A Blupete Biography Page

Leigh Hunt

1 William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919), brother to Christina and Gabriel. I quote from Rossetti's Work, Life of John Keats (London: Walter Scott, 1887) at p. 21.

2 First published in 1850; my copy of Leigh Hunt's Autobiography is that published by Smith, Elder, 1870 (London); the quote I use is found at p. 7.

3 Moving to London, the American artist Benjamin West also fled Philadelphia. West was to later marry Elizabeth Shewell, the sister of Isaac Hunt's father-in-law. Mary Shewell, who had married Isaac Hunt, was Elizabeth's niece. Mary and Elizabeth were not too far apart in age; and friends they were; there was a period of time during which Isaac and Mary lived with the Benjamin Wests in London. [Leigh Hunt's "New World Forebears" by Desmond Leigh-Hunt, Iowa 40 (April 1984) The University of Iowa, URL: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/Bai/leigh-hunt.htm (April, 2003).]

4 Autobiography, op. cit., at p. 15.

5 Hunt wrote in his Autobiography: "Christ Hospital is a nursery of tradesmen, of merchants, of navel officers, of scholars; it has produced some of the greatest ornaments of their time; and the feeling among the boys themselves is, that it is a medium between the patrician pretension of such schools such as Eton and Westminster, and the plebeian submission of the charity schools. ... Christ Hospital, I believe, towards the close of the last century [1700], and the beginning of the present [1800], sent out more living writers, in its proportion, than any other school." (Op. cit., p. 50.)

6 The well recognized uniform of the boys from Christ Hospital was a long blue habit and yellow stockings. As set out in my biographical note on Coleridge: "The discipline at Christ Hospital in those days was ultra-Spartan, the mood monastic. All domestic ties were to be put aside." In Blunden's work, Leigh Hunt and his Circle (London: Harper Brs., 1930) we see this at p. 14: "The system of education was simpler than what has been attempted in later days without more convincing results. A Blue either spent his school life in the Writing School, where he would normally become a master of counting-house rules and fearsomely fine longhand; or in the Mathematical School, there to vanquish the ogres of latitude, azimuth, parallax; or in the Grammar School, with 'insolent Greece and haughty Rome.'" Hunt was to spend his time at Christ Hospital in the Grammar School, there, under a very well remembered Reverend James Bowyer (see Hunt's Autobiography). In the truly great poets, Bowyer would say, there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word ..."

7 Hunt explains: "The Upper Grammar School was divided into four classes or forms. The two under ones were called Little and Great Erasmus; the upper were occupied by the Grecians and Deputy Grecians. ... When a boy entered the Upper School, he was understood to be in the road to the University, provided he had inclination and talents for it; but, as only one Grecian a year went to College, the drafts out of Great and Little Erasmus into the writing-school were numerous. A few also became Deputy Grecians without going farther, and entered the world from that form. Those who became Grecians always went to University ..." (Autobiography, op. cit., at p. 66.)

8 Lamb and Coleridge, it is to be remembered, were also "Blue coat boys," though at earlier points in time; Lamb being eight years older than Hunt, and Coleridge, twelve.

9 Hunt, though working with his brother in the newspaper business kept his job at the war office but left it in but a year or so, it seems, in order to fully put his time and energies into the paper.

10 The Examiner "was a weekly, published on Sunday, of 16 pages and only two columns a page, which made it more legible than most dailies (though the type was poor). Its circulation gradually rose to 7,000 -- 3,000 -- 5,000 was the usual break-even range -- and, as Jeremy Bentham testified, was the most highly regarded weekly among 'political men.'(Johnson, The Birth of the Modern (New York: HarperCollins, 1991) at p. 368.)

11 Autobiography, op. cit., at p. 156.

12 "Great is Journalism. Is not every Able Editor a Ruler of the World, being a persuader of it?" (Carlyle, The French Revolution.)

13 Green, History of the English People, vol. X, p. 77.

14 Johnson, The Birth of the Modern, op. cit., p. 367.

15 Op. cit., at p. 156. Burdett, of course, is Sir Francis Burdett, and, as a parliamentarian, campaigned for parliamentary reform; Hunt is Henry Hunt (1773-1835) (no relation to Leigh Hunt) who was considered to be, at the time, a dangerous radical who advocated annual parliaments, universal suffrage, the secret ballot and the repeal of the Corn Laws; I have written extensively on William Cobbett.

