‘I am 12 miles from a lemon,’ lamented that bon vivant clergyman Sydney Smith on reaching one country posting. He was related to Gerard Manley Hopkins, a priest who, in the popular imagination, would quite possibly balk at the offer of a lemon. After all, 30 years before Prufrock, Hopkins did not dare to eat a peach, fearful of its delicious savour when offered one by Robert Bridges in a Roehampton garden.
Hopkins was a complex man who delighted in simple things. Our sense of his view of the world has been complicated by the circumstances of his publication. Forbidden to publish his great ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, he largely squirrelled away, or burnt, his work. At his funeral in 1889, there was no body in the coffin, lest it spread typhoid; and, three decades on, when Bridges published a collection of his poems, it was almost as if a Harry Lime had sprung forth to find a ready place in a changing, Prufrock-driven literary landscape.