Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
Thomas Gordon Hake (18091895)
[Born 1809, of an old Devonshire family on the fathers side, his mother being a Gordon, aunt of Gordon of Khartoum. Educated at Lewes, at St. Georges Hospital, and at Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities, where he acquired remarkable medical and surgical knowledge. His very lively Memoirs of Eighty Years, published 1892, show that during the first half of his long life his mind was occupied with these studies; and, except for one or two youthful ventures in verse and prosethe drama called Piromides and the romance Vateshe gave himself up to science, not to poetry. In 1866, however, he privately printed The Worlds Epitaph, which led to an intimacy with D. G. Rossetti and his group of friends. His medical assistance made him for some years, as W. M. Rossetti said, the earthly Providence of the Rossetti family. On the other hand, their influence helped forward his revived poetical instincts, and between 1872 and 1890 he wrote and published many volumes of verse, including Madeline (1871), Parables and Tales (1872), New Symbols (1876), and The New Day (1890); and in 1894 Mrs. Meynell printed a volume of Selections from his works, with a preface. He died in January, 1895.]
THOMAS GORDON HAKE was a man of many experiences, many accomplishments, and many moods. In manner he was polished and urbane; in aspect, according to his friend Theodore Watts-Dunton, to whom Hake dedicated his New Day, he was, with the single exception of Lord Tennyson, the most poetical-looking poet his friend had ever seen. Till past middle life he was a practising physician, the author of several learned books and papers, and a votary of Nature-study. But from eleven years old he had been a student of Shakespeare, and one side of him, from boyhood onwards, was passionately devoted to poetry; so that when, at the age of nearly sixty, leisure, travels in Italy, and the beauty of some English woods in spring had made him take seriously to the writing of verse, none of his few intimate friends was surprised at the high standard that he reached at once. One reader, who was as yet a stranger to him, was so charmed that, immediately they were introduced, the two became close friends; and to this friendship Hake may be said to have owed a strong poetic impulse, and the world the enjoyment of many rare and original poems. The new friend was D. G. Rossetti, and for several years after 1869 Hake lived in close touch with the Rossetti circle. As is stated above, his medical services were invaluable during Gabriels worst days, in and about 1872, so that the poet-painters brother rightly described him as the Providence of the family. Gabriel Rossetti went so far in his admiration as to review one of Hakes books in The Academy: a testimonial which of itself secured for the new poet the allegiance of all Rossettians.
None the less, one clever artist and writer attached to that circle could not resist giving a rather malicious account of Hakes method of composition. This was W. B. Scott, who in his Autobiographical Notes (ii, p. 178) thus describes Hake at Kelmscott, whither in 1874 he had taken Rossetti for a rest-cure. While young George Hake was attending to the patient,
his father, the doctor himself, was developing the ideal in solitude in the room below at about two lines a day. From the clearing away of breakfast there he sat by the fire, a pencil in one hand and a folded piece of paper in the other. On the table near him lay a little heap of other pieces of paper, his failures at the improvement of the same couplet in various transformations, sometimes expressing quite different meanings. The old gentleman in the character of a poet had interested all of us. He had retired from medicine determined to cultivate poetry. But he was really accomplishing his object by perseverance and determined study, utterly pooh-poohing the maxim that if a man has not made a good poem at twenty-five, he never will.
The picture is overdone, but it helps to explain the elaboration which sometimes causes Hakes poems to be not easy to understand at a first reading. His prose Memoirs of Eighty Years (1892) contains some pages of poetical theory which also, from their very abstruseness, help to explain why the poems are difficult. But their music makes a universal appeal; their reading of Nature has the exactitude to be expected from a trained observer; they are, as Rossetti so often insisted, thoroughly original. The two longer ones here given are from the volume which his literary friends thought the best, New Symbols; two sonnets follow from The New Day, following his beloved Shakespeare in their form and dwelling in thought upon the good things that are to follow when a close study of Nature shall have driven away the clouds with which Ignorance darkens the spirit of man.