been a great serious poet
will condescend to sink into a punster and editor of comic
annuals. And, were it not that his original tendencies continued
to be manifested to the last, and that he turned his drollery to
important account, we would be tempted to be angry, as well as to
regret, that he chose to play the Fool rather than King Lear in the
As a poet, Hood belongs to the school of John Keats
and Leigh Hunt, with qualities of his own, and an all but entire freedom
from their peculiarities of manner and style. What strikes us, in
the first place, about him, is his great variety of subject and mode of
treatment. His works are in two small duodecimo volumes; and yet
we find in them five or six distinct styles attempted—and attempted
with success. There is the classical, there is the fanciful, or,
as we might almost call it, the “Midsummer Night" —there is
the homely tragic narrative—there is the wildly grotesque—there is
the light—and there is the grave and pathetic—lyric. And,
besides, there is a style, which we despair of describing by any one
single or compound epithet, of which his “Elm Tree” and “Haunted
House” are specimens—resembling Tennyson’s “Talking Oak,”—and
the secret and power of which, perhaps, lie in the feeling of mystic
correspondence between man and inanimate nature—in the start of
momentary consciousness, with which we sometimes feel that in nature’s
company we are not alone, that nature’s silence is not that of death;
and are aware, in the highest and grandest sense, that we are “made
of dust,” and that the dust from which we were once taken is still
divine. We know few volumes of poetry where we find, in the same
compass, so little mannerism, so little self-repetition, such a varied
concert, along with such unique harmony of sound.
Through these varied numerous styles, we find two or
three main elements distinctly traceable in all Hood’s poems.
One is a singular subtlety in the perception of minute
analogies. The weakness, as well as the strength of his
poetry, is derived from this source. His serious verse, as well as
his witty prose, is laden and encumbered with thick coming
fancies. Hence, some of his finest pieces are tedious, without
being long. Little more than ballads in size, they are books in
the reader’s feeling. Every one knows how resistance adds to the
idea of extension, and how roughness impedes progress. Some of
Hood’s poems, such as “Lycus,” are rough as the Centaur’s hide; and, having difficulty in passing along, you are tempted to pass them
by altogether. And though a few, feeling that there is around them
the power and spell of genius, generously cry there‘s true metal here,
when we have leisure, we must return to this—yet they never do.
In fact, Hood has not been able to infuse human interest into his fairy
or mythological creations. He has conceived them in a happy hour;
surely on one of those days when the soul and nature are one— when one
calm bond of peace seems to unite all things—when the “very cattle
in the fields appear to have great and tranquil thoughts”—when the
sun seems to slumber, and the sky to smile—when the air becomes a wide
balm, and the low wind, as it wanders over flowers, seems telling some
happy tidings in each gorgeous ear, till the rose blushes a deep
crimson, and the tulip lifts up a more towering head, and the violet
shrinks more modestly away as at lovers’ whispers—in such a favoured
hour—on which the first strain of music might have arisen, or the
first stroke of painting been drawn, or the chisel of the first sculptor
been heard, or the first verse of poetry been chanted, or man himself, a
nobler harmony than lute ever sounded, a finer line than painter ever
drew, a statelier structure and a diviner song, arisen from the dust—did
the beautiful idea of the ”Plea of the Midsummer Fairies” dawn upon
this poet’s mind—he has conceived them in a happy hour, he has
framed them with exquisite skill and a fine eye to poetic proportion,
but he has not made them alive, he has not made them objects of love;
and you care less for his Centaurs and his Fairies than you do for the
moonbeams or the shed leaves of the forest. How different with the
Oberon and the Titania of Shakspeare! They are true to the fairy ideal, and yet they are human—their hearts warm with human passions, as fond of gossip,
flattery, intrigue, and quarrel, as men or women can be —and you sigh with or smile at them, precisely as you do at Theseus and Hippolyta.
Indeed, we cannot but admire how Shakspeare, like the arc of humanity, always bends, in all his characters, into the one centre of man—how his villains, ghosts, demons, witches, fairies, fools, harlots, heroes, clowns, saints, sensualists, women, and
[even his kings], are all human, disguises, or half-lengths, or miniatures, never caricatures, nor apologies for mankind.
