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Mine Own Familiar Friend

The Relationship between Gerard Hopkins and Robert Bridges

William Robert Adamson

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.

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Chapter 4 “Lagging Lines”: Gerard Hopkins’s “To R.B.”


He said in his last letter that he had been joking, and he added a sonnet (very sad) in “explanation” but it did not read like joking, and his letters were rather bitter, so that I put them in the fire

Robert Bridges to Richard Dixon, 10 August 1889

In the final letter he was to send to his friend Robert Bridges, dated 29 April 1889, Hopkins wrote, “I enclose a new sonnet. […] This one is addressed to you.”1 It is the sonnet “To R.B.”, and is the last poem he was to write. At the time Hopkins was in Dublin suffering from what was thought initially to be rheumatic fever, but was in fact typhoid fever. The letter he wrote to Bridges was cheery and long (“my spirits are good”), and another received by his mother four days later treats his illness as an annoying inconvenience, getting in the way of his setting papers for students’ examinations.2 However, in a letter to his father he writes rather more ominously:

I am laid up in bed with some fever, rheumatic fever I suppose, but I am getting round. This is the first day I took to bed altogether: it would have been better to do so before. […] I am sleepy by day and sleepless by night and do not rightly sleep at all.3

By the 8th May, the fever was being described “as a sort of typhoid”,4 and Hopkins was...

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