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It is designed to embrace in the present collection of the writings of Thomas Hood, a miscellany which shall include his more serious and earnest writings—those which were written most directly from the heart, which reflect most faithfully his life and opinions, which may be emphatically called (as he himself gave name to a book which has contributed largely to these pages) Hood's Own, and not the bookseller's own, the magazine's own, or the newspaper's own. If a pension had been given to Hood earlier in his life, it would have probably added much to his fame. He would have had the opportunity of writing only when his better genius prompted him; he would not have been compelled for ever to glean a scanty crop from the surface; he might oftener with time and labor have penetrated to the ore beneath. He might have been less of a Punster, but he would have been more of a Wit. The Poet-the higher title-might have been better known than the prose writer.
With the exception of a few of his later poems—the Bridge of Sighs, the Song of a Shirt, and his earlier Eugene Aram-the writings of Hood which have been circulated in America have been his puns and jests, comic verses
from his annuals, farcical letters of servants and others, after the manner of Winifred Jenkins-clever extravagances, seldom deficient in literary merit, but which oftener conceal the man from the reader than lead the latter to suspect the tender heart, the delicate fancy, hidden beneath.
There are whole volumes of Hood's writings which appear mere whimsicality and grotesqueness; there are pages which indicate the genius of the man, and will be worth more to posterity than the volumes. Frequently since his recent death Hood has been called a great author, a phrase used not inconsiderately or in vain. He will take his place among the English classics. How he was great is a question which will not be fully answered till his Life, his Correspondence, his Complete Writings—his Poetical works especially—have been given to the world. Many good men and great men among his friends will add their tribute of recollections; and the next generation will see the man, twin brother in heart and mind to Elia whom he loved. That this volume, undertaken in a spirit of reverence for the author, in admiration of his genius, with the desire that he should be wisely known, will be cordially received, cannot be doubted; but it is sent forth accompanied by a sigh of regret. The task of the editor and critic seems an impertinence, a piece of bitter hypocrisy, while the rights of the author (in his representatives) to the profits of his own labor are denied. Hood died poor, and his widow was anticipating the small pittance of her next quarter's government pension to pay the undertaker while the American public was laughing over his latest jest. No man with a soul capable of enjoying the honest, heartfelt appeals of this truly humorous writer can deny the injustice of a system by which Hood
was deprived of the least participation in the profits of his own works in America. In the second part of this Miscellany will be found his own views of this matter, simply, manfully stated, as it is incumbent upon every man to assert, in whatever case may come under his experience or observation, the laws of Justice. Self-respect, self-interest no less than a sense of justice, require the recognition, on our statute book, of the rights of the foreign author. The present system has reached that point in the development of evil where a wrong being committed, every one suffers, no one is benefited. It is the nature of wrong to end in precisely this predicament. The foreign author confessedly is injured; the American author (where the system allows such a person to exist at all) is at a disadvantage at every turn; the bookselling interest is deprived of that security of property, based upon right, which is essential to give honor and dignity to trade; and the public are not the gainers. In what respect is the nation better or wiser for the floods of reprints of every kind and quality which have been poured over the land? In every respect the people are worse for this deluge-less beneficial, more destructive than the natural rain. In the physical world there are laws, which, if violated, would destroy the harvest. If it were all rain or all sunshine, the crops would cease. A similar law governs our intellectual and moral well-being. Property is a blessing, but it is only so when acquired righteously and honestly. Riches are valuable by the stamp which virtue and privation set upon them. The grand law of morality which protects the rights of the author, and distributes his works to the world in accordance with those rights, will be found to be the just measure by which his writings can be received with any
advantage. A complicated system of checks and counterchecks—all of them necessary-depends upon the recognition of that primary right. The due responsibility of the author, the force of his character depend upon it. A just competition, the sacred right to be “ free and equal” between the native and the foreign author, depend upon it. A proper Nationality in our case depends upon it. Follow out the system where you will, it will be found here as elsewhere, that only the just and right are profitable.
JULY 1, 1845.