Leigh Hunt was a central figure of the Romantic movement in England, but he was not, as he wished to be and knew he was not, one of its great poets. However, he produced, during the first sixty years of the nineteenth century, a large body of poetry in a variety of forms: narrative poems, satires, poetic dramas, odes, epistles, sonnets, short lyrics, and translations from Greek, Roman, Italian, and French poems. His vivid descriptions and lyrical quality are noteworthy, as is his keen delight in nature, and he is a master of mood and atmosphere. But Hunt is the least philosophical of all the Romantic poets. Rather than having depth and passion, his poetry is imbued with the spirit of cheerfulness, which makes it pleasant but not great. In addition, most of his poems have commonplace themes such as friendship, patriotism, and appreciation of nature, and they are usually too uneven and lax for excellence. Consequently, he is known today for only a handful of delightful, short lyrics and his major poem, The Story of Rimini (1816), which by themselves do not earn him a very prominent place in English literature.
Hunt was a man of varied talents, however. As a poet, he played a major role in freeing the couplet from the rigidity of neoclassical practice. He had remarkable insights as a literary critic and discovered and introduced to the public many poets, among them John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Browning, and Alfred Tennyson. He encouraged many other writers, such as Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Walter Savage Landor, and Charles Dickens. He was a journalist of note, being editor of the influential Examiner from its inception in 1808 to his departure for Italy in 1821. He was also editor of several journals, and wrote for many more. Perhaps as a prose writer he was best as an essayist and has probably had more influence on the development of the personal essay than any other writer. But he was also the author of a novel and several plays, two of which, A Legend of Florence and Lovers' Amazements, were produced (in 1840 and 1858, respectively). His varied literary achievements are sufficiently important to make him preeminent among secondary writers of the Romantic period.
Hunt lived mostly in the world of poetry, painting, and music. Though he was shy and home loving, he had a natural gaiety and sprightliness and was a lively conversationalist who ranged over a wide variety of topics. Hunt seems to have acquired his father's sanguine, pleasure-loving, and cheerful nature along with his trait of improvidence. He was frugal for himself but generous, considerate, and courteous toward others. From his mother he seems to have inherited courage, tenderheartedness, and sensitivity. He had an open, loving character with almost no capacity for hatred, while there was virtually no one who knew him who did not love him. Though he loved to walk in the fields and sit in the sun, he was a hard worker, writing most of the day and often past midnight. In spite of attacks on his personal character, he was a man of exemplary private deportment.
James Henry Leigh Hunt was born seventh in a family of eight. He was the last son and first child to be born in England; all the older children were born in America. His father, Isaac, was a lawyer from Barbados, and his mother, Mary Shewell Hunt, was the daughter of a wealthy merchant of Philadelphia. As staunch Tories, and under the threat of tar and feathering, they were forced to flee from Philadelphia to England at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. There, Isaac became a popular Anglican preacher but was so impractical and improvident that he spent a good deal of time in debtor's prison, of which Hunt has some of his earliest memories. Isaac Hunt did manage, though, to find his son a place in Christ's Hospital school in 1791; Coleridge had graduated earlier that year, while Lamb had left in 1789. There, Hunt received all his formal education, staying until 1799. Fortunately, the school had a curriculum that encouraged wide reading, careful writing, and a love of classical literature, and so provided a solid basis for his future career.
Hunt's first volume of poems, Juvenilia, was written at school and published by subscription in 1801 through the auspices of his father, who was able to amass a long list of notable subscribers from America as well as England. The volume contains translations, sonnets, pastorals, elegies, and hymns imitating Alexander Pope, Thomas Gray, and William Collins. Though it was undistinguished and though Hunt later felt sufficiently ashamed of it to leave the poems out of his collected works, he was proud enough of it at the time for it was an instant success, going through four editions by 1804. It was praised by leading literary reviews as showing promise for such a young poet.
After his schooling, Hunt served an apprenticeship as clerk to his barrister brother, Stephen, but disliked the work intensely. In 1805 his brother John started a weekly paper, The News. As drama critic for it, Hunt gained a reputation for being perceptive and impartial at a time when impartiality was rare. In fact, he was so intent upon being impartial that he refused the acquaintance of any actor whom he might have to review, lest the acquaintance color his criticism. His critical essays in The News were sufficiently popular that in 1807 he was able to publish a selection of them as Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres. Hunt's real career as a journalist, however, began in 1808 when he became editor of The Examiner with his brother John as publisher. Very shortly after entering on the editorship, he felt it necessary to resign his clerkship in the war office, which he had held since 1803, because of a possible future conflict of interest with his liberal editorials. The Examiner became an influential weekly, and Hunt developed a wide reputation not only for his literary criticism but for his political essays.
