Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)
From Literary Anecdotes (1800-1829)

A reminiscence by George Smith, the publisher.

Leigh Hunt was of a small stature, with sallow not to say yellow complexion. His mouth lacked refinement and firmness, but he had large expressive eyes. His manner, however, had such fascination that, after he had spoken for five minutes, one forgot how he looked....

Business was by no means Leigh Hunt's strong point. In this respect, but not otherwise, he may have suggested Skimpole to Charles Dickens. On one of my first visits I found him trying to puzzle out the abstruse questions of how he should deduct some small sum such as thirteen shillings and ninepence from a sovereign. On another occasion I had to pay him a sum of money, £100 or £200, and I wrote him a cheque for the amount. 'Well,' he said, 'what am I to do with this little bit of paper?' I told him that if he presented it at the bank they would pay him cash for it, but I added, 'I will save you that trouble.' I sent to the bank and cashed the cheque for him. He took the notes away carefully enclosed in an envelope. Two days afterwards Leigh Hunt came in a state of great agitation to tell me that his wife had burned them. He had thrown the envelope with the bank-notes inside carelessly down and his wife had flung it into the fire. Leigh Hunt's agitation while on his way to bring this news had not prevented him from purchasing on the road a little statuette of Psyche which he carried, without any paper round it, in his hand. I told him I thought something might be done in the matter; I sent to the bankers and got the numbers of the notes, and then in company with Leigh Hunt went off to the Bank of England. I explained our business and we were shown into a room where three old gentlemen were sitting at tables. They kept us waiting some time, and Leigh Hunt, who had meantime been staring all round the room, at last got up, walked up to one of the staid officials, and addressing him said in wondering tones, 'And this is the Bank of England! And do you sit here all day, and never see the green woods and the trees and flowers and the charming country?' Then in a tone of remonstrance he demanded, 'Are you contented with such a life?' All this time he was holding the little naked Psyche in one hand, and with his long hair and flashing eyes made a surprising figure. I fancy I can still see the astonished faces on the three officials; they would have made a delightful picture. I said, 'Come away, Mr. Hunt, these gentlemen are very busy.' I succeeded in carrying Leigh Hunt off, and after entering into certain formalities, we were told that the value of the notes would be paid in twelve months. I gave Leigh Hunt the money at once, and he went away rejoicing.

George Smith, Cornhill Magazine, New Ser. ix. (1900),584-585.

James Hannay knew Carlyle well, and often went to see him, but it was in his poorer days. One day when Mr. Hannay went to the house, he saw two gold sovereigns lying exposed in a little vase on the chimney piece. He asked Carlyle what they were for. Carlyle looked — for him—embarrassed, but gave no definite answer.

'Well, now, my dear fellow', says Hannay, 'neither you nor I are quite in a position to play ducks and drakes with sovereigns: what are these for?'
'Well,' said Carlyle, 'the fact is, Leigh Hunt likes better to find them there than that I should give them to him.'

Augustus J. C. Hare, The Story of My Life (1896-1900), v. 384.

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