1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Hood

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 24 (July 1845) 84-86.



May 3. At his residence in the Adelphi, London, Mr. Thomas Hood.

For the following memoir of this favorite writer, we are indebted to the Athenaeum—

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, and subsequently 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 apprenticed to an uncle as an engraver, and subsequently transferred to one of the Le Keux. But though he always retained his early love for 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 and Hessey, Mr. Hood was installed in a sort of sub-editorship. From that time his career has been open 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, 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 of 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. He had also established a Magazine bearing his own name.

The secret of this effect, if analysed, would give the characteristics of one of the most original and powerful geniuses which ever was dropped by Faery into infant's cradle, and oddly nursed up by man into a treasure, quaint, special, cameleon-coloured in the changefulness of its tints, yet complete and self-consistent. Of all the humourists Hood was the most poetical. When dealing with the most familiar subjects, whether it might be a sweep bewailing the suppression of his cry, or a mother searching through St. Giles's for her lost infant, or a Miss Kilmansegg's golden childhood — there was hardly a verse in which some touches of heart or some play of fancy did not beckon the laughing play of fancy away into far other worlds than the jester's. It is true that he was equally prone to vein and streak his noblest poems, on high and awful themes, with familiar allusions and grotesque similes; and this union of what is near and tangible with what soars high and sinks deep, wrought out in every capricious form which a gamesome invention could suggest, enabled him from time to time to strike home to the hearts of every one — the fastidious and the common-place —the man of wit and the man of dreams — of all, we should say, except the bigot and the charlatan. To these Hood's genial sarcasms must have been gall and wormwood, directed, as they were, to the noblest purposes. His jokes pierced the deeper, too, inasmuch as they were poet's jokes — clear of grossness or vulgarity.

Mr. Hood died after a wasting illness of many years' slow progress, terminated by months of extreme debility and suffering, cheerfully borne. "His sportive humour, like the rays from a crackling fire in a dilapidated building, had long played among the fractures of a ruined constitution, and flashed upon the world through the flaws and rents of a shattered wreck. Yet infirm as was the fabric, the equal mind was never disturbed to the last. He contemplated the approach of death with a composed philosophy and a resigned soul. His bodily sufferings had made no change in his mental character. He was the same in his publications — at times lively and jocular — at times serious, and affecting; and upon the one great subject of a death-bed hope, he declared himself, as throughout life, opposed to canters and hypocrites, — a class he had always detested and written against; while he set the highest price upon sincere Christianity, whose works of charity and mercy bore witness to the integrity and purity of the faith professed. Another subject upon which he dwelt with much earnestness, and gratitude, was the grant of a pension of 100 a-year to his wife. Two autograph letters from Sir Robert Peel, relating to this pension, gave him intense gratification, and were indeed most honourable to the heart of the writer, in the expression of person solicitude for himself and his family, and of admiration for his productions. In his answer to the minister's first communication he had alluded to the tendency of his writings ever being on the side of humanity and order, and not to separate society into two classes, the rich and poor, or to inflame hatred on one side, and fear on the other. This avowal appeared, from the reply, which acknowledged its truth, to have been very acceptable to the premier." — (Literary Gazette.)

The remains of Mr. Hood were interred in the cemetery of Kensal Green. He has left a widow, with two children, a son and a daughter; for whose benefit, as the pension above alluded to will terminate with Mrs. Hood's life, a subscription has been commenced for the purpose of raising a sum to be held in trust for the benefit of the family during the widow's life, and at her death to be divided between the children. The Marquess of Northampton, Lord Francis Egerton, Sir E. Bulwer Lytton, and Mr. Sargeant Talfourd, are on the list of Committee; and some handsome donations have been made, including one of 75 from the Literary Fund.