Page images


THE PLEA OF THE MIDSUMMER FAIRIES. This poem was first published in a volume in 1827, shortly after the appearance of Whims and Oddities and the National Tales. The versatility of talent evinced by these various productions was a subject of comment among the critics, one of the most distinguished of whom thus remarks upon their author: “He now comes before us as a poet, in the most abstract sense of the word; and we should suppose, in reading his volume, that he had been all his life dreaming of 'fancies fond, and shadows numberless,' and that, for the sake of indulging in these toys of the brain, he had spurned at every thing which human beings and ordinary society were capable of presenting to his view. We never saw a more confirmed case of poetical mania."

Lycus, THE CENTAUR. "Lycus, the Centaur,” said a not unfriendly reviewer, “though containing several fine ideas, is, for the most part, beyond our comprehension. We know not what it resembles, except the incoherent record of a dream inspired by a night-mare.” It appeared originally in the London Magazine for August, 1822.

The Two PEACOCKS OF BEDFONT. Appended to this tale in the London Magazine for October, 1822, is the following note: "If any man, in his unbelief, should doubt the truth and manner of this occurrence, he may in an easy way be assured thereof to his satisfaction, by going to Bedfont, a journey of some thirteen miles, where, in the church-yard, he may with his own eyes behold the two peacocks. They seem at first sight to be of yew-tree, which they greatly resemble; but, on drawing nearer, he will perceive, cut therein, the date 1704, being, without doubt, the. year of their transformation."

Toe Two Swans. First printed in Campbell's New Monthly Magazine for February, 1824.

THE DREAM or EUGENE ARAM. This remarkable poem appeared in the Gem annual for 1829, edited for that year only by the author. Appended was the following note: “The late Admiral Burney went to school at an establishment where the unhappy Eugene Aram was usher, subsequent to his crime. The admiral stated that Aram was generally liked by the boys, and that he used to discourse to them about murder in somewhat of the spirit that is attributed to him in the poem.” The admiral was a friend of Charies Lamb's, and it was doubtless from a conversation with him at Lamb's house that Hood became first impressed with the subject that he has treated with such singular felicity.

“In good old age," says TALFOURD, sketching the old set who were Lamb's Temple guests, “departed Admiral Burney, frank-hearted voyager with Captain Cook round the world, who seemed to unite our society with the circle over which Dr. Johnson reigned; who used to tell of school-days under the tutelage of Eugene Aram; how he remembered the gentle usher pacing the play-ground arm-in-arm with some one of the elder boys, and seeking relief from the unsuspected burden of his conscience by talking of strange murders, and how he, a child, had shuddered at the handcuffs on his teacher's hands when taken away in the post-chaise to prison; the admiral being himself the center of a little circle which his sister, the famous authoress of Evelina, Cecilia and Camilla, sometimes graced.”

Eugene Aram was born at Ramsgill, in Yorkshire, in 1704, and was executed on the 6th of August, 1759, for the murder of Daniel Clark, a shoemaker. This murder remained undetected for some fourteen years, when a skeleton was dug up near Knaresborough, which created suspicions that led to the sudden arrest of Aram and his conviction of the crime. Aram meanwhile had been pursuing his avocation of an usher, and his studies in heraldry, botany, and the languages, with untiring zeal and perseverance. Intimations had been frequently thrown out by his wife that Aram and a man named Housemann were privy to Clark's disappearance. Housemann testified before the coroner that Aram and one Ferry were the murderers, and that the body had been buried in St. Robert's cave, near Knaresborough. The skeleton was discovered in the place indicated, and the guilt of Aram established on his trial by circumstantial evidence that seemed conclusive. He conducted his own defense with great ingenuity and self-command. After condemnation he confessed his guilt to his attending clergyman, but declared that Housemann's share in the murder was larger than he acknowledged, and such was the public impression produced by the trial. The motive was supposed to be plunder, but Aram declared that he was instigated solely by jealousy, as he suspected Clark of having made love to his wife. On the night before the execution he attempted suicide.

A correspondent of the London Literary Gazette (14th January, 1832) states that the skull of Eugene Aram was adventurously removed from the iron hoop which bound it to the gibbet on which it was exposed, by a physician of Knaresborough, who desired to enrich his museum with an unique specimen. The trophy remained a long time in the possession of this virtuoso, and on his death fell into the hands of a gentleman in the neighborhood, distinguished for his scientific and literary attainments. In the year 1817 this gentleman submitted it to the judgment of Dr. Spurzheim, without communicating its history. The doctor pronounced it the skull of a woman, or of a man whose mind had entered into a female habitation. “The female," he said, "had a good share of common sense, without being able to reason deeply; she was pleased with witty, amusing and superstitious stories, and fond of theatrical performances. She had strong feelings without great hope—a great deal of vanity, attachment, and personal courage; she might have been able to commit an error to please those whom she liked. Example was to her particularly important; she was not indifferent as to sexual intercourse,—was more easily guided by soft means and flattering treatment than by command, which revolted her feelings, and would induce her to have recourse to desperate means."

Spurzheim was informed that the skull was that of a male. He thereupon transmitted a letter (unfortunately lost) full of curious remarks upon the skulls of the different great families or tribes of mankind, and pronounced Aram's skull to resemble that of a Celt. Aram himself boasts of his Celtic blood. It is odd enough that he should in his defense have spoken of the difficulty of distinguishing male from female bones. Another circumstance alluded to by Aram in his defense, the escape of the prisoner, double-ironed, from York Castle, was only cleared up a few years ago by the discovery of a skeleton in irons between the outer and inner walls of the prison, where he had doubtless fallen and perished.

The tradition of Aram's character at Lynn, in Norfolk, represents him as a man of loneliness and mystery, sullen and reserved, but until his apprehension of a reputation entirely unexceptionable. On holidays and when his duties would allow he strayed solitary and cheerless, as if to avoid the world, amongst the flat, uninteresting marshes which are situated on the opposite side of the river Ouse. The spot just at the entrance to the play-ground, at which Aram was taken into custody by two strange men from Yorkshire, is still remarked and pointed out by the school boys.

This was one of the later poems of the author, appearing in the
New Jonthly Jagazine, then under his editorial supervision, in 1842.

First published in Hood's Magazine for January, 1844.

From Hood's Magazine for May, 1844.

The Song of the Shirt. It has been stated that the original manuscript of the Song of the Shirt is now in the autograph collection of a gentleman of New York. It is wholly in Hood's writing, and has in the center the round mark caused by its being put on the file as "copy" in the printing office of Punch, in which journal it appeared in December, 1843. It came to its present possessor directly from Mark Lemon, editor of Punch. Five guineas was the price paid for the contribution.

THE LADY'S DREAM. From Hood's Magazine, February, 1814.

THE WORKHOUSE Clock. From Hood's Magazine for April, 1914.

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »