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has of silencing the kennel of cares that is all full cry in his heart?
Hood had, as he himself said, to be a Lively Hood for a livelihood. He lived under the stern taskmaster Necessity, who made him laugh for his living, and only the ear of the thoughtful will understand that this laughter is often the Humorist's way of crying. Who,' he asks, would think of such a creaking, croaking, blood-spitting wretch being the Comic? Yet, with the blitheness of a grasshopper he goes on trying to turn the creaking into what sounds to us like the cheeriest chirping. Give him but the slightest gleam of sunshine and his spirits will be dancing, even though the bit of vantage-ground be small as the point of Thomas Aquinas' needle. His life ebbed and ebbed day by day in producing a few pretty shells and pebbles for the curious in such matters. Nevertheless, he picked them up and presented them gaily; breathing no word of complaint about the cost. He lived and laughed with Death in sight for years. Indeed, some of his grim jokes look as though he had poked the bony skeleton in the lean ribs with them, when it came nearer than usual, and they were grotesquely ticklesome enough to delay the uplifted dart, and make Death pass him by with a broader grin than ever.
In the midst of illness he could thus give us his laughing philosophy :
'You will not be prepared to learn that some of the merriest effusions in the forthcoming numbers have been the relaxation of a gentleman literally enjoying bad health-the carnival, so to speak, of a personified jour maigre. My coats have become great-coats, and by a bargain worse than Peter Schlemihl's, I seem to have retained my shadow and sold my substance. In short, as happens to prematurely old port wine, I am of a bad colour, with very little body. But what then? That emaciated hand still lends a hand to embody in words and sketches the creations or recreations of a Merry Fancy: these gaunt sides yet shake as heartily as ever at the grotesques and Arabesques and droll picturesques that my good genius (a Pantagruelian familiar) charitably conjures up to divert me from more sombre realities. How else could I have converted a serious illness into a comic wellness-by what other agency could I have transported myself, as a Cockney would say, from Dullage to Grinnage? It was far from a practical joke to be laid up in a foreign land, under the care of physicians quite as much abroad as myself with the case: indeed, the shades of the gloaming were stealing over my prospects; but I resolved that, like the sun, so long as my day lasted, I would look on the bright side of everything. The raven croaked, but I persuaded myself it was the nightingale: there was the smell of the
mould, but I remembered that it nourished the violets. However my body might cry craven, my mind luckily had no mind to give in. So, instead of mounting on the black long-tailed coach-horse, she vaulted on her old hobby that had capered in the morris-dance, and began to exhort from its back. "To be sure," said she, "matters look darkly enough; but the more need for the lights. Remember how the smugglers trim the sails of the lugger to escape the notice of the cutter. Turn your edge to the old enemy, and mayhap he won't see you." The doctor declares that anatomically my heart is hung lower than usual -the more need to keep it up! Never meet trouble half-way, but let him have the whole walk for his pains. I have even known him to give up his visit in sight of the house. Besides, the best fence against care is a Ha! Ha!'
This antithesis of Hood's life has, we repeat, two aspects. He makes merry with a mournful lot, but the sadness will peer out at unexpected times, and in unlooked-for ways. The secret hidden in his heart turns on him unawares. He sighs unconsciously. Thus his pathos is produced as unexpectedly and with the same sudden turns as his wit, and it comes with all the more force because not forced. For example
'I remember, I remember,
The fir-trees dark and high;
To know I'm farther off from heaven
'I saw thee, lovely Inez,
Descend along the shore,
With bands of noble gentlemen,
And banners waved before!
And snowy plumes they wore;
It would have been a beauteous dream,
If it had been no more.'
It is remarkable that, whereas the wit and humour of Hood are not the unconscious overflows of health and happiness, he almost succeeds in making the reader believe they are. fun and frolic look so like the playful extravagances of high animal spirits that we cannot help taking an interest in their aimless rompings, like that which we take in the gambols and sport of domestic animals. Only since his death co we
see, as on the stage of a theatre, both sides of the thin partition which divided his sorrows from our mirth; how carefully he kept his miseries from the public gaze, and laughed his sufferings down with his merry make-believe. It must have been a spirit of rare quality that in the grip of bodily anguish and mental torture, even when almost sick unto death, could forget all that pertains to self and turn the very pains of its own life into pleasures of literature for others. Dr. Johnson has said, in his absolute way, that all mankind are rascals when they are sick. We all know, and our wives appreciate, the peevish tendency which the Doctor dealt with too sweepingly from the sick-nurse point of view. But Hood's sweetness of nature and serenity of temper were enough to upset the dictum, as they would have upset the Doctor, who would have had no patience with such patience under the circumstances.
