Hopkins' innovative style displays his struggles with what he believes to be fundamental truths.
Hopkins' innovative style, his use of compound words, sprung rhythm and a contemplative approach, allow the reader to have a greater appreciation of the trials and struggles he faced. Hopkins achieved this by combining his exploration of nature and God together with his belief in the uniqueness of the individual in the context of diversity created by God, or inscape. The way in which the poet expresses his struggles shows us his beliefs and what he thought were fundamental truths.
I feel that Hopkins' use of musicality, vivid imagery, and symbols expresses his deeply held beliefs surrounding God, nature, and the world. In his Petrarchan sonnet, "God's Grandeur," he employs a clear rhyming scheme, writes in iambic pentameter, and fills the poem with alliteration, sibilance and assonance. All of these combine to give the poem a rhythm and a musical quality that conveys the celebratory tone, and that he believes that the beauty of nature is the product of God. He also contrasts this tone, by using much sensual imagery, which is particularly evident in the line, "All is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; / And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell," In the octave Hopkins notes how people can become caught up in their own self-importance and can forget about God's presence, and his use of imagery illustrates the struggle he has with the commercial, materialistic society he lives in. Hopkins cannot understand why people do not have faith, or why they discard the world they live in, and struggles as he asks, "Why do men then now not reck his rod?" However, in the sestet, Hopkins returns to his faith, and his belief that it is both powerful and rewarding.
The poem, "Felix Randal," is a beautiful, thoughtful meditation on death, and a poem which bridges the gap between his celebratory and terrible sonnets. The octave is a narrative, in which the poet describes Randal's character and the final, torturous moments of his life. He was a, "Mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome," His utilisation of compound words suggests the essential qualities Randal had, and the alliteration in almost every line adds a sense of power and urgency to the poem. The priest has watched Felix Randal disintegrate, as his illness broke him, and, "Fatal four disorders, fleshed there," He has suffered greatly, and this reveals Hopkins fundamental belief that his suffering is indicative of all human suffering. However, Hopkins details how the priest helped Felix come to term with his illness. He, "Cursed at first," but, "Mended," and developed a, "Heavenlier heart," offering the sick man the comfort of God's love. In this deeply reflective poem, Hopkins feelings and doubts are amplified by his use of sprung rhythm, "My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears," Here, the speaker feels a real empathy with Felix, whose story represents all human existence. In this way, Hopkins presents an idea that God has fashioned destinies for us, and sometimes our fate is cruel or impossible to understand. However, that should not detract from the enjoyment and appreciation of life or nature.
The contrast between the impressions of the soothing balm of comforting faith in, "Felix Randal," with the total absence of such comfort in, "No Worst There Is None," is startling, and demonstrates Hopkins later struggle with his faith. This 'terrible sonnet' reveals Hopkins' complete confusion that he built his life around faith, but now during his struggles and difficult times, God is absent. The poet feels that the dreadful pain will only become worse, "More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring," His utter exhaustion is conveyed through the sestet. The alliteration in the metaphor, "O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed," creates a slow heavy movement, and relays the intensity of his despair, doubting that any man has experienced such misery. The internal rhyming of, "Steep," "Deep," "Creep," and, "Sleep," demonstrates that the poet feels as though there is no consolation, and that God is absent. The speaker is a, "Wretch," with, "Small durance," and he knows that death is coming. The sense that death will be a relief from suffering is a prominent fundamental truth that Hopkins believed in while writing this poem.
The feeling of melancholy and loss continues through, "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day," This poem explores the psychological suffering of the speaker, which is described as unimaginable. As the poet waits for the night to end, he knows that a greater distress awaits him. The shocking truth is that he can take no comfort from his faith anymore. The pillar that he had built his life around is absent. The last sentence in the octave combines repetition, alliteration and simile to communicate a devastating void in his faith, "And my lament / Is cries countless cries like dead letters sent / To dearest him that lives alas! Away," The poet feels that God has abandoned him, his prayers are unanswered, and he is lost. His struggle as he searches for spiritual meaning is obvious through his startling and dramatic language, especially through his metaphor and synecdoche, "I am gall, I am heartburn," This gustatory image conveys that the poet's existence is pain, and that the only logical explanation for his suffering is that God has decided that this is his fate. He suggests that his pain is more extreme than others, "The lost are like this, and their scourge to be / As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse," as he had faith, certainty, and had known God.
