1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Leigh Hunt

A. P., "Leigh Hunt: a Literary and Biographical Sketch" Living Poets of England: Specimens of the Living British Poets (1827) 2:431.



When Lord Byron aimed at the character of a theologian in Cain; this set all the theologians against him. The cry of heretic and manichean was raised: the author of Cain was declared the founder of the Satanic School! a designation, which in the 19th century, savours a little of fanaticism. The two principal disciples of the leader are Shelley and Hunt, supported in prose by the paradoxical Hazlitt. Leigh Hunt is himself the founder of another school, ridiculed in Blackwood's Magazine under the name of the Cockney School. There is much boldness in the political principles of Leigh Hunt; but his poetry is characterised by gentleness. A luxury of images in Moore's style may be discerned in it, and a degree of harmony unrestrained by rules and ordinary language: but shove all an affected negligence. Mr. Hunt rhymes like a noble "bel esprit": and thinks like a demagogue. His enthusiasm for nature has more the air of a pretence than a real emotion; for his descriptions are neither pastoral nor unartificial. Hazlitt has greatly lauded his Rimini in the present sketch. That sublime episode of Dante was a delicate thing to meddle with. Leigh Hunt has overlaid it with an abundance of voluptuous images, and with the pomp of his descriptions, the reader becomes impatient in the midst of the brilliant court, and the magnificent fetes to which he is in the first instance conveyed; where the poet seems to revel to such a degree as to lose sight of his two lovers; one is accordingly prompted to skip the two first books in order to find Dante again in the 3rd, which is more dramatic, but which is spun out to a still greater length. In the English poet's narrative, the famous line "Quel giorno piu non vi legemmo avante" is divested of the chaste grace, and charm, which it possesses in the month of Dante's Francesca. If Hazlitt had been less intimate with Leigh Hunt he would have perceived, when quoting this passage, that his friend had permitted that character of sensuality which is one of the distinguishing traits of his poetry to transpire. Dante excellently says "La bocca mi bacio tutto tremante." But Leigh Hunt adds; "sweet was that long kiss." The poem however was not written in a boudoir, but in a prison. The Quarterly Review, which has treated Hunt with obvious malevolence, could not abstain from pointing out this defect. The story of Rimini is not worth Lord Byron's Parisina. Mr. Leigh Hunt has himself been very severe on his contemporaries in the text and notes of a poem entitled The Feast of Poets; which sufficiently demonstrates that a rich imagination is not sufficient to constitute a poet of the first order.