James Henry Leigh Hunt by Samuel Laurence

James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859). Portrait by Samuel Laurence (1812-1884), circa 1837. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

James Henry Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 - 28 August 1859) was an English poet, literary critic, and essayist, best known today as a friend and colleague of Romantic poets Byron, Keats, and Shelley.



Hunt was born at Southgate, and educated at Christ's Hospital. A selection of his earliest poems was published by his father in 1801 under the title of Juvenilia. In 1805 he joined his brother John in conducting a paper, the News, which the latter had started. Thereafter the brothers embarked upon the Examiner, a paper of pronounced radical views. The appearance in this journal of an article on the Prince Regent in which he was described in words which have been condensed into "a fat Adonis of fifty," led to Leigh Hunt being fined £500 and imprisoned for 2 years. With his customary genial philosophy, however, the prisoner made the best of things, turned his cell into a study, with bookcases and a piano, and his yard into a garden. He had the sympathy of many, and received his friends, including Byron, Moore, and Lamb. On his release he publihed his poem, The Story of Rimini. 2 other volumes of poetry followed, The Feast of the Poets and Foliage, in 1814 and 1818 respectively. In the latter year he started the Indicator, a paper something in the style of the Spectator or Tatler, and after this had run its course the Companion, conceived on similar lines, took its place in 1828. In 1822 Hunt went to Italy with Byron, and there established the Liberal, a paper which did not prove a success. Disillusioned with Byron, Hunt returned home, and published in 1828 Lord Byron and his Contemporaries, a work which gave great offence to Byron's friends, who accused the author of ingratitude. In 1834 Hunt started the London Journal, which he edited for 2 years. Among his later works are Captain Sword and Captain Pen (1835), The Palfrey (a poem), A Legend of Florence (drama), Imagination and Fancy (1844), Wit and Humour (1846), A Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla (1848), The Old Court Suburb (1855), The Town, Sir Ralph Esher, a novel, and his Autobiography (1850). Although his poems have considerable descriptive power and brightness, he had not the depth and intensity to make a poet, and his reputation rests rather upon his essays, which are full of a genial philosophy, and display a love of books, and everything pleasant and beautiful. He did much to popularise the love of poetry and literature in general among his fellow-countrymen.[1]

Youth and familyEdit

Hunt was born at Southgate, Middlesex. His father, Isaac, was descended from one of the oldest settlers in Barbadoes, and studied at a college in Philadelphia, U.S.A. He married Mary Shewell, a lady of quaker extraction, whose memory was, says Leigh Hunt, "a serene and inspiring influence to animate me in the love of truth." The father was sanguine, pleasure-loving, and unpractical. He encountered much persecution as a loyalist, and finally, with broken fortunes, came to England, where he became a popular metropolitan preacher. His manners were theatrical, and he was fond of society. He acquired a reputation for unsteadiness, which prevented him from getting preferment in the church. He found a friend in James Brydges, third duke of Chandos, and was engaged by him as a tutor to his nephew, James Henry Leigh (the father of Chandos Leigh, first Lord Leigh), after whom Leigh Hunt was names. He was subsequently placed on the Loyalist Pension Fund with 100l. a year, but he mortgaged the pension, and after undergoing a series of mortifications and distresses died in 1809.[2]

Leigh Hunt was a delicate child. He was watched over with great tenderness by his mother, and after a short visit to the coast of France his health improved. He was nervous, and his elder brothers took a pleasure in terrifying him by telling him ghost-stories, and by pretended apparitions.[3]


In 1792 he went to Christ's Hospital School. His recollections of his schooldays and schoolmates occupy a large portion of his Autobiography. He describes himself as an "ultra-sympathising and timid boy." The thrashing system then in vogue horrified him. His gentle disposition often made him the victim of rougher boys, but he at length gained strength and address enough to stand his own ground. He only fought once, beat his antagonist, and then made a friend of him. Among his school-fellows were Mitchell, the translator of Aristophanes, and Thomas Barnes (1785-1841), subsequently editor of the Times. With Barnes he learned Italian, and the 2 lads used to wander over the Hornsey fields together, shouting verses from Metastasio.[3]

On account of some hesitation in his speech, which was afterwards overcome, he was not sent to the university. While at school he wrote verses in imitation of Collins and Gray, whom he passionately admired. He revelled in the 6-penny edition of English poets then published by John Cooke (1731-1810), and among his favourite volumes were Tooke's Pantheon, Lemprière's Classical Dictionary, and Spence's Polymetis, with the plates. He wrote a poem called "Winter" in imitation of James Thomson, and another called "The Fairy King" in the manner of Spenser. At 13, "if so old," he fell in love with a charming cousin of 15.[3]

Early careerEdit

After leaving school his time was chiefly spent in visiting his schoolfellows, haunting the bookstalls, reading whatever came in his way, and writing poetry.[3]

His father obtained subscribers from his old congregation for Juvenilia; or, A collection of poems, written between the ages of twelve and sixteen, by J.H.L. Hunt, late of the Grammar School of Christ's Hospital, and dedicated by permission to the Honble. J.H. Leigh, containing Miscellanies, Translations, Sonnets, Pastorals, Elegies, Odes, Hymns, and Anthems, 1801. The book reached a 4th edition in 1804. Hunt himself afterwards thought these poems "good for nothing."[3]