Unlike the terrible sonnets, in, "The Windhover," there is exuberance, energy, and most importantly, the excitement he feels from nature and God. Hopkins is breathless at the beauty of nature, expressed through the, "Dapple-dawn-drawn falcon," and is amazed by the, "Majesty of the thing," The sight of the falcon in flight is beautiful and breath-taking. A simile is used to capture the smooth power and control of the bird, "As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend," The sense of appreciation fills the last three lines of the poem, "No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion / Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear / Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion," The imagery is more banal, less dramatic, but nonetheless impressive. It illustrates the fundamental truth that beauty is everywhere, and that humble everyday actions can produce sudden unexpected beauty. This belief of Hopkins is a wonderful, life-affirming observation that he unfortunately lost in his later poems.
I definitely think that Hopkins' innovative style displays his struggles with faith, psychological troubles, and death. The wide range of poetic techniques used by Hopkins also conveys his joy and awe at the beauty of nature and how he celebrates God, along with several fundamental truths.
Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of the three or four greatest poets of the Victorian era. He is regarded by different readers as the greatest Victorian poet of religion, of nature, or of melancholy. However, because his style was so radically different from that of his contemporaries, his best poems were not accepted for publication during his lifetime, and his achievement was not fully recognized until after World War I.
Hopkins's idiosyncratic creativity was the result of interactions with others, beginning with the members of his family. Hopkins's extended family constituted a social environment that made the commitment of an eldest son to religion, language, and art not only possible but also highly probable. His mother, Kate Smith Hopkins (1821-1900), was a devout High Church Anglican who brought up her children to be religious. Hopkins read from the New Testament daily at school to fulfill a promise he made to her. The daughter of a London physician, she was better educated than most Victorian women and particularly fond of music and of reading, especially German philosophy and literature, the novels of Dickens, and eventually her eldest son's poetry.
Her sister Maria Smith Giberne taught Hopkins to sketch. The drawings originally executed as headings on letters from her home, Blunt House, Croydon, to Hopkins's mother and father reveal the kind of precise, detailed drawing that Hopkins was taught. The influence of Maria Smith Giberne on her nephew can be seen by comparing these letter headings with Hopkins's sketch, Dandelion, Hemlock, and Ivy, which he made at Blunt House. Hopkins's interest in the visual arts was also sustained by his maternal uncle, Edward Smith, who began as a lawyer but soon made painting his profession; by Richard James Lane, his maternal great-uncle, an engraver and lithographer who frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy; and by Lane's daughters, Clara and Eliza (or Emily), who exhibited at the Society of Female Artists and elsewhere. Another maternal uncle, John Simm Smith, Jr., reinforced the religious tradition which Hopkins's mother passed on to him; Smith was churchwarden at St. Peter's, Croydon.
These artistic and religious traditions were also supported by Hopkins's paternal relations. His aunt Anne Eleanor Hopkins tutored her nephew in sketching, painting, and music. His uncle Thomas Marsland Hopkins was perpetual curate at St. Saviour's Paddington, and coauthor with Hopkins's father of the 1849 volume, Pietas Metrica Or, Nature Suggestive of God and Godliness, "by the Brothers Theophilus and Theophylact." He was married to Katherine Beechey, who, with her cousin Catherine Lloyd, maintained close contacts with the High Church Tractarian movement which deeply affected Hopkins at Oxford. Her sister, Frances Ann Beechey, was a good painter, famous in North America for her documentary paintings of the Canadian voyageurs. In 1865 she was in London, where Hopkins met her, and after 1870 she exhibited at the Royal Academy. Charles Gordon Hopkins, Hopkins's uncle, developed the family interest in languages as well as religion. He moved to Hawaii, where he learned Hawaiian and helped establish an Anglican bishopric in Honolulu. In 1856 he helped Manley Hopkins, the poet's father, become consul-general for Hawaii in London.
Manley Hopkins was the founder of a marine insurance firm. It is no accident that shipwreck, one of the firm's primary concerns, was the subject of Hopkins's most ambitious poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland (1875). Nor can the emphasis on religion in that poem be attributed solely to the mother's influence. Manley Hopkins was a devout High Church Anglican who taught Sunday School at St. John's in Hampstead, where he was churchwarden. He loved music and literature, passing on his fondness for puns and wordplay to his sons Gerard and Lionel and his love for poetry to Gerard especially. His publications include A Philosopher's Stone and Other Poems (1843), Pietas Metrica (1849), and Spicelegium Poeticum, A Gathering of Verses by Manley Hopkins (1892). He also reviewed poetry for the London Times and wrote one novel and an essay on Longfellow, which were never published.