How full the cup of manhood out of which he could baptize! —now an Iago, and now an Ague-cheek—now a Bottom, and now a Macbeth—now a Dogberry, and now a Caliban—now an Ariel, and now a Timon— into the one communion of the one family—nay, have a drop or two to spare for Messrs. Cobweb and Mustardseed, who are allowed to creep in too among the number, and who attract a share of the tenderness of their benign father.
As in Swift, his misanthropy sees the hated object in everything, blown not in the Brobdignagian, shrunk up in the Lilliputian, flapping in the
Laputan, and yelling with the Yahoo—nay, throws it out into those
loathsome reflections, that he may intensify and multiply his hatred; so in the same way operates the
opposite feeling in Shakspeare. His love to the race is so great that he would colonize with man, all space, fairy-land, the grave, hell and heaven.
And not only does he give to superhuman beings a human interest and nature, but he accomplishes what Hood has not attempted, and what few else have attempted with
success; he adjusts the human to the superhuman actors—they never jostle, you never wonder
at finding them on the same stage, they meet without a start, they part without a shiver, they obey one
magic; and you feel that not only does one touch of nature make the whole world kin, but that it can link the
universe in one brotherhood, for the secret of this adjustment lies entirely in the humanity which is diffused through every part of the drama. In it, as in one soft ether, float, or swim, or play, or dive, or fly, all his characters.
In connexion with the foregoing defect, we find in
Hood's more elaborate poetical pieces no effective story, none that can bear the weight of his subtle and beautiful imagery.
The rich blossoms and pods of the pea-flower tree are there, but the strong distinct stick of support is wanting.
This defect is fatal not only to long poems but to all save the shortest; it reduces them instantly to the rank of rhymed essays; and a rhymed essay, with most people, is the same thing with a rhapsody. Even dreams require a nexus, a nisus, a nodus, a point, a purpose.
Death is but a tame shadow without the scythe; and the want of a purpose in any clear, definite, impressive form has neutralized the effect of many poems besides Hood’s—some of Tennyson’s, and one entire class of Shelley’s—whose
“Triumph of Life” and “Witch of Atlas” rank with “Lycus” and the
“Midnight Fairies”— being, like them, beautiful, diffuse, vague; and like them, perpetually promising to bring forth solid fruit, but yielding at length leaves and blossoms only.
Subtle fancy, lively wit, copious
language, and mellow versification, are the undoubted qualities of Hood as a poet. But, besides, there are two or three moral peculiarities about him as delightful as his
intellectual; and they are visible in his serious as well as lighter productions.
One is his constant lightsomeness of spirit and tone. His verse is not a chant but a carol.
Deep as may be his internal melancholy, it expresses itself in, and yields to song.
The heavy thunder cloud of woe comes down in the shape of sparkling, sounding, sunny drops, and thus dissolves.
He casts his melancholy into shapes so fantastic, that they lure first himself, and then his readers, to laughter.
If he cannot get rid of the grim gigantic shadow of himself, which walks ever before him, as before all men, he can, at least, make mouths, and cut antics behind its back.
This conduct is, in one sense, wise as well as witty; but will, we fear, be imitated by few. Some will continue to follow the unbaptized terror, in tame and helpless submission; others will pay it vain
homage; others will make to it resistance equally vain; and many will seek to drown in pleasure, or forget in business, their impression, that it walks on before them—silent, perpetual, pausing with their rest, running with their speed, growing with their growth, strengthening with their strength, forming itself a ghastly rainbow on the fumes of their bowl of festival, lying down with them at night, starting up with every start that disturbs their slumbers,
rising with them in the morning, rushing before them like a rival dealer into the market-place, and
appearing to beckon them on behind it, from the death-bed into the land of shadows, as into its own domain. If from this dreadful forerunner
we cannot escape, is it not well done in Hood, and would it not be well done in others, to laugh at, as we pursued its inevitable
steps? It is, after all, perhaps only the future greatness of man that throws back this gloom upon his infant being, casting upon him confusion and despair, instead of exciting him to gladness and to hope. In escaping from this shadow, we should be pawning the prospects of our Immortality.
