Authors: Leigh Hunt

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet and critic

Author Works

Poetry:

Juvenilia, 1801

The Feast of the Poets, 1814

The Story of Rimini, 1816

Foliage, 1818

Hero and Leander, and Bacchus and Ariadne, 1819

The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, 1923 (H. S. Milford, editor)

Drama:

A Legend of Florence, pr. 1840

Nonfiction:

Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres, 1807

Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries, 1828

Imagination and Fancy, 1844

Wit and Humour, 1846

Men, Women, and Books, 1847

The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt, 1850

Leigh Hunt’s Dramatic Criticism, 1808-1831, 1949 (Carolyn W. Houtchens and Lawrence H. Houtchens, editors)

Leigh Hunt’s Literary Criticism, 1956 (Houtchens and Houtchens, editors)

Biography

James Henry Leigh Hunt, editor, essayist, poet, and critic, was the youngest son of Isaac Hunt, a former student and lawyer in Philadelphia, and of Mary Shewell Hunt, a kind-hearted, conscientious woman of Quaker ancestry. Persecuted in revolutionary America for his loyalist views, Isaac Hunt had moved his family to England, where he adopted liberal views and became a popular Unitarian preacher.{$I[AN]9810000519}{$I[A]Hunt, Leigh}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Hunt, Leigh}{$I[tim]1784;Hunt, Leigh}

In 1792 Leigh Hunt was sent to Christ’s Hospital School, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb had attended. As a student, he admired William Collins and Thomas Gray and composed poems in imitation of their work. Upon leaving school he haunted various bookstalls, read avidly, and continued to write poetry. The publication of his juvenile poems reached a fourth edition in 1804. In 1807, Hunt published Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres, a volume of his collected theatrical criticism. This work demonstrates the vivid impressionism that was becoming typical of Romantic criticism. Also in 1808 Hunt joined his brother John in the publication of a weekly independent newspaper, The Examiner. In his activities as an editor, Hunt was drawn into the arena of political opinion and became a consistent, courageous but tolerant exponent of parliamentary reform and the liberal point of view. In 1809 he married Marianne Kent.

Having been several times acquitted in trials for political offenses in The Examiner, the Hunt brothers were convicted in December, 1812, of publishing an article disloyal to the prince regent. During his two unusually interesting years in Horse-monger Lane Jail, Leigh Hunt continued to write poetry and to edit The Examiner. His visitors included William Hazlitt, Lamb, Jeremy Bentham, and George Gordon, Lord Byron. Upon his release from prison, Hunt renewed his acquaintance with Percy Bysshe Shelley, who became his most valued friend, and he soon also formed a friendship with John Keats.

In 1816 Hunt published The Story of Rimini, his best-known long poem. The work, based on Dante, is notable for its experiments with colloquial diction and its loosening of the traditional couplet (it was to have a profound influence on Keats’s Endymion). Despite severe attacks from Tory journals, Hunt continued to edit The Examiner until 1822, when he moved his large family to Italy and began editing The Liberal, a quarterly magazine sponsored by Byron and Shelley. After Shelley’s death the periodical survived for only four numbers. Despite its brief life, The Liberal published several important works, including Byron’s The Vision of Judgment and Hazlitt’s “My First Acquaintance with Poets.”

Returning to England in 1825, Hunt found himself in difficult financial circumstances. Driven by resentment about the recently deceased Byron’s treatment of him in Italy, Hunt published Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries in 1828, which, although a commercial success, was widely viewed as a tasteless and spiteful attack.

Hunt’s reputation slowly recovered, however, and he increasingly became a central figure in early Victorian literary society. Throughout his life he continued his journalistic, editorial, and creative ventures, the masterpiece of which is his autobiography, The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt, published in 1850 and later edited by his son, writer Thornton.

Among Leigh Hunt’s greatest literary contributions are his remarkable personal essays, including “Getting Up on Cold Mornings” and “Coaches and Their Horses,” and his crucial role in helping to further the reputations of Keats; Shelley; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and (as a poet) Coleridge. Despite Charles Dickens’s biting portrait of him as Harold Skimpole in Bleak House (1852-1853), Hunt’s last years were serene and productive.

BibliographyBlainey, Ann. Immortal Boy: A Portrait of Leigh Hunt. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. This biography adds further dimension to the usual perception of Hunt as a cheerful character by emphasizing the infuriating and melancholic sides of the man. Blainey’s brief, well-written portrait focuses on Hunt’s vulnerable, human qualities. Includes several illustrations, extensive bibliography, and index.Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. Leigh Hunt and the Poetry of Fancy. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1994. Critical analysis of selected poetry by Hunt. Includes bibliographical references and index.Holden, Anthony. The Wit in the Dungeon: The Remarkable Life of Leigh Hunt. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005. A look at Hunt’s personal life, literary achievements, and his relationships with other prominent writers of his time. Includes sixteen pages of black and white photos.Hunt, Leigh. Leigh Hunt: A Life in Letters, Together with Some Correspondence of William Hazlitt. Edited and introduced by Eleanor M. Gates. Essex, Conn.: Falls River Publications, 1998. A collection of correspondence that offers invaluable insight into Hunt’s life and work.Johnson, Brimley. Leigh Hunt. 1896. New York: Haskell, 1970. Examines Hunt’s major works in great detail, assessing the writer’s abilities separately as a journalist, poet, and critic. Johnson suggests that “gratitude” to Hunt for his service to liberalism and his “popularization” of taste should persuade critics to overlook his “shallow” intellect and weak style. Supplemented by an index.Kendall, Kenneth E. Leigh Hunt’s “Reflector.” Paris: Mouton, 1971. Examines Hunt’s first literary periodical as a reflection of contemporary thought and times. Although the short book looks at other contributors from the Hunt circle, Hunt receives most of the attention. Kendall suggests that The Reflector was very important to the literary development of Hunt. Complemented by a bibliography, index, and appendices.McCown, Robert A., ed. The Life and Times of Leigh Hunt: Papers Delivered at a Symposium. Iowa City: Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries, 1985. A collection of critical essays covering various aspects of Hunt’s writings. Titles included are “Leigh Hunt in Literary History: A Response,” “Inter Pares: Leigh Hunt as Personal Essayist,” and “Leigh Hunt’s Dramatic Success: A Legend in Florence.” These essays marked the bicentennial of Hunt’s birth.Roe, Nicholas. Fiery Heart: The First Life of Leigh Hunt. London: Pimlico, 2005. A biography of Hunt’s life and his achievements as a poet and journalist up until the death of his friend, Percy Shelley, 1822.
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