Subsequently he visited Oxford, and was patronised by Henry Kett, who "hoped the young poet would receive inspiration from the muse of Warton." He was soon "introduced to literati, and shown about among parties in London." His father had given him a set of the British classics, which he read with avidity, and he began essay-writing, contributing several papers, written with the "dashing confidence" of a youth, barely of age, to the Traveller. They were signed 'Mr. Town, Junior, Critic and Censor-general,' a signature borrowed from the Connoisseur.[3]

In 1805 his brother John started a short-lived paper called The News. Its theatrical criticisms by Leigh Hunt attracted attention by their independence and originality. A selection from them, published in 1807, was entitled Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres, including General Remarks on the Practice and Genius of the Stage.[3]

In 1807 appeared in 5 duodecimo volumes 'Classic Tales, Serious and Lively; with critical essays on the merits and reputation of the uthors.' The tales were selected from Johnson, Voltaire, Marmontel, Goldsmith, Mackenzie, Brooke, Hawkesworth, and Sterne.About this time Hunt was for a while a clerk under his brother Stephen, an attorney, and afterwards obtained a clerkship in the war office under the patronage of Addington, the premier, his father's friend.[3]

That situation he abandoned in 1808 to co-operate with his brother John in a weekly newspaper, to be called The Examiner. Although no politician, he undertook to be editor and leader-writer. The paper soon became popular. It was thoroughly independent, and owed allegiance to no party, but advocated liberal politics with courage and consistency. Its main object was to assert the cause of reform in parliament, liberality of opinion in general, and to infuse in its readers a taste for literature. As a journalist no man did more than Leigh Hunt, during his 13 years' connection with the Examiner, to raise the tone of newspaper writing, and to introduce into its keenest controversies a spirit of fairness and tolerance.[3]

In 1809 Hunt married Marianne Kent. In the same year appeared An Attempt to show the Folly and Danger of Methodism …, a reprint, with additions, from the Examiner. In 1810 his brother John started a quarterly magazine called 'The Reflector,' which Leigh Hunt edited. Only 4 numbers of it appeared. Barnes, Charles Lamb, and other friends contributed to it. Hunt wrote for it a poem called "The Feast of the Poets" (afterwards published separately), a playful and satirical piece, which offended most of the poetical fraternity, especially Gilford, editor of the Quarterly Review.[3]

The Round Table, a series of essays on literature, men, and manners, by William Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt (2 vols. 1817), originally appeared in the Examiner between 1815 and 1817.[3]

The Examiner was looked upon with suspicion by those in power. More than once the brothers were prosecuted by the government for political offences, but in each case were acquitted. An article on the savagery of military floggings led to a prosecution early in 1811, when Brougham successfully defended the Hunts. Immediately after the acquittal Moore, a frequent visitor, brought Lord Byron with him in May 1813, and Hunt's friendship with Byron was thus begun (Moore, Life, ii. 204). Shelley had made him "a princely offer," which was declined immediately after the sentence was pronounced (Autobiography, i. 221). When Jeremy Bentham came to see him he found him playing at battledore. During his imprisonment he wrote The Descent of Liberty: A Masque, dealing with the downfall of Napoleon, published in 1815, and dedicated to his friend Barnes. All through his imprisonment he continued to edit the Examiner.[4]

He left prison in February 1815, and, after a year's lodging in the Edgware Road, went to live at Hampstead, where Shelley, who had just sent him a sum of money, was his guest in December 1816. About the same time Charles Cowden Clarke introduced Keats to him, and Hunt was the means of bringing Keats and Shelley together for the first time (ib. i. 224 228).[4]

An article by Hunt on "Young Poets," published in the Examiner, 1 December 1816, first made the genius of Shelley and Keats known to the public. To both Hunt was a true friend, and both recorded their gratitude. Hunt addressed 3 sonnets to Keats, and afterwards devoted many pages of his Indicator to a lengthened and glowing criticism of one of the young poet's volumes. Keats stayed with him at Hampstead shortly before leaving for Italy. Shelley made him many handsome gifts; often invited him and his wife to stay with him at Marlow in 1817; and dedicated his Cenci to him in 1819. Keats thought that Hunt afterwards neglected him, though Hunt disclaimed the imputation in an article in the 'Examiner.'[4]

In 1816 appeared 'The Story of Rimini,' a poem. It was dedicated to Lord Byron. The greater part of it was written during his imprisonment. The subject of it was Dante's love-story of Paolo and Francesca. It is conceived in the spirit of Chaucer and has in it lines worthy of Dryden. In conformity with the strictures of some of his critics he rewrote the poem some years later, but it is questionable whether he improved it. When he wrote it, he had not been in Italy, and afterwards he corrected some mistakes in the scenery, and restored its true historical conclusion.[4]

At this time Hunt became the object of the most bitter attacks on the part of many tory writers. His close friendship with Shelley, whom he actively assisted in the difficulties consequent on his desertion of his first wife, and whom he vigorously defended from the onslaughts of the Quarterly in the Examiner (September–October 1819), caused him to be identified with some opinions which he himself did not entertain.[4]

