Leigh Hunt Biography

The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt (Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)


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.

The AUTOBIOGRAPHY begins with a survey of the author’s ancestry, largely Anglican ministers with strong Tory leanings. In the seventeenth century the family, seeking to avoid harassment by the Puritans, had moved to the West Indies but had returned to England in the following century. Leigh Hunt’s father, Isaac Hunt, had gone to Philadelphia for an education and had narrowly escaped being tarred and feathered during the American Revolution for the Tory views he expressed in various pamphlets. Having returned to England with his wife and children, he had encountered severe financial difficulties and had abandoned the Tory cause to assume more liberal opinions. With his wife’s enthusiastic support, Isaac Hunt had become a Unitarian minister and strong advocate of political reform.

After the Hunts had settled in the Middlesex village of Southgate, their youngest son Leigh was born on October 19, 1784. With his brothers, he was brought up in an atmosphere pervaded by the newly adopted liberalism of both parents, the general improvidence of his father, and the kindliness and near pacifism of his mother. Yet, despite the appeal of Hunt’s reminiscences about his youth and his schooling at Christ’s Hospital, which Coleridge and Lamb had attended earlier, the AUTOBIOGRAPHY achieves its greatness only in its dealing with the adult life of Leigh Hunt, for it is not in and of itself that Hunt’s life demands this memorial; it is the interaction of this life with others that draws our attention.

Having, through his father’s efforts, had his first volume of poetry published when he was sixteen, Leigh Hunt continued to follow a literary career. His editing of the weekly EXAMINER in collaboration with his politically minded brother John, made of the young Hunt a resolute champion of liberal politics. Not long after THE EXAMINER was founded, Hunt married Marianne Kent, who not only became the devoted mother of a large family but also proved an undaunted partner throughout the difficulties which his open pronouncements for reform brought upon Hunt. Its expression of these liberal views made THE EXAMINER attractive to Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Hazlitt, who all soon published in it and thus made the acquaintance of Leigh...

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Leigh Hunt Biography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

James Henry Leigh Hunt was the son of a Philadelphia lawyer who had returned to England at the time of the American Revolution. The father was a highly principled if rather impractical man who changed his profession from lawyer to Unitarian minister and occasional tutor. At seven years of age, young Hunt was sent to school at Christ’s Hospital, where Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge had also been students. Hunt’s The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt (1850) reveals that from his earliest years, he was instilled with a hatred of all that is evil. He detested violence, was shocked by profane language, and opposed tyranny by defending his weaker schoolmates with passive resistance of schoolyard bullies. Hunt stayed at Christ’s Hospital until he was fifteen. At seventeen, he published a volume of juvenile verse.

In 1808, Hunt became the editor of a journal, The Examiner, owned by his brother John. The Examiner championed a number of liberal causes: abolition of slavery, freedom of the press, an end to imprisonment for debt. In their catalog of social evils, the Hunts did not hesitate to include even the Prince Regent of England. Their description of the prince as “a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers” resulted in a libel case and two years’ imprisonment for both brothers. Prison was not very hard on Leigh Hunt. He had a decent room,...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

Leigh Hunt Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Henry Leigh Hunt, editor, essayist, poet, and critic, was the youngest son of Isaac Hunt, a former student and lawyer in Philadelphia, and of Mary Shewell Hunt, a kind-hearted, conscientious woman of Quaker ancestry. Persecuted in revolutionary America for his loyalist views, Isaac Hunt had moved his family to England, where he adopted liberal views and became a popular Unitarian preacher.

In 1792 Leigh Hunt was sent to Christ’s Hospital School, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb had attended. As a student, he admired William Collins and Thomas Gray and composed poems in imitation of their work. Upon leaving school he haunted various bookstalls, read avidly, and continued to write poetry. The publication of his juvenile poems reached a fourth edition in 1804. In 1807, Hunt published Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres, a volume of his collected theatrical criticism. This work demonstrates the vivid impressionism that was becoming typical of Romantic criticism. Also in 1808 Hunt joined his brother John in the publication of a weekly independent newspaper, The Examiner. In his activities as an editor, Hunt was drawn into the arena of political opinion and became a consistent, courageous but tolerant exponent of parliamentary reform and the liberal point of view. In 1809 he married Marianne Kent.

Having been several times acquitted in trials for political offenses in The...

(The entire section is 581 words.)