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  • Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Frank Fennell (bio)

Both in quantity and quality 2015 was an extraordinarily productive year in Gerard Manley Hopkins studies, marked especially by the publication of another new volume in the award-winning Oxford Univ. Press Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Volume 3, Diaries, Journals, and Notebooks, superbly edited by Lesley Higgins, represents the fifth volume published out of a projected total of eight. The title of this volume acknowledges that no single collective noun refers with any precision to the private writings included here. Like many Victorians, Hopkins kept private written records for most of his adult life. Seven different written records, all housed at Oxford’s Campion Hall, form the basis for this collection: C.I and C.II, consecutive pocket “diaries” from September 1863 through early 1866, kept mostly during his undergraduate years; and A.I, A.II, A.III, A.IV, and A.V, more substantial but nonconsecutive “journals” encompassing the years 1866–1875. The editor has added excerpts from G.I, the Dublin “notebook” of 1884 and 1885, published fully in Volume 7 (2014) but reprinted here for the reader’s convenience. While most of the material in this new volume had appeared many years before in volumes edited by Humphry House, Graham Storey, and Norman MacKenzie, the convenience of having the extant material in one chronologically consistent volume of over 700 pages is undeniable. At the same time one has to [End Page 372] recognize that, because of Victorian customs, the editor’s lament rings true: “the simple fact remains that there were more Hopkins diaries and journals lost or annihilated than there are transcribed in this volume” (p. 6).

What of interest might a reader find here? To summarize very briefly, in C.I, which runs from fall 1863, Hopkins’s last year at Highgate School, through fall 1864, his first year at Oxford, one sees the wonderful variety of Hopkins as diarist: he records everything from the trivial (should he get his armchair recovered?) to the thought provocative (notes on his immersion in Belgian and German versions of Pre-Raphaelitism), together with his own sketches and line drawings, drafts of poems, observations about language practices and about his natural and architectural environment, summaries of conversations, logs of daily events, school assignments, and notes on his readings. C.II, a direct continuation of C.I with many of the same characteristics, eventually starts to take a darker turn. While at Balliol and under the influence of the Reverend Henry Liddon, the young Hopkins begins using his diary to keep a list of his “sins” for the purposes of Anglican confession. Although the “sins” would be considered inconsequential today, the recording of them exacerbated a tendency toward scrupulosity and self-loathing that was to plague him at various times for the remainder of his life. Fortunately John Henry Newman appears to have intervened to discourage this practice, because when Hopkins begins A.1 in May 1866, about a year after C.II breaks off, he adopts a more impersonal tone, letting his little pocket notebooks, which he apparently continued to maintain, record daily jottings, while this larger volume offers a more studied, reflective journal, the kind of documentary work that eventually could be mined for essays or poems. After a year’s gap, A.II through A.V (covering August 1867 through February 1875) maintain the same approach. As time goes on, the observations, especially of nature and its attendant phenomena, grow ever richer and more detailed and become the source material for his poems while at the same time illustrating his fondness and respect for Ruskinian “prose poetry.” An example of this connection between prose observation and poem might be the August 1873 journal descriptions of storm-driven seas and passages from part 2 of “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” composed a year and a half later, but other examples abound. The gaps in time before, during, and after these seven documents may well make the reader both glad for what has been preserved and regretful about what has been lost or destroyed. Above all, the reader may come to appreciate even more what the editor rightly describes as “Hopkins...


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