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At the age of 57. From an unpublished portrait by Mrs Gliddon, now drawn

on wood by Mr Charles Gliddon, a connexion of the poet's family.

22

LEIGH HUNT.*

I

N studying the prose of LEIGH HUNT, we make the ac

quaintance of what may be regarded as an intermediate

territory between the older and the newer styles of essay-writing. His youthful productions had a smack of the eighteenth century, and yet were not of it; his more mature works were distinguished in a great degree by the characteristics of to-day, and yet were in some measure different. His first ideas of literature were formed while the Johnsonian style was still dominant, before the French Revolution had had time to rouse the mind of Europe (or at least of England) out of its pseudo-scholastic lethargy, before the war with Buonaparte had come to confront the nation with the stern truths of a new state of things, and while yet the great inventions of our own day were unsuspected, except by a few thoughtful brains. It was the worst period that our literature has ever known. The great dictator of Fleet Street had gone, leaving behind him a host of feeble satellites,

* Some small portions of this Introduction have already appeared in other places.

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who made the vices of his style apparent in their vapid and insincere imitations. Those who did not mimic Johnson did worse; for they wrote in a tone of maudlin sentimentality that liad not even the show of strength. Burke and Gibbon, indeed, were still living; but they stood almost alone. In poetry, the Della Cruscan manner prevailed, with its false simplicity and real tinsel, its lachrymose tenderness and sham romance. Wordsworth and Coleridge had not yet risen above the horizon, and, in the dearth of original genius, Hayley was looked upon as a prodigy. It is true that Cowper kept alive the feeling of a better day; but even his poems were to some extent imbued with the faults of the time. It was in the midst of these influences that Leigh Hunt's earliest literary style was fashioned. The age was one of pretence, and the young poet and essayist suffered in the first instance from the mistakes of others. He had “a good old aunt,” who used to encourage him "to write fine letters,” and on whom he composed an elegy after her death, in which he called her "a nymph”! In our days, none but a boy could commit such an absurdity; but at that time the boy simply followed the example of his elders, who in such affairs were probably not his superiors. The old lady herself, who was so fond of “fine letters,” would doubtless have considered her translation into the nymphal state a perfectly proper thing—in poetry. In the same artificial and sophisticated strain, Leigh Hunt, when a boy, wrote an Ode in praise of the Duke of York's victory at Dunkirk, which," he relates, “I was afterwards excessively mortified to find had been a defeat. I compared him to Alexander, or rather dismissed Alexander with contempt in the exordium.” In a letter to one of his daughters, he says

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that he described the Duke as "galloping about through the field of battle, shooting the Frenchmen in the eye !" When he had shaken himself free of this rubbish, Leigh Hunt became one of the most natural writers that ever lived; but it was not until after some years that he corrected the false literary education of his youth.

His experiences at the Blue-coat School were not of a character to set him in the right road. The master, Boyer, seems to have been a pedant, without any appreciation of the spirit of classical learning, which he apparently regarded as an affair of grammar and of mechanical forms. The boy saw through and disliked the formalism; and he fled for refuge to the poets of his own country--but generally to the poorest and weakest of them. He forsook one kind of conventionality for another; he bathed his mind in the poetry of the period immediately succeeding Pope, and appears to have regarded the contributors to “Dodsley's Miscellany” as the greatest masters of verse. So true to him were the most sickly pretences of the so-called pastoral school of poetry, that he and some of his school-fellows would occasionally row up the river to Richmond, in order that they might enact, literally and in good faith, Collins's extravagant lines about Thomson's grave in his Ode on the death of that poet :

* Remembrance oft shall haunt the shore

When Thames in summer wreaths is dress'd,
And oft suspend the dashing oar,

To bid his gentle spirit rest."

Such was the style which he then believed in and rever. enced; such was the style in which his earliest volume of poems, called "Juvenilia," was composed. It was towards

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