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Forgiving Wordsworth: Revision, Religion, and Cockney Reconciliation in Leigh Hunt's The Feast of the Poets



This paper investigates the role of Romantic forgiveness in the poetics of Leigh Hunt amid the often turbulent interaction between the first and second generations of British Romantics over politics, culture, and religion. While recent studies of the “Hunt Circle” or “Cockney Circle” by Jeffrey Cox, Charles Mahoney, and others have recovered the combative edge of Hunt's literary and political relationship with “apostate” poets such as William Wordsworth, this essay examines how the multifaceted poet and journalist sought to reintegrate Wordsworth into a broader reformed community in his revisions of The Feast of the Poets. Contrary to the exclusion of Romantic forgiveness in the secular critical models of Rene Wellek, M.H. Abrams, and Harold Bloom, the essay turns to Hunt's Autobiography to uncover, in an otherwise secular narrative, a model of Romantic forgiveness and reconciliation that derives from Hunt's religious thought. The reconciliatory revisions of Hunt's treatment of Wordsworth in the poetical-critical piece The Feast of the Poets exemplify this model of Romantic forgiveness. In moving from vitriolic attack in 1811 to redemptive praise in 1815, Hunt crafts a poetic space that retrieves the literary contributions of his political rival and grafts them into a re-envisioned British culture focused on Cockney conviviality and cultural reconciliation.