There are certain people who have exerted considerable significance in the history of letters without having been great writers themselves: Gertrude Stein, for instance, and in our own era, George Plimpton. They have served as a species of facilitator, encouraging young talent, gathering writers around them, creating a cross-germination of ideas and styles. Such a person was James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784–1859). Of his more than eighty published works, only two short poems remain in general currency: “Abou Ben Adhem” and “Jenny Kissed Me,” both of which turn up frequently in popular anthologies. The rest of his poetry has turned to dust, for it exemplifies the superfluities of its age: Hunt had all the affectation of Browning and the sentiment of Dickens, but the genius of neither. His passionate political journalism, famous in its day, has lost its urgency along with its topicality, and is now of interest only to the historian....


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