This volume contains many charming and amusing pieces from Hood. We need say no more after our late remarks on the subject in general. The “Literary Reminiscences,” which will be found in this selection, have a new and double interest at the present moment.
The reminiscences of Lamb, are the most pleasing and characteristic of any that have been given to the world. How funny and pretty the note of Lamb after Hood had written “The Widow,” in imitation of his manner. And then those walks!—“Scott,” says Cunningham, “was a stout walker.” Lamb was a porter one. He calculated distances, not by Long Measure, but by Ale and Beer Measure. “Now I have walked a pint.” Many a time I have accompanied him in these matches against Meux, not without sharing in the stake, and then, what cheerful and profitable talk!”
Coleridge, while he was in ignorance of the real author of the Odes and Addresses, ascribed them to Lamb and writes the following remarks, not only just to their subject, but valuable as showing the opinion of the finest modern master of the English lyre as to the music of Hood’s verse. “The puns are nine in ten good—many excellent—the Newgatory transcendent. And then the exemplum sine exemplo of a volume of personalities and contemporaneities, without a single line that could inflict the infinitesimal of an unpleasance on any man in his senses. * * * Then, besides, to speak with becoming modesty, excepting my own self who is there but you who could write the musical lines and stanzas that are intermixed.”
The following pleasant page will be welcome to distant readers. It describes Hood’s unexpected introduction to literary life as a sub-editor of the London Magazine:
“It would be affectation to say that engraving was resigned with regret. There is always something mechanical about the art—moreover it is as unwholesome as wearisome to sit copper-fastened to board, with a cantle scooped out to accommodate your stomach, if you have one, painfully ruling, ruling, and still ruling lines straight or crooked by the long hundred to the square inch, at the doubly hazardous risk which Wordsworth so deprecated of ‘growing double.’ So farewell Woolett! Strange! Bartolozzi! I have said my vanity did not rashly plunge me into authorship; but no sooner was there a legitimate opening than I jumped at it, à la Grimaldi, head foremost, and was speedily behind the scenes.
To judge by my zeal and delight in my new pursuit, the bowl had at last found its due bias. He adds in a note: “There was a dash of ink in my blood. My father wrote two novels, and my brother was decidedly of a literary turn, to the great disquietude for a time of an anxious parent. She suspected him on the strength of several amatory poems of a very desponding cast, of being the victim of a hopeless attachment; so he was caught closeted, catechised, and after a deal of delicate and tender sounding, he confessed, not with the anticipated sighs and tears, but a very unexpected burst of laughter, that he had been guilty of translating some sonnets of Petrarch. Not content with taking articles, like candidates for holy orders, with rejecting articles, like the Belgians, I dreamt articles, though articles, wrote articles which were all inserted by the editor, of course with the concurrence of his deputy. The more irksome parts of authorship, such as the correction of the press, were to me labors of love. I received a revise from Mr. Baldwin’s Mr. Parker, as if it had been a proof of his regard; forgave him all his slips, and really thought that printers’ devils were not so black as they are painted. But my top-gallant glory was in “our Contributors.” How I used to look forward to Elia, and backward for Hazlitt, and all round for Edward Herbert, and how I used to look up to Allan Cunningham, for at that time the London had a goodly list of writers—a rare company. It is now defunct, and perhaps no ex-periodical might so appropriately be apostrophized with the Irish funeral question—‘Arrah, honey, why did you die?’ Had you not an editor, and elegant prose writers, and beautiful poets, and broths of boys for criticism and classics, and wits and humorists—Eliza, Cary, Proctor, Cunningham, Bowring, Barton, Hazlitt, Elton, Hartley, Coleridge, Talfourd; Soane, Horace Smith, Reynolds, Poole, Clare, and Thomas Benyon, with a power besides? Had n’t you Lions’ Heads with Traditional Tales? Had n’t you an Opium-Eater, and a Dwarf, and a Giant, and a Learned Lamb, and a Green Man? Had not you a regular Drama, and a Musical Report, and a Report of Agriculture, and an Obituary and Price Current, and a current price, of only half a crown. Arrah, why did you die? Why, somehow the contributors fell away—the concern went into other hands—worst of all—a new editor tried to put the Belles letters into Utilitarian envelopes; whereupon the circulation of the Miscellany, like that of poor Le Fevre, got slower, slower, slower—and slower still—and then stopped for ever!”
All his portraits are good, but better, even best, this of the Opium-Eater:
“In opposition to the extra man’s size of Cunningham the party in question looks almost boyish, partly from being in bulk somewhat beneath Monsieur Quetelet’s ‘Average Man,’ but still more so from a peculiar delicacy of complexion and smallness of features, which look all the smaller from his wearing in compliment, probably to the Sampsons of Teutonic literature, his locks unshorn.—Nevertheless, whoever looks again
Sees more than marks the herd of common men.
