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A special issue celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Byron Journal seems a fitting place to reconsider Byron’s influence on his near contemporaries. In this essay, I draw together two elements strongly associated with his literary life and vital to his legacy – the sea and poetic feeling – and explore their resonance in the seascapes of Thomas Hood. For both poets the sea was a lifetime obsession, a way of discovering and re-evaluating oneself and others, of reflecting on the ebb and flow of life and literature, of what lasts and what drifts away. In their writing, the motion of the sea is a means of emulating or evaluating intense, overwhelming emotion, but it might also become a way of temporarily washing away feelings through comedy. Inspired by the sea, both poets had a keen sense of how language, too, is mutable and capricious. Seas encourage thoughts of metamorphosis, and literary devices like allusion, echo, and imitation are similarly forms of transformation. In this essay on the intersections between major and minor poets, then, Hood’s poetry runs along the shoreline of Byron’s boundless ocean.

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William Wordsworth, The Prelude, I, 306, in Stephen Gill (ed.), William Wordsworth: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 382.
Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 42–49.
Mirka Horová, ‘“Headlong he leapt – to him the swimmer’s skill / Was native”: Byron at Sea’, Byron Journal, 47.1 (2019), pp. 5–16 (p. 11). It is a pleasure to acknowledge this insightful essay, from which I have benefitted a good deal.
Charles Algernon Swinburne, Preface to A Selection from the Works of Lord Byron (London: Edward Moxon & Co., 1866), p. xv.
For more on ‘hydromania’, a phrase which may have been coined by Byron’s nemesis, Robert Southey, see Robin Jarvis, ‘Hydromania: Perspectives on Romantic Swimming’, Romanticism, 21.3 (2015), pp. 250–64 (p. 251).
For my understanding of this I am indebted to Matthew Kerr’s The Victorian Novel and the Problems of Marine Language: All at Sea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022), pp. 41–62.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 4th edn, 20 vols (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1810), XIX, p. 64.
T. S. Eliot, ‘In Memoriam’, in Frank Kermode (ed.), Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot (London: Faber, 1975), p. 246.
Letter to John Murray of 6 April 1819, in Leslie A. Marchand (ed.), Byron’s Letters and Journals, 13 vols (London: Murray, 1973–1994), VI, p. 106.
Quoted in Andrew Rutherford (ed.), Byron: The Critical Heritage (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1970), p. 53.
Edinburgh Monthly Review, II (July–December [August] 1819), p. 195.
Letter to Moore of 2 April 1823, BLJ, X, p. 136.
John Keble, The Christian Year: Thoughts in Verse for the Sundays and Holidays throughout the Year (1827) (London: John Henry and James Parker, 1858), p. iii.
Thomas Carlyle, ‘Signs of the Times’ (1829), in H. D. Traill (ed.), The Works of Thomas Carlyle: Centenary Edition, 30 vols (AMS Press, 1974), XXVII, p. 78.
‘Byron’s Address to the Ocean’, Blackwood’s Magazine, 64 (October 1848), pp. 499–514.
Robert Morrison (ed.), Persuasion: An Annotated Edition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), p. 141.
See Henry M. Field, The Story of the Atlantic Telegraph (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1898), p. 405. The lines alluded to are CHP, IV, 1605–607.
For instance, Andrew Elfenbein, Byron and the Victorians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Tom Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity: Industrial Culture and the Hermeneutic of Intimacy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2017); Sarah Wootton, Byronic Heroes in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing and Screen Adaptation (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). For a much wider range of poetic influence see Clare Bucknell and Matthew Ward (eds), Byron Among the English Poets: Literary Tradition and Poetic Legacy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).
Harold Bloom, The Visionary Company (London: Faber, 1962), p. 428.
Richard Cronin, Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 182440 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).
David Stewart, The Forms of Poetry in the 1820s and 1830s: A Period of Doubt (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), p. 2.
Letter to Charles Wentworth Dilke of 7 November 1839, quoted in Kerr, All at Sea, p. 149.
Letter to Sir Thomas Lawrence of 16 November 1828, in Peter F. Morgan (ed.), The Letters of Thomas Hood (Edinburgh: Oliver Boyd, 1973), p. 113.
Walter Jerrold (ed.), The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hood (London: Oxford University Press, 1911), p. 196. Hereafter Hood CPW.
Hood CPW, p. 183.
Space does not permit a discussion of it here, but Byron’s late romance tale, The Island, offers an intriguing contrast, charting a more feminine course with its opening vessel which ‘gently made her liquid way’ (II, 2), and the ‘liquid steps’ of its brave and resourceful heroine, Neuha (IV, 114).
Letter to Francis Hodgson of 16 July 1809, BLJ, I, p. 215.
See Jerome McGann (ed.), Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, 7 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980–1993), II, pp. 187–88.
Quoted in BLJ, I, p. 215 n2.
Letter to Francis Hodgson of 4 July 1810, BLJ, I, p. 253. As well as his early lyric Byron also alludes to the episode in Don Juan, II, 105.
Susan J. Wolfson and Peter J. Manning (eds), Lord Byron: Selected Poems (London: Penguin, 2005), pp. 53–54.
Ernest J. Lovell, Jr. (ed.), Medwin’s Conversations of Lord Byron (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 117–118.
The total destruction of the world envisioned in ‘Darkness’ is likewise ‘a chaos of hard clay’ (72).
The episode recalls Byron’s own epic races from the Lido to the Grand Canal in June 1818, when he bested his rivals, including ‘a noted Italian swimmer’, and on one occasion happily stayed in the water for nearly four hours. Letter to John Cam Hobhouse of 15 or 16 June 1818, and 25 June 1818, BLJ, VI, pp. 51, 55.
Andrew Nicholson (ed.), The Complete Miscellaneous Prose (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 116.
Kerr, All at Sea, p. 2.
Hood CPW, p. 230.
Thomas Hood, Preface to the second series of Whims and Oddities, in Prose and Verse (London: Hurst, Chance, and Co., 1829), p. vi.
Charles Lamb, ‘Popular Fallacies IX: That the Worst Puns are the Best’, in Jonathan Bate (ed.), Elia and the Last Essays of Elia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 292.
Hood CPW, p. 44.
I have written on this subject elsewhere, see ‘Laughter, Ridicule, and Sympathetic Humor in the Early Nineteenth Century’, SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900, 57.4 (Autumn 2017), pp. 725–49.
Henri Bergson, ‘Laughter’, in Wylie Sypher (ed.), Comedy (John Hopkins University Press: London, 1986), p. 64.
‘Hero and Leander’, Hood CPW, p. 146.
‘On a Picture of Hero and Leander’, Hood CPW, p. 436.
William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961), p. 109.
Lord Byron: Selected Poems, p. 167.
Hood CPW, p. 54.
In a suggestive reading Sara Lodge suggests the incident is an example of Hood’s class consciousness, as London’s ‘own “blacks” (coal-heavers) supplant the slaves of the harem’. In Thomas Hood and Nineteenth-Century Poetry: Work, Play and Politics (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), p. 57.
Stewart, The Forms of Poetry in the 1820s and 1830s, p. 180.
Lodge, Thomas Hood and Nineteenth-Century Poetry, p. 57.
Charles Algernon Swinburne, Preface to A Selection from the Works of Lord Byron (London: Edward Moxon & Co, 1866), p. ix.
Swinburne, A Selection from the Works of Lord Byron, pp. ix–x.

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The Byron Journal
Volume 50Number 21 December 2022
Pages: 143 - 157


Published in print: 1 December 2022
Published online: 27 December 2022



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