On 3 July 1809, after several years of courtship, Hunt married Marianne Kent, daughter of a court milliner. Marianne was not intellectual, and she seems to have been extravagant, an incompetent mother, and, in later years, an alcoholic who embarrassed Hunt by borrowing money from his friends behind his back. He, nonetheless, remained loyal to her though he worried that in a drunken stupor she might set fire to the house. Hunt's eldest son, Thornton, suggested that Marianne Hunt's younger sister, Elizabeth Kent, would have been a more compatible wife for Hunt. She was intelligent, literary (she published two books on flowers and trees), and apparently in love with Hunt. She is now buried beside him, with Marianne Hunt on the other side, in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
In 1811 Hunt began editing the first of his many journals, The Reflector. He intended it to be a political magazine, but it also includes many charming and cheerful essays and some poetry. For example, Hunt's satirical "The Feast of the Poets" was first published in the March 1812 issue of The Reflector. It is an attempt, with copious notes, at poetical criticism. In it Apollo descends for a feast with the chief contemporary poets but dismisses, with varying degrees of contempt, all except four--Thomas Campbell, Robert Southey, Sir Walter Scott, and Thomas Moore. In the 1814 edition, which was much altered from the original, William Wordsworth is hailed as "Prince of Bards" and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and George Gordon, Lord Byron, are given places. This change caused apparent consternation among some reviewers since these poets had been summarily dismissed in the earlier version of the poem. Actually, however, most reviewers, whether writing favorably or unfavorably, seemed to be moved more by politics than critical judgment, the reason being that as outspoken liberal editor of The Examiner, Hunt had won many admirers but also many political enemies. Consequently, at least as long as he was editor, his literary works tended to be praised or damned according to the politics of the reviewer. Thus, on the one hand, Feast of the Poets was condemned "as despicable a performance as could well be produced. It is flimsy, feeble, unsustained and impertinent" (Satirist , April 1814) and on the other as a "lively" and "sublime" poem (Eclectic Review, June 1814; Champion, 20 February 1814). In reality the poem is quite uneven with some brilliant lines and some slovenly ones. At present The Feast of the Poets, which was further modified in the 1815, 1832, 1844, and 1860 editions, is most interesting for revealing Hunt's changes in taste. As for The Reflector, because it lost money, it ended in March 1812, suddenly and unexpectedly. In the last issue there is not the slightest hint that no more would be published. On the contrary, Hunt even announced some of the works coming in future issues.
On 22 March 1812 Hunt, in an Examiner editorial and as a part of an ongoing attack on the Prince Regent, slandered him as a fat "Adonis" of fifty. As a result he and his brother John spent two years (3 February 1813-2 February 1815) in prison and paid fines of five hundred pounds each. Hunt's was an unusual incarceration. Ironically, he was permitted to continue editing The Examiner from prison, which he did with little change in the tone of his editorials. He also was allowed a room in the infirmary with a small plot of ground just outside in which to walk and in which he planted an apple tree and a garden of lilacs, daisies, heartsease, broom, and sweetbrier. He had the ceiling of the room painted with sky and clouds and the walls papered with a trellis of roses. He also had the luxury of a pianoforte which he delighted in playing. His family was permitted to live with him (indeed, his third child, Mary Florimel, was born in prison), and his friends, including Byron, Hazlitt, Lamb, and Thomas Moore, visited and sometimes dined with him. Nevertheless, and in spite of the amenities, confinement made his serious chronic illness worse.
Hunt's concern with contemporary events is largely confined to his essays in the Examiner. There is little mention of them in his literary writings or his letters. However, he responded to the defeat and abdication of Napoléon in a poetic masque, The Descent of Liberty, which appeared in 1815 to the praise of Hunt's friends but to only mildly favorable reviews. The poem is concerned with man's spiritual and political rejuvenation after the conquest of the "Enchanter" (Napoléon) by Liberty, and it attests to Hunt's interest in Renaissance poetry since it is one of the few masques to appear in England since the Renaissance.
