Leigh Hunt 1784-1859
(Born James Henry Leigh Hunt) English critic, essayist, journalist, poet, and playwright.
For additional information on Hunt's life and works, see .
Although today he is remembered primarily as a minor poet and author of the frequently anthologized poem "Rondeau," commonly known as "Jenny kissed me," Hunt is important historically as a political essayist and literary critic who articulated the Romantic manifesto. He also played a vital role in encouraging and influencing the poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Hunt was born in England to Isaac and Mary Hunt, the only one of their seven children to be born in Great Britain. Although Hunt's parents were Americans, they were loyal to the English crown, and at the beginning of the Revolutionary War fled to England. As a child, Hunt attended Christ's Hospital School from 1791 to 1798, where he earned a solid education in the classics. He began writing at an early age, and his father collected and published his early poetry in Juvenilia (1801). Although this book is generally considered a derivative effort, Hunt regarded it as the first step toward his life as a man of letters. After the publication of this work, Hunt worked for a time as an apprentice to his brother Stephen who was a barrister; he was also a drama critic for News, a weekly published by his brother John. In 1808, Hunt and John established The Examiner, a weekly liberal newspaper. This began an editing career for Hunt which would encompass years of political and literary writing under the auspices of several popular journals. The Examiner, with the Hunts' attacks on the Prince Regent, also signaled the political opposition that earned jail sentences for each of the Hunts. While in jail, Hunt continued writing and frequently received visits from writers such as Lord Byron, Jeremy Bentham, and Charles Lamb. Upon his release from prison, Hunt became increasingly more involved in poetry, though he never gave up his political interests. Hunt died in Putney in August 1859.
Hunt's pursuit of poetry resulted in The Story of Rimini (1816), an adaptation of the Paolo and Francesca story from Dante's Divine Comedy. This work was generally well received (although the attacks on Hunt by the reviewers for Blackwood's Magazine began soon after in 1817), and it fostered friendships with Keats and Shelley. Hunt's favorable reviews of these poets' early works, and his diligence in using his connections to publish them, helped establish Keats's and Shelley's reputations. Hunt's relationship with Byron deteriorated, however, especially after the death of Shelley in 1822—a great blow to Hunt, who considered Shelley his best friend. One of Hunt's best known nonpoetical works, Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries (1828), was actually a thinly veiled harangue against Byron. Though the book's controversial nature met with a cool reception, Hunt produced other works at this time which were commercial successes, including The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt (1832). The nonpoetical Imagination and Fancy (1844) provided significant insight into the nature of Romantic tastes, and was favorably reviewed. Hunt continued to be prolific in his final years, and The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt, with Reminiscences of Friends and Contemporaries (1850), which retracted some of his earlier sharp criticism, indicates his pleasure at surviving years of literary warfare.
Critical reception of Hunt's work, both contemporary and modern, has been uneven. While his poetry could inspire spirited attacks such as those appearing in Blackwood's Magazine, he was also praised as one of his generation's best-known literary figures. Poetry is widely held to have been the weakest of Hunt's undertakings, and he seems destined to remain a minor poet. Yet recent criticism favorably reviews the rococo aspects of his poetry, and his influence on other poets has never been questioned. Critical attention has been paid to his achievements as editor, essayist, teacher, and mentor. It is commonly accepted that he pioneered the contemporary journal and made invaluable contributions as political writer and dramatic critic. His current relative obscurity stems in part from the sheer volume of work he produced, which prevented him from concentrating on any one area. Ultimately, Hunt's personal contact with more prominent poets established him as a contributing force to a richly creative period.
Juvenilia (poetry) 1801
Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres, Including General Observations on the Practise and Genius of the Stage (criticism) 1807
The Examiner [editor] (journalism) 1808-21
The Feast of the Poets, with Notes, and Other Pieces in Verse (poetry) 1814
The Descent of Liberty (mask) 1815 The Story of Rimini (poetry) 1816
Foliage (poetry) 1818
Hero and Leander and Bacchus and Ariadne (poetry) 1819
The Indicator [editor] (journalism) 1819-21
The Liberal [editor] (journalism) 1822-23
Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries (essays) 1828
The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt (poetry) 1832
Sir Ralph Esher; or Memoirs of a Gentleman of the Court of Charles II (novel) 1832
The Indicator and the Companion (essays) 1834
Captain Sword and Captain Pen (poetry) 1835
A Legend of Florence (drama) 1840
Imagination and Fancy [editor] (poetry and critical essays) 1844
Stories from the Italian Poets: with Lives of the Writers [translator and adapter] (poetry, biography, and criticism) 1846
Wit and Humour,...
(The entire section is 217 words.)
SOURCE: "From the Author's Preface to the Editions of 1832," in The Political Works of Leigh Hunt, edited by H. S. Milford, Oxford University Press, 1923, pp. xvii-xxxi.
[In the following excerpt from his preface to the first collected edition of his poems, Hunt introduces his work by explaining his philosophy of poetry.]
I intended to write a very short preface to the volume here submitted to the public indulgence; but finding the small number of pages to which it amounted, compared with the price put upon it in the advertisement, I wished to do what I could towards bringing it to a becoming size. To add verses which I had rejected, would have been an injustice both to the readers and myself. It was suggested to me that a 'good gossiping preface' would not be ill received; and I therefore write one in the true spirit of that word, leaving it to their good nature to interpret it accordingly.
