Hopkins Archive 1987 - 95

first published in Studies. An Irish Quarterly Review, 2 (1995)

Hopkins's European Mentors: Exploratory Observations

Michael E. Allsopp, Miami, USA

Introduction - A 'European' Hopkins: The General Arguments

Can you tell me who that critic in the Athenaeum is that writes very long reviews on English and French poets, essayists, and so forth in a style like De Quincey's, very acute in his remarks, provoking, jaunty, and (I am sorry to say) would-be humorous? He always quotes Persian stories (unless he makes them up) and talks about Rabelaisian humour. Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges (May 21, 1878)

As I was recently completing a quick survey of Hopkins criticism, it occurred to me as I looked at the books and essays, their titles and contents, that in spite of much impressive scholarship, Hopkins critics and biographers have failed to explore one area important for understanding Hopkins's life and work: the European.

This impression was reinforced after reading René Wellek's Immanuel Kant in England 1798-1838 (1931), and Wellek's treatment of Romanticism in his A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950 (1955), and coincidentally by news about a vast Cézanne retrospective at London's Tate Gallery. The remarks about Cézanne's 'The Pont de Maincy' exciting viewers because of its wild and primitive features, its discipline and structure, its spirituality and anxiety, its tendency to chaos (to quote the English art critic, Charles Pickstone), could not pass unnoticed. There was my sense, as well, of the significance of Hopkins's visits to Europe, and of the place of Continental writers in the shaping of his thought as well as Victorian scholarship in general.

This paper provides a summary argument in support of my belief that Hopkins should be related (at least to some degree) to the European writers who left their mark on him. This association will achieve two important goals: first, it will fill a gap in our understanding of Hopkins's artistic, intellectual and spiritual development; and second, it will explain (in part) why Hopkins was both a revolutionary and a traditionalist, as John Pick stated in 1953, why 'instead of mirroring the Victorian mélange or inventing a new myth, he [Hopkins] recaptured and then continued with new vitality the main tradition of Western Christendom (A Hopkins Reader, xii).

After 80 years of Hopkins criticism, it is a commonplace to refer to him as a 'Victorian.' For some, Linda Ray Pratt, for instance, Hopkins is more correctly a 'Modern'; while, in Franco Marucci's eyes, Hopkins (while both 'Victorian' and 'Modern' ), is best called a 'Medieval' thinker and poet . None of these terms expresses Hopkins's 'Europeanness' however; and calling Hopkins a 'Victorian' (the most common designation) creates a number of distortions and false impressions.

There are convincing general as well as specific reasons for making the claim that besides speaking about a 'Victorian,' a 'Modern,' or a 'Medieval' Hopkins, we should also speak about a 'European' one. First, a fact all too frequently overlooked in essays about Hopkins, but central to G.M. Young's Victorian England: the Portrait of an Age' (1936), and Young's Victorian Essays (1962): much of what we call the 'Victorian Age' was only the local 'English' phase of a cultural period common to all of Western Europe and North America. 'When we lift our eyes from our own country, our own ancestors, and look across the Channel, or across the Atlantic, constantly we find that ways and habits, fashions and prejudices, doctrines, ideas, and even phrases which we think of as typically Victorian, are really part of a general European pattern,' Young writes in his 1948 essay on 'The Liberal Mind in Victorian England' (111).

Although the subject has been the focus of debate throughout this century, there is mounting evidence that the characteristics, attitudes and social customs associated with mid-nineteenth-century England, which F.M.L. Thompson describes in The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian Britain (1830-1900), are features of a 'European pattern' - a period in culture as distinctive as Gothic architecture was in Europe at the time of the Renaissance .

Victorian beliefs and values were local expressions of wider cultural phenomena because England in the nineteenth century was not an isolationist society, a country consciously closed to or cut off from the Continent of Europe, a nation like Japan during the years from the expulsion of European traders to the arrival of Commodore Perry's gunboats.

In step with Prince Albert's example, many nineteenth-century English poets, artists, philosophers, and scientists had their roots in a common culture, and they knew their American, German, and French colleagues personally, as their contemporary descendants do today; they shared ideas, they studied each other's work, visited each other's homes and laboratories, or if that was too difficult, they engaged in lively correspondence. Gottingen and Jena, Paris and Vienna, Leipzig, Amsterdam and St. Petersburg were centres of scholarship that had major impacts upon the philosophy and history taught at Oxford, the physics and chemistry studied at Cambridge.