He was bitterly attacked in Blackwood's Magazine and the Quarterly Review.' In the words of Carlyle, he suffered "obloquy and calumny through the tory press — perhaps a greater quantity of baseness, persevering, implacable calumny, than any other living writer has undergone, which long course of hostility … may be regarded as the beginning of his other worst distresses, and a main cause of them down to this day."[4]

The Quarterly Review nearly 50 years later gave utterance, through the pen of Bulwer, to a generous recognition of the genius of both Hunt and Hazlitt, whom it had similarly attacked, and 15 years afterwards Wilson in Blackwood made a graceful reference to him in one of the 'Noctes,' the concluding words of which were "the animosities are mortal, the humanities live for ever." Wilson even invited him to write for the magazine, but Hunt declined the offer.[4]

In 1818 appeared Foliage; or, Poems, original and translated. This was followed in 1819 by The Literary Pocket-book, a kind of pocket and memorandum book for men of intellectual and literary tastes; 3 more numbers of it appeared, viz. in 1820, 1821, and 1822. The articles in the Pocket-book for 1819 descriptive of the successive beauties of the year were printed with considerable additions in a separate volume in 1821, under the title of The Months. In 1819 Hunt also published Hero and Leander and Bacchus and Ariadne.[4]

A new journalistic venture, The Indicator, in which some of his finest essays appeared, commenced in October 1819. During the seventy-six weeks of its existence his papers on literature, life, manners, morals, and nature were all characterised by subtle and delicate criticisms, kindly cheerfulness, and sympathy with nature and art. Amyntas: A tale of the Woods; from the Italian of Torquato Tasso, appeared in 1820.[4]

In 1821 a proposal was made to Hunt by Shelley and Byron, who were then in Italy, to join them in the establishment of a quarterly liberal magazine, the profits to be divided between Hunt and Byron. The Examiner was declining in circulation, and Hunt was in delicate health. He had been compelled to discontinue the Indicator, "having," as he said, "almost died over the last number."[4]

He set sail with his wife and 7 children on 15 November 1821. After a tremendous storm the vessel was driven into Dartmouth, where they relanded and passed on to Plymouth. Here they remained for several months. Shelley sent Hunt 150l. in January 1822, and urged him to secure some means of support other than the projected quarterly before finally leaving England.[4]

In May, however, the Hunts sailed for Leghorn, where they arrived at length at the close of June. They were joined by Shelley, and removed to Pisa, Hunt and his family occupying rooms on the ground floor of Byron's house there. Shelley was drowned on 8 July 1822, and Hunt was present at the burning of his body, and wrote the epitaph for his tomb in the protestant cemetery at Rome.[4]

Byron's interest in the projected magazine had already begun to cool. Hunt's reliance on its speedy appearance was frustrated by Byron's procrastination, and he was thus compelled to unwilling inactivity, and to the humiliation of having to ask for pecuniary assistance. The 2 men were thoroughly uncongenial, and their relations mutually vexatious. The Liberal lived through 4 numbers, 1822-1823.[4]

Hunt had left Pisa with Byron in September 1822 for Genoa. In 1823 he moved to Florence, and remained there till his return to England 2 years later. After Byron's departure for Greece in 1823,[4] Hunt and his family were left in a foreign country without the means of support, and much suffering ensued. He produced during that period Ultra-Crepidarius: A satire on William Gifford, and Bacchus in Tuscany: A dithyrambic poem from the Italian of Francesco Redi; with notes, original and select. He also issued the Literary Examiner, an unstamped weekly paper, extending to 27 numbers; and wrote The Wishing Cap, a series of papers which appeared in the Examiner; and a number of papers in the New Monthly Magazine, called The Family Journal, signed "Harry Honeycomb.' To the New Monthly he also contributed many essays at later dates.[5]

Return to EnglandEdit

Hunt left Italy in September 1825, one of his reasons for returning to England being a litigation with his brother John. He settled on Highgate Hill, and energetically continued his journalistic work, but in 1828 he committed the great blunder of his life by writing and publishing Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries; with recollections of the author's ;ife, and of his visit to Italy, with portraits. Although everything stated in the book was undoubtedly true, it ought never to have been written, far less printed. He himself afterwards regretted the imprudent act. "I had been goaded," he wrote, "to the task by misrepresentation …," and added that he might have said more "but for common humanity." At a later period he admitted that he had been "agitated by anger and grief," though he had said nothing in which he did not believe. The book has its historical value, however improper it may have been that one who was under obligations to Byron and had been Byron's guest should publish it.[5]

In 1828, while living at Highgate, he issued, under the title of The Companion, a weekly periodical in the style of the Indicator. It extended to 28 numbers, and consisted of criticisms on books, the theatres, and public events. "They contained some of what afterwards turned out to be my most popular writings." In the Keepsake, one of the annuals of 1828, there are 2 articles from his pen: one on "Pocket-books and Keepsakes," and the other "Dreams on the Borderlands of the Land of Poetry."[5]

In 1828 he went to live at Epsom, where he started a periodical called The Chat of the Week, which ceased with the 13th number, owing to difficulties connected with the compulsory stamp on periodicals containing news. He thereupon undertook the laborious task of issuing a daily sheet of 4 pages folio, called The Tatler, devoted to literature and the stage, entirely written by himself. It commenced on 4 October 1830, and ended 13 February 1832. "I did it all myself," he writes, "except when too ill; and illness seldom hindered me either from supplying the review of a book, going every night to the play, or writing the notice of the play the same night at the printing-office." The work, he adds, almost killed him, and left a feeling of fatigue for a year and a half. Still he was never in better spirits or wrote such good theatrical criticisms.[5]

He was living at this period in London, successively at Old Brompton, St. John's Wood, and the New (now Euston) Road. While at Epsom he had commenced writing Sir Ralph Esher; or, Memoirs of a gentleman of the court of Charles the Second, including those of his friend, Sir Philip Herne. It was published in 1832, and in 1836 reached a 3rd edition[5].


