Hawker, Robert Stephen (DNB00)


HAWKER, ROBERT STEPHEN (1803–1875), poet and antiquary, born at Stoke Damerel, Devonshire, 3 Dec. 1803, and baptised in its parish church, was grandson of Robert Hawker [q. v.], and eldest son of Jacob Stephen Hawker, then a medical man practising in and around Plymouth, but afterwards curate and vicar of Stratton, Cornwall. His mother was Jane Elizabeth, second daughter of Stephen Drewitt of Winchester, and later of Plymouth. His early education was under the Rev. Athanasius Laffer, head-master of Liskeard grammar school, and he was then articled to a solicitor, William Jacobson (W. H. K. Wright, Blue Friars, pp. 10, 66, 73), at Plymouth, but the work soon became distasteful and he was sent to Cheltenham grammar school. He matriculated at Pembroke College, Oxford, on 28 April 1823, at the age of nineteen, and on 6 Nov. in the same year married, at Stratton, Charlotte Eliza Rawleigh, one of four daughters of Colonel Wrey l'Ans of Whitstone House, near that town (C. S. Gilbert, Cornwall, ii. 159–60). The bride was forty-one and Hawker was not yet twenty, but the marriage proved happy. On his return to Oxford he migrated to Magdalen Hall, where he graduated B.A. 14 May 1828, and M.A. 25 May 1836, and made the acquaintance of Bishop Jeune and Bishop Jacobson (Burgon, Twelve Good Men, ii. 261, 273). While at Oxford he won the Newdigate prize in 1827 by a poem on Pompeii, which subsequently came under the notice of Bishop Phillpotts and brought him preferment. Hawker was ordained deacon in 1829 and priest in 1831. His first curacy was at North Tamerton in Cornwall. Early in 1834 he was offered by Bishop Phillpotts the vicarage of Stratton, but declined it in favour of his father, then curate there. He was instituted to the vicarage of Morwenstow 31 Dec. of the same year. The parish is situate on the north-east corner of Cornwall, and its rocky coast is the scene of many a shipwreck. The mariners who escaped found in Hawker a warm friend, and the bodies of more than forty that perished were buried under his direction. The tithes are commuted at a pound a day, and there is a glebe of seventy-two acres. Hawker was, moreover, instituted in 1851, on the presentation of Lord Clinton, to the adjoining vicarage of Wellcombe. But he was imprudent in money matters, and for many years before his death suffered acutely from poverty. In ecclesiastical affairs he did not spare himself. The church was restored in 1849. A new parsonage-house was secured through his exertions, and a central school established by him in the parish was largely maintained through his contributions. To add to his expenditure he became involved in a lawsuit, which he ultimately won, with the first Lord Churston over the ancient glebe and the well of St. John. His theological views were mainly those of the tractarians. As rural dean he set on foot in 1844 ruridecanal synods, and vindicated their existence in a pamphlet; he introduced about the same time a weekly offertory, which he advocated in a printed letter to Mr. John Walter of the ‘Times;’ and he instituted harvest thanksgivings. His wife, an accomplished lady, who published two translations from the German, died 2 Feb. 1863, aged 81, and was buried outside the chancel of Morwenstow Church. On 21 Dec. 1864 Hawker married at Trinity Church, Paddington, Pauline Anne Kuczynski, whose acquaintance he had made when she was a governess with a family resident in his parish. Her father, Vincent Francis Kuczynski, a Polish exile, who held an appointment in the Public Record Office, had married Mary Newton, an English woman. By this union Hawker had three daughters. His health began to fail in 1873. He died at 9 Lockyer Street, Plymouth, on 15 Aug. 1875, and was buried in the cemetery of that town on 18 Aug. In his last hours he was formally received into the Roman catholic faith. The question how long he had been in unison with that creed was fiercely debated for some weeks in the religious newspapers.

Hawker's chief poetical pieces were:

  1. ‘Tendrils by Reuben,’ Cheltenham, 1821.
  2. ‘Pompeii,’ a prize poem, 1827, and frequently republished; Sir Francis Doyle correctly points out (Reminiscences, p. 98) that he had made ‘considerable use’ of Macaulay's prize poem on the same subject.
  3. ‘Records of the Western Shore,’ 1832 and 1836.
  4. ‘Ecclesia,’ 1840 and 1841.
  5. ‘Reeds Shaken with the Wind,’ 1843; second cluster, 1844; a volume of poems mostly religious.
  6. ‘Echoes from Old Cornwall,’ 1846.
  7. ‘The Quest of the Sangraal. Chant the First,’ Exeter, 1864. This was the best of his compositions. It was composed in 1863 in his hut, ‘a rocky excavation overlooking the Severn Sea.’
  8. ‘Cornish Ballads and other Poems, including a second edition of the “Quest of the Sangraal,”’ 1869, and again in 1884.

He contributed many poems and essays in prose to periodicals; the titles of most of them are printed in the ‘Bibliotheca Cornubiensis.’ His poetical works, ‘now first collected and arranged with a Prefatory Notice by J. G. Godwin,’ appeared in 1879. Several of his prose articles on the legends of Cornwall and the traits of its inhabitants were embodied in a volume entitled ‘Footprints of Former Men in Far Cornwall,’ 1870, but his smaller contributions remain uncollected. Hawker's ballads, direct and simple in style, were composed in the true spirit of antiquity. That on ‘Trelawny,’ the most famous of all his compositions, was, according to his own account, suggested by the chorus, which he professed to regard as genuinely old:

 And shall Trelawny die,
Here's twenty thousand Cornish men
 Will see the reason why.

But further evidence of the antiquity of these lines is wanting. The ballad was composed in Sir Beville's Walk in Stowe Wood, Morwenstow, in 1825, and was printed anonymously in the ‘Royal Devonport Telegraph and Plymouth Chronicle’ on 2 Sept. 1826, pt. iv. It attracted the notice of Davies Gilbert, who reprinted it at his private press at Eastbourne, and procured its insertion in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1827, pt. ii. p. 409. Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens (in Household Words, 30 Oct. 1852) were among those who were deceived into the belief that it was an ancient ballad, but Dickens at a later date (ib. 20 Nov. 1852) assigned the authorship to Hawker. Shortly after Hawker's death the Rev. F. G. Lee, D.C.L., printed privately some commemorative verses, and in 1876 he issued a volume of ‘Memorials of the late Rev. R. S. Hawker,’ which was the expansion of an article from his pen that appeared in the ‘Morning Post’ 8 Sept. 1875. A second life, published in 1875 by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, was subjected to very severe criticism in the ‘Athenæum’ of 26 March 1876. The result was the withdrawal of the volume and the appearance of a ‘new and revised edition.’ This in its turn was adversely criticised in the same review for 17 June 1876, Thirty copies of these critical notices were struck off for private circulation in 1876, signed with the initials W. M., i.e. William Maskell, a friend and neighbour of Hawker. Subsequent editions of Baring-Gould's ‘Memoir’ came out in 1876, 1886, and 1899. Hawker's library and pictures were sold on 29 Sept. 1875. His character is delineated as Canon Tremaine in Mortimer Collins's novel of ‘Sweet and Twenty.’

[Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. i. 220–2, iii. 1222–3; Foster's Alumni Oxon. ii. 628; Lives by Lee and Baring-Gould and notice by J. G. Godwin; Western Antiquary, viii. 147–50, 199–200, ix. 41–4. Four interesting articles on his career by Mr. Harris of Hayne, Devon, were inserted in the John Bull on 18 Sept. 1875 and later numbers.]

W. P. C.