"All These Lovers of Books Have Themselves Become Books!": Leigh Hunt in His Library

Article excerpt

Book-love was an epidemic among many second-generation British Romantic writers, for whom relationships between books and people were decidedly reciprocal affairs. By incorporating subjective and cultural characteristics into the ordinarily material qualities of books, these individuals could, at different moments, regard books as people, people as books, books as objects of cultural cachet, books as embodiments of memory, and books as the enablers of and vehicles for social contact. In each of these cases, the printed word was infused with thoughts and sensations - a phenomenon present only, of course, in these readers' imaginations, but with acute consequences for their social worlds.

Leigh Hunt, with his fervor for books and his writings about books and reading, offers us a picture of a Romantic-era reader for whom the acts of collecting, sharing, and reading books created a unique space between person and book, subject and object, imagination and reality. It was in this space, I will argue, that Hunt recognized a psychic life in the printed page with which he could communicate and identify, ultimately aspiring to become a book himself. In this essay, I will consider Hunt's collection of books - which grew, shrunk, and changed throughout his life - as a community that, like the people around him, shaped his work and his self-conception. For Hunt, reading books, owning books, and living among books created a kind of "triple" vision, a unique way of perceiving the world that he describes in his autobiography: "I know not in which I took more delight - the actual fields and woods of my native country, the talk of such things in books, or the belief which I entertained that I should one day be joined in remembrance with those who have talked it."1 These three realms - the actual world, the world described in books, and the world of literary canonicity - together form a map upon which I will chart Hunt's relationship to books at different points in his life. Like Hunt's own world-view, my navigation of these various realms will occasionally overlap, revealing crucial points at which Hunt's relationship with books were the subject of inter-subjective fantasy in which his texts became "alive" with persons, feelings, and convictions.

Jeffrey Cox's critical work on Leigh Hunt and his circle highlights Hunt's collaborative efforts and identifies the Cockney School as an intellectual circle of great cultural significance.2 Cox's cultural analysis of this circle in Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School opened a new avenue for the study of Hunt by engaging with theorized concepts of group dynamics and collaboration - an approach that has influenced my own interest in Hunt and his contemporaries. Like Cox, I find it fruitful to "locate romantic culture in the group, ... to place second generation Romanticism within the circle around Leigh Hunt."3 Unlike Cox, however, I am interested not so much in the social surroundings of Hunt and the Cockney School as I am in the physical features of this community - the concrete circumstances within which they lived and worked.

Chief among my concerns is the relationship Hunt shared with the books with which he chose to surround himself (and he nearly always chose to surround himself with books). His relationship to his library sheds light on the complex, reciprocal, and often paradoxical associations between books and people - associations made possible, I will argue, via the forms of the books themselves. More specifically. Hunt's relationship to his books, conceived in his imagination but realized in his personal and professional milieus, can be connected with a particular moment in history when the popularity of book collecting converged with other cultural changes - namely the coalescing of the British literary canon and the advent of cheap reprints - creating what I will identify as a collective bibliomania.

For a number of consumers in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain, the value of books had little to do with reading per se, but rested instead upon a book's very existence. Instead of seeing their books as collections of text, language, or narrative, several collectors privileged the forms of books, sometimes not even bothering to read them. This fashion for collecting books and manuscripts, a phenomenon that would eventually become known as bibliomania, or "a rage for collecting and possessing books" (OED), was criticized by those who saw such collections as "merely an outward show of learning and cultivation, rather than the productive scholarly labor on the part of the owner."4 Bibliomaniacs, some claimed, "were more interested in looking at their books than in actually reading them."5 What is at issue here is the power of the collector, or what Walter Benjamin describes as a book's "rebirth," an opportunity to "renew the old world" by taking ownership of the book and determining its fate.6 By privileging the status of books as objects, these book-owners exerted a power over their future, deterrnining the circumstances under which they might (or might not) be accessed. A given book's identity becomes encompassed within its status as a possession, in addition to its new place among other books (that is, where it is literally placed within the collector's collection); the book's actual contents are of only secondary (if any) concern to its new life as a part of someone's library. But as Hunt's experience will show, books could hold a power over the collector's fate as well.

Controversy about bibliomania erupted, in part, because its fashionability coincided with the emergence of the cultural notion of the literary past as "a collective national heritage."7 British literary history was becoming an academic discipline and a vehicle for social cohesion at the same time collectors of rare books locked the relics of this history up in private libraries. When collectors brought old texts into their home libraries, they were doing more than simply satisfying their desires as consumers; they were bringing Britain's public literary legacy into the private sphere. It would not be long until the acquisition of books would become possible for more people, bringing the British canon into more homes.

