Imágenes de páginas

when at his best he was suffering acutely all day, and all night - his head, 'instead of a shady chamber, was like a hall with a lamp burning in it.' Towards the end of the year Sir Robert Peel proposed to Her Majesty that a pension of 100l. a year should be conferred on Thomas Hood. This was granted, but too late to be of much use in restoring him to health. He had silently pleaded for rest from labour for many a month past, and touchingly as ever he pleaded the cause of the poor; but he had to work on from one break-down to another, until the last breakdown was fast drawing near. More than once had he been so close to 'Death's door, he could almost fancy he heard the creaking of the hinges; and now it stood wide open into the darkness straight in front of him!

The last Christmas he spent in this world was memorable to his children chiefly from the fact that, while the merry season came round smiling and happy as usual, the once sprightly soul was saddened at last; the brilliant wit could not get up the accustomed little pyrotechnics of flashing mirth to illuminate the family rejoicings. The cheerful spirit that had borne up so long and struggled so bravely was beaten and broken now. Tears came into all eyes to see that he 'scarcely attempted to appear cheerful.' His work was done; he had taken to his bed for the last time. He was resigned and serene, as old and loving friends gathered round for a parting pressure of the hand, and smiled as the many tributes of affection were sent to him by strangers; amongst other tender tokens of kindness were some violets from the country, sent by a lady who had heard that he loved the perfume of these little flowers. One night his mind was wandering somewhat, and in a voice ineffably pathetic he repeated some lines of the Baroness Nairn's (not Burns's, as the editors of the Memorials' seem to think) 'Land o' the Leal,' beginning, 'I'm wearin' awa', Jean.' But, generally, he was remarkably calm, and on his features lay a solemn beauty of repose.

Spring came with her balm and beauty, and he longed for the soft, warm air and the pleasant sunshine, turning often and eagerly toward the window. He said once, 'It's a beautiful world, and since I have been lying here I have thought of it more and more. It is not so bad, even humanly speaking, as people would make out. I have had some very happy days while I lived in it, and I could have wished to stay a little longer. But it is all for the best, and we shall all meet in another world.' As the last hour came, he fondly and tenderly blessed his children, and, clasping the hand of his wife, said, 'Remember, Jane, that I forgive all



[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

all, as I hope to be forgiven.' They heard him whisper faintly, 'O Lord! say, Arise, take up thy cross, and follow me.' His last words were, 'Dying! dying!' as if glad to realise the rest that was implied in them. On Saturday, at noon, May 3rd, 1845, the headache and the heartache were over; the throbbing brow was quiet for the long rest under the sod of Kensall Green Cemetery. Thomas Hood, the man of many sufferings and most patient spirit, had passed on his way through the valley of the dark shadow, lighted by the sunshine of a heart at peace. His faithful wife, who clung so to him in life, was not long divided from him in death. In the language of an old poet, there were but eighteen months of wooing, and the grave became their second marriage-bed :

'Death could not sever man and wife,
Because they both lived but one life.
Peace! good reader, do not weep !
Peace! the lovers are asleep.
They, sweet spirits, folded lie

In the last knot that Love could tie.'

After long struggling with the storms, and many tossings amongst the billows of life's sea, poor Hood went down. Many a wild wave had burst over him and his frail bark; still they rose and righted from each shock, bearing right gallantly on. And, just as he seemed about to touch land mentally, and win a firm foothold whereon to stand, and do yet higher work; just when the harbour was in sight, and a multitude of friends stood on shore ready and eager to welcome the brave sailor, down he went in sight of them and home! We see by his letter to Sir Robert Peel, and by the earnest way in which he poured out his latest life, that a new purpose was dawning and growing in his soul. This purpose would undoubtedly have gathered up the sparkling particles of wit and fancy into singleness of mental movement and oneness of result, as the magnet gathers up the scattered filings of steel. We see likewise that his taste was chastening to the last. In the 'Memorials' are some lines, in another measure, containing an image which was not wrought into the 'Bridge of Sighs :'

The moon in the river shone,

And the stars some six or seven

Poor child of sin, to throw it therein
Seemed sending it to heaven.'

The conceit of getting to heaven in that reflected way, which


may be found in an early English minor poet, was too pretty for his maturer taste. All he asked was a little time. As Mozart, when dying, began to see what might be done in music, so Hood caught a glimpse of the glorious possibilities which he had not the strength left to grasp. What he gave us was the fruit of haste and hurry. Time was not allowed for him to bring forth the 'ripened fruits of wise delay.' He had also to eat so much of his corn in the blade, he could not garner up for us the full harvest there might have been. Yet he did good work for the world :

'He gave the people of his best;

His worst he kept, his best he gave.'

Whilst sitting himself in darkness, he turned the sunniest side of his nature towards his fellow man. He suffered much, and suffering added its 'precious seeing' to his eye. His own sorrows only made him all the more sensitive and tender to those of others.