During his prison stay Hunt also wrote his first long narrative poem, in which he makes his greatest claim to renown as a poet, The Story of Rimini. It was particularly praised by Byron, who criticized drafts of the poem as it progressed and to whom it was eventually dedicated. Based on the few lines about Francesca di Rimini in Dante's Inferno, The Story of Rimini tells of the fatal passion between Paulo and Francesca, whom Paulo escorted from her home in Ravenna to Rimini, where she was to be married to his brother, Prince Giovanni, and the tragedy that follows the revelation of their love. Hunt is not so interested in the action, however, as in effectively juxtaposed descriptions of settings and of the characters' emotions. The chief flaw in the poem is stylistic. Too often one finds idiomatic and colloquial language where serious and tragic diction is called for. The poem was widely attacked as condoning adultery and for Hunt's lack of taste. It was equally widely praised for its vivid descriptions and for the beauty of the last canto. The advance from Gale and Fenner for The Story of Rimini was £450, enough to pay most of Hunt's £500 fine for slandering the Prince Regent, but the publisher, who had paid for a poem the length of Sir Walter Scott's popular story poems, refused to publish the much shorter one and demanded repayment of the advance. Because Hunt had to borrow the money, he found himself deep in debt, from which he never fully recovered though he was always hopeful of doing so. Only through Byron's intercession was The Story of Rimini finally brought out by Byron's publisher, John Murray.
In 1816 Hunt made friends with Keats and renewed his friendship with Shelley, whom he had first met briefly in 1811. In December 1816 he introduced them and their poems to the public in the Examiner. Not long thereafter, John Gibson Lockhart, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (October 1817), began his anonymous, bitter attacks on Hunt and his friends, whom he scornfully dubbed the "Cockney School." Lockhart, whose criticism of Keats and Hazlitt was particularly sharp, was shortly joined by the Quarterly Review, under the editorship of William Gifford. The attacks continued for several years, but except for a fruitless demand in the Examiner at the outset that the anonymous writer of the attacks in Blackwood's reveal his identity, Hunt did not answer save in defense of Keats and Shelley.
Hunt's most prolific period of poetical activity occurred in the years 1812 to 1820. After 1816 he had a close association with Keats and Shelley. Not only did the three visit frequently, but in 1817 Hunt and his entire family stayed in Marlowe with Shelley for several months, and in 1820 Keats, mortally ill with tuberculosis, stayed with Hunt for several months in his cottage at Hampstead Heath. During the many visits poetic skills were honed with poetry-writing competitions, and the heady relationships resulted in publication of several volumes of poetry by the three before Shelley and Keats went to Italy for their health in 1818 and 1820 respectively.
Shelley publicly demonstrated his devotion to Hunt in 1820 when he dedicated his Cenci to him with high praise: "Had I known a person more highly endowed than yourself with all that it becomes a man to possess, I had solicited for this work the ornament of his name." Also during the years 1816 to 1820 the well-known musician Vincent Novello frequently invited Hunt, Lamb, Keats, Cowden Clarke, and others to his home for evenings of music, conversation, cheese, celery, and beer. Novello played the organ, and Hunt, in his pleasant baritone, and others sang arias from contemporary German and Italian operas. Hunt's reminiscences of those evenings are contained in an unfinished manuscript, "Musical Evenings," which was intended to spread enthusiasm for classical music throughout England.
In 1818 Hunt published Foliage, his first volume of poetry since Juvenilia. Both the original and the translated poems in this volume are quite weak, with the exception of "The Nymphs," perhaps Hunt's best poem. It describes kinds of nymphs with considerable charm and a sensitive joy in nature that is more like Keats than any other Hunt poem.
During 1816-1820 Hunt not only continued editing the Examiner, but also two more journals: The Literary Pocket Book, begun in 1818, and The Indicator (1819-1821), which contains essays full of good cheer, on literature, life, manners, morals, and nature. Lamb was so enthusiastic about it that he hailed it with a sonnet.
In 1819 Hunt published two more narrative poems: "Hero and Leander," which retells the familiar story of Leander swimming the Hellespont to visit Hero, and "Bacchus and Ariadne," which describes the procession of Bacchus toward Ariadne, who has just been abandoned by Theseus on the isle of Naxos. Though shorter, they are like The Story of Rimini in their slight action but considerable lavish description and frequent appreciation of the physical. Here, as in other mythological poems, Hunt does not attempt to create a new Romantic mythology. He merely retells the ancient myths. Peter George Patmore, the reviewer of these two poems for the London Magazine (July 1820), praised at length Hunt's delicate verse, love of nature, and originality. Also in 1819 The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt was published in three volumes including all the poems he had published to that time with the exception of his juvenile poems. Another narrative poem, Hunt's translation of Torquato Tasso's Amyntas, a Tale of the Woods, was printed in 1820. It was the first long translation published by Hunt and is typical in that it is very faithful to the original. Many of Hunt's translations are excellent and are often finer than his own poems because the original lends a control that his own poems often lack.
