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A COLLECTION OF THE BEST AND NEWEST ANECDOTES AND TALES
SYDNEY SMITH, AUTHOR OF " PETER PLYMLEY'S LETTERS," &c.—(SEE PAGES 2 192.)
WASHINGTON IRVING, the “Geoffrey Crayon " of the delightful “Sketch-book,” began to write somewhat late in life. He was born in the state of New York, in the year 1782; and, if we mistake not, the papers forming his “ Sketch-book " first appeared in a New York magazine, about the year 1820. His work on the Alhambra originated as follows:
Irving and Wilkie, the painter, were fellow-travellers on the Continent, some twenty years since. In their rambles about some of the old cities of Spain, they were more than once struck with scenes and incidents which reminded them of passages in the “ Arabian Nights." The painter urged Mr. Irving to write something that should illustrate those peculiarities, “something in the Haroun-al-Raschid' style,” which should have a deal of that Arabian spice which pervades everything in Spain. The author set to work con amore, and produced two goodly volumes of arabesque sketches and tales, founded on popular traditions. His study was the Alhambra, and the Governor of the Palace gave Irving and Wilkie permission to occupy his vacant apartments there. Wilkie was soon called away by the duties of his station; but Washington Irving remained for several months, spell-bound in the old enchanted pile. “How many legends," saith he, “and traditions, true and fabulous—how many songs and romances, Spanish and Arabian, of love, and war, and chivalry, are associated with this romantic pile!” From this inspiration arose the “ Tales of the Alhambra.”
In 1843, Mr. Irving, who was then the American ambassador at Madrid, succeeded to a large property bequeathed to him by one of the Society of Friends, in the United States, and personally unknown to him.
It has been well observed, that “there never was a writer whose popularity was more matter of feeling, or more intimate, than Washington Irving; perhaps, because he appealed at once to our simpler and kindliest emotions. His affections are those of heart and home;' the pictures he delights to draw are those of natural loveliness, tinted with human sympathies; and, a too unusual thing with the writers of our time, he looks upon God's works and sees that they are good. With him the wine of life is not always on the lees. An exquisite vein of poetry runs through every page: who does not remember the shark glancing like a spectre through the blue seas!'”
THOMAS HOOD, a real wit and humourist, in the best sense of the word, was born in the Poultry, London, in the year 1798. His father was a native of Scotland, and for many years acting partner in the firm of Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe, extensive booksellers and publishers. “There was a dash of ink in my blood,” he writes; "my father wrote two novels, and my brother was decidedly of a literary turn, to the great disquietude, for a time, of an anxious parent." Young Hood finished his education at Wanostrocht's Academy, at Camberwell; and removed thence to a merchant's counting-house in the City, where he realised his own inimitable sketch of the boy “ Just set up in Business." “ Time was I sat upon a lofty stool,
Now double entry-now a flowery tropeAt lofty desk, and with a clerkly pen,
Mingling poetic honey with trade wax: Began each morning at the stroke of ten Blogg, Brothers-Milton-Grote and PresTo write in Bell and Co.'s commercial school, cott-PopeIn Warnford-court, a shady nook and cool, Bristles and Hogg-Glyn, Mills, and HaliThe favourite retreat of merchant men;
fax, Yet would my quill turn vagrant even Rogers and Towgood-Hemp—the Bard of then,
HopeAnd take stray dips in the Castalian pool. Barilla—Byron—Tallow-Burns, and Flax.
Mr. Hood's first work was anonymous—his “Odes and Addresses to Great People”-a little, thin, mean-looking sort of a foolscap sub-octavo of poems, with nothing but wit and humour (could it want more?) to recommend it. Coleridge was delighted with the work, and taxed Charles Lamb by letter with the authorship.
His next work was “ A Plea for the Midsummer Fairies," a serious poem of infinite beauty, full of fine passages and of promise. The “Plea” was followed by “ Whims and Oddities” — the forerunner of the Comic Annual. Then came the “Epping Hunt” and the “Dream of Eugene Aram,” “ Tylney Hall,” a novel; and “Hood's Own; or, Laughter from Year to Year,” a volume of comic lucubrations, “with an infusion of New Blood for General Circulation.” His “Song of the Shirt” has been sung through the whole length and breadth of the three kingdoms.
Mr. Hood died on May 3, 1845, at the early age of forty-seven.
Some sparkling specimens of his genius will be found at pages 76, 79, and 80 of this volume.