I am so aware that the world is rich in books of all sorts, and that its attention, beyond the moment, is not to be looked for by voluminous writers, except those of the first order, that I have done my best to render my verses as little unworthy of re-perusal, as correction and omission could make them. I have availed myself of the criticism both of friends and enemies; and have been so willing to construe in my disfavour any doubts which arose in my own mind, that the volume does not...
(The entire section is 8923 words.)
SOURCE: "Leigh Hunt and the Laureateship," in Studies in Philology, Vol. LV, No. 4, October, 1958, pp. 603-15.
[In the following essay, Fogle examines Hunt's quest for the poet laureateship in light of Hunt's lifelong political rhetoric and writings concerning the royal family.]
Twice during Leigh Hunt's career, there seemed, at least to him, a fair chance that he might be named poet laureate of England. Three times during his adult career as a man of letters, the office fell vacant: in 1813 on the death of Pye, in 1843 on the death of Southey, and in 1850 on the death of Wordsworth. It was of course manifestly impossible that the Prince Regent in 1813 would have offered the post to a journalist relatively little-known as a poet (for Hunt's best-known poems all come later) who was at the moment confined to Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Surrey after a conviction for libeling the Regent himself. And, also, Hunt had spent some of his space in The Examiner on making fun of the laureate and the laureateship. On January 24, 1808, he printed Pye's New Year's Ode, as performed to music adapted from Handel. In January 1810, he had reprinted the wretched New Year's Ode of the wretched Pye, calling it "a complete specimen, if not of the best Laureat writing, at least of the true Laureat flattery and fiction." He maintained further that, "In every point of view, the Laureatship is a ridiculous office [a phrase...
(The entire section is 4883 words.)
SOURCE: "Leigh Hunt in Literary History: A Response," in The Life & Times of Leigh Hunt, edited by Robert A. McCown, Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries, 1985, pp. 73-100.
[In the following essay, Reiman evaluates Hunt as one of the most influential Romantic writers—one who should be judged not just for his literary merits but also for his wide-ranging contributions to English culture.]
(The entire section is 14807 words.)
SOURCE: "Correcting the Irritability of His Temper: The Evolution of Leigh Hunt's Autobiography," in Romantic Revisions, edited by Robert Brinkley and Keith Hanley, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 268-90.
[In the following essay, Webb contends that Hunt used his Autobiography as an opportunity to revise earlier, more openly critical writings in order to express a generous, accepting philosophy.]
Leigh Hunt was in the first place a circuitous autobiographer. This may have been a result, in part at least, of the rather unfortunate and compromised circumstances in which he was propelled towards his first extended contribution to the emerging genre. After the deaths of Shelley and of Byron, Hunt found himself trapped in Italy, a country which he found essentially uncongenial and harshly out of keeping with the pleasant images conjured up by Italian prints and the Parnaso Italiano. The publisher Henry Colburn rescued Hunt from impecunious and irritable exile; Colburn agreed to look after Hunt's financial needs on the understanding that Hunt would produce a 'selection' from his own writings, preceded by a biographical sketch.1 Not untypically, perhaps, Hunt returned to England but did not honour his side of the bargain. When Colburn eventually pressed him, the original plan was altered in the interests of expediency. Hunt's account of the book's evolution is somewhat...
(The entire section is 11170 words.)
SOURCE: "Leigh Hunt's 'Cockney' Aesthetics," in The Keats-Shelley Review, No. 10, Spring, 1996, pp. 77-96.
[In the following essay, Wu examines Hunt's poetical aesthetics, his relations with Wordsworth as a critic, and his influence on Keats's poetry.]
In October 1817 J. G. Lockhart launched his notorious attack in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine on what he christened the 'Cockney' school. 'Its chief Doctor and Professor', he wrote, 'is Mr Leigh Hunt, a man certainly of some talents, of extravagant pretensions both in wit, poetry, and politics, and withal of exquisitely bad taste, and extremely vulgar modes of thinking and manners in all respects.'1 Most critical accounts of Hunt's influence on Keats approach the subject from the point of view of such detractors as the ideologically-motivated Tories who regarded it as their duty to attack such radicals as Hunt. In this paper I want to examine Hunt's 'Cockney' aesthetics through his eyes, using his own words. And I want to answer the questions: what were his guiding principles as a poet? And how influential were those principles on Keats?
Some of Hunt's most accomplished sonnets may be found in the series "To Hampstead."
As one who after long and far-spent years
Comes on his mistress in an hour of sleep,
And half-surprised that he can silence keep
(The entire section is 7167 words.)
Waltman, John L., and Gerald G. McDaniel. Leigh Hunt: A Comprehensive Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985, 273 p.
Provides a complete bibliography of secondary materials about Hunt chronologically arranged by decade. Works cited include literary histories, newspaper and journal articles, biographies, and memorabilia.
Blainey, Ann. Immortal Boy: A Portrait of Leigh Hunt. London: Croom Helm, 1985, 210 p.
Offers a portrait of the human side of Hunt. Relies on extensive collections of Hunt's personal letters.
Blunden, Edmund. Leigh Hunt: A Biography. London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1930, 402 p.
Stands as a classic work that presents a consistently favorable portrait of Hunt. Includes a comprehensive bibliography of Hunt's primary works.
Shaddy, Robert A. "Around the Library Table With Luther A. Brewer: Annual Reflections on Collecting Leigh Hunt." Books at Iowa, No. 57 (November 1992): 17-34.
Describes the philosophy and work of avid book-collector Luther Brewer, who assembled one of the world's finest collections of Hunt's writings.
(The entire section is 625 words.)