How cheerily rings Hood’s lark-like note of poetry, among the various voices of the age’s song —its eagle screams, its raven croakings, its
plaintive nightingale strains! And yet that lark, too, in her lowly nest, had her sorrows, and, perhaps, her heart had bled in secret all night long.
But now the “morn is up again, the dewy morn,” and the sky is clear, and the wind is still, and the
sunshine is bright, and the blue depths seem to sigh for her coming; and up rises she to heaven’s gate, as aforetime; and as she soars and sings, she remembers her misery no more; nay, hers seems the chosen voice by which Nature would convey the full gladness of her own heart, in that
favourite and festal hour.
No one stops to question the songstress in the sky as to her theory of the universe—”under which creed, Bezonian!—speak or die!“
So, it were idle to inquire of Hood’s poetry, any more than of Keats’, what in confidence was its opinion of the origin of evil, or the pedobaptist controversy.
His poetry is fuller of humanity and of real piety that it does not protrude any peculiarities of
personal belief; and that no more than the sun or the book of Esther has it the name of God written on it, although it has the essence and the image.
There are writers who, like secret, impassioned lovers, speak most seldom of those objects which they most frequently think of and most fervently admire.
And there are others, whose ascriptions of praise to God, whose encomiums on religion, and whose introduction of sacred names, sound like affidavits, or self-signed certificates of Christianity —they are so frequent, so forced, and so little in harmony with what we know of the men.
It is upon this principle that we would defend Wordsworth from those who deny him the name of a sacred poet.
True, all his poems are not hymns; but his life has been a long hymn, rising, like incense, from a mountain-altar to God.
Surely, since Milton, no purer, severer, living melody has mounted on high.
The ocean names not its Maker, nor needs to name him. Yet who can deny that the religion of the “Ode to Sound,’’ and of the “Excursion,” is that of the “Paradise Lost,” the “Task,” and the “Night Thoughts?”
And without classing Hood in this or in any respect with Wordsworth, we dare as little rank him with things common and unclean.
Hear himself on this point:—
“Thrice blessed is the man with whom
The gracious prodigality of nature—
The balm, the bliss, the beauty, and the bloom,
The bounteous providence in every feature—
Recall the good Creator to his creature;
Making all earth a fane, all heaven its dome!
Each cloud-capped mountain is a holy altar;
An organ breathes in every grove;
And the full heart ‘s a Psalter,
Rich in deep hymns of gratitude and love.”
And amid all the mirthful details of the long warfare which he waged with Cant, (from his Progress of Cant, downwards,) we are not aware of any real despite done to that spirit of Christianity to which Cant, in fact, is the most formidable foe.
To the mask of religion, his motto is, spare no arrows; but when the real, radiant, sorrowful, yet
happy face appears, he too has a knee to kneel and a heart to worship.
But, best of all in Hood is that warm humanity which beats in all his writings.
His is no ostentatious or systematic philanthropy; it is a mild, cheerful, irrepressible feeling, as innocent and tender as the embrace of a child.
It cannot found soup kitchens; it can only slide in a few rhymes and sonnets to make its species a little happier.
Hospitals it is unable to erect, or subscriptions to give; silver and gold it has none; but in the orisons of its genius it never fails to remember the cause of the poor; and if it cannot, any more than the kindred spirit of Burns, make for its country
“some usefu’ plan or book,” it can “sing a sang at least.”
Hood’s poetry is often a pleading for those who cannot plead for themselves, or who plead only like the beggar, who, reproached for his silence, showed his sores, and replied,
“Isn’t it begging I am with a hundred tongues?” This advocacy of his has not been thrown utterly away; it has been heard on earth, and it has been heard in heaven.
The genial kind-heartedness which distinguished Thomas Hood did not stop with himself.
He silently and insensibly drew around him a little cluster of kindred spirits, who, without the name, have obtained the character and influence of a school, which may be called, indifferently, the Latter Cockney, or the Punch School.
Who the parent of this school, properly speaking, was, whether Leigh Hunt or Hood, we will not stop to inquire.
Perhaps, we may rather compare its members to a cluster of bees settling and singing together, without thought of precedence or feeling of inferiority, upon one flower.
