Leigh Hunt was a poet, familiar essayist, critic, political commentator, playwright, and translator. While he wrote well in all these genres and with occasional brilliance in some, his reputation as an essayist has best endured. The critical essays reveal a keen sense for what is good in literature; they quote extensively from the works being considered. The familiar essays are famous for their quiet good humor. They are seldom as polished as the essays of Charles Lamb or as perceptive as those of William Hazlitt; still, a few—such as “Getting Up on Cold Mornings” and “Deaths of Little Children”—continue to be anthologized as classics.
In his own time, the general reading public respected Leigh Hunt as an important literary figure, one whose opinions on literature and the political scene were both valid and influential. His role as editor of several periodicals afforded him an effective means of voicing those opinions to a great many readers, far more than expensive books could reach. Thus, Hunt was the great popularizer of the Romantic movement in England. Later critics, however, concluded that several of his contemporaries, though then of less influence and popularity, were actually better artists and more profound thinkers. The common twentieth century attitude has tended to ignore Hunt’s individual achievements, instead viewing him as the comparatively less important hub of an illustrious literary circle: John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Lamb, and Hazlitt, in particular. More recently, critics have again begun to assess Hunt’s own achievements, and while few would allow that he was as fine a poet as Keats, as graceful an essayist as Lamb, or as profound a critic as Hazlitt, still his work does not merit oblivion. His translations are among the finest in English, and he must be credited with increasing the English-speaking world’s awareness of Italian literature. His countless journalistic pieces reflect wide reading and high standards of scholarship, and he deserves recognition for his contribution to the quality of popular journalism. A fair assessment of Hunt’s literary achievement would have to include his positive influence on the several young poets who went on to surpass their mentor, but that assessment should also not overlook the quality of his own work as a journalist and translator.
Blainey, Ann. Immortal Boy: A Portrait of Leigh Hunt. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. This biography adds further dimension to the usual perception of Hunt as a cheerful character by emphasizing the infuriating and melancholic sides of the man. Blainey’s brief, well-written portrait focuses on Hunt’s vulnerable, human qualities. Includes several illustrations, extensive bibliography, and index.
Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. Leigh Hunt and the Poetry of Fancy. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1994. Critical analysis of selected poetry by Hunt. Includes bibliographical references and index.
Holden, Anthony. The Wit in the Dungeon: The Remarkable Life of Leigh Hunt. New York: Little, Brown, 2005. A look at Hunt’s personal life, literary achievements, and his relationships with other prominent writers of his time. Includes sixteen pages of black-and-white photos.
Hunt, Leigh. Leigh Hunt: A Life in Letters, Together with Some Correspondence of William Hazlitt. Edited and introduced by Eleanor M. Gates. Essex, Conn.: Falls River, 1998. A collection of correspondence that offers invaluable insight into Hunt’s life and work.
Johnson, Brimley. Leigh Hunt. 1896. New York: Haskell, 1970. Examines Hunt’s major works in great detail, assessing the writer’s abilities separately as a journalist, poet, and critic. Johnson suggests that “gratitude” to Hunt for his service to liberalism and his “popularization” of taste should persuade critics to overlook his “shallow” intellect and weak style. Supplemented by an index.
Kendall, Kenneth E. Leigh Hunt’s “Reflector.” Paris: Mouton, 1971. Examines Hunt’s first literary periodical as a reflection of contemporary thought and times. Although the short book looks at other contributors from the Hunt circle, Hunt receives most of the attention. Kendall suggests that The Reflector was very important to the literary development of Hunt. Complemented by a bibliography, index, and appendixes.
McCown, Robert A., ed. The Life and Times of Leigh Hunt: Papers Delivered at a Symposium. Iowa City: Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries, 1985. A collection of critical essays covering various aspects of Hunt’s writings. Titles included are “Leigh Hunt in Literary History: A Response,” “Inter Pares: Leigh Hunt as Personal Essayist,” and “Leigh Hunt’s Dramatic Success: A Legend in Florence.” These essays marked the bicentennial of Hunt’s birth.
Roe, Nicholas. Fiery Heart: The First Life of Leigh Hunt. London: Pimlico, 2005. A biography of Hunt’s life and his achievements as a poet and journalist up until the death of his friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1822.