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His letters home show how cheerful and hopeful he ever was. To his publisher he wrote :
“Ideas now come of themselves, without being laboured for-and in vain. In fact, I know that I have a mind; or, according to the famous form, cogito, ergo sum. I believe that is something like the Latin for it; but I forget, for I had a Latin prize at school."
But these anticipated prospects were destined not to be. On the arrival of his family he was again assailed by illness, with little hope of amendment, on account of the necessity of work. The disease he contracted by his arduous literary toil was hemorrhage from the lungs, occasioned by an enlargement of the heart. He was cheerfully resigned to his fate, and his flow of spirits never left him. During all the years of his suffering he never paraded his illness before the public. Many people find a positive pleasure in talking of their ailments, and take a delight in making known their misfortunes. At Coblentz they lived in a comfortable snuggery; and they could buy meat, we are told, at threepençe-halfpenny a pound, and fruit for almost nothing. On one occasion, Hood, at a cost of three shillings, gave one hundred children nine greengages apiece. They did not know much of the language, and had to converse by the dictionary, or contra-dictionary ; and some ludicrous mistakes ensued. They got, for instance, onions for turnips, and radishes for carrots. On Mrs. Hood asking the doctor if her husband could have some strengthening medicine, he said—“Who is that physician you speak of?” And when their German servant was told to fetch Hood a fowl, she returned in half-an-hour with—two bundles of stationer's quills ! Notwithstanding illness, Hood enjoyed all this. That his old love of fun was as keen as ever, may be seen from the following extract from a letter written by his wife :
“The lieutenant was with us on Christmas-day, and enjoyed my plúm-pudding so much that I promised to make one for him. Hood threatened play some trick with it-either to pop in bullets or tenpenny nails--and I watched over my work with great vigilance, so that it was put in to boil without any misfortune. I went to bed early, telling Gradle to put it, when done, into the drawing room till the morning. Hood was writing, and says it was put down smoking under his very nose, and the spirit of mischief was irresistible. I had bought a groschen's worth of new white
wooden skewers that very morning; he cut them a little shorter than the pudding's diameter, and poked them in across and across in all directions, so neatly that I never perceived any sign of them when I packed and sealed it up the next day, for De Franck's man to carry it over to Ehrenbreitstein. He came to thank me, and praised it highly. I find that while I was out of the room, Hcod asked him if it was not well trussed ? and he answered ‘Yes so gravely, that Hood thought he meditated some joke in retaliation, and was on his guard. At the ball the truth came out. He actually thought it was some new method of making plum-pudding, and gave me credit for the woodwork! He had invited two of his brother officers to lunch upon it, and Hood wanted to persuade me that the cardinal officer had swallowed one of the skewers ! Now, was not this an abon:inable trick ?"
And again :
“I must, in self-conceit, say that I am improving decidedly in my cooking, having started several things lately in the fancy line.' Yesterday morning I set to work very seriously to make some potted beef, and succeeded, little thinking what ungrateful jests I should draw upon my poor head from Hood. Being proud of my fabrication, I produced it at tea when De Franck came; and then commenced the jokes of the good-for-nothing. He asked, with apparent interest, how it was made ? and I said-'I pounded it in a pestle and mortar.' ‘But then, dear, we have not got one, you know.' In short, he insisted that, like the Otaheitan cooks, I had chewed it small; and as I happened (having the face-ache) to put my hand to my jaw at the time, it seemed a corroboration, of which he made full use. Upon this joke he huddled joke upon joke til we were convulsed with laughter; and to-day De Franck declares he laughed in the middle of the night. Hood called it 'bullock jam ;' and when I asked him what he would eat, he replied"What you chews ! To be sure an ox here, after he has been in his time a plough-horse, a dray-horse, and a horse of all work, might give an ogress the face-ache.”
Hood embodied his experience of the Germans in his “Up the Rhine.” He delighted in photographing foreign manners, as this book abundantly shows. It consists of the adventures of an English family on that famous river, told by means of letters from each of the party. The letters are highly entertaining. Hood was always happy in his imitations of letters : many of the mock-epistles in his works are truly ludicrous. In 1837 he was obliged to leave
Coblentz, owing to the difficulty of communicating with England. Unhappily he chose Ostend as his place of residence. Its damp atmosphere was as unfitted for the invalid as the extremes of heat and cold at Coblentz: but little, medically, was known of those places then. He was again seriously ill at Ostend, yet he was still cheerful, and his active pen seldom stopped. In one of his letters to his English doctor, a personal friend, he said :
“I am, notwithstanding, in good health and spirits. But who would think of such a creaking, croaking, blood-spitting wretch being the Comic? At this moment there is an artist on the sea come to take a portrait of me for B- which, I believe, is to be in the Exhibition : but he must flatter me, or they will take the whole thing for a practical joke.”