In the fall of 1821 Shelley and Byron persuaded Hunt to come to Italy and edit a literary journal, eventually called The Liberal, that the three of them would write. Hunt set out on 15 November 1821 with his family, but frightful winter storms, the worst in years, forced the ship to turn back. Hunt had discovered to his horror that it carried a cargo of black powder, so he was much relieved that his family was able to get back off before they were blown up. Because of further delays, he did not sail until 13 May 1822 and arrived on 1 July and, ironically, within days Shelley drowned in a sudden squall during his return home to Lerici by boat after welcoming Hunt to Italy. Shelley's death devastated Hunt, and at his cremation Hunt begged his heart from Edward Trelawney, who had snatched it from the flames. In his grief he at first refused to give it up to Shelley's wife, Mary, arguing that he should have it since he was Shelley's best friend.
Shelley's death not only shattered Hunt emotionally, but put him in a particularly difficult financial situation. He and his family of seven were destitute and in debt for the trip to Italy. Hunt had planned to live on the generosity offered by Shelley until The Liberal was established, but Shelley's death threw him on the mercy of Byron, who did not like Hunt much and detested his family. Furthermore, Shelley had been the chief spirit behind The Liberal, and his death left the uneasy partnership of Byron and Hunt to produce the journal. They held together barely long enough to publish four issues. The majority of each issue was written by Hunt with Byron contributing and Mary Shelley providing some previously unpublished short poems by Shelley. Other contributors included Hazlitt, Mary Shelley, Horace Smith, Charles Armitage Brown, and Thomas Jefferson Hogg. Probably Hunt's best poem in The Liberal was "The Dogs," a political satire suggesting that Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, treated his dogs better than his men and concluding that, if dogs are to be treated better, they should be put in the aristocracy and go to heaven. The satire lacks bite, however, perhaps because Hunt's character was too persistently cheerful to allow him to write successful satirical attacks. The Liberal, though one of the highest quality periodicals of the early nineteenth century, did not last long. While the first issue sold a very encouraging four thousand copies, a tremendous sale for the time, the second number lost money because of higher costs and smaller sales, and the third and fourth numbers barely covered costs. Also, Byron's interests soon shifted to Greece, where he went in 1823 to help fight Turkey (and to die in 1824), leaving Hunt and his family stranded in Italy with little means of support.
Hunt was unable to return to England until September 1825, when publisher Henry Colburn sent him a sufficient advance on a work to be written about Byron to cover expenses. Shortly after his return he published another narrative poem, the rollicking Bacchus in Tuscany (1825), translated from the Italian of Francesco Redi. The work which provided the means for him to return to England, Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries, was not published until 1828. It aroused a considerable stir because of Hunt's less-than-flattering statements about Byron, saying that he was, among other things, ill-tempered, ill-educated, superstitious, ungenerous, and lacking in taste. On his death Byron had become a darling of the public, and no one wrote anything but eulogies about him. Having lived with Byron for several months, however, Hunt thought the picture should be more realistic. Also, no doubt, he was bitter with Byron for inviting him to Italy, humiliating him, and then leaving him in the lurch. Furthermore, Colburn probably encouraged the unflattering treatment because he thought, rightly, that a sensationalized book would sell more copies. In any case it was unbecoming of Hunt to publish such a harsh picture of his erstwhile host and patron. The public's general reaction was adverse, accusing Hunt of distorting the picture of Byron out of pure opportunism. Some reviewers accepted that the facts were probably true, but suggested that Hunt's resentment colored the characterization and that he would one day regret writing the book. Whether Hunt regretted it or not is impossible to say. He never retracted any of it, but his comments about Byron years later in his Autobiography (1850) were considerably more tolerant.
The 1830s were most difficult for Hunt. His influential days as editor of The Examiner were past as were his heady days with the great Romantic poets, and his reputation was at its lowest ebb. He lived through the decade in poverty and poor health. Because of his straitened circumstances he was forced to move from a small house to a smaller house to a smaller cottage. He borrowed frequently from his friends and was, at least once, sued for not repaying a loan. As a consequence, for several weeks he suffered the humiliating experience of having a policeman live in his house to prevent his running out on the debt.
