Beautiful, Intricate Illuminated Manuscript Version of Hopkins' Beloved Poem, "The Starlight Night"
[Kenna, Erina] Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Original Illuminated Manuscript of Early Version of “The Starlight Night.” 1914.
Folio (9 3/4 x 13 1/2 inches); full-color gouache, ink, and gilt on vellum; signed and dated in ink lower left margin; typescript note affixed to verso; matted and framed.
A magnificent full-color illuminated manuscript of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, “The Starlight Night,” which, according to a typescript note affixed to the verso of the frame, was given to Hopkins’ mother, Catherine, in 1914:
This was a Christmas present in 1914 to G. M. H.’s mother from her surviving children. On the death of her youngest daughter, Grace, her son Lionel, then the only survivor of the family, presented it to his cousin, Anne Maurice Hopkins, who later passed it on for safe custody to her brother Edward Manley Hopkins.
The illumination was created with a high degree of aesthetic and technical skill on cream vellum by the artist Erina Kenna, who signed and dated it at bottom (“Erina Kenna, Christmas, 1914”), and it was retained for decades within the family as an heirloom. Framed later (on Vashon Island, see below), with a highly detailed and flourished large illuminated initial, a wide border design, and illustrative motifs including winding vines, clusters of grapes, blossoms, thistles, and circular gold dots and stipples, as well as four central escalloped “starry night” illustrations in ornate burnished gold frames. As the manuscript was commissioned specifically for Catherine Hopkins, the imagery may have been selected with her favorites in mind.
Written in 1877, “The Starlight Night” was, and remains, one of Hopkins’ most popular poems. It was included in British poet laureate Robert Bridges’ 1918 edition of Hopkins’ work—published four years after the creation of this illuminated manuscript—which was the first stand-alone compilation of his verse. (It was also dedicated to Catherine Hopkins, who was still alive then at 98 years old.) When the two versions are compared, the manuscript poem differs in five significant ways from that in Bridges’ edited volume:
- Line 3—1914: “…the quivering citadels there!”; 1918: “…the circle-citadels there!"
- Line 4—1914: “The dim woods quick with diamond wells; the elf-eyes!”; 1918: “Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!”
- Line 5—1914: “The grey lawns cold where quaking gold-dew lies!”; 1918: “The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!”
- Line 13—1914: “The shocks. This piece-bright paling hides the Spouse.”; 1918: “The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse.”
- Line 14—1914: “Christ, and the mother of Christ and all his hallows.”; 1918: “Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.”
However, the manuscript matches exactly the one printed in the eighth volume of Alfred Miles’ Poets and Poetry of the Century, published in 1891, nearly twenty years before Bridges’ edition, and just two years after Hopkins’ untimely 1889 death. What’s interesting, though, is that Bridges not only wrote the brief biography of Hopkins preceding the poems in that edition, he apparently also selected the verses included in it, which Miles notes was their first time in print. It is almost certainly this printed version of “The Starlight Night” that was used as the textual basis of this illuminated copy.
Bridges was known for taking some license with Hopkins’ work, and in the 1918 edition, he is transparent about his issues in transcribing, interpreting, and publishing Hopkins’ poetry, but claims special authority to do so as Hopkins’ close friend and correspondent. He includes personal letters in his notes that refer to conversations surrounding the poems that Hopkins shared with him, implying that Hopkins would have “no doubt” approved of Bridges’ changes, and also incorporates several facsimiles of Hopkins’ autograph poetry to demonstrate the difficulties of interpreting the poet’s handwriting. As can be seen by comparing the facsimile copy of “Spring” in Bridges’ 1918 edition with an original manuscript of the same held at the Ransom Center at the University of Texas, the poet unquestionably produced at least several drafts of his poems, but as Hopkins did not create any fair copies of his verse, and also often dated subsequent revisions with the same year as his initial text, determining which version is the definitive text is further complicated, if not impossible. Due to this somewhat erratic process, Bridges implied that Hopkins lacked poetic self-control, thus requiring the guiding hand of an editor or literary critic—such as Bridges—to help him achieve his fullest potential.
This does not explain, though, why Bridges felt the need to alter a poem that had already been published seventeen years earlier. Clearly, as Hopkins was already dead two years prior to the release of Miles’ book in 1891, there were no latent versions of “The Starlight Night” produced afterward to warrant such a revision, and subsequent editions of Hopkins’ poetry have challenged and revised Bridges’ commentary, choosing to return to Hopkins’ original manuscripts, and including not only his words, but also his intentional autograph markings and inflections (another aspect of Hopkins’ verses that Bridges removed from his edited versions). Charles Williams, who edited a 1930 edition of Hopkins’ work, praised his “alliterative genius,” noting that beneath “all the art of the impulse and rush” there was a “careful labor” and attention to style that deserves the continued reading and attention it demands.
In near fine condition, colors remarkably bright, with the usual and expected, though unobtrusive, rippling of the vellum. Passed by descent along family lines, as noted above, to Edward Manley Hopkins, thence to his son, John Manley Hopkins, who lived for many years on Vashon Island in Washington State. Subsequently obtained from a dealer on Vashon who found it in a thrift store following Hopkins’ death