See his letters ed. by P. F. Morgan (1973); study by L. N. Jeffrey (1972).
Admitted soon after into the counting house of a friend of his family, he "turned his stool into a Pegasus on three legs, every foot, of course, being a dactyl or a spondee"; but the uncongenial profession affected his health, which was never strong, and he was sent to his father's relations at Dundee, Scotland. There he led a healthy outdoor life, and also became a large and indiscriminate reader, and before long contributed humorous and poetical articles to the provincial newspapers and magazines. As a proof of his literary vocation, he used to write out his poems in printed characters, believing that that process best enabled him to understand his own peculiarities and faults, and probably unaware that Samuel Taylor Coleridge had recommended some such method of criticism when he said he thought "print settles it." On his return to London in 1818 he applied himself to engraving, enabling him later to illustrate his various humours and fancies by quaint devices.
In 1821, John Scott, the editor of the London Magazine, was killed in a duel, and the periodical passed into the hands of some friends of Hood, who proposed to make him sub-editor. His installation into this post at once introduced him to the literary society of the time; and in becoming the associate of Charles Lamb, Henry Cary, Thomas de Quincey, Allan Cunningham, Bryan Procter, Serjeant Talfourd, Hartley Coleridge, the peasant-poet John Clare and other contributors to the magazine, he gradually developed his own powers.
He had married in 1825, and Odes and Addresses--his first work--was written in conjunction with his brother-in-law J.H. Reynolds, a friend of John Keats. S. T. Coleridge wrote to Charles Lamb averring that the book must be his work. The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies (1827) and a dramatic romance, Lamia, published later, belong to this time. The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies was a volume of serious verse. But he was known as a humorist, and the public rejected this little book almost entirely.
The series of the Comic Annual, dating from 1830, was a kind of publication at that time popular, which Hood undertook and continued, almost unassisted, for several years. Under that somewhat frivolous title he treated all the leading events of the day in caricature, without personal malice, and with an under-current of sympathy. The attention of the reader was distracted, by the incessant use of puns, of which Hood had written in his own vindication:
"However critics may take offence,
A double meaning has double sense."
He was probably aware of this danger. As he gained experience as a writer, his diction became simpler. In another annual called the Gem appeared the poem on the story of Eugene Aram. He started a magazine in his own name, for which he secured the assistance of many literary men, but which was mainly sustained by his own inactivity. From a sick-bed, from which he never rose, he conducted this work, and there composed well known poems, such as the "Song of the Shirt" (which appeared anonymously in the Christmas number of Punch, 1843 and was immediately reprinted in The Times and other newspapers across Europe. It was dramatised by Mark Lemon as The Sempstress, was printed on broadsheets, cotton handkerchiefs and was highly praised by many of the literary establishment, including Charles Dickens.), the "Bridge of Sighs" and the "Song of the Labourer" which are translated into German by Ferdinand Freiligrath. They are plain, solemn pictures of conditions of life.
Hood was associated with the Athenaeum, started in 1828 by James Silk Buckingham, and he was a regular contributor for the rest of his life. Prolonged illness brought on straitened circumstances; and application was made to Sir Robert Peel to place Hood's name on the pension list with which the British state rewarded literary men. This was done without delay, and the pension was continued to his wife and family after his death.
Don’t go to weep upon my grave,
And think that there I be.
They haven’t left an atom there
Of my anatomie
"I Remember, I Remember" (poetry)
The list of Hood's separately published works is as follows: