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tensive fame. Fancy, rather than imagination, was an attribute of his mind. He delighted in the melody of rhymes, and was never at a loss for similar syllables with which to couple any word, however unusual. In his playful poems he abounds in doggerel rhymes, such as “Hebe," "she be;" “mayn't I,” “quaint eye;" “ladies,” "trade is;" "robber on," "Oberon." That Leigh Ilunt had
” a talent for rhyming will be appreciated by the reader when he is informed that he and a friend once amused themselves, while on a walk, by making one hundred and fifty rhymes with the word “philosopher.”
Hunt's powers of invention were limited. No original characters figure in any of his plays or poems. They are generally furnished full grown to his hand, and all he does is to array them in different robes and place them in new attitudes. He has no birthright in the period which he describes as
“ Two centuries ago, When Shakspeare drew men, and to write was to know." In the composition of his poems he made laborious consultations of books. The “Story of Rimini," his longest and most admired poem, was not composed without careful attention given to many old volumes, as the following paragraph indicates :
“Lord Byron called on me in prison several times. He used to bring me books for the Story of Rimini, which I was then writing. He would not let the footman bring them in. He would enter with a couple of quartos under his arm, and give you to understand that he was prouder of being a friend and a man of letters than a lord."
Leigh Hunt was a painter in poetry. He was an artist, not of the bold and original style of the great historical painters, but more after the Flemish School. He delighted in minute and careful finish. He applied his delicate colors with a skillful hand. By means of a few dainty touches of his pencil, the more pleasing parts of a landscape stand clearly before you. A "poetic nook” is thus described :
“ Just hid with trees, and sparkling with a brook,
And lull the fancy to a waking dream.” The prominent features of an Italian landscape are carefully sketched in the following lines :
“ For leafy was the road, with tall array
And the broad chestnut, and the poplar's shoot,
Hung, garlanding the way in amber lines.”
" Or a few cattle looking up askance
With reminant meek mouths and sleepy glance.” Not only in landscapes, but in portraits, does our poet try his hand. He thus paints a shadow upon a feature of a fierce countenance:
“ His brows were shadowed with a stormy fire.” The following is an approach toward a “speaking likeness :"
“ And under bis grim gaze the life-long words were said.” The words, “dim eyes sliding into rest,” depict the expression of a dying man in a manner which the lights and shadows of the pencil cannot surpass. There is bold figure in the following lines:
“A ghastly castle that eternally
Holds its blind visage out to the lone sea." Here is milder and more pleasing metaphor:.
“A land of trees which, reaching round about
In shady blessings, stretched their old arms out.” In describing the roar of cannon, he mingles the perceptions of different senses in a curious manner:
" On the face of nations round
Fell the shadow of that sound.” Of Hunt's poems, some of his shorter pieces will hold the world's attention the longest. One of the finest sonnets in the language is that on the Nile, commencing:
" It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave, mighty thought threading a dream.” Those who know nothing about anything else that Hunt has written, remember him as the author of the beautiful vision of Abou Ben Adem. Though well known, it should never be omitted from any presentation of Leigh Hunt's poetical achievements :
“ Abou Ben Adem (may his tribe increase !)
An angel writing in a book of gold.
Leigh Hunt had a kind of Homeric proclivity for words curiously compounded. The cry of the wounded for water on the field of battle is called a “wound-voice.” A man disabled on the field is * many wounded.” Blind Milton is called “ blank-eyed.” Such a use of words might have been natural enough to one who wrote in Greek, but, regarded as an Englishman's use of his mother tongue, it seems quite artificial.
Few popular poets have owed less to nature, or more to art, than Leigh Hunt. He presents the curious spectacle of a poet most unnatural in his early life, growing more into fellowship with nature as he advanced in years.
The element of originality is wanting in much that he wrote. Many of his pieces are simply recasts of passages in old authors or Italian poets. He had a fine ear for the harmony of numbers. Though he might take some vigor from an old poem which he recast, he never marred its music. He delighted in the sweets of literature, and was assiduous in collecting them. If, like the bee, he had a delicate taste for "honeyed sweets," he was likewise armed with a sting, of which brother authors, as well as princes and tories, sometimes felt the wound. In the former part of his career he presents the strange spectacle of a man of affectionate disposition and quiet tastes engaged in political controversy and literary warfare.
