Page images

to solemnity, in the upper portion of the face, which, in public, was seldom relieved by the eloquent play of the mouth, or the occasional sparkle of the observant eye ; and it was a general remark among his acquaintances, that he was too quiet for the world. There are many wit-watchers to be found in society, who think there is nothing in a man, unless, like a sounding-board, he make a great noise at a small touch; who consider themselves aggrieved, unless an “author' open at once like a book, and speak as he writes ; this vulgar notion, like others of the same stamp, creeps into good society, or what is so considered, and I have seen both Hook and Hood.set,' as a pointer sets a partridge, by persons who glitter in evanescent light simply by repeating what such men have said. Mr. Hook, perhaps, liked this celebrity, - this sitting and staring, this lion-hunt, — so different from the heart-worship paid to veritable greatness. Mr. Hood did not; he was too sensitive, too refined, to endure it; the dislike to being pointed at as the man who was funny' kept him out of a crowd, where there were always numbers who really honored his genius, and loved him for his gentle and domestic virtues. It was only among his friends that his playful fancy flourished, or that he yielded to its influence; although, strictly speaking, “social' in all his feelings, he never sought to stimulate his wit by the false poison of draughts of wine; nor was he ever more cheerful than when at his own fireside he enjoyed the companionship of his dear and devoted wife. He was playful as a child ; and his imagination, pure as bright, frolicked with nature, whom he loved too well ever to outrage or insult by slight or misrepresentation. And yet he was city born, and city bred, — born in the unpoetic district of the Poultry,' — though born, as it were, to letters, for his father was a bookseller.”

On the return of Hood to England, he became editor of the New Monthly Magazine, and, on retiring from it in 1843, he published the best of his writings in prose and verse in that journal, with some additions, with the title of “ Whimsicalities." In 1844 he started Hood's Magazine, his last periodical, and continued to contribute to its pages until within a month before his death. In his later days he was an occasional contributor to Punch, where his celebrated Song of the Shirt made its first appearance.

Hood died on the third of May, 1845, leaving a widow and two children. He died a poor man. He had no money-making faculty. He could delight the world with his genius, but he did not make a good commercial use of it. With all his talents and fame, he did not manage to coin them into gold. Soon after his death a subscription was commenced for the benefit of his family. The project was communicated to the public in a single paragraph, which will be read with melancholy interest :

“ THE LATE THOMAS Hood. — This distinguished writer, who has, for upwards of twenty years, entertained the public with a constant succession of comic and humoristic works, in the whole range of which not a single line of immoral tendency, or calculated to pain an individual, can be pointed out, whose poems and serious writings rank among the noblest modern contributions of our national literature, and whose pen was ever the ready and efficient advocate of the unfortunate and the oppressed (as recently, for instance, in the admirable

Song of the Shirt,' which gave so remarkable an impulse to the movement on behalf of the distressed needlewomen), has left, by his death, a widow and two children in straitened and precarious circumstances, with no other means of subsistence than a small pension, terminable on the failure of the widow's life, barely sufficient to supply a family of three with common necessaries, and totally inadequate for the education and advancement of the orphan children. Even this scanty resource has been, of necessity, forestalled to a considerable extent during the last five months, in order to meet the heavy sick-room and funeral expenses. Under these circumstances, a subscription for the family has been set on foot. The admirers of Thomas Hood throughout the country will, it is hoped, take this opportunity of publicly testifying their recognition of his genius and their sense of his personal worth.”

Of his latter days an affecting account was given in the Literary Gazette, shortly after his death :

“ Thomas Hood died on Saturday morning. A spirit of true philanthropy has departed from its earthly tenement; the light of a curious and peculiar wit has been extinguished; the feeling and pathos of a natural poet have descended into the grave; and left those who knew, admired, and loved these qualities, to feel and do

plore the loss of him in whom they were so preëminently united. Yet we can hardly say that we lament his death. Poor Hood ! hie sportive humor, 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. It had no terrors for him. A short while ago we sat for hours by his bed-side in general and cheerful conversation, as when in social and healthful intercourse. Then he spoke of the certain and unavoidable event about to take place with perfect unreserve, unruffled calmness; and the lesson and example how to die was never given in a more impressive and consolatory manner than by Thomas Hood. His bodily sufferings had made no change in his mental character. He was the same as 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 de clared 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. Our common friend,' he said, · Mrs. E- , I love ; for she is truly religious, and not a pious, woman.' He seemed anxious that his sentiments on the momentous question should not be misrepresented; and that his animosity against the pretended should not be misconstrued into a want of just estimation for the real.

