decorated initial'T'he five years of correspondence between Coventry Patmore and Gerard Manley Hopkins, which date from 1883-1888 (see biographical section on Patmore's later years Life) reveal the great influence which Hopkins had over Patmore's later works and revisions. In response to Patmore's wish for him to edit his complete works, Hopkins set on writing an entire series of extensive comments on a number of Patmore's poetic volumes including The Angel in the House, Victories of Love, Amelia, and The Unknown Eros along with various inquiries and revisions concerning some of Patmore's prose and essays. It is clear that Hopkins' comments were anything but sparse and subtle. In fact, he made a large number of suggested minute technical, metrical, and diction alterations. However, Hopkins' revisions did not stop at the level of technique. Perhaps due to the religious common ground between the two poets, Hopkins felt no hesitation in highlighting what he saw as the thematic faults, or more like the moral blasphemies, behind Patmore's verse. For example, in one of his revisions of "The Angel" Hopkins wrote to Patmore:

The following is the matter where I have to make a serious objection. P.202 "Women should be vain . . ." [Book II, Canto xii, Husband and Wife, Prelude I] . . . In the midst of a poem undertaken under a kind of inspiration from God & to express what, being most excellent, most precious, most central and important and even obvious in human life, nevertheless, no was has ever yet, unless passingly thought of expressing you introduce a vice, the germ of widespread evils, and make the highest relish of pure love come from the base "smell of mortality." . . .In particular how can anyone admire or . . .tolerate vanity in women? Is it not the beginning of their saddest and most characteristic fall? What but vanity makes them first publish, then prostitute their charms? . . .If modesty in women means two things at once, purity and humility, must not the pair of opposites be not great way apart, vanity from impurity? Who can think of the Blessed Virgin and of vanity? [Sept. 24 1883, Abbot, p. 307-309].

In response to Hopkins' complaint over the term "vanity," Patmore wrote that he had simply used the word to convey Honoria's "pleasure in her lover's [taking] delight in her beauty" and thus sympathized with Hopkins over the confusion concerning the poem's diction. Nonetheless, Patmore never changed these lines in his 1885 edition, and it is unclear why he would have overlooked what Hopkins saw as being one of the greatest faults in the poem. We must, however, keep in mind that Hopkins' moral objections not only highlight the shift in some of Patmore's poetic-religious concerns from the time of the writing of "The Angel" to his later career after his conversion to Catholicism, but also they point to Patmore's overall tendency towards fluctuating paradigms of womanhood. This kind of poetic vacillation which I have attributed to Patmore's adaptation of the dramatic monologue is something which Hopkins picked up on in his correspondence with Patmore: "It seems to me that in writing ['The Angel'] you were really in two inconsistent moods, a lower and a higher, and that the record of both is in your pages" [Sept. 24 1883, Abbot, p. 310]. According to Hopkins, Patmore's love for contradictions never dissipated even in his later work, and in a much later letter at the end of the two poets' correspondence, Hopkins wrote in general of Patmore's thought and poetry: "I cannot follow you in your passion for paradox; more than a little of it tortures" [May 6 1888, Abbot p. 388].

Although Patmore's style of poetry and thought is indeed very different from that of Hopkins and although the former may have let a few of Hopkins' rigid moral concerns slide in his revision process, Patmore seemed quite eager to agree with Hopkins on almost all matters of poetry and intellect and to take his suggestions whenever possible. In their correspondence, Patmore admitted to never actually understanding Gerard Manley Hopkins' own verse, yet his letters reveal an earnest attempt at grasping and respecting the latter's abstract and complex poetics. It is clear nonetheless that Patmore, who himself was a proponent of the beauty behind simple verse and who spoke of such beliefs in his letters to Hopkins, was in many ways perhaps overly accepting of Hopkins' revisions. For example, after Hopkins negatively criticized Patmore's Sponsa Dei, Patmore promptly burned the work.

