More Than Violets Knee-Deep"
Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, including his Correspondence with Coventry Patmore: Edited by Claude ColIeer Abbott. (Oxford University Press, 16s.) Reviewed by THOMAS CORBISHLEY, S.J.
The publication of the disjecta Inembra from which his admirers hope to complete the portrait of Gerard Manley Hopkins, is now, to all intents and purposes, finished. Mr. Abbott has tried "to trace other letters written by Hopkins to various friends and correspondents, but without success." He thinks it " unlikely that any important series remains to be discovered, unless, perhaps, to members of his family." Mr. Humphry House's edition of the NoteBooks appears to include all that survives of the miscellaneous papers left by the poet. And only "some verse in the early note-hooks has still to be printed in full."
In the present volume, in addition to the correspondence between Hopkins and Patmore mentioned on the title-page, there are a number of letters to different friends, mostly dating back to the sixties, i.e., to his University days and the period immediately following, as well as a long series covering the years from 1863 to 1888, to Alexander William Mowbray Baillie.
Baillie, we are told in an interesting biographical note, " had a very rational mind; everything had to be proved clearly before it was accepted . . . He was brought up a Presbyterian, but his need of rational proofs made a kind of atheist of him, and one of hi.s greatest regrets in no longer believing in a second life was that he wanted so badly somewhere, somehow, to meet Gerard Hopkins again.'" What was it about Gerard Hopkins that won not only the admiration but even the deep affection of such different types of men? Perhaps no one answer can be given, but it seems legitimate to suggest that it was due to his patent sincerity and singleness of purpose. As Mr. Abbott says: " Gerard Hopkins is all of a piece. Whether poem or letter or sermon, one feels that the whole of him, the full weight of his character, the essence of the man at that moment, is behind the writing." And not merely, one may add, behind his writing.
It explains the ruthlessness with which he "sacrificed" everything to his vocation as he saw it. Months before he entered the Society of Jesus, he writes to Baillie to tell him of his intention to "take orders." " You know I once wanted to be a painter. But even if I could I would not I think now, for the fact is that the higher and more attractive parts of the art put a strain upon the passions which I should think it unsafe to encounter. I want to write still and as a priest I very likely can do that too, not so freely as I should have liked, e.g. nothing or little in the verse way, but no doubt what would best serve the cause of my religion . . The general result is that I am perfectly reckless about things I should otherwise care about . . . and this state of mind, though it is painful coming to, when reached gives a great and real sense of freedom."
In that state of mind he persevered to the end. And those who regret it or are puzzled by it should bear in mind that it is an essential of the man they admire. As for himself, the words he wrote in 1871 aptly sum up the whole matter: ". . . This life here, though it is hard, is God's will for me as I most intimately know, which is more than violets knee-deep."
On Wednesday next, June 8, the University Catholic Societies' Federation of Great Britain is to publish a University Federation Handbook.
This hundred-paged handbook, which gives a complete picture of the University Catholic, Movement as a whole, will assist the attempt of the Federation to organise all Catholic graduates.