“ Another subject upon which he dwelt with much earnestness and gratitude, was the grant of a pension of one hundred pounds a year to his wife. There is, after all,' he observed, much of good to counterbalance the bad in this world. I have now a better opinion of it than I once had, when pressed by wrongs and injuries.' Two autograph letters from Sir Robert Peel, relating to this pension, gave him intense gratification, and were indeed most honorable to the heart of the writer, whose warmth in the expression of personal solicitude for himself and his family, and of admiration for his produutions (with which Sir Robert seemed to be well acquainted), we firmly believe imparted more delight to the dying man than even the prospoct that those so dear to hiin would not be left destitute. 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 of the modern school, to separate society into two classes, the rich and poor, and to inflame hatred on the one side, and fear on the other. This avowal appeared, from the reply wh ch acknowledged its truth, to have been very acceptable to the premier, from whom the gist had emanated.”

On the 18th July, 1854, a monument was raised to the memory of Hood; and in the sketch of the proceedings on this occasion, and the speech of Mr. Monckton Milnes, which we copy from the London

Times, we find a fit conclusion to this brief account of his life. Mr. Milnes observed :

• I have been asked to come here to-day to say a few words before we open to your view the monument which has been erected to the memory of Hood. It is now some years since we laid our friend below us in this pleasant place, where he rests after a long illness — after a life of noble struggle with much adversity, and of nothing but good to his fellow-men. It is now thought advisable that a few words should be said before that ceremony takes place. It is rather a habit of our neighbors the French than of ourselves, to make eulogistic orations at the tombs of our friends. I do not think the habit in general is pleasing to our taste; but there are reasons why, on the present occasion, it may not be unbecoming. At the same time, it is very difficult to perform this duty, because we must feel that, if ever there was a character of simplicity and humility, it was that of the late Mr. Thomas Hood; and it would not become us, on the present occasion, to indulge in eulogies which, if he were here himself, would be distasteful to him ; for he was a man who ever retired from the crowd, and who loved, as he has said in his own classical and beautiful language :

• To kneel remote upon the simple sod,

And sue, in forma pauperis, to God.' ' Our German friends call a cemetery of this kind • God's field,' and we must not desecrate it by vain and pompous eulogies over a fellowmortal. All we can do is to commit him, with all his errors, to the mercy of God, and at the same time to keep his memory dear and his fame bright among us. This is the purpose of the friends of Mr. Thomas Hood who have raised this structure. Some of them were familiar with him from his youth — the eyes of others never lit upon his person. It would be invidious to single out any of these friends of the poet ; but I may mention the name of one lady who is well known to us all, Miss Eliza Cook, to whose exertions, in all quarters of society, the erection of this monument is very much owing. Some, too, have contributed to it who did not appreciate him during his lifetime; – to them may be applicable his beautiful lines :

• Farewell! we did not know thy worth ;

But thou art gone, and now 't is prized.
So angels walked unknown on earth,

But when they flew were recognized.'

" He was a poet — a poet in the true sense of the word ; but at the same time I by no means think that his poetical powers were of so great and remarkable a character that his reputation would have become such as it is if it had been confined to his poetical works alone. By his poetical works I mean those developments of pure imagination, which are more interesting to literary men than they can be to the world in general. In all these works we recognize not only the lyrical facilities which enable many a youth to throw out good poetry, but the refined taste and cultivated mind of mature years. But his fame — that for which he is chiefly known to usbelongs to him as an English humorist; and, in using that word, I use no word inapplicable to the occasion or unworthy of his fame. It is the boast of our literature, as distinguished from that of all other nations, that from the earliest times of its history we find humoristic writers who delighted the age in which they lived and those which succeeded them. In that category we may place Shakspeare himself, and we may draw, downwards, a long genealogical list of humorists, ending with the names of Charles Lamb, Sydney Smith, and Thomas Hood. I do not know whether my opinions in this matter may be peculiar ; but I have often thought that if I were to pray to Heaven for a gift to be given to any person in whose moral and intellectual welfare I was especially interested, it would be that he might have the gift of humor. The gift of humor is, as it were, the balance of all the faculties. It enables a man to see the strong contrasts of life around him ; it prevents him being too much devoted to his own knowledge, and too proud of his own imagina

« PreviousContinue »