Mine Own Familiar Friend

The Relationship between Gerard Hopkins and Robert Bridges

by William Adamson (Author)
©2021 Prompt XX, 138 Pages


Mine Own Familiar Friend adds a new dimension to Hopkins Studies through its exploration of the complex and sometimes confounding friendship between the Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Hopkins and the editor of his first collected works, the poet and critic Robert Bridges. The divide between the two men is evident in almost every sphere of their lives, in their approach to poetry, reading, criticism and language. Based upon the primary texts of the letters, poetry and critical writings of the two men, the book is aimed at both an academic and a more generalist audience: Hopkins scholars and those readers of Hopkins’s poetry who may want to know more about this unique modernist poet whose collected works were only published, thanks to Bridges, some twenty-nine years after his death.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 An Odd Couple: Gerard Hopkins and Robert Bridges
  • Chapter 2 The Man from Petrograd: Bridges and Hopkins’s Collected Poems of 1918
  • Chapter 3 With a Friend Like that … : Robert Bridges’s “Preface to Notes” in Hopkins’s Poems, 1918
  • Chapter 4 “Lagging Lines”: Gerard Hopkins’s “To R.B.”
  • Chapter 5 “Upon the Yellow Sands”: Bridges’s Prefatory Sonnet
  • Chapter 6 Critical Minds: The Literary Criticism of Hopkins and Bridges
  • Chapter 7 “Presumptious Jugglery”: Hopkins’s and Bridges’s Critical Views on Each Other’s Works
  • Chapter 8 “The Limits of My World”: Two Approaches to Language
  • Chapter 9 Grig and Grumble: Conclusion
  • A Brief Chronology of Hopkins’s Life
  • A Brief Chronology of Bridges’s Life
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


My special thanks go to Desmond Egan and the Hopkins committee. I would also like to thank Derek Egan, Brian Arkins and Michael Woods for their support and encouragement in getting the idea of the book off the ground; Eamon Kiernan and Liam Adamson for their painstaking reading of the manuscript and their always helpful suggestions; Kelsey Thornton and Catherine Phillips for their invaluable help in tracking down images of Hopkins and Bridges, to Claire Munday and her family for their generous permission to use the image of Gerard Hopkins and to the National Portrait Gallery for their equally generous permission to use that of Robert Bridges.

My thanks to Peter Lang Publishing. To Lucy Melville for her initial positive response to the project, to Anthony Mason for his helpful editorial support and advice, and to Jaishree Thiyagarajan and the production team for their patience and help in the final stages.


My closer interest in the relationship between Gerard Hopkins and Robert Bridges was first sparked at the Gerard Manley Hopkins International Literary Festival in Newbridge, Kildare.1 There had been a discussion on the publication of the first edition of Hopkins’s collected poems edited by Robert Bridges in 1918, some eighteen years after Hopkins’s death, and the crucial question was why, if, as is generally assumed, Bridges was Hopkins’s greatest friend and confident, he had waited such a seemingly inordinate length of time before bringing the assembled poetry that had been entrusted to him to the attention of the literary world? It seemed neither defensible nor fair.

So began my journey into the world of Hopkins and Bridges and the anomalous and often incomprehensible relationship between the two men that was conducted largely through letters, of which only those of Hopkins for the most part exist, Bridges having destroyed those he wrote to Hopkins soon after he took possession of his friend’s literary estate from the Jesuits in Dublin.

The friendship between Robert Bridges and Gerard Hopkins was forged in Oxford and remained intact, apart from an extended period seemingly initiated by Bridges,2 until Hopkins’s death in 1889. Bridges, however, was by no means his only friend. From his school days at Highgate he remained in contact with his fellow pupils Charles Luxmoore3 and Ernest ←xiii | xiv→Coleridge (the grandson of Samuel Taylor Coleridge), with and Richard W. Dixon, who was an assistant master at the school; from his Oxford days his friends included A. W. Garrett and W. A. Comyn MacFarlane, with whom he spent time on the Isle of Wight, Edward Bond (one of the few addressed by his first name in Hopkins’s letters) and Alexander Baillie, whose criticism he valued highly. Francis de Paravicini,4 another Balliol contemporary, was possibly the last of his friends to see him alive, having visited him in Dublin in in 1889 just before Easter, and who had been so affected by Hopkins’s obvious ill-health and seeming depression that he wrote to the Jesuit authorities asking that his friend be posted out of Ireland.5

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Hopkins’s time in Ireland was the continual “winter world” of isolation and torment that many critics portray. As Desmond Egan points out in his important collection of essays Hopeful Hopkins, “Commentators […] do not allow Hopkins much joy and almost none, if not none at all, during his years in Ireland”, but that despite this “Hopkins did not fall into a more-or-less continuous funk of depression” during his years there.6 Once established in Dublin, he moved in a variety of different circles beyond that of his admittedly dull and uninspiring life of teaching and marking exam papers, forging many friendships.7 He was a member of the larger Jesuit community and academic circles within and beyond the those of the University College on St Stephen’s Green and had contact, too, with the literary and artistic scene in Dublin, meeting many writers and artists at J. B. Yeats’s studio,8 and developing a close relationship with the Irish poet Katherine Tynan, whom he also met through Yeats.←xiv | xv→