This concern for art, language, and religion in Hopkins's extended family had a direct effect on the Hopkins children. Hopkins's sister Milicent (1849-1946) was originally interested in music but eventually became an "out-sister" of All Saints' Home, an Anglican sisterhood founded in London in 1851. She took the sister's habit in 1878. Hopkins's sister Kate (1856-1933) shared her brother's love of languages, humor, and sketching. She helped Robert Bridges publish the first edition of Hopkins's poems. Hopkins's youngest sister, Grace (1857-1945), set some of his poems to music and composed accompaniments for Hopkins's melodies for poems by Richard Watson Dixon and Robert Bridges.
Hopkins's brother Lionel (1854-1952) sustained the family interest in languages. He was top of the senior division of Modern School at Winchester, with a reputation for thoughtful and thorough work in French and German. He became a world-famous expert on archaic and colloquial Chinese. He loved puns, jokes, parodies, and all kinds of wordplay as much as his father and his brother Gerard. Hopkins's brother Arthur (1847-1930) continued the family interest in the visual arts. He was an excellent sketcher and became a professional illustrator and artist. He illustrated Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native in 1878, was a member of the Royal Watercolour Society, and exhibited at the Royal Academy. The youngest brother, Everard (1860-1928), followed in Arthur's footsteps. He too became a professional illustrator and cartoonist for newspapers and periodicals, and he exhibited his watercolors and pastels in London. Both Everard and Arthur were regular contributors to Punch and shared Hopkins's admiration for the paintings of John Everett Millais.
The relationship between Hopkins and his father reveals important early instances of creative collaboration and competition within the family. Hopkins copied eleven of the poems from his father's volume A Philosopher's Stone into his Oxford notebooks. In those poems his father expressed a Keatsian dismay over science's threat to a magical or imaginative response to nature. Manley Hopkins's desire to preserve a Wordsworthian love of nature in his children is evident in his "To a Beautiful Child":
... thy book
Is cliff, and wood, and foaming waterfall;
Thy playmates--the wild sheep and birds that call
Hoarse to the storm;--thy sport is with the storm
To wrestle;--and thy piety to stand
Musing on things create, and their Creator's hand!
This was a remarkably prophetic poem for Manley Hopkins's first "beautiful child," Gerard, born only a year after this poem was published. The phrase "And birds that call/Hoarse to the storm," invites comparison with the son's images of the windhover rebuffing the big wind in "The Windhover" (1877) and with the image of the great stormfowl at the conclusion of "Henry Purcell" (1879). The father's prophecy, "thy sport is with the storm/To wrestle" is fulfilled in Gerard's The Wreck of the Deutschland and "The Loss of the Eurydice" (1878). These two shipwreck poems, replete with spiritual instruction for those in doubt and danger, were the son's poetic and religious counterparts to his father's 1873 volume, The Port of Refuge, or advice and instructions to the Master-Mariner in situations of doubt, difficulty, and danger.
Gerard's response to nature was also influenced by a poem such as "A Bird Singing in a Narrow Street," one of the eleven poems from The Philosopher's Stone he copied into his notebook. This theme of the bird confined recurs most obviously in Gerard's "The Caged Skylark" (1877) but may be detected even in comments on the imprisoning narrowness of urban civilization in his letters. In addition, the son answered the father's representation of a bird filling the "throbbing air" with sound and "making our bosoms to thy cadence thrill" in "The Nightingale" (1866):
For he began at once and shook
My head to hear. He might have strung
A row of ripples in the brook,
So forcibly he sung,
The mist upon the leaves have strewed,
And danced the balls of dew that stood
In acres all above the wood.
This particular motif of the singing bird appears again in Gerard's "Spring" (1877): "and thrush/Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring/The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing." The father's attempt to represent what it is like to live in a bird's environment, moreover, to experience daily the "fields, the open sky, /The rising sun, the moon's pale majesty; /The leafy bower, where the airy nest is hung" was also one of the inspirations of the son's lengthy account of a lark's gliding beneath clouds, its aerial view of the fields below, and its proximity to a rainbow in "Il Mystico" (1862), as well as the son's attempt to enter into a lark's existence and express its essence mimically in "The Woodlark" (1876). A related motif, Manley's feeling for clouds, evident in his poem "Clouds," encouraged his son's representation of them in "Hurrahing in Harvest" (1877) and "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire" (1888).
Competition and collaboration between father and son continued even long after Hopkins left home to take his place in the world. In 1879, for instance, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote to Bridges, "I enclose some lines by my father called forth by the proposal to fell the trees in Well Walk (where Keats and other interesting people lived) and printed in some local paper." Two months later Hopkins composed "Binsey Poplars" to commemorate the felling of a grove of trees near Oxford. Clearly, competition with his father was an important creative stimulus.
