HUNT, (James Henry) Leigh

Born: October 19, 1784, in Southgate, Middlesex, England

Died: August 28, 1859, in Putney, England

Although a writer and poet in his own right, Leigh Hunt also made immense contributions to the literary world as an editor and literary critic. Hunt was the eighth and last child born to a West Indian father and Quaker-American mother, and also the only member of his family born in England. His family had previously lived in Philadelphia where his father, Isaac Hunt, practiced as a lawyer until driven from the States for his loyalist policies.

Hunt was educated at Christ's Hospital School, and published his first poems at age seventeen. After completing school he continued creating verse and began contributing to newspapers. In 1808 Hunt became the editor of a liberal periodical, owned by his brother John, called The Examiner: A new Sunday paper upon Politics, Domestic Economy and Theatricals. For thirteen years he edited and contributed to the paper, whose liberal outlook frequently caused them problems with the law. However they were acquitted of libel until 1812 when he was convicted, fined, and imprisoned for two years for criticizing the Prince Regent in the paper. The day the verdict was published ten thousand copies of the paper were sold. Evidently prison life did not treat Hunt too badly either, as his cell backed onto a garden and he had the materials necessary to edit the paper. The Examiner is particularly noted for having introduced young talented writers such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Keats.

After his release, and after working on other papers such as The Indicator (1819-1821), Hunt, his long-time friend Lord Byron and Shelley each left England for Italy, where they collaborated in the creation of another paper, The Liberal. Hunt, his wife Marianne whom he had married in 1809, and their children stayed with Byron in his villa in Pisa. However apparently Byron was not too interested in contributing, Shelley drowned that same year, and the publication soon failed.

Hunt returned to England in 1825 where he continued to write and edit several papers, including, among others, The Companion, The Chat of the Week, and Leigh Hunt's London Journal. Some of Hunt's finest poems, such as Abou Ben Adhem and Jenny Kiss'd Me (dedicated to Mrs. Jane Welsh Carlyle) were published in 1838 in the anthology The Book of Gems. In addition he also published two volumes of his collected poems, and a three volume Autobiography nine years before his death in Putney, England.