Some time after Hopkins' revisions of the Amelia volume which include commentary on "The Tamerton Church Tower," "The Yewberry," "Girl of all Periods," "Dream," "The Scorched Fly," "Eros," "The Sign of the Prophet Jesus," "The Kiss" "Semele" and "Amelia," Patmore altered his verses according to many of Hopkins' changes and excluded certain poems which Hopkins disliked in the new edition. Likewise, in response to Hopkins' commentary on the much more recently written Unknown Eros volume (including discussions of the poems "The Proem," "St. Valentine," "Winter," "Tristitia," "Azalea," "Departure," "Victory in Defeat," "The Canticles," and "Felicia," later changed to "Beuta" after Hopkins' objection to the former name), Patmore made similar kinds of revisions. After the letters concerning the Amelia collection, Patmore wrote to Hopkins thanking him: "Your careful and subtle fault finding is the greatest praise my poetry has ever received" [Oct. 31, 1883, Abbot p. 324]. This gracious response, so uncharacteristic of Patmore's often arrogant behavior may come as a shock to the reader of the Hopkins-Patmore correspondence. Nonetheless, when we keep in mind the professional air behind this short and intense correspondence, we come to realize Patmore's purpose behind such a relationship in a time of life when the great marriage poet had receded somewhat into the socio-literary background.

Although Patmore did leave a few of Hopkins' changes out of the revised new editions of his collected works, it seems that in entertaining Hopkins' often severe or at least lengthy comments, Patmore had his own poetic reputation in mind. An exchange between Hopkins and Patmore in January of 1884 concerns the nature of Patmore's waning reputation. After not seeing Patmore's name in a competition amongst the modern Victorian poets, Hopkins complained to Patmore:

There was some sort of a competitive examination held, I see, the other day with a prize for the best arrangement of living English writers in prose and verse: the winning selection and several others were printed in the Spectator. I think the prize winner put Browning at the head of his list. In most lists, Tennyson, Ruskin, Newman, Matthew Arnold, and Browning got high places. I saw your name nowhere. Indeed, I believe you were not in the running [January 3, 1884, p.349].

Patmore responded to Hopkins with gratitude for his support:

As to what you note of the paragraph in the "Spectator", I shall not consider myself "out of the running" so long as there are a dozen men in England to think or speak of the "Unknown Eros" as you do. I fancy I must have a cavern in my brain where the love of popularity ought to be — wh. I may say without fear of the retort of "sour grapes," inasmuch as the "Angel" obtained for me, at one time, a very sufficient taste of public applause [January 5 1884 p. 351].

Amidst all of his hotheadedness, Patmore must have been able to recognize the fact that Hopkins had the capacity to change the former's reputation for the better, and after adopting many of Hopkins' revisions to "The Angel," Patmore in fact saw a resurgence of his old poem's popularity (for more on Patmore's contemporary reputation see annotated bibliography of reviews — coming soon). In a letter to Hopkins dated April 7th 1885, Patmore confirmed Hopkins' place in the revision process of his new edition of The Angel in the House when he wrote: "The New Edition of the Angel comes out this or next week [the 6th edition printed in a single volume]. I think I have adopted about two thirds of your suggestions" [p.361]. Indeed, with the new revisions, Patmore did see a resurgence of "The Angel"s' popularity in the timespan of only a single month. On May 17th, Patmore wrote to Hopkins:

I think that the "Angel" is in a fair way to get the sort of recognition you desire for it. Six large editions (10,500) copies in Engladn and more than twice that number in America is quite as large a circulation as is safe. A great popularity always produces a reaction-- such as is setting in now against Tennyson (see below on mutual distaste for Tennyson) [p.363].