The life of this man is a touching story; all the sadder at times for the uncomplaining meekness of spirit with which the burthen was borne; and saddest of all by reason of the chirping cheeriness, the flashes of humour, that play with their heat lightning about the gloom of the gathering night. Yet it would be unbearably ghastly in many of its physical details of the sickroom and the sweat of agony, the weary toil and slow torture, but for the luminous smile of his humour, which gives a spiritualised expression to the racked features of a worn, tormented life. are thus made aware of the presence of a potent spirit, that conquers when the poor, thin, diaphanous body fails; of an Immortal triumphing over the ills of mortality, and transfiguring them till they become the veriest passing appearances, whilst IT remains the fixed and enduring reality. The pages that read like a doctor's diary all pass away, and there lives only the image of a beautiful patience smiling from out the pain. We meet with many a touch of nature which, as Coleridge said of Shakespeare, will make those who love the man lay down the book, and love him over again.

In closing the 'Memorials' of Thomas Hood's life, his children, who have performed a filial duty gracefully, are anxious to defend his memory against those foolish persons who mistook his wit for wickedness, his genial philosophy for irreligion; but there is no need. Hood's religion was of the practical kind, that stays one in life, and serves one in death. He was one of those who are so shy on the subject that they find it an insurmountable


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

difficulty to get their feelings in this vital matter published through the customary forms. His religion breathed through all his life, work-days as well as Sundays. It ascended like incense in his own household, sweetening the sick chamber, enriching the young life of his little ones, hallowing his love, and passing with the force of tenderest pity into his poetry. It enlarged his heart spiritually, until his charity could embrace those whom the world had cast out, and those for whom the sects were

too narrow.

Sydney Smith was a tolerant man, yet he confessed to one little weakness-a secret desire to roast a Quaker. Hood also was tolerant, but he too had his weakness; he would roast the Pharisees and the 'unco guid' in their own conceit. But he held sacred all that was high and holy. He was none the less religious because he hated cant and warred against it; because he had no sympathy with that Scottish clergyman who was horrified at seeing people walking the streets of Edinburgh on a Sunday, smiling and looking perfectly happy. There was no blasphemy, no unbelief, no wanton wile in the wit of Thomas Hood. The last lines he ever wrote show us an aspect of the man facing eternity, and lead us to believe that he had found his exaltation on the cross of suffering, knowing that of all this world's highest places it could lift the spirit nighest heaven; and that when he felt the hand of 'one standing in shade' was upon him, he likewise felt the transfiguring touch of One standing in light.

'Farewell Life! My senses swim,
And the world is growing dim;
Thronging shadows cloud the light,
Like the advent of the night.
Colder, colder, colder still
Upward steals a vapour chill-
Strong the earthy odour grows-
I smell the mould above the rose.

'Welcome Life! The spirit strives!
Strength returns, and hope revives;
Cloudy fears and shapes forlorn
Fly like shadows at the morn,
O'er the earth there comes a bloom-
Sunny light for sullen gloom,
Warm perfume for vapour cold-

I smell the rose above the mould.'

To make a portrait of Thomas Hood were scarcely less


difficult than the painter found it to catch the expression and fix the features of Garrick's face. He can laugh on one side and cry on the other, and it is not easy to tell his laughter from his crying. Are those tears in his eyes, or only the dews of mirth? Is that a furrow of pain, or a pucker of suppressed fun? We set them down for one thing, and they are instantly changed into the other. 'A man of great heart and bright humours, my masters, and a sorrow that sits with its head under one wing.' A mind of many features, with as continual changes of expression as the ripples of a breeze-tinted summer sea. A spirit of earnestness hard at work; a spirit of quaint pleasantry as assiduously at play. A gentle, genial nature, in which the most opposite elements were kindly mixed ; many-sided, and curiously felicitous at most points. He somewhere speaks of the Nine Muses dwelling together in one house for the sake of cheapness. His was the one house, where but poor entertainment they got for the rare entertainment they gave. Wit never before assumed such numerous shapes, to spring so many sudden surprises,-more especially in the way it passes into pathos. His gayest laughter somehow touches the underlying melancholy of life, and leaves a sad chord thrilling long after the laughter has done ringing. In the midst of the mirth all is changed in the twinkling of an eye, and you are hood-winked into tears. The pungency of much of Hood's humour is pathos. If we consider the state of health and the outward environment in which the wit flashed and humour flowed, it is inexpressibly touching, as the Fool's labouring to out-jest the crying sorrows of poor old Lear. Some of his richest jewels of wit are his own tears set glittering in fictitious sunshine; the world preferred them thus pleasantly lighted up. And how splendidly they twinkled and shone when relieved by the sombre background of such a life! His grotesque gaiety is often the result of his endeavours to hide the suffering-the piquant wry faces he showed in making fun of his own troubles. Pain will supply puns, and cramp becomes comic if Hood has it. Then, how delightful it is if Mr. Merriman will but really cry! What fun to see the big drops come hopping down the painted puckered cheek! What a merry twinkle there is in the tears, and how pointed! What a glorious grin in the grief! Who thinks that it may be real? Who cares whether a dead child may be lying behind the curtain? Who, while his own sides are shaking with laughter, surmises that the clown's may be trembling with weakness? Who knows how much of the irresistible antic and grimace is owing to a peculiar way he


« AnteriorContinuar »