During the decade Hunt was forced by his debts to write constantly. In 1830 he started a new journal, The Chat of the Week, which shortly metamorphosed into The Tatler when the post office required too much postage because of its shape. The Tatler, which was devoted to literature and the stage, was something of a tour de force. For the seventeen months of its existence Hunt wrote almost every word of the daily four folio pages. In 1832 he published two distinctive prose works. The first was a distillation of his religious philosophy in a book of exercises and meditations titled Christianism: or, Belief and Unbelief Reconciled, which was revised and enlarged in 1853 as The Religion of the Heart. The second was his sole novel, Sir Ralph Esher, a fictitious autobiography of a nobleman in the time of Charles II, which went through three editions in four years. He also edited two more journals: Leigh Hunt's London Journal (1834-1835), which was one of his best and most successful, though it lasted less than two years because it was apparently too refined for ordinary tastes, and The Monthly Repository (1837-1838), which was given to him because it was failing. Even with contributions from Walter Savage Landor, Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning, and R. H. Horne, he was unable to rescue it.
The decade was not all work, however. He did make an unlikely friend in the dour and irritable Carlyle, whose wife was the inspiration for Hunt's often-anthologized, simple, and charming rondeau, "Jenny Kissed Me" (first published in the Monthly Chronicle, November 1838):
Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in:
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.
Hunt published in 1835 his most distinctly different poem, the intensely antiwar Captain Sword and Captain Pen. Notable primarily for its vivid descriptions of the horrors of war, the poem consists of six descriptive sections beginning with Captain Sword and his army marching to battle, the battle, a victory ball, the battlefield at night, the loss of Sword's reason and the rise of Captain Pen, and, finally, the nonviolent combat of Pen leading to a Romantic apocalypse. The poem is unusual in Hunt's work because in presenting the argument that men are guilty of war because they condone war, he substitutes a powerful tone of indignation for his usual cheerfulness. The reviews, however, were disappointing. Some suggested that Hunt was incapable of adequately handling a theme such as force versus reason.
In the mid 1830s Hunt wrote most of his best-remembered lyrics, including "Jenny Kissed Me." In "The Glove and the Lions" (first published in the New Monthly Magazine, May 1836) a lady as a love test drops her glove among lions for her lover to retrieve; he does so and throws it in her face. The sonnet "An Angel in the House" (Leigh Hunt's London Journal, 24 September 1834) speaks of the sweetness we should feel at having an angel visit with news from heaven, but that all the while we are unaware that in our children, wife, and friends, we are surrounded by future angels. Probably Hunt's own favorite, "Abou Ben Adhem," first published in S. C. Hall's Book of Gems (1838), is a simple poem bearing the theme that to love man is the same as to love God. It also includes the line used as Hunt's epitaph: "Write me as one who loves his fellow men." In the July 1837 issue of the Monthly Repository Hunt published a kind of companion poem to The Feast of the Poets, "Blue Stocking Revels," a criticism of many contemporary women writers. In it lady writers of the day are presented to Apollo, who gives them a ball and a supper. The satire, however, is much milder than in the earlier poem. Indeed, the tone is more gallant and clever than satirical.
The 1840s began on an exultant note for Hunt with the successful production of his poetic drama A Legend of Florence at the Covent Garden theater. The play concerns Ginevra, who returns to Antonio Rondinelli, the man she really loves, after her selfish husband, Francesco Agolanti, allows her apparently to die of an unattended illness. Her husband is killed in a scuffle when he comes to claim her. The play, which is strongly influenced by Elizabethan drama, is certainly as good as other plays of the time. In his Modern British Dramatists (1867) George Henry Lewes suggested that it was the finest play since Beaumont and Fletcher. Some contemporary reviewers, however, thought it failed to excite sympathy and found the plot not very probable and lacking in suspense. Nevertheless, most reviews were favorable, citing the fine dialogue, acute characterization, and emotional power. Though the blank verse is fairly flexible and there is a unified structure, the play tends to be mechanical.
Nonetheless, it was wildly welcomed, and, to Hunt's elation, Queen Victoria went twice. Unfortunately, the production lasted only a few days because the leading lady, Ellen Tree, had prior commitments. That it was a successful drama, however, is indicated by the fact that A Legend of Florence was revived at Sadler's Wells in 1850 and given a command performance at Windsor Castle in 1852.
The 1840s saw publication of only one long poem by Hunt, the delightful narrative The Palfrey: A Love Story of Old Times, published in 1842. In this nine-hundred-line poem Hunt transforms a medieval French fabliau into a sunny romantic world full of animal spirits and warm humor, as two old men, Sir Guy and Sir Grey, plot the marriage of Sir Grey to Sir Guy's daughter, Anne de Paul, who loves Sir William. It is, after all, a more advantageous union since Sir William is poor and Sir Grey, though old, is wealthy. But in the delightful final scene, a wedding procession, Sir Guy and Sir Grey are ironically cheated of their prize because all the old men in the procession fall asleep on their horses while Sir William's palfrey, on which the unwilling bride is riding, carries her back to the arms of her lover.
