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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

THE LIFE OF FACTS Sean Street, The Wreck of the Deutschland: An Historical Note, Interim Press, £3

What actually happened when, in G.M. Hopkins's words, 'in the winter of '75 the Deutschland was wrecked in the mouth of the Thames and five Franciscan nuns, exiles from Germany by the Falck Laws, aboard of her were drowned' is less well known than that Hopkins was 'affected by the account' of the wreck 'and happening to say so to my rector he said that he wished someone would write a poem on the subject'. The hint released Hopkins from his sense that to write poetry would be an act of disobedience to his profession as a Jesuit, and the resulting poem, charged with 'lightning and love', has itself something of the feel of a stormy sea, but is under the sway of the poet's mastery of his 'new rhythm', as in his vision nature at its greatest extremity is under the sway of his master, Christ. In his 'historical note' (an essay of some twenty pages), Sean Street, as a result of researching written evidence and a literary detective's footwork, reveals facts about the exiled nuns and the wreck, which are intrinsically moving and terrible, as well as having a fascination in relation to the poem which interprets them.

The first facts Sean Street deals with concern Bismarck's anti-Catholic Laws designed 'to bring the Church within the control of the State', as a result of which, in December 1875, five Daughters of St. Francis set out from the Mother House at Salzkotten in Westphalia to travel ...


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