Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in 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. His 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's development as a poet and his later posthumous acclaim.
In 1866, he converted to Catholicism, greatly shocking his High Church Anglican family. Hopkins studied theology at St. Beuno's College in Wales from 1874 to 1877. The Welsh language and its poetry inspired him and 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.
The Gerard Manley Hopkins collection includes manuscripts, letters, and drawings. Hopkins's poetry manuscripts include "In the Valley of the Elwy," "The Loss of the Eurydice," "The Sacrifice," and "Spring." Hopkins's notations for spoken performance appear on both "In the Valley of the Elwy" and "Spring." Page proofs for the first printed volume of Hopkins's poems—published posthumously in 1918 under the editorship of English poet laureate Robert Bridges—are also present. The manuscript works are augmented by a variety of pencil sketches that demonstrate the familial artistic bent and Hopkins's skill as a draftsman. The drawings date as early as 1854 when Hopkins was ten years old and convey his observations of nature through small, yet minutely detailed, sketches of animals, plants, trees, and pastoral settings.
The collection also contains letters written by Hopkins to the Irish poet and novelist Katharine Tynan, his brother Everard Hopkins, his sister Grace Hopkins, and his father Manley Hopkins. Additional letters and drawings are by members of the Hopkins family. Of special interest is a keepsake piece of unused Honiton lace worked for Queen Victoria's wedding dress in 1839 that was given to one of Hopkins's aunts.
This collection was digitized as part of Project REVEAL (Read and View English & American Literature).
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Series I. Works by Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1854-1918, undated
Series II. Letters by Gerard Manley Hopkins, circa 1861-1888
Series III. Works and Letters by Others, 1838-1945, undated