Hunt also edited two anthologies of poetry in the 1840s: Imagination and Fancy (1844), a collection of his favorite poems with a critical essay on his philosophy of poetry, and Wit and Humour (1846), a selection from English poets with critical comments. His remaining publications of the decade were prose works though he also edited one last journal, the weekly Leigh Hunt's Journal, which has the record for being the shortest-lived of all Hunt's short-lived journals. It was published by a young man who had unrealistic ideas of how much it would cost, and, consequently, it lasted only from 7 December 1850 until 29 March 1851.
Toward the end of the decade Hunt finally became somewhat more secure financially. In 1844 he had begun receiving a £120 annuity promised by Shelley before he died but delayed until the death of Shelley's father. To this was added in 1847 a Civil List Pension of £200 annually from the government for his services to literature.
By the last decade of his life, Hunt's literary activities and reputation had changed. He was no longer the vigorous reformer of The Examiner but a gentle essayist, poet, and critic. His reputation in America was at its height, as evidenced by the several editions of his works published there during the 1850s and the visits paid to him by American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. But the pleasantness of his final decade was interrupted twice. In 1852 Hunt's youngest son, Vincent, died of tuberculosis. It affected Hunt more than any other event in his life with the possible exception of Shelley's death. Even his wife's death in 1857 he accepted with more equanimity. Then, in the midst of his grief over Vincent, Dickens, though a friend of Hunt's, satirized him as Skimpole in Bleak House (1853). Though Dickens tried to ameliorate the matter, Hunt was deeply hurt.
His final decade saw the publication of Hunt's Autobiography (1850), perhaps his best work and arguably the best autobiography of the century. It concentrates on the early years, using as a basis the material from Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries. The Autobiography is filled with portraits of the famous and the ordinary, and Hunt comes through as cheerful, optimistic, generous, and impulsive. Tolerance and lack of rancor are typical of the book, and especially notable are the mild comments where one might have expected sharper criticism, on the Prince Regent, Byron, Dickens, and old enemies. On the whole the work is vivacious, graceful, and interesting, and marked throughout by Hunt's modesty.
In 1855 Hunt wrote and published one last volume, Stories in Verse, and edited selections from the works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. In 1858 his second poetic drama, the comedy Lovers' Amazements, was produced. It was received warmly, reviewed handsomely, and bid fair to become popular, but, at the moment of triumph, the manager, Charles Dillon, went bankrupt, and the play and theater closed together. Hunt continued his literary activity to the end, publishing poems and essays in Dickens's journal Household Words, The Musical Times, Fraser's Magazine, and the Spectator. He died on 28 August 1859 while he was visiting a friend in the country.
Leigh Hunt was clearly precocious, having published when only seventeen a volume of poems written between the ages of twelve and sixteen. He devoted his entire life to literature, writing several volumes of poetry, many essays, a handful of plays, and a novel, as well as making other literary contributions as a critic, editor, and encourager of younger writers. But whether it was because he did not have the genius, which is likely, or whether in order to provide for a large family, he simply had to write too hastily to write greatly, he never fulfilled his early promise, and, except for a few short lyrics, he seems to be little read today.
— David R. Cheney, University of Toledo
- Juvenilia (London: Printed by J. Whiting, 1801; Philadelphia: Printed & published by H. Maxwell, 1804).
- Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres (London: Printed by & for John Hunt, 1807).
- An Attempt to Shew the Folly and Danger of Methodism (London: Printed for & sold by John Hunt, 1809).
- The Prince of Wales V. the Examiner: a Full Report of the Trial of John and Leigh Hunt (London: Printed by & for John Hunt, 1812).
- The Feast of the Poets, With Notes, and Other Pieces in Verse (London: Printed for James Cawthorn, 1814; New York: Printed & published by Van Winkle & Wiley, 1814; enlarged edition, London: Gale & Fenner, 1815).
- The Descent of Liberty, a Mask (London: Printed for Gale, Curtis & Fenner, 1815; Philadelphia: Printed for Harrison Hall, 1816).
- The Story of Rimini (London: Printed by T. Davison for J. Murray; W. Blackwood, Edinburgh; and Cummings, Dublin, 1816; Boston: Published by Wells & Lilly and M. Carey, Philadelphia, 1816).