By the early nineteenth-century. Deidre Lynch notes, middle-class British readers such as Hunt confronted a "ready-made canon," with the "classic texts of the literary tradition already collected for them, as already recommended reading."8 The end of "perpetual copyright" in 1774 created conditions in which it became "financially desirable to publish multiple, competitively priced editions of older literary works."* Cheap reprints, extracts, selections, and anthologies began to appear in the marketplace at prices that made book-ownership possible for a growing segment of the British public. Middle-class consumers, while shut out of the antiquarian book market, could now not only access but own a piece of British cultural heritage in the form of a book: "The canonical literary work could exist ... as a first edition in a nobleman's prestige collection, an expensive reprint in a wealthy doctor's home, . . . and an artisan's cheap abridgement - while still retaining the symbolic aura of a collectively owned national treasure."10 This kind of material access to books of value across class lines had ramifications not unlike those experienced by collectors in aristocratic circles: "the publicity surrounding [bibliomania] meant that the specialized idiom of book-collection (the language of bindings, paper, margins, tall copies, and so forth) moved into a wider discourse."" The physical properties of books became notable not just to antiquarian collectors, but also to a variety of collectors of books, even when they were just collecting cheap reprints.

The expansion of bibliomanie discourse is important to my discussion of Hunt insofar as it contextúa lizes what might seem, initially, as the isolated, quasi-modern musings of one man's imagination. Instead, Hunt's relationships to his books were manifestations of a larger cultural phenomenon with its own concepts and vocabulary. When book ownership became more possible for the middle class, more people could become collectors, even as the materiality of the books still maintained class distinctions. Cheap reprints, then, did not eradicate class difference (it would be difficult to make an argument that books, in and of themselves, had an effect on the actual social conditions of readers); instead, I'd like to suggest that the relationships between collectors and books made possible by the advent of cheap reprints had an effect on books themselves, creating for them a new purpose in the marketplace. As cheaper texts circulated among the public as commodities, they took on an existence that differed from that of more expensive books in the aristocratic library - an economic and cultural "life" that Hunt, for one, seems to have taken literally.

A notable feature of cheap reprints - and one that has been largely unexplored by scholars of bibliomania - is the extent to which they lend themselves to the practice of reading as well as collection. That is, their very form invites consumers to regard them as collectible objects and as readable literature - a dual status that sets them apart from rare manuscripts and costly editions, and ensures both their accumulation and circulation. For example, Cooke's Pocket Editions of the Original & Complete Works of Select British Poets was one series of cheap reprints that both capitalized on the phenomenon of bibliomania and transformed it by asking readers to collect, read, and share editions of the classics. Charles Cooke, the editor of the series, was acutely aware of the physical features of his books, and, by financing and directing their publication in a systematized way, fetishized the form of the book (as any bibliomaniac might do). At the same time, the form of Cooke's Editions also elicited a particular practice of reading and circulation, one divorced from traditional notions of bibliomania. In other words, while the popular discourse of bibliomania made it possible for Cooke to market his reprints as collectors' items, he redefined bibliomania for the middle-class reader as a paradoxical affinity for books' private consumption and fungiblity, creating the conditions under which a new kind of "collective bibliomania" might emerge.12

Each Cooke's Edition measured approximately 3 by 5 inches - just enough to fit in one's pocket - and had identical brown embossed leather covers. The editions were limited, and readers could acquire a whole set of numbered volumes, making their collections "complete." In this way, Cooke's Editions enabled the middle-class reader to engage in the same kind of acquisition and collection of valuable books previously available only to the very wealthy. Of particular concern to Cooke was illustration, or the "embellishments" that were printed alongside the poetry in each of these compact volumes. These illustrations helped to render the books collectable - such pictures could be found nowhere else but in Cooke's - at the same time enriching the reader's experience of the text. A given volume might have contained a selection of works by a single poet (such as James Thomson in volume 14) or multiple poets (such as volume 3's assembly of Falconer, Gray, and Goldsmith). While each edition followed the same format (beginning with a short biography of the author, followed by his works), the illustrations varied from volume to volume, each containing ornate engravings depicting scenes from the poems printed inside.

Cooke's inclusion of these illustrations, which were costly to produce, likens his efforts to those of bibliomaniacs who sought to elevate and preserve the British literary canon by privileging the form of the book. One advertisement for Cooke's claims that "the Proprietor will spare neither Pains or Expense" in the publication of these works, for he is "animated by an Assurance, that, in a country where the Arts are cherished and protected, his claim to public Attention and Support will be admitted, in Proportion as it rises and expands."13 By pairing one high art form with another, then making both available to the public, Cooke presents himself as a citizen devoted to the good of the arts and, by extension, the good of the country. For Cooke, art is essential to the experience of reading literature if that literature is going to do that which a national canon should do: elevate and refine the sensibilities of British citizenry. He believes that he is offering his books during the "best season," when "a universal Taste prevails for Beauty and Excellence."" The public is ready, Cooke argues, to engage in a kind of reading that works upon the imagination in two ways, culminating in an experience that will make apparent the "Genius of the Nation": "it is . . . the Design of this work, to combine the sublime and refined Ideas of the Poet with the picturesque and elegant Representations of the Artist; and to present at once to the Mind and the Eye, the most beautiful and striking objects, in all the Harmony of Verse and Force of Colouring."15

At the same time, the illustrations in Cooke's served to explicate the texts for readers, an effort that would seem to tarnish their aura as "Representations of the Artist"; for they are, in essence, representations of the text. That is, the illustrations served as both art objects and as tools for reading - as markers of taste but also as crib notes for the simpleton. For example, on the title page of Gray's Works, the illustration of a scene from Gray's The Bard obscures the complete title, which should read: "Gray's Works, forming part of Cooke's Pocket Edition of the Original & Complete Works of Select British Poets or Entertaining Poetical Library containing the Poetic Productions of the most Esteemed British Bards Superbly Embellished." The "superb embellishment" speaks for itself on this page, as the narrative of the poem makes a grand entrance into the text before the reader even has the opportunity to discover its import. The reader is introduced, pictorially, to the scene in the poem where the Bard, driven into exile by Edward the First, delivers his first poem to the king. In this way, the illustration functions as a piece of the narrative: it is the work of art Cooke so exalts, but at the same time it depicts the plot before it has even begun. Indeed, the engraving directs readers to line 13 of the poem, underscoring its role as a reading tool.16

Lastly, the small size and compact shape of Cooke's Editions invited the act of reading in a way that larger, less sturdy, and more expensive books could not. The reader need not be in a library or even indoors to enjoy these books; Cooke's could go where readers go because they could fit in readers' pockets. The size and mobility of Cooke's also facilitated their circulation, as readers loaned and exchanged the books with each other. Cooke created conditions within which readers could act as both collectors of objects and as part of a reading community, one in which texts were read, interpreted, and shared. In this way, the growth of the publishing industry and the advent of cheap reprints not only enabled a shift in the ways in which people related to books - making the canon available to a wider reading authence - but it also allowed individuals to associate with books in new ways. This transformation of bibliomania from a purely aristocratic, object-oriented discourse to one that incorporated consumption and circulation among a community of readers created the context within which readers such as Hunt could re-imagine themselves and their books.

In his autobiography, Hunt admits to being a "glutton of books" and traces his love of books back to his schoolboy experiences at Christ's Hospital.17 One of Hunt's earliest encounters with books, and one that illuminates some of the book-loving habits he would forge over his lifetime, is his first purchase of cheap reprints:

In those times, Cooke's edition of the British poets came up. I had got an odd volume of Spenser; and I fell passionately in love with Collins and Gray. How I loved those little sixpenny numbers containing whole poets! I doted on their size; I doted on their type, on their ornaments, on their wrappers containing lists of other poets, and on the engravings from Kirk. I bought them over and over again, and used to get up select sets, which disappeared like buttered crumpets; for I could resist neither giving them away, nor possessing them. When the master tormented me - when I used to hate and loathe the sight of Homer, and Demosthenes, and Cicero - I would comfort myself with thinking of the sixpence in my pocket, with which I should go out to Paternoster Row, when school was over, and buy another number of an English poet."18

In this passage Hunt describes how his acquisition of an "odd volume" of Cooke's leads to a passion for collecting. His possession of these books becomes a kind of possession of their authors, a product of the symbolic aura attached to the British canon. For Hunt, the canon becomes associated with his life outside of the classroom and with the enjoyment of consumption. His volumes of Cooke's Edition are emblems of the pleasures of the private sphere (as "buttered crumpets") and public purchase (the exchange of "the sixpence in my pocket" for more books). Hunt's metaphors signal the ways in which the form of the cheap reprint satisfies multiple desires, and in a markedly magical way. With each edition "containing whole poets," Hunt casts his description of Cooke's in terms that denote personhood. He is not just buying books; he is buying poets.

The ways in which Cooke capitalized on the trend of bibliomania become apparent in Hunt's description of the books' physical features - particularly the ways in which they enticed him to collect more. Hunt "doted" on the books' size, type, and ornaments; the wrappers in which each edition was covered promised the opportunity for evermore collecting and continual satisfaction (a paradox emblematic of collective bibliomania). Unlike a traditional bibliomaniac, the young Hunt chose not to amass a personal library of Cooke's but instead to give his books away. Instead of accumulating one volume at a time, he would end up having to buy them "over again" because upon acquisition the books would disappear "like buttered crumpets." For Hunt, Cooke's Editions were delectable treasures he could neither keep nor share: "I could resist neither giving them away, nor possessing them." This may seem like a peculiar sentiment, but when we consider the form, content, and marketing of Cooke's Editions, it becomes clear that Hunt is actually engaging in the paradoxical import of the books themselves - that is, he is performing those actions that the very material form of the books demanded: intermittent possession and circulation, or what might be called fungible possession. If the possession of Coofce's Editions gave him pleasure, Hunt also enjoyed relinquishing his books and sharing that pleasure with others.

Hunt's early encounter with Cooke's Editions is in some ways a precursor to his future habits of book possession and book borrowing. Throughout his life, Hunt found himself unable to hold on to his own books and, at times, felt unable to resist taking the books of others: "I own [that] I borrow books with as much facility as I lend. I cannot see a work that interests me on another person's shelf, without a wish to carry it off: but, ... 1 have been much more sinned against than sinning in the article of non- return."19 One of the principal reasons for Hunt's chronic book lending was a desire to console others by sharing the comfort he found so readily in books. Some of his earliest recollections of books and reading are associated with love, relief, and healing. For example, in his autobiography. Hunt recalls how his father courted his mother with reading, visiting her and her family in the evenings and reading to them in his "remarkably fine voice": "It was in reading, with this voice, the poets and other classics of England, that he completed the conquest of my mother's heart. . . . My grandmother became so hearty in his cause, that she succeeded in carrying it against her husband, who wished his daughter to marry a wealthy neighbour."20 Later, as a schoolboy at Christ's Hospital, Hunt would spend months in the infirmary recovering from a bum injury. Here, too, books became coupled with the domestic, forming an enduring association in Hunt's imagination: "The getting well was delicious. I had no tasks - no master; plenty of books to read; and the nurse's daughter . . . brought me tea and buttered toast, and encouraged me to play the flute."21 Throughout his life, books remained a "never-ceasing consolation" to Hunt, and it is not surprising that he would regard the reading and lending of books as a kind of emotional communication in which feeling is transported through objects. His lending and borrowing practices demonstrate how books, as objects, can become agents in human relations - a notion that Hunt would eventually take further by imagining his books to have personalities and emotions in and of themselves.

Returning again to the passage about Cooke's Editions in Hunt's autobiography, we notice that Hunt describes the volumes not as books but as "numbers of an English poet," as if the books themselves were "of" the poets - parts of real people that Hunt, as the proud owner of these books, could carry around with him in his pocket. Throughout his life, books would serve as a kind of company for Hunt - manifestations of those people with whom he would have liked to had spent time in person. If reading the text of books was what made Hunt love authors such as Collins and Gray, being in the presence of books by these men allowed him to imagine that he was in the authors' presence. For Hunt, to be surrounded by books was to be surrounded by people - to be in their company and, eventually, their community.

Hunt amassed a collection of authors that would keep him company in his library throughout his life, but he recognized his separateness from them. Like Benjamin's collector, a bookshelf, for Hunt, was less a receptacle for objects as it was an ideal community, created and maintained by a book collector:

There Mr. Southey takes his place again with an old Radical friend: there Jeremy Collier is at peace with Dryden: there the lion, Martin Luther, lies down with the Quaker lamb, Sewell: there Guzman d'Alfarache thinks himself fit company for Sir Charles Grandison, and has his claims admitted.22

The very perusal of the spines of books displayed on a shelf evokes a "discipline of humanity" for Hunt - his ideal society of authors across time, present in the forms of volumes on his shelves. In this way, the collector represents what Benjamin describes as a kind of deity who enjoys setting "the scene, the stage, of [the books'] fate."23 Luther must "lie down" with Sewell because that is where the collector placed him.

The conflation of books and authors found in Hunt's writing is not a euphemism. There is evidence to indicate that he did, indeed, confuse his books with their authors and this is why he takes as much delight in being near books as he does reading them. He sees them as people: "I began to consider how I loved the authors of those books: how I loved them, too, not only for the imaginative pleasures they afforded me, but for their making me love the very books themselves, and delight to be in contact with them."24 In a strange cycle, Hunt praises his books because he loves their authors. He loves these authors, however, not only for their writings but also for the fact that they have allowed Hunt to love the books themselves. At a certain point, it seems, reading the books becomes moot, since they can grant pleasure through their mere presence:

I looked sideways as my Spenser, my Theocritus, and my Arabian Nights; then above them at my Italian poets; then behind me at my Dryden and Pope, my romances, and my Boccaccio; then on my left side at my Chaucer, . . . and thought how natural it was in Qharles] Ljamb] to give a kiss to an old folio, as I once saw him do to Chapman's Homer.25

In this description of his library, Hunt portrays a community not unlike the one described by Cox in his analysis of the Cockney school: "a particular group of men and women" with Hunt "at the center."26 The key difference, of course, is that while the Cockney school consisted of Hunt's real life contemporaries, the community described above is made up of Hunt and some authors that have lived before him - or, more precisely, books written by these authors some time ago. Hunt recognizes his books for what they are but imagines them having human characteristics, a fantasy made possible via his status as a collector, which is to say lover and stage-director.

By granting books subjective identities. Hunt creates for himself his ideal company. He is not, however, a part of this community. It is here that the distinction between book and person comes to the fore, for although Hunt treats his books as people, he realizes that they are not actually human, nor is he a book. But instead of wishing that his favorite authors could be alive and in his presence in human form, he wishes that he might be able to join their community, to become a book himself:

This little body of thought, that lies before me in the shape of a book, has existed thousands of years, ... to a shape like this, so small yet so comprehensive, so slight yet so lasting, so insignificant yet so venerable, turns the mighty activity of Homer, and so turning is enabled to live and warm us for ever. To a shape like this turns the placid sage of Academus: to a shape like this the grandeur of Milton ....In one small room, like the compressed spirits of Milton, can be gathered together "The assembled souls of all that men held wise." May I hope to become the meanest of these existences?"