In addition to specific inspirations such as these, the father communicated to his son a sense of nature as a book written by God which leads its readers to a thoughtful contemplation of Him, a theme particularly evident in Manley and Thomas Marsland Hopkins's book of poems, Pietas Metrica. Consequently, Gerard went on to write poems which were some of the best expressions not only of the Romantic approach to nature but also the older tradition of explicitly religious nature poetry.
Pietas Metrica was devoted explicitly to that marriage of nature and religion which became characteristic of Gerard's poetry. This book is also valuable as a model of the norm of contemporary religious nature poetry which Hopkins was trying both to sustain and surpass. The aims of the authors of Pietas Metrica became Hopkins's own. As noted in the preface, "It was the design of the writers of this volume to blend together two of Man's best things, Religion and Poetry. They aimed at binding with another tie the feeling of piety with external nature and our daily thoughts. The books of Nature and Revelation have been laid side by side and read together.
The most joyous synchronic reading of the Bible and the Book of Nature was the hymn of creation, a traditional genre inspired by Psalm 148 to which such poems of Gerard's as "God's Grandeur" (1877), "Pied Beauty" (1877), "Hurrahing in Harvest," and "Easter" (1866) belong. A line such as "Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes" in Hopkins's "Easter," for instance, would normally be ascribed to the influence of George Herbert, but the representation of a flower "breathing up to heaven/The incense of her prayer" like a "natural altar" in "The Fraxinella" in Pietas Metrica reveals that it is just as appropriate to look to contemporary poetry for a context for Hopkins's poems as it is to look back to Metaphysical poets such as Herbert. Indeed, in some cases it may be more appropriate to seek contemporary models. Though Herbert's "The Flower" is a famous example of a flower straining toward heaven, he employs no satellite imagery of opening eyes; indeed he only twice uses the word ope in all of his poems, neither time referring to flowers, and he never uses the adjective heavenward.
The personification of Earth in Hopkins's "Easter"--"Earth throws Winter's robes away, /Decks herself for Easter Day"--also recalls the personification of Nature in "Catholic Truth" from Pietas Metrica. A reader of Hopkins's poetry familiar with contemporary creation hymns such as "Catholic Truth" would also expect the song rhythm which Hopkins employs in the third stanza of "Easter," because in this genre nature, rather than mankind, is usually represented as more faithfully singing God's praise:
Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter's robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.
Ultimately, mankind joins in the song in related hymns in this genre, including Christina Rossetti's "And there was no more Sea," in which all possible voices are united "In oneness of contentment offering praise." Hence Hopkins extends the rhythm to include man in the fourth stanza of "Easter":
Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe.
Chaplets for dishevelled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow;
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.
Although man and nature are ultimately bound by love in one hymn of creation, contemporary readers of poems such as "Easter" know that nature is traditionally represented not only as more consistently heeding the commandment to song which concludes Hopkins's "Easter" but also as best fulfilling the demand of his first stanza for a plenitude of offerings:
Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.
"Where are the Nine?" in Pietas Metrica develops this concept of nature's unstinted offering and points the traditional contrast between man and nature implicit in the first stanza of "Easter": "And is it so that Nature stints her praise, /With niggard thanks makes offering to her God?" The answer of Hopkins's father and uncle is clear:
No, Nature is not backward, she declares
Each blessing as it comes, and owns her Lord,
She is no miser of her thanks, she spares
No praise, due to Heaven, beloved adored.
Hopkins agreed with his father and uncle that man seemed "backward" in comparison with nature, especially in "God's Grandeur," "Spring," "In the Valley of the Elwy" (1877), "The Sea and the Skylark" (1877), "Binsey Poplars," "Duns Scotus's Oxford" (1879), and "Ribblesdale" (1882). Hopkins also discovered to his despair the truth of the final complaint of "Where are the Nine?":
Alas for man! day after day may rise,
Night may shade his thankless head,
He sees no God in the bright, morning skies
He sings no praises from his guarded bed.
This apparent disappearance of God from nature in the nineteenth century inspired some of the didacticism which pervades Hopkins's later nature poetry. Unlike the Romantics, many Victorians thought of nature as another Book of Revelation to be used for the same practical ends as the Bible: to inculcate lessons in the religious life. As the statement in the Hopkins brothers' preface about placing the books of Nature and Revelation side by side suggests, Pietas Metrica is an excellent illustration of this tradition. While the Wordsworthian influence in the volume is occasionally implicit in poems such as "Love," the sermonical aim is almost always explicit, as in the title "Autumnal Lessons."
