1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leigh Hunt

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:584.



LEIGH HUNT, son of the Rev. Isaac Hunt, an American refugee, by a sister of the celebrated painter, West, was born in 1784, and educated at Christ's Hospital. Whilst at school, he shewed his talent for poetry by some clever contributions to The Juvenile Preceptor. The chief part of these he published, under the title of Juvenilia, in 1801, at which time he was under articles of clerkship to an attorney; but he resigned both the law and a place under government, to which he was subsequently appointed, to engage in newspaper concerns. The first paper, for which he became a regular writer, was The News, in which his dramatic criticisms were particularly admired. In 1808, he started, in conjunction with his brother, The Examiner newspaper, which he conducted for many years in a manner that obtained for it a very extensive sale. The independence and spirit which pervaded its pages, however, more than once exposed him to prosecution by government; and for a libel on the Prince Regent, he was sentenced to two years' confinement in Horsemonger Lane gaol. In 1810, he commenced a quarterly magazine, called The Reflector; but it was not more successful than The Liberal, which he subsequently published, in conjunction with Shelley and Lord Byron; with the former of whom he had become acquainted during his confinement in prison. As a poet, he is chiefly known by his Story of Rimini, "a tale of impulse and power," as an eminent writer in The New Monthly Magazine has called it, "from the beginning to the end, discovering, at the same time, a delightful play of fancy." There is, however, a mannerism about his verse which becomes extremely wearisome; and amid many simple beauties, much common-place matter totally unworthy the name of poetry. Many of the leading reviews criticised Rimini most unmercifully, at the time of its appearance; and, some of them, with a degree of ridicule which provoked the author to a reply. Indeed, we think he succeeds better as an essayist than a poet, though his performances in the former character are comparatively few. The chief of them will be found in a collection called The Round Table, written in conjunction with Hazlitt, and, more recently, in The Companion and the Indicator, periodicals which failed after Mr. Hunt had published a few numbers. His Critical Essays on the Performers on the London Theatres, appeared in 1808, subsequent to which period he has published, besides the works mentioned, Classic Tales, selected from authors of distinguished genius; Feast of the Poets; The Descent of Liberty, a mask; Foliage, or poems, original and translated; a translation of Tasso's Aminta; The Literary Pocket Book; Reminiscences of Lord Byron and his contemporaries, and some others of minor importance. This last produced no good feeling on the part of the public towards him, in consequence of the freedom with which he spoke of the failings of Lord Byron, after having received certain pecuniary assistance from him during the noble poet's lifetime.