Victorian England was open to Europe. 'In many ways the old atmosphere was being dissipated. England's mind expanded. She began to think more of the poor (who now enter literature less clownishly), more of that knowledge which had been called forbidden, more of her Empire. On the first day of the year 1877, Disraeli had Victoria proclaimed Empress of India. Abroad, Italy and Germany were shaped into nations, almost within the 'sixties. English interest in the rest of Europe grew. About this time, one may notice in the novels more mention of travel on the Continent' (146).

This openness resulted in the spread of German and French philosophical and critical ideas to England. In an essay on 'The Victorian Trinity: Religion, Science, Morality,' in her collection Marriage and Morals Among the Victorians (1989), Gertrude Himmelfarb states that Coleridge was much influenced by Kant; Carlyle by Ficte and Goethe; George Eliot and G.H. Lewes by Strauss, Feuerbach, and Comte; Mill and Harrison by Saint-Simon and Comte; Bejamin Jowett, T.H. Green, Bernard Bosanquet and F.H. Bradley by Hegel; Shaw and Walter Pater by Nietzsche (71). It is well-known that Schelling's aesthetics played an important role in the rise of classical studies in England during the nineteenth century; that Herder had a significant influence upon Matthew Arnold; and that German historical and biblical scholarship was a dominant force in shaping the Oxford Movement's literary agenda.

It follows, therefore, that when we call G.M. Hopkins a 'Victorian', and associate him simply with a narrow circle of his English contemporaries: Newman, Pater, Ruskin, and Darwin, we give the false impression that Hopkins was a culturally-isolated individual, a writer ignorant of and/or cut off from Continental literary, scientific, and artistic influences, a scholar without European/Continental mentors. This contradicts what we know about Victorian England. Further, it is inconsistent with the events of Hopkins's own life, his reading and study habits at Highgate, Oxford, and as a Jesuit; as well, it is out-of-step with what we know about his parents' literary interests, judged on the basis of the books in Italian, German and French in their libraries.

Hopkins had strong Continental connections. At the age of 12, he and his father went to Europe. After he finished 'Greats' in 1867, and immediately before he entered the Society of Jesus in 1868, Hopkins again visited Europe. (It was while he was in the Swiss Alps on this last trip, that Hopkins wrote down one of his earliest descriptions of 'inscape'). When he went up to Oxford in 1863, the Balliol exhibitioner's ambition was to do something great in literature or art, and Rossetti was a strong force, as Frank Fennell has argued.

At Oxford, Hopkins's life was changed by the Oxford Movement, 'part of that European swing toward tradition in religion which was the devout accompaniment of political conservatism and was found in Protestant countries equally with Catholic,' according to Owen Chadwick (Newman, 71). Later, as a scholastic at St. Beuno's, Hopkins discovered Scotus; and some of his friends and teachers were Europeans who had come to England to escape the turmoil on the Continent . Finally, throughout his years as a teacher, Hopkins read essays in the Athenaeum, visited art galleries, and developed his skill in musical composition - and, as we will see, some of the writers and artists whom he admired most were Europeans.

Now, to use a form of argument we find in Newman's writings: - if Hopkins was deeply influenced in his admiration for Savonarola after reading his father's copy of Pasquale Villari's History of Girolamo Savonarola and his Times (1863); - if Max Muller played a part in the development of Hopkins's incomplete but highly-original theory of language; - if Duns Scotus was the most important philosopher in shaping Hopkins's regard for individuality and his ability to see God's presence in a bluebell; - if Rossetti and the Pre-Raphelite aesthetic were dominant forces in the development of Hopkins's theory of art and beauty; - if Darwin, Marx, and Wagner dominate the epoch, and we take seriously what Hopkins says in his famous 'red letter' about being a socialist; - if Hopkins's trips to Europe, and his European Jesuit friends ('Br. Tournade the young Frenchman bound for China') left marks upon him; - if Benjamin Jowett and Walter Pater were significant figures in the life of Hopkins's mind - all of which nobody can deny - you must agree with what I am proposing.

Furthermore, there are several specific reasons for speaking about a 'European' Hopkins, and Hopkins's European mentors.

A 'European' Hopkins: Some Specific Arguments

In Hopkins Against History (1995), Eugene Hollahan argues that Hopkins was a conflicted person, a secretive, haunted Jesuit who swam against the tide of Victorian England, its cultural and political values; that he was a restless, disoriented and marginalized scholar who proposed scattered, unfinished, self-contradictory projects, a critic who did not accept the glib assumptions of his day, all the talk about the 'glories' of imperialism, industrialization, urbanization, liberalism, and democracy; that he was a priest who did not condone religious indifference or support secularization, because he was not disposed to the breaking down of established conventions, 'one of the greatest services, and the most lasting of the liberal mind,' according to G.M. Young.

