Monday, May 3, 2010

Thomas Hood

The poet and punster Thomas Hood passed this day (May 3rd) in 1845.  Approaching age 46 when he died, he left behind a notable legacy of poems, including "The Song of the Shirt" and "Bridge of Sighs".  He also met once with Walter Scott, and recorded his impressions of that meeting (below). 

Hood was sickly most of his life, but was known for his lively wit.  He managed to continue writing with illness that would have debilitated most.  His father was involved in the book trade, which may have provided an appreciation for literary work, to which he later took a keen interest.  His early writing, mainly for "Dundee Magazine", and later "London Magazine" brought him into contact with several literary figures, including Charles Lamb, who became a close lifelong friend.  Hood's first book was "Odes and Addresses".  It is through this work that Thomas Hood and Walter Scott ultimately met, as told in "Hood's own, of laughter from year to year...":

On the publication of the Odes and Addresses, presentation copies were sent, at the suggestion of a friend, to Mr. Canning and Sir Walter Scott. The minister took no notice of the little volume; but the novelist did, in his usual kind manner. An eccentric friend in writing to me, once made a number of colons, semicolons, &c., at the bottom of the paper, adding

" And these are my points that I place at the foot
That you may put stops that I can't stop to put."

It will surprise no one, to observe that the author of Waverley had as little leisure for punctuation.

"SIR Walter Scott has to make thankful acknowledgments for the copy of the Odes to Great People with which he was favoured and more particularly for the amusement he has received from the perusal. He wishes the unknown author good health good fortune and whatever other good things can best support and encourage his lively vein of inoffensive and humorous satire

Abbotsford Melrose 4th May"

The first time I ever saw the Great Unknown, was at the private view of Martin's Picture of " Nineveh,"—when, by a striking coincidence, one of our most celebrated women, and one of our greatest men, Mrs. Siddons and Sir Walter Scott walked simultaneously up opposite sides of the room, and met and shook hands in front of the painting. As Editor of the Gem, I had afterwards occasion to write to Sir Walter, from whom I received the following letter, which contains an allusion to some of his characteristic partialities:—

" Mr Dear Mr. Hood,—It was very ungracious in me to leave you in a day's doubt whether I was gratified or otherwise with the honour you did me to inscribe your whims and oddities to me I received with great pleasure this new mark of your kindness and it was only my leaving your volume and letter in the country which delayed my answer as I forgot the address

I was favoured with Mr. Cooper's beautiful sketch of the heartpiercing incident of the dead greyhound which is executed with a force and fancy which I flatter myself that I who was in my younger days and in part still am a great lover of dogs and horses and an accurate observer of their habits can appreciate. I intend the instant our term ends to send a few verses if I can make any at my years in acknowledgment. I will got a day's leisure for this purpose next week when I expect to be in the country Pray inform Mr. Cooper of my intention though I fear I will be unable to do anything deserving of the subject. I am very truly your obliged humble servant

Edinburgh 4 March Walter Scott."

At last, during one of his visits to London, I had the honour of a personal interview with Sir Walter Scott at Mr. Lockhart's, in Sussex Place. The number of the house had escaped my memory; but seeing a fine dog down an area, I knocked without hesitation at the door. It happened, however, to be the wrong one. I afterwards mentioned the circumstance to Sir Walter.- It was not a bad point, he said, for he was very fond of dogs; but he did not care to have his own animals with him, about London, " for fear he should be taken for Bill Gibbons." I then told him I had lately been reading the Fair Maid of Perth, which had reminded me of a very pleasant day spent many years before, beside the Linn of Campsie, the scene of Conachar's catastrophe. Perhaps he divined what had really occurred to me,—that the Linn, as a cataract, had greatly disappointed me; for he smiled, and shook his head archly, and said he had since seen it himself, and was rather ashamed of it. " But I fear, Mr. Hood, I have done worse than that before now, in finding a Monastery where there was none to be found; though there was plenty (here he smiled again) of Carduus Benedictus, or Holy Thistle."

In the mean time he was finishing his toilet, in order to dine at the Duchess of Kent's ; and before he put on his cravat I had an opportunity of noticing the fine massive proportions of his bust. It served to confirm me in my theory that such mighty men are, and must be, physically, as well as intellectually, gifted beyond ordinary mortals; that their strong minds must be backed by strong bodies. Remembering all that Sir Walter Scott had done, and all that he had suffered, methought he had been in more than one sense " a Giant in the Land." After some more conversation, in the course of which he asked me if I ever came to Scotland, and kindly said he should be glad to see me at Abbotsford, I took my leave, with flattering dreams in my head that never were, and now, alas ! never can be, realised !

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