A long catalogue placed in a short sonnet. Edmund Spenser ("for luxury, and sweet sylvan play") was Leigh Hunt's frequent recourse during his imprisonment in the fantastic "cell" at Horsemonger Lane Gaol (1813-15). "The Poets: was published anonymously (signed with the printer's fist that was Hunt's mark) and not reprinted.
Leigh Hunt: "The main objects of the Examiner newspaper were to assist in producing Reform in Parliament, liberality of opinion in general (especially freedom from superstition), and a fusion of literary taste into all subjects whatsoever. It began with being of no party; but Reform soon gave it one" Autobiography (1850) 1:203.
Bryan Waller Procter: "his comparative estimates of authors were perhaps sometimes at fault. He liked Milton more, and Spenser far more, than Shakespeare. I never saw a volume of that greatest of dramatists and poets in his house; but the beloved Spenser was always there, close at hand, for quotation or reference. I suspect that his reading was not very extensive, and that he therefore made up his mind upon too confined a view. He became a, critic and a pronouncer of his own opinions too early. It is best to begin life by becoming a disciple. Hunt was never an undergraduate. He became a dispenser of praise and blame too soon after his departure from Christ's Hospital School" Autobiographical Fragment (1877) 199-200.
George Saintsbury: "The fullest division of all [Hunt's criticism] is that on Spenser — indeed Leigh Hunt's appreciation of this at once exquisite and magnificent poet is one of the very best we have, and would be the best of all if it had been a little more sensitive to Spenser's 'bravest translunary things,' to the pervading exaltation and sublimation of thought and feeling which purifies the most luscious details, and unites the most straggling divagations in a higher unity" History of English Criticism (1911) 359.
Were I to name, out of the times gone by,
The poets dearest to me, I should say,
PULCI for spirits, and a fine, free way;
CHAUCER for manners, and close, silent eye;
MILTON for classic taste, and harp strung high;
SPENSER for luxury, and sweet, sylvan play;
HORACE for chatting with, from day to day;
SHAKSPEARE for all, but most, society.
But which take with me, could I take but one?
SHAKSPEARE, — as long as I was unoppressed
With the world's weight, making sad thought intenser;
But did I wish, out of the common sun,
To lay a wounded heart in leafy rest,
And dream of things far off and healing, — SPENSER.