« PreviousContinue »
man of cultivated literary tastes. His family were so also, his eldest son being a good linguist and painter, and his daughters being accomplished.
The subject of my lecture, Thomas, was Hood's second son, and was born at his shop in the Poultry, London. It was afterwards a matter of pride to Hood that London was his birthplace. He says :
“Next to being a citizen of the world, it must be the best thing to be born a citizen of the world's greatest city. To a lover of his kind, it should be a welcome dispensation that cast his nativity amidst the greatest congregation of the species; but a literary man should exult rather than otherwise that he first saw the light-or perhaps the fog-in the same metropolis as Milton, Gray, Pope, Byron, Lamb, and other town-born authors, whose fame has triumphed over the bills of mortality. In such a goodly company I cheerfully take up my livery." Of Thomas's childhood and boyhood
that spring of springs !
That nature ever invented !"we know but little. This is to be regretted; for, could we know more of this interesting and critical period, it would show how the child is father to the man, He has left the following little song which refers to this period;—and what if it does make us look wistfully back to the days of childhood? Is not heaven closed to all who do not come “as one of these little ones ?"
“I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
Came peeping in at morn;
Nor brought too long a day;--
Had borne my soul away!
My spirits flew in feathers then,
That are so heavy now;
And summer pools would hardly cool i
The fever on my brow!
The fir-trees dark and high;
Were close against the sky :
But now 'tis little joy
Than when I was a boy! He was a little delicate child, and next to fun and play loved to turn over and be among his father's books. But before he learnt the ABC, “in which,” he states, “I was placed on a par with the learned pig by two maiden ladies that were caīled Hogsflesh,” his education had already commenced. He appears to have been carefully “ trained up." by his parents, who at the proper time sent him to school. Speaking afterwards of the place where his education was “finished,” he
says :S “In this ignorant world, where we proverbially live and learn, we may indeed leave off school, but our education only terminates with life itself. But even in a more limited sense, instead of education being finished, my own impression is, that it never so much as progressed towards so desirable a consummation at any such esta. blishment, although such invaluable time was spent at some of those institutions where young gentlemen are literally boarded, lodged, and done for. My first essay was at one of those places improperly called seminaries, because they don't half teach any. thing; the principal being perfectly aware that the little boys are as often consigned to him to be out of a mother's way' as for any. thing else.” Of his school-life, he
says:“There is little amongst my retrospections, excepting perhaps some sports, which like charity might have been enjoyed at home without the drawbacks of sundry strokes (neither apoplectic nor paralytic) periodical physic, and other unwelcome extras. I am not sure whether an invincible repugnance to early rising cannot be attributable to our precocious wintry summonses from a warm bed into a dim, damp school-room, to play at filling our heads on an
empty stomach ; and perhaps I owe my decided sedentary habits to the disgust at our momentous walks, or rather processions, or maybe to the sufferings of those longer excursions of big and little, where a pair of compasses had to pace as far and as fast as a pair of tongs. Nevertheless, I yet recall with wonder the occasional visits of grown-up ex-scholars to their old school, all in a futter of gratitude and sensibility at recognising the spot where they had been caned, and horsed, and flogged, and fagged, and brimstone-andtreacled, and blackdosed, and stickjawed, and kibed, and confined, --where they had caught the measles, and been over-tasked and under-taught; and then by way of climax sentimentally offering a presentation snuff-box to their reverend preceptor, with an inscription, ten to one, in dog-Latin on the lid."
At such schools it is not likely that much progress would be made in the studies that were dipped into. Hood states, “I carried off nothing for my knife and fork and spoon, but a prize for Latin, without knowing the Latin for prize, and a belief, which I had afterwards to unbelieve again, that a block of marble could not be cut into with a razor." He was next sent to a “finishing” school ; and while there we have an account of Thomas's
taking active part in playing practical jokes, and of his being punished for the very scholarly offence of reading, --only the book happened to be “Robinson Crusoe.” In his < Retrospective Review," written amidst heavy literary toil, he looks back with delight to these school days, as boys often do, longing to live them over again.
