Hopkins, Gerard Manley, 1844-1889

Alternative names
Birth 1844-07-28
Death 1889-06-08

Biographical notes:

English poet.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : London, to "My dear friend" [probably Richard Watson Dixon], 1881 Christmas Day. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 269510942

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born 28 July 1844 in Stratford, Essex, near London as the first of nine children of Manley and Catherine "Kate" (Smith) Hopkins. His father founded a marine insurance firm and was also a published poet, and his mother, who was the well-educated daughter of a London physician, was fond of music and reading. Both the Hopkins and Smith families included artists, and Gerard displayed the family skill in the detailed sketches that he made throughout his life.

Hopkins attended Cholmondeley Grammar School at Highgate from 1854 to 1863, where one of his friends was Ernest Hartley Coleridge, the grandson of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Hopkins' earliest extant poem, The Escorial, dates from this period and won Hopkins the school's poetry prize. From 1863 to 1867, he studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford University, taking first-class degrees in both Classics and "Greats." During college, Hopkins befriended Robert Bridges, the later English poet laureate, who was important both to Hopkins' development as a poet and his later posthumous acclaim.

In 1866, Hopkins converted to Catholicism, greatly shocking his High Church Anglican family. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1868 (destroying the poetry he had written) and studied theology at St. Beuno's College in Wales from 1874 to 1877. The Welsh language and its poetry inspired him to write once again and also led to his poetical innovations and techniques such as "sprung rhythm."

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served variously as a missioner, preacher, and parish priest in Oxford and London, and in the manufacturing cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow. He also taught Latin and Greek at Stonyhurst College, Lancaster, and at University College, Dublin. His years in Ireland, marked by overwork and poor health, provoked a series of poems known as the "terrible sonnets," reflecting his melancholy dejection. He died of typhoid on June 8, 1889, in Dublin.

Because Hopkins put his responsibilities as a priest before his poetry, his literary output was slim; apart from a few poems, he was not published during his own lifetime. However his experiments in prosody (especially sprung rhythm), his concept of inscape, and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator amongst his fellow Victorian poets, one whom poet and critic John Crowe Ransom called the first modern poet.

From the guide to the Gerard Manley Hopkins Collection, 1838-1945, undated (bulk 1854-1918), (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center)


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