In 1832, by the pecuniary assistance of his intimate friend John Forster, he printed for private circulation among friends a thin volume, entitled Christianism: Being exercises and meditations. "Mercy and Truth have met together; Righteousness and Peace have kissed each other." Not for sale — only 75 copies printed. It was written while in Italy. It was printed in an enlarged form in 1853, under the title of The Religion of the Heart. He sent a copy of 'Christianism' to Thomas Carlyle, which led to an interview, and ultimately to a lifelong friendship.[5]

In 1832 there was published by subscription in a handsome volume the 1st collected edition of his poems, with a preface of 58 pages. A list of the subscribers appeared in the Times, comprising names of all shades of opinion, some of his sharpest personal antagonists being included. The prejudices against him had to a great extent died away. In the same year Shelley's Masque of Anarchy appeared, with a preface by Hunt of 30 pages.[5]

Hunt settled in 1833 at 4 Cheyne Row, next door to Carlyle, where he remained till 1840. In 1833 he contributed 6 articles to Tait's Magazine, being a new series of "The Wishing Cap." Between 1838 and 1841 he wrote 5 articles in the Monthly Chronicle, a magazine which had among its contributors Sir E.L. Bulwer and Dr. Lardner. In the same year he wrote reviews of new books in the True Sun, a daily newspaper. His health was at this time so feeble that he had for some time to be taken daily in a coach to the office. He then made the acquaintance of Laman Blanchard, to whom he pays a tribute in his Autobiography.[6]

In 1834 appeared 2 volumes with the title The Indicator and the Companion: A miscellany for the fields and the fireside. They contained a selection of the best papers in these periodicals written in 1819-1821 and in 1828. The publisher afterwards issued these volumes in 2 parts, double columns, at a moderate price, and they were several times reprinted.[6]

His next venture, one of the best-known of his periodicals, was Leigh Hunt's London Journal, begun in 1834 "To Assist the Inquiring, Animate the Struggling, and Sympathise with All." Partly modelled on Chambers's Edinburgh Journal established in 1832, it was a miscellany of essays, sketches, criticisms, striking passages from books, anecdotes, poems, translations, and romantic short stories of real life. Admirable in every way, it was, unhappily, too literary and refined for ordinary tastes, and ceased on 26 Dec. 1835. Christopher North praised it warmly in Blackwood's Magazine.[6]

In 1835 Hunt published a poem called Captain Sword and Captain Pen; with some remarks on war and military statesmen. It is chiefly remarkable for its vivid descriptions of the horrors of war. He succeeded William Johnson Fox as editor, and contributed to the Monthly Repository (July 1837 to March 1838). In it appeared his poem, "Blue-Stocking Revels, or The Feast of the Violets," a sort of female "Feast of the Poets," which was well spoken of by Rogers and Lord Holland.[6]

Thornton Hunt tells us that between 1834 and 1840 his father's embarrassments were at their worst. He was in perpetual difficulties. On more than one occasion he was literally without bread. He wrote to friends to get some of his books sold, so that he and his family may have something to eat. There were gaps of total destitution, in which every available source had been absolutely exhausted. He suffered, too, from bodily and mental ailments, and had 'great family sufferings apart from considerations of fortune,' of which some hint is given in his correspondence (Autobiog. ii. i. 164, 268).[7]

"In appearance," says his son, "Leigh Hunt was tall and straight as an arrow, and looked slenderer than he really was. His hair was black and shining, and slightly inclined to wave. His head was high, his forehead straight and white, under which beamed a pair of eyes, dark, brilliant, reflecting, gay, and kind, with a certain look of observant humour. His general complexion was dark. There was in his whole carriage and manner an extraordinary degree of life. His whole existence and habit of mind were essentially literary. He was a hard and conscientious worker, and most painstaking as regards accuracy. He would often spend hours in verifying some fact or event which he had only stated parenthetically. Few men were more attractive in society, whether in a large company or over the fireside. His manner was particularly animated, his conversation varied, ranging over a great field of subjects. There was a spontaneous courtesy in him that never failed, and a considerateness derived from a ceaseless kindness of heart that invariably fascinated."[8]

Hawthorne and Emerson have left on record the delightful impression he made when they visited him. He led a singularly plain life. His customary drink was water, and his food of the plainest and simplest kind; bread alone was what he took for luncheon or supper. His personal friendships embraced men of every party, and among those who have eloquently testified to his high character as a man and an author are Carlyle, Lytton, Shelley, Macaulay, Dickens, Thackeray, Lord Houghton, Forster, Macready, Jerrold, W. J. Fox, Miss Martineau, and Miss Mitford.[8]


