31 MAY 1930, Page 24

" Skimpole" Vindicated

Leigh Runt: By Edthund Blunden: (Cobden-Stuidemon. 210 LEIGH Hum. has had long to wait for an adequate biography. But full justice has been done to him 'at last, in a manner after his own generous heart. It is pleasant, after a glut of " clever " and cynical biographies, to return to the older tradition, and to read again a " Life 7 of the leisurely, detailed kind, well salted with humour, judgment and quiet satire, but radiating a fine sy,inpathy'and enthusiasm,' Mr. Blunden his spired no Pains in research, and his new ,data, if not of Capital importance, at least shows how thoroughly he has explored the ground. His hook is as scholarly, as it is 'Charming and humane, and, with all the available facts Clearly inarihalled, it finally vindicates HUrit's frePtitation. The " Skimpole " ghost should be " laid " for ever.

Hunt was born in. 1784 and died in 1859. His long life Was one of constant journalistic and literary activity. As the bibliography of his writings shows, he. produced poetry, dramas, essays and _criticism in profusion. With his brother, John, he ran the Examiner as a successful weekly journal for many 'years, and was associated with other , important periodicals. , He . edited the poets and other classics, for the multitude, and, as the friend of all the lettered world of his


'exercised an immense indirect influence upon literature. It is ironical that one who displayed such persistent industry -Should have acquired a reputation for indolence ; but the

explanation is, probably, not far to seek. _

, Hunt's family came from the Barbados, and Leigh himself, thoUgh born in London and remaining a, great Londoner to the end—with the one notable period with the Shelley circle in. Italy from 1821 to 1325—always allowed his imagination to toy with foreign—particularly with Oriental—influences. lie was an " exotic," whose flamboyance of spirit and manner, . optimism, .- affied with imperturbable idealism and optimism,. was easily Mistaken, by stolid British common sense, for superficiality and even for shiftiness. Nature endowed him, moreover, *ith no mathematical sense, and his training' at Christ's nospitalaf which Mi. Blunden hiniself an old " Bluecoat " gives us some delightful glimpses—did no-krepair the omission. Uunt had not only his eccentricities but . his weaknesses. lrlie Utopianism certainly, had its absurd as, well as its strong side. His childlike spirit inspired him sometimes with fine intuition and profound wisdom in my copy of the Everyman edition of • his essays passages are - scored in• which, as it seems to me, he displayed a vision, both in literary and feligious Matters, far ahead of his time Not infrequently, however, his childlikeriess lapsed into :childishness, and he saw everything through_ the rose-coloured spectacles of Perfectibility. But Mr. Blunder has no, difficulty in proving, from the facts of his life and the testimony of his many eminent fiiends, that Hunt, if he were sometimes simple, was never ignoble or insincere: • Nor does the shadow of dishonesty in his financial dealings survive his hiographer'e close scrutiny. Though insouciant

in' money matters, he was emphatically not a sponger. Mr. Blunden supplies many instances in which, though in dire need, Hunt refused the proffered alms of his friends. If from other friends—such as Shelley—he accepted help with apparent indifference, it was because- he " was incapable of feeling that he had himself conferred obligation, and thought that at any rate the spirits of finer tone whom he met also avoided the idea." It was delightful to do well, and virtue, whether he was donor or receiver, was, in the very core of his belief, its own reward. He was always as ready to give as to accept—to give not only of his money (when he had any) but of his time, sympathy, and labour. He was, moreover, handicapped' by a thriftless, lazy, and incompetent wife. To the end he manfully tried to maintain the aura of idealism with which he surrounded her, and he would have hated, says Mr. Blunden, that - his biographer should reveal the truth about her. But such a revelation is necessary if Hunt's own character is to be fully appraised. The pictures of the Hunt household which Mr.

Blunden gives us, partly through his own imagination, and partly through the contemporary descriptions of friends, including the withering Mrs. Carlyle, recall to mind the " Sanger's Circus " of a modern play.

Of Hunt the writer Mr. Blunden speaks incidentally, and with the insight that we should expect. One notable point is his suggestion of the change in Hunt's character due to his

two years' imprisonment for " libelling " the Prince Regent, in the Examiner, in 1812. Hunt began his career under the

influence of his brother, as a political reformer and satirist ; his imprisonment, giving him leisure for reading and thinking, turned his hopes to literature as a more potent revolutionising agent. He withdrew, indeed, too much into literature. The account of his incarceration reads now like a fantasy. Prison life a century ago may have been less sanitary than it is to-day, but it was certainly more homely and sociable. Hunt was able to establish his family in a suite of rooms in the gaol, which was decorated to suit his own bizarre lancy. He was not only allowed to receive his friends, who included Byron, but actually

to continue his work for the Examiner. Hunt, in a word, found imprisonment congenial to his impractical and meditative

temperament. It was with a sense of, irksomeness- that he returned at length to the realities of the outside world, and he never outgrew the habit formed in gaol of viewing life through the softening lenses of,print.- This fact, coupled with the haste with which he was always compelled to labour, help to explain why his work, while more admirable at many points than is yet commonly recognized, fails to sustain a first-class level.

But, if Hunt's own output falls short of the highest per- formance, his manifold and varied services to literature were incalculable. He was a great editor, a great enthuser of the young, a great populariser, and a great inspirer of his friends. Above all, he will be remembered for his clear-sighted and loving service to Shelley and Keats when they were voices in the wilderness. Not the least interesting of Mr. BItinden's pages are those which show that Ihmt'e own poetry .helped• to shape the Romantic Movement. It is the measure of Hunt's generosity that no shadow of jealousy ever crossed his devotion to the young poets who turned his promise into fulfilment.