Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping out of the chair she was sitting on;
Time, thief, what do you love to get
Sweets on your list, put that on:
Say I’m tired, say I’m sad
Say that health and wealth have failed me,
Say I’m getting old but add
Jenny kissed me.
Leigh Hunt was a 19th-century English essayist, critic, poet, and editor. Hunt was not a renowned poet, although her “Jenny Kissed Me” has been enjoyed and often quoted for nearly two centuries. However, Ella Hunt lived during an era of English romanticism and was influential in the lives of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John Keats. She was also a contemporary of Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens. Such a large company has given Leigh Hunt distinguished status.
About “Jenny kissed me”
In 1835, Leigh Hunt and her large family moved to Chelsea in London and became neighbors with the poet and author Thomas Carlyle, at his suggestion. The two became close friends and Hunt’s house was always open to his circle of friends, of which there were many.
There are two stories. One story is that Leigh Hunt visited the Carlyles to break the news that he was going to publish one of Thomas Carlyle’s poems. When they broke the news to Carlyle’s wife, Jane, she jumped up and kissed him.
The other story is that one winter Hunt was sick with influenza and was away for so long that when he finally recovered and went to visit the Carlyles, Jane jumped up and kissed him as soon as he appeared at the door. Two days later, one of Hunt’s servants delivered a note addressed: “From Mr. Hunt to Mrs. Carlyle.” It contained the poem, “Jenny kissed me.”
The second story is the one that repeats itself the most.
Fortunately, Hunt was a wise editor, because in the original draft Jenny was Nelly and the word “jaundice” was used instead of “tired” in the fifth line.
Supposedly, Leigh Hunt was a flirtatious man, often in trouble with his wife. It is also said that Jane Carlyle was a bit bitter and better known for her acid tongue than for her impulsive affection.
The poem “Jenny Kissed Me” has been variously described as whimsical, charming, simple, and unaffected. Many readers first encounter him during their school years and remember him all their lives. Numerous girls have been named “Jenny” as a result of good recall of the poem.
The first striking structural feature of “Jenny Kissed Me” is the trochaic meter. This is characterized by a foot containing a stressed syllable followed by an unaccented syllable. This meter is not commonly used in formal English poetry because it can sound like a song.
Trochaic meter is more common in children’s songs where a sing-song rhythm is appreciated. Think “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.”
The singing effect is offset by the abab rhyme scheme in the poem, as opposed to an aabb rhyme scheme. The above rhyme scheme produces a four-line verse as the basic unit of the poem, as in “Jenny Kissed Me”. The latter rhyme scheme produces two-line couplets that enhance the sound effect, as in nursery rhymes.
Trochaic meter can also sound solemn or heavy due to the fact that the trochaic foot has a descending pattern (stressed syllable followed by unstressed syllable). However, “Jenny kissed me” is a light-hearted poem and is supported by the use of feminine rhymes.
Verses that end in a stressed syllable are said to be masculine, and those that end in an unstressed syllable are said to be feminine. In “Jenny Kissed Me”, lines 1, 3, 5, and 7 are masculine, but that rhyme pattern does not carry through the entire poem. Lines 2, 4, 6, and 8 are feminine, which helps offset the masculine rhymes and helps make the poem feel lighter and brighter.
The revealing ending to “Jenny kissed me” invariably brings a smile to the reader’s face.
About Leigh Hunt
James Henry Leigh Hunt was born in England in 1784 and died in 1859. Many English poets and writers were Leigh Hunt’s contemporaries, including Keats, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Dickens, Carlyle, Jeremy Bentham, and Charles Darwin.
During Hunt’s lifetime, England participated in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 with the United States, and the 23-year period of the Napoleonic Wars with France. During Hunt’s lifetime the French Revolution occurred and Napoleon became Emperor of France. Later, steam engines created an industrial revolution and Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Islands and reported his finds. Over a period of three years, Hunt’s friends and supporters, Keats, Shelley and Byron, all died at a young age.
Leigh Hunt was born into a poor family near London in 1784 and attended school in London at Christ’s Hospital, a school founded 240 years earlier for the education of poor children. After educating him, Hunt took a job as a clerk in the war office.