In 1840 was published The Seer; or, Common-places refreshed, consisting of selections from the London Journal, the Liberal, the Tatler, the Monthly Repository, and the Round Table. The preface concludes: "Given at our suburban abode, with a fire on one side of us, and a vine at the window of the other, this 19th day of October 1840, and in the very green and invincible year of our life, the 56th.' From 1840 to 1851 he lived in Edwardes Square, Kensington.[6]

On 7 February 1840 Hunt's fine 5-act play, A Legend of Florence, was brought out at Covent Garden Theatre. Its poetical qualities and brilliant dialogue secured for it a deserved success. During its first season it was witnessed 2 or 3 times by the queen. It was revived 10 years later at Sadler's Wells, and in 1852 it was performed at Windsor Castle by her majesty's command.[6]

In 1840 he wrote Introductory Biographical and Critical Notices to Moxon's Edition of the Dramatic Works of Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar. He took great pains with these prefaces, which are written in his best style. Macaulay's essay on The Dramatists of the Restoration was suggested by this volume. Hunt also at this time wrote a Biographical and Critical Sketch of Sheridan, prefixed to Moxon's edition of the works of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.[6]

In 1842 appeared The Palfrey; A love-story of old times, with illustrations; a variation of one of the most amusing of the old French narrative poems, treated with great freshness and originality and unbounded animal spirits. In 1843 he published One Hundred Romances of Real Life: Comprising remarkable historical and domestic facts illustrative of human nature. These had appeared in his London Journal in 1834-18355.[6]

In 1844 his poetical works, containing many pieces hitherto uncollected, were published in a neat pocket-volume. In the same year appeared Imagination and Fancy; or, Selections from the English poets illustrative of those first requisites of their art; with markings of the best passages, critical notices of the writers, and an essay in answer to the question, "What is Poetry?" The prefatory essay gives a masterly and subtle definition of the nature and requisites of poetry.[6]

In 1846 he produced Wit and Humour: Selected from the English poets; with an illustrative essay and critical comments. In the same year was published Stories from the Italian Poets, with lives of the writers, in 2 volumes. These volumes summarised in prose the Commedia of Dante, and the most celebrated narratives of Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso, with comments throughout, occasional passages versified, and critical notices of the lives and genius of the authors.[6]

In 1847 he contributed a set of papers to the Atlas newspaper, which were afterwards collected and published under the title of A Saunter through the West-End. A very delightful collection of his papers in 2 volumes was published in 1847, titled Men, Women, and Books: A selection of sketches, essays, and critical memoirs, from the author's uncollected Prose Writings.' They consist of contributions to the Edinburgh and Westminster reviews, the New Monthly Magazine, Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, Ainsworth's Magazine, and the Monthly Chronicle.[6]

Macaulay, who writing to Napier in 1841 suggested that in case of Southey's death Hunt would make a suitable poet laureate, obtained for him some reviewing in the Edinburgh'. His personal, friends, aware of his struggles, were anxious to see some provision made for his declining years. Already on two occasions a royal grant of 200l. had been secured for him, and a pension of 120l. was settled upon him by Sir Percy Shelley upon succeeding to the family estates in 1844. Among those who urged Hunt's claims to a moderate public provision most earnestly, was his friend Carlyle. The characteristic paper which Carlyle drew up on the subject eulogised Hunt with admirable clearness and force.[7]

During the summer of 1847 Charles Dickens, with a company of amateur comedians, chiefly men of letters and artists, gave 2 performances of Ben Jonson's 'Every Man in his Humour' for Hunt's benefit, in Manchester and Liverpool, by which 900l. was raised.[7]

In 1848 appeared A Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla, illustrated by Richard Doyle. The substance of the volume had appeared in Ainsworth's Magazine in 1844. It includes a retrospect of the mythology, history, and biography of Sicily, and ancient legends and examples of pastoral poetry selected from Greece, Italy, and Britain, with illustrative criticisms, including a notice of Theocritus, with translated specimens. In the same year appeared The Town: Its memorable characters and events — St. Paul's to St. James's — with 45 Illustrations, in 2 volumes, containing an account of London, partly topographical and historical, but chiefly memoirs of remarkable characters and events associated with the streets between St. Paul's and St. James's. The principal portion of the work had appeared 13 years before in Leigh Hunt's London Journal.[7]

His next work was A Book for a Corner' or, Selections in prose and verse from authors the best suited to that mode of enjoyment, with comments on each, and a general introduction; with 80 wood engravings. In 1849 he issued Readings for Railways; or, Anecdotes and other short stories, reflections, maxims, characteristics, passages of wit, humour, poetry, &c.; together with points of Information on matters of general interest, collected in the course of his own reading.[7]

Between 1845 and 1850 there appeared several poems by Hunt in Ainsworth's Magazine and the New Monthly Magazine.[7]


In 1850 Hunt gave to the world The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt, with reminiscences. A revised edition, brought down to near his death in 1859, with an introduction by his eldest son, Thornton, was published in 1860. A new edition, edited by Roger Ingpen, appeared in 1903. The book is one of the most graceful and genial chronicles of its kind. Carlyle reckoned it behind only Boswell's Life of Johnson, and called it (in a letter to Hunt) "a pious, ingenious, altogether human, and worthy book, imaging with graceful honesty and free felicity many interesting objects and persons on your life-path, and imaging throughout what is best of all, a gifted, gentle, patient, and valiant human soul as it buffets its way through the billows of the time, and will not drown, though often in danger cannot be drowned, but conquers and leaves a tract of radiance behind it."[7]