Hunt hopes to one day be counted among Homer, Pope, and Milton, if the influence of fame and canonicity allow. People die, but the "grandeur" of great authors exists forever in the "shapes" of books.

While in this fantasy books become people like living authors - shapes with spirit - Hunt's library was a strange community of living objects that differed from the community of living authors within which he worked. The idea that Hunt relates to his books as embodiments of single, self-constituting, self-sufficient, dead authors works against the notions of collectivity professed and practiced by the Cockney school, for whom writing and publishing were group endeavors. Hunt's fantasy life, then, runs against his actual practice, which, as Cox has shown us, was predicated upon collaboration with other people. The life Hunt ascribes to his books would challenge his encounters with the actual individuals around him and have a significant effect on his literary success.

Hunt took his poetical aspirations quite seriously, as scholars such as Cox, Greg Kucich, Jeffrey Robinson, and Nicholas Roe have noted.28 Over the course of his career. Hunt published a number of books of poetry, including The Feast of the Poets (1814), The Story of Rimini (1817), Bacchus in Tuscany (1825), and Captain Sword and Captain Pen (1845). It was with the dissemination of these poetical works that Hunt desired to achieve literary fame; he considered the greatest writers of all time to be poets. It is interesting, then, to note how Hunt became best known (both in his time and in later years) for his periodical work. In fact, the periodical essay is the form with which Hunt seems most familiar and in which he was most prolific. Moreover, while Hunt produced innumerable, popular essays for his periodica! publications, his poetical successes were few and far between.

This is not to say, however, that books had no bearing on Hunt's periodical work - they had a great deal - but instead that they worked as a kind of "background" knowledge that shaped Hunt's thinking as he worked on his most famous (and notorious) political essays. Hunt is perhaps best known for working with his brother John on the Examiner from 1808-22. The objectives of this weekly periodical were, in Hunt's words, "to assist in producing Reform in Parliament, liberality of opinion in general . . . , and a fusion of literary taste into all subjects whatsoever."29 As editor and political writer. Hunt used the Examiner as a platform for his radical constitutionalist principles as well as a showcase for new works by Keats, Shelley, Lamb, and Hazlitt. This combination of political and literary writing made the Examiner the target of great praise as well as great criticism from the reading public and from rival periodicals, such as Blackwood's. It was also an object of interest to the government, which brought numerous libel charges against the Hunt brothers during the Examiner's early years of publication. While the Hunts successfully defended themselves against these charges from 1809-11, in 1812 they were indicted for libel for disparaging remarks about the Prince Regent.

During the Hunts' libel trial, books served, as ever, as a comfort to Leigh, and he found it edifying to have his books near him: "As an instance of the imagination which I am accustomed to mingle with everything, I was at that time [of the trial] reading a little work, to which Milton is indebted, the Comus of Erycius Puteanus; and this, which is a satire on 'Bacchuses and their revelers/ I pleased myself with having in my pocket."30 It does seem fitting, as Hunt writes, that such an idealistic work would offer imaginative relief during a time of political persecution; more important to my analysis, however, is how the presence of the book in Hunt's pocket "pleased" him, even when he was not reading it. This kind of sentiment, in which Hunt finds himself comforted during his persecution by having a book near his person, is both curious and unsettling. For as much as we may be fascinated by Hunfs imaginative relationship with Milton, or by his bibliomanie love of the pocket volume, we must also remember that he was at this time on trial for a serious charge from which a book would provide no defense.31

Nevertheless, Hunt attempted to use his book-centered life to his advantage during the trial by representing it as entailing the ignorance of the "worldly consequences." In an attempt to mount an effective defense, Henry Brougham, Hunt's attorney, described Hunt's life as one spent almost exclusively alone:

He is a rigidly studious man; a man not advanced in life, . . . but always surrounded by books rather than by men. His delight is to pursue his studies, which he does, incessantly, from Sunday to Sunday, in his retirement; while he also prepares his weekly journal, the topics in which are various, . . . including history of the events of the times in which we live, and among them, observations on general politics. He is devoted to no Political Party; he knows of none.32

Hunt might be acquitted of libel, in other words, on the grounds that he is a relatively harmless scholar whose political views are purely disinterested. His political writings are merely "observations," the product of quiet, removed activities such as reading and study, as opposed to his interaction with other people. The fact that he belongs to no party is further testament to his profound bookishness and seclusion; he has no time for real-world political activity because he is studying "from Sunday to Sunday." In this description of Hunt's life, his work on the Examiner seems like an afterthought, a mere corollary to the real focus of his life: books. Brougham's defense, however, was unsuccessful, and Hunt was sentenced to two years at Surrey Gaol - a challenge he responded to, once again, by surrounding himself with his books.

