Hopkins was born to a family of High Church Anglicans. He attended grammar school in Highgate, London (1854-63), and then won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford (1863-67), where his tutors included Walter Pater and Benjamin Jowett. He was strongly influenced by the aesthetic theories of Pater and John Ruskin and by the poetry of George Herbert and Christina Rossetti. Deeply drawn to the religious life, he ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism and was received by Cardinal Newman into the Catholic Church in 1866. The following year he was awarded First-Class degrees in Classics and "Greats" (a rare "double-first") and was considered by Jowett to be the star of Balliol. A year later he entered the Society of Jesus. He had for some time been writing poetry but burnt it all at this point, feeling that composing poetry was too self-absorbing for the life of a priest. Ordained in 1877, Hopkins found stimulating but exhausting work as a parish priest in the slums of Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow. Later, he experienced difficulty and depression adjusting to a life that would have seemed ideal for him when he was appointed in 1884 as Professor of Greek and Latin at University College, Dublin.
Hopkins had begun writing again in 1875, but always put his priestly life first. Essentially unpublished in his lifetime, he entrusted his writings to his good friend Robert Bridges. Bridges arranged for their publication in 1918. The poems soon were recognized as the works of a remarkable writer, an original voice who had reached beyond the poetic conventions of his own time in an act of daring, and yet self-effacing, aesthetic creation.
The Hopkins scholar W.H. Gardner has written that Hopkins manifests a threefold strength: he is one of the most powerful of the religious poets and one of the most satisfying "nature poets" in the English language; he is the acknowledged master of an original style - one of the few strikingly successful innovators in poetic language and rhythm; and he has given us in his prose - notebooks, journals, letters, sermons - a body of autobiographical and critical writing which, apart from its broader personal interest, brilliantly illuminates his radical poetics.
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