Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)
A Blupete Biography Page

Later Years (1826-59), Part 5 to the Life & Works of
Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt, with a large family and little money coming in from his writing31, suffered from poverty most all of his days; though in his later days matters improved. There were, of course, authors of the time who did not suffer from the miseries of poverty; I am thinking particularly here of: Southey, Wordsworth and Scott. Because they accepted government positions, they were subject to being in a state of dependance, and thought to be quite ready to please and humour their Patrons. That could not be said of Hunt, or, by way of further example, of Hazlitt or of Keats.32 That certain of his contemporaries, who started out as reformers, sold themselves to officialdom, so to live a more comfortable life, must have galled Hunt.
"'Mr Southey', he [Hunt] had said, 'and even Mr Wordsworth, have both accepted offices under government, of such a nature as absolutely ties up their independence. Mr Coleridge, in pamphlets and newspapers, has done his best to serve likewise; and yet they shall all tell you that they have not diminished their free spirit a jot. In like manner they are as violent and intolerant against their old opinions, as ever they were against their new ones, and without seeing how far the argument carries, shall insist that no man can possess a decent head or respectable heart who does not agree with them. ...The persons of whom we have been speaking have been always in extremes, and perhaps the good they are destined to perform in their generation, is to afford a striking lesson of the inconsistencies naturally produced by so being. Nothing remains the same but their vanity'."33
In later years Hunt's fortunes improved. A new generation of young writers saw him as the survivor of the glamorous poetic world of Keats, Shelley, and Byron. Budding writers, one of whom was Charles Dickens, organized a private pension and agitated for a government pension which was first paid to Hunt in 1847.

In the meantime, in 1835, Hunt moved to Chelsea -- it having that combination of town and country which he loved. It was on his suggestion that Thomas Carlyle became Hunt's neighbor in Cheyne Row; and Carlyle was to become one of Hunt's closest friends. Hunt's door was always open to his friends; at the right moment he may be caught at his supper and the recommendation by Hunt would be immediately made to partake of his fare, "dried fruit, bread, and water." Most visitors came away appalled by the thriftless gypsiness of the Hunts' chaotic household. Hunt floated above it all in his flowered "wrapping gown," reading the classics and discoursing on the beauty of nature, and always through his words and acts expressing the philosophy of positive enjoyment. He wrote ceaselessly: essays, articles, poems, literary guide books to London, reworkings and recyclings of former works, and a number of anthologies which he rounded out with essays often on literary criticism. Hunt published his Autobiography in 1850. Carlyle was to observe34 that it was "by far the best of autobiographic kind I can remember to have seen in the English language."

In the mid-1840s his eldest daughter and his second son (a delinquent child who had grown into a delinquent adult) had died, however, their deaths did not hurt him as much as that of Vincent, his youngest son and favorite child. The last illness of tubercular Vincent was in the autumn of 1852, it was a time when Hunt and his beloved son became closer than ever. Hunt's grief at Vincent's death was extreme.

The publication of Charles Dickens' novel, Bleak House, was to cause quite a stir in the Leigh Hunt circle. In the work, there was a character, "airy, improvident and objectionable"; his name was Harold Skimpole. The character of Skimpole was, without doubt, based on Leigh Hunt. This characterization of Hunt by Dickens was to greatly effect Hunt and his friends; Dickens' denials and apologies only partly fixed up the rift that Bleak House had caused between Dickens and a number of his literary contemporaries.35

In his later years, as his Autobiography will show, Hunt allowed that he was "ratherish unwell." Though he occasionally got out to go to the theatre or to dinner he became increasingly more sedentary. In January, 1857, Marianne died. "She [Marianne Hunt] was a limited, consumptive girl beset by chronic poverty, illness, and a family of ten children; and he was an impractical, insecure, and intensely demanding man whose intellect and friends were beyond her."36 Thorton Hunt, Leigh Hunt's eldest son, who was to go on to become an accomplished man of letters in his own right, was to write of his parents: "Fate joined him with one who shared his taste for plastic art, with a greater natural aptitude, but without culture or the power of acquiring it; with childlike sense of verse, never matured; with an almost equally childlike sense of economy which the bookworm long believe to be nearly perfect. ... they were actuated by motives so different, that lengthening years only made them, in the longer portion of their faithful and unsevered union, strangers."37

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2011