- Foliage, or Poems Original and Translated (London: Printed for C. & J. Ollier, 1818; Philadelphia: Published by Littell & Henry and Edward Earle, printed by W. Brown, 1818).
- Hero and Leander, and Bacchus and Ariadne (London: Printed for C. & J. Ollier, 1819).
- The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, 3 volumes (London: C. & J. Ollier, 1819).
- The Months, Descriptive of the Successive Beauties of the Year (London: C. & J. Ollier, 1821).
- Ultra-Crepidarius: a Satire on William Gifford (London: Printed for John Hunt, 1823).
- Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries (London: H. Colburn, 1828; Philadelphia: Carey, Lea & Carey, 1828).
- Christianism: or, Belief and Unbelief Reconciled (London: Bradbury, 1832); revised and enlarged as The Religion of the Heart: a Manual of Faith and Duty (London: John Chapman, 1853; New York: Printed by J. J. Reed, 1857).
- The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt (London: Edward Moxon, 1832).
- Sir Ralph Esher: or Adventures of a Gentleman of the Court of Charles II, 3 volumes (London: Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley, 1830-1832 [i.e., 1832]).
- The Indicator and the Companion: A Miscellany for the Fields and for the Fireside, 2 volumes (London: Published for Henry Colburn by R. Bentley, 1834); republished as The Indicator: A Miscellany for the Fields and for the Fireside, 1 volume (New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1845).
- Captain Sword and Captain Pen: A Poem, With some Remarks on War and Military Statesmen (London: Charles Knight, 1835).
- A Legend of Florence, A Play in Five Acts (London: Edward Moxon, 1840).
- The Seer: or, Common-places Refreshed, 2 parts (London: E. Moxon, 1840; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1864).
- Essays by Leigh Hunt: The Indicator, The Seer (London: E. Moxon, 1841).
- The Palfrey: A Love Story of Old Times (London: How & Parsons, 1842).
- The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt (London: Edward Moxon, 1844).
- Rimini and Other Poems (Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1844).
- Stories from the Italian Poets: with Lives of the Writers, 2 volumes (London: Chapman & Hall, 1845; New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1846).
- Men, Women, and Books: a Selection of Sketches, Essays, and Critical Memoirs, 2 volumes (London: Smith, Elder, 1847; New York: Harper, 1847).
- A Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla (London: Smith, Elder, 1848).
- The Town: Its Memorable Characters and Events: St. Paul's to St. James's, 2 volumes (London: Smith, Elder, 1848).
- The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt, With Reminiscences of Friends and Contemporaries (3 volumes, London: Smith, Elder, 1850; 2 volumes, New York: Harper, 1850; revised edition, 1 volume, London: Smith, Elder, 1860).
- Table-Talk (London: Smith, Elder, 1851; New York: Appleton, 1879).
- The Works of Leigh Hunt, 4 volumes (Philadelphia: Willis P. Hazard, 1854).
- Stories in Verse; Now First Collected (London & New York: Routledge, 1855).
- The Old Court Suburb: or, Memorials of Kensington, Regal, Critical, and Anecdotical, 2 volumes (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1855; enlarged, 1855).
- The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt. Now First Entirely Collected, Revised by Himself, 2 volumes, edited by S. Adams Lee (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1857).
- The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, Now Finally Collected, Revised by Himself, edited by Thornton Hunt (London & New York: Routledge, Warne, & Routledge, 1860).
- A Saunter Through the West End (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1861).
- A Day By the Fire; and Other Papers, Hitherto Uncollected, edited by Joseph Edward Babson (London: Sampson Low, Son, & Marston, 1870; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1870).
- The Wishing-Cap Papers, edited by Joseph Edward Babson (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1873; London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Low & Searle, 1874).
- Tales by Leigh Hunt, Now First Collected, edited by William Knight (London: W. Paterson, 1891).
- Musical Evenings, or Selections, Vocal and Instrumental, edited by David R. Cheney (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1964).
- Hunt on Eight Sonnets of Dante, edited by Rhodes Dunlap (Iowa City: University of Iowa School of Journalism, 1965).
- The Works of Leigh Hunt, 7 volumes (London: Smith, Elder, 1870-1872).
- Leigh Hunt as Poet and Essayist, edited by Charles Kent (London & New York: Warne, 1889).
- The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, edited by H. S. Milford (London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1923).
- A Legend of Florence, London, Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 7 February 1840.
- Lovers' Amazements, London, Lyceum Theatre, 20 January 1858.
- Classic Tales, Serious and Lively on the Merits and Reputations of the Authors, 5 volumes, includes critical essays by Hunt on five of the authors (London: J. Hunt & C. Reynell, 1807).