16 Ibid., at p. 181.

17 The authorities -- maybe thinking the sentence severe -- passed the message down to the prison authorities that they should try to make Hunt's stay as comfortable as possible. An unused ward of the prison infirmary, consisting of two rooms was assigned to him. The rooms were painted and decorated to his taste; the walls were papered with rose trellising and the ceiling was "colored with clouds and sky." Hunt's family was allowed to stay with him, though it would not appear that his wife stayed with him for the entire two year period. He had his library books with him and on top of the bookshelves was a bust of Homer; in the corner he had a piano; "there was no other such room," Charles Lamb was to declare, "except in a fairy-tale." A small part of the prison yard was fenced off just for him where he established a garden.

18 "In his library Hunt conducted his extensive journalistic practice and received visitors. Barnes, then Hunt's assistant, wrote: 'It became fashionable in progressive circles to be seen in his prison' (and to send hampers of delicacies). Brougham popped in. Hazlitt stayed to talk. Haydon was allowed to bring along his 12-foot Judgment of Solomon to show Hunt. Thomas Moore called and (like others) wrote a poem about the prisoner. Byron paid a visit and christened Hunt 'the wit of in the dungeon.'" (Johnson, The Birth of the Modern, op. cit., at p. 369.) Hunt writes that the "Lambs came to comfort me in all weathers, hail or sunshine, in daylight and in darkness ..." (Autobiography, op. cit., at p. 220.) Bentham came too, who Hunt described as one who united "the wisdom of a sage with the simplicity of a child."

19 Autobiography, op. cit., at p. 215.

20 "A Portrait of Leigh Hunt," The University of Iowa, http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/bai/portrait.htm (April, 2003).

21 Blunden, op. cit., at p. 107.

22 It was in October of 1817 that John Gibson Lockhart, then, but age 23, at Edinburgh, with his platform being Blackwood's Magazine, began to fulminate against "The Cockney School of Poetry"; and, in particular attacked John Keat's Endymion, and Coleridge's Biographia Literaria.

23 Johnson, The Birth of the Modern, op. cit., p. 505. Though Hunt wrote little in his Autobiography about his Marianne, he did write, at least this much: "My wife was a woman of great generosity, great freedom from every kind of jealousy ... she was uncomplaining."

24 Italy was represented, by a mutual friend of Shelley's and Hunt's, as a place where one "will find no nuisance but the litter of the rose-leaves and the noise of the nightingales." (As quoted by Blunden, op. cit., at p. 170.)

25 As quoted by Blunden, op. cit., at p. 168.

26 As quoted by Blunden, op. cit., at p. 166. In addition to the £150 sent by Shelley, Byron made a loan to Hunt in the amount of £220. (Ibid.)

27 Actually the family, together with a goat for fresh milk, had set out to sail to Italy during November of the previous year (1821), but, due to stormy weather, the vessel did not get beyond the English Channel. The Hunts, after having been tossed about for weeks, came ashore to seek some comfort, and, in seems, in the process, forfeited their passage money.

28 Byron's loss of interest in the publication of The Liberal can be laid to the fact that Shelley, its chief proponent, had died. But also, it is to be noted that Byron took a dislike to Hunt, or more particularly to Hunt's family. The Hunt family had initially lodged itself in the downstairs area of Byron's palace at Pisa. Byron greeted the Hunt family at his place as like he would the arrival of the plague. In a contemporary letter from E. E. Williams to his wife, we read (Williams died in the boating accident with Shelley on the Bay of Spezzia but days later): "Lord B.'s reception of Mrs H. was, as S. tells me, most shameful. She came into his house sick and exhausted, and he scarcely deigned to notice her; was silent, and scarcely bowed. This conduct cut H. to the soul ..." [Trelawny, Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 2nd ed., 1859) p. 114.] Byron himself was to write of the Hunt children that they "are dirtier and more mischievous than Yahoos. What they can't destroy with their filth they will with their fingers ... six little blackguards." (As quoted by Blunden in his work, op. cit., at p. 187.) Of Hunt himself, Byron, at least in the earlier years, liked him well enough: In December of 1813, Byron was to make this note in his diary: "An extraordinary character, and not exactly of the present age. He reminds me more of Pym and Hampden times -- much talent, great independence of spirit, and an austere yet not repulsive aspect. If he goes on qualis ab incepto, I know few men who will deserve more praise or obtain it. I must go see him again ..." (As quoted by Blunden in his work, op. cit., at p.78.)

