Today is the anniversary of the death of Thomas Hood.
On our London Ghost Walk and Literary London walks, we come our of Exit One of Bank Underground Station and walk along a street called Poultry.
As we do so we pass a blue plaque that marks the site of the birth place of Thomas Hood.
Hood, if remembered at all today, is best known for his poem I Remember, I Remember, which includes the lines:-
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.
Or for his poem The Haunted House, a poem the last verse of which has appeared as a preface in numerous collections of ghost stories:-
O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear,
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted,
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is Haunted!
Some people might be familiar with his poem The Song of the Shirt, which contains the lines:-
But why do I talk of Death?
That Phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear its terrible shape,
It seems so like my own —
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear
And flesh and blood so cheap!
On our various Literary and historical City of London walks we pause by this plaque and recite these poems to our groups. Most people instantly recognise the verses but know very little, if anything, about the man who wrote them. Yet he stands as something of an example for us because of his ability to accept and deal with any amount of adversity in his life.
No amount of suffering could sink the spirits of Thomas Hood, the poet. Personal setbacks seemed to hone his humour. When he was told by the physicians that he had an enlarged heart, which was situated in a wrong part of his -chest, he wrote to his wife that if his heart were large he had more to give her.
To a friend he said : “If it is hung too low anatomically, die tame need to keep it up. You shall always find it in the tight place.”
In a letter to another friend, Dr. Moir, he wrote “I drop these lines as in a bottle froth a ship waterlogged and on the brink of foundering, being in the last, stage of dropsical debility, but, though suffering in body, serene in mind.’
There are no truly memorable incidents in the life of Thomas Hood. He
was content to live a quiet domesticated existence, seeking solace by the fireside.
There were occasions when Hood failed to keep his engagements to produce a work by a certain time. For example he was once so ill that his book was not even begun when the day advertised for its publication arrived. But, as he was able to take up his pen, he would work night and day.
Thomas Hood was the son of Thomas Hood of the publishing firm of Vernor and Hood, of the Poultry, London. He was, born on May 23rd, 1799 at a house on Poultry, the site of which is now marked by a blue plaque that is passed on our Literary London walks.
The family consisted of four daughters and two sons. James, the elder, son, after having shown signs of genius, died of consumption.
When his father died Thomas Hood was apprenticed to an engraver. Before long his health was affected by the nature of his employment, and he had to relinquish it.
He went to Dundee to recover his health, and there he wrote his first article, which was published in a local periodical.
No printer ever had any difficulty with Hood’s manuscripts. They were always written in copper plate handwriting.
In 1821 Hood returned to London. He became a sub¬editor on the London Magazine, which was run by some of his friends.
From this time Hood became known as a man of letters. He became intimately acquainted with Charles Lamb. With J. H. Reynolds whose sister he married, Hood produced his first book, Odes and Addresses-to Great People.
His marriage took place in May, 1824. The couple went to live in Robert Street, Adelphi, (covered on various of our London walks around Covent Garden and Strand) where he wrote and published his National Tales, The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies, and Whims and Oddities.
In 1829 he was given the editorship of The Gem for which he wrote his poem Eugene Aram.
He was persuaded to Leave the Adelphi and go to live at Wanstead, from which he drew on the local colour for his Tylney Hall, the only complete novel he ever wrote. The book was dedicated to the Duke of Devonshire, a patron of the struggling author.
In 1854 Hood’s misfortunes began. A publishing firm with which he was involved failed. His wife was taken dangerously ill after the birth of a child. Following her long illness, Hood went to Germany with the object of making enough money to pay his debts.
The ship on which he sailed was buffeted for days in a storm, and by the time he reached Coblentz, where his wife and children joined him, he was exceedingly ill. From that time he was never free from illness.
Germany he found uncongenial.In 1838 he went to Ostend with no better luck.Never¬theless, he never complained. He had a cheerful spirit and a good humour.
But when in 1840 hemorrhage of the lungs became more frequent, he returned to England to try to regain his health.
He took modest lodgings in Camberwell. On making inquiries as to success of his earlier works he found that his publisher had taken advantage of his absence and appropriated the proceeds for himself.Hood took the case to court, but got little satisfaction.
Meanwhile he was engaged to contribute to the New Monthly, in- which his famous poem, Miss Kilmansegg, appeared. On the death of Theodore Hook, editor of that publication, Hood took his place.
In the Christmas number of Punch, 1843, appeared Hood’s “Song of the Shirt.” The poem disclosed that Hood was something more than a punster. It did incalculable good in exposing the conditions under which women worked in those days.
In the following year Hood brought out a clever magazine of his own, with which he hoped to regain his lost fortunes.
But his health broke down, and though he was now producing some of the best of his works they were dictated between moments of delirium and periods of haemmorrhage.
In 1844 appeal was made to Sir Robert Peel to giyed Hood a pension. Instead, believing that the author had not long to live, he granted an income of £100 a year to Hood’s wife. This relieved Hood’s anxiety about his family.
He died on May 3rd, 1845 at the age of 46. “I forgive all—all, as I hope to be forgiven,” he muttered on his death-bed.
In 1851 a movement was started to commemorate Hood, and it-was decided to place a monument over his grave at Kensal Green Cemetery, a location covered on our free London walks that you can print of fand do yourself. The Kensal Green Cemetery London walk is also featured in Richard Jones’s book Walking Dickensian London, available from our shop.
Hood was a great punster. His incessant use of puns annoyed many of his readers.But, in his own vindication, Hood wrote :-
However critics may take offence,
A double meaning has double sense.