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The Wit in the Dungeon: The Remarkable Life of Leigh Hunt?Poet, Revolutionary, and the Last of the Romantics Hardcover – Bargain Price, December 13, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Holden, a veteran biographer of figures from Shakespeare to Prince Charles, delivers a colorful and eventful portrait of one of the longest-lived members of the Romantic era, whose chief accomplishment, besides his conviviality, may have been imprisonment for satirizing the Regent Prince of Wales in 1812. Hunt (1784–1859) won notoriety for his precocious adolescent poetry and later, with his brother, for their newspaper, the Examiner, which fought against Regency-era corruption. His friends and colleagues included Keats, Shelley, Byron, Hazlitt, Lamb, Carlyle, Browning and Dickens, his eventual nemesis. Holden views more favorably the middle-aged Hunt's belles-lettres potboiling and perpetual shortness of cash than did the popular Victorian novelist, who in Bleak House caricatured Hunt as the feckless Harold Skimpole. Hunt's poetry, tending to the florid and sentimental, made a relatively successful transition to the Victorian era, but his lasting achievements are likely the anthology favorites "Abou Ben Adhem" and "The Glove and the Lions," as well as the light verse "Jenny Kissed Me" (about Jane Welsh Carlyle). A man of letters who appears in many literary biographies, Hunt deserves this sympathetic, engaging one of his own. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Dec. 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

A friend of Shelley's and a foil for Byron, Leigh Hunt was a poet, editor, and essayist whose most notable achievement was to foster talents greater than his own. In this engaging biography, Holden stresses Hunt's abilities as a networker, arguing that he gathered the "widest circle of acquaintance" in nineteenth-century English letters. Ten thousand supporters turned out at his trial for libelling the Prince Regent; after being convicted, he made his prison cell into a literary salon. Keats, whom Hunt liked to challenge to speed-sonnet-writing contests, dedicated his first volume of poetry to him, while Dickens made his childlike optimism the subject of a wounding caricature. Holden's account is rich in anecdotes about Romantic luminaries, but he seems uncertain about literary matters and makes no real attempt to appraise Hunt's output.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (December 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316067520
  • ASIN: B000KJTOTO
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,035,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
It wasn't really a dungeon -- that was Byron's conceit -- but a snug little apartment with a small garden.

Nevertheless, the imprisonment of Leigh Hunt -- and of his brother John at a different, less cozy calaboose -- was an important step toward modern conceptions of personal and political freedom in Britain and, by extension, the rest of the civilized world.

Hunt is more famous now as the friend of Keats and Shelley -- briefly Byron and Dickens -- and as the author of Abou ben Adhem, but the Hunt brothers' bold assertion of the right to a free press is, to me at least, his most important and meaningful venture.

The circumstances were more congenial than for modernizers in most other countries. That two impecunious upstarts could take on the Prince of Wales with no worse damage than a lifetime of poverty from heavy fines was a tribute to the fact that England was considerably liberalized before they got started.

Anthony Holden seems more interested in Hunt's sponsorship and criticism of and feuds with literary stars of the Second Romantic Period. The feuds, like politics on condo boards, were bitter in proportion to their inconsequence. The Romantics and their foes were a touchy bunch.

Since they dwelt in the literary world of the Regency and Victorian decades, they scribbled endlessly, and Holden appears to have waded through stacks and stacks of letters that -- judging by the numerous excerpts -- were unbelievably tedious and pretentious. Few men of even modest attainments did not leave enough correspondence to fill at least a double-decker volume, and a real pro like Byron left letters that fill dozens of volumes.
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