Flowers were especially popular for purposes of instruction, their function in Hopkins's "Easter." The flowers in "Catholic Truth," for example, are "All telling the same truth; their simple creed," and the author of "The Fraxinella" sighs, with the exclamation mark so characteristic of Hopkins, "Ah! could our hearts/Read thoughtful lessons from thy modest leaves." When we place Hopkins's nature poetry in this tradition we not only perceive the contemporary precedents for the homilies which conclude so many of his nature poems, we also begin to discern some of the distinguishing features of his didacticism. Hopkins's commands strike us as more direct and imperative, and we discover that his religious poetry was unusually proselytical before he became a Catholic and long before he became a Jesuit.
Nature poetry was not the only area in which father and son were rivals. Romantic love of childhood as well as nature is evident in Manley Hopkins's "To a Beautiful Child" and "The Nursery Window," and this theme of childhood innocence is also stressed by his son in "Spring," "The Handsome Heart" (1879), and "The Bugler's First Communion" (1879). The father also composed straightforward religious poems such as his long poem on John the Baptist in A Philosopher's Stone, and the son soon surpassed his father in this category as well. Gerard's many poems about martyrs recall his father's preoccupation with physical suffering in poems such as "The Grave-Digger" and "The Child's Dream" from A Philosopher's Stone.
The son's melancholy, evident in poems such as the undated "Spring and Death," "Spring and Fall" (1880), and "The Leaden Echo" (1882), can also be traced to poems such as his father's sonnet "All things grow old--grow old, decay and change" and "A Philosopher's Stone," which warns that "The withered crown will soon slide down/ A skull all bleached and blent" and concludes in that didactic mode typical of several of his son's religious poems:
"The Alchymists rare, are they who prepare
For death ere life be done;
And by study hard WITHIN THE CHURCHYARD
IS FOUND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE."
Gerard also wrote a poem about an alchemist, "The Alchemist in the City," but the poem of his which captures this didactic tone best is perhaps The Wreck of the Deutschland, especially the eleventh stanza:
`Some find me a sword; some
The flange and the rail; flame,
Fang, or flood' goes Death on drum,
And storms bugle his fame.
But we dream we are rooted in earth--Dust!
Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,
Wave with the meadow, forget that there must
The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.
The son clearly surpassed the father in many ways. For instance, the son resisted the temptation to become morbid better than the father's example might lead one to expect. Compare Gerard Manley Hopkins's version of an attempted rescue with the account in the London Times, one of the sources he used for The Wreck of the Deutschland. According to the Times , "One brave sailor, who was safe in the rigging went down to try to save a child or woman who was drowning on deck. He was secured by a rope to the rigging, but a wave dashed him against the bulwark, and when daylight dawned his headless body, detained by the rope, was swinging to and fro with the waves." Hopkins wrote:
One stirred from the rigging to save
The wild woman-kind below,
With a rope's end round the man, handy and brave--
He was pitched to his death at a blow,
For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:
They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro
Through the cobbled foam-fleece.
Hopkins transformed the prose into song, but he deleted the morbid details of the decapitation.
It was no doubt partly to escape contemplation of such details connected with his marine-insurance business that Manley Hopkins cultivated a Wordsworthian love of nature. The example of Wordsworth's youth in nature and the contrasting example of Coleridge's youth in the city, "Debarr'd from Nature's living images, /Compelled to be a life unto itself" (The Prelude VI: 313-314), encouraged Manley Hopkins to live in Hampstead rather than in London proper where he worked. He moved his family to Hampstead in 1852, and Gerard and his brother Cyril (1846-1932), who later rejoined his father's firm, were sent to live with relatives in the Hainault Forest, where they spent the summer exploring and studying nature. When he returned to his family, Gerard found himself living near groves of lime and elm, many fine views, the garden where Keats composed his "Ode to a Nightingale" under a mulberry tree and the Heath celebrated in painting after painting by Constable. Hopkins obviously enjoyed living there: Cyril recalls that he was a fearless climber of trees, especially the lofty elm which stood in their garden.
At the age of ten, Hopkins left the garden and his family home for Robert Cholmondley's boarding school at Highgate, a northern height of London less populous and more forested than Hampstead. Like Hampstead, it commanded a good view of the surrounding area and was associated with the memories of such artists as Marvell, Lamb, Keats, and De Quincey; the tomb, even the coffin, of Coleridge could be seen in Highgate when Hopkins was there. One of Hopkins's friends at Highgate was Coleridge's grandson E. H. Coleridge, who became a biographer of Byron and named one of his sons after his friend Hopkins. While at Highgate Hopkins composed "The Escorial" (1860), his earliest poem extant. The description of the destruction of the Escorial by the sweeping rain and sobbing wind recalls Byron, but the allusions to Raphael, Titian, Velásquez, Rubens, and Claude, as well as to various styles of architecture, reveal Hopkins's desire to unite in some way his love of the visual arts and his love of poetry.
