Seldom, if ever before or since, has a creative man, notable in his own right, been so fortunate in his association with great men as was Leigh Hunt. To have known intimately all three of the leading “younger generation” English Romantic poets—Byron, Shelley, and Keats—and to have been well acquainted with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Lamb, and Carlyle is a social and intellectual privilege not in any sense usual.
The AUTOBIOGRAPHY of James Henry Leigh Hunt, to give him his full name, is far more than a chronological account of the life of an important essayist and minor poet. It is a sorting out of vivid impressions from past experiences and associations, impressions which delineate Hunt’s lifelong passion for human advancement as well as his ability in old age to evaluate objectively the way he has come, the influences he has experienced, and those he has exerted.
Published in 1850, nine years before Hunt’s death, the AUTOBIOGRAPHY was hailed by Thomas Carlyle as the best autobiographical writing in the English language. This opinion was widely shared by reviewers, and the book has become a classic of its kind. Its quality derives largely from its emphasis on human values and on the interactions between the author and his various notable friends. Leigh Hunt, therefore, can afford to be neglectful of mere dates and mundane details; he has matters of present and future value to impart.
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