Thomas Hood

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Thomas Hood
Thomas Hood from NPG.jpg
Born (1799-05-23)23 May 1799
London, England
Died 3 May 1845(1845-05-03) (aged 45)
London, England
Nationality British
Period 1820s-1840s
Genres Poetry, Fiction
Spouse(s) Jane Hood (née Reynolds)
Children Tom Hood

Thomas Hood (23 May 1799 – 3 May 1845) was a British humorist and poet. His son, Tom Hood, became a well known playwright and editor.

Early life[edit]

He was born in London to Thomas Hood and Elizabeth Sands in the Poultry (Cheapside) above his father's bookshop. Hood's paternal family had been Scottish farmers from the village of Errol near Dundee. The Elder Hood was a partner in the business of Verner, Hood, and Sharp, and was a member of the Associated booksellers. Hood's son, Tom Hood, claimed that his grandfather had been the first to open up the book trade with America and he had great success in new editions of old books.[1]

"Next to being a citizen of the world," writes Thomas Hood in his Literary Reminiscences, "it must be the best thing to be born a citizen of the world's greatest city." On the death of her husband in 1811, Mrs Hood moved to Islington, where Thomas Hood had a schoolmaster who, appreciating his talents, "made him feel it impossible not to take an interest in learning while he seemed so interested in teaching." Under the care of this "decayed dominie", he earned a few guineas—his first literary fee—by revising for the press a new edition of Paul and Virginia.

Hood left his private school master at 14 years of age and was admitted soon after into the counting house of a friend of his family, where he "turned his stool into a Pegasus on three legs, every foot, of course, being a dactyl or a spondee."; However, the uncongenial profession affected his health, which was never strong,and he began to study engraving. The exact nature and course of his study is unclear and various sources tell different stories. Reid emphasizes his work under his maternal uncle Robert Sands.[2] But no papers of apprenticeship exist and we also know from his letters that he studied with a Mr. Harris. Furthermore, Hood's daughter in her Memorials mentions her father's association with the Le Keux brothers who were successful engravers in the City.[3] The labour of engraving was no better for his health than the counting house had been, and Hood was sent to his father's relations at Dundee, Scotland. Here he stayed in the house of his maternal aunt, Jean Keay, for some months and then, after a falling out with her he moved on to the boarding house of one of her friends, Mrs Butterworth, where he lived for the rest of his time in Scotland.[4] In Dundee, Hood made a number of close friends with whom he continue to correspond for many years, led a healthy outdoor life, and also became a large and indiscriminate reader. It was also during his time here that Hood began to seriously write poetry and had his first published work, a letter to the editor of the Dundee Advertiser.

Early writings and introduction to literary society[edit]

Before long Hood contributed humorous and poetical articles to the provincial newspapers and magazines. As a proof of his literary vocation, he used to write out his poems in printed characters, believing that this process best enabled him to understand his own peculiarities and faults, and probably unaware that Samuel Taylor Coleridge had recommended some such method of criticism when he said he thought "print settles it." On his return to London in 1818 he applied himself to engraving, enabling him later to illustrate his various humours and fancies by quaint devices.

In 1821, John Scott, the editor of the London Magazine, was killed in a duel, and the periodical passed into the hands of some friends of Hood, who proposed to make him sub-editor. His installation into this post at once introduced him to the literary society of the time; and in becoming the associate of John Hamilton Reynolds, Charles Lamb, Henry Cary, Thomas de Quincey, Allan Cunningham, Bryan Procter, Serjeant Talfourd, Hartley Coleridge, the peasant-poet John Clare and other contributors to the magazine, he gradually developed his own powers.

Marriage and family life[edit]

Thomas Hood's wife, Jane

He was married in May 1824,[5] and Odes and Addresses—his first work—was written in conjunction with his brother-in-law J.H. Reynolds, a friend of John Keats. S. T. Coleridge wrote to Charles Lamb averring that the book must be his work. The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies (1827) and a dramatic romance, Lamia, published later, belong to this time. The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies was a volume of serious verse. But he was known as a humorist, and the public rejected this little book almost entirely.

Hood was particularly fond of practical jokes which he was said to have enjoyed perpetrating on members of his family. In the Memorials of Thomas Hood, which was largely written by his daughter, there is a story of Hood playing one such joke on his wife. He instructs Mrs. Hood to purchase some fish for the evening meal from the woman who regularly comes to the door selling her husband’s catch. But he warns her to watch for any plaice that “has any appearance of red or orange spots, as they are a sure sign of an advanced stage of decomposition.” Of course when the fish-seller comes Mrs. Hood refuses to purchase her plaice she exclaims “My good woman… I could not think of buying any plaice with those very unpleasant red spots!” Hood was much amused by the fish-sellers expression of amazement at complete ignorance of the appearance of plaice.[6]

The series of the Comic Annual, dating from 1830, was a kind of publication at that time popular, which Hood undertook and continued, almost unassisted, for several years. Under that somewhat frivolous title he treated all the leading events of the day in caricature, without personal malice, and with an under-current of sympathy. The attention of the reader was distracted, by the incessant use of puns, of which Hood had written in his own vindication:

"However critics may take offence,
A double meaning has double sense."