The sketches of Bavarian peasants Hopkins produced when his father took him to southern Germany in 1860 reveal his growing interest in being a painter as well as a poet. The only drawing manual in the Hopkins family library, as far as is known, was John Eagles's The Sketcher (1856). Rev. Eagles, who was Manley Hopkins's maternal uncle, recommends the classical idealism of Gaspard Poussin and an elegant, expressive mode of pastoral. However, the fourth volume of John Ruskin's Modern Painters was published the same year as The Sketcher, and it promulgated important modifications of Eagles's ideal of amateur drawing. Ruskin's emphasis on objective, detailed representation of nature soon became evident in the sketches of Hopkins and other members of his family.
Hopkins's Ruskinese sketches are significant because although Hopkins is remembered as a poet, he wanted to be a painter, deciding against it finally because he thought it was too "passionate" an exercise for one with a religious vocation. Nevertheless, even after he became a Jesuit he continued to cultivate an acquaintance with the visual arts through drawing and attendance at exhibitions, and this lifelong attraction to the visual arts affected the verbal art for which he is remembered. In his early poetry and in his journals wordpainting is pervasive, and there is a recurrent Keatsian straining after the stasis of the plastic arts.
Hopkins's finely detailed black-and-white sketches were primarily important to him as special exercises of the mind, the eye, and the hand which could alter the sketcher's consciousness of the outside world. The typical Hopkins drawing is what Ruskin called the "outline drawing"; as Ruskin put it, "without any wash of colour, such an outline is the most valuable of all means for obtaining such memoranda of any scene as may explain to another person, or record for yourself, what is most important in its features." Many such practical purposes for drawing were advanced by Ruskin, but his ultimate purpose was to unite science, art, and religion. As Humphry House put it, "Because the Romantic tradition said that Nature was somehow the source of important spiritual experience, and because the habit of mind of the following generation (with an empiric scientific philosophy) was to dwell lovingly on factual detail, a suspicion came about that perhaps the cause of the spiritual experience lay in detail."
This is part of the motivation for the obsession with minute detail seen in Hopkins's Manor Farm, Shanklin Sept. 21, 1863 and in his May 12 n. r. Oxford. According to Ruskin, those who sketched in this way possessed the further advantage of cultivating certain special powers of the eye and the mind: "By drawing they actually obtained a power of the eye and a power of the mind wholly different from that known to any other discipline, and which could only be known by the experienced student--he only could known how the eye gained physical power by the attention to details, and that was one reason why delicate drawings had, above all others, been most prized; and that nicety of study made the eye see things and causes which it could not otherwise trace." Manor Farm uses fairly heavy shading but combines it with fine detail for a more delicate effect. An effect of lighter delicacy is achieved in May 12 n. r. Oxford, a sketch of a convolvulus, by restricting the heavy shading to the shadows and by using fairly delicate gradations.
The powers of the mind which such study granted included the cultivation of patience, discipline, earnestness, and a love of work for its own sake, but perhaps the most important power developed was the ability to concentrate. Ruskin stressed the importance of concentration to perceptions of the unity of things: "No human capacity ever yet saw the whole of a thing; but we may see more and more of it the longer we look." By concentrating on the whole of a thing Hopkins was able to discover the "inscape," the distinctively unifying pattern of, say, "a white shire of cloud. I looked long up at it till the tall height and the beauty of the scaping--regularly curled knots springing up if I remember from fine stems, like foliage on wood or stone--had strongly grown on me.... Unless you refresh the mind from time to time you cannot always remember or believe how deep the inscape in things is.... if you look well at big pack-clouds overhead you will soon find a strong large quaining and squaring in them which makes each pack imprerssive and whole." By concentrating in this way also on the formal aspects of running water he was able to discover some of the deeper, recurrent formations of "scaping" even in a tumultuous river: "by watching hard the banks began to sail upstream, the scaping unfolded." This kind of concentration was clearly aided by drawing exercises such as July 18. At the Baths of Rosenlaui.
A search for recurring regularity and distinctively unifying forms was one of the primary motivations of an outline drawing of a tree such as June 26, '68. Many of Hopkins's sketches of trees seem to be attempts to discover what Ruskin called the "fountain-like impulse" of trees in which "each terminates all its minor branches at its outer extremity, so as to form a great outer curve, whose character and proportion are peculiar for each species"; ultimately both Ruskin and Hopkins were seeking "organic unity; the law, whether of radiation or parallelism, or concurrent action, which rules the masses of herbs and trees."
