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PREFACE

The contents of the present volume are taken chiefly - indeed, almost entirely – from the following sources : the Odes and Addresses to Great People; the two series of Whims and Oddities; the series of Comic Annuals, which opened in 1831, and continued, with certain intermissions, until 1842; the first volume of Hood's Own, a selection made by himself, with additions, from his Comic Annuals; and Hood's contributions to Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, afterwards collected in the two volumes entitled Whimsicalities.

I have not thought it necessary to arrange the poems in this volume in strict chronological order, except so far that Hood's share in the Odes and Addresses (the remaining share being due to his brother-in-law, J. Hamilton Reynolds) comes first in the volume, and that the two or three concluding poems are among the last he wrote. For the rest, I have rather arranged them with a view to exhibiting the variety and contrasts of Hood's humorous invention.

For reasons suggested in my Memoir, only a selection from Hood's Poems of Wit and Humour is here given; but it forms a considerable portion-in bulk, I should imagine, about two-thirds of all he produced. Hood wrote too much, for he had to write for bread, and often against the grain. Under these conditions his wit and humour were often wiredrawn; and he was prone, when invention failed him, to revert to old inspirations, to harp upon old strings, and trust to topics and effects that had done duty before. It is therefore, I believe, doing a service to Hood's memory to allow him to be represented in the main by his best. I have tried, at all events, to display his real versatility. As has been already observed, his reputation as a punster has acted injuriously on his reputation as a poet; and it seems likely that the brilliance of the first-named gift has also interfered with his recognition as a humorist. Punning, or verbal wit, may have been Hood's most characteristic gift. He certainly invested it with new capabilities and a new importance; but, although punning became a habit with him that was difficult to resist, he often escaped from its dominion so far as to make the real attraction of his verse to lie in some quality quite distinct from it. The skill and variety of his verse, for instance, are very noteworthy. He could adapt himself to any metre, and to the manner of any poet, whether Shenstone, or Burns, or Wordsworth, or Byron, or Ingoldsby, whom he sought for the moment to recall. His apologetic verses, “I'm not a Single Man,” addressed to the daughter of his friend Horace Smith, are among the most perfect vers de société in our language. He could tell a story in the eight-syllabled couplet of Swift and Prior with an ease and vivacity which even those eminent predecessors hardly surpassed. And now and again his real faculty of imagination raises and dignifies some humorous fancy into the region of genuine poetry, as in the striking verses (“The Fall”) where the somnambulist imagines himself seeking in vain to stem the torrent above the Niagara cataract. And even in those poems, the subjects of which might seem to have been chosen expressly for the opportunities afforded for verbal wit (such, for instance, as “The Volunteer"), the puns are enveloped in such an atmosphere of either tragic or humorous fancy, that we recognise in them a far rarer faculty than that of the punster. We feel, as I have already said, that the punster is more than a punster, and comes to his task from a higher ground.

I cannot but hope, in conclusion, that bringing the best of such verses into one volume, unmixed with more ephemeral matter, may help to place the genius of Thomas Hood in a truer and worthier light for many with whom a not unnatural prejudice against puns and punning has hitherto hindered a full appreciation of his many other claims to our recognition.

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