- Amyntas, a Tale of the Woods: from the Italian of Torquato Tasso, translated, with notes, by Hunt (London: T. & J. Allman, 1820).
- Bacchus in Tuscany, a Dithyramic Poem from the Italian of Francesco Redi, translated by Hunt (London: Printed for John & H. L. Hunt, 1825).
- The Masque of Anarchy, a Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Now First Published with a Preface by Leigh Hunt (London: Edward Moxon, 1832).
- The Dramatic Works of Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar, includes biographical and critical notices by Hunt (London: Edward Moxon, 1840).
- The Dramatic Works of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, edited, with a biographical and critical sketch, by Hunt (London: Edward Moxon, 1840).
- One Hundred Romances of Real Life, edited and annotated by Hunt (London: L. Whittaker, 1843).
- Imagination and Fancy: or, Selections from the English Poets with an Essay in Answer to the Question What is Poetry? edited, with an introductory essay, by Hunt (London: Smith, Elder, 1844; New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1845).
- Thornton Hunt, The Foster Brother: a Tale of the War of Chiozza, 3 volumes, edited by Hunt (London: T. C. Newby, 1845).
- Wit and Humour, Selected from the English Poets with an Illustrative Essay, edited, with an introductory essay, by Hunt (London: Smith, Elder, 1846; New York: Wiley & Putnam, 1847).
- A Book for a Corner, or Selections in Prose and Verse from Authors the Best Suited to That Mode of Enjoyment, edited, with an introduction and comments, by Hunt (2 volumes, London: Chapman & Hall, 1849; 1 volume, New York: G. P. Putnam, 1852).
- Readings for Railways: or, Anecdotes and Other Short Stories, Reflections, Maxims, Characteristics, Passages of Wit, Humour and Poetry, etc., selected by Hunt (London: C. Gilpin, 1849).
- Beaumont and Fletcher; or, The Finest Scenes, Lyrics, and Other Beauties of Those Two Poets, edited, with a preface, by Hunt (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1855).
- The Book of the Sonnet, edited by Hunt and S. Adams Lee, with an essay on the sonnet by Hunt, 2 volumes (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1867; London: S. Low, Son & Marston, 1867).
Selected Periodical Publications
- "Memoir of James Henry Leigh Hunt written by himself," The Monthly Mirror, 7 (April 1810): 243-248.
- "The Works of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder," edited by George Frederick Nott, Edinburgh Review, 27 (December 1816): 390-422.
- "The Family Journal," New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 13 (January 1825): 17-28; (February 1825): 166-176; (March 1825): 276-282; (April 1825): 353-369, 419-423; (May 1825): 457-466; (June 1825): 548-555; 14 (July 1825): 41-45; (September 1825): 199-206; (October 1825): 323-332; (November 1825): 429-431; (December 1825): 514-518.
- "The Wishing Cap," Tait's Edinburgh Magazine, 2 (January 1833): 435-442; (March 1833): 689-693; 3 (April 1833): 141-148; (June 1833): 275-280; (July 1833): 417-421; (September 1833): 695-701.
- "Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Letters and Works," edited by Lord Wharncliffe, London and Westminster Review, 37 (April 1837): 130-164.
- "Memoirs of the Colman Family, by R. B. Peake," Edinburgh Review, 73 (July 1841): 389-424.
- "The Life, Journal and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys, Esq. by the Rev. John Smith," Edinburgh Review, 74 (October 1841): 105-125.
- "Madame Sevigne and her Contemporaries," Edinburgh Review, 76 (October 1842): 203-236.
- "George Selwyn and his Contemporaries, by John H. Jesse," Edinburgh Review, 80 (July 1844): 1-42.
- The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt, 2 volumes, edited by Thornton Hunt (London: Smith, Elder, 1862).
- My Leigh Hunt Library: The Holograph Letters, edited by Luther A. Brewer (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1938).
- Charles Richard Sanders, "The Correspondence and Friendship of Thomas Carlyle and Leigh Hunt," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 45 (March 1963): 439-485; 46 (September 1963): 179-216.
- David R. Cheney, The Correspondence of Leigh Hunt and Charles Ollier in the Winter of 1853-54 (London: Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, 1976).
Hunt materials are scattered around the world. The largest collection of correspondence and manuscripts is in the Luther A. Brewer Collection, University of Iowa Libraries. Among other important collections are those at the British Library; University of Leeds Library; Carl H. Pforzheimer Library; Berg Collection, New York Public Library; Houghton Library, Harvard University; and the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.