When Thor and his companions arrive at Utgard they are told that no one is permitted to remain there unless he understand some art and excel all other men in it. Thomas Hood, in his lowest range, has a claim to his place in the literary Walhalla. He excelled all other men in the art of twisting words, of bringing into sudden contact two opposite ideas which at a touch should explode in laughter, and of making those droll Picturesques which we may call pun-pictures. Here he was unapproachable. It is no great triumph, and we only point it out to remark that whereas the word-wit of Hood's followers and imitators is most flat, stale, wearisome, and unprofitable, that of the master keeps its freshness still. It does not sicken or fade. It is not gaslight gold that turns to daylight tinsel. The professed despiser of puns, the verbal unitarian,' will own that whereas the others have discovered a trick, Hood alone works the genuine miracle. The reason of this will be found in the depth of nature that lay beneath the sparkling surface of the man, breathing an aroma of sweetness through his poetry, purifying and exalting his humour, and spiritualising that kind of wit which others are apt to make so vulgar. Indeed, his wit is the merest wild flower that waves in the flowing stream, swaying this way and that, to breeze and ripple, with the most "tricksy' tendencies, only it is perfect in kind, and serves to draw us near enough to see the deeper nature wherein lies the richer wealth. He had to take the eye of the world with his wit before he could succeed in touching its heart with his poetry.
Many are the temptations for Wit and Humorist to win the laugh on forbidden grounds, it is so easy to make merry in low Vol. 114.-No. 228.
life. But Thomas Hood is never coarse, he never penetrates the sanctuaries of human feeling with the grin of irreverence, He sets up no loud horse-laugh at humanity's mishaps and backslidings. Whatever mocking mask he may wear for the time, we know there is a kindly face and a gentle heart behind it. He has but little of the bitterness of satire; none of its burning bitterness. Nor can he mock at humanity by pointing with the finger of scorn to the ghastly skeleton which underlies the bloom of rosiest flesh; nor does he torture it by thrusting that finger into the old incurable sores. He has no cynical smile for our ever-recurring difficulties in this old battle-field of Good and Evil, but always a word of cheer for the Right. He punctures no new wounds with caustic in his quill. Nor does he ever try to take payment for his own sufferings out of the miseries of others, having nothing of that feeling which induced the satirist Swift to keep his own birthday as a day of mourning. He has no scoffs for his inferiors; no rage against superiors; owes the world no grudge. The state of his health, no doubt, gave him his tendency to mirthful moralising in the graveyard. He lived with Death in sight for years, and grew familiar with his imagery. He sees that 'Death himself cuts a caper in mockery, and the very skull of man wears a grin commemorative of the farcical passages in the serio-comic entertainment' of the life that is over.
Hood accomplished the most marvellous series of changes ever rung on the bells of the jester's cap. The most astonishing puns, quips and cranks, and sudden turns and endless surprises, follow in bewildering succession, or rather they come crowding in all at once in the most natural way. He used to say that he thought all ideas entered his head upside down. Yet with him this seems to have been their right way of going, and these dancing figures when inverted made all the more fun. His mind continually caught the light at the oddest possible angle, and its reflections and refractions made a ludicrous change in the most familiar features of things, and shed a sparry play of light and colour upon the dullest common place. Like his own Puck in the Plea of the Midsummer Fairies,' 'blithely jesting with calamity,' and strangely 'reflecting their grief aside,' he turns their solemn looks to half a smile,'
'Like a straight stick shown crooked in the tide.'
It is said that his own long serious face and quiet demeanour formed an excellent foil to his fun. In like manner he has
the way of introducing the most startlingly innocent-looking puns,
'And Christians love in the turf to lie,
Nay, the very fishes would sooner die
Who would look for any droll duality in a simple straightforward statement like that? Or, in another instance, who would suspect his plausible way of characterising an Eastern city,
'Where woman goes to mart the same as mangoes,'
which needs the second-sight to see it? In his lament for the decline of chivalry, how demure is the look of that double entendre
'And none engage at turneys now
Sometimes the unexpectedness is so perfect, and the odd turn so queer, you are completely left in the lurch, as when, in speaking of a storm at sea, he says 'The vessel occasionally gave such an awful lurch, that I thought we should have been left in it.' And once the twist of the thought is so puzzling, it is like turning the head round suddenly to see something, and getting fixed by a crick or cramp in the neck. It occurs in the ballad of Sally Brown, and Ben the Carpenter.'
'And then he tried to sing "All's well,"
But could not, though he tried;
His head was turned, and so he chewed
Hood is very successful in unravelling the perplexities of a mind too full of matter-if the shade of Berkeley will excuse the expression or ignorance in a state of spontaneous combustion, trying to wreak itself on language. Some very droll humour will be found in his many mock-epistles, purporting to be from servants running all ways to once' in their frantic endeavours to express