There is speculation in the eyes, a curl of the lip, and a general character in the outline, that reminds one of some portraits of Voltaire. And a Philosopher he is every inch. He looks, thinks, writes, talks and walks, eats and drinks, and, no doubt, sleeps philosophically, i.e., deliberately. There is nothing abrupt about his motions—he goes and comes calmly and quickly—like the phantom of Hamlet, he is here—he is there—he is gone. So it is with his discourse. He speaks slowly, clearly, and with very marked emphasis—the tide of talk flows like Denham’s river ‘strong without rage, without o’erflowing full.’ When it was my frequent and agreeable duty to call on Mr. De Quincey (being an uncommon name to remember the servant associated it, on the Memoria Technica principle with a sore throat, and always pronounced it Quinsy) I have found him at home, quite at home, in the midst of a German Ocean of literature, in a storm—flooding all the floor, the table and the chairs, billows of books tossing, tumbling, surging open—on such occasions I have willingly listened by the hour whilst the Philosopher, standing, with his eyes fixed on one side of the room, seemed to be less speaking than reading from a ‘hand-writing on the wall.’ Now and then he would diverge for a Scotch mile or two, to the right or left, but he always came safely back to the point where he had left, not lost, the scent, and thence hunted his topic to the end.—But look! we are in the small hours, and a change comes o’er the spirit of that ‘old familiar face.’ A faint hectic tint leaves the cheek, the eyes are a degree dimmer, and each is surrounded by a growing shadow—signs of the waning influence of that potent Drug whose stupendous pleasures and enormous pains have been so eloquently described by the English Opium Eater. Marry, I have one of his Confessions with his own name and mark to it: an apology for a certain stain on his M. S., the said stain being a large purplish ring. ‘Within that circle none durst drink but he’—in fact the impression, colored, of ‘a tumbler of laudanum negus warm without sugar.’”
Those were the Champagne and sparkling Hock times of London life. We are fallen on dull days now. Hood would never have been the wit he was, if born thirty years later; the greater part of his thick-coming fancies would have withered for want of a congenial atmosphere. Now it is pleasant to think that amid many pains he yet knew those highest joys of equal friendship, and that, when sitting sick and sad in his bed-room, racked with rheumatism and racked with care, he might hope when the door opened to be delighted by the smile of Lamb, or exalted by the eyes of Coleridge.
Some judicious and feeling remarks made in the preface to this selection chime with hopes we meant to express.
We cannot but hope that some effort will be made on our side the water in behalf of the widow and children of Hood. It is known that they are left without any provision, except the hundred pounds which has been given them by Sir Robert Peel. A subscription is now on foot in England for the purpose of such aid. ’T is pity that such aid is not more frequently rendered to men of genius in their lifetime, when it might reanimate their sinking spirits and set them free in mind and time to benefit the world. ’T is pity; but so it is, the sluggish sensibilities of most mortals seem to require the stroke of Death to wake them to a tender reverence for merit.
Thou strikest,—Absence perisheth;
Indifference is no more.”
Yes! the highest eyes will weep the loss, the dullest eyes perceive the beauty and goodness of those dead whom they were never weary of carping and caviling at, or slighting, when alive and near them. It is no longer “Why has he not this or that?”—but “How much he had to delight and to bless his fellow men—what great merits to atone for trifling faults!” This late justice avails somewhat, at least to those who render it,—nay, more: if departed spirits still, as so many of us hope and believe, look back with interest into the valley from which they have ascended, it must give them pleasure, and most of all when it takes the form of benefit to those who were in life the dearest objects of their love. And, in the present disjointed state of the world, it is so rarely the case that a man of genius can do much for his earthly children, that the world, to whom he has freely given up his spiritual children, should adopt the others too. The children of the man of genius should know little of the sufferings of orphanage.
This Country, which takes so freely of the product of English minds, should, at least, pay interest on this rich capital. It is vain to say they take our books too; of course the advantage is at present all on our side, and must long be so. We would earnestly wish that in cases where we have received much mental, and the publishers much pecuniary, profit from an author, some tribute, if not his due, should be rendered back. The publisher who took the benefit in another State of Goethe’s great work at least sent him a present, though it was only a service of China. Kings send medals and ribbons for what has delighted them; a great Republic, utilitarian in all its ways, might, with a good grace, express its thanks in gold fresh minted with her own device. But, so far as we know, when English authors have received any benefit from the publication of their works here, it has been through the interposition of some private friend, as in the cases of Tennyson and Carlyle. The latter was able to buy “a little horse, named Yankee,” on which he could pace forth on sunny spring days, and shake off the bilious fits with which hot indignations against the falses of a false Modern Europe, and the constant preparation of spices for his writing, had darkened his originally so clear and bright spirit. Tennyson received a very small sum, but he took it, as our old friend Belisarius did his obolum—for not even the most ethereal are able to dispense with bread and water in this world, which is quite sure they have too much native inspiration to need its rich and ruddy wines.
It has been suggested that Hood’s Works, or a good selection from them, or perhaps his Poems only, should be published by subscription and the profits sent the widow and orphans. It would make us proud and happy to see our people do themselves that honor. Our Publishers, too, have a richer field before them than ever Publishers had before, since they are furnished with the products of two countries, paying only for one and getting those of the other almost for nothing for the same reason. We wish some of them, who feel that they can afford to act nobly, would take the lead in this act of kindness and justice.*
“Thomas Hood.” New-York Daily Tribune, 9 August 1845, p. 1.