Biography of James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784 – 1859)
James Henry Leigh Hunt (October 19, 1784 – August 28, 1859) was an English essayist and writer.
Leigh Hunt was born at Southgate, London, Middlesex, where his parents had settled after leaving the USA. His father, a Philadelphia lawyer, and his mother, a merchant’s daughter, had been forced to come to Britain because of their loyalist sympathies in the American War of Independence. Leigh Hunt’s father took orders, and became a popular preacher, but was unsuccessful in obtaining a permanent living. He was engaged by James Brydges, 3rd Duke of Chandos, as tutor to his nephew, James Henry Leigh, after whom Leigh Hunt was named.
He was educated at Christ’s Hospital, of which he left a personal account in his autobiography. As a boy, he was an ardent admirer of Thomas Gray and William Collins, writing many verses in imitation of them. A speech impediment, later cured, prevented his going to university. “For some time after I left school,” he says, “I did nothing but visit my school-fellows, haunt the book-stalls and write verses.” His poems were published in 1801 under the title of Juvenilia, and introduced him into literary and theatrical society. He began to write for the newspapers, and published in 1807 a volume of theatre criticism, and a series of Classic Tales with critical essays on the authors.
In 1808 he left the War Office, where he had been working as a clerk, to become editor of the Examiner, a newspaper founded by his brother, John. The new journal with which Leigh Hunt was connected for thirteen years soon acquired a reputation. Its political independence was almost unique; it would attack any worthy target, “from a principle of taste,” as John Keats expressed it. These attacks were not always inoffensive; and in 1813, an attack on the Prince Regent, based on substantial truth, resulted in prosecution and a sentence of two years’ imprisonment for each of the brothers.
In 1810-1811 he edited for his brother John a quarterly magazine, the Reflector, for which he wrote “The Feast of the Poets,” a satire which gave offence to many contemporary poets, particularly William Gifford of the Quarterly. The essays afterwards published under the title of the Round Table (2 volumes, 1816-1817), conjointly with William Hazlitt, appeared in the Examiner. In 1816 he made a permanent mark in English literature by the publication of his Story of Rimini. Few poems have been more influential.
In 1818 appeared a collection of poems entitled Foliage, followed in 1819 by Hero and Leander, and Bacchies and Ariadne. In the same year he reprinted these two works with The Story of Rimini and The Descent of Liberty with the title of Poetical Works, and started the Indicator, in which some of his best work appeared. Both Keats and Shelley belonged to the circle gathered around him at Hampstead, which also included William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Bryan Procter, Benjamin Haydon, Charles Cowden Clarke, C.W. Dilke, Walter Coulson and John Hamilton Reynolds.
In 1832 a collected edition of his poems was published by subscription, the list of subscribers including many of his opponents. In the same year was printed for private circulation Christianism, the work afterwards published (1853) as The Religion of the Heart.
His Poetical Works (2 vols.), revised by himself and edited by Lee, were printed at Boston, U.S.A., in 1857, and an edition (London and New York) by his son, Thornton Hunt, appeared in 1860. Among volumes of selections are: Essays (1887), ed. A Symons; Leigh Hunt as Poet and Essayist (1889), ed. C Kent; Essays and Poems (1891), ed. RB Johnson for the “Temple Library.”
Biography By: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Leigh Hunt.