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low wind, as it wanders over flowers, seems telling some happy tidings in each gorgeous ear, till the rose blushes a deep crimson, and the tulip lifts up a more towering head, and the violet shrinks more modestly away as at lovers' whispers; in such a favored hour-when the first strain of music might have arisen, or the first stroke of painting been drawn, or the chisel of the first sculptor been heard, or the first verse of poetry been chanted, or man himself, a nobler harmony than lute ever sounded, a finer line than painter ever drew, a statelier structure and a diviner song, arisen from the dust-did the beautiful idea of the “ Plea of the Midsummer Fairies" dawn upon this poet's mind : he has conceived his fairies in a happy hour, he has framed them with exquisite skill and a fine eye to poetic proportion, but he has not made them alive, he has not made them objects of love; and you care less for his centaurs and his fairies than you do for the moonbeams or the shed leaves of the forest. How different with the Oberon and the Titania of Shakspeare ! They are true to the fairy ideal, and yet they are humantheir hearts warm with human passions, as fond of gossip, flattery, intrigue, and quarrel, as men or women can be—and you sigh with or smile at them, precisely as you do at Theseus and Hippolyta. Indeed, we cannot but admire how Shakspeare, like the arc of humanity, always bends in all his characters into the one centre of man-how his villains, ghosts, demons, witches, fairies, fools, harlots, heroes, clowns, saints, sensualists, women, and even his kings, are all human, disguises, or half-lengths, or miniatures, never caricatures nor apologies for mankind. How full the cup of manhood out of which he could baptize—now an Iago, and now an Ague-cheek—now a Bottom, and now a Macbeth—now a Dogberry, and now a Caliban-now an Ariel, and now a Timon-into the one communion of the one family—nay, have a drop or two to spare for Messrs. Cobweb and Mustardseed, who are allowed to creep in too among the number, and who attract a share of the tenderness of their benign father. As in Swift, his misanthropy sees the hated object in every thing, blown out in the Brobdignagian, shrunk up in the Lilliputian, flapping in the Laputan, and yelling with the Yahoo-nay, throws it out into those loathsome reflections, that he may intensify and multiply his hatred; so in the
same way operates the opposite feeling in Shakspeare. love to the race is so great that he would colonize with man, all space, fairy-land, the grave, hell, and heaven. And not only does he give to superhuman beings a human interest and nature, but he accomplishes what Hood has not attempted, and what few else have attempted with success; he adjusts the human to the superhuman actors—they never jostle, you never wonder at finding them on the same stage, they meet without a start, they part without a shiver, they obey one magic; and you feel that not only does one touch of nature make the whole world kin, but that it can link the universe in one brotherhood, for the secret of this adjustment lies entirely in the humanity which is diffused through every part of the drama. In it, as in one soft ether, float, or swim, or play, or dive, or fly, all his characters.
In connection with the foregoing defect, we find in Hood's more elaborate poetical pieces no effective story, none that can bear the weight of his subtle and beautiful imagery. The rich blossoms and pods of the peaflower-tree are there, but the strong distinct stick of support is wanting. This defect is fatal not only to long poems but to all save the shortest; it reduces them instantly to the rank of rhymed essays; and a rhymed essay, with most people, is the same thing with a rhapsody. Even dreams require a nexus, a nisus, a nodus, a point, a purpose. Death is but a tame shadow without the scythe. The want of a purpose in any clear, definite, impressive form has neutralized the effect of many poems beside Hood's--some of Tennyson's, and one entire class of Shelley's—whose “Triumph of Life" and “ Witch of Atlas” rank with “ Lycus” and the “Midnight Fairies "_being, like them, beautiful, diffuse, vague, and, like them, perpetually promising to bring forth solid fruit, but yielding at length leaves and blossoms only.
Subtle fancy, lively wit, copious language, and mellow versification, are the undoubted qualities of Hood as a poet. But, besides, there are two or three moral peculiarities about him as delightful as his intellectual; and they are visible in his serious as well as lighter productions. One is his constant lightsomeness of spirit and tone. His verse is not a chant but a carol. Deep as may be his internal melancholy, it expresses itself in, and yields to, song. The heavy thun
der-cloud of woe comes down in the shape of sparkling, sounding, sunny drops, and thus dissolves. He casts his melancholy into shapes so fantastic, that they lure first himself, and then his readers, to laughter. If he cannot get rid of the grim gigantic shadow of himself, which walks ever before him, as before all men, he can, at least, make mouths and cut antics behind its back. This conduct is, in one sense, wise as well as witty; but will, we fear, be imitated by few. Some will continue to follow the unbaptized terror, in tame and helpless submission ; others will pay it vain homage ; others will make to it resistance equally vain ; and many will seek to drown in pleasure, or forget in business, their impression, that it walks on before them-silent, perpetual, pausing with their rest, running with their speed, growing with their growth, strengthening with their strength, forming itself a ghastly rainbow on the fumes of their bowl of festival, lying down with them at night, starting up with every start that disturbs their slumbers, rising with them in the morning, rushing before them like a rival dealer into the market-place, and appearing to beckon them on behind it, from the death-bed into the land of shadows, as into its own domain. If from this dreadful forerunner we cannot escape, is it not well done in Hood, and would it not be well done in others, to laugh at, as we pursued its inevitable steps? It is, after all, perhaps only the future greatness of man that throws back this gloom upon his infant being, casting upon him confusion and despair, instead of exciting him to gladness and to hope.* In escaping from this shadow, we should be pawning the prospects of our immortality.