One of Hopkins's journal entries makes this motivation clear and serves as an effective summary of his typically Victorian union of science and aesthetics: "Oaks: the organization of this tree is difficult. Speaking generally no doubt the determining planes are concentric, a system of brief contiguous and continuous tangents, whereas those of the cedar would roughly be called horizontals and those of the beech radiating but modified by droop and by a screw-set towards jutting points. But beyond this since the normal growth of the boughs is radiating and the leaves grow some way in there is of course a system of spoke-wise clubs of greensleeve-pieces.... I have seen also the pieces in profile with chiselled outlines, the blocks thus made detached and lessening towards the end.... Oaks differ much, and much turns on the broadness of the leaves, the narrower giving the crisped and starring and Catherine-wheel forms, the broader the flat-pieced or shard-covered ones, in which it is possible to see composition in dips etc on wider bases than the single knot or cluster." Hopkins discovered that his genius lay in such translations of visual perceptions into words.
His drawings were often remarkably similar to the early sketches of his brother Arthur, although Arthur's drawings are often more fully detailed and unified. Hence it is difficult to accept the belief of critics that Gerard had more talent than his brother. On the contrary, the differences between Gerard's sketches and Arthur's suggest a need to revise the accepted opinion that Gerard could have been a professional painter if he had wanted to. Rather, it would appear that just as Lope de Vega's success in Spanish drama induced Cervantes to develop an alternative genre, Arthur Hopkins's superior sketching abilities encouraged his older brother to concentrate his energies on literary and religious creativity instead.
This sibling rivalry between Hopkins and his brother Arthur reveals how crucial adaptive compromise can be in the development of a genius's creative potential. Although some of Hopkins's drawings suggest that he could have achieved more detail if he had tried, it is apparent that, while he shared the motivations of his family for drawing, he soon developed specific aims and interests which often differed significantly from theirs. His letter of 10 July 1863 to his friend A. W. M. Baillie confirms that he had developed special interests and did not find any member of his own family a congenial thinker in these matters: "I venture to hope you will approve of some of the sketches in a Ruskinese point of view:--if you do not, who will, my sole congenial thinker on art?"
Some of the differences between Hopkins's aims and those of his brother Arthur are most obvious in the results of their sketching from the cliff in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight in 1863. Arthur, focusing on an unusual bridgelike rock formation in the sea, produced a memorable subject for a picturesque travel record: Arched Rock. Freshwater Bay. (from the cliff) July 23. 1863. Gerard, on the other hand, tried to reproduce the pattern made by the waves below and wrote: "Note: The curves of the returning wave overlap, the angular space between is smooth but covered with a network of foam. The advancing wave, already broken, and now only a mass of foam, upon the point of encountering the reflux of the former. Study from the cliff above. Freshwater Gate. July 23." Gerard's aims clearly diverged from Arthur's in at least two important ways: he became more interested in drawing as a means of visual research and more willing to supplement this visual art with verbal art.
In addition, these two sketches illustrate the meaning of "inscape," that conundrum of Hopkins's readers. A common misconception of the word is that it signifies simply a love of the unique particular, the unusual feature, the singular appearance, but that meaning fits Arched Rock better than it does Gerard's note on waves. Gerard lost interest in what was merely unique; as in the wave study he usually sought the distinctively unifying design, the "returning" or recurrent pattern, the internal "network" of structural relationships which clearly and unmistakably integrates or scapes an object or set of objects and thus reveals the presence of integrating laws throughout nature and a divine unifying force or "stress" in this world. The suggestion of metaphysical significance is obvious in an 1874 note by Hopkins on waves: "The laps of running foam striking the sea-wall double on themselves and return in nearly the same order and shape in which they came. This is mechanical reflection and is the same as optical: indeed all nature is mechanical, but then it is not seen that mechanics contain that which is beyond mechanics."
Arthur was also fascinated by waves and produced some excellent sketches of them, especially 1st September, '75, Breaking Waves, Whitby, and Study of the back of a breaking wave seen from above and behind. Whitby. 30 Aug. '75. These sketches are clearly superior to any of Gerard's drawings of waves in detail, finish, delicacy of shading, and illusion of motion. Likewise, Arthur's Study of 'The Armed Knight', a reef at the Land's End. 4 Sept. '79 easily surpasses Gerard's 1863 sketches of rock formations, both in truth of detail and aesthetic development, and his At Whitnash. Warwickshire 8 Sept. '77 reproduces more subtle and delicate effects of light and shade than Gerard achieved in his studies of groups of trees.