He cared little for dramatic literature, and seldom read plays; yet he had an ambition to shine as a writer for the stage. He was impatient with stage managers, because they did not bring forward his plays so promptly as their merits deserved; yet he never committed Fielding's indiscretion of organizing a private company to perform his plays. Notwithstanding his own distaste for the drama, and the slowness of managers to appreciate his merits, one of his most popular and most remunerative productions was a play, entitled, A Legend of Florence, which, after having had a run at the theater, was performed before the Queen at Windsor Castle.
Leigh Hunt's chief delight in literature was in the composition of his poetry. He loved to turn aside from the prose of his severer literary labors into the flowery paths of poesy. Yet the former was his directer route to faine. His essays, many of which were published under the common title of The Indicator, are unsurpassed by anything which has appeared in the same department since Addison's Spectator. These have a correct and beautiful style, and are pervaded by a quaint and genial humor. Here the author's ready utterance and sprightly fancy are talents called into continual requisition. His subjects are frequently trivial, and are by no means the topics on which you are likely to consult the encyclopedia; yet, on dipping into articles with so unpromising titles as Sticks, Hats, or Pigdriving, you find a combination of fascinating narrative, quaint description, playful allusions, and apt quotations which greatly delight you.
“A determined personality" pervades his essays. He did not fall in with the modern fashion of writers, and sink his own identity in that of the paper for which he wrote. He stood always before his readers as the man as well as the author. No writer ever had more intimate relation and sympathy with his readers than Leigh Hunt. The following extracts from his essay entitled, “My Books,” will show on what terms of easy familiarity he stood with the public:
“ Sitting last winter among my books, and walled round with all the com-
Of book-borrowing he speaks in the same essay:
circumstances so peculiar that I cannot but look upon the conscience that induced me to restore it as having sacrificed the spirit of its very self to the letter, and I have a grudge against it accordingly. Some people are unwilling to lend their books. I have a special grudge against them, particularly those who accompany their unwillingness with uneasy professions to the contrary, and smiles like Sir Fretful Plagiary. The friend who helped to spoil my notions of property, or rather to make them too good for the world . as it goes, taught me also to undervalue my squeamishness in refusing to avail myself of the books of these gentlemen. He showed me how it was doing good to all parties to put an ordinary face on the matter; though I knew his own blushed not a little sometimes in doing it, even when the good to be done was for another. I feel, in truth, that even when anger inclines me to exercise this privilege of philosophy, it is more out of revenge than contempt. I fear that in allowing myself to borrow books, I sometimes make extremes meet in a very sinful manner, and do it out of a refined revenge. It is like eating a miser's beef at him."
Hunt's nice observation of the ways of men appears in almost everything he wrote. It is manifested in a very pleasing way in his good-natured description of The Old Gentleman: ,
“ He is very clean and neat; and in warm weather is proud of opening his waistcoat halt-way down and letting so much of his frill be seen, in order to show his hardiness as well as taste. His watch and shirt-buttons are of the best, and he does not care if he has two rings on a finger. If his watch ever failed lim at the club or coffee-house, he would take a walk every day to the nearest clock of good character, purely to keep it right. He has a cane at home, but seldom uses it, on finding it out of fashion with his elderly juniors. The old gentleman is very particular in having his slippers ready for him at the fire when he comes bome. Ile is also extremely choice in his snuff, and delights to get a fresh boxfull in Tavistock-street, in his way to the theater. His box is a curiosity from India. He calls favorite young ladies by their Christian names, however slightly acquainted with them. He grows young again in his little grandchildren, especially the one which he thinks most like himself
, which is the handsomest. He asks little boys in general who was the father of Zebedee's children. He is much struck when an old acquaintance dies, but adds that he lived too fast; and that poor Bob was a sad dog in his youth, “a very sad doy, sir; mightily set upon a short life and a merry one."
Leigh Hunt's periods are addressed more to the fancy than to the understanding, and aim rather to please than to instruct. This design is apparent in all he wrote. He greatly dreaded the displeasure of the public. Ilis sensitiveness to the opinions of others was an amiable weakness in his character. There is a passage in his autobiography which sets forth this trait in a light both ludicrous and beautiful. He is acknowledging gratefully some large and liberal pecuniary aid, which he received at a time when unable to relieve himself. He wonders whether he ought to blush for stating his obligation so publicly. He expresses his readiness to do so if it were thought fit he should, being loth not to do what is expected of him, "even by a respectable prejudice, when it is on the side of delicacy and self respect."
There are different tastes as to how a tale or drama ought to end;