Home  »  Volume XII: English THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL The Nineteenth Century, I  »  § 18. James and Horace Smith; Rejected Addresses

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

V. Lesser Poets, 1790–1837

§ 18. James and Horace Smith; Rejected Addresses

Comparatively early, too, not merely immediate popularity, but lasting and well-deserved reputation, was won by James and Horace Smith, with the ever welcome Rejected Addresses—a collection of parodies of Byron, Scott, Southey and other famous writers of the day which, though it may have been sometimes equalled, had, at its best, certainly never been, and never has been, surpassed for appositeness, good humour as well as humour positive and a lightness which, unlike that of most such work, has never become heavy since.

Hood was thirteen and Praed was ten when Rejected Addresses appeared; and both, therefore, were now at an age suitable for such seed to fall into such soil. As was remarked above, in speaking of their serious and half-serious poems, the difference of attitude between them is very remarkable and interesting. That Hood had the deeper and higher poetical genius there can be no doubt, and it was probably not the mere necessities of hackwork which drove him, by reaction, into more definite extravaganza, more horseplay in word and verse, wilder acrobatics and pyrotechnics of punning and the like, when he put himself in the comic vein. It is impossible that a professional of this kind should not, in the actual language of the ring, “miss his tip” sometimes; there are some people who (it may be thought, unhappily) cannot relish verbal tumbling and metrical fireworks at all; and there are others, less to be commiserated, who are soon satiated with either or both. The cruel kindness which, as mentioned, has accumulated not merely the sweepings of Hood’s study, but the very rubbish of his literary dustbin more or less pyramidically on his memory, puts him at special disadvantage with all these classes of readers; perhaps with almost any reader who has not a critical sieve under his arm, with which, at need, he can sift away the slag and keep the metal. It is metal far from unattractive to anyone who likes good fun; and there are few places—that is to say books—where such an admirable “pocket” of it, already pretty well sifted, and varied, from verse to prose, is to be found, as in Up the Rhine, and in the cream of Hood’s comic poems. But the difference of taste above referred to may always make it half needless and half useless to recommend this part of him. The line which has been, perhaps justly, selected as a test—

  • Rose knows those bows’ woes
  • will always seem to some respectable people an enormous and disgusting puerility. By them, Hood should be generally avoided. Others, who can see in it not, indeed, one of the greatest achievements of human art and genius, but a relishable trifle quite capable of being enjoyed more than once or twice, should let themselves, not in the least pharisaically, say grace before and after it.

    It was quite possible for Hood to avoid this style; and, without using, as in some of his most famous poems, the contrast of grimness or pathos, to do higher comedy, not farce at all, in verse. The United Family is a good, though very far from the only, instance of this. Nevertheless (for reasons which, no doubt, could be plausibly explained, but which are pretty obvious and not, after all, quite decisive), he is certainly surpassed by Praed in the highest class of what is called “verse of society,” and especially in that kind of it which might be called pure high-comedy lyric. Fortune of birth and breeding, scholarship, easy temperament and circumstance; wide and, again, fortunate experience of the world; and several other things may be thought to be necessary to this; they certainly are found in company with it in Praed. Idiosyncrasy, in the strictest sense of an often misused word, was present in him in the highest degree; in a degree which could only be fully shown by detailed, and here impossible, contrasts with, say, Prior, Thackeray and the late Locker-Lampson. This idiosyncrasy was produced or affected not merely by the personal essentials or accidents noticed above, but by a curious convergence of the various poetical motives of the time—romantic, satiric, lyrical, musical, technical and other. There is in Praed something of Scott, something of Byron, something of Moore, something of Canning and something of others; and, yet, the whole blend is Praed and nothing and nobody else. He, in his turn, certainly taught something to Thackeray; but, if there is less depth in his combination of romance and humour than in his greatest pupil’s, there is a certain buoyancy and, at the same time, a calm, in the immortal Letter of Advice, which is nowhere else to be found. The way in which Praed picked out the stanza improved downwards from Gay and others to Byron, perfected it still further and infused into it at once the passion of I enter thy garden of Roses and the spirit and zest of Molly Mog, is one of the pleasantest studies in poetical technique and one of the most useful refutations of the fallacy which would make of that subject an affair of “chalk and blackboard.” But, if anyone shudders at technicalities, let him pass them by and content himself with the more exoteric charms of the poem just mentioned, of The Vicar, of Twenty Eight and Twenty Nine and Goodnight to the Season, of the first Letter from Teignmouth and of a dozen others. Perhaps the already mentioned tendercruel mercy of reprinting has been exercised too freely even in this case; but, to complain much of it would be to commit that sin which Thackeray himself has stigmatised and to ask for “a flounder that was all back.”