In 1851 was issued Table-Talk: To which are added imaginary conversations of Pope and Swift. The matter consisted partly of short pieces first published under the head of "Table-Talk" in the Atlas newspaper, and partly of passages scattered in periodicals, and never before collected.[7]

In 1850 he revived an old venture under the slightly changed title of Leigh Hunt's Journal: A miscellany for the cultivation of the memorable, the progressive, and the beautiful. Carlyle contributed to it 3 articles. It was discontinued in March 1851, failing "chiefly from the smallness of the means which the originators of it had thought sufficient for its establishment."[7]

In 1852 his youngest son, Vincent, died. In the same year Dickens wrote 'Bleak House,' in which Harold Skimpole was generally understood to represent Hunt. But Dickens categorically denied in All the Year Round (24 December 1859) that Hunt's character had suggested any of the unpleasant features of the portrait. 'In the midst of the sorest temptations,' Dickens wrote of Hunt, "He maintained his honesty unblemished by a single stain. He was in all public and private transactions the very soul of truth and honour."[7]

The Old Court Suburb; or, Memorials of Kensington—Royal, critical, and anecdotical, in 2 volumes, appeared in 1855. The book is full of historical and literary anecdotes. There followed in the same year Beaumont and Fletcher; or. The finest scenes, lyrics, and other beauties of these two poets now first selected from the whole of their works, to the exclusion of whatever is morally objectionable; with opinions of distinguished critics, notes explanatory and otherwise, and a general introductory preface. It was dedicated to Bryan Waller Procter (Barry Cornwall). The volume is somewhat on the plan of Lamb's Specimens of the Old Dramatists, but gives whole scenes as well as separate passages.[9]

In 1855 appeared Stories in Verse, now first collected. All his narrative poems are here reprinted. In the story of Rimini he has restored the omitted and altered passages. His wife died in 1857, at the age of 69. In 1857 an American edition of his poems appeared in 2 volumes, The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt; now first entirely collected, revised by himself, and edited with an introduction by S. Adams Lee, Boston. It contains all the verses that he had published, with the exception of such as were rejected by him in the course of reperusal. This edition contains his play Lovers' Amazements, which is not given in any English edition.[9]

In 1859 he contributed 2 poems to Fraser's Magazine, in the manner of Chaucer and Spenser, "The Tapiser's Tale" and "The Shewe of Fair Seeming." 3 of Chaucer's poems, The Manciple's Tale, The Friar's Tale, and The Squire's Tale, had been modernised by him in 1841, in a volume by various writers, entitled 'The Poems of Chaucer Modernised.'[9]

The last product of his pen was a series of papers in the Spectator in 1859, under the title of 'The Occasional,' the last of which appeared about a week before his death.[9]


For about 2 years he had been declining in health, but he still retained a keen interest in life. He had lived in his later years at Phillimore Terrace,whence he removed in 1853 to 7 Cornwall Road, Hammersmith, his last residence. Early in August 1859 he went for a change of air to his old friend Charles Reynell at Putney, carrying with him his work and the books he needed, and there he quietly sank to rest on the 28th. His death was simply exhaustion. His latest words were in the shape of eager questions about the vicissitudes and growing hopes of Italy, in inquiries from the children and friends around him for news of those he loved, and messages to the absent who loved him.[9]

He was buried in Kensal Green cemetery.[9]


Posthumous publications & uncollected worksEdit

Not many months after his death there appeared in Fraser's Magazine a reply by Hunt to Cardinal Wiseman, who had in a lecture charged Chaucer and Spenser with occasional indecency. In 1860 was published The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt' now finally collected, revised by himself, and edited by his son, Thornton Hunt. In 1862 was published The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt; edited by his eldest son, with a portrait, 2 volumes. A number of his letters, not included in these volumes, were published in 1878 by Mr. and Mrs. Cowden Clarke in their Recollections of Writers.[9]

In 1867 appeared The Book of the Sonnet; edited by Leigh Hunt and S. Adams Lee, 2 volumes, published simultaneously in London and Boston. This volume is entirely devoted to the history and literature of the sonnet, with specimens by English and American authors. An introductory letter of 4 pages and an essay of 91 pages are prefixed.[9]

Despite the numerous collections of his scattered essays and articles published by himself, very many of Leigh Hunt's contributions to periodical literature have never been reprinted. The most interesting of these are his papers in the New Monthly Magazine for 1825-1826; "A Rustic Walk and Dinner," a poem, in the Monthly Magazine, 1842; a series of articles in the Musical World, called first "Words for Composers," and afterwards "The Musician's Poetical Companion," 1838-1839; 2 articles in the Edinburgh Review (on the Colman family, October 1841, and George Selwyn, July 1844); and 8 articles in the Musical Times, 1853-1854.[9]

