1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leigh Hunt

William Maginn, "Gallery of Literary Characters: Leigh Hunt, Esq." Fraser's Magazine 9 (June 1834) 644.



LEIGH HUNT complained sadly of the pickpocket look which the malice or want of skill of an engraver had conferred on that copy of his countenance which decorated his book about Lord Byron. We hope that he will think our artist has succeeded better; although truth compels us to confess that there is not much of the style noble in the physiognomy of the "ci-devant" sonnetteer of Hampstead, even though "its intelligence relieves it from insignificance."

Hunt has written in a hundred different places all the particulars of his personal history, and we are thereby relieved from any pressing necessity of expatiating on his biography. He was once very warlike with his pen, and fond of controversy — but that occurred when he was "calidus juventa" — in his hot youth, when George the Third was king. Time and the wear of the world has smoothed the roughness of his ire, and his quills bristle not for the conflict as of old. Once upon a time he was ready to attack every body, from the Prince Regent down to the poor scene-shifter; and he tells us he then thought that a satire was nothing more than "a pleasant thing in a book." He felt the difference when the Northerns dubbed him King of the Cockneys. He is now far more tolerant of mankind; but he still preserves in considerable bloom all the grand characteristics of his original career, — the jauntiness and greenery, the theatrical orange-suckery, the suburban relishes, the admiration of all that is of the town, towny. He prattles as ever of green fields, and fancies that he knows something of fine breeding and the fine air of a gentleman of the West End. His pet words still cling to him in spite of all vicissitudes of time and fortune; and it is impossible to mistake an article of his, whether marked by the ruffled [printer's fist] or not. By the way, he ought to put a sham diamond ring on the index finger — it would look more sparkish; or sport a daffy-down-dilly from the back of Jack Straw's in the hand, thereby to shew that the farmy fields of Hampstead are not forgotten.

We grieved somewhat, on looking over his last edition of Rimini, when we missed the old familiar faces of these five lines, which had excited the savage criticism of Gifford. It was weak of Hunt to leave out these purple patches—

The thigh broad spread — the pressing thumb upon it;
And the jerked feather swaling in the bonnet;

or,

The two divinest things the world has got
A lovely woman on a rural — spot;

or,

"She had stout notions on the marrying score;"

or the hundred magnificent words which had called up the bile of the critical "sutor" who smote Hunt with his "crepida." The poem did not appear to us any thing like what it was some — almost twenty years ago, when we read it with infinite gratification, chiefly on account of these charming specimens of composition. Why should he have cared for his critics? They were no friends of his. And had we been Hunt we should have stuffed the poem ten times fuller of Cockneyisms, and not abated a rhyme to oblige the non-residents of London, who think that Anna ought not to be pronounced Annar. We should have shewn the provincials our intense contempt of their notions of the English tongue, and in the honour of Bow-bell have rhymed tobacco with Long Acre, as in the days of old.

He is now coming somewhat beyond that "mezzo cammin" of which Dante sings, and fortune has not smiled upon him. The party to which he formerly attached himself is in power, but all his old labours in the libel line on their behalf are forgotten. Those who abused the Prince Regent with far greater virulence than Hunt ever did are high in office, and glorying in their elevation. They have of course left him to struggle as he can. We hope that his struggling is successful — we understand, indeed, that his Journal has, as it deserves to have, a prosperous sale. It is as refreshing as his former productions, and of a pleasanter spirit. He has been an excessively ill-used man in many respects, and by none more than by Lord Byron, and those who panegyrise his lordship, "With the twaddle of Allan, the meanness of Moore." And so fare thee well, and prosper "Signor Le Hunto, gran gloria di Cocagna."