Leigh Hunt and Hood, indeed, have far higher qualities of imagination than the others, but they possess some properties in common with them.
All this school have warm sympathies, both with man as an individual, and with the ongoings of society at large.
All have a quiet but burning sense of the evil, the cant, the injustice, the inconsistency, the oppression, and the falsehood, that are in the world.
All are aware that fierce invective, furious recalcitration, and howling despair, can never heal nor mitigate these calamities.
All are believers in their future and permanent mitigation; and are convinced that literature—prosecuted in a proper spirit, and combined with political and moral progress—will marvellously tend to this result.
All have had, or have too much real or solid sorrow to make of it a matter of parade, or to find or seek in it a frequent source of inspiration.
All, finally, would rather laugh than weep men out of their follies, and ministries out of their mistakes.
And in an age which has seen the steam of a tea-kettle applied to change the physical aspect of the earth—all have unbounded faith in the mightier miracles of moral and political revolution which the
mirth of an English fireside is yet to effect when properly condensed and pointed.
We rather honour the motives than share in the anticipations of this witty and brilliant band, with which Dickens must unquestionably rank.
Much good they have done and are doing; but the full case, we fear, is beyond them.
It is in mechanism after all, not in magic, that they trust. We, on the other hand, think that our help lies in the double-divine
charm which Genius and Religion, fully wedded together, are yet to wield; when, in a high sense, the words of the poet shall be accomplished—
“Love and song, song and love, intertwined ever-more,
Weary earth to the suns of its youth shall restore.”
Mirth like that of Punch and Hood can relieve many a fog upon individual minds, but is powerless to remove the great clouds which hang over the general history of humanity, and around even political abuses it often plays harmless as the summer evening’s lightning, or, at most, only loosens without smiting them down.
Voltaire’s smile showed the Bastile in a ludicrous light, as it fantastically fell upon it; but Rousseau’s earnestness struck its pinnacle, and Mirabeau’s eloquence overturned it from its base.
There is a call, in our case, for a holier earnestness, and for a purer, nobler oratory.
From the variety of styles which Hood has attempted in his poems, we select the two in which we think him most successful—the homely tragic narrative, and the grave pathetic lyric.
We find a specimen of the former in his Eugene Aram’s
dream. This may be called a tale of the Confessional; but how much new interest does it acquire from the circumstances, the scene, and the person to whom the confession is made.
Eugene Aram tells his story under the similitude of a dream, in the interval of the school toil, in a shady nook of the play-ground, and to a little boy.
What a ghastly contrast do all these peaceful images present to the tale he tells, in its mixture of homely horror and shadowy dread!
What an ear this in which to inject the fell revelation! In what a plain, yet powerful setting, is the awful picture thus inserted!
And how perfect, at once the keeping and the contrast between youthful innocence and guilt, grey-haired before its time!—between the eager, unsuspecting curiosity of the listener, and the slow and difficult throes, by which the narrator relieves himself of his burden of years between the sympathetic, half-pleasant, half-painful shudder of the boy, and the strong convulsion of the man!
The Giaour, emptying his polluted soul in the gloom of the convent aisle, and to the father trembling instead of his penitent, as the broken and frightful tale gasps on, is not equal in interest nor awe to Eugene Aram recounting his dream to the child; till you as well as he wish, and are tempted to shriek out, that he may awake, and find it indeed a dream.
Eugene Aram is not like Bulwer’s hero —a sublime demon in love; he is a mere man in misery, and the poet seeks you to think—and you can think, of nothing about him, no more than himself can, except the one fatal stain, which has made him what he is, and which he long has identified with himself.
Hood, with the instinct and art of a great painter, seizes on that moment in Aram’s history, which formed the hinge of its interest—not the moment of the murder, not the long, silent, devouring remorse that followed, not the hour of the defence, nor of the execution—but that when the dark secret leapt into light and punishment; this thrilling, curdling instant, predicted from the past, and pregnant with the future, is here seized, and startlingly shown.
All that went before was merely horrible, all that followed is horrible and vulgar:
the poetic moment in the story is intensely one. And how inferior
the laboured power and pathos of the last volume of Bulwer’s novel to
“That very night, while gentle sleep
The urchin eyelids kissed,
Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn
Through the cold and heavy mist:
And Eugene Aram walked between
With gyves upon his wrist.”