In 1805, Hunt partnered with his older brother, John, a printer, to establish a newspaper called News. Three years later, the brothers left the paper and created a political weekly that established their liberal reputation called The Review. Among other topics, the Review he called for many reforms in Parliament, criticized King George III, and called for the abolition of slavery.
The power of journalism matured during this period of English history with the publication of numerous critical newspapers which collectively became known as the “radical press”. Consequently, the government took great care, though mostly unsuccessfully, to prosecute the “radical press” for seditious libel.
In 1812, the Hunts wrote an article in the Review which called the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, “a violator of his word, a libertine of disgraced head and ears, a contempt of domestic ties, the fellow of gamblers and demireps.” As a result, John and Leigh Hunt were convicted by a jury of libel and sentenced to two years in prison.
Although he continued to write for the Review while in prison, Leigh Hunt’s separation from his family convinced him to move away from political writing and concentrate on literary writing.
Shortly after his release from prison, Leigh Hunt moved into his favorite house in Hampstead, where he was able to spend precious time with his wife and three children and his literary friends. Friends who stayed with Hunt for periods of time at his Hampstead home included Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.
Hunt had previously introduced the world to the writings of Keats and Shelley in the pages of the Review. Its section on “Young Poets” gave Keats and Shelley access to valuable space where some of their early work was published.
Keats welcomed Hunt’s tutelage for about a year. He parted ways with Hunt when a critic labeled Hunt and Keats as members of “The Cockney School of Poetry”.
In 1818, Shelley and his family decided to move to Italy for financial and health reasons. Her friend, Lord Byron, was living in Italy at the time and the two corresponded for several years while each lived in different parts of Italy.
In 1821, when Shelley and Byron were based in Pisa, Shelley envisioned a new journal called the liberal, that Shelley, Byron and their friend Leigh Hunt would publish in Italy. Shelley sent money and an invitation to Hunt and promised to provide a home and income for Hunt and her large family.
Hunt liked the prospect of joining Shelley and Byron in Italy and took his family to Genoa and then Livorno to meet Shelley. After they met, Hunt and his family went to Pisa to join Byron, and Shelley sailed on her ship, the “Don Juan”, to her seaside home at Casa Magni.
Shelley’s boat was caught in a thunderstorm and sank. Shelley’s body and her crew washed ashore in Corsica a few days later. Local health laws prohibited moving the bodies to Rome or Pisa, so a month later, Hunt, Byron, and their relatives attended the cremation of Shelley’s body. After cremation, Hunt ended up in possession of Shelley’s heart, which he eventually returned to Shelley’s wife, Mary.
Lord Byron was not interested in the liberal and he soon left Italy to take a commanding interest in the ongoing civil war in Greece. Byron died in Greece of a respiratory illness in 1823.
Hunt and his family stayed in Italy without their friends and without income. Hunt published some editions of the liberal, but he lacked heart and soul and failed. Hunt received a literary retainer and took his family, which now included seven children, back to England.
Hunt was impoverished for most of the rest of his life. Charles Dickens was instrumental in lobbying the government for a pension to be granted to needy authors in England. In 1847, Hunt began receiving a pension that relieved, but did not eliminate, his financial limitations.
Shortly after returning from Italy, Hunt moved to Chelsea, where, as he had done at home in Hampstead, he opened his home to his literary friends.
The publication of Dickens’s novel, gloomy house, considered by some critics to be his best work, though certainly not his most popular, it included a character said to be inspired by Leigh Hunt. The book caused a rift to develop between Dickens and Hunt.
Tea gloomy house the character, Harold Skimpole, was described as “airy, off the cuff, and objectionable”. Skimpole claims to be a kid when it comes to finances and manages to get everyone else to pay for his life.
Although Dickens denied that this was a characterization of Hunt and apologized, Hunt and his literary friends were offended.
Leigh Hunt died at the age of 75, well remembered by her many friends. William Hazlitt, the painter and writer, said that “in conversation he is all life and animation, combining the liveliness of the schoolboy with the devices of wit and taste of the scholar.”