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"He shall be strong to sanctity the poet's high vocation,
In front of the house in Florence where Mrs. Browning wrote and died, a marble tablet has been erected by the Italians as a grateful memorial of one who " by her song, created a golden link between Italy and England."
LEIGH HUNT AND KEATS.
THE poetry of the period under consideration discovers great variety, both in thought and style. Different schools had arisen, each representing peculiar characteristics of sentiment and diction. All appear to have agreed in rejecting that enslavement of ideas to rhythm and metre enounced by the schools of which Pope and Goldsmith were representatives; yet each sought to refine and elevate by widely diverging methods.
Of the new generation of poets Lord Byron rose first. For a while he assumed the dictatorship of poetry, was alternately flattered and condemned, and at length superseded by the Lake poets, who, going back to the Elizabethan era for precedent, opened a new path for poetic inspiration by disregarding established metrical rules.
While this school was slowly overcoming critical prejudices, and gaining "by inches," as it were, popular esteem, a third school appeared, derisively called by its cotemporary enemies the " Cockney School,"— poets who not only rejected the ancient models of poetry, but were radical reformists in morals, society, and government.
Of this school, Keats has been termed the martyr, Shelley the hope, and Hunt is said to have proposed to himself the glory of heralding this approaching era which should eclipse the fairest periods of poetical history; for long before the appearance of either Shelley or Keats, Leigh Hunt had, by both verse and prose, established his claim to the attention of the world. For more than half a ceutury he occupied a conspicuous, if not a foremost, rank among the literati of England.
As the descendant of American parentage, and a lifelong consistent adherent to what we call liberal principles, — what in England are called radical, — he has no slight claim to our consideration. His admirable "Autobiography," presenting a perfect key to his feelings and prejudices, and illustrating the weakness and strength of his character as no posthumous memoir could have done, was issued within a year of the close of his life. It has made him more widely known on this side of the Atlantic, giving, as it does, a true impression of the actual man, who is in perfect harmony with the conception one forms of him through his works.
The poet was born at Southgate, 1784. His ancestors for several generations were natives of Barbadoes. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all clergymen of the Established Church of England. His mother was of Quaker descent, — a daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia merchant. Hunt was a sickly child, and the village doctor sagely predicted that he would die an idiot before he was fifteen. In spite of this cheerful prophecy the poet, through the watchful care and solicitude of his good mother, grew to a fine healthy boyhood, and in 1792 was admitted a student at Christ's Hospital, where his school-days were passed with Coleridge and Lamb.
After leaving school, Hunt turned his attention to the unsubstantial profession which he had determined to follow,— poetry and'literature. In 1802 appeared his first volume of verses, published by his father, which he agrees with every one else in calling wretched. Next appeared his prose essays, mainly confined to theatrical criticism; and though little better than his verses, they gained for him a species of popularity, and he became quite a lion among the English literati.
He now devoted himself earnestly to books; and from Voltaire, whom he warmly admired, he imbibed those revolutionary ideas which lost him favor with the leading literary celebrities, and brought the Government about his ears. For a printed libel on the Prince Regent — which would, it has been asserted, in Elizabeth's d:iy have brought his head to the block — the poet, after a careful trial at the judicial bar, along with his brother, was sent to prison for two years. A finer picture of adversity sweetened by the devices of a blithe, beauty-loving soul has never been drawn than in this description of Hunt's prison-life, taken from his "Autobiography."
"I papered the walls," he says (referring to his room in the Prison Infirmary, where, owing to ill health, he was fortunately domiciled),—"I papered the walls with a trellis of roses; I had the ceiling covered with clouds and sky; the barred windows were screened with Venetian blinds; and when my bookcases were set up, with their busts and flowers, and a pianoforte made its appearance, perhaps there was not a handsomer room on that side the water. Charles Lamb used to declare that there was no other such room except in a fairy tale.
"There was a little yard outside, belonging to a neighboring yard.
» "This yard I shut in with green palings, adorned it with a trellis, bordered it with a thick bed of earth from a nursery, and even contrived to have a grass-plot.
"The earth I filled with flowers and young trees. There was an apple-tree from which I managed to get a pudding the second year. As to my flowers, they were allowed to be perfect. A poet from Derbyshire [Mr. Moore] told me he had seen no such heart's-ease."
Happy poet, who could grow heart's-ease where a less sunny-hearted and more prosaic captive would have planted rue or nightshade. Here the sensuous artist, with that warm runlet of West Indian blood keeping perpetual holiday in his veins, his fine taste, romantic fancy, and child-love of flowers, spirited away from the .Babelish world and its " carking cares," was perhaps for the only time in his life in his true element.
Hunt was born rather to nurse poetical fancies than to apply himself steadily to worldly business; and in the rough battle of life he was ever discomfited His friends, failing in their efforts to obtain for him a pension, resorted to amateur theatrical performances, as another method of relieving his poverty. Dickens and Jerrold were among the actors; and the result was pecuniarily a success.
In 1859 Leigh Hunt passed forever from these weary bufletings of misfcn-tune, —let us hope to a region where the adverse gales, even here "tempered to the shorn lamb," are lulled to an eternal calm.
The character of Hunt, notwithstanding its alloy of self-conceit and eccentricity, is one toward which we are irresistibly attracted. His enthusiasm, love of humor, and kindly temper, the genial friendliness of his nature, and (above all) his warm, loving heart, contrast finely with the cold, sarcastic, and worldly-minded nature of Byron, — at one time his closest friend.
Mrs. Carlyle speaks of Leigh Hunt with enthusiasm in her " Letters," though her Scotch thrift and prudence seem to have been deeply outraged by the " waste and mismanagement" going on in his household. Thus she writes: "Still prettier were Leigh Hunt's little nights with us; he has the figure and bearing of the man of a perfectly graceful, spontaneously original, dignified, and attractive kind." One feels in her description of his attire that it must have been not unlike his poetry. "He came," she tells