"And Lo! Ben Adhem's Name Led All The Rest"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As editor of The Examiner, Leigh Hunt recognized and encouraged the poetic ability of Shelley and Keats. For a slighting comment on the fat "Adonis of fifty," later George IV, Hunt was imprisoned for two years (1813–1815), during which time his cell was a meeting place for young radicals. He is chiefly remembered, however, for his light essays and his delightful autobiography (1850), though he also wrote and published many short poems, of which "Jennie Kissed Me" and "Abou Ben Adhem" are those best remembered today. They show his efforts, as leader of the "Cockney School of Poetry," toward a colloquial style. In his Bibliothèque Orientale (1781), D'Herbelot told the legend of Abou-Ishak Ben Adhem. Hunt gave it poetic form, perhaps for Mrs. S. C. Hall's album, though it was first published in her husband's Books of Gems, Vol. III. It underscores the idea that a man can show his love of God and receive His blessing by loving his fellow-men. Abou Ben (son of) Adhem awakens one night to see an angel writing in a book of gold. He asks what the vision is doing, and receives the answer: "Writing the names of those who love the Lord." Asked whether Abou's name is there, the angel replies, "No." "Well, at least write down my name as one who loves his fellow-men," Abou insists.

The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.