Gerard did not even try to sketch the majesty and sublimity of an ocean wave as Arthur did, however. Characteristically, in his Study from the cliff above Gerard conveyed the motion of the waves with words. Phrases such as "the advancing wave already broken, and now only a mass of foam" supply a scenario, a succession of events in time to complement the spatial representation. Eagles recommended not only sea-pieces such as this but also shipwrecks, and eventually this advice, along with similar recommendations from Ruskin, and the family preoccupation with danger at sea due to the father's insurance business inspired Gerard's attempt to represent a shipwreck. Besides his father's publication of Port of Refuge another factor that motivated Gerard may well have been Arthur's wave studies of 30 August and 1 September 1875.
Only a few months after Arthur executed these studies, Gerard began his own response to the sea in the genre which was to make him famous: not painting, but poetry. If he had insisted on competing directly with his brother, he might well have gone on to become a draughtsman less well known than Arthur. However, his response to the sea, The Wreck of the Deutschland, was in some ways an even better fulfillment of the suggestion of his great-uncle, John Eagles, that those who appreciate the sublime acquire "greater notions of the power and majesty of Him who maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the wings of the wind."
It has been argued that the visual image, the painter's vision, is predominant in Hopkins's journal, but the essence of his creativity was verbal rather than visual, as this description of a glacier reveals: "There are round one of the heights of the Jungfrau two ends or falls of a glacier. If you took the skin of a white tiger or the deep fell of some other animal and swung it tossing high in the air and then cast it out before you it would fall and so clasp and lap round anything in this way just as this glacier does and the fleece would part in the same rifts: you must suppose a lazuli under-flix to appear. The spraying out of one end I tried to catch but it would have taken hours: it is this which first made me think of a tiger-skin, and it ends in tongues and points like the tail and claws: indeed the ends of the glaciers are knotted or knuckled like talons." Hopkins had tried to "catch" the spraying out of one end of the glacier in three sketches inscribed July 15, '68; July 15; and July 15, Little Scheidegg, but he realized that he had relatively little talent for sketching. He could have "taken hours" and persisted, but instead he let his visual impression stimulate his linguistic creativity, specifically his extraordinary capacity for metaphor. His frustration in one genre only stimulated him to be creative in another.
A similar shift from the visual to the verbal is suggested by his "A Vision of the Mermaids" (1862), a pen-and-ink drawing followed by a poem, both apparently inspired by the poetic vision of the mermaids in The Sketcher. Eagles's comment, "How difficult it would be, by any sketch, to convey the subject!," explains why Hopkins followed his drawing with words such as the following:
Plum-purple was the west; but spikes of light
Spear'd open lustrous gashes, crimson-white;
(Where the eye fix'd, fled the encrimsoning spot,
And gathering, floated where the gaze was not;)
And thro' their parting lids there came and went
Keen glimpses of the inner firmament:
Fair beds they seem'd of water-lily flakes
Clustering entrancingly in beryl lakes.
This kind of poetic diction reflects the influence of one of Hopkins's teachers at Highgate, Richard Watson Dixon. Dixon had been involved in the vanguard of much that seemed exciting in the art of the time. Dante Gabriel Rossetti had taught him painting and had praised his poems. Dixon's Christ's Company and Other Poems (1861) featured Rossetti's decorative, sensuous beauty and remote dream worlds and a typically Victorian love of wordpainting.
Yet Dixon's title emphasizes the fact that his longer poems are High Church hagiographical verses and the Incarnation is a pervasive theme in the poems in this volume. Dixon had been attracted to the Oxford Pre-Raphaelites who followed Rossetti because of their Ruskinese stress on Christian art and because of the original pietism of the group itself. Almost every member of the group had initially intended to take Holy Orders, but most of them were deflected from their purpose by their desire to be artists. Dixon also at one point had given up his religious commitment to become a Pre-Raphaelite painter, but, unlike other members of the group, Dixon finally did take Holy Orders. He thus became an important model for Hopkins of the possibility of combining poetic and religious vocations.
Hopkins praised and respected Dixon's poetry and even copied out favorite stanzas when he entered the Jesuit novitiate. The affinities between Dixon's poems and Hopkins's early poetry are evident when we compare the descriptions of the sunsets in "The Sicilian Vespers," Dixon's boyhood prize poem, and in "A Vision of the Mermaids," thought by some to be one of Hopkins's best poems at Highgate. Both teacher and student focus on an isle breaking the sunset's tide of light; and both reveal a preference for iambic pentameter couplets and the adjectival compounds, long sentences, and colorful pictorial images characteristic of Victorian wordpainting.