Gerard Manley Hopkins, (28 July 1844 to 8 June 1889), was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest. His experimental verse established him as a daring innovator.
Educated at Highgate School from 1854 to 1863 and then Balliol College, Oxford, he studied classics was a brilliant student and was regarded as the ‘Star of Balliol’. He achieved a double first class honours degree but failed his final theology exam and this failure almost certainly meant that, though ordained in 1877, he would not be able to progress in the order.
It was at Oxford that he forged a friendship with Robert Bridges (eventual Poet Laureate) which would be of importance in his development as a poet, and his eventual posthumous acclaim to established him as a leading Victorian poet.
In 1866 Gerard Manley Hopkins converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, a decision which estranged him from both his family and a number of his acquaintances.
After his graduation in 1867 Hopkins took a teaching post at The Oratory School but the following year he decided to enter the priesthood at St Beuno’s Theological College in Wales. Unfortunately his decision to become a Jesuit led him to burn much of his early poetry as he felt it incompatible with his vocation as he felt that it would prevent him from devoting himself wholly to his religion. His decision to lead the austere and restrictive life of a Jesuit and was at times gloomy. Writing would remain something of a concern for him as he felt that his interest in poetry prevented him from wholly devoting himself to his religion. In fact most of his poetry remained unpublished until after his death and his verse did not receive acclaim in his lifetime. The first volume of his poems was only published in 1918, some 20 years after his death but once seen, his work began to be highly regarded and his poetry has since become famous.
He taught Greek and Latin at Mount St Mary’s College, Spinkhill where he took the post of sub-minister and Classics master. He disliked the county and the school and eventually took positions at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire.
The original Mount St Mary’s College buildings were designed in 1840 by Joseph Hansom who also designed the Hansom cab. When new building was begun in 1876 he took objection to the design, quality and cost of the work and wrote to the Father Principal to express his views. Hopkins’ was small (5’2″) and of an unprepossessing nature, a retiring disposition and he lacked the assertiveness and dynamism. These qualities which made him an ineffective and unsuccessful teacher. He had a low opinion of his pupils, seeing them undisciplined youths with uncouth habits with no evident acadademic interest or inclination.
In 1884 he became professor of Greek literature at University College, Dublin.
After suffering ill health for several years and bouts of diarrhoea, Gerard Manley Hopkins died of Typhoid fever in 1889 and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Although he probably suffered from what today might be diagnosed as either bipolar disorder or chronic unipolar depression, and battled a deep sense of anguish throughout his life, upon his death bed he evidently overcame some of that despondency as his last words were “I am so happy, I am so happy.”