Purity of Diction in English Verse

By Donald Davie | Go to book overview

IV
HOPKINS AS A DECADENT CRITIC

THERE are many ways of looking at the letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins. To the theologian and musician they can otter as much as to the critic and the prosodist. And anyone interested in the varieties of human friendship will find much to wonder at and admire. It is as a critic, however, that Hopkins is most surprising and most obviously impressive, for it is in his criticism that he is most plainly ahead of his time. His opinions of the verse of his contemporaries chime almost exactly with the views reached, fifty years after his death, by the best modern poets and critics. And this clairvoyance, added to the prestige of his poetry, has made him in certain circles almost above reproach. It will be the object of this essay to point out that while his criticism, especially of poetry, is so influential, it can be dangerous. But because, in other circles, Hopkins as a poet can still be rejected out of hand, it is in place to say at the start that the present writer holds him to be perhaps the greatest Victorian poet, and the best critic of his age after Matthew Arnold. While making these claims, it is only fair to remind the reader that the Victorian age produced little great poetry in any case; and also to assure him that if Hopkins is the first critic after Arnold, he may come a long way after.

There is nothing to show that Hopkins' criticism developed very much from first to last. There is no great difference, in substance or in quality, between his

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