Page images
PDF
EPUB

Art. 11.-1. The Works of Thomas Hood. 7 vols. Edited, with

Notes, by his Son. London, 1862. 2. Hood's Own, First and Second Series. London, 1862. 3. Memorials of Thomas Hood. 2 vols. London, 1860. TT depends greatly on a man's physical health and animal

1 spirits whether he shall be of a large, calm, outward-looking nature and objective mind, or shall be a brooding subjective being, whose vision is introverted, and whose temperament is too irritable to allow full time for maturing the larger births of literature. The great Humorists, as a rule, were men of overflowing animal spirits. They have, as the term suggests, more inoisture of the bodily temperament; the unction of mirth, and the wine of gladness. Such are the Chaucers, Ben Jonsons, and Fieldings, the Molières and Rabelais. But the small, thin men, with little flesh and blood, the Popes, Voltaires, and Hoods, rarely reach this perfect joyousness of feeling. On the contrary, they feel naked to the least breath of the world, as though they were one live sensitive nerve of sell, and the slightest touch erects their pens like porcupines' quills. That a man with a powerful frame and robust health may, even in a time like ours, reach the corpulent Brobdignagian humour of the older writers, we have had ample proof in John Wilson, whose life was so opulent, and laugh so hearty, that he could shake off all the cob-webs of our miserable self-consciousness. That which would pierce the little men to the vitals he took as a inere tickling of his cuticle. Those things which are as the mighty blows of Thor's haminer to others only seemed to make him look up and say with Skrymir, there must be sparrows roosting in this tree, I think ; what is that they have dropped ?'

It is a very noticeable feature in Hood's character that, with even worse health than Pope's, he was of a most sweet temper; and no amount of pain and buffeting could turn him into one of the wasps of wit. But to read his nature and appreciate his works, we must turn to his Life.

Thomas Hood by birth was a genuine Cockney. He was born May 23rd, 1799, in the Poultry, London ; therefore within the sound of Bow bells. His father was a native of Scotland; but in this instance the old saying, that one Scotsman will be sure to introduce another, was not verified, Thomas Hood being as unlike a Scotsman as possible. His grandınother was an Armstrong ; and he used to say in joke that he was descended from two notorious thieves, Robin Hood and Johnnie Armstrong. The genius of Cockneydom, however, was the ruling power

in

in mixing the elements of his nature. He would have been all the richer for a little of the ruddy health of Robin, and the hardihood of the renowned Borderer. But Cockney he was doomed to be; and we cannot help thinking that the Song of the Shirt' could only have been written by one who entered deeply into London life, so as to feel instinctively how it went with the poorest poor who dwell high up the dark and rickety staircases, seeing the stars through the rents of the roof; to whom spring only comes in the plant or flower on the window-sill; the gleam of sunshine on the wing of the swallow darting by, or the warble of an imprisoned skylark. Only a dweller in London who knows how the poor live, could fathom the indescribable yearning of the fevered body and pent-up soul for one breath of the country air and boundless space; to cool the feet in the sweet green grass, and the fingers among its wild flowers; to freshen the poor worn eyes with a look at the glad green world of pleasant leaves, waving woods, and blue heaven bending over all.

Hood took cheerfully enough to his birthplace, and thought if local prejudices were worth anything the balance ought to be in favour of the capital. He would as lief have been a native of London as of Stoke Pogis, and considered the Dragon of Bow Church or Gresham's Grasshopper as good a terrestrial sign to be born under as the dunghill cock on a village steeple. He thought a literary man might exult that he first saw the light,-or perhaps the fog, -in the same metropolis as Milton, Gray, De Foe, Pope, Byron, Lamb, and other town-born authors, whose fame has nevertheless triumphed over the Bills of Mortality.' So in their goodly company he cheerfully took up his livery, cspecially as Cockneyism, properly so called, appeared to him to be limited to no particular locality or station in life. It is likewise worthy of remark, that Hood owes a whole class of humorous character to the streets of London. The Lost Child' is a type of what we mean. In this the nature and language are strictly Cockney. The cooped-up maternal agony grows garrulous beyond measure ; and so all rules of verse are violated in order that ample expression may be given to the grief. The result is a long lugubrious patter; tragedy and farce blending in a burlesque such as Mr. Robson alone could do justice to.

Hood's father was a man of literary taste; had written a couple of novels, and was one of the firm of Vernor and Hood which published the poems of Bloomfield and Kirke White. James, the eldest boy, likewise had literary predilections. His mother, we are told, was somewhat startled to find a note-book which appeared to contain some secret confession of hopeless love; the good lady not knowing that her son had been translating Petrarch. Thus Thomas Hood had, as he said, a dash of ink in his blood, which soon became manifest in an inkling for authorship. He was a shy, quiet child, exceedingly sensitive, and delicate in health ; fond of making his little observations with continual humour as he sat silently watching, with noticing eyes, the main stream of life passing by. One of his earliest artistic efforts was a great success, although not exactly in the way he had anticipated. He smoked a terrific-looking demon on the bedroom ceiling with a candle, intending to frighten his brother on going to bed; but forgetting all about it, he was himself the victim, and found it no joke.

note

Disease and death were early and frequent visitors to the Hood family. James, the elder brother, was soon carried off. The father died suddenly, leaving the widow with her little ones but poorly provided for. The wife soon followed her husband. Hood's sister Anne did not survive the mother very long, both dying of consumption. It was on the death of this sister that Hood wrote his tender and touching little poem called the • Deathbed.'

