1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Hood

Nathaniel Parker Willis, in "The Editor's Table" American Monthly Magazine [Boston] 1 (November 1829) 569-70.



First to our hand comes a volume by Thomas Hood — the Plea of the Midsummer Fairies, and other Poems. The American edition has been out a year or two, but as we can find no one among our acquaintances who has read it, we conclude it is one of those oversights in notoriety which sometimes occur in the deluge of new books, and we will therefore speak of it as a novelty. Mr. Hood is well known for a series of humorous productions peculiar to himself and capital in their way, but, to our taste, unworthy of his talents. However this may be, he is even thus far, the founder of a new school, though a bad one, and is entitled at least to the credit of originality. "Next to the man who forms the public taste," says an able author, "the man who corrupts it is commonly the greatest genius;" and on the strength of his humorous pieces alone, by this rule, Mr. Hood has a claim to a reputation for high powers. The book before us is an attempt, and a successful one, at sincere poetry. It is characterized, it is true, by the same traits of mind, which appear, in a less dignified form, in his lighter productions. There is the same involuted conception — the same old fashioned vividness and penetration into the very heart of a thought — qualities, which, in this age of indolence, are too lightly regarded. But with all this disposition for conceits, (we use the word in its best sense — it is the only one which expresses our meaning) there is a clear, finished beauty about his severer poetry which makes you regret that he should ever descend to be what he is — the punster par excellence of his times. In the Ode to the Moon, which we shall presently quote, there is more of the redolent and ripefulness of the old poets, than in any modern production of equal length within our memory. Mr. Hood is not at all tinctured with the spirit of his contemporaries. He seems obstinately to have studied the poets of the Elizabethan age. As the allegory runs, he has "dipped into Castaly with an old helmet."