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James Henry Leigh Hunt

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Published : 12 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : N/A
Death : N/A
Views : 2653

Radical journalist, famous as co-founder of The Examiner (1808) and libeller of the Prince of Wales (1813), but also as a talented Romantic essayist, poet, and prolific founder of literary journals, in which capacities he became well-known to Dickens.  By the late 1820s Hunt had moderated his Radical zeal and his Romantic enthusiasm was carefully tailored for the middle classes.  His essays contributed to the True Sun during Dickens's employment there, published under the signature of 'The Townsman'(1833-1834), show him posing as a connoisseur of the London streets, and expounding what he called his 'Townosophy' of aesthetic responses to the city.  In his 'Streets of London' sketches (Leigh Hunt's London Journal, 1834-1835), Hunt returned to the theme, proposing 'to go through London, quarter by quarter', noting as many associations of the city's past as possible. These sketches were collected as The Town (1848), a copy of which was in Dickens's library at his death.  Even in the 1830s, Dickens was an enthusiastic reader of Hunt, praising his 'faith in all beautiful and excellent things', and humanitarian sentiments, in a letter of July 1838 (Pilgrim Letters I, p. 414), and taking editions of Hunt's Indicator (1819-1821) and Companion (1828) journals with him to Petersham in 1839, as holiday reading. In 1847, Hunt's perennial financial difficulties were partly solved by a Civil List pension of £200, but not before Dickens had decided to organise two theatrical benefits in his behalf. In Dickens's fertile imagination, however, Hunt's charming naïveté of disposition and avowed eschewal of money matters later became transformed into something more sinister in the character of Skimpole in Bleak House (BH 6 et seq.).  The parody caused Hunt much distress, which Dickens's later retractions and apologies, culminating in the article 'Leigh Hunt: A Remonstrance' (AYR, 24 December 1859), never successfully assuaged (Forster Life 6.7).    

John Drew © Paul Schlicke, ed., The Oxford Reader's Companion to Dickens (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

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