29 The Liberal, it appears, consisted of but four numbers, with the last coming out in 1823. (See Appendix I, Blunden, op. cit., at p. 356.)

30 Autobiography, op. cit., at p. 335.

31 The actual ownership of the Examiner was obscure, the older brother, John Hunt thought he certainly had a better right to it. While Leigh was in Italy, and while he did submit the occasional piece; John did all the work of getting it to the streets. Further Leigh continued to expect that his brother John should continue to make remittances to his "co-owner" in Italy. Blunden observes "that a difference between these two brothers began, and widened into a coldness." (Op. cit., at p. 203.)

32 To round out this romantic group of early 19th century English literature we mention Shelley and Byron, who did not accept government patronage; but, they did not have to, since, they were supported to one degree or another by their aristocratic families.

33 Howe, The Life of William Hazlitt (Penguin, 1949) at pp. 198-9.)

34 As quoted by Blunden, op. cit., at p. 303.

35 Dickens, however, twenty-six years junior to Hunt, proved to be of considerable support to Hunt. It was Dickens and others friends that agitated for the payment of a government pension which, finally, in 1847, was granted to Hunt. On Hunt's death in 1859, Dickens was to sing the praises of Leigh Hunt and his regret that so many of Hunt's critics took up and echoed his description of Hunt in the fictional character, Skimpole; Hunt, as Dickens pointed out, showed his "graces and charms" by his continued forbearance in saying anything about Skimpole. Further Dickens was to declare: that the imprisonment of Leigh Hunt because of remarks about the king's son, in 1813, was, a national disgrace. (See Blunden, op. cit., at pp. 318-20.) In 1902, Swinburne was to write (July, Quarterly Review: "The simple and final reply should have been that indolence was the essential quality of the character and philosophy of Skimpole, and that Leigh Hunt was one of the hardest and steadiest workers on record, throughout a long and checkered life, at the toilsome trade of letters: and therefore to represent him as a heartless and shameless idler would have been as rational an enterprise, as lifelike a design after the life, as it would be to represent Shelley as a gluttonous, canting hypocrite, or Byron as a loyal and unselfish friend."

36 Ann Blainey, "A Portrait of Leigh Hunt."

37 See Appendex 2, Blunden, op. cit., at pp. 358-9.

38 Haydon's Autobiography (Oxford University Press, nd) at pp. 160-1. Haydon and Hunt, in the earlier years, were the best of friends, but at some point had a falling out over Mrs Hunt. Keats explained (Keats died, tragically young, in 1821): "The quarrel with Hunt I understand thus far. Mrs H. was in the habit of borrowing silver of Haydon -- the last time she did so, Haydon asked her to return it at a certain time -- she did not -- Haydon sent for it -- Hunt went to expostulate on the indelicacy, etc. -- they got to words and parted for ever. All I hope is at some time to bring them all together again." [in a letter to his brothers dated 13th of January, 1818, Letters of John Keats (Nelson, 1938) p. 87.] In later years, the Hunts were friends of the Carlyles. Mrs Carlyle was to write: "She [Marianne Hunt] is every other day reduced to borrow my tumblers, my teacups; even a cupful of porridge, a few spoonfuls of tea, are begged of me ... She actually borrowed one of the brass fenders the other day, and I had difficulty in getting it out of her hands; irons, glasses, teacups, silver spoons are in constant requisition; and when one sends for them the whole number can never be found." (Again as quoted by Blunden, at p. 254.)

39 "Mr. T. Moore -- Mr. Leigh Hunt"; also, see Hazlitt's comments in "On the Conversation of Authors," viz. Leigh Hunt has "a fine vinous spirit about him, and tropical blood in his veins: but he is better at his own table."

40 Hunt's Autobiography.


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