Now Gerard Hopkins was not the only person in England like this, of course. However his attitudes toward his own culture, toward the philosophy he was taught at Oxford, and the value of science books in English, hardly fit what we understand when we hear the word 'Victorian.' Therefore, Hollahan's research leads me to make two conclusions: first, rather than associating Hopkins with the historian Thomas Buckle or the politician Benjamin Disraeli, two classic Victorians, he should be placed closer to H.G. Wells who called 'Victorianism,' a 'hasty trial experiment, a gigantic experiment of the most slovenly and wasteful kind.' Second, that Hopkins swam against the times, and developed an 'antihistoricist aesthetic' (to use Hollahan's phrase), because he held views on some key issues that were derived from or in dispute with European writers and colleagues who were not in step with established 'Victorian' literary, political, moral and religious thinking.

On the basis of explicit statements in his letters and note-books, four Europeans were important in the development of Hopkins's literary, artistic and religious opinions: August Wilhelm von Schlegel (1767-1845), Carl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829), Carl Maria (Friedrich Ernst) von Weber (1786-1826), and Marie Lataste (1822-1847).

The place of the Schlegels in Hopkins's pantheon of literary critics cannot be denied. In a letter to Alexander Baillie dated September 6, 1863, for instance, Hopkins writes: 'Criticism I own is a rare gift, poetical criticism at all events, but it does exist. You speak with horror of Shakesperian [sic] criticism, but it appears to me that among Shakespere's [sic] critics have been instances of genius, of deep insight, of great delicacy, of power, of poetry, of ingenuity, of everything a critic should have. I will instance Schlegel, Coleridge, Charles Lamb, Mrs. Jameson.'

While, as Wellek says, Carlyle had some basis for disbelieving Madame de Stael's contention that three young men (the Schlegels and Ludwig Tieck) brought about such a sweeping change in thought, the Schlegels were the leaders of the group that initiated the shift away from Classicism's focus on elevated style and noble subject-matter toward Romanticism's emphasis on common, popular speech and workaday realism.

August Wilhelm, the elder of the Schlegel brothers (the founder of Comparative Literature, according to some writers), is best remembered for two lasting literary achievements: First, between 1797 and 1801, he provided the definitive translation into German of sixteen of Shakespeare's plays including Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It; second, a series of lectures given in Vienna in 1808 (and translated into English in 1815 as A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature) in which he summarized the theories developed by the German Romantics a decade earlier. Although Schlegel's themes had become widely spread throughout Germany, France and England well before Hopkins's birth, the tenets of his Romantic creed are central to Hopkins's poetics and aesthetics.

In writing about translating Shakespeare, for instance, Schlegel argued that Shakespeare's use of contrast and variety was 'a conscious artistic principle, not the eccentric formlessness of a wild genius,' that a translation of Shakespeare should allow the 'audacity and licence in handling the language which marks Shakespeare's own style,' and that it demands 'the boldest use of our language in its whole range,' regardless of the objections of grammarians.

Schlegel's Vienna lectures on literature gave system to the tenets of early German Romanticism ('Fruhromanter'): the affirmation of movement and change; the devotion to dynamic confusion rather than static order; the attraction to what Schlegel calls 'the chaos which ceaselessly struggles to produce new and miraculous births'; the belief in an artistic form which evolves organically by 'true growth', not by mechanical intervention and imposition of rules; finally, the sanctification of art as the means by which ineffable mysteries are conveyed in symbolic form .

In advancing these beliefs, as well as in his emphasis on individualism and introspection, the supremacy of imaginative vision, the legitimacy of emotion, the importance of Romantic art that began in the Middle Ages and reached its peak with Shakespeare, Schlegel's views are similar to Hopkins's - which should not surprise us since the whole of the nineteenth century was essentially Romantic. Newman and Pater embodied its spirit, and literary historians agree that Schlegel played an unequalled role in furthering the movement, that his ideas had a major impact upon Victor Hugo, that Coleridge read his lectures in the original in 1811 and was deeply impressed; and that following the publication of the English translation of his lectures, they were read by Walter Scott, Southey, and De Quincey. Finally, Richard Littlejohns states that Schlegel's ideas had become so well-known in England by the 1830s that the historian James Mackintosh wrote to Schlegel: 'I know of no book so generally read and followed or opposed as your Lectures on Dramatic Poetry. You are become our National Critic' (Makers of Nineteenth Century Culture, 547).

