1816
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Harry Brown's Letters to his Friends. Letter VII. [Epistle to Charles Lamb.]

The Examiner (25 August 1816) 536-37.

Leigh Hunt


In a convivial verse epistle Leigh Hunt addresses (anonymously) Charles Lamb, recalling conversations about Spenser ("who wraps you, wherever you are, | In a bow'r of seclusion beneath a sweet star") among other writers (Shakespeare, Chapman, Marvell, Spenser, Richardson, Brown). There follows a description of the muddy roads leading to Hampstead, and some verses about Polyphemus and his lover suppressed when the poem was later reprinted.

R. T.: "As an editor of periodical papers, either in politics or literature, whether Examiners or Indicators, he is distinguished for a degree of ability and information in conducting them, not only highly respectable, but which we have seldom seen surpassed. The Indicator embraces a range of literary subjects, equally amusing and original, and occasionally treated in a very happy manner. On the Examiner, and the more tender ground of politics, we do not choose to touch, further than to remark, that Mr. L. H.'s own hand is easily discernible in it, from its peculiar characteristics of shrewdness and of force, of flippancy and of singularity" Imperial Magazine 3 (December 1821) 1068.

William Howitt: "it is to the everlasting honour of Leigh Hunt, that, himself a critic as well as a poet, he never dipped his hand in the blood of the innocents. He never slew one of those martyrs whose glorious tombs we now build with adamantine stones of admiration, tempering the cement with the tears of our love. Himself assailed, and shot at, and cruelly wounded by the archers, he not only turned and manfully defended himself, but spread the shield of his heart to protect those who were rising up to become formidable rivals in the public regard. Will the country ever show to this generous man, and in time, that warm-heartedness which he always showed to its sons of genius in their unfolding hours? It is a glory that is peculiar, and peculiarly beautiful, that amid that iron age of a murderous criticism, he was for ever found in close union and communion with the morning stars of poetry. They truly 'sang together.' They seemed by an instinct of life to flock to him, and by an instinct equally sure and unselfish, he felt at once their claims, and with open hand and heart maintained them" Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets (1847) 1:426.



O thou, whom old HOMER would call, were he living,
Home-lover, thought-feeder, abundant-joke-giving;
Whose charity springs from deep knowledge, nor swerves
Into mere self-reflections, or scornful reserves;
In short, who were made for two centuries ago,
When SHAKSPEARE drew men, and to write was to know;—

You'll not be surprized that I can't walk the streets,
Without thinking of you and your visiting feats,
When you call to remembrance how you and one more,
When I wanted it most, used to knock at my door.
For when the sad winds told us rain would come down,
Or snow upon snow fairly clogged up the town,
And dun yellow fogs brooded over its white,
So that scarcely a being was seen towards night,
Then, then said the lady yclept near and dear,
"Now mind what I tell you, — the L's will be here."
So I poked up the flame, and she got out the tea,
And down we both sat, as prepared as could be;
And there, sure as fate, came the knock of you two.
Then the lanthorn, the laugh, and the "Well, how d'ye do!"

Then your palm tow'rds the fire, and your face turn'd to me,
And shawls and great-coats being — where they should be,—
And due "never saw's" being paid to the weather,
We cherished our knees, and sat sipping together,
And leaving the world to the fogs and the fighters,
Discussed the pretensions of all sorts of writers;
Of SHAKSPEARE'S coevals, all spirits divine;
Of CHAPMAN, whose Homer's a fine rough old wine;
Of MARVELL, wit, patriot, and poet, who knew
How to give, both at once, CHARLES and CROMWELL their due.
Of SPENSER, who wraps you, wherever you are,
In a bow'r of seclusion beneath a sweet star;
Of RICHARDSON, too, who afflicts us so long,
We begin to suspect him of nerves over strong;
In short, of all those who give full-measur'd page,
Not forgetting Sir THOMAS, my ancestor sage,
Who delighted (so happy were all his digestions)
In puzzling his head with impossible questions.

But now, CHARLES — you never (so blissful you deem me)
Come lounging, with twirl of umbrella to see me.
In vain have we hoped to be set at our ease
By the rains which you know used to bring L— and pease;
In vain we look out like the children in THOMSON,
And say, in our innocence, "Surely he'll come soon."

'Tis true, I do live in a vale, at my will,
With sward to my gateway, and trees on the hill:
My health too gets on: and now autumn is nigh,
The sun has come back, and there's really blue sky,
But then, the late weather, I think, had its merits,
And might have induc'd you to look at one's spirits;
We hadn't much thunder and lightning, I own:
But the rains might have led you to walk out of town;
And what made us think your desertion still stranger,—
The roads were so bad, there was really some danger;
At least where I live; for the nights were so groping,
The rains made such wet, and the paths are so sloping,
That few, unemboldened by youth or by drinking,
Came down without lanthorns, — nor then without shrinking.
And really, to see the bright spots come and go,
As the path rose or fell, was a fanciful shew,
Like fairies they seemed, pitching up from their nooks,
And twinkling upon us their bright little looks;
Or if there appeared but a single slow light,
It seemed POLYPHEMUS, descending by night.
To walk in his anguish about the green places,
And see where his mistress lay dreaming of ACIS.

I fancy him now, coming just where she sleeps:
He parts the close hawthorns, and bushes, and creeps;—
The moon slips from under the dark clouds and throws
A light, through the leaves, on her smiling repose.
There, there she lies, bower'd; — a stone for her bed;
One branch, like a hand, reaches over her head;
Half naked, half shrinking, with side-swelling grace,
A crook's 'twixt her bosom, and crosses her face,—
The crook of her shepherd; — and close to her lips
Lies the Pan-pipe he blows, which in sleeping she sips;—
The giant's knees totter, with passions diverse;
Ah, how can he bear it! Ah, what could be worse!
He's ready to cry out, for anguish of heart;
And tears himself off, lest she wake with a start.

So much for the streets I gave out as my text;
But of these, my dear L., you must hear in my next.

[pp. 536-37]