Saturday, 30 June 2018


(8 February 1848-28 June 1867)
Digby Mackworth Dolben

'He was a boy who evidently needed both protection and sympathy,
and I could not have talked to him without discovering the
attraction of our similar inclinations and outlook on life,'

Robert Bridges. 'Memoir' from the 1911 book of poems.

Digby Mackworth Dolben was born in Guernsey on Saturday 8th February 1845, the youngest of three sons and a daughter to his father William Harcourt Isham Mackworth (1806-1872) and Frances Dolben who died in 1892; they were married on Wednesday 1st July 1835. The family lived at Finedon Hall in Northamptonshire.

Digby's stone cross in the extension churchyard
opposite Finedon Church

Young Digby was educated at a Cheam Private School run by Mr Tabor and then at Eton College from January 1862-July 1863 and it is at Eton where Digby's eccentricities began to show themselves, such as burning his hair with a candle when it got too long.

The memorial is quite overgrown
in comparison to the picture Dr.
David Shaw presents on his site
which was taken in July 2012

Digby became romantically attached to another boy at Eton a year older than himself named Martin Le Marchont Gosselin (1847-1905) and wrote love poems to him and it seems he fell in love with the youth. upon discovery of this Digby was asked to leave Eton which he did on 30th July 1863. Digby was considering converting to Roman Catholicism and took a mystical and even romantic view of the conversion, even taking to wearing a monk's habit and walking barefoot to the amusement of those around him.

On his seventeenth birthday on 8th February 1865, Digby went to Oxford to visit his cousin Robert Bridges (1844-1930) of Corpus Christi College who also had interests in poetry and would one day become Poet Laureate. On this momentous day, Digby was introduced to the scholar and poet G. M. Hopkins (1844-1889) of Balliol College and it was to prove an ominous day for Hopkins who upon seeing the young Dolben fell instantly and disastrously in love with the boy. Hopkins, besotted with Digby, corresponded until his letters went un-answered - Hopkins' famous 'dead letters'. They only ever met once yet the remarkable Dolben left such an impression on Hopkins that it was to become the most singular event of importance in his life. Hopkins wrote two poems dedicated to Dolben: 'The Beginning of the End' and 'Where art Thou Friend?':

Where art thou friend, whom I shall never see,
Conceiving whom I must conceive amiss?
Or sunder'd from my sight in the age that is
Or far-off promise of a time to be;
Thou who canst best accept the certainty
That thou hadst borne proportion in my bliss,
That likest in me either that or this, -
Oh! even for the weakness of the plea
That I have taken to plead with, - if the sound
Of God's dear pleadings have as yet not moved thee, -
And for those virtues I in thee have found,
Who say that had I known I had approved thee, -
For these, make all the virtues to abound, -
No, but for Christ who hath forsaken and loved thee.

Digby had fainted during the entrance examination for Balliol College, Oxford and was thus sent to prepare once more to go up to Oxford at the home of his tutor, the Reverend Constantine Estlin Prichard (1818-1869) who was the Rector of South Luffenham in Rutland. Prichard was a Balliol man and he and Dolben established a friendship. Digby went to Prichard on Saturday 15th June 1867 to prepare for the Oxford entrance examination in October (he had been at Prichard's two years previously for study).

Dolben drowned in the River Welland on Friday 28th June 1867, just two miles away from South Luffenham Rectory. He was bathing with Prichard's ten year old son named Walter* when the accident occurred.

'after he had read the speech of Ajax, he went, late in the afternoon to bathe with Mr. Prichard's son Walter at a spot where the stream widens into a small pool. The boy could not swim, but had learned to float on his back. Digby was a good swimmer. They had bathed there together before: the conditions were not dangerous, and no apprehension was felt when they did not return.' [Bridges. 'Memoir']

I had to remove the ivy which unfortunately
covered the whole of the base of the monument

Digby took the boy on his back and swam across the pool with him. Returning in the same fashion, he suddenly sank within a few yards of the bank to which he was swimming. The boy shouted to reapers in the meadows. The water was deep and the body of Dolben was not found for some hours. He was buried at Finedon on Saturday 6th July 1867.

A natural devotion as I touch
the stone where the young poet
Digby Mackworth Dolben rests

Digby Mackworth Dolben

My sister Death! I pray thee come to me
Of thy sweet charity,
And be my nurse but for a little while;
I will indeed lie still,
And not detain thee long, when once is spread,
Beneath the yew, my bed:
I will not ask for lilies or for roses;
But when the evening closes,
Just take from any brook a single knot
Of pale Forget-me-not,
And lay them in my hand, until I wake,
For his dear sake;
(For should he ever pass and by me stand,
He yet might understand—)
Then heal the passion and the fever
With one cool kiss, for ever.

*Walter Henry Prichard born 1856 in Uppingham, Rutlandshire; baptised on 23rd November 1856 at South Luffenham, Rutland. He died on 1st May 1913 aged 56 in Grantham, Lincolnshire. His father, Constantine Estlin Prichard was born in 1820 and Christened on 8th August 1820 at Bristol, St Michael the Archangel on the Mount, Gloucestershire. He married mary Alice Seymour on 20th July 1854 at Westcott in Surrey and died in Christchurch, Hampshire in 1869.

see 'The Poems of Digby Mackworth Dolben edited with a Memoir by Robert Bridges' (1911) and the site of Dr. Tony Shaw for more images of the tombstone:

No comments:

Post a Comment