And here, how much of the horror is
breathed upon us from the calm bed of the sleeping boy!
The two best of his grave, pathetic lyrics are the “Song of the Shirt” and the “Bridge of
The first was certainly Hood’s great hit, although we were as much ashamed as rejoiced at its success.
We blushed when we thought that at that stage of his life he needed such an introduction to the public, and that thousands and tens of thousands were now, for the first time, induced to ask “Who's Thomas Hood?”
The majority of even the readers of the age had never heard of his name till they saw it in
Punch, and connected with a song—first-rate, certainly—but not better than many of his former poems!
It cast, to us, a strange light upon the chance medleys of fame; and, on the lines of Shakspeare,
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
Alas! in Hood’s instance, to fortune it did not lead, and the fame was brief lightning before darkness.
And what is the song which made Hood awake one morning and find himself famous?
Its great merit is its truth. Hood sits down beside the poor seamstress as beside a sister, counts her tears, her stitches, her hones—too transparent by far through the sallow skin—sees that though degraded she is a woman still; and rising up, swears, by Him that liveth forever and ever, that he will make her wrongs and wretchedness known to the limits of the country and of the race.
And, hark! how to that cracked, tuneless voice, trembling under its burden of sorrow, now shrunk down into the whispers of weakness, and now shuddering up into the laughter of despair, all Britain listens for a moment—and for no longer—listens, meets, talks, and does little or nothing.
It was much that one shrill shriek should rise and reverberate above that world of wild, confused wailings, which are the true “cries of London;” but, alas! that it has gone down again into the abyss, and that we are now employed in criticising its artistic quality instead of recording its moral effect.
Not altogether in vain, indeed, has it sounded, if it have comforted one lonely heart, if it have bedewed with tears one arid eye, and saved to even one sufferer a pang of a kind which Shakspeare only saw in part, when he spoke of the “proud
man's contumely”—the contumely of a proud, imperious, fashionable, hard-hearted
woman— “ one that was a woman, but, rest her soul, she's dead.”
Not the least striking nor impressive thing in this “Song of the Shirt” is its half jesting tone, and light, easy gallop.
What sound in the street so lamentable as the laughter of a lost female?
It is like a dimple on the red waves of hell. It is more melancholy than even the death-cough shrieking up through her shattered frame, for it speaks of rest, death, the grave, forgetfulness, perhaps forgiveness.
So Hood, into the centre of this true tragedy, has, with a skilful and sparing hand, dropt a pun or two, a conceit or two; and these quibbles are precisely what make you quake.
“Every tear hinders needle and thread,” reminds us distantly of these words, occurring in the very centre of the Lear agony, “Nuncle, it is a naughty night to swim in.”
Hood, as well as Shakspeare, knew that to deepen the deepest woe of humanity it is the best way to show it in the lurid light of mirth that there is a sorrow too deep for tears, too deep for sighs, but none too deep for smiles;
and that the aside and the laughter of an idiot might accompany and
serve to aggravate the anguish of a god. And what tragedy in that
swallow’s back which “twits with the spring” this captive without crime,
this suicide without intention, this martyr without the prospect of a
The “Bridge of Sighs” breathes a deeper breath of the same spirit.
The poet is arrested by a crowd in the street: he pauses, and finds that it is a female suicide whom they have plucked dead from the waters.
His heart holds its own coroner’s inquest upon her, and the poem is the verdict.
Such verdicts are not common in the courts of clay. It sounds like a voice from a loftier climate, like the cry which closes the Faust, “She is pardoned.”
He knows not—what the jury will know in an hour—the cause of her crime.
He wishes not to know it. He cannot determine what proportions of guilt, misery, and madness have mingled with her “mutiny.”
He knows only she was miserable, and she is dead—dead, and therefore away to a higher tribunal.
He knows only that, whate’er her guilt, she never ceased to be a woman, to be a sister, and that death, for him, hushing “all questions, hiding all faults, has left on her only the beautiful.”