Hunt's first few months at Surrey were difficult. His profound loneliness manifested itself in physical ailments, and in early 1813 he petitioned for permission to have his family live with him in jail and for his friends to visit during the day. In March, his petition was granted and Hunt and his family moved into two rooms in the prison infirmary. A painter and a carpenter were directed to decorate the rooms to Hunt's taste, and like the infirmary at Christ's Hospital to which Hunt was confined as a child, it was furnished with the comforts of a cheerful home: "the move [to the infirmary] inspired [Hunt] to become the Prospero of the Gaol, transforming his outer room into an aesthetic bower of bliss featuring wall paper of trellised roses, a sky-blue painted ceiling dotted with meandering clouds, Venetian blinds over the barred windows, wall portraits of Milton and John Hunt, a lute, a piano forte, busts of poets, multiple bookcases, couches, and flowers, flowers everywhere."33 Within this atmosphere. Hunt engaged in daily rituals of study and writing, and would sometimes walk with gloves and a book through the small prison garden, as if on a stroll in London.34 His home at the jail became a literal manifestation of Hunt's abiding tendency to integrate his imagination with the material world around him, an integration made all the more possible with the droves of relatives, friends, and sympathizers who came to visit him. They came, Greg Kucich notes, "partly out of concern for Hunt's well-being and partly because his fantastic cell quickly became something like the fashionable place to be seen in reformist circles."35

As a political prisoner. Hunt attracted friends both old and new and created, as Kucich has argued, "a group identity and a cultural project that strongly affected the course of Romanticism in the early nineteenth century."36 While the social dynamic of Hunt's circle undoubtedly played a key role in the cultivation of Cockney politics and aesthetics, I would like to underscore the profound role Hunt's physical surroundings played in the cultivation of this group. After all, how many of these individuals would have visited had Hunt not created his bower of bliss? Would their time there - marked by meals, conversation, games, poetry readings, music, and drinking that often went well beyond the 10 PM curfew - have been nearly so spirited? It seems clear that the physical features of Hunt's cell provided an opportunity for a dramatic realization of Hunt's ideals; these features, moreover, were designed around contemporary notions about books and reading. Elements such as copious bookshelves, artwork, chairs, and musical instruments allowed Hunt and his visitors to replicate the social activities and diversions common to domestic libraries within the confines of the infirmary. Hunt's tangible surroundings, predicated upon and populated with books, made possible a social community that, in time, transformed Hunt's time in jail from one of punishment to one of tremendous growth and intellectual prosperity.

While Hunt became, in Lord Byron's terms, a "wit" during his time in jail, he did not, of course, become a book - a fantasy that endures in Hunt's writing about his life after imprisonment.37 In one notable instance. Hunt describes how he was unable to find in his own book of poetry the kind of authorial presence so evident to him in books by other people, and this absence frightens him:

The Story of Rimini had not long appeared when I received a copy of it, which looked like witchcraft. It was the identical poem in type and appearance, bound in calf, and sent me without any explanation; but it was a little smaller. I turned it over a dozen times, wondering what it could be, and how it could have originated ___ I had summoned other persons to partake my astonishment. At length we consulted the title-page, and there saw the names of "Wells and Lilly, Boston; and M. Carey, Philadelphia."38

Hunt has difficulty identifying the American copy of Rimini as his own; it is not "my poem" but instead "the identical poem" - a copy of the work that in Hunt's mind is so divorced from his authorship that he couldn't discern "what it could be." It is as if the poem, once the product of Hunt's imagination, replicated itself without his knowledge, coming back to haunt him like a work of "witchcraft." It's stunning how Hunt, himself an accomplished publisher, needed the assistance of others in order to identify the origin of the book; he could not identify, by himself, a poem that is so clearly his. It takes others, a community of readers summoned by Hunt, to deduce the true nature of the matter and to determine Hunt's relationship to his own book, which is a product of others' labor, an ocean away. Because the book is an estranged object, devoid of its author and out of the context of his library, it takes on a supernatural air. And when Hunt finally realizes it is a copy of his own poem, he ascribes its origin to WeIb and Lilly and M. Carey, not Leigh Hunt.

Hunt's encounter with the American copy of Rimini indicates his vexed relationship with his own place in literary history - one that, for various reasons, never reached the ideal Hunt set out for himself in his autobiography: "I know not in which I took more delight - the actual fields and woods of my native country, the talk of such things in books, or the belief which I entertained that I should one day be joined in remembrance with those who had talked it."w I'd like to focus now on the final part of this quotation, a syntactically complex expression of Hunt's hopes for his own place in the British canon. First, it is clear that Hunt is talking about his own wishes, or the "belief" that he entertained; these wishes, however, seem to be contingent not upon Hunt's own work or actions but upon the actions of others. Hence Hunt uses the passive voice to describe what might become of his reputation: "I should one day be joined." It is up to readers, not Hunt, to determine his place in literary history - that is, whether his books join the community of authors in his library. What makes this passage so complex is that this community, while under the control of others, is actually a conception of Hunt's imagination; he thus ascribes the fate of his books to future collectors, who hold the power to determine Hunt's place in history.