The mother whilst living had given her son what education she could command. He acquired French, and became a pretty good classical scholar. In his attempt on his own life’he speaks of winning a prize for Latin without knowing the Latin for prize. But he had a capable teacher after he left the school at which this happened, and his witty renderings from Latin authors were well known to his friends in after life. We do not make out the precise date at which Thomas Hood was articled to his uncle, Mr. Sands, the engraver, nor how long he laboured at the art which first taught him how to etch his own funny fancies.

He speaks of having sat at a desk in some commercial office, but he was not destined to become a winner of the Ledger,' his race being cut short at starting ; this he communicates in strictly business language. His appetite failed, and its principal creditor, the stomach, received only an ounce in the pound. In the phraseology of the Price Current,' it was expected that he must

submit to a decline.' The doctors declared that by sitting so much on the counting-house stool he was hatching a whole brood of complaints. So he was ordered to abstain from 'ashes, bristles, and Petersburg yellow candle, and to indulge in a more generous diet.' Change of air, too, was imperatively prescribed. Accordingly Hood was shipped off to visit some relatives in Dundee. As soon as they set eyes on him they did

what

what they could to send him back again. He had come to the wrong people in search' of health. Hood, however, determined on stopping in Dundee. The air of Scotland did him so much good. One of its results was a belief, that although Scotland might not produce the first man in the world, it would undoubtedly be a Scotsman who would live on as the Last Man. To estimate his position at this time, alone in a strange place, hanging on his own hook, he tells us to imagine a boy of fifteen at the Nore as it were of life, thus left dependent on his own pilotage for a safe voyage to the Isle of Man! How he was occupied in Dundee we are not clearly informed; but his first appearance in print was in the ‘Dundee Advertiser;' his next in the • Dundee Magazine;' and he tells us with modest triumph and pardonable pride, that the respective editors published his writings without charging anything for insertion. This he considered success enough to make him sell himself body and soul, after the German fashion, to that minor Mephistophiles the Printer's Devil. Not but what he served some years' apprenticeship before the Imp in question became really his Familiar. As with all literary naturals, he drifted rather than plunged into authorship.

In the year 1821 Hood returned to London, and was engaged to assist the editor of the London Magazine,' leaving the engraver's business for that purpose. Here was a legitimate opening, and he jumped at it, à la Grimaldi, head foremost, and was speedily behind the scenes. So delighted was he, that he would receive a revise from the foreman of the printers as a proof of his regard; forgave him all his slips,' and really thought that printers' devils were not so black as they are painted. But, he tells us, his topgallant-glory' was in

Our Contributors.' 'How he used to look forward to Elia and backward for Hazlitt, and all round for Edward Herbert; and

how I used to look up to Allan Cunningham,' who was formed by Nature tall enough to snatch a grace beyond the reach of Art.' Hood has given us a pleasant life-like sketch of Charles Lamb, with his fine head on a small spare body; his intellectual face full of wiry lines, and lurking quips and cranks of physiognomy; brown bright eyes, quick in turning as those of birds,-looking sharp enough to pick up pins and needles. The hesitation in his speech continually relieved by some happy turn of thought which seemed to have been 'thus naturally waited for. Shy with strangers, but instantly alight with a welcome smile of womanly sweetness for his friends. At Lamb's he met with Coleridge, the “full-bodied poet, with his waving white hair and his benign face, round, ruddy, and unfurrowed as a holy friar's.' Hood heard the glorious talker at times when he was in the key which Lamb called .C in alt.,' far above the line of the listener's comprehension. He made marvellous music nevertheless; and Hood felt as though he were carried “spiralling up to heaven by a whirlwind intertwisted with sunbeams, giddy and dazzled, and had then been rained down again with a shower of mundane stocks and stones that battered out of me all recollection of what I had heard and what I had seen.' Here too was poor Clare, in his bright grasscoloured coat and yellow waistcoat, 'shining verdantly from out the grave-coloured suits like a patch of turnips amidst stubble and fallow.' Lamb sometimes bantering him on certain · Clareobscurities' in his verses, and anon talking so gravely, towards midnight, that Clare would cry · Dal !' (a clarified d-n) 'if it isn't like a dead inan preaching out of his coffin!' De Quincey also was one of the writers for the London ;' and Hood often saw the small, calm philosopher at home, quite at home, in the midst of a German Ocean of literature in a storm-flooding all the floor, table, and chairs—billows of books tossing, tumbling, surging open. On such occasions I have willingly listened by the hour whilst the philosopher, standing with his eyes fixed on one side of the room, seemed to be less speaking than reading from a “hand-writing on the wall !”

The · Lion's Head of the London Magazine' was the first mask of Momus put on by Thomas Hood. His punning propensity breaks out in humorous Answers to Correspondents. •W.is informed that his “ Night” is too long, for the moon rises twice in it. The “Essay on Agricultural Distress” would only increase it. B. is surely humming. H. B.'s “Sonnet to the Rising Sun” is suspected of being written for a Lark. Wi's “Tears of Sensibility” had better be dropped. The “ Echo" will not answer. T., who says his tales are out of his own head, is asked if he is a tadpole ? M.'s “ Ode on the Martyrs who were burnt in the rain of Queen Mary” is original, but wants fire.'

Amongst Hood's early contributions to the · Londonwe find the lovely ballad of Fair Inez' and the poem of Lycus the Centaur.' This latter poem was a favourite with Hartley Coleridge, who thought it absolutely unique in its line, and such as no man except Hood could have written. The measure, which has a gallop appropriate to the subject, is a difficult one to tell a story in. Yet the poem contains some powerful descriptions, and has not had justice done to it. Here, for example, is a striking picture of the bestialised victims of Circe's horrible charms as

another

« PreviousContinue »