University of Virginia Library

One of the pleasantest minor incidents in the history of nineteenth-century publishing is that connected with Leigh Hunt's critical anthology Imagination and Fancy. George Smith, telling the often-quoted story in his delightful reminiscences, recollects that as a young publisher he encountered the manuscript of the work lying on the table of his friend Thomas Powell, who declared, "I advanced £40 to Leigh Hunt on the security of that manuscript and I shall never see my money again'"; that he nevertheless took it home and read it, offering £40 to Powell for the manuscript; that he obtained it, took it to Hunt and paid him "an additional £60" for the copyright, whereupon Hunt, enchanted with his generosity, exclaimed rapturously, "'You young prince!'"[1]

There is no reason to doubt the truth of Smith's account, but he tells the story from his own side of the affair, and not surprisingly an element of distortion has crept in, with Hunt playing his familiar role, light-hearted, gay—and rather inept. An impractical man. But Smith was prepared to see Hunt in this way because he knew Hunt's reputation.[2]

The following letter from Hunt to Charles Ollier, previously unpublished, shows that in reality the situation was very different. Since Hunt needed money he took pains to make his manuscript acceptable, but he clearly recognized its value and was prepared to ask a fair price for it. Ollier, to whom Hunt entrusted the work, had, after a career as publisher, become a journalist, publisher's reader, and literary agent. Although his relationship with Hunt had not always been smooth, at least from 1830 onwards the two men were close friends;[3] it is to Ollier in his capacity of literary agent that Hunt writes here.[4]


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Kensington March 5. 1843
My dear Ollier,

I enclose, for your benignity, the papers necessary for Mr. Longman,[5] to whom I wrote as agreed on. "Preface" has a dull, uninviting sound; so I have divided what I intended for one into two parts, the first explaining the Object & Plan of the Work (which is a thing that readers like to understand) and the second answering a question as to the nature & peculiar properties of Poetry, (which are things also, I should think, that most people would be glad to know, & not many actually do). In the conclusion of this latter article I have taken care to identify it justly with the work, so as not to seem a thing isolated, or arbitrarily put in; and I trust that[6] the perusal thereof will not displease you, since (modesty apart) it has pleased myself. The rest are list of General Contents;—the Spenser extracts, preceded by a careful criticism & a biographical sketch (written however, I assure you, with great pains of condensation, & not without particulars of my own) and the Coleridge extracts, with a much shorter biographical notice (for reasons which you will see, & which I think both you & Mr. Longman will approve) but a not very short criticism, the musical parts of which I recommend to the relish of your Fluteship;[7] and am,

my dear Ollier,
Your very thankful & faithful friend,
Leigh Hunt.

P. S. An unsmoky room shall be ready & warm for your reception tomorrow evening, or any future evening on which you may come, should it not suit you to go out to-morrow. Also divers anticipative & amazing luxuries of flesh-meats, should it suit you to carnosify with your tea; especially as I hope you will be early to tea, in order that we may have a proper chatty & book-loving interval before supper. And so Heaven prosper all our undertakings, & enable us to compare notes of comfort twenty years hence under the trellice of our respective suburban elegancies on evenings in May, in the hearing of nightingales.

Pray let Mr. Longman understand that the selections from modern


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poets will not be so great as to tread upon the irritable toes of property & that there will be none from living poets, unless he should particularly desire it. What do you think on that point? Do not trouble yourself to answer this question by a letter. I am ashamed to give you the trouble I do,—no, not ashamed, considering your friendship; but still, the friendlier you are, the more I must consider your time.

If the extracts from Spenser are too long, they can be shortened; but it is to be recollected what a large <witer> writer, he was, & that few poets will demand extracts so long.

I shall not give such large abstracts from the beginning of Milton as I spoke to you, but the finest passages from all his poem[s].

I send Coleridge with Spenser, in order that Mr. Longman may see specimens of both <as he> ancient & modern poets, & observe how careful I am in managing points connected with religious controversy & politics.

I told Mr. L. in my letter, that I could be ready to go to press in a month from this time, if he liked it.— You will not mention money of course, till all else is agreed on; & then you can postpone it, if you please, to one meeting more, should that not be too much for you. But pray use your own judgment in this as in all other matters. In fact, the more I want money, the more I am ashamed to speak of it. God send I may need no such shame by & by.

My biographies & introductory criticisms are written in a good large hand enough; but I fear many of the notes are in handwriting so small, as to trouble a reader. However, Longman may probable [sic] not care to read beyond a certain taste of the thing.— The notes are at the back of the pages.

Longman presumably refused Imagination and Fancy, for he did not publish it. Perhaps Hunt asked for too much money; perhaps the prospects of success with it appeared to be dim. In any case, after Longman's refusal Hunt apparently entrusted it to another friend, Thomas Powell, who also acted now and then as literary agent. Powell may deliberately have left the volume on the table for Smith to see, or perhaps he invented the story of the £40 debt to play on Smith's sympathy; he could be unscrupulous if he chose.[8] Be that as it may, he was able to manage the arrangements with regard to Imagination and Fancy to Hunt's satisfaction. But his later dealings with Smith on Hunt's behalf were a failure.[9] Powell may have been a shrewd negotiator, but he could not drive as hard a bargain as Hunt


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wished him to in the case of Wit and Humour, the second volume of the projected series of critical anthologies.

Hunt was without doubt genuinely pleased at the terms Smith offered him for Imagination and Fancy, but he can hardly have been surprised or overjoyed. Underneath his apparent flightiness and gaiety was a hard core. He was not an impractical man, and the new letter, although it does not contradict Smith's account, does provide a more accurate picture of Hunt's part in the events preceding the publication of Imagination and Fancy.