Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)Edit

James Henry Leigh Hunt, more commonly known as Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), was an important literary figure in the nineteenth century and a major contributor to Romantic Era literature. A poet, essayist, journalist, and literary critic,[1] Hunt is notable for having created several publications such as The Examiner and for his wide range of ground-breaking work across several forms. He is also known for his friendship and mentorship to famous literary figures such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, whom he is credited with introducing to the literary world.[2] Although much early scholarship on Hunt has downplayed his significance to literature, his works are currently regarded by academics as “key to our understanding of the Romantic Period.” [3].

BiographyEdit

Leigh Hunt was born James Henry Leigh Hunt on the 19th of October 1784[4] in Southgate, England.[1] Hunt’s parents were American. His father, Isaac was “a lawyer from Barbados”[2] and his mother Mary, was the daughter of a merchant from Philadelphia.[2] The couple immigrated to England where Isaac “became a clergyman."[4]

At age eight, Hunt began to attend Christ’s Hospital School, where he supposedly discovered his love of writing and romanticism.[4] It was during his time at Christ’s Hospital that Hunt would write his first volume of poems Juvenilia (1801).[1] The volume was published via subscription with significant help from Hunt’s parents, who used their international connections to obtain a reported 807 subscribers “from both sides of the Atlantic.”[4] Hunt’s family had often supported his career, especially his brother John whom he worked with often and who helped him to launch The Examiner in 1808.[1]

Whilst his career took off in the early 1800s, Hunt met Marianne Kent.[4] They were married on July 3, 1809.[4] Kent died in 1857 after a period of ill health. Though he had slowly faded from public consciousness,[5] Hunt wrote up until his death on August 28, 1859.[2] He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in North-West London.[5]

WorksEdit

Hunt’s works are plentiful and wide ranging. Over the course of his writing career, he would write several poems, plays, works of fiction, critical essays, edit several journalist publications, periodicals, and provided influential literary and theatrical criticism.[2]

His creative work began in 1801 with the publication of Juvenilia and continued with the publication of The Story of Rimini (1816) and The Feast of the Poets in 1812.[3] This was followed by Hero and Leander, and Bacchus and Ariadne (1819), considered by some as his “best verse."[1] He would go on to publish a novel The Palfrey: A Love-Story of Old Times (1842) and several plays including A Legend of Florence, “which was successfully staged in 1840.”[3] Hunt was also the leader of a group of writers called the Cockney School of Poetry, with members including John Keats.[3]

His journalist work began in 1805 when Hunt was employed by his brother John as a drama critic for his weekly paper The News.[2] Hunt would write for a variety of publications and periodicals in his career including The Literary Pocket Book,[2] Tatler, the Reflector, and the Indicator.[3]

Hunt’s most significant and well known journalistic contribution was his work with The Examiner (1808-1886). Hunt and his brother John created The Examiner in 1808. It was a periodical that focused on advocation for the “abolition of the slave trade, Catholic emancipation, and reform of Parliament and the criminal law.”[1] The publication of this paper would launch Leigh Hunt to literary and political fame. For his political opinions and criticism of the Prince Regent, published via the Examiner, Hunt and his brother were jailed for two years.[5] When they were released, Hunt had become established as an influential journalistic figure and had made his name in the literary world.[5] In his final years Hunt wrote and published an autobiography, Autobiography (1850), that has been critically acclaimed.[3]

LegacyEdit

Early scholarship of Leigh Hunt often downplays his contributions and importance to the literary world, particularly that of the Romantic Era.[3] It is only in the last few decades that Hunt has been considered a major contributor and influential literary figure.

As a journalist and political commentator, Hunt is credited with the “modernization of the magazine essay."[3] His essays would break ground for “the new genre of personal literary essays”[3] that would go on to influence other significant writers such as Charles Lamb. In his criticism of theatre, beginning at The News, Hunt was ground-breaking in his perceptiveness and impartiality.[2] Scholar Nicholas Roe posits that Hunt “abandoned the convention of ‘puffing’ productions and offered, instead, a combative critical engagement with the plays.”[6] These criticisms would anticipate “the concept of dramatic character” and again pave the way for other writers to develop this concept further.[3]

As a Romantic Era writer, Hunt’s creative writing is noted for its poetic use of language and it’s experimentation with prosody.[3] Hunt is credited with reintroducing a “freedom of movement in English couplet verse".[1] His introduction and support of several well-known writers such as Keats and Shelley also solidify his worth as an influential literary figure of the time. His writings were also said to have influenced the work of these writers. Keats supposedly taking a “delight in colour and imaginative sensual experience” from Hunt.[1]

Hunt’s contribution to the nineteenth century, Romantic Era literary period was vast, wide-ranging, and hugely influential. Much of his work would establish new literary concepts and go on to pave the way for other writers to develop and use them successfully. Hunt’s contribution to the poetic form, as well as his innovations in criticism and journalism have canonized him as a hugely influential and important literary figure.[3]

Further ReadingEdit

Blunden, Edmund. Leigh Hunt: A Biography. Cobden-Sanderson, 1930.Eberle-Sinatra, Michael. Leigh Hunt and the London Literary Scene: A Reception History of His Major Works, 1805-1828. Taylor & Francis Group, 2005.

Fogle, Stephen F. "Leigh Hunt's Lost Brother and the American Legacy." Keats-Shelley Journal, vol. 8, no. 2, 1959, pp. 95-101.Holden, Anthony. The Wit In The Dungeon, The Life of Leigh Hunt, Hachette UK, 2016.

Langbauer, Laurie. "Leigh Hunt and Juvenilia." Keats-Shelley Journal, vol. 60, 2011, pp. 112-133.

Works CitedEdit

Blunden, Edmund. Leigh Hunt: A Biography. Cobden-Sanderson, 1930. Google Books.Eberle-Sinatra, Michael. Leigh Hunt and the London Literary Scene: A Reception History of His Major Works, 1805-1828. Taylor & Francis Group, 2005.

Holden, Anthony. The Wit In The Dungeon, The Life of Leigh Hunt. Hachette UK, 2016. Google Books.

“Leigh Hunt: British author.” Britannica, 2021.

“Leigh Hunt: 1784–1859.” Poetry Foundation, 2021.

Roe, Nicholas. Leigh Hunt: Life, Poetics, Politics. Taylor & Francis Group, 2003.

  1. a b c d e f g h “Leigh Hunt: British author.” Britannica, 2021.
  2. a b c d e f g h “Leigh Hunt: 1784–1859.” Poetry Foundation, 2021.
  3. a b c d e f g h i j k l Eberle-Sinatra, Michael. Leigh Hunt and the London Literary Scene: A Reception History of His Major Works, 1805-1828. Taylor & Francis Group, 2005.
  4. a b c d e f Blunden, Edmund. Leigh Hunt: A Biography. Cobden-Sanderson, 1930. Google Books.
  5. a b c d Holden, Anthony. The Wit In The Dungeon, The Life of Leigh Hunt. Hachette UK, 2016. Google Books.
  6. Roe, Nicholas. Leigh Hunt: Life, Poetics, Politics. Taylor & Francis Group, 2003.