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  • Hopkins: The Collected Works, IV
  • Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi
Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Volume IV: Oxford Essays and Notes. Lesley Higgins, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. xxiv + 368 pp. $160.00

In A Writer's Recollections Mary Arnold Ward records the moment in July 1865 when her father, Thomas Arnold, Jr., first showed her Oxford. Pointing out Benjamin Jowett's rooms in Balliol College, Arnold said: "There lives the arch-heretic!" Mary Arnold's arrival in Oxford occurred roughly halfway through the length of Gerard Manley Hopkins's years as a Balliol student: from April 1863, when he matriculated, to spring 1868, when he took a First in Greats—the period during which the essays and notes of this beautifully edited volume were written. [End Page 212]

There is no record that Hopkins and Thomas Arnold ever met, but metaphorically they were passing each other in that year, each on a spiritual journey that took its trajectory from the religious energies that crackled through Oxford and through so much of the nineteenth century. In 1865 Arnold, having become a Catholic under Newman's influence in 1856, was returning to Anglicanism and thereby restoring his chance to teach at Oxford. Hopkins, meanwhile, watched over by the Tractarians lest the "arch-heretic" Jowett, who was Hopkins's tutor, lead their protégé astray, was already moving toward his eventual reception by Newman into the Catholic Church on 21 October 1866.

Hopkins's Oxford years were filled with strong and conflicting emotions. Yet one could scarcely infer that from a simple reading of the essays and notes that are assembled in this volume, many of them published for the first time. Set, however, as they are within the context of the scholarly, yet highly readable, apparatus and reference with which Professor Lesley Higgins surrounds them, they become a window both into Oxford education generally in those years and into Hopkins's intellectual—and also emotional—experience. Published first, and therefore out of order, in a projected eight-volume collection of Hopkins's work under the overall editorship of Higgins and Michael Suarez, S.J., this book will eventually be preceded by two volumes of correspondence and a volume of journals, diaries, and notebooks. (There are to be four further volumes: Sermons and Spiritual Writings; Sketches, Notes, and Studies; The Dublin Notebook; and The Poems.) However, the reader does not feel plunged uncomfortably in medias res. Since, in Hopkins's own much-quoted assessment, "Not to love my University would be to undo the very buttons of my being," this initial volume has as its focus, attested to by the very preservation of these notes and essays, a central and crucial experience of his life. Therefore the book is a good starting point for what promises, when completed, to be a huge contribution to Hopkins scholarship and a joy to both scholars and general readers.

The exhaustive—yet for this reader downright exhilarating, never exhausting—work that Higgins has done in tracking down Hopkins's source materials offers a clue to the puzzling disjunction that appears at times between the essays Hopkins was writing and the emotions he was experiencing. Hopkins reports about his first meeting with his tutor that Jowett had instructed him to take "great pains" with his weekly essay, "as on it would depend my success more than on anything else." And one can see in essays that address a question such as "Is the difference between a priori and a posteriori truth one of degree [End Page 213] or only of kind?" or a topic like "Causation" that no matter what his spiritual or emotional state, Hopkins can use his source materials and produce a cogent discussion. He knows how to take an exam.

This is not to suggest, of course, that all or even most of the essays in the book are simply academic exercises. Indeed, an essay like "On the Origin of Beauty: A Platonic Dialogue," which discusses "pattern" in relation to our experience of beauty in Nature and in prosody, has long been seen as a harbinger of Hopkins's concepts of "inscape" and "instress." And by making the sage in...


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