Robert Martin points out that Hopkins’s superiors allowed him a large number of holidays, “certainly far more than a Jesuit parish priest would have had”.9 He made use of these, moving about the country, travelling through Connemara and visiting the Cliffs of Moher (“Yesterday I went to see the Cliffs of Moher on the coast of Clare, which to describe would be long and difficult”10), going on excursions with his friend Robert Curtis, S. J. elected Fellow at the same time as himself, including walking tours through Wales and Scotland. He also spent a great deal of time in Monasterevin in County Kildare, staying as a guest of the Cassidy sisters (“one of the props and struts of my existence”11), including his last Christmas in 1888.

Hopkins also had contact with many families in the city, as well as standing invitations to stay.12 Other friends from this period were Father William Delany, President of the University College, and Sir Robert Stewart, Professor of Music at Trinity College, with whom he developed a particular intimacy, with Stewart addressing him in letters playfully as “Padre mio” and “Darling padre”. Stewart seems to have been a perceptive judge of Hopkins’s character, writing after one meeting:

Indeed my dear Padre I cannot follow you through your maze of words in your letter of last week. I saw, ere we had conversed ten minutes on our first meeting, that you are one of those special pleaders who never believe yourself wrong in any respect. You always excuse yourself for anything I object to in your writing or music so I think it a pity to disturb you in your happy dreams of perfectability – nearly everything in ←xv | xvi→your music was wrong – but you will not admit that to be the case – What does it matter? It will all be the same 100 Years hence – […].13

We are reminded of one critic’s observation that in Hopkins’s certainty any faults of incomprehension of his work “lie with […] the reader rather than the […] the writer”.14

None of these friendships had the intensity and affection of the one Hopkins had with Bridges, but they were nevertheless life-blood to him. Having grown up in a large family and been used to the social interaction of a talkative, involved and intellectual family, Hopkins was a man who lived off the intense interaction with others which, coupled with his needed for affection and friendship, maintained him in his daily life.

My discussion of this strange and sometimes strained relationship is not lengthy, and there is much that is no doubt not touched upon, and more work to be done. My aim has been to peg an outline of the relationship between the two men based upon their contiguous interests and often distant approaches to their life, and the nine chapters of this book are, apart from the last two, in essence individual papers delivered at the Hopkins Festival in Newbridge, adjusted and slightly extended to suit the written rather than the spoken medium, and if at times the style may seem more discursive than scholarly, then this is the reason.

Chapter 1 (“An Odd Couple”) is an introductory examination of the relationship between the two men, and is intended to establish the context and nature of their association and thus set the framework for those following. Chapters 2 and 3 (“Lagging Lines” and “Upon the Yellow Sands”) deal with the poems each man had written expressly for, and addressed directly to the other (Hopkins’s “To R.B.” written in 1889 and Bridges’s prefatory sonnet to the first edition of the collected poems in 1918). Through ←xvi | xvii→a close analysis of these companion pieces, both very personal in content and both in sonnet form, it is intended to reveal not only the different poetic strengths and weaknesses of each poet’s craft, but also the thoughts, feelings and attitudes of each man.

Following on from this, Chapter 4 (“The Man from Petrograd”) concerns itself with the protracted genesis of the Collected Poems of 1918. The motives for Bridges’s lingering approach to a collected edition of his friend’s poetry range from his own justification that the world was not ready (and apparently, when we read his “Preface to Notes”, was still not ready in 1918) to appreciate Hopkins’s radically different, innovative style. And whilst it is almost certainly true that an edition published in the 1890s would have almost certainly been a catastrophe, the argument that Bridges was actually doing him a favour in delaying publication until there was more chance of acceptance has probably, on his part, more to do with chance than design. Bridges’s attitude to the poems is laid bare in the notorious “Preface to Notes” of the first edition, which is the subject of Chapter 5 (“With a Friend Like that …”.).


XX, 138
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (July)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XX, 138 pp., 2 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

William Adamson (Author)

William Robert Adamson has both authored and edited books and articles on subjects as diverse as the 18th century Scottish novelist Tobias Smollett, the American crime writer Raymond Chandler, film studies and language skills for university students of English. He is Head of the English Department at the University of Ulm in Germany where he specialises in poetry and creative writing. He is the Assistant Director of the Gerard Manley Hopkins Society of Newbridge, Ireland, and is also a past president of the Raymond Chandler Society, Germany. In 2007 he was the recipient of Recipient of the O’Connor Cup presented by the Gerard Manley Hopkins Society.


Title: Mine Own Familiar Friend