The first substantial printings of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems, with prefatory material by his friend, Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.

  1. Miles, Alfred H., ed. The Poets and Poetry of the Century. Vol. 8. London: Hutchinson & Co. [1891]. ABLibrary Rare X 821.8 M643p v.8.
  2. Hopkins, Gerard Manley. The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, now first published. Edited with notes by Robert Bridges. Ed. Robert Bridges. London: Humphrey Milford [1918]. One of 750 copies. ABLibrary Rare X 821.8 H794p 1918.

Rare Item Analysis: Creating Imagined Community & Critiquing Imagined Incompetence

by Sørina Higgins 

Provenance and Significance of Items Analyzed

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) saw very little of his writing into print. During his lifetime, a few of his poems won school prizes or were published in periodicals or pamphlets (“only seven bits,” according to Bender 5 n. 1), but he did not live to see any major publications of his work. Two years after his death, eight of his poems appeared in Volume VIII of The Poets and Poetry of the Century, edited by Alfred H. Miles (1848–1929). A first edition of this book is held in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Rare Item Collection at Baylor University. A scan of another copy is available on the Internet Archive. Twenty-five years later, Robert Bridges (1844–1930) included six poems in his own anthology entitled The Spirit of Man, but only three of these (one of which is merely the first stanza of “The Wreck of the Deutschland”) were new. This book is not held at the Armstrong Browning Library, but can be accessed through the HathiTrust digital archive, or publicly through the Internet Archive. Finally, in 1918—after delaying for nearly three decades—Robert Bridges produced an edition of Hopkins’s poetry. A rare copy of this limited first edition is also held at the Armstrong Browning Library and can be examined in the Belew Scholars’ Room upon request. Again, a scan of a different copy can be viewed on the Internet Archive. (For a comparison of which poems are included in each of these editions, please refer to the handout included at the end of this post.)

The Miles anthology and the Bridges edition are of especial interest to scholars of Hopkins in particular or nineteenth-century print culture in general because of the ways in which they create an imagined community among authors, editors, anthologists, publishers, book designers, artists, photographers, and the reading public. This virtual community is created by means of shared publication spaces and other elements of mutual material culture, creating connections among those who have met and those who have not met, and even between the living and the deceased, as the book circulates among those who produce and read it. These items are also significant because the prefacing materials by Robert Bridges presumed, pre-empted, and produced a certain readerly response; his remarks are highly critical, even derogatory. Indeed, his prejudicial interpretation may have contributed to a delay in critical reception. Todd Bender recounts the “bewilderment” of early reviewers; the first edition of Hopkins’s poetry “sold slowly” (Bender 9). Indeed, it was not until an important review by I. A. Richards in 1926 and then the publication of the second edition in 1930 that “a remarkable change in critical opinion” occurred, largely thanks to the positive, intelligent preface written by Charles Williams (1886–1945; see this bio from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography reprinted by the Charles Williams Society and this one on The Oddest Inkling) that positioned Hopkins as an important and influential member of the English canon (Bender 12, 10).

Item 1, The Poets and Poetry of the Century, ed. Alfred H. Miles [1891]: Creating Imagined Community.

Alfred H. Miles, editor of the massive, ten-volume anthology of nineteenth-century poetry, was a prolific author and anthologist who helped to shape the tastes of his times. The rare item under discussion is Volume VIII of The Poets and the Poetry of the Century, a ten-volume “Popular Encyclopedia of Modern Poetry, covering the area of Greater Britain and the limits of the Nineteenth Century” (Miles 715), subtitled Robert Bridges and Contemporary Poets. This folio of some 750 pages advertises itself as a “representative selection from the poetry of the century” (715). It includes forty-four poets—thirty-six male, eight female—with an ac etiam of thirty-five more, including the young Yeats, “from whom we may hope much” (686). Poets with whom twenty-first-century readers may be familiar include Andrew Lang, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alice Meynell, Oscar Wilde, E. Nesbit (as Edith Bland), and Rudyard Kipling. Each is introduced by one of fourteen critics, including Miles and Bridges.

