By Professor Cary H. Plotkin B.A. M.A. Ph.D.
With authority and sensitivity Plotkin lines the shut courting among Hopkins’s poetry and the theories of language instructed in his Journals and expounded via Victorian philologists resembling Max Müller and George Marsh.
Plotkin seeks to figure out what replaced Hopkins’s conception of language among the writing of such early poems as "The behavior of Perfection" and "Nondum" (1866) and his construction of The spoil of the Deutschland (1875–76). Did the language of the ode, and of Hopkins’s mature poetry in general, come up as spontaneously because it seems to have performed, or does it have a traceable genesis within the ways that language as an entire was once conceived and studied in mid-century England? In solution, Plotkin fixes the advance of Hopkins’s singular poetic language within the philological context of his time.
If one is to appreciate Hopkins’s writings and poetic language within the context within which they constructed instead of within the phrases of a present-day idea of historical past or textuality, then that circulation in all of its complexity needs to be thought of. Hopkins "translates" into the language of poetry styles and different types universal to Victorian language study.
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Additional resources for The Tenth Muse: Victorian Philology and the Genesis of the Poetic Language of Gerard Manley Hopkins
W. Skeatall widely known to English students of language in the latter half of the nineteenth century. That they should have left virtually no trace in the histories of that study is not surprising, however. Either, like Wedgwood or Latham, they left no lasting imprint on the discipline of linguistics as it defines itself today or, like Trench, they were immensely learned and energetic popularizers and catalysts in the NED project; or, like Skeat or Wright, they were principally lexicographers and so fall beyond (or at best very near) the pale of present-day linguistics.
Murray's case is interesting apart from his renown, however, in epitomizing the fluidity of disciplinary boundaries: his contributions to the Hawick Archaeological Society were initially in the areas of geology and botany, then passed into archaeology proper, and finally evolved into philology both as an instrument of history and as a discipline for the study of dialect (Murray 4649). But Murray is cited here as an instance only, of which many less illustrious could be Page 18 found. For the collection of data of all sorts was, in nineteenth-century Britain, at the same time decentralized and locally organized, enabling those with both the curiosity of mind and the requisite leisure to contribute their private gleanings to a larger purpose.
8 The antipathy, like the interest, kindled by Hopkins's poetry was surely not attributable to his acute and enthusiastic detailing of physical phenomena. Rather, The Wreck of the Deutschland and the corpus of poems Page 8 it inaugurates mark the convergence in English of poetry and philology, with consequences for discursiveness and obscurity, for meaning and the vehicles of meaning, and for the nature and function of language in poetry. Like Hopkins's relation to the religious controversies of his time, to the church and order he entered, to eminent Victorian moralists and aestheticians such as Arnold and Ruskin, to artistic movements and literary figures of the century from Wordsworth to Whitmanand beyond that to Milton, to devotional poets in general and the metaphysical poets in particularand like the influences of Scotism and classical rhetoric, these consequences have quite rightly received extensive and solid critical exposure.