1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Hood

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 507-08.



Hood (1798-1845) was a native of London, the son of a bookseller. At school he picked up some Latin and more French. On leaving, he was planted on a counting-house stool, where he remained long enough to get materials for the following sonnet:

Time was, I sat upon a lofty stool,
At lofty desk, and with a clerkly pen
Began each morning, at the stroke of ten,
To write in Bell & Co.'s commercial school;
In Warnford Court, a shady nook and cool,
The favorite retreat of merchant men;
Yet would my pen turn vagrant even then,
And take stray dips in the Castalian pool.
Now double-entry — now a flowery trope—
Mingling poetic honey with trade wax—
Blogg Brothers — Milton — Grote and Prescott — Pope—
Bristles — and Hogg — Glynn Mills and Halifax—
Rogers and Towgood — Hemp — the Bard of Hope—
Barilla — Byron — Tallow — Burns — and Flax!

After passing two years with his father's relatives in Dundee, Hood returned to London, and was apprenticed to his uncle, Robert Sands, as an engraver. He made his first mark as a writer by joining with his brother-in-law, J. H. Reynolds, in a playful volume of Odes to Great People — such as Graham, the acronaut; Macadam, the improver of roads; and Kitchener, author of The Cook's Oracle. In 1826 Hood published his first series of Whims and Oddities; a second series in 1827; and then a volume, The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies, with other Poems. In 1829 he commenced The Comic Annual, which was continued for nine years. In 1834 he published Tylney Hall, a novel. It was a failure. Ill health compelled him to travel on the Continent to recruit; and on his return home he became editor of the New Monthly Magazine. From this he retired in 1843, and in 1844 started Hood's Magazine, and contributed to its pages until within a month before his death. His celebrated Song of the Shirt first appeared in Punch in 1844.

Hood died a poor man, leaving a widow and two children. His life was one of incessant brain-work, aggravated by ill-health and the uncertainties and disquiets of authorship. After his death his literary friends contributed liberally to the support of his widow and family; Government had already granted to Mrs. Hood a pension of 100. There is a healthy moral tone in nearly all Hood's poetry, and in some of it he shows high imaginative power. If he had not been compelled to coin his brain into money for immediate use, he would doubtless have tried many nobler flights. He left a son of the same name, who died in 1874, not without giving tokens that he had inherited some of the paternal genius.