Hopkins was a Romantic . His notions of 'instress' and 'inscape' incorporate the dynamics of Romantic hermeneutics, David Downes argues in his Hopkins' Achieved Self (1996). 'The Wreck of the Deutschland,' 'Hurrahing in Harvest,' and 'The Windover,' embody Romantic beliefs and ideals. Without demonstrating Schlegel's direct influence on these poems or 'Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves,' one can make a powerful a priori argument in support of giving the German scholar a significant place in Hopkins's thought.

Further, it is hard not to see that the younger Schlegel (who became a Catholic in 1808), also left his mark on Hopkins too. First, Hopkins was too well-educated not to know Freidrich Schlegel's 'Fragments' that first appeared in the Athenaeum in 1798; and he was too well-informed not to have pondered Schlegel's celebrated definition of 'romantic poetry' as 'progressive universal poetry' i.e. literature in a form that is open-ended, still-becoming, perpetually evolving in its efforts to encompass totality. Second, Hopkins could not have been unaware of Schlegel's essay 'On the Study of Greek Poetry' (1795), his theory of irony with its emphasis on 'self-creation' and 'self-destruction,' and his emphasis on 'the beautiful confusion of the imagination.'

Finally, at Oxford, we know that Hopkins made a note of Freidrich Schlegel's place among the German medievalists which was known to him (possibly) through Schlegel's Lectures on the History of Literature: Ancient and Modern, that was translated into English in 1818, and extolled the Catholic art of the Middle Ages as the highest expression of romantic poetry, and therefore of all poetry .

Franco Marucci's recent book, The Fine Delight that Fathers Thought: Rhetoric and Medievalism in Gerard Manley Hopkins (1994), supports my thesis. While the work contains a masterful analysis of Hopkins's medievalism, and shows in minute detail how he drew upon the Middle Ages for inspiration and models, it also reveals that his knowledge of medievalism was based upon his study of European, in particular German medievalists.

For example, in Hopkins's Oxford note-book for June-July 1864, we find the comments he wrote for an essay on Some Aspects of Modern Medievalism; and in these he refers to 'the German movement,' and lists the Schlegels, Goethe, Cornelius and Overbeck, all of whom Hopkins calls 'the founders of German medievalism.' Marucci illustrates the place of medieval 'codes' in Hopkins's work; in the process, he proves that Hopkins's medievalism was indebted to the German movement.

All who know Hopkins are aware of his admiration of Henry Purcell. However, he had almost as much admiration for Weber, the Father of German Romantic music, and the composer of the opera Oberon that had its first performance at Covent Garden in 1826 only a few weeks before Weber's death in London. In a letter to Robert Bridges, dated November 18, 1879, Hopkins wrote. 'Do you like Weber? For personal preference and fellow feeling I like him of all musicians best after Purcell. I feel as if I cd. have composed his music in another sphere. I do not feel that of Handel or Mozart or Beethoven.

Moreover I do not think his great genius is appreciated. I shd. like to read his life. He was a good man, I believe, with no hateful affectation of playing the fool and behaving like a blackguard.' We do not know what drew Hopkins toward Weber's music, as he gave more time to music lessons in Dublin, and to his own musical compositions. Perhaps, he found a kindred creative spirit since Weber's compositions are freer in form than most, and allow dotted and crossed rhythms, as well as harmonic swerves; perhaps it was because Weber emphasized originality, feeling and drama in music, was less bound by the logic of classical music, and took the position that a critic should support the progressive in art. Whatever the reasons, Hopkins's testimony endures .

There is a final reason to maintain that Hopkins's vision and ethic was influenced by Europeans. Hopkins had an Ignatian worldview. As well, from his remarks about finding the 'root of all holiness' in Paul's words about Christ's 'holding himself back' (Letters I, 175), seeing the world in a drop of Christ's blood, and all grace leading to self-sacrifice (Sermons, 154), Hopkins's spirituality lay squarely in the so-called French School, that distinctive stream of Catholic piety that had its origins in 18th-century France, and the writings of Cardinal de Bérulle, Jean-Jacques Olier, John Eudes - and Marie Lataste who was held in esteem by Coventry Patmore and read by Hopkins for the first time during a retreat at Beaumont in November 1878 (Sermons, 325-327).