For Hunt the canon is a unique entity, part real (i.e. physical books) and part imaginary (i.e. Hunt's fancy that authors live in their books). The place Hunt imagines for himself in literary history is contingent upon a particular conception of books and authors that requires that readers of Hunt entertain the same imaginative relationship he does with his books. In other words, he wants us to imagine him living an eternal life within the pages of his books, so that one day we, too, might take comfort in being near "our Hunt" in the same way he took comfort in "his Spenser." Reflecting on the writers who have gone before him, such as Jonson, Donne, Drayton, and Chapman, Hunt muses, "How pleasant it is to reflect, that all these lovers of books have themselves become books! What better metamorphosis could Pythagoras have desired!"40 Hunt, himself a lover of books, wants nothing more than to become a book. It is a hope, he tells us, which "must be pardoned, because it cannot be helped."41

This hope is, perhaps, what fuels Hunt's fantasy of his own death: "I can help the appreciation of [books] while I last, and love them till I die; and perhaps, if fortune turns her face once more in kindness upon me before I go, I may chance, some quiet day, to lay my overheating temples on a book, and so have the death I most envy."42 Hunt is eager to die, if he should be lucky enough to die on his books. In a daydream rerrtiniscent of Lamb kissing his copy of Homer, Hunt desires nothing more than to be in contact with his books so that he might join this universal library. This library, however, consists of only those books that are worthy of the eternal life that Hunt imagines - those classical and British authors that have become worthy of esteem via either Hunt's own literary estimation or that of the British intelligentsia more generally.

This community is, again, an unreal one - a conception of Hunt's imagination. And for as much as the real world and the world of books become confused in Hunt's life and writing, there is a sharp distinction between the community of books Hunt imagines and his actual work with the Cockney school. Even though Hunt would like to be remembered as an individual whose accomplishments as a poet merit fame, he has become known primarily for his assistance to others and for his essays - endeavors that run counter to the kind of solitary, canonized presence he imagines to be captured in an old book. In fact, during his life. Hunt himself doesn't seem to have been particularly comfortable with individual distinction. He has difficulty relating to the books he writes; he works within a larger writing community; and even though he imagines poetic fame as an individualized concept, he tries to create communities out of favorite authors by amassing a library and then imagining them living side by side with each other. The communal notions of Hunt's life and work articulated by scholars such as Cox seem appropriate, then, despite Hunt's fantasy of living in his books. For his actual life was marked by notions of collectivity.

Living until 1858, Hunt survived most of the other members of the Cockney school. Ann Blainey calls Hunt "the last survivor," a "literary tourist attraction" whom young writers would come and see in order to "shake the hand that had once touched Byron, Keats, and Shelley."43 In this sense. Hunt did become a kind of book at the end of his life, but not the kind of living book that he imagined. Just like old books can become relics, Hunt, too, became in his later life a kind of literary artifact not unlike a book whose worth lies not in what it contains but where it has been. Hunt attained a kind of cultural cachet in his old age via his association with famous poets who died young: Keats, Shelley, Byron. Just as manuscripts, rare books, and books that have passed through the hands of famous writers can serve as a kind of touchstone for the past, Hunt was visited by writers who literally wanted to touch him, fascinated by his connection to the writers they admired.

The kind of physical /literary connection with dead authors that these young writers sought in Hunt differs from the kind of imaginative communion Hunt shared with his own books. That is, the real Hunt was not a manifestation of Keats, Shelley, or Byron, but instead their accomplice. Visitors, then, could not really visit Hunt to gain access to their idols but instead only to satisfy a curiosity, to be near somebody who was near someone great. Keeping with the book analogy, then, at the end of his life we can say that Hunt was no living book but instead regarded as a dusty curiosity - an old object whose value lies in the fact that it has survived.

It seems fitting, then, that current scholarship is no longer treating Hunt as a literary curiosity but instead as a figure who deserves to be read in his own right, alongside the works of those authors whom he befriended and admired. In this way, the notion of Hunt as the center of a literary community comes closer to his own wishes for his historical reputation, or his desire to be "joined in remembrance" with other writers. Although he might have imagined himself being admired alongside Chaucer, as opposed to his Cockney coterie, we are no longer treating Hunt as an artifact but instead following his own lead and placing him firmly within a community of authors, a place where Hunt seems to have felt most comfortable.


1. Leigh Hunt, The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt, ed. J. E. Morpurgo (London, 1949), 415.

2. See Jeffrey N. Cox, "Staging Hope; Genre, Myth, and Ideology in the Dramas of the Hunt Circle," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 38, no. 3/4 (1996): 245-64; Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School: Shelley, Keats, Hunt, and their Circle (Cambridge, 1998); and "Leigh Hunt's Cockney School: The Laker's 'Other,'" Romanticism on the Net 14 (May 1999), http://www.erudit.Org/revue/ron/1999/v/nl4/005859ar.html.

3. Cox, "Communal Romanticism," European Romantic Review 15, no. 2 (2004): 329-34, 331.

4. Philip Connell, "Bibliomania: Book Collecting, Cultural Politics, and the Rise of Literary Heritage in Romantic Britain," Representations 71 (2000): 24-27, 25.