What can he do? He forgives her in the name of humanity; every heart says amen, and his verdict, thus repeated and confirmed, may go down to eternity.
Here, too, as in the “Song of the Shirt,” the effect is trebled by the outward levity of the strain.
Light and gay, the masquerade his grieved heart puts on; but its every
flower, feather, and fringe shakes in the eternal anguish as in a
tempest. This one stanza (coldly praised by a recent writer in the
Edinburgh Review, whose heart and intellect seem to be dead, but to us
how unspeakably dear!) might perpetuate the name of Hood:
“The bleak wind of March
Made her tremble and shiver,
But not the dark arch,
Nor the black flowing river;
Mad from life’s history—
Glad to death’s mystery
Swift to be hurled,
Out of the world!”
After all this, we have not the heart, as Lord Jeffrey would say, to turn to his “whims and oddities,” &c., at large.
“Here lies one who spat more blood and made more puns than any man living,” was his self-proposed epitaph.
Whether punning was natural to him or not, we cannot tell. We fear that with him, as with most people, it was a bad habit, cherished into a necessity and a disease.
Nothing could be more easily acquired than the power of punning, if, as Dr. Johnson was wont to say, one’s mind were but to
abandon itself to it. What poor creatures you meet continually, from whom puns come as easily as perspiration.
If this was a disease in Hood, he turned it into a “commodity.”
His innumerable puns, like the minnikin multitudes of Lilliput, supplying the wants of the Man Mountain, fed, clothed, and paid his rent.
This was more than Aram Dreams or Shirt Songs could have done, had he written them in scores.
Some, we know, will, on the other hand, contend that his facility in punning was the outer form of his inner faculty of minute analogical perception—that it was the same power at play— that the eye which, when earnestly and piercingly directed, can perceive (delicate resemblances in things, has only to be opened to see like words dancing into each others embrace; and that this, and not the perverted taste of the age, accounts for Shakspeare’s puns; punning being but the game of football by which he brought a great day’s labour to a close.
Be this as it may, Hood punned to live and made many suspect that he lived to pun.
This however, was a mistake. For, apart from his serious pretensions as a poet, his puns swam in a sea of humour, farce, drollery, fun of every kind.
Parody, caricature, quiz, innocent double entendre, mad exaggeration, laughter holding both his sides, sense turned awry, and downright, staring, slavering nonsense, were all to be found in his writings. Indeed, every species of wit and humour abounded, with, perhaps, two exceptions;—the quiet, deep, ironical smile of Addison, and the misanthropic grin of Swift (forming a stronger antithesis to a laugh than the blackest of frowns) were not in Hood.
Each was peculiar to the single man whose face bore it, and shall probably reappear no more.
For Addison’s matchless smile we may look and long in vain; and forbid that such a horrible distortion of the human face divine as Swift’s grin (disowned forever by the fine, chubby, kindly family of mirth!)
should be witnessed again on earth!
“Alas! poor Yorick. Where now thy quips?—thy quiddities?—thy flashes that wont to set the table in a roar? Quite chapfallen?” The death of a man of mirth has to us a drearier significance than that of a more sombre spirit.
He passes into the other world as into a region where his heart had been translated long before.
To death, as to a nobler birth, had he looked forward; and when it comes, his spirit readily and cheerfully yields to it, as one great thought in the soul submits to be displaced and darkened by a greater.
To him death had lost its terrors, at the same time that life had lost its charms.
But “can a ghost laugh or shake his gaunt sides?”—is there wit any more than wisdom in the grave?—do puns there crackle?—or do comic annuals there mark the still procession of the
years? The death of a humourist, as the first serious epoch in his history, is a very sad event.
In Hood’s case, however, we have this consolation: a mere humorist he was not, but a sincere lover of his race—a hearty friend to their freedom and welfare—a deep sympathizer with their sufferings and sorrows; and if he did not to the full consecrate his high faculties to their service, surely his circumstances as much as himself were to blame.
Writing, as we are, in a city where he spent some of his early days, and which never ceased to possess associations of interest to his mind, and owing, as we do to him, a debt of much pleasure, and of some feelings beyond it, we cannot but take leave of his writings with every sentiment of good-humour and gratitude.