As the subtitle suggests, Robert Bridges receives the largest representation at twenty-one selections. Miles notes in his “Prefatory” remarks that his “thanks are especially due to Mr. Robert Bridges for a free hand in selecting from his poems and plays, as well as for his interesting notice of the life and work of the late Gerard Hopkins and the selection of verse which, accompanying it, finds publicity for the first time in this volume” (v). There are eight of Hopkins’s poems, and the introduction to them by Bridges is certainly “interesting.” In fact, it is highly critical, even scathing. Bridges writes that “almost all” of Hopkins’s poems “are injured by a natural eccentricity” (Miles 162). Towards the end of this four-page preface, Bridges claims that this kind of tasteless, convoluted poetry will not reach a large audience, though some scholars might possibly be interested in it (164). These faults, Bridges asserts, are the result of Hopkins’s “aiming at an unattainable perfection of language,” and, in a parenthesis, Bridges offers this dismissive, proto-deconstructionist literary theory: “as if words—each with its twofold value in sense and in sound—could be arranged like so many separate gems to compose a whole expression of thought, in which the force of grammar and the beauty of rhythm absolutely correspond” (164).

It is curious to note that this critique foreshadows later acclaim for the jewel-like quality of his diction and his inextricable unity of sound and sense. Williams, for instance, wrote in the 1930 preface that Hopkins’s use of alliteration works “as if the imagination, seeking for expression, had found both verb and substantive at one rush, had begun almost to say them at once, and separated them only because the intellect had reduced the original unity into divided but related sounds” (Williams xi). What was previously seen as weakness is later praised as originality, innovation, and greatness (cf. Bender 11–13).

Item 2, The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. with notes by Robert Bridges [1918]: Critiquing Imagined Incompetence.

The edition of Hopkins’s poetry that Bridges finally released twenty-seven years later continues to create a collegial, friendly sense of literary fellowship between Hopkins and his notable contemporaries, but this is in tension with an ongoing critique. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography calls this 1918 volume a “sensitive, handsome, and almost complete small edition, edited and largely designed by Bridges” (White). Hopkins and Bridges had been classmates at Oxford in the 1860s and continued to correspond until Hopkins’s death (see, e.g., Ritz). Upon Hopkins’s death Bridges took control of his literary remains. Bridges was England’s Poet Laureate from 1913–1930, so this volume appeared during his tenure in that important position.

The contents of this book establish Hopkins as an important poet. Hopkins’s own preface appears (in which he introduces and explains sprung rhythm), then three early poems, forty-eight poems from 1876–1889 (including “The Wreck of the Deutschland” and “The Loss of the Eurydice”) with a running header giving the date of composition of each poem, and twenty-three unfinished poems and fragments. There are two pages of facsimiles of Hopkins’s handwriting (one of these is “Morning, Midday, and Evenings Sacrifice,” inserted after p. 70; the other is “How all is one way wrought!” which appears after p. 92) and two portraits (one of the young Hopkins, facing p. 7, and one in priestly garb, facing p. 41). Finally, there are four types of materials written by Bridges: a Latin dedication to Hopkins’s mother, a poem of his own, a preface to the notes, and “most unusually for a contemporary poet at the time, explanatory notes to the poems” (Phillips). The care paid to the poems contradicts Bridges’s dismissal of them, and perhaps indicates that Bridges wanted to prepare the public for the oddities they would encounter in these poems, thus preempting a swift critical dismissal.

The design of this book is beautiful, and its aesthetics and the care of its construction do much to position Hopkins as an important Victorian poet. The paper is heavy, with deckle edges and a few pages still wholly or partially uncut. The font is attractive, with decorations on the title page and the beginnings and ends of sections. The portraits are of particular note, as they were made by Emory Walker, the “prominent engraver, printer and photographer” who photographed the [in]famous Rice Portrait of Jane Austen (Cole) and also served in an editorial capacity by choosing which photos would appear in Historical Portraits, a kind of Who’s Who of the day (Walker and Fletcher). This puts Hopkins into a virtual community with Emory Walker and all the famous people he photographed, and even allows readers to imagine Hopkins in a kind of timeless authorial community with such people as Jane Austen, though they were not contemporaries.

