Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thomas Hood wrote of London poverty

Thomas Hood
It is the birthday of English poet and humorist Thomas Hood (1799), whose best-known poem, The Song of the Shirt (1843), appeared in Punch Magazine and was taken up as an anthem by social activists defending the working poor in London's slums. The poem told the story of a widow who lived in abject poverty with her sickly and malnourished children. She worked as a seamstress but made so little she couldn't support her family. She pawned the clothing she made to feed her starving infants, and when she couldn't pay her debt, she was sent to a workhouse. "With fingers weary and worn,/With eyelids heavy and red,/A woman sat in unwomanly rags,/Plying her needle and thread—/Stitch! Stitch! Stitch!/In poverty, hunger, and dirt,/And still with a voice of dolorous pitch/She sang 'The Song of the Shirt! Charles Dickens was a contemporary, and a fan. Hood's father, also Thomas, was a London bookseller, and was said to have done well establishing book trade with America and selling new editions of old books. At the age of 22, Hood became a sub-editor of London Magazine and met such literary luminaries as Allan Cunningham, Henry Cary, Thomas de Quincey and Charles Lamb.

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