(May 23, 1799 - May 3, 1845)
Humorist and Poet.
THOMAS HOOD, the son of a bookseller,
was born in London.
"Next to being a citizen of the world," he writes in his Literary
Reminiscences, "it must be the best thing to be born a citizen of the world's greatest city."
On the death of her husband in 1811 Mrs Hood moved to Islington, where Thomas Hood had a schoolmaster who appreciated his talents, "made him feel it impossible not to take an interest in learning while he seemed so interested in teaching."
Under the care of this "decayed dominie", he earned a few guineas—his first literary fee—by revising for the press a new edition of
Paul and Virginia. Admitted soon after into the counting-house of a friend of his family, he "turned his stool into a Pegasus on three legs, every foot, of course, being a dactyl or a spondee"; but the uncongenial profession affected his health, which was never strong, and he was sent to his father's relations at Dundee, Scotland.
There he led a healthy outdoor life, and also became a large and indiscriminate reader, and before long contributed humorous and poetical articles to the provincial newspapers and magazines.
As a proof of his literary vocation, he used to write out his poems in printed characters, believing that that process best enabled him to understand his own peculiarities and faults, and probably unaware that Samuel Taylor Coleridge had recommended some such method of criticism when he said he thought "print settles it." On returning to London in 1818, Hood applied himself assiduously to the art of engraving, in which he acquired a skill that in after years became a most valuable assistant to his literary labours, and enabled him to illustrate his various humours and fancies by a profusion of quaint devices, which not only repeated to the eye the impressions of the text, but, by suggesting amusing analogies and contrasts, added considerably to the sense and effect of the work.
In 1821, John Scott, the editor of the London
Magazine, was killed in a duel, and the periodical passed into the hands of some friends of Hood, who proposed to make him sub-editor.
His installation into this congenial post at once introduced him to the best literary society of the time; and in becoming the associate of Charles Lamb, Henry Cary, Thomas de Quincey, Allan Cunningham, Bryan Procter, Serjeant Talfourd, Hartley Coleridge, the peasant-poet John Clare and other contributors to the magazine, he gradually developed his own intellectual powers, and enjoyed that happy intercourse with superior minds for which his cordial and genial character was so well adapted, and which he has described in his best manner in several chapters of
My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—and this naked floor—
A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
For sometimes falling there!
From....'The Song of the
He had married in 1825, and Odes and Addresses—his first work—was written in conjunction with his brother-in-law
J. H. Reynolds, a friend of John Keats. Coleridge wrote to Charles Lamb averring that the book must be his work.
The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies (1827) and a dramatic romance, Lamia, published later, belong to this time.
The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies was a volume of serious verse, in which Hood showed himself a by no means despicable follower of Keats.
But he was known as a humorist, and the public, which had learned to expect jokes from him, rejected this little book almost entirely.
There was much true poetry in the verse, and much sound sense and keen observation in the prose of these works; but the poetical feeling and lyrical facility of the one, and the more solid qualities of the other, seemed best employed when they were subservient to his rapid wit, and to the ingenious coruscations of his fancy.
This impression was confirmed by the series of the
Comic Annual, dating from 1830, a kind of publication at that time popular, which Hood undertook and continued, almost unassisted, for several years.
Under that somewhat frivolous title he treated all the leading events of the day in a fine spirit of caricature, entirely free from grossness and vulgarity, without a trait of personal malice, and with an under-current of true sympathy and honest purpose that will preserve these papers, like the sketches of Hogarth, long after the events and manners they illustrate have passed from the minds of men.
But just as the agreeable jester rose into the earnest satirist, ore of the most striking peculiarities of his style became a more manifest defect.
The attention of the reader was distracted, and his good taste annoyed, by the incessant use of puns, of which Hood had written in his own vindication:
"However critics may take offence,
A double meaning has double sense."
wind of March
Made her tremble and shiver ;
But not the dark arch,
Or the black flowing river:
Mad from life's history,
Glad to death's mystery,
Swift to be hurl'd—
Any where, any where
Out of the world!
From.... 'The Bridge of
Now it is true that the critic must be unconscious of some of the subtlest charms and nicest delicacies of language who would exclude from humorous writing all those impressions and surprises which depend on the use of the diverse sense of words.
