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, 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 with 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, his mother 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.” Under the care of this “decayed dominie”, he earned a few guineas — his first literary fee — by revising for the press a new edition of the 1788 novel Paul and Virginia.
Hood left his private schoolmaster at 14 years of age and was admitted soon after into the counting house of a friend of his family, where he “turned his stool into a Pegasus on three legs, every foot, of course, being a dactyl or a spondee.” However, the uncongenial profession affected his health, which was never strong, and he began to study engraving. The exact nature and course of his study is unclear: various sources tell different stories. Reid emphasizes his work under his maternal uncle Robert Sands, but no deeds of apprenticeship exist and we also know from his letters that he studied with a Mr Harris. Hood’s daughter in her Memorials mentions her father’s association with the Le Keux brothers, who were successful engravers in the City.
The labour of engraving was no better for his health than the counting house had been, and Hood was sent to his father’s relations at Dundee, Scotland. There he stayed in the house of his maternal aunt, Jean Keay, for some months and then, on falling out with her, moved on to the boarding house of one of her friends, Mrs Butterworth, where he lived for the rest of his time in Scotland. In Dundee, Hood made a number of close friends with whom he continued to correspond for many years. He led a healthy outdoor life but also became a wide and indiscriminate reader. During his time there, Hood began seriously to write poetry and appeared in print for the first time, with a letter to the editor of the Dundee Advertiser.