The Examiner 1818-1822. Vols. 11-15 (1818-1822). Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1998. 4,260pp. £600/$950 (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-85196-427-4, 5 vol. set).
University of Connecticut
At the beginning of 1818, Leigh Hunt was at the height of his career as the charismatic editor of the Examiner and critical champion of young poets such as Keats and Shelley. His profile was such that when Blackwood's took aim at the factitious "Cockney School" in 1817-19, Hunt was recognized as its ringleader and excoriated accordingly. By the end of 1822, however, Hunt was nearly forgotten: sales of the Examiner had fallen off precipitously; he had been seemingly abandoned by many of the young talents he had gathered around him in Hampstead; and he had resigned the editorship of the paper late in 1821 upon embarking for Italy and the ill-fated partnership (with Shelley and Byron) of the Liberal. The popular, heroic libeler of the Regent in 1812--the "wit in the dungeon"--was little more than the deposed and exiled "King of the Cockneys" in 1822. Whereas the paper's first five years, 1808-12, were highlighted by the series of ex officio informations filed against it for seditious libel (culminating in the Hunts' notorious trial and conviction in 1812), and the second five years, 1813-17, were dramatized by its transformation from a political weekly into a broader vehicle for reform in cultural as well as political matters (enlivened most noticeably by the regular contributions of Hazlitt and the introduction of the "Literary Notices" in 1816), these last five years under Hunt witness the erosion of both the paper's appeal and the stature of its editor: Hunt was regularly either overworked or too ill to work; circulation fell so low that a page of advertisements was begun in 1820; and when John Hunt was imprisoned and Leigh was en route to Italy in 1822, the paper often consisted in little more than numerous extracts from other publications. Nevertheless, these volumes--the third and final installment in Pickering & Chatto's invaluable reprint of the first fifteen years of the Examiner--are crucial to our understanding of the literary and political culture of Regency England. However unsystematic the paper's political principles may have been, the Examiner stood--liberally, unstintingly, invariably--for Reform, as articulated by a critic who steadfastly championed the vital and renovating consequences of literature for political change. And when chastening the Quarterly Review for its abuse of Keats and Shelley, upbraiding the ministerial press for its coverage of Peterloo, defending Queen Caroline, or denouncing the cant and hypocrisy of a corrupt Parliament, the Examiner succeeded time and again in "telling the Truth to Power" with its provocative combination of political intransigence and literary virtuosity.