The history, indeed, of many a word lies hid in its equivocal uses; and it in no way derogates from the dignity of the highest poetry to gain strength and variety from the ingenious application of the same sounds to different senses, and more than from the contrivances of rhythm or the accompaniment of imitative sounds.
But when this habit becomes the characteristic of any wit, it is impossible to prevent it from degenerating into occasional buffoonery, and from supplying a cheap and ready resource, whenever the true vein of humour becomes thin or rare.
Artists have been known to use the left hand in the hope of checking the fatal facility which practice had conferred on the right; and if Hood had been able to place under some restraint the curious and complex machinery of words and syllables which his fancy was incessantly producing, his style would have been a great gainer, and much real earnestness of object, which
now lies confused by the brilliant kaleidoscope of language, would have remained definite and clear.
He was probably not unconscious of this danger; for, as he gained experience as a writer, his diction became more simple, and his ludicrous illustrations less frequent.
In another annual called the Gem appeared the poem on the story of
Eugene Aram, which first manifested the full extent of that poetical vigour which seemed to advance just in proportion as his physical health declined.
He started a magazine in his own name, for which he
secured the assistance of many literary men of reputation and authority,
but which was mainly sustained by his own intellectual activity.
From a sick-bed, from which he never rose, he conducted this work with
surprising energy, and there composed those poems, too few in number,
but immortal in the English language, such as the Song of the Shirt
(which appeared anonymously in the Christmas number of Punch, 1843), the
Sighs and the Song of the Labourer, which seized the deep human interests of the time, and transported them from the ground of social philosophy into the loftier domain of the imagination.
They are no clamorous expressions of anger at the discrepancies and contrasts of humanity, but plain, solemn pictures of conditions of life, which neither the politician nor the moralist can deny to exist, and which they are imperatively called upon to remedy. Woman, in her wasted life, in her hurried death, here stands appealing to the society that degrades her, with a combination of eloquence and poetry, of forms of art at once instantaneous and permanent, and with great metrical energy and variety.
Wherever Nature needs,
Wherever Labour calls,
No job I'll shirk of the hardest work,
To shun the workhouse walls;
Where savage laws begrudge
The pauper babe its breath,
And doom a wife to a widow's life,
Before her partner's death.
From. . . .The
Lay of the Labourer.
Hood was associated with the
Athenæum, started in 1828 by James Silk Buckingham, and he was a regular contributor for the rest of his life.
Prolonged illness brought on straitened circumstances; and application was made to Sir Robert Peel to place Hood's name on the pension list with which the British state so moderately rewards the national services of literary men.
This was done without delay, and the pension was continued to his wife and family after his death.
Nine years after a monument, raised by public subscription, in the cemetery of Kensal Green, was inaugurated by Richard Monckton Milnes with a concourse of spectators that showed how well the memory of the poet stood the test of time. Artisans came from a great distance to view and honour the image of the popular writer whose best efforts had been dedicated to the cause and the sufferings of the workers of the world; and literary men of all opinions gathered round the grave of one of their brethren whose writings were at once the delight of every boy and the instruction of every man who read them.
Happy the humorist whose works and life are an illustration of the great moral truth that the sense of humour is the just balance of all the faculties of man, the best security against the pride of knowledge and the conceits of the imagination, the strongest inducement to submit with a wise and pious patience to the vicissitudes of human existence.
14 May, 1845.
THE LATE THOMAS HOOD.
—was the son of Mr Hood, the Bookseller, of the firm of Vernor and Hood.
He gave to the public an outline of his early life, in the "Literary Reminiscences" published in
Hood's Own. He was, as he there states, early placed "upon lofty stool, at lofty desk," in a merchant's counting-house; but his commercial career was soon put an end to by his health, which began to fail; and by the recommendation of the physicians he was "shipped, as per advice, in a Scotch smack," to his father's relations
in Dundee. There he made his first literary venture in the local
journals: subsequently he sent a paper to the Dundee Magazine, the editor of which was kind enough, as Winifred Jenkins says, "to wrap my bit of nonsense under his Honour's kiver, without charging for its insertion."
