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And what exquisite humour, and delicacy and acuteness of observation, are displayed in his delightful prose Essays !
Leigh Hunt is even more agreeable as a companion than as an author. He has a constant flow of animal spirits, and his original remarks and illustrations are easily and pleasantly delivered. His clear brilliant images are poured out from the fancy-tinged fountain of his mind with wonderful rapidity. He adapts himself with great felicity to the character of the society into which he may happen to be thrown, and can not only endure with generous patience the company of an ordinary individual, but can usually find something agreeable and instructive in his conversation, how. ever humble. He can
“ Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing." He is a most passionate admirer of the external world, and thinks with Milton that “a sullenness against nature,” is a serious crime. For this reason, nothing displeases him so much as Methodistical lamentations. To him they appear not only common-place, but impious and untrue. He is an optimist. He dislikes the cold and ungracious creed of the Calvinist, and wonders how any one who is himself possessed of the common attributes of humanity, can be sceptical of human virtue, or while gazing upon the green fields and cloudless skies of a summer's day can offer God and Nature the doubtful compliment of a gloomy brow. He makes a firm stand against the dogmas of the Utilitarians, and considers that happiness, and whatever is most conducive to its progress, are the chief concern of the truly wise. All things are useful as they tend to this end, and no further. It may be said that virtue is a higher object, but happiness implies its presence, and indeed is only another term for virtuous emotion. A criminal is never happy. Poetry and the Fine Arts, which the Benthamites despise, because they do not comprehend, contribute to our happiness by awakening the most delicate sensibilities of the soul, VOL. II,
and are as useful in the strictest sense of the word, as scientific theories and inventions. Nothing is useful in this world, but what has eventual reference to the heart of man. Poetry is the expression of human passion. It has been contemptuously characterized as an idle dream ; as a pleasing falsehood. If our existence itself be not a dream, the essence of poetry is truth. The Poet's soul is a mirror, that reflects more vividly than ordinary minds, the scenery of human life*.
* As the especial province of Poetry is to describe nature, human and inanimate, truth is, of course, its vital principle. The vulgar mistake of supposing all poetry to be necessarily false originates in the circumstance of poets being compelled to invent a certain artificial arrangement of personages and incidents ; and it is because these identical personages never existed, and these particular incidents never happeued, that unthinking people have hastily concluded that Poetry is a falsehood ! But they should recollect that a Poet does not pretend to give an account of individual personages and particular incidents, but an exact representation of human passions and external nature. If we were to credit the traducers of " the art divine," the question of the personal existence of his hero, involves the Poet's character for common honesty. But he is the historian of man, and not of men-of the human heart, but not of individuals. His province is to describe our common nature, and the appearances of material things that affect us by their beauty or sublimity. The man who after hearing that Romeo and Juliet never actually existed, should accise Shakespeare of a lie, would be guilty of an egregious blunder perfectly worthy of an Utilitarian. We do not inquire whether Romeo and Juliet lived in Venice or in London, in one century or another, or whether two persons of these names ever lived at all ; but whether Shakespeare has truly developed in these dramatic characters the tender passion, as it exists in every age and country. The shadow of poetry is mistaken for the substance, the shell for the kernel, Rhymes-names-incidents, &c. form only the machinery of a vehicle constructed by genius for the conveyance and exhibition of treasures from the mine of nature.
It is supposing that men have not human affections, to pronounce them dead to the influence of poetry. “ All that is worth any thing in life is the poetry of it." Do not the rudest of our common sailors, while voyaging over the wide and solitary Atlantic on calm moon-light nights, occasionally think with tender emotion of their distant homes, and patriotically of their native Isle, until, although “unused to weep," the tears start into their eyes? This is poetry! Poets, in similar situations, have only to express similar feelings, and the world will hail them as the priests and interpreters of Nature. Did Burns do more than embody the general in his most popular ? ertainly not,- for it was to their actual truth that he was indebted for his fame. If there
Leigh Hunt has too many idiosyncrasies of genius, and has too much subtlety and refinement, for success as a popular writer. It is said, that a man who is but just in advance of his pupils, is the most effective teacher. It is the same with the author, who should not be too far beyond the mob, if he desires to sway their sympathies and opinions. The qualities of Leigh Hunt's mind are extremely rare, and seem strange and unintelligible to the mass of readers. There are many writers of these times, who have exhibited more power, both of thought and expression; but it would be difficult to name any one who has surpassed him in a delicate sense of the beautiful, and a general subtlety of apprehension. In a question of mere taste, or a description of natural scenery, or in characteristic details of men and manners, we can conceive nothing more delightful than the writings of Leigh Hunt : but he has many superiors in the fierce struggles of political controversy; and we have arrived at a period, when the public mind demands a strong and even coarse excitement. Even in literature itself, there is a correspondent leaning to the wild and turgid. Addison and Goldsmith would attract but little attention in such times as these. The mild essays of the Spectator would seem flat and insipid, and what publisher would make a liberal offer for the copyright of a one volume novel in the style of the Vicar of Wakefield ?