The publisher, too, contributes to Hopkins’s reputation among the finest poets of the day. The book was printed by Humphrey Milford (later Sir Humphrey), who ran the London branch of the Oxford University Press, which printed non-academic books for a wider audience, and where Gerry Hopkins, the poet’s nephew, worked. In fact, “Hopkins did not use his middle name, but Bridges introduced ‘Manley’ on the first edition title-page to distinguish him from his nephew” (White). The connections with Oxford University Press, the publisher of many influential anthologies and editions, makes a strong statement about Hopkins’s literary historical importance.

However, here, too, Bridges’s prefatory material is highly critical, even derogatory, of his friend’s writing. For six pages, after establishing the manuscript history, he rants against what he perceives as Hopkins’s poetic incompetence, his “affectation in metaphor” (96) “faults of taste,” “rude shocks of his purely artistic wantonness,” and “definite faults of style” which “repel my sympathy” (97). He claims that the “Oddity and Obscurity” are so serious that many people will not even be able to give them a cursory reading (97). He identifies four fatal flaws: the omission of the relative pronoun “that” (98); the use of “identical forms” such that the reader cannot tell what part of speech the word is playing (98-99); an insensitivity “to the irrelevant suggestions that our numerous homophones cause” (99); and “repellant” (99), “indefensible,” “hideous,” “disagreeable,” “vulgar,” “comic” (100) rhymes. In the notes on the poems, Bridges famously describes “The Wreck of the Deutschland” standing “in the front of his book, like a great dragon folded in the gate to forbid all entrance” (106 n. 4). In spite of all dragons, the construction of the book and the nature of the notes reveals that Bridge edited the poems with great care (n. 4 Bender 7–8), and positioned his critique after them in the edition, allowing readers to approach the poetry on their own.


These two rare items in the Armstrong Browning collection are significant because they testify to ways in which the community that produced them created a complex reception for Hopkins’s poetry. Without Bridges’s meticulous editing and publication of the poems, they would have been lost to the reading public; with his negative appraisal, however, positive critical reception was delayed. Yet an examination of their material components reveals that Hopkins’s poetry was highly valued by such people as Bridges (and perhaps Miles and others involved in the publishing process) as early as two years after his death, when it was anthologized among the most important “popular” poets of the time. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, it rose to canonical status, as it was reviewed by a significant scholar, published by an important press, and introduced by an influential editor. The Victorian era was full of virtual communities that influenced one another through correspondence, publication, and book reviewing, and that rich print culture exists in microcosm in these books.

More could be said about the difficulty Hopkins encountered with publishing his works in his lifetime, Bridges’s motivations for critique, and the content and technique of these poems that aimed at “an unattainable perfection of language.” An interesting exercise to perform with students or to undertake as part of one’s own scholarly process is to take Bridges at his word, looking through the poems for the omission of the relative pronoun, grammatical ambiguities, homophones, and elaborate rhymes. Examining these techniques as part of Hopkins’s theological poetics might lead to insights about the unity of form and content and perhaps about the imaginative power and coherence of his artistic choices. Such an exercise, in its literary historical context, may also lead to fruitful conversations about the ways in which the people who handle poetry after the author’s death can shape its reception.

Works Cited

Bender, Todd K. Gerard Manley Hopkins; the Classical Background and Critical Reception of His Work. Johns Hopkins Press, 1966.

Cole, Stephen. “Proof of Authenticity – Jane Austen Rice Portrait.” The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen, Accessed 13 Apr. 2017.

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Edited by Robert Bridges, Humphrey Milford, 1918. Internet Archive,

Miles, Alfred H. The Poets and the Poetry of the Century: Robert Bridges and Contemporary Poets. Vol. VIII, Hutchinson, 1891. Internet Archive,

Phillips, Catherine. “Bridges, Robert Seymour.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Accessed 28 Apr. 2017.

Ritz, Jean Georges. Robert Bridges and Gerard Hopkins, 1863-1889; a Literary Friendship. Oxford University Press, 1960. Hathi Trust, https//

Walker, Emery, and C. R. L. Fletcher, editors. Historical Portraits. Clarendon Press, 1909.

White, Norman. “Hopkins, Gerard Manley.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Accessed 28 Apr. 2017.

Williams, Charles. “Critical Introduction.” Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Robert Bridges, 2d ed, Oxford University Press, 1937.