August 28

1859 Death of Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) is mostly a footnote these days in the history of 19th-century English literature, but there was a time in which he was well-regarded. Historians of Christmas remember him as the author of remarks on “The Inexhaustibility of the Subject of Christmas”, others for his poem in which he boasts “Jenny kissed me”, some for his being the inspiration for the character of Harold Skimpole in Bleak House, but he is most note-worthy as being a companion of Byron and Shelley.

In 1813 Hunt was imprisoned for some harsh words about the Prince Regent (later George IV). Hunt objected to the grossly flattering image that other journalists were painting of the prince and penned a much more honest account of that bloated worthy. This is what cancel culture of the Regency period would give you two years in jail for:

What person, unacquainted with the true state of the case, would imagine, in reading these astounding eulogies, that this ‘ glory of the people’ was the subject of millions of shrugs and reproaches? —that this ‘protector of the arts’ had named a wretched foreigner his historical painter, in disparagement or in ignorance of the merits of his own countrymen? — that this ‘Mecaenas of the age’ patronised not a single deserving writer?—that this ‘breather of eloquence’ could not say a few decent extempore words, if we are to judge, at least, from what he said to his regiment on its embarkation for Portugal?—that this ‘conqueror of hearts’ was the disappointer of hopes?—that this ‘ exciter of desire’ [bravo! Messieurs of the Post!] — this ‘Adonis in loveliness’ was a corpulent man of fifty? in short, this delightful, blissful, wise, pleasurable, honourable, virtuous, true, and immortal prince, was a violator of his word, a libertine, over head and ears in disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country, or the respect of posterity?

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