The Hopkins Society Fifth Annual Hopkins Lecture: Hopkins and Literary Criticism

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PROFESSOR William Wallace Robson was the Masson Professor of English at Edinburgh University. While a generalist scholar, he was a specialist on the literature of the Victorian Age, particularly the Victorian novels of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. His work is referenced by George H. Ford in his Victorian Fiction: Second Guide to Research (1978). Robson also was interested in the writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins. He wrote significant reviews in The Spectator of the publication of Hopkins's journals and spiritual writings, when they were first published. He also wrote a letter to The Times Literary Supplement on the subject of "Hopkins and Congreve" in 1950. He edited a volume entitled, Essays and Poems Presented to Lord David Cecil (1970). At the time of his lecture, he was preparing a volume in The Oxford Literary History of English Literature for the period 1880-1930.

In his lecture, Robson noted at the outset that there were two camps of literary criticism at that time: one approached literature without any set critical principles or system, relying mainly on the critic's "taste, judgment, and experience." The other was a criticism driven by a system of critical principals. Robson suggested another useful category of criticism, the unique critical stance of the poet as critic. This critical context allowed him to move into Hopkins's literary criticism, most of which occurred in his letters to Robert Bridges, R.W. Dixon, and Coventry Patmore. Robson offered generous quotes from Hopkins's letters to investigate his critical tastes, to illustrate his sharp literary insights as well as to show the detail and literary reach of Hopkins's critiques in his own words. In using this approach, the lecturer offered a sampler of Hopkins as critic and prose writer. …