Literature, however, was then only thought of as an amusement; for on his return to London, he was, we believe apprenticed to an uncle as an engraver, and subsequently transferred to one of the Le Keux.
But though he always retained his early love of art and had much facility in drawing, as the numberless quaint illustrations to his works testify, his tendencies were literary, and when, on the death of Mr John Scott, the
London Magazine passed into the hands of Messrs Taylor & Hessey, Mr Hood was installed in a sort of sub-editorship.
From that time his career has been open and known to the public.
The following is, we apprehend, something like a catalogue of Mr Hood's works, dating from the period when his "Odes and Addresses," written in conjunction with his brother-in-law, Mr J H. Reynolds, brought him prominently before the public:—"Whims and
Oddities;" "National Tales;" "The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies" (a volume full of rich, imaginative poetry); "The Comic Annuals," subsequently reproduced with the addition of new matter
as "Hood's Own;" "Tylney Hall; "Up the Rhine;" and "Whimsicalities; a Periodical Gathering."
Nor must we forget one year's editorship of "The Gem," since that included "Eugene Aram's Dream," a ballad which we imagine will live as long as the language.
Of later days Mr Hood was an occasional contributor to Punch's casket at mirth and benevolence; and, perhaps, his last offering, "The Song of the Shirt," was his best—a poem of which the imitations have been countless, and the moral effect immeasurable.
[The above short memoir is extracted from a kindly notice of Mr Hood in the
Athenæum, and gives a general idea of his multifarious labours.
Mr Hood's reputation is chiefly founded upon his unequalled talents as a wit and humorist, but he had many higher claims upon the voice of fame.
He was possessed of poetical powers of no mean order, as many of his descriptive sketches amply testify; and the ballad, "Eugene Aram's Dream," mentioned in the preceding sketch, is one of the most powerful pictures of the workings of remorse and guilty terror to be found in any language.
As a novelist, also, Mr Hood is worthy of a high place; and though "Tylney Hall" is the only regular novel he has ever completed (for a second was being published in "Hood's Magazine," under the title of "Our Family," when the author's hand was arrested by his final illness), yet it alone is amply sufficient to establish his excellence in this department.
We perceive that some regret has been expressed that Mr Hood should have expended his genius upon the light periodical literature of the day; but in our opinion such expressions are less justifiable than they at first eight appear to be.
His writings in magazines and elsewhere have cheered the leisure hours of many whom otherwise they might never have reached; he has diffused among thousands of his countrymen much innocent and cheerful amusement, thus contributing largely to the general fund of happiness.
And not only so, for the majority of his works were of such a nature as to instruct as well as to amuse—to improve the heart and the feelings, as well as to gratify the imagination.
The moral tendency of Mr Hood's writings was always of the highest and most unimpeachable kind, his sympathies were strong and active, yet tender and sensitive, and even in his most light-hearted moods, he would sometimes touch some of the hidden springs of the heart, and delicately appeal to the most tender and sacred feelings of our nature. There was often deep thoughtfulness in his smiles, and tears would sometimes mingle with his most joyous laughter.
We quite concur in the opinion of the writer in the Athenæum, that "the world will presently feel how much poorer it is for Hood's withdrawal."]
WHO SANG THE "SONG
OF THE SHIRT."
'Twas the old story!—ever the blind world
Knows not its Angels of Deliverance
Till they stand glorified 'twixt earth and heaven.
It stones the Martyr; then, with praying hands,
Sees the God mount his chariot of fire,
And calls sweet names, and worships what it
It slays the Man to deify the Christ:
And then how lovingly 'twill bind the brows
Where late its thorn-crown laughed with cruel lips—
Red, and rejoicing from the killing kiss!
To those who walk beside them, great men seem
Mere common earth; but distance makes them
As dying limbs do lengthen out in death,
So grows the stature of their after-fame;
And then we gather up their glorious words,
And treasure up their names with loving care.
So Hood, our Poet, lived his martyr-life:
With a swift soul that travelled at such speed,
And struck such flashes from its flinty road,
That by its trail of radiance through the dark,
We almost see th' unfeatured Future's face,—
And went uncrowned to his untimely tomb.
