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Robert Stephen Hawker

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Poet and antiquary; b. at Plymouth 3 December, 1803, d. there 15 August, 1875, son of Jacob Stephen Hawker, M. D., who took orders soon after the birth of his son Robert and became vicar of Stratton, Cornwall. He was educated at Liskeard Grammar School, and, at the age of sixteen, placed with a solicitor at Plymouth. But the law was distasteful to him, and his aunt bore the expense of sending him to Cheltenham Grammar School. Here he published, in 1821, "Tendrils", a small book of poems not of much literary value. In 1823 he went to Pembroke College, Oxford, and within a year married Charlotte I'ans, a Cornish lady twenty vears older than himself, a marriage that brought him much happiness. He continued (though with a change of college ) his undergraduate life at Oxford, and in 1827 won the Newdigate prize for a poem on Pompeii. He took his degree in 1828 and Church of England orders in 1831. After filling a curacy at N. Tamerton in Cornwall, he was appointed, in 1834, vicar of Morwenstow, a parish with a dangerous rocky coast on the north-east of the same country. Here until his death he lived all active life as the pastor of a sea-faring population, and gave liberally of his means to the parish. Amongst other things he restored the church and parsonage, established a school, and set on foot, when rural dean, periodical synods of the surrounding clergy. From the many wrecks round the coast of his parish he succoured escaped sailors and buried the washed-up bodies of those who were drowned. Beyond these activities he was all enthusiastic student of the history and legends of the Cornish people which he embodied in many prose essays as well as in his poems. He was a true poet, though, in the judgment of the best critics, he just missed being a great one. From 1832, when he put forth his first important piece of work, "Records of the Western Shore", until the end of his life he produced a long series of romantic and religious poems, the finest of which is the "Quest of the San Graal", and the most famous the "Ballad of Trelawney". His religious views as embodied in his preaching and in these poems were those of the Tractarians. In 1863 his wife died, and his loneliness became extreme. In 1864 he married again, a Polish lady, Pauline Anne Kuczynski, by whom he had three daughters. Hawker's impulsive and artistic temperament led him into continual acts of generosity as well as of imprudence which kept him pecuniarly embarrassed. These difficulties increased as years went on doubtless undertermined his health, which began to fail in 1873. On his death-bed, 14 August, 1875, he was received into the Catholic Church. He had always possessed Catholic instincts and from some of his letters it is fairly clear that he had been gradually turning more and more towards Rome in later years. His reception caused a hot debate in the press concerning the question of his previous loyalty to the Anglican Church, a debate which has never since quite ceased. His "Cornish Ballads and other Poems" was re-edited by Byles (London, 1904), and his prose works by Goodwin (London, 1893).

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