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  • Hopkins and Baillie
  • Fredric W. Schlatter

The importance that Robert Bridges had for Hopkins during his lifetime and for his posthumous fame is well established. Bridges was a major factor in Hopkins's life, from Oxford to Dublin, in a relationship substantially known from the letters Hopkins wrote to him over a period of twenty years. Bridges's role in eventually publishing Hopkins's poetry has been variously judged, but the fact is incontrovertible that, whatever the criticism, Bridges preserved his friend's poems, as Hopkins did not, and saw to their publication with a proprietorship that revealed his sense of obligation to a friend and a poet. The evidence drawn from their correspondence has produced such important results for understanding Hopkins the poet that it can distort the role that Bridges played in the full context of Hopkins's life. This present article attempts to provide perspective and proportion to the picture of Bridges and Hopkins by examining Hopkins's relations with another friend, Alexander William Mowbray Baillie.

Balliol, 1863-1865

Baillie was already at Balliol when in April 1863 Hopkins arrived to begin his studies at Oxford. From the first, they got on well enough for Baillie to merit a mention in Hopkins's diary in late 1863,1 much earlier than the first mention of Bridges in January 1868 (J, 159). During his first months at Balliol, Hopkins had grown comfortable enough with Baillie to write outrageous letters to him during the summer vacation of 1863. In one of these, he created a syllogism to prove that Baillie was a fool,2 [End Page 522] and in another he disparaged the weather in Baillie's native Edinburgh (LIII, 205). Baillie with mock gravity countercharged that Hopkins's remarks sprang from an "Anti-Scottish prejudice" (LIII, 205). Hopkins promised a showdown, when they returned from the Long Vacation, in a "passage of arms at Owensford on Themmes, in the month of October, next after ensuing, on this subject" (LIII, 205).

Of greater consequence was Hopkins's rejection of Baillie's "canon of criticism" in literature, which appeared to involve the paradox that no such canon exists, as Baillie deduced from the presence of "bad, narrow-minded, irritating and feeble critics" (LIII, 203). Hopkins was the enlightened foe of such half-truths that demonstrated the dangers of generalization to which Baillie was prone. However, in his letter of September 1863, Hopkins thought the matter of literary criticism closed: "But more than enough about criticism and criticism on criticism" (LIII, 204).

Their exchanges on various subjects became more sophisticated and involved only one serious disagreement. Hopkins came to accept, with only occasional remonstrances, Baillie's rationalist reserve toward that fervent advocacy of high Anglicanism that was leading Hopkins toward Roman Catholicism (LIII, 213).

Baillie was among the few with whom Hopkins shared his early poems (LIII, 214), but he discontinued doing so, perhaps realizing then what he was to tell Baillie years later, that "It is putting friendship to a strain to shew verses" (LIII, 256). Poetry was neither to be the foundation of their friendship nor to sustain it. This was the advantage of their friendship; it was unstrained, altruistic, and motivated by a mutual response to affectionate interest. Baillie brought a special quality for sustaining a friendship. An admirer, long after his death in 1921, remembered that "He had almost a genius for friendship, being able to sympathize with and comprehend almost anything, while never moving from his own most definite roots."3

This later description of Baillie does not match Hopkins's initial charge that Baillie was not only diffident about his own judgment but [End Page 523] was reserved about accepting any conclusions, however they were presented. This characteristic suspension of belief, so Hopkins judged, made him prone to accept half-truths and to be so "engrossed with one side of a question that you cannot see that another exists" (LIII, 203). Hopkins's mock exasperation expressed itself in a Baconian aphorism in March 1864, after almost a year's experience of Baillie's manner of argumentation: "Better a Blind man that hath Reache of one Apple than fifty Eyes that looke and reache not" (LIII...


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