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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

Leigh Hunt was an agreeable and amiable being enough


During his lifetime, especially during the first half or two-thirds of his literary career, Moore had a great popularity, and won no small esteem even among critics; such discredit as attached to him being chiefly of the moral kind, and that entertained only by very strait-laced persons. But as the more high-flown and impassioned muses of Wordsworth, of Shelley, and of Keats gained the public ear in the third and later decades of the century, a fashion set in of regarding him as a mere melodious trifler; and this has accentuated itself during the last twenty years or so, though quite recently some efforts have been made in protest. This estimate is demonstrably unjust. It is true that of the strange and high notes of poetry he has very few, of the very strangest and highest none at all. But his long poems, _Lalla Rookh_ especially, though somewhat over-burdened with the then fashionable deck cargo of erudite or would-be erudite notes, possess merit which none but a very prejudiced critic can, or at least ought to, overlook. And in other respects he is very nearly, if not quite, at the top of at least two trees, which, if not quite cedars of Lebanon, are not mere grass of Parnassus. Moore was a born as well as a trained musician. But whereas most musicians have since the seventeenth century been exceedingly ill at verbal numbers, he had a quite extraordinary knack of composing what are rather disrespectfully called "words." Among his innumerable songs there are not one or two dozens or scores, but almost hundreds of quite charmingly melodious things, admirably adjusted to their music, and delightful by themselves without any kind of instrument, and as said not sung. And, what is more, among these there is a very respectable number to which it would be absolutely absurd to give the name of trifle. "I saw from the beach" is not a trifle, nor "When in death I shall calm recline," nor "Oft in the stilly night," nor "Tell me, kind sage, I pray thee," nor many others. They have become so hackneyed to us in various ways, and some of them happen to be pitched in a key of diction which, though not better or worse than others, is so out of fashion, that it seems as if some very respectable judges could not "focus" Moore at all. To those who can he will seem, not of course the equal, or anything like the equal, of Burns or Shelley, of Blake or Keats, but in his own way,--and that a way legitimate and not low,--one of the first lyrical writers in English. And they will admit a considerable addition to his claims in his delightful satirical verse, mainly but not in the least offensively political, in which kind he is as easily first as in the sentimental song to music.

Something not dissimilar to the position which Moore occupies on the more classical wing of the poets of the period is occupied on the other by Leigh Hunt. Hunt (Henry James Leigh, who called himself and is generally known by the third only of his Christian names) was born in London on the 19th October 1784, was educated at Christ's Hospital, began writing very early, held for a short time a clerkship in a public office, and then joined his brother in conducting the _Examiner_ newspaper. Fined and imprisoned for a personal libel on the Prince Regent (1812), Hunt became the fashion with the Opposition; and the _Story of Rimini_, which he published when he came out of gaol, and which was written in it, had a good deal of influence. He spent some years in Italy, to which place he had gone with his family in 1822 to edit _The Liberal_ and to keep house with Byron--a very disastrous experiment, the results of which he recorded in an offensive book on his return. Hunt lived to 18th August 1859, and was rescued from the chronic state of impecuniosity in which, despite constant literary work, he had long lived, by a Crown pension and some other assistance in his latest days. Personally, Leigh Hunt was an agreeable and amiable being enough, with certain foibles which were rather unfairly magnified in the famous caricature of him as Harold Skimpole by his friend Dickens, but which were accompanied by some faults of taste of which Mr. Skimpole is not accused.


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