Robert Bridges and Gerard Hopkins, 1863-1889: A Literary Friendship

Robert Bridges and Gerard Hopkins, 1863-1889: A Literary Friendship

Robert Bridges and Gerard Hopkins, 1863-1889: A Literary Friendship

Robert Bridges and Gerard Hopkins, 1863-1889: A Literary Friendship

Excerpt

Robert Bridges and Gerard Manley Hopkins became friends when they were at the University of Oxford. They met in the last term of 1863. Hopkins had gone from Highgate School to Balliol in April and Bridges to Corpus Christi from Eton in October. Their friendship lasted twentysix years, till Hopkins's death in Dublin on June 8, 1889. Since they were living far from each other most of the time, they had to rely on letters for the expression of thoughts and feelings, and these they exchanged at shorter or longer intervals.

Hopkins's letters were carefully kept by Bridges and ultimately published in 1935. But those that Bridges had written were sent back to him after his friend's death, and he destroyed them. The consequence is that we have a one-sided view of the friendship, and it is most difficult to assess Bridges's personal reactions to the views expressed so frankly and so abundantly on the greatest variety of topics by his correspondent.

Such is the problem that faces the critic who wants to know more about Bridges and his friendship with the Jesuit poet. Many facts remain obscure and many questions unanswerable, which the letters of Bridges, had they not been destroyed, would have explained and answered. Without his side of the correspondence, the gap is hard to bridge. Unless one gives the most careful attention to the letters written by Hopkins, guess-work is the only method left to the critic; but Bridges's decision looks so strange, or so rash, that it is easy to feel biased against him. Somewhat crudely, but clearly and tersely, Herbert Read has expressed a view which it is difficult not to accept, at least when taking the facts at their face value. He writes:

What Bridges thought we do not know, but he had no sympathy for the religious life of his friend, even a definite antipathy. One wonders on what the friendship subsisted, so little were Hopkins's . . .

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