1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leigh Hunt

Anonymous, in "Barry Cornwall, Motherwell, and Leigh Hunt" Fraser's Magazine 7 (February 1833) 216-17.



A large portion of injustice has been dealt out to this gentleman. We have ourselves sometimes aimed at his person our slight shaft of ridicule. But this was in bygone times — before, as we ignorantly imagined, disappointment, want, and wretchedness, had become the daily partners of his life. For the pain we then inadvertently inflicted, we endeavoured to make amends in a former Number, when he assumed the editorship of the Tatler, wishing him good speed and success in his undertaking. What were the circumstances which dissevered Mr. Hunt from the paper in question, we neither know nor have we ever inquired — nor can we say if the Tatler be still in existence; but it was sufficient for us to hear that Mr. Hunt was by such separation thrown out of all literary employment — that his worldly circumstances were of the worst kind — that he had a large family who looked to him for support — that his friends were subscribing towards a new edition of his poems, as the best means for placing immediate pecuniary means in his power. We earnestly hope they have effected their object. We have used our inadequate means to assist him, although he and his friends are ignorant of the fact. We also hope that Englishmen of every rank, denomination, and colour of politics, casting aside in manly spirit all asperities and repugnance, will assist in the work of saving a family from destitution — of rescuing talent from worldly oppression — of extricating an honest man from the hard clutch of necessity — and averting from our national character the disgrace of adding the name of another poet to the list of those of whom it may be literally said, that they asked of their country for bread, and received a stone.

We have said that Mr. Hunt is a honest man; — we stand to the word. We detest his politics — we avow may literary delinquencies on his part; but we aver that he has fallen a victim to his honesty of purpose. Let us be generous even in our hostilities, and freely award to every man his due. But we do not intend these observations on Mr. Hunt as a vindication of that gentleman — we are alive to the truth of some of the charges against him. His former volumes abounded in conceited attempts at euphrasy, which commonly ended in flatulence. Too many of these still remain and disfigure the volume before us. His ear is too frequently unmusical; and often, when he supposes he has wrought out for himself a melodious piece of rhythm, his lines may not untruly be called specimens of jingling prose. He says, in his preface to the new edition, "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 contain above a third of the verses I have written. I took for granted that an author's self-love is pretty sure not to be too hard upon him, and adopted the principle of making the doubt itself a sentence of condemnation. Upon this I have acted in every instance, with the exception of the Fragments upon the Nymphs, the Sonnet on the Nile, and the passages out of the Bacchus in Tuscany." The motive by which he was actuated was a good one — we only wish it had come into fuller operation. He was right in keeping Fragments; but we could not only have spared the Sonnet on the Nile, but the seven other sonnets that accompany that effusion. Mr. Hunt has no hand for the sonnet: he should be satisfied with the gifts which nature has given to his keeping, and not strain after objects too high for his attainment. His thoughts are sweet-flowing, delicate — but not lofty or majestic; nor can he effect that sudden and powerful concentration of idea and language which can alone be moulded into the vigorous display of the sonnet. The best of his compositions do not exceed the second order of the lyrical; but then he stands first among the poets of this class.