He was probably aware of this danger. As he gained experience as a writer, his diction became simpler.[citation needed]

Later writings[edit]

In another annual called the Gem appeared the poem on the story of Eugene Aram. He started a magazine in his own name, for which he secured the assistance of many literary men, but which was mainly sustained by his own activity. From a sick-bed, from which he never rose, he conducted this work, and there composed well known poems, such as the "Song of the Shirt" (which appeared anonymously in the Christmas number of Punch, 1843 and was immediately reprinted in The Times and other newspapers across Europe. It was dramatised by Mark Lemon as The Sempstress, was printed on broadsheets, cotton handkerchiefs and was highly praised by many of the literary establishment, including Charles Dickens.) Likewise "The Bridge of Sighs" and "The Song of the Labourer" which are translated into German by Ferdinand Freiligrath. They are plain, solemn pictures of conditions of life which appeared shortly before Hood's own death in May 1845.

Hood was associated with the Athenaeum, started in 1828 by James Silk Buckingham, and he was a regular contributor for the rest of his life. Prolonged illness brought on straitened circumstances; and application was made by a number of Hood's friends to Sir Robert Peel to place Hood's name on the pension list with which the British state rewarded literary men. Peel was known to be an admirer of Hood's work and in the last few months of Hood's life he gave Jane Hood the sum of 100 Pounds without her husband's knowledge, to alleviate the family's debts.[7] The pension that Peel's government had bestowed upon Hood was continued to his wife and family after his death. Jane Hood, who also suffered from poor health and had expended tremendous energy tending to her husband in his last year, died only 18 months after Hood. The pension then ceased but Lord John Russell, grandfather of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, made arrangements for a fifty pound pension for the maintenance of Hood's two children, Frances and Tom.[8]

Nine years later a monument, raised by public subscription, in the cemetery of Kensal Green, was inaugurated by Richard Monckton Milnes.

Writer and friend of Hood, William Makepeace Thackeray, gave this assessment of Thomas Hood:"Oh sad, marvelous picture of courage, of honesty, of patient endurance, of duty struggling against pain! ... Here is one at least without guile, without pretension, without scheming, of a pure life, to his family and little modest circle of friends tenderly devoted."[9] Hood was described as 'a lively poet' [10] and as 'the finest English poet' between the generation of Shelley and Tennyson'.[11]

Examples of his works[edit]

Hood wrote humorously on many contemporary issues. One of the most important issues in his time was grave robbing and selling of corpses to anatomists (see West Port murders). On this serious and perhaps cruel issue, he wrote humorously thus:

Don’t go to weep upon my grave,
And think that there I be.
They haven’t left an atom there
Of my anatomie
-Thomas Hood

November in London is usually cool and overcast, and in Hood's day subject to frequent fog and smog. In 1844 he wrote

No! (Abridged):

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -

An example of Hood's reflective and sentimental verse is "I Remember, I Remember":

I Remember, I Remember

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

I remember, I remember
The roses, red and white,
The violets, and the lily-cups
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birth-day,
The tree is living yet!

I remember, I remember
Where I used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then
That is so heavy now,
And summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow.

I remember, I remember
The fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was childish ignorance,
But now 'tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from Heaven
Than when I was a boy.

Hood’s most widely known work during his lifetime was a poem titled "The Song of the Shirt", which was a lament for a poor London seamstress who had been compelled to sell shirts that she had made, the proceeds of which lawfully belonged to her employer, in order to feed her malnourished and ailing child. Hood’s poem appeared in one of the very first editions of Punch in 1843 and quickly became a public sensation, being turned into a popular song and inspiring social activists in defense of the countless laboring women who lived in abject poverty despite their constant industriousness. Below are two verses of "The Song of the Shirt":

WITH fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread--
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

"Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!
And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It's Oh! to be a slave
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this is Christian work!

Modern references[edit]

Works by Thomas Hood[edit]

The list of Hood's separately published works is as follows:

  • Odes and Addresses to Great People (1825)
  • Whims and Oddities (two series, 1826 and 1827)
  • The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies, hero and Leander, Lycus the Centaur and other Poems (1827), his only collection of serious verse
  • The Dream of Eugene Aram, the Murderer (1831)
  • Tylney Hall, a novel (3 vols., 1834)
  • The Comic Annual (1830–1842)
  • Hood's Own, or, Laughter from Year to Year (1838, second series, 1861)
  • Up the Rhine (1840)
  • Hood's Magazine and Comic Miscellany (1844–1848)
  • National Tales (2 vols., 1837), a collection of short novelettes
  • Whimsicalities (1844), with illustrations from John Leech's designs; and many contributions to contemporary periodicals.


  1. ^ J.C. Reid page 10
  2. ^ J.C. Reid page 19
  3. ^ Memorials Page 5
  4. ^ His living situation in Dundee was pieced together by George Maxwell in Hood in Scotland. See particularly Chapter III
  5. ^ In the Memorials of Thomas Hood His daughter Francis gives the date of her parents marriage as 5 May 1824. (page 17) J.C Reid, on the other hand gives the date of the marriage as 5 May of the following year.(page 67)
  6. ^ Memorials of Thomas Hood pages 23-24
  7. ^ Clubbe page 181
  8. ^ Clubbe page 196
  9. ^ Reid page 235
  10. ^ Schmidt, Michael, Lives of the Poets, Weidenfeld & Nicolson London 1998 ISBN 9780753807453
  11. ^ Rossetti W. M. Biographical introduction , The Poetical Works of Thomas Hood , John Lane 1903 edition kindle ebook ASIN B004TRPIWK

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]