How cheerily rings Hood's lark-like note of poetry among the various voices of the age's song—its eagle screams, its raven croakings, its plaintive nightingale strains ! And yet that lark, too, in her lowly nest, had her sorrows, and, perhaps, her heart had bled in secret all night long. But now the “morn is up again, the dewy morn," and the sky is clear, and the wind is still
, and the sunshine is bright, and the blue depths seem to sigh for her coming; and up rises she to heaven's
* This thought we copy from Carlyle, who has copied it from the Germans, or our own John Howe.
gate, as aforetime; and as she soars and sings she remembers her misery no more; nay, hers seems the chosen voice by which Nature would convey the full gladness of her own heart, in that favorite and festal hour.
No one stops to question the songstress in the sky as to her theory of the universe—“ Under which creed, Bezonian ! speak or die !" So, it were idle to inquire of Hood's poetry, any more than of Keats's, what in confidence was its opinion of the origin of evil, or the pedobaptist controversy. His poetry is fuller of humanity and of real piety that it does not protrude any peculiarities of personal belief; and that no more than the sun or the book of Esther has it the name of God written on it, although it has the essence and the image. There are writers who, like secret, impassioned lovers, speak most seldom of those objects which they most frequently think of and 'most fervently admire. And there are others whose ascriptions of praise to God, whose encomiums on religion, and whose introduction of sacred names, sound like affidavits, or self-signed certificates of Christianity--they are so frequent, and so forced It is upon this principle that we would defend Wordsworth from those who deny him the name of a sacred poet. True, all his poems are not hymns; but his life has been a long hymn, rising, like incense, from a mountain altar to God. Surely, since Milton, no purer, severer, living melody has mounted on high. Yet who can deny that the religion of the “ Ode to Sound," and of the “ Excursion,” is that of the "Paradise Lost," the “ Task," and the “Night Thoughts?"_And without classing Hood in this or any respect with Wordsworth, we dare as little rank him with things common and unclean. Hear himself on this point :
« Thrice blessed is the man with whom
Each cloud-capped mountain is a holy altar;
And amid all thé mirthful details of the long warfare which he waged with Cant (from his “ Progress of Cant." downwards), we are not aware of any real despite done to that spirit of Christianity, to which Čant, in fact, is the most formidable foe. To the mask of religion his motto is, spare no arrows; but when the real, radiant, sorrowful, yet happy face appears, he too has a knee to kneel and heart to worship.
But best of all in Hood is that warm humanity which beats in all his writings. His is no ostentatious or systematic philanthropy; it is a mild, cheerful, irrepressible feeling, as innocent and tender as the embrace of a child. It cannot found soup-kitchens; it can only slide in a few rhymes and sonnets to make its species a little happier. Hospitals it is unable to erect, or subscriptions to give, silver and gold it has none; but in the orisons of its genius it never fails to remember the cause of the poor; and if it cannot, any more than the kindred spirit of Burns, make for its country 6 some usefu' plan or book," it can “sing a sang at least." Hood's poetry is often a pleading for those who cannot plead for themselves, or who plead only like the beggar, who, reproached for his silence, showed his sores, and replied, “ Isn't it begging I am with a hundred tongues ?" This advocacy of his has not been thrown utterly away; it has been heard on earth, and it has been heard in heaven.
The genial kind-heartedness which distinguished Thomas Hood did not stop with himself. He silently and insensibly drew around him a little cluster of kindred spirits, who, without the name, have obtained the character and influence of a school, which may be called the Latter Cockney School. Who the parent of this school, properly speaking, was, whether Leigh Hunt or Hood, we will not stop to inquire. Perhaps we may rather compare its members to a cluster of bees settling and singing together, without thought of precedence or feeling of inferiority, upon one flower. Leigh Hunt and Hood, indeed, have far higher qualities of imagination than the others, but they possess some properties in common with them. All this school have warm sympathies, both with man as an individual, and with the ongoings of society at large. All have a quiet but burning sense of the evil, the cant, the injustice, the inconsistency, the oppression, and the falsehood, that are