When Leigh Hunt distinguished himself so much by his political writings in the Examiner, it was rather by the moral courage of his tone, contrasted with the general character of the Legitimacy-ridden Press of that day, than by any intrinsic force of style. In fact, there was something even effeminate and fantastic in his manner, though his genuine love of truth and freedom, and the candour and sincerity and disinterestedness of his character, were obvious to the meanest and most malignant reader ; though these noble qualities did not protect him from bitter and cowardly hostilities. In fact, the moral beauty of his character was the sharpest of all thorns in the sides of his opponents, some of whom seemed to think themselves justified in attacking his good name with the most infamous falsehoods for the sake of nullifying its influence. Considering all that Leigh Hunt has suffered in person and reputation for the good old cause, and that he was for a long time in advance of the rest of his party, it cannot be denied that the Whigs have treated him with signal ingratitude. There is no man living who has done so much to prepare the way for their return to power, and yet he has been wholly neglected in the ostentatious distribution of loaves and fishes to the men who have distinguished themselves by their writings. Even Tory authors, in every way below him, have had the preference. It is not easy to understand this gross injustice, unless it be, that our Whig governors, in their contemptible timidity, are fearful of being thought to favor their own friends ; and thus, to avoid the imputation, turn their benefactors out of doors and heap honors on their foes. No liberal-minded person would advocate such party distinctions in literature, as should lead to the neglect of real merit; but here is a case in which a man of true genius is left to starve, though he has laboured half a life to forward a cause, which the legislators who have the power to honor and reward those writers who have benefitted mankind, consider to be the cause of truth and justice, and the dearest in which humanity is concerned; while authors of far less literary merit, and who have taken the opposite side, have been handsomely pensioned.
were not responsive feelings in the bosoms of men in general, to whom would poetry be addressed ? Poets would write only for Poets ! But all men have human passions, and these are the poetry of life. The faculties, and emotions of the Poet differ from those of his fellow-creatures, in degree but not in kind. His pains and his pleasures are only more intense. He pants for sympathy, and to relieve his impassioned spirit, he is compelled to “ wreak himself on expression !"
Nothing but Leigh Hunt's disinterested and undestructible love of truth, and a naturally lively imagination, could have preserved him from despondency or despair in the midst of his great and manifold afflictions; and it is truly delightful to observe, how he continues to the last to turn to the sunny side of all things.
He is just as full of hope and trustfulness as ever, and he looks round upon nature and upon man with the same cordial sympathy and admiration that thrilled his heart in youth. This is true religion true virtue-true wisdom.
Leigh Hunt seems to be quite aware, that his character as a politician is not precisely suited to the tone and temper of the times. He is far too mild and scrupulous and candid, and deals too much in generalities. He is too little of a party man.
Leigh Hunt's personal appearance is extremely prepossessing. His figure is light and elegant, and he has an air of genteel negligence about him, that is not common among literary men. He has a quick and sparkling eye, but his mouth is the most remarkable feature of his face; it has a character of great sensibility, and a kind of voluptuous refinement. If there is any thing objectionable in Hunt's personal manners and conversation, it consists in a slight tinge of foppery in both. Hazlitt is as opposite to him in these respects as possible. Hunt wears no neckcloth, but leaves his collar open a la Byron. His coxcombry, if such it be, has by no means a disagreeable effect; for his extreme politeness, his elegant manners and good humour would redeem a far greater foible.
NO. XIII. KEAN.
This eminent actor seems to have suffered severely from his bodily infirmities during the last year or two of his life. His genius, however, had not lost all its original brightness, and in despite of a cloud of physical ills it shot forth occasional gleams, that were far more precious and delightful than the steadier