5. Connell, 27.

6. Walter Benjamin, "Unpacking My Library," Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York, 1969), 59-68, 61.

7. Conneil, 28.

8. Deidre Lynch, '"Wedded to Books': Bibliomania and the Romantic Essayists," Romantic Circles Praxis Series: Romantic Circles, ed. Ina Ferris (February 2004), http://www.rc.umd,edu/praxis/libraries/ lynch /lynch.html, par 19.

9. Connell, 27.

10. Connell, 39.

11. Ferris, "Romantic Libraries Bibliographic Romance: Bibliophilia and the BookObject," Romantic Circles Praxis Series: Romantic Circles, ed. Ina Ferris (30 September 2004) http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/Ubraries/ferris/ferris.html, par 2.

12. Cooke was not the first publisher to produce works of English poets in cheap, serial format. John Bell's Poets of Great Britain, for example, marks an earlier attempt to publish the English canon in an affordable, collectable format. See Thomas F. Bonnell, "John Bell's Poets of Great Britain: The 'Little Trifling Edition' Revisited," Modern Philology 85, no. 2 (November 1987): 128-52; and R. M. Wiles, Serial Publication in England before 1750 (Cambridge, 1957). What makes Cooke's enterprise central to my analysis, however, is, first, Hunt's writing about it in his autobiography and, second, the ways in which Cooke's books specifically exemplify the kind of "fungible possession" I describe.

13. Cooke, "Advertisement," The Poetical Works of James Thomson, Cooke's Pocket Edition of the Original and Complete Works of Select British Poets (London, 1794), vii.

14. Cooke, "Advertisement," v.

15. Cooke, "Advertisement," v.

16. This is a bit difficult to see, but the caption of the illustration, found near the bottom of the page, reads "Embellished under the direction of C. Cooke, May 23, 1796. Vide the Bard Line 13 p. 43."

17. Hunt, Autobiography, 139.

18. Hunt, Autobiography, 77.

19. Hunt, "My Books," Essays and Sketches, ed. Brimley Johnson (Oxford, 1912), 82.

20. Hunt, Autobiography, 6-7.

21. Hunt, Autobiography, 82.

22. Hunt, "My Books," 81.

23. Benjamin, 60.

24. Hunt, "My Books," 77.

25. Hunt, "My Books," 77.

26. Cox, Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School, 7.

27. Hunt, "My Books," 95.

28. See Nicholas Roe, ed., Leigh Hunt: Life, Poetics, Politics (Routledge, 2003) for critical readings of Hunt's poetry.

29. Hunt, Autobiography, 175.

30. Hunt, Autobiography, 234.

31. Hunfs trial was not the only difficult episode in his life in which he turned to the world of books in order to articulate and cope with his psychological and emotional states. Upon learning of the death of Shelley, Hunt reports that he "underwent one of the sensations which we read of in books, but seldom experience: I was tongue-tied with horror" Autobiography, 327). One of his first impulses, when confronted with such shocking news, is to describe his actual emotion in terms of the unreal realm of books; again, to use Hunfs words, he is mingling imagination with "everything" - that is, all those events in reality with which it is difficult to cope.

32. Henry Brougham, qtd. in Ann Blainey, Immortal Boy: A Portrait of Leigh Hunt (London, 1985), 59.

33. Greg Kucich, "'The Wit in the Dungeon': Leigh Hunt and the Insolent Politics of Cockney Coteries," Romanticism On the Net 14 (May 1999), http://www.erudit.org/revue/ron/1999/v/nl4/005850ar.html.

34. Blainey, 64.

35. Kucich, par 4.

36. Kucich, par 2; visitors to Hunt's cell, in addition to his family members and various relatives, included Brougham, Jeremy Bentham, Lord Byron, William Hazlitt, Benjamin Haydon, Maria Edgeworth, the Lambs, John Scott, and Sir John Swinburne.

37. The artistic details of the infirmary, along with the social company and activities in which Hunt engaged, led Lord Byron to write the following verse letter to Thomas Moore the day before they planned visit to Hunt's cell:

But now to my letter- to yours 'tis an answer -

Tomorrow be with me, as soon as you can, sir.

Already dress'd for proceeding to sponge on

(According to compact) the wit in the dungeon.

(Leslie A. Marchand, ed., Byron's Letters and Journals, 12 vols. [Cambridge, Mass., 1974], 3:49, qtd. in Kucich).

38. Hunt, Autobiography, 259.

39. Hunt, Autobiography, 415.

40. Hunt, "My Books," 94.

41. Hunt, "My Books," 95.

42. Hunt, "My Books," 96.

43. Blainey, 178.

[Author Affiliation]

Jacqueline George

State University of New York at New Paltz

[Author Affiliation]

JACQUELINE GEORGE is Assistant Professor of English at SUNY New Paltz. She is currently working on a project whose focus is to develop a methodology for the study of reading specifically for the field of literary studies. Her other research interests include electronic textuality, Mary Shelley, and British prose fiction of the 1820s and 30s.


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