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  • Hopkins
  • Frank Fennell (bio)

Any year which sees the publication of a new volume of the Oxford Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins is a good year for Hopkins studies, and 2014 did not disappoint. Volume VII, The Dublin Notebook, edited by Lesley Higgins and Michael F. Suarez, S. J., constitutes the fourth volume published of a projected eight, and while its oversize format means that it will not fit neatly on the shelf next to its predecessors, this new volume is fully as interesting and as competently edited.

Hopkins began the so-called “Dublin notebook” in February of 1884, shortly after arriving in Dublin to serve as Professor of Classics at University College and Fellow of the Royal University of Ireland. He began to use this new notebook for a great variety of purposes. It contains, for example, in random order: lists of required texts for upcoming exams; notes for a personal meditation on a gospel passage; instructions for scholarship exams; teaching notes; examination and attendance records; drafts of poems, including important ones like “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves”; poems by others; musical jottings; reminders about his correspondence; drafts of prose works; scholarly commentary on, for example, Cicero. As the editors summarize in their excellent introduction, the notebook, now in the possession of Campion Hall, Oxford, “was often a starting point, a work space in which new texts, both academic and poetic, were first generated’ (p. 4). Hopkins kept the notebook active until December of 1885, and while some of its items have been published before, such as the finished poems that appear here in draft, much of the material is new. [End Page 316]

The oversize format alluded to above is owing to the fact that the volume contains facsimile reproductions of all 48 leaves of the notebook. Each facsimile appears on the right-hand page, with the editors’ transcription opposite. A full set of explanatory and textual notes appears at the end of the facsimiles, as well as nine appendices containing material such as the complete set of documents relating to the controversy over Hopkins’s professorial appointment, the poet’s short prose biography of his friend and teacher Richard Watson Dixon, and his retreat notes from January 1889.

What can we learn from the publication of this notebook? For one thing, Hopkins appears to have been, contrary to some earlier claims, a conscientious and responsible teacher, all the more admirable because for much of his time in Dublin he taught the Latin classics rather than the Greek texts which had been his specialty earlier. Furthermore his frequent complaints of overwork seem justified when we discover that each year in addition to his teaching duties he had to grade well over 1,000 examinations for the Royal University of Ireland. Also we find evidence of the many scholarly projects—on English meter, on Greek literature, on “Dorian-Measure,” even on “statistics and free will”—which he undertook but never completed. Music seems to have taken up more of his time than we had suspected, while the controversy over this initial appointment, documented here in full, may have been less distressing to him than once had seemed the case. As for poems, the drafting over time of “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves,” for example, when seen in the context of the notebook, where it grows out of Hopkins’s absorption in Collins’ “Ode to Evening” and his reaction to his harrowing workload, makes apparent what a cri de couer that poem must be.

But it is on the deeply personal side that the notebook proves most revelatory. The very nature of the notebook itself, its lack of unity, may reflect his profound sense of dislocation after the move to Dublin. Moreover we find evidence of his acute political distress, of his relative isolation from friends and family, of his need for solace and pleasure (which music seems to have provided in a way that poetry did not), and of the continuing decline of his physical and mental health. Most distressing of all to him, his spiritual life, as evidenced here by his meditation and prayer notes, seems increasingly to have been a tortured one during the Dublin years...


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pp. 316-324
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