Leigh Hunt: The Romantic Poet Who Paved the Way for the Victorian Era

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Born on this day October 19, 1784, James Henry Leigh Hunt, known as Leigh Hunt, was a significant figure in the Romantic literary movement of the early 19th century. He was not only a poet but also an essayist, a critic and a key player in the transitional phase between the Romantic and Victorian eras. His works provided a critical bridge between these two distinct periods in English literature.

Leigh Hunt’s influence on the literary world is often underestimated due to his less flamboyant style compared to his contemporaries like Byron, Keats, and Shelley. However, his contribution as a critic and essayist significantly influenced the literature of his time and beyond. As an essayist, Hunt introduced a more informal and personal style of writing which later became popular in the Victorian era. His essays were often conversational in tone, covering a wide range of topics from politics to literature, making them accessible to a broader audience.

As a poet, Leigh Hunt’s work was marked by both romantic and realistic elements. His romanticism was not of the escapist kind but was closely tied to real human experiences, making his poetry relatable to everyday life. This blend of romanticism and realism in his poetry paved the way for the Victorian era, characterized by its focus on social issues and realism.

As a critic, Hunt promoted the works of his contemporaries, including Percy Shelley and John Keats, both of whom he greatly admired. He championed their innovative styles and themes, which were initially met with criticism from more conservative literary circles. Through his critical writings, he helped shape public opinion towards accepting new forms of expression in poetry.

Leigh Hunt’s contributions as a poet, essayist, and critic were instrumental in shaping the transition from Romanticism to Victorianism in English literature. His work provided a bridge between these two eras, and his influence can be seen in the works of many Victorian writers who followed him.

Song of Fairies Robbing an Orchard

We, the Fairies, blithe and antic,
Of dimensions not gigantic,
Though the moonshine mostly keep us,
Oft in orchards frisk and peep us.

Stolen sweets are always sweeter,
Stolen kisses much completer,
Stolen looks are nice in chapels,
Stolen, stolen, be your apples.

When to bed the world are bobbing,
Then’s the time for orchard-robbing;
Yet the fruit were scarce worth peeling,
Were it not for stealing, stealing.

-Leigh Hunt

Curated by Jennifer

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