Essays and criticismEdit

Leigh Hunt takes high rank as an essayist and critic. The spirit of his writings is eminently cheerful and humanising. He is perhaps the best teacher in our literature of the contentment which flows from a recognition of everyday joys and blessings. A belief in all that is good and beautiful, and in the ultimate success of every true and honest endeavour, and a tender consideration for mistake and circumstance, are the pervading spirit of all his writings. Cheap and simple enjoyments, true taste leading to true economy, the companionship of books and the pleasures of friendly intercourse, were the constant themes of his pen. He knew much suffering, physical and mental, and experienced many cares and sorrows; but his cheerful courage, imperturbable sweetness of temper, and unfailing love and power of forgiveness never deserted him.[9]

It is in the familiar essay that he shows to greatest advantage. Criticism, speculation, literary gossip, romantic stories from real life, and descriptions of country pleasures, are charmingly mingled in his pages; he can be grave as well as gay, and speak consolation to friends in trouble. 'No man,' says Mr. Lowell, 'has ever understood the delicacies and luxuries of language better than he; and his thoughts often have all the rounded grace and shifting lustre of a dove's neck. … He was as pure-minded a man as ever lived, and a critic whose subtlety of discrimination and whose soundness of judgment, supported as it was on a broad basis of truly liberal scholarship, have hardly yet won fitting appreciation.'[8]


As a poet Hunt showed much tenderness, a delicate and vivid fancy, and an entire freedom from any morbid strain of introspection. His verses never lack the sense and expression of quick, keen delight in all things naturally and wholesomely delightful. But an occasional mannerism, bordering on affectation, detracts somewhat from the merits of his poetry. His narrative poems, such as The Story of Kimini, are, however, among the very best in the language. He is most successful in the heroic couplet. His exquisite little fable 'Abou ben Adhem' has assured him a permanent place in the records of the English language.[8]

Critical introductionEdit

by Edward Dowden

Hunt's distinction as a poet is to be inspired by pleasure which never steals from his senses the freshness of boyhood, and never darkens his heart with the shadow of unsatisfied desire. Hazlitt spoke of ‘the vinous quality of his mind,’ which, with his natural gaiety and sprightliness of manner and his high animal spirits, ‘produce an immediate fascination and intoxication in those who come in contact with him.’ This vinous quality is in all Leigh Hunt’s verse, but it is not that of the heady liquor Hazlitt describes; it is a bright, light wine,

‘Tasting of Flora, and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sun-burnt mirth.’

For his chief poem, The Story of Rimini, he chose a passionate and piteous theme; but it was, as he says, to steady his felicity when, released from imprisonment, he visited the English south coast with his wife and their first beloved child.

A clear bright happiness in duty Leigh Hunt found; his industry was that of a bird building its nest. He had dared in a troubled time to libel the girth of the first gentleman in Europe, to call Adonis corpulent; and when sentence of two years’ imprisonment was pronounced, there was some sinking at his heart. But by and by his room in the prison infirmary began to blossom into an Arcadian bower — "I papered the wall with a trellis of roses; I had the ceiling covered with clouds and sky; the barred windows I screened with Venetian blinds; and when my book-cases were set up with their busts, and flowers and a pianoforte made their appearance, perhaps there was not a handsomer room on that side the water." It must have come out of a fairy tale, said Charles Lamb. On one bookshelf lay a solid "lump of sunshine," the Parnaso Italiano in 56 duodecimo volumes. All Mount Hybla and the Vale of Enna were in his cell.

The Parnaso Italiano accompanied him later to Italy. His earlier masters had been Spenser, the youthful Milton, and, in chief, Dryden. He speaks of his ‘first manner,’ and of his growth in inward perception of poetical requirement; as he advanced in years he became fastidious, rejecting altogether many charming pieces of earlier date. But in truth, although sallies of vivid phraseology were less frequent as his animal spirits lost the licence of boyhood, his style was from first to last in essentials one and the same. The wine was the same, but it had grown mellower.

His poetry was not the poetry of thought and passion, which we have in Shakespeare; nor — to use Leigh Hunt’s own words — that of "scholarship and a rapt ambition," which we have in Milton. He could have passed his whole life writing eternal new stories in verse, part grave, part gay, of no great length, but "just sufficient," he says, "to vent the pleasure with which I am stung on meeting with some touching adventure, and which haunts me till I can speak of it somehow."

Strolling in the meadows near northern London, a Spenser or a volume of the Parnaso under his arm, Leigh Hunt — a Cockney poet, as were Milton, Chaucer, and Spenser — gathered honey for his hive. When seated at his desk a blissful still excitement possessed him; his cheek flushed, his breath came irregularly, yet all seemed to be calmed and harmonised by some sweet necessity. In such a vivid composure the fine phrase, the subtle image emerged, to be welcomed and caressed:—

‘A ghastly castle, that eternally
Holds its blind visage out to the lone sea’

—after such words the poet’s breast might drink a deep inspiration.

‘A few cattle looking up askance
With ruminant meek mouths and sleepy glance’—

there again he had liberated his perception and his pleasure, and might pause for a happy moment. So he flitted on with steady purpose, and a happy industrious imagination storing his hive. His verses, though less rich and deep in loveliness than those of Keats, seem, as he so finely said of Keats’s lines, ‘to take pleasure in the progress of their own beauty, like sea-nymphs luxuriating in the water.’ He loved the triplet because it prolonged this luxury.

