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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

Gerard Manley Hopkins Exhibition

On Saturday 27 April, The Hopkins Society visited Farm Street Church for a day of talks, a tour of the church, and a visit to the Archives.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest, and also perhaps one of the 19th century’s most famous poets. He was born in Stratford, Essex in 1844, and he received his early education at the Cholmeley Grammar School in Highgate. According to his obituary in Letters and Notices, “from earliest childhood he showed a great talent for drawing, and his work was distinguished for its remarkable delicacy… He had a very exquisite voice and took great interest in music. This, with art and literature, became his special studies.” During his time at Balliol College, Oxford, Hopkins was received into the Catholic Church by John Henry Newman. After completing his studies, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate, 7 September 1868, at Manresa, Roehampton.

After ordination in 1877, Hopkins began his life as a missioner, including for a short spell at Farm Street Church in London (July to December 1878) and at St Aloysius’ Church in Oxford. He then went on to teach Greek and Latin at Mount St Mary's College and Stonyhurst College, and finally at University College Dublin. He died there in 1889.

Throughout his lifetime Hopkins’ poetry remained unpublished and it wasn’t until after his death that his friend, Robert Bridges, published a few of his poems in anthologies, hoping to prepare for wider acceptance of his style. By 1930 Hopkins's work was seen as one of the most original literary figures of his century.

Due to the popularity of the event (there were about 30 attendees in total), it was decided to split the attendees into two groups, since there wouldn’t have been enough space in the Archives for everybody at once, and smaller groups meant that everyone was able to see the items on display and spend time looking at them. The display itself was split into four themes.

Hopkins Manuscript Material

We put out five examples of Hopkins’ very distinctive handwriting, which included an entry in the St Aloysius’ Church notice book for 6 April 1879 in which he details the upcoming Holy Week activities (834/1), his final vows (ref. 1/4/3), and a doodle of the spiralling tendrils of white bryony.

Hopkins the Jesuit

The Jesuits are meticulous record-keepers, and individuals can often be traced through the records of the various institutions at which they were learning and working. This was a particularly interesting section to prepare as I discovered a host of Jesuit sources in which Hopkins’ name appeared, thanks to Alfred Thomas SJ’s meticulous volume, Hopkins the Jesuit: The Years of Training (Oxford University Press, 1969). Items on display here included his entry in the Province register (ref. 14/2/5), which included another example of his handwriting in the form of his signature cut out from a letter, the Mount Street Minister’s log (ref. CM/1/6/6) which tells us his comings and goings from the community and the days he preached in the church and, my personal favourite, the minute book of the St Beuno’s Debating Club (ref. 974/14). Hopkins appears several times in the latter and it was open to a page where he was listed as speaking for the motion that “The practice of keeping a diary is exceedingly useful and worthy they adoption of all”, on 20 December 1874. The motion was carried. Hopkins’ obituary in the Jesuit publication Letters and Notices was also displayed, striking for its lack of mention of his poetry.

Poems and their Inspiration

Hopkins wrote many of his best known poems  while he was at St Beuno’s from 1874 to 1877.  The surrounding area affected him deeply and he referenced them in his poems and his journals. St Beuno’s overlooks a broad fertile valley, and in the far distance Eryri (Snowdonia) is visible.  The valley contains two small rivers, the Clwyd and the Elwy, and their confluence is not far from St Beuno’s. In Hopkins’ poem In the valley of the Elwy he refers to its ‘woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales’, and another of Hopkins’ poems written in this period, Moonrise, references Manaefa, the hillside into which St Beuno’s is built. For this section, photographs of St Beuno’s and Manaefa were displayed along with the poems that they inspired.

Poets’ Corner Memorial Plaque

On 8 December 1975 a memorial to Gerard Manley Hopkins was unveiled in Westminster Abbey by the Duke of Norfolk, and a wreath laid on it by L. Handley Derry, Hopkins’ great nephew.  Sir John Gielgud read a selection of Hopkins’ poems during the ceremony.  Hopkins was the first Roman Catholic to be commemorated in the Abbey since Dryden in 1700. The impetus for the plaque to be installed came from Fr Alfred Thomas SJ (1925-1984), a Jesuit priest who made the study of Hopkins his life’s work.  Thomas set up the original Hopkins Society in 1969 and organised annual lectures and sermons from leading Hopkins scholars, Jesuits, poets and theologians.  Displayed in here were an order of service and invitation for the unveiling and dedication of the memorial to Hopkins at Westminster Abbey (ref. SJ/57/3/4/2) and various press cuttings about the unveiling (ref. SJ/57/3/4/2).

What came as a surprise when preparing for this exhibition was just how much material we had when we started looking. When we were first approached, I warned the organisers that we had only a few items in Hopkins’ handwriting, but that we would try to find other related material, so it was very exciting that we were able to fill our display area with relevant archival material.

If you are interested in Gerard Manley Hopkins or would like to know more about our exhibitions, please contact us.

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