1858 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leigh Hunt

Cyrus Redding, in Fifty Years' Recollections (1858) 1:274-75.



At this time, John and Leigh Hunt were imprisoned for a libel on George IV. Lord Ellenborough, on the trial, after showing a spirit of political animosity, which ill became a judge, sentenced one brother to be imprisoned in Surrey, and the other in Middlesex. This was considered an oversight, or a kindness in a judge remarkable for the absence of both. York, or Dorchester was expected. In order to suit political enmities, particularly those towards the press, the judges declared that all jails were the king's — pitiful quibblers! — therefore, it was perfectly consistent with justice, that a man might be sent to Berwick for imprisonment, who had committed an offence in Cornwall, though he could not be tried out of his own county! Any inconsistency to suit a purpose. Why but to screen the subject's natural rights, were not London prisoners sent to Berwick or Cornwall for trial. I remember paying Leigh Hunt a visit in Horsemonger Lane Jail, a miserable low site. I missed Byron and Moore, by only about half-an-hour, on the same errand. Horace Smith, and Shelley used to be visitors there, and many others of Hunt's friends. He was composing "Rimini," a copy of which he gave me, and which I still possess.

His apartment, on the ground floor, was cheerful for such a place, but that only means a sort of lacquered gloom after all. I thought of his health, which seemed by no means strong. I am certain, if the place was not unwholesome, it lay close upon the verge of insalubrity. Hunt bore his confinement cheerfully, but he must have had unpleasant moments. He was naturally lively, and in those days, I never knew a more entertaining companion. For such an one to be alone for weary, dreary hours, it must have been punishment enough, even to satisfy an Ellenborough or a Jeffries.

When he resided in the New Road, I spent many an evening with him, pleasant, informing, and varied by conversation on subjects that chance brought up, or association introduced stealthily. I visited him in the Vale of Health at Hampstead, where there was always a heartiness that tempted confidence, and with much imaginativeness, much skimming of literature, and a light culling of its wild flowers, criticism without envy, and opinions free of insincerity. Leigh Hunt yet survives, or I might be tempted to proceed to many details, which would infringe the rule I have made for myself in the mention of but few who are still spared from a day of our literature, the similar of which is hardly likely soon, if ever, to recur again.