In another leter he says :
“I was amused by a remark of old Dr. Jansen's (for he is quite a veteran). said my sedentary profession was against me. And when he understood it was literary, "oh!' said he, with a glance at a thin, yellowish face, 'a serious writer, of course.' Akin to this-I one day heard a dispute between Tom and Fanny [his children] as to what I was. Pa's a literary man,' said Fanny. He's not,' said Tom; “I know what he is.' “What is he, then ?" "Why,' says Tom, he's not a literary man-he's an invalid.' They made me honorary vice-president of the African Institute at Paris. Oddly enough, the day afterwards two black gentlemen came here in a ship, on their way to Havanna. They caused some speculation, so I gave out they were a black deputation to bring my diploma.”
In 1839 he paid a short visit to England, to settle accounts with his publishers. There was a good demand for his works in this country, and his affairs proved to be satisfactory. While in London he prepared a re-issue of his comic works, to appear in a series of numbers, to be called “Hood's Own; or, laughter from year to year." He wrote to a friend at this time :“I do verily believe I am only alive through never giving up.
* Moreover, I am of some slender use. In the spring I wrote and published three letters on the state of the law of copyright, which made a stir in the literary world of London; and an M.P. borrowed my ideas, and made a flourish with them in the House. Moreover, a fellow attacked me and some others for our
infidelity; whereupon I took up cudgels in a long poem, which de-> lighted an old gentleman so much that he called it 'Hood's Sermon. You will hear of me next in orders as the Rev. Dr. Johnny ! As for the 'Comic,' I did it this year with such ease and at such a gallop, that I sent manuscripts faster than they could acknowledge the receipt thereof. I never did it so easily before. The fact is. provided my health should clear up and I get strong, I am but beginning my career. For the fun of the thing, I must tell you that there has been a short memoir of me published. You will judge how well the author knows me, when he says-- We believe his mind to be more serious than comic; we have never known him to laugb either in company or in rhyme.' But my methodist face took him in, for he says The countenance of Mr. Hood is more solemn. than merry.' The rest is a greal deal handsomer than I deserve, and a proof of how unfounded the notion is of envy and spite among literary men."
“Hood's Sermon," referred to in this letter, is the pangent “Ode to Rae Wilson, Esq.," one of the poet's most admired productions. It illustrates his charity and liberality of sentiment. The vigorous and eloquent letters on copyright—“Copy-right and Copy-wrong"--are not so well known, though they are equally deserving of admiration. They are written against the unjust and ill-defined law of copyright. There is no reason why freehold in land should be better protected than freehold in literature ; yet so it is. Intelligence is considered before property in our representation ; but when there are more authors in Parliament and fewer landowners, this injustice will be remedied.
He came back to Ostend with a large amount of work. in prospect, including the publication of a series of child ren's books, to be called "The Child's Library." Hood had always gentle words for children and the childlike; for, like most poets, he was passionately fond of children, and loved to amuse them. His own children recall with feelings of pleasure the many means he took to add to their enjoyment, by the invention of odd toys and games. Among other things, he made them a miniature theatre, and painted slides for a magic lantern. His love of children is a key to much of his character. Hood could have written some capital children's books, for he had a knack. of inventing stories in simple and attractive language. It is therefore a matter of regret that he was unable to carry out the scheme he proposed. His “Queen Mab,” “Precocious Piggy," and his letters to his child-friends, show that he was capable of contributing to the literature of children.
It will have been observed that, like the cat and dog he apostrophised, Hood was thoroughly domestic in his nature. While composing his writings in his humble lodgings, he was doubtless accustomed to the prattle and gambols of his children. His celebrated “ Parental Ode to my Son,” than which none of his poems show so much simplicity and humour, is a sketch from nature. This trait in Hood's character forms a striking contrast to that of a famous doctor, who is said to have been in the habit of placing a red wafer on his forehead as an intimation that the great man was thinking, and that there must be silence then lest mighty ideas should be lost. Hood's philanthropy and benevolence was but the expansion of the affections fostered at and inspired by his loved home. All his writings are the growth of home. He visited England again in 1840, and at his doctor's house was seized by another attack of illness, which attacks were becoming more serious and frequent. Other troubles met him : his accounts with his publishers were unsatisfactory; and his “Up the Rhine," the result of so much labour and thought—" literally attested with his blood”—was stopped, pending the decision of a law-suit. He was obliged to part with the copyright of “Tylney Hall”—the only work he ever sold—to enable him to bring his family to England. On his partial recovery, he was engaged to write in the “New Monthly Magazine,” then edited by the fashionable Theodore Hook. Here appeared his famous tale of “Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg.” This, and other pieces, was written under the most adverse circumstances, while living in lodgings in Camberwell. On Hook's death, Hood was appointed his successor, at a salary of £300 a year. His prospects were now somewhat brighter, and in 1843 he paid a short visit to Scotland.
At the close of the year he decided upon establishing a magazine of his own, to be entitled “Hood's Magazine." It commenced with every prospect of success. But in literary matters, Hood was as unfortunate as Defoe, for his magazine proved a continual source of care and anxiety, which hastened his end. Before the first number was out, he was