Born in 1784, Leigh Hunt was the senior member of the First Fab Four
and was already established as a theatre critic and liberal political commentator
by the time Byron, Keats and Shelley began their careers. They all followed his writings,
which combined the literary and the political, in The Examiner, which Hunt published
with his brother John. And they all united behind him when he was jailed in 1813 for calling the Prince Regent,
on the occasion of his 40th birthday (which was accompanied by lavish celebrations) a ‘fat Adonis of 40’.
Byron visited him in prison, Shelley sent him money, and Keat celebrated his release
with one of his better early poems, 'Written on the Day that Mr Leigh Hunt Left Prison'.
Leigh Hunt was in many ways the link between the other three poets,
helping Shelley after the suicide of his first wife Harriet, publishing and championing Keats and Shelley
in the Examiner, and later travelling to Italy to join Byron and Shelley and co-ordinate their journal ‘The Liberal’.
This followed the death of Keats in 1821; the letter he sent to Keats in Italy (which arrived after his death)
is a truly admirable expression of love and concern.
He was closest to Shelley, and was notoriously bad at managing his finances.
Later on he managed to annoy Charles Dickens by returning to him for financial aid
after Dickens had recently completed a fundraising tour on his behalf. As Byron wrote, after helping him out
on numerous occasions in Italy after Shelley’s death, assisting Hunt was
‘like pulling a drowning man out of a river who promptly throws himself back in’.
Hunt is remembered for poems including 'Rondeau' (which opens the song 'Jenny kissed me')
and 'Abou Ben Adhem' which is a fine argument for the importance of humanitarianism
rather than religious orthodoxy..