The Poems of Digby Mackworth Dolben

Digby PicDigby Augustus Stewart Mackworth Dolben (8 February 1848 – 28 June 1867) was an English poet who died tragically young from drowning. He owes his poetic reputation to his cousin, Robert Bridges, poet laureate from 1913 to 1930, who edited a partial edition of his verse, Poems, in 1911. He was born in Guernsey, and brought up at Finedon Hall in Northamptonshire. He was educated at Eton College, studying under the influential Master William Johnson Cory whose principles of pedagogy and collection of verses Ionica inspired his own poetry. (Kaylor, 2006) At Eton, his distant cousin Bridges was his senior and took him under his wing. Dolben caused considerable scandal at school by his exhibitionist behaviour. He marked his romantic attachment to another pupil a year older than him, Martin Le Marchant Gosselin, by writing love poetry. He also defied his strict Protestant upbringing by joining a High Church Puseyite group of pupils. He then claimed allegiance to the Order of St. Benedict, affecting a monk’s habit. He was considering a conversion to Roman Catholicism.[1] In 1865 on his seventeenth birthday, he was introduced by Bridges, by then an undergraduate at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to Gerard Manley Hopkins who was at Balliol. According to the account given by his biographer Norman White, this encounter caused Hopkins a great deal of perturbation, as is evidenced by the two poems Hopkins wrote for Dolben, one of which Bridges told him “should never be published”. Not only was Hopkins at the time troubled by the process of his own conversion to Catholicism: he seems to have been quite attracted to Dolben. Dolben drowned in the River Welland near South Luffenham, aged 19 and before he could go up to Oxford himself. Also involved was Walter Prichard, the ten year old son of his tutor, Rev. C. E. Prichard, Rector of South Luffenham, who could not swim but who survived. Bridges guaranteed Dolben’s reputation with Three Friends: Memoirs of Digby Mackworth Dolben, Richard Watson Dixon, Henry Bradley (1932), as well as the careful editing of his poetry. Subsequently The Poems and Letters of Digby Mackworth Dolben 1848-1867 (1981), edited by Martin Cohen, has given a less selective picture. His work is placed with that of the Uranian poets.

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