The young French visionary had a definite impact upon Hopkins. He translated sections of Lataste's writings, in particular her words about grace; Hopkins altered his own early comments on Loyola's Spiritual Exercises to fit the French mystic's vision of life - and like the 20-year religious whose body was brought from France and buried at Roehampton after her death in 1847, Hopkins came to describe life's purpose as 'to praise, reverence, and serve God, to give God glory - by sacrifice' (Sermons, 129) .

Conclusion: A Modest Proposal

I do not doubt that Hopkins's decisions to become a Catholic and to join the Society of Jesus were due in great measure to John Henry Newman. Nor do I wish to dispute the fact that Hopkins's time in Wales was responsible for a number of the major poetic devices that make his poetry distinctive; or that his attitudes toward British justice, and Irish nationalism reflect his middle-class English background. I applaud the studies that demonstrate Hopkins's debts to Ruskin, Darwin, Jowett, and Pater.

Nevetheless, I believe: (i) that Hopkins's travels on the Continent, Rossetti's influence, his contacts with European Jesuit students and teachers while at St. Beuno's, as well as his leisure reading and formal studies, influenced his mentality and values, his stance toward the world, his spirituality and personal morality; and (ii) that these 'European' aspects add to our portrait of Hopkins, and assist us to understand better some of the distinctive emphases we find in his life and work .

In this paper I have not explored Hopkins's debt to any specific European writer, as G.N. Orsini has in his essay 'Coleridge and Schlegel Reconsidered' (Comparative Literature, 16 [1964], 97-118). A study of Hopkins's 'Victorian' sonnets and odes, his critical comments on Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Milton, Keats or Robert Bridges's verse, will reveal a number of devices and beliefs derived from 'European' critical and poetic writing of his or an earlier day.


See Linda Ray Pratt, "Hopkins, Poetic Style, and the Linguistic Controversy of 1875," in Saving Beauty: Further Studies in Hopkins, edited by Michael E. Allsopp and David

Anthony Downes (New York: Garland, 1994), pp. 215-238;

Franco Marucci, The Fine Delight that Fathers Thought: Rhetoric and Medievalism in Gerard Manley Hopkins (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1994), esp. 90, 105, 108ff.

See René Wellek, Confrontations: Studies in the intellectual and literary relations between Germany, England, and the United States during the nineteenth century (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1965).

Also, Jacques Barzun, Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage, Revised Second Edition (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1958).

Fennell, Francis L., "Hopkins and Rossetti: Reforming a Poetics," in Saving Beauty,

See Paul Edwards, "The Men Whom Hopkins Joined" New Welsh Review 11, 3 (Winter 1989/90), pp. 30 - 34.

For some sense of Schlegel's influence, René Wellek, "Carlyle and German Romanticism," in Confrontations, Ibid., pp. 49 - 54.

Also, Makers of Nineteenth Century Culture 1800-1914, edited by Justin Wintle (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1892), p. 398ff.

Hopkins has been rarely called a Romantic. However, the more his poetry is examined, the more it fits this designation. I plan to study this subject in a future essay. Wellek states that the German Romantics gave the folk song and lyric special status, and the English did not. However, Hopkins's sonnets possess many of the features of the German lyrics: their subjective mood, and abruptly joined images; their sound patterns and rhythms that attempt to achieve musical effects. Even some of the German poems' titles mirror Hopkins's e.g. Eichendorff's "Ich wandre durch die stille Nacht" (1826). The fact that Hopkins did not read German does not weaken this agrument. On Friedrich Schlegel, The Makers of Nineteenth Century Culture, pp. 548-549.

On Weber's influence on other musicians, Jacques Barzun, Berlioz and His Century: An Introduction to the Age of Romanticism, first published in 1949 (Cleveland: Meridian, 1956). For a study that links Hopkins with later musicians, Joseph Feeney, "Hopkins, Mahler, Bruckner: The Poet as a 'Post- Romantic'," Thought 65 (1990), pp. 535-543.

For further on this subject, Michael E. Allsopp, "Hopkins, Narrative, and the Heart of Morality," Irish Theological Quarterly, 60, 4 (1994), pp. 287 - 307.

It is obvious that many of Hopkins's struggles and debates reflect a Romantic's efforts to combat the rise of mechanical materialism, the opinions that the human will is powerless against the laws of nature and society, and that feeling, beauty and moral values are mere illusions in a world of fact, to borrow from Jacques Barzun's Darwin, Marx, Wagner.

Overview of The Hopkins Archive
A Feminist Reading of Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins and Charles Darwin
Towards a Theory of Catholoci Aesthetics
Hopkins Breviary Poems
Hopkins and Creativity