'Tis true, the World did praise his glorious Wit—
The merry Jester with his cap and bells!
And sooth, his wit was like Ithuriel's spear:
But 'twas mere lightning from the cloud of his life,
Which held at heart most rich and blessèd
Of tears melodious, that are worlds of love;
And Rainbows, that would bridge from earth to
And Light, that should have shone like Joshua's
Above our long death-grapple with the Wrong;
And thunder-voices, with their Words of fire,
To melt the Slave's chain, and the Tyrant's crown.
His wit?—a kind smile just to hearten us!—
Rich foam-wreaths on the waves of lavish life,
That flashed o'er precious pearls and golden sands.
But, there was that beneath surpassing wit!
The starry soul, that shines when all is dark!—
Endurance, that can suffer and grow strong—
Walk through the world with bleeding feet, and
Love's inner light, that kindle's Life's rare colours,
Bright wine of Beauty for the longing soul;
And thoughts that swathe Humanity with such
As limns the outline of the coming God.
In him were gleams of such heroic splendour
As light this cold, dark world up like a star
Arrayed in glory for the eyes of heaven:
And a great heart that beat according music
With theirs of old,—God-likest kings of men!
A conquering heart! which Circumstance, that
The Many down from Love's transfiguring height,
Aye mettled into martial attitude.
He might have clutched the palm of Victory
In the world's wrestling-ring of noble deeds;
But he went down a precious Argosy
At sea, just glimmering into sight of shore,
With its rare freightage from diviner climes.
While friends were crowding at the Harbour
To meet and welcome the brave Sailor back,
He saw, and sank in sight of them and home!
The world may never know the wealth it lost,
When Hood went darkling to his tearful tomb,
So mighty in his undeveloped force!
With all his crowding unaccomplished hopes—
Th' unuttered wealth and glory of his soul—
And all the music ringing round his life,
And poems stirring in his dying brain.
But blessings on him for the songs he sang—
Which yearned about the world till then for birth!
How like a bonny bird of God he came,
And poured his heart in music for the Poor;
Who sit in gloom while sunshine floods the land,
And grope through darkness, for the hand of Help.
And trampled Manhood heard, and claimed its
And trampled Womanhood sprang up ennobled!
The human soul looked radiantly through rags!
And there was melting of cold hearts, as when
The ripening sunlight fingers frozen flowers.
O! blessings on him for the songs he sang!
When all the stars of happy thought had set
In many a mind, his spirit walked the gloom
Clothed on with beauty, as the regal Moon
Walks her night-kingdom, turning clouds to light.
Our Champion! with his heart too big to beat
In bonds,—our Poet in his pride of power!
Aye, we'll remember him who fought our fight,
And chose the Martyr's robe of flame, and spurned
The gold and purple of the glistering slave.
His Mausoleum is the People's heart,
There he lies crowned and glorified,—in state,
Smiling, with singing robe wrapped richly round.
But 'tis not meet, my England, his dear dust
Should lie where splendid flatteries flaunt on tombs,
With not a line of lettered love to tell
What mighty heart lies quenched and broken there.
So let us build our Poet's monument!
With passionate hearts of love for corner-stones,
And tears that temper for immortal fame.
And it were well, my England, shouldst thou come
To weep some honest drops above his grave.
Our Hood is worthy of eternal praise
And blessings, and dear heart-amenities,
As warrior Wellington, who rode to fame
On Death's white horse, by Battle's crimson path.
The list of Hood's separately published works is as follows:
Odes and Addresses to Great People (1825)
Whims and Oddities (two series, 1826 and 1827)
The Plea of the Midsummer
Fairies, Hero and Leander, Lycus the Centaur
and other Poems (1827), his only collection of serious verse
The Dream of Eugene Aram, the Murderer (1831)
Tylney hall, a novel (3 vols., 1834)
The Comic Annual—editions between 1830
Hood's Own, or, Laughter from Year to Year (1838, second series, 1861)
Up the Rhine (1840)
Hood's Magazine and Comic Miscellany (1844-1848)
National Tales (2 vols., 1837), a collection of short novelettes
Whimsicalities (1844), with illustrations from John Leech's designs; and many
contributions to contemporary periodicals.