HAWKER, ROBERT STEPHEN (1803-1875)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF A POEM, signed ('R. S. Hawker'), 12 lines in three four-line stanzas, 1 page, quarto, short tears in central horizontal fold, paper slightly darkened at edges, with an accompanying letter, both dated from Morwenstow, 8 May 1844
A Lamb beside a fountain lay!
Her soft white Mother far away,
Alone, she slumbered on the brink,
And by and by will bend to drink!...
RARE; no poetical manuscripts by Hawker have been sold at auction in the last forty years at least. Unpublished in Hawker's lifetime, the poem appeared in Cornish Ballads and Other Poems, edited by C.E. Byles, 1904, translated by Hawker from the German original of Guido Gorres in collaboration with his wife Charlotte (information Angela Williams).
In the accompanying letter, addressed to George Reid, Hawker expresses pleasure that his verses have met with his correspondent's approbation and that his autograph is to be added to his collection, informs Reid that 'The lines are an illustration of Overbeck's Good Shepherd for Burns and will be published soon in a pictorial volume', comments that he does not contribute to the magazine Reid had mentioned and supposes that the editor must have received his lines from another person.
In his biography of Lord Tennyson, Charles Tennyson described Hawker thus: '...devout, fantastically generous, steeped in mediaeval and saintly lore, believing in witchcraft and the evil eye; a great lover of animals who kept a fierce stag in his paddock and sometimes conducted the church service accompanied by nine cats [one of which he is said to have excommunicated for catching a mouse on a Sunday]. His usual dress was a claret-coloured coat, with long tails, a blue knitted fisherman's jersey with a little red cross woven into it at the place where the soldier's spear pierced the side of Jesus on the Cross [showing he was a fisher of men], knee-high wading boots and a flesh-coloured beaver hat without a brim, imitated from that said to be worn by priests of the Orthodox Church, for which he had a profound and mystical veneration. The only black articles of his attire were his undyed socks, which were specially woven for him from the wool of a favourite black sheep. He was a scholar, a poet and a saint, whose passion for practical joking led him to sit for several successive evenings, stark naked, except for an oilskin tail and a wig of seaweed, impersonating a merman on the cold wet rocks of Bude...' He talked to birds, took the panelling out of the pulpit on the grounds that 'the people ought to see the priest's feet', was the first nineteenth-century Anglican to wear vestments (variously a magnificent purple velvet cope, white orb, a stole embroidered in gold, a green and amber chasuble and scarlet gloves) and the first to celebrate the Harvest Festival, and gave sermons on such subjects as the colour of the soul.' Hawker's poetry was praised by Alfred Lord Tennyson who said of his Arthurian poem The Quest of the Sangraal: 'Hawker has beaten me on my own ground.'
PROVENANCE: John Wilson.
REFERENCES: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Piers Brendon, Hawker of Morwestow, 1975; Charles Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, 1949.