“The Butcher” by Thomas Hood
Whoe’er has gone thro’ London Street,
Has seen a butcher gazing at his meat,
And how he keeps
Gloating upon a sheep’s
Or bullock’s personals, as if his own;
How he admires his halves
And quarters—and his calves,
As if in truth upon his own legs grown;—
His fat! his suet!
His kidneys peeping elegantly thro’ it!
His thick flank!
And his thin!
Skin of his skin, and bone too of his bone!
With what an air
He stands aloof across the thoroughfare,
Gazing—and will not let a body by,
Tho’ buy! buy! buy! be constantly his cry;
Meanwhile with arms akimbo, and a pair
Of Rhodian legs, he revels in a stare
At his Joint Stock—for one may call it so,
Howbeit, without a Co.
The dotage of self-love was never fonder
Than he of his brute bodies all a-row;
Narcissus in the wave did never ponder
With love so strong
On his “portrait charmant,”
As our vain Butcher on his carcass yonder.
Look at his sleek round skull!
How bright his cheek, how rubicund his nose is!
His visage seems to bo
Ripe for beef-tea;
Of brutal juices the whole man is full—
In fact, fulfilling the metempsychosis, The butcher is already half a Bull.
1799 – 1845
He was born in London to Thomas Hood and Elizabeth Sands in the Poultry (Cheapside) above his father’s bookshop. Hood’s paternal family had been Scottish farmers from the village of Errol near Dundee. The Elder Hood was a partner in the business of Verner, Hood, and Sharp, and was a member of the Associated booksellers. Hood’s son, Tom Hood, claimed that his grandfather had been the first to open up the book trade with America and he had great success in new editions of old books.
“Next to being a citizen of the world,” writes Thomas Hood in his Literary Reminiscences, “it must be the best thing to be born a citizen of the world’s greatest city.” On the death of her husband in 1811, Mrs Hood moved to Islington, where Thomas Hood had a schoolmaster who, appreciating his talents, “made him feel it impossible not to take an interest in learning while he seemed so interested in teaching.”
Hood was particularly fond of practical jokes which he was said to have enjoyed perpetrating on members of his family. In the Memorials of Thomas Hood, which was largely written by his daughter, there is a story of Hood playing one such joke on his wife. He instructs Mrs. Hood to purchase some fish for the evening meal from the woman who regularly comes to the door selling her husband’s catch. But he warns her to watch for any plaice that “has any appearance of red or orange spots, as they are a sure sign of an advanced stage of decomposition.” Of course when the fish-seller comes Mrs. Hood refuses to purchase her plaice she exclaims “My good woman… I could not think of buying any plaice with those very unpleasant red spots!” Hood was much amused by the fish-sellers expression of amazement at complete ignorance of the appearance of plaice.
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.Don’t go to weep upon my grave, And think that there I be. They haven’t left an atom there Of my anatomie -Thomas HoodNo sun - no moon! No morn - no noon - No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel in any member - No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds - November! -Thomas Hood