Leigh Hunt’s reverence for literature was of the finest temper. It would have pleased him to be a servant in the train of Ariosto. His loyalty to Keats was generous and constant, untouched by a shadow of ignoble rivalry. To him, the elder of the two, Keats offered his first printed verses. And Shelley withdrew, as fearing by sigh or tear to wrong the deeper grief of him, the "gentlest of the wise," who "taught, soothed, loved, honoured" dead Adonais.[10]


On 22 June 1847 the prime minister, Lord John Russell, wrote to Hunt that a pension of 200l. a year would be settled upon him.[7]

10 years after Hunt's death a bust, executed by Joseph Durham, was placed over his grave, with the motto, from his own poem, "Abou-ben-Adhem," "Write me as one who loves his fellow-men." The memorial was unveiled on 19 October 1869 by Lord Houghton.[9]

His poem "Jenny Kiss'd Me" was included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[11]

In September 1966, Christ's Hospital named one of its Houses in memory of him.

A portrait of Hunt by Haydon is in the National Portrait Gallery. There is a portrait by Maclise in Fraser's Magazine.===Poetry=== As a poet Hunt showed much tenderness, a delicate and vivid fancy, and an entire freedom from any morbid strain of introspection. His verses never lack the sense and expression of quick, keen delight in all things naturally and wholesomely delightful. But an occasional mannerism, bordering on affectation, detracts somewhat from the merits of his poetry. His narrative poems, such as The Story of Kimini, are, however, among the very best in the language. He is most successful in the heroic couplet. His exquisite little fable 'Abou ben Adhem' has assured him a permanent place in the records of the English language.[8]

In popular cultureEdit

Hunt was the original of Harold Skimpole in Bleak House. "Dickens wrote in a letter of 25 September 1853, 'I suppose he is the most exact portrait that was ever painted in words! ... It is an absolute reproduction of a real man'; and a contemporary critic commented, 'I recognized Skimpole instantaneously; ... and so did every person whom I talked with about it who had ever had Leigh Hunt's acquaintance.'"[12] G.K. Chesterton suggested that Dickens "may never once have had the unfriendly thought, 'Suppose Hunt behaved like a rascal!'; he may have only had the fanciful thought, 'Suppose a rascal behaved like Hunt!'."[13]


Imaginationfancy00hun 0001






Collected editionsEdit




  • The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt (edited by his eldest son [Thornton Leigh Hunt]). London: Smith, Elder, 1862.[27] Volume I, Volume II.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[28]

Play productionsEdit

  • A Legend of Florence. London, Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 7 February 1840.[28]
  • Lovers' Amazements. London, Lyceum Theatre, 20 January 1858.[28]

Poems by Leigh HuntEdit

"Abou Ben Adhem" = great poem by Leigh Hunt (Abou's comment pleases God)

"Abou Ben Adhem" = great poem by Leigh Hunt (Abou's comment pleases God)

  1. Jenny Kiss'd Me

See alsoEdit


  • PD-icon.svg Ireland, Alexander (1891) "Hunt, James Henry Leigh" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 28 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 267-274 
  • Blainey, Ann. Immortal Boy. 1985.
  • Blunden, Edmund, The Examiner Examined. Cobden-Sanderson, 1928
  • Cox, Jeffrey N., Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School: Keats, Shelley, Hunt and their circle. Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0521631006
  • Eberle-Sinatra, Michael, Leigh Hunt and the London Literary Scene: A reception history of his major works, 1805-1828. Routledge, 2005.
  • Holden, Anthony, The Wit in the Dungeon: The life of Leigh Hunt. Little, Brown, 2005. ISBN 978-0316859271
  • Lulofs, Timothy J. and Hans Ostrom, Leigh Hunt: A reference guide. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1985. ISBN 978-0415316767
  • Roe, Nicholas, Fiery Heart: The first life of Leigh Hunt. Pimlico, 2005. ISBN 978-0712602242


  1. John William Cousin, "Hunt, James Henry Leigh," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 205. Wikisource, Web, Sep. 16, 2017.
  2. Ireland, 267.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 Ireland, 268.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 Ireland, 269.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Ireland, 270.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 Ireland, 271.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 Ireland, 272.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Ireland, 274.
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 Ireland, 273.
  10. from Edward Dowden, "Critical Introduction: Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Mar. 29, 2016.
  11. "Jenny kiss'd Me," Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 5, 2012.
  12. Page, Norman, editor, Bleak House, Penguin Books, 1971, p.955 (note 2 to Chapter 6).
  13. Chesterton 1906.
  14. Modern Parnassus; or, The new art of poetry (1814), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  15. Poems of Leigh Hunt (1891), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  16. The Companion (1828), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  17. Essays and Miscellanies (1851), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  18. Essays by Leigh Hunt (1887), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  19. Dramatic Essays (1894), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  20. Search results = Leigh Hunt Coaches and Coaching, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Sep. 6, 2013.
  21. Citation styles for "Leigh Hunt as essayist", WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Sep. 7, 2013.
  22. Essays and Sketches (1912), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  23. Ballads of Robin Hood (1922), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  24. Selections in Prose and Verse (1909), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  25. Leight Hunt (The Regent Library), Abe Books. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  26. The Liberal: Verse and prose from the south (1822), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  27. The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt (1862), Internet Archive. Web, Sep. 7, 2013.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Leigh Hunt 1784-1859, Poetry Foundation, Web, Oct. 8, 2012.

External linksEdit

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