Of course, it may be that Patmore's openness to Hopkins' revisions had less to do with a concern for his waning reputation and more to do with a general respect for his contemporary's opinion. Nonetheless, Patmore's letters to Hopkins begin to get whiney and even somewhat parasitic towards the end of the correspondence. In a letter to Hopkins dated June 17 1886, Patmore stated:

Your letters are always very encouraging, and really I sometimes require a little encouragement, considering the way I get treated by the fashionable critics. Mr. F. Harrison in a book just published on Books & Reading, speaks of my poetry as "goody-goody muddle", and in last Saturday's Atheneum, in a notice evidently meant to be generally favourable, "Honoria" and "Amelia" are described as "girls smelling of bread and butter" [p. 369].

After complaining of his recent poor reviews, Patmore ultimately induced Hopkins to write a review of "The Angel":

I shall be sorry if you altogether abandon the idea which you tell me you had of writing that review. You know that what I have written has neither been lightly conceived or lightly executed. But even those who have intended to be most laudatory have given my work an entirely superficial consideration; and all the fashionable critics have utterly ignored it, mainly I believe because it has none of those airs of profundity which those poets who are not profound so easily assume [May 11, 1888, p. 391].

The apparent desperation of Patmore's appeal finally must have worked on Hopkins, for although Hopkins had stated that he had not the time for the review, he eventually wrote Patmore saying that he had written the article and was sending it off for publication. This gesture, although a kind one on the part of Hopkins, marks the end of the poets' correspondence.

Thus we see the state of Patmore's literary reputation as one possible impetus behind Patmore's correspondence with Hopkins and behind Patmore's desire for Hopkins to revise and review "The Angel" along with his other works. The letters between the two, however, contain many other somewhat interesting discussions revealing of both authors' personalities and literary opinions. In a discussion of Patmore's essay entitled "Study on English Metrical Law," Hopkins wrote the following passage concerning Patmore's take on poetic meter which will remind anyone familiar with Hopkins of the poet's own unique verse:

I should like you to reconsider the matter of alliteration in vowels. To my ear no alliteration is more marked or more beautiful, and I used to take it for granted as an obvious fact that every initial vowel lettered to every other before ever I knew that anything of the sort was practised in Anglo-Saxon verse. I cannot agree that this alliteration is destroyed by using the same vowel. No doubt the effect is more beautiful, more artistic, with a change of vowels; still with the same one it is heard. How this alliteration arises is, I know, very hard to say, but to my ear there is no doubt about the fact [Nov. 7, 1883, p. 331].

Apart from Patmore's work, the poets discussed a number of other contemporary authors including Robert Bridges (with whom Patmore became acquainted through Hopkins) and Richard Watson Dixon along with some of their poetic predecessors such as John Keats. Dixon's work Mano sparked an ongoing discussion between the two poets in which Patmore struggled to appreciate the somewhat abstract poem and Hopkins praised it. Hopkins also, however, stated of Mano that:

The style is more archaic than I approve; I look on archaism as a blight; but it is a better one than Swinburne's or Morris's, mastered, made his own, and in fact a style and not a trick like writing in italics or long s's . . . [Aug. 19 1883 p.296].

This critique of Dixon reveals Hopkins' ongoing hatred of Swinburne's verse, an issue which resurfaces throughout the correspondence. It is no surprise that the two poets shared a mutual distaste for Swinburne, since Swinburne not only wrote poems attacking Catholicism but also actively despised Patmore's work. Moreover, the two also seem to have participated in an ongoing criticism of Tennyson. In a letter discussing Patmore's son, Henry Patmore's, poetry, Hopkins complimented the boy's works by stating: "They are strong where this age is weak-- I mean Swinburne and the popular poets, and, I may say, Tennyson himself-- " Whereas it is clear that Patmore's distaste for Tennyson had arisen out of the collapse of the former friends' relationship, it is unclear from the letters alone whether or not Hopkins' attacks on Tennyson were simply forms of playing into Patmore's own pride. Nonetheless, Hopkins' comments on the laureate are in the very least slightly more modest and seemingly less personal than Patmore's.

References

Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins. 2nd Ed. Ed. Claude Collier Abbott. London: Oxford University Press, 1956.


Victorian Overview Coventry Patmore Literary Relations

Last updated 15 July 2004