Gerard Manley Hopkins was the eldest of nine children born to Manley and Catherine Hopkins. Manley, the founder of a marine insurance company, was also an accomplished amateur poet and composer. Catherine shared her husband’s love of music and literature and both were devout High Church Anglicans. In 1852 the family moved to Oakhill Park, Hampstead, where they joined the congregation of St John’s Church in Church Row. Gerard later described the church as ‘dreary’. At St. John’s Manley taught at the Sunday School and served as a churchwarden.
In 1854 Gerard was enrolled at Highgate School where in 1860 he won the school’s poetry prize. In 1863 he entered Balliol College Oxford to study classics. While he was at Oxford, he continued to write poetry and formed a close friendship with a fellow poet and devout Christian, Robert Bridges.
At the university he came under the influence of the Tractarian movement and began to doubt the ‘efficacy of the Anglican Holy Communion’. This led to him being received into the Roman Catholic church in 1866, a development that caused an irreparable rift with his family. After leaving Oxford with a first-class degree in 1867 he taught for a while at John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman’s Birmingham Oratory but in 1868 he decided to become a Jesuit priest and in preparation for his new calling, ceased writing poetry.
In 1874 Gerard was ordained a priest at St. Beuno’s College in north Wales. After his ordination he moved around the country preaching and teaching until in 1884 he was appointed Professor of Latin and Greek literature at University college Dublin, which was staffed at the time by the Jesuits. He was also appointed Fellow in Classics at the Royal University of Ireland. The burden of these two posts undermined his health and he died from typhoid on June 8th 1889.
None of his poetry was published during his lifetime but after his death his Oxford friend Robert Bridges arranged the posthumous publication of ‘Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ in 1918.