SHELLEY (MARY) and THE LEIGH HUNTS. Autograph letter signed by Marianne Hunt, the wife of Leigh Hunt, to Mary Shelley, 1821
Lot 76
Sold for £ 3,500 (US$ 4,603) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph letter signed by Marianne Hunt, the wife of Leigh Hunt, to Mary Shelley (addressed as "Mrs P.B. Shelley"), written while Leigh and Marianne Hunt were living in London, with Leigh in ill health and Marianne in low spirits and ill favour with her husband; the letter constituting a desperate plea that Mary persuade Shelley to invite them to Italy: "My dear Mary/ I will not apologize for my long delay in answering your letter, I have existed, not lived, for some weeks past. You will understand me when I tell you Mr Hunt has been for the past three months seriously ill... His illness I can hardly describe to you. He is irritable, beyond any thing [you] ever saw in him: and nervous to a most fearful extent. O! how much I wish we could come over to you! I think of such a thing in a sun shiny moment: but the clouds soon gather, and the thoughts soon vanish. Ask Mr Shelley, my dear Mr Shelley to urge it, to him. He will if he succeed do me a service I cannot explain, by letter even to you my dear Mary. (and I know no one else I would do so at ALL and to him but I will not say any more – I cannot – I dare not unburden my heart but read the No.1 of the Indicator and you will comprehend me Consult with Mr S – and tell me the opinion you both have – Tell me if I ought to keep a journal and send you? I dare not trust my own feelings – I am disposed to do so – I have not one friend I can say to. 'What shall I do? How shall I act, what am I think? Yourselves excepted, and to you I feel talking in real confidence, and s[in]cere friendship"; the letter resumes three days later, "delayed by Mr Hunt's illness", explaining that Leigh Hunt is thinking of giving up the Indicator and resuming her plea: "surely we might sell all our furniture and come over to you: tell me in your next what would be the expence of coming by water, (which I believe is the cheapest – & tell me what we could live upon a week when there"; adding that they "are very nearly determined" upon taking her mother's former cottage in the Vale of Health, Hampstead, where Leigh Hunt hopes to recover his health, although for herself "all places are alike at present & if he gets his health again he may see me and my conduct in a better light"; she also promises to send off a box containing "Indicators to the present time", "the pocket-book of the year", Leigh Hunt's translation of Tasso's Amyntas [dedicated to Keats], Barry Cornwall's tragedy of Mirandola "and anything else which might amuse you"; with address panel on verso of second leaf ("Italie// Mrs P.B. Shelley,/ Ferma in Posta,/ Pisa,/ Italy./ Pisa,/ Italia"), extensively postmarked and docketed "Dal Sig.r Colson/ Ministro dei Corrieri/ a Firenze nella/ Posta", 3 pages, seal-tear (affecting a few words), weak or torn at folds and with some dust-staining, 4to, postmarked Catherine Street, the Strand, 24-26 January 1821


  • 'ASK MR SHELLEY, MY DEAR MR SHELLEY': MARRIANE HUNT BEGS MARY SHELLEY TO PERSUADE SHELLEY TO INVITE LEIGH HUNT AND HERSELF TO ITALY – a request that was to result in their eventual arrival in Italy a year and a half later. They were to be greeted on their arrival at Leghorn by Shelley. Having accompanied them to Pisa, Shelley was drowned while sailing back to Lerici from Leghorn, leaving the Hunts not only distraught but in desperate a financial plight, from which they had to be rescued by Byron.

    The present letter appears to be unknown. The letter by Mary Shelley to which it is very probably the reply (with its reference to "my long delay in answering your letter") is dated 3 December 1820, in which Mary writes: 'I long to hear from you again, my best girl – in about a week you could fill a sheet & send it to satisfy my anxiety./ When shall we see you again – God only knows I foresee one only event which can bring us to England Are we not wanderers on the face o the earth – take pity on us & by loving us still let us have some point in life" (Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, edited by Betty T. Bennett, 1980–88). Part of the acute unhappiness and the problems Marianne was experiencing with her husband might at least be partly explained by a letter to her from her husband's nephew, Henry, dated 21 December 1820, in which she is upbraided for squandering Leigh Hunt's money: 'Not only has his own income been spent; but he has 1500 pounds out of my father's, besides 1300 from Mr Shelley... he has been relieved three or four times from a state of complete insolvency, & yet, having adequate means all the while, you have plunged him again & again into the same state' (Shelley and His Circle, x, edited by D. H. Reiman and D. D. Fischer, 2002).

    In her letter, Marianne asks Mary to read the Indicator (Leigh Hunt's periodical) so that she can comprehend the state of her feelings. She may be referring to one of Leigh Hunt's articles about the death of children which, as Mary had already noticed in a letter to him written that New Year, affords 'full proof that you are not as happy as you ought to be' (29 December 1820 and 1 January 1821). The "pocket-book of the year" which Marianne promises to send contained Shelley's poem 'Song: On a Faded Violet'. While Hunt's translation of Tasso's Amyntas, with its dedication to their mutual friend Keats, would have no doubt been welcomed by the Shelleys, her gift of Barry Cornwall's tragedy Mirandola would not have found favour. Not only had it been successfully staged at Covent Garden, where Shelley's Cenci had been refused; but Shelley himself in an earlier letter had told Marianne that 'nothing is worse than a volume by Barry Cornwall' (29 October 1820).
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  1. Simon Roberts
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