Literary history has not been kind to Leigh Hunt. He remains overshadowed by Shelley, Keats, Byron, and other contributors to the newspapers he edited, such as The Examiner and The Liberal. His fame is mostly as an editor, and it is customary to note his status as the first regular drama critic in England. He wrote poetry and became a liberal icon as a result of the two years he spent in jail for libeling the Prince Regent. These and other achievements did not prevent Charles Dickens from using him as the basis for Harold Skimpole in Bleak House, and, by the end of his life, he had fallen out with most of his famous friends.

Daisy Hay’s book is not a biography of Hunt, even though he ends up dominating its pages. She has, rather, taken on the difficult task of presenting a group portrait of the powerful and not-so-powerful writers who began their careers in or near Hunt’s orbit. To Lord Byron, for example,...


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