The Hopkins Society Second Annual Lecture: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Reflections after Fifty Years

Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

The Hopkins Society Second Annual Lecture: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Reflections after Fifty Years


INVITING F.R. Leavis to give the second annual Hopkins Society lecture, Fr. Thomas moved the prestige of the Hopkins Society to a higher academic level. Leavis, a world-class literary critic, was an early admirer of Hopkins's poetry.

An Emmanuel College, Cambridge University scholar, Leavis had a long association as a fellow of Downing College in the same University, during which time his lecturing and writing about literature gave him his distinction as a major critic. One of the founders of the literary magazine, Scrutiny, he edited, with others, nineteen volumes, one of the most notable literary journals of its time. Dr. Leavis also published many books, among the most significant, New Bearings in English Poetry (1932), Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry (1936), and The Common Pursuit (1952).

Fr. Thomas must have anticipated the importance of Leavis's lecture and he was not to be disappointed. In the opening of his lecture, given at the University of London, March 1, 1971, Leavis told his listeners about his first encounters with Hopkins's poetry, sometime shortly after the first edition was published in 1918. He noted that this personal and informal quality would be the tone of his paper. He then took up a theme he had fully discussed in his earlier books on English poetry, the change in English literature from Tennysonian formality to a revolutionary fresh use of current English in poetic utterance that became the poetic idiom of poetry of the twentieth century. This fresh evocation of modern English speech in twentieth-century poetry, in fact, was a recovery of the rich tradition of the kind of poetic language used by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Hopkins's poetry, he argued, was one of the early instances of this major change in the use of literary English. He caustically pointed out Robert Bridges did not grasp this change in literary culture, a principal reason why he could not read Hopkins's poetry with any deeply critical understanding. One of the most suggestive critical aspects of this rich lecture is that Leavis approached Hopkins's poetry as a powerful instance of these "new bearings" in modern poetry. He commented on both the early and later poems of Hopkins with much subtle analysis and high critical verve, stressing its modernity. …

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