A New Hawker Letter

The following letter, previously unpublished, is almost certainly addressed to J.G. Godwin of the Oxford publishers James Parker & Co. It follows in both tone and topic Hawker’s letter to Godwin of four days earlier (see Byles, Life and Letters of R.S. Hawker, pp.554-5), and assumes a familiarity with his current work and concerns which few but Godwin could have had. The references to Oxford are more or less conclusive.

The letter is written from Morwenstow in black ink on both sides of a single 17.5 x 23cm leaf of red-ruled stationery – the ‘very thick , woven paper ruled with faint red lines specially made for him (and, by his direction, for no one else) by the firm of De La Rue’ (Brendon, Hawker of Morwenstow, p.146). A few full stops have been silently provided, otherwise the transcription follows the original.

Mww. May 5 1867

My Dear Sir
Thank you for the Book of Verses1. I should imagine it is the first time that people ever went touting for the Professorship of Poetry in Oxford. Nothing yet from Once a Week2 (Sir Ralph) or the Gents Magazine3. I had no idea the London Publishers were so poor – I wonder they don’t try to raise money by mortgage or by selling out shares. Or is this scarcity what they mean by limited liability. I am very sorry indeed for poor Pillinger4. I lodged in his house in 1845 just opposite Wadham. Wills5 after sending me the Proof for final revise of from Bude to Boss6 and returning it after all has just sent me the Proof of the Botathen Ghost7 and I returned it last night but know not after all this whether it is to be accepted or not. This is the most painful state of things I ever knew. He has sent me £5.5.0 for Thomasine B8. We are as usual – except that Mrs. Hawker is obliged to be very careful of her health and strength to encounter her approaching confinement9. I keep her as quiet as her nervous temperament will allow. I hope we shall greet a son this time. Our kind regards
Yrs faithfully
R S Hawker

Published by the Hawker Society by kind permission of the owner.

Introduction and footnotes © Charles Cox, 2011

  1. Very likely Sir Francis Hastings Doyle’s The Return of the Guards: ‘in 1866, finding Matthew Arnold’s tenure of the professorship of poetry at Oxford coming to an end, and desiring to be appointed his successor, [Doyle] published The Return of the Guards and other Poems, with the stated aim of bringing his work to the attention of the younger members of the university,’ (ODNB). He was duly elected in 1867. []
  2. Hawker means Charles Dickens’ weekly All the Year Round. Once a Week was the rival magazine published by Bradbury & Evans after their break with Dickens. []
  3. Hawker’s ‘The Ballad of Sir Ralph De Blancminster’ had appeared in All the Year Round in January 1867, his article ‘Morwenstow’ in The Gentleman’s Magazine in March. Presumably he had yet to be paid. []
  4. Probably John Pillinger, one of the University’s yeoman bedels. He evidently died not long after the date of Hawker’s letter: see George Valentine Cox, Recollections of Oxford, 2nd edition, 1870, p.256. Hawker visited Oxford in 1845 to receive his M.A. []
  5. W.H. Wills, assistant editor and part-owner of All the Year Round. []
  6. In his letter of 1 May Hawker told Godwin that ‘My Paper, “A Ride from Bude to Bos,” the very best of all I ever wrote, was sent up to Town on Wednesday. On Sunday Evening I received the Proof for Revision—to be corrected and returned, it was said, by immediate Post. This I did and on the strength of acceptance of the first MS. I wrote and sent off a Second. . . . Yesterday arrived a note from Wills to say that, to his regret, they were unable to accept the Two Papers. . . . I had prepared another ‘The Botathen Ghost,’ which is now in Wills’s hands but which I expect back every day.’ []
  7. Published in All the Year Round, May 1867, Vol. XVII, pp.276-80. []
  8. ‘Thomasine Bonaventure’ appeared in All the Year Round, Vol. XVII, pp.501-4. []
  9. Pauline Hawker was expecting their second child. Despite Hawker’s hopes it was another girl, Rosalind, later the wife of his biographer C.E. Byles. []