Thomas Hood's Non-punning Humor

Not all of Hood's comic illustrations were based on puns.

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Above left we see an executioner asking for forgiveness from a condemned man (this was usual). He adds "this once." Children sometimes make a request using a version of this phrase: "Can't I go to ... just this once?" And it's used sometimes when being lenient: "Just this once I'll let you get away with ...." The humor lies in the fact that the condemned man can forgive the executioner no more than once.

Above right it's ironic that the condemned man believes he's lucky to be up on the scaffold away from the rampaging bull.

Although he is famous for his punning, Hood wrote many pieces that derive their humor from other sources: people talking at cross purposes, an account of an event by someone who only partially understands it, letters by semi-literate correspondents, narrating slapstick physical humor, understatement, narrative comments, caricature and irony.

Note: Most of the graphics below were not originally associated with the works they accompany. They are meant to illustrate other treatments of the same and similar subjects. Their sources are show in their captions.

"Huggins and Duggins," The Comic Annual, 2nd edition (London, Charles Tilt, 1832), 145-149.

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In this "pastoral, after Pope," two shepherds sing in alternating stanzas about the women they love, but Sally won't have Duggins and Peggy won't have Huggins.

As we would expect there are a number of puns in the poem. Duggins says Sally is cold to him and when he asks her to change her mind "Lamb's wool, -- but Sally, she wool not." Humor is also based on the use of substandard English. Huggins says:

   When Peggy's dog her arms emprison,
   I often wish my lot was hisn;
   How often I should stand and turn,
   To get a pat from hands like hern.

A modern example of this usage is in a story told about Bum Phillips, coach of the Houston Oilers football team, who is supposed to have said that Tom Landry, coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was such a good coach that he could take hisn and beat yourn and then take yourn and beat hisn.

"The Pugsley Papers," Comic Annual, 2nd edition (London, Charles Tilt, 1832), 1-30.

Having inherited some money Mr. Pugsley decides to retire. He purchases a country place and sends his wife and children wife ahead while he wraps up his business affairs. What happens before he arrives is revealed through a series of letters. This is a common situation in comic literature -- city folk go to the country (or vice versa). Hood uses it several times including in his novel Tylney Hall. The humor derives from the fact that the family is completely unprepared for country life.

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One daughter's attitude toward country life and her writing style are the result of reading too much bad Romantic literature. She writes to a friend:

Conceive, as far as the visual organ expands, an immense sequestered level, abundantly irrigated with minute rivulets, and studded with tufted oaks, whilst more than a hundred wind-mills diversify the prospect and give a revolving animation to the scene. As for our own gardens and grounds they are a perfect Vauxhall -- excepting of course, the rotunda, the orchestra, the company, the variegated lamps, the fire-works, and those very lofty trees.

The other daughter tries to embrace the duties of a country lass but she "half poisoned the whole family with home-made ketchup of toadstools, by mistake for mushrooms." She attempts to preserve some plums but they "foment" and the jars explode. She wants to make cream cheese but can't get any cream. The family will soon have some pork because "we wring a pig's neck on Saturday."

The mother has the scarecrow taken down so the children will not be frightened by it. She has the well filled in and the tines removed from the rakes so they will not be hurt accidentally. She declares that she will have the hay fields "reaped directly, wet or shine." The hay "stacks are put up dampish [so] they won't catch fire so easily, if Swing should come into these parts."1 The mother is also given to uttering malaprops: for example, she writes a letter at night when it's quiet: "the family being all restive in bed."

When the father arrives he finds everything in a shambles and writes to a friend to advertise the property for sale and to see if he can repurchase his old business.

"Popping the Question," The Comic Annual (London: A. H. Baily and Co., 1835), 167-175.

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Mr. Walker tells the story of how he met his wife. He was walking down a street carrying some bottles of homemade ginger beer in his coat pockets, when the top of one popped off and spouted onto a lady walking behind him.

He takes her into a shop to help her clean up when "bang again went 't'other bottle,' and uncorked itself before it was called for." Startled, he turns around but "only diverted the jet from the open cases on the counter, to the show-trays in the shop window." He curses and swears and stamps about until he steps on the lady's foot. And the story continues.

