Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Leigh Hunt (2)
Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) Edit
James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784–1859) was a significant figure in the 19th-century English Literary scene, with his works becoming influential to the development of the Romantic Era and the foundations of literary criticism. Hunt's literary endeavours spanned numerous genres and styles over his sixty-year career, most notable is his work as an “essayist, critic, journalist and poet.” He also founded numerous influential journals, acting as the editor for many, including the notable Examiner from 1808 to 1822. Hunt produced an exhaustive amount of writing during his lifetime, displaying his relentless passion for criticism, poetry, and politics. Despite literary scholars foregrounding his close friendship with literary figures John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and later Lord Byron, Hunt's innovative writings significantly influenced the English notion of Romanism Literature during his lifetime.
Leigh hunt (James Henry Leigh Hunt) was born on October 19th, 1784, in Southgate England and died on August 28th, 1859, in London. His father, Isaac Hunt was a lawyer from Barbados and his mother, Mary Shewell Hunt, was the daughter of a wealthy merchant of Philadelphia, both of whom fled America during the Revolutionary war. Hunt received an education at the “Christ’s Hospital School”, where he wrote his first work, a poetry collection titled Juvenilia (1801), which he published via subscription through the United States and England with the help of his father.
In 1805 Leigh’s brother, John Hunt began a newspaper called The News, where he employed Leigh to write as a drama critic, expanding his literary abilities into journal articles, essays, and performance critics. It was during this time Hunt established himself as a reputable writer free of bias. However, by 1808 he had moved from a journalist at The News to the editor of The Examiner. This newspaper was significantly different from others at the time as it “advocated the abolition of the slave trade, Catholic emancipation, and the reform of parliament and the criminal law.” On the 3rd of July 1809, Hunt married Marianne Kent, with whom he had ten children.
Perhaps the most significant period in Hunt's life was his time in prison. Both John and Leigh Hunt served two years of jail time from 1813 to 1815, due to libel charges. After his release, he went on to make friends with John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron, whilst contributing greatly to his numerous journals.
Hunt has an expansive range of writings, from poetry to plays, critical essays, fiction, autobiographical writing, literary criticism, and journal publishing. The first work Hunt published was a collection of poems, the volume title Juvenilia (1801), with its astonishing success producing four successive editions in the following years. During his time at his brother’s newspaper, The News, he produced essays that he would later compile and publish as Critical Essays on the Performers of London Theatres (1807). His poetry collections include the volumes Foliage (1819), Imaginations and Fancy (1844), and Wit and Humour (1846). His famed satirical poem “The Feast of the Poets” (1812) critiques poetry and literature during his lifetime, featuring writers Thomas Campbell, Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Moore, and Robert Southey. Hunt later revised the poem in 1814 to include William Wordsmith, George Gordon, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, along with the addition of “numerous notes that attest to his increasing confidence as a literary critic."
Hunt’s most famous poems include the Dante-inspired narrative poem “The story of Rimini” (1816), “The Nymphs”, “Bacchus and Ariadne” (1819), “The Dogs”, “The Glove and the Lions” (1836) among many others. Hunt worked as a journalist for The News, then formed The Examiner (1808) with his brother, later becoming the editor. He also was the editor of his journals The Reflector (1811), The Literary Pocket Book (1818), The Indicator (1819), The Chat of the Week (1830), Leigh Hunt’s London Journal (1834-1835) and The Monthly Repository (1837-1838). Hunt also produced four issues from The Liberal, a journal he intended to collaborate with Percy Shelly and Lord Byron on, but due to Shelley’s death in 1822, the pair attempted to pursue the idea in vain. Other significant works include Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries (1829), Autobiography (1850), The Religion of the Heart (1853), A Legend of Florence (1840) and Lovers’ Amazement (1858).
Contributions to Literature: Edit
Hunt’s poetry greatly contributed to the formation of the Romantic Era as his works explored themes of nature, beauty, spontaneity, imagination, and the “quarrel between heart and art.” His work demonstrates "an improbable alliance between playful and serious impulses”, featuring elegiac turns as he grapples with the fervour of life, loss, and love. His work also often included mythologies, most often Greek and Roman ones, evident in his poem “Hero and Leander”, “Bacchus and Ariadne”, “The Feast of the Poets” and “The Nymphs”. Hunt’s influence on Romanticism is most evident in his bountiful poetic style, as he “engages [d] with a new poetic of spontaneity.” Hunt's refreshing and spirited poetical voice emerged through his innovative lyrism, syntax and metre, as his “couplets escape the handcuff of end-stopped rhyme by gliding into enjambed pauses.” His work, along with his close literary companions, began to influence the Romantic Period by using poetry to bring “experience alive”.
Hunt also translated his own works, specifically his famed poem, "The Feast of the Poets” (1815). These translations provided additional information regarding his sourced material, often obtained from Greek and Roman mythology, allowing Hunt to expand upon his reference and diverge creatively from the existing historical narratives. Described as "celebrat[ing] congeniality, friendship, love, transformation, desire, sexuality and the consequences of repression.” Hunt's translations reflect his literary greatness in Latin and English poetics. Undeniably, Hunt contributed significantly to the canon of English Romantic Literature, providing poetical works that expanded upon and defined the then-current notion of Romanticism, portraying the world and poetry as “cheerful but thoughtful, outwards-turned and sociable.”
Like many influential literary figures, Hunt has been historically overlooked, primarily in literary studies, as it appears theorists are more interested in his social connections than his own life and writing. The study of “Modern Romantics” has continually shunned Hunt's monumental influence on the Romantic Era in favour of his associations with Percy Shelley and John Keats. Recent changes in literary theory have spurred more interest in the life of Leigh Hunt, notably the works of Nicholas Roe and Anthony Holden, however, Hunt’s literature is still critically undervalued.
- "Leigh Hunt." Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leigh-Hunt. Accessed 26 September 2022.
- Eberle-Sinatra, Michael. Leigh Hunt and the London Literary Scene: A Reception History of His Major Works, 1805-1828. Taylor & Francis Group, 2005, pp. 1-35. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/lib/newcastle/reader.action?docID=200392
- “Leigh Hunt 1784-1859.” Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/leigh-hunt. Accessed 26 September 2022.
- A Newspaper started by his brother John Hunt in 1805.
- Later known as The Tattler
- O’Neil, Michael. “Even Now While I Write Leigh Hunt and Romantic Spontaneity.” Leigh Hunt: Life, Poetics, Politics, edited Nicholas Roe, 1st ed., Taylor & Francis Group, 2003, pp. 135-155. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/lib/newcastle/detail.action?docID=180945
- Robinson, Jeffery C. “Leigh Hunt and the Poetics and Politics of the Fancy.” Leigh Hunt: Life, Poetics, Politics, edited Nicholas Roe, 1st ed., Taylor & Francis Group, 2003, pp. 156-179. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/lib/newcastle/detail.action?docID=180945
Further Reading: Edit
- Holden, Anthony. The Wit in The Dungeon: The Life of Leigh Hunt. Hachette UK, 2016.
- Ockerbloom, John Mark. “Online Books by Leigh Hunt.” The Online Books, 23 September 2022, https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/