The Arabian Nights rehearsed in bed,
By stealth 'twixt verb and noun !
Exactly like Miss Brown!
At the early age of 12, he had the misfortune to lose his father and his elder brother. “My mother naturally drew the fragments of the family around her, so that her dearest care was to keep her only son, myself, at home. She did not, however, neglect my future interest, or persuade herself by any maternal vanity that a boy 12 years old should have precociously finished his education;" and so he was sent to school again. At this school, he informs us, he "picked up some Latin, was a tolerable English grammarian, and so good a French scholar that I earned a few guineas my first literary fee— by revising a new edition of Paul et Virginie' for the press. Moreover as an accountant, I could work a summum bonum, i. e., a good sum."
Hood was a most devoted son, and a comfort to his mother's declining days. His father had left his family very slenderly provided for ; and not wishing to encroach on the family store, Thomas obtained a situation in a counting-house, thus taking another move onward in this rough battle of life,—“ introduced” as he says, “into that universal
hool where, as in the preparatory ones, we unequal shares in the flogging, the fagging, the task-work, and the pocket-money, but the same breaking-up to expect, and the same eternity of happy holidays to hope for in the Grand Recess."
The confinement of a counting-house was, however, unsuited to his feeble health, and he was accordingly sent to Dundee, his father's native town. He remained here two years. “Whenever the weather permitted, which was generally when there were no new books to the fore, I haunted the banks and braes, or paid flying visits to the burns, with a rod intended to punish that rising generation among fishes called trout." Here is a hint of his still evincing that passion for literature, acquired under his father's roof, and which ever clung to him. His studious habits caused him to be regarded as an authority by his Scotch companions, who often sought his advice and help in writing love-letters, and other emergencies. Scattered among his writings are continual references to the obligations under which he lay to our sterling English authors, "silent instructors, who often do more than fathers, and always more than godfathers, for our temporal and spiritual interests.” In a fine, glowing, and eloquent passage in Copy-right and Copy-wrong," too long to quote entire, he
pays a high tribute to the goodly array: “They were my interpreters in the House Beautiful of God, and my guides among the delectable mountains of Nature. They reformed my prejudices, chastened my passions, tempered my heart, purified my tastes, elevated my mind, and directed my aspirations.” In a letter to the members of the Manchester Athenæum in 1843, at which time he was condemned to a diet "lower than any prescribed by the Poor Law Commissioners," he humorously wrote, “Denied beef, I had Bulwer and Cowper; forbidden mutton, there was Lamb; and in lieu of pork, the great Bacon and Hogg?"
While in Scotland, Hood often contributed to the local newspapers, including the “ Dundee Magazine," a periodical of some merit. We can imagine the eagerness with which he would examine the newspapers in search of his contributions, and the delight with which he would look at his name in print for the first time. “Here,” said he," was success enough to turn a young author into a scribbling miller,' and make him sell himself, body and soul, after the German fashion, to that minor Mephistopheles, the printer's devil! Nevertheless, it was not till many years afterwards, and the lapse of a term equal to an ordinary apprenticeship, that the imp in question really became my familiar.".
Authors are not made all at once; there is no getting up Parnassus at a bound. Success is only attained by the same bard work, the same intense study which Hood and others have had to undergo.
“The heights by great men reached and kept,
Were not attained by sudden flight;
Were toiling upward in the night.” On the establishment of his health, Hood returned to London, and was apprenticed to an engraver. At this business he remained just long enough to acquire a taste for drawing,--an accomplishment he turned to practical use in after-life. His little, clever, spirited wood engravings pictorial puns--were all cut by himself, and helped to bring his writings into notice. They appeared before the little black cuts in “Punch.” While engaged with the engraver's tool, he did not abandon literature, the aim of all his youthful aspirations. “Though working with aquafortis, I still played with Castaly, now writing--all