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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 8 “The Limits of My World”: Two Approaches to Language


The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921

But it is true this Victorian English is a bad business,

Gerard Hopkins to Robert Bridges, 7 September 1888

There was a sense of poetic entitlement that came with class in the Victorian era that ludicrously overrated the verse written by a small world of privileged men with a similar background of education and wealth, a world that Hopkins had willingly excluded himself from through his conversion to Catholicism and his priestly ordination within the Society of Jesus. The majority of these poets would in time be debunked, but a number of bogus reputations were engendered which had a negative effect on the poetic traditions of English literature. A prime example of this, it is suggested, can be found in the writings of Robert Bridges and his elevation to the post of Poet Laureate.

We have seen that in their antithetical approach to both their life and their writing, Robert Bridges and Gerard Hopkins were temperamentally at opposite ends of the spectrum. Whilst the one conformed entirely with mores dictated by his education and class with this very assumed sense of both social and literary privilege, the other had no such expectations, either social or poetic, and, given that he was bounded by the dictates of the priesthood and the religious order he had joined, had nevertheless what might be termed a particularly non-conformist...

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