Although the humor is mostly slapstick, Walker is an excellent storyteller.

"The Scrape-Book," The Comic Annual, 2nd ed. (London, Charles Tilt, 1831), 163-168.

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Some people are lucky and some are not; some keep scrap books but the narrator keeps a "scrape book" -- a record of "mischances, failures, accidents, disappointments" that befall him.

The humor is for the most part slapstick: he knocks over his father-in-law's beehive, he accidentally gives his wife a black eye, he is caught in the trap he set in his garden to catch thieves, and so on.

Of course, there some puns: "My old friend Bill -- I must henceforth call him Corn-Bill -- has, this morning, laid his unfeeling wooden leg on my tenderest toe, like a thresher."

"A Parental Ode to My Son, Aged 3 Years and 5 Months," The Comic Annual (London: A. H. Baily and Co., 1837), 159-162.

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The speaker is writing an ode (in an old-fashioned style) in praise of his son . In the room with him are his wife and son. Inserted in parentheses are his remarks as his son's activities interrupt his writing.

   Thou happy, happy elf!
   (But stop, -- first let me kiss away that tear) --
   Thou tiny image of myself!
   (My love, he's poking peas into his ear!)

The son also plays with a pin, approaches too closely to the stairs and then the fire, knocks over an ink bottle, and pulls the dog's tail. The poem concludes:

   Bold as the hawk, yet gentle as the dove, --
   (I'll tell you what, my love,
   I cannot write, unless he's sent above!)

"The China Mender," The Comic Poems of Thomas Hood (London: E. Moxon, Son & Co., 1876), 135-137.

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This is a monologue by Mary, a servant, speaking to "Mr. What-d'ye-call," a man who has come to mend some broken china figurines. She explains how clumsy Mr. Lambert broke them and how much her mistress likes them: "such bonzes [sic], and such dragons, and nasty, squatting things like toads." The incident may destroy any hopes Mr. Lambert had of marrying her mistress: "Missis wouldn't have an angel, if he was careless about Chiney."

We are overhearing her speak not reading what she wrote, so the humor does not derive from her inability to spell. It's pleasantly amusing to listen to chatty Mary who has her own opinions about china figurines.

"An Assent to the Summut of Mount Blank," Comic Annual, 2nd edition (London, Charles Tilt, 1832), 49-55.

This is an account written by a servant of an ascent he and his master made of Mount Blanc. This is a common humorous setup: an account of some experience by a person who does not completely understand what is going on due to lack of experience, education or some other cause.

There are some puns in this piece; for example, when they come to a high snow wall, he says "Wat is only too human legs to 200 feet!" Most of the humor is based on his limited understand of what took place and his ungrammatical, badly-spelled writing. For example, he tells us that the "Gides pinted out from hear the Pick de Middy, but I was too cold to understand Frentch."

"Poem, -- From the Polish," Comic Annual (London: Charles Tilt, 1834), 60-64.

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The captain of a whaling ship writes to "dear Kitty" from 72 degrees north; thus, the title is a pun: he's not at the north pole but only "polish," near it. Ironically, much of the humor is derived from unhumorous images: he is only warm when "hugging" a bear; he cannot take snuff because his nose has frozen off; his hand in marriage now only has one finger and a thumb. In this striking simile he contrasts hot and cold, dark and bright, summer and winter:

   I'm sick of dazzling ice and snow,
   The sun itself I hate;
   So very bright, so very cold
   Just like a summer grate.

In the summer the fireplace is not used and the grate is cold and polished bright. In the winter, when it's cold outside, the grate is hot and sooty.

See also

Thomas Hood and Hoodwink


1This refers to the 1830 Swing riots, named for a fictitious Captain Swing who sent letters to landowners threatening damage if they did not provide jobs for agricultural workers who were being replaced by machines. Eventually twenty counties were affected; hay ricks were burned and animals maimed; rioters were hanged and transported. Violence continued for several years.