Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)
A Blupete Biography Page

Early Life (1784-1808), Part 2 to the Life & Works of
Leigh Hunt

His father, Isaac Hunt (1752-1809), descended from an English family that had, many years back, established themselves in the English colony at Barbados. Isaac was sent to Philadelphia for his education, after which, he was called to the Pennsylvania bar. There, at Philadelphia, Isaac met and married, in 1767, Mary Shewell, the daughter of a merchant. Isaac Hunt came out full square against those who fought with the British for the independence of the American colonies. As Leigh Hunt was to write, in his Autobiography: "he [his father] entered with so much zeal into the cause of the British Government, that, besides pleading for loyalists with great fervour at the bar, he wrote pamphlets equally full of party warmth, which drew on him the popular odium."2 Once the outcome of the American War became obvious, Isaac Hunt took his family to England, where he intended to build a new life.3

In England, Issac Hunt was not able to practise law, a profession -- as undoubtedly it was -- reserved for the well connected. His education and oratory skills, however, gave Issac good standing as a candidate for the church; he became a preacher, an understandable course, as his father and his grandfather had been men of the cloth in the Barbados. It was the Duke of Chandos, James Henry Leigh, who having heard him preach, employed Isaac Hunt as a tutor to his nephew. Thus, we will better understand, that, upon the birth of his fifth son on October 19th, 1784, at Southgate, a community near London, the infant was to be named, James Henry Leigh Hunt.

Leigh's father earned little from preaching and tutoring and it was only ever to be but a minor supplement to a small loyalist pension. The father, too, was one of those souls, forever possessed with plans but not the gumption to put any of them into effect. Of his father, Leigh Hunt was to write, "he was always scheming, never performing; always looking forward with some romantic plan which was sure to succeed, and never put into practice."4 The Hunt family, therefore, not surprisingly, was to have money problems; indeed, the first room of which Leigh Hunt had any recollection was the one his father occupied in debtor's prison.

Leigh received his schooling at London; he attended Christ Hospital5, thus to become a "Blue coat boy."6 Attending first in 1792, Hunt spent eight years at Christ Hospital. Hunt writes in his Autobiography that at age fifteen he traded in his school uniform for "a coat and neckcloth." "I was then first deputy Grecian,7 and I had the honour of going out of the school in the same rank, at the same age, and for the same reason, as my friend Charles Lamb.8 ... For some time after I left school, I did nothing but visit my shoolfellows, haunt the book-stalls, and write verses." Eventually, due to a good connection, Hunt was to get a job as a clerk in the war office,9 though at the same time Leigh took an increasing interest in the business which his older brother had established. John Hunt, eight years older than Leigh, had become a printer. The brothers decided in 1805, while Leigh was yet with the war office, to establish, as a joint venture, a newspaper, The News. I know nothing of this publication, but, for whatever reason it did not seem to be published beyond 1808, for, in 1808, the brothers established a political weekly, which made their reputation, the Examiner.10 "The main objects of the Examiner newspaper," as Hunt describes, "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."11 The Examiner had not been established for more than a year before it drew the attention of those who ran the government; and, soon thereafter, prosecutions were instituted against the Hunt brothers as the proprietors of the Examiner.

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Peter Landry

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2011