Hake, Thomas Gordon (DNB01)
HAKE, THOMAS GORDON (1809–1895), physician and poet, was born at Leeds on 10 March 1809, and was descended from an old Devonshire family who had 'lived on the soil for many years without being distinguished in any branch of science, literature, or art.' His father, whose usual residence was Sidmouth, possessed considerable musical acquirements. His mother, fourteen years older than the father, was of the Huntly branch of the Gordon family, being eldest daughter of Captain William Augustus Gordon, and aunt of General Charles Gordon. The father died when Hake was three years old; his widow, left with a moderate competence, continued to live in Devonshire, and obtained for her son an admission to Christ's Hospital, where, first at the preparatory school at Hertford and afterwards in London, he received most of his education. Having determined upon a medical career, he studied at Lewes under Thomas Hodson, 'the highest authority in his profession within the bounds of Sussex,' afterwards at St. George's Hospital, and at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, at which latter he graduated. After travelling for some time in Italy he settled at Brighton, where he was for five years physician to the dispensary, then proceeded to Paris for a year's study, and on his return in 1839 published 'Piromides,' a tragedy on the mysteries of Isis, and the 'nebulous but impressive romance,' as Mr. W. M. Rossetti calls it, 'Vates, or the Philosophy of Madness,' first issued in four incomplete numbers, with illustrations by Charles Landseer (1840, 4to), and afterwards republished in 'Ainsworth's Magazine' as 'Valdarno, or the Ordeal of Art-Worship.' 'Towards 1844 it seethed in my brother's head,' says Mr. Rossetti, and it ultimately led to a friendship between Dante Rossetti and the author eventful for both. Hake next settled at Bury St. Edmunds, where he became intimate with George Borrow and J. W. Donaldson, of both of whom he has given interesting particulars in his autobiography. Between 1839 and 1853 he contributed numerous papers, chiefly of a scientific complexion, to the medical journals. About the latter date he gave up practice at Bury, travelled in America, and on his return established himself at Roehampton, and, while filling the post of physician to the West London Hospital, became physician to the Countess of Ripon, who was related to his mother's family. The beauty of Lady Ripon's woods at Nocton revived the spirit of poetry within him. He wrote his 'Lily of the Valley' and his 'Old Souls,' which, with other poems, were threaded together as 'The World's Epitaph,' privately printed in 1866 in an edition of one hundred copies. One of these came into the hands of Rossetti, who admired it as enthusiastically is 'Valdarno,' and the two poets met in October 1869. In Rossetti's darkest days, when in 1872 his life was nearly terminated by laudanum, Hake rendered the greatest service. 'He was the earthly providence of the Rossetti family,' says Mr. W. M. Rossetti. He took Dante Rometti to his house during the worst of the crisis, afterwards accompanied him to Scotland, and consented to his own son George acting for a long time as Rossetti's companion and secretary, a position which the derangement of the patient's mental and physical health eventually rendered untenable.
After 1872 Hake spent a considerable time in Italy and Germany, and, returning to England, settled near St. John's Wood, principally occupied in the composition and publication of poetry for the few, difficult rather than obscure in thought and diction, but uninviting to those who cannot appreciate mystical symbolism. In 1871 he published 'Madeline and other Poems,' reproducing much of 'The World's Epitaph.' In 1872 appeared 'Parables and Tales,' comprising 'Old Souls.' In 1876 he published 'New Symbols;' in 1879 'Legends of the Morrow;' in 1680 'Maiden Ecstasy;' in 1863 'The Serpent Play,' and in 1890 'The New Day,' a collection of sonnets in the Shakespearean form. His autobiography, 'Memoirs of Eighty Years,' was published in 1892. During the last four years of his life he was confined to his couch by a fracture of the hip, but his faculties and spirits remained unimpaired. He died on ll Jan. 1895.
Hake is a rare instance of a poet nearly all whose work has been produced after fifty. 'He had,' says William Bell Scott, 'retired from medicine, determined to cultivate poetry, and he was really accomplishing his object by perseverance and determined study.' 'This character is borne out by Hake's own preface to 'The World's Epitaph.' where stress is laid upon the difficulties of poetical expression in a style which proves that, unless when writing of ordinary things, he found it no easy matter to convey his thoughts clearly and accurately even in prose. There is no poet to whom Tennyson's phrase, 'he beat his music out,' would be more applicable, and the rather inasmuch as the result really is music, Hake's most artificial verses being usually accompanied by a melody which proves that metrical expression was, after all, natural to him, and that poetry was actually his vocation. He is nevertheless essentially a poet of reflection, notwithstanding the objective character of most of his poems, and their endeavour to represent ideas by material symbols. Their descriptive power and sense of the mysteriousness of Nature are balanced by frequent lapses into bathos; the total impression they produce is nevertheless one of dignity and intellectual distinction, and they have, at all events, the merit of independence of all contemporary poetry. The comparative fluency and flexility of Hake's sonnets, his last poetical work, seem to indicate that he would) have overcome his defects if age had suffered him to go on writing. Not many such volumes have been produced by an octogenarian.About 1870 Hake wrote another novel, 'Her Winning Ways,' which appeared in 'The New Monthly Magazine,' then, like 'Ainsworth,' a mere refuge for the destitute. His prose as well as his verse wanted every quality of popularity. Nothing could have gained him a hearing during his lifetime except his fortunate naturalisation in the Rossetti circle. Dante Rossetti reviewed him in the 'Academy' and the 'Fortnigtly Review,' an honour he did to no one else; and a selection from his poems, with a preface by Mrs. Alice Meynell (and a portrait after Rossetti), appeared in 1894. Hake also published small works 'On Vital Force; its pulmonic origin,' 1867, and 'The Powers of the Alphabet,' 1883. His autobiography depicts him as a shrewd but not unkindly observer of other men; cheerful rather than genial, communicative but not garrulous, and with a confidence in his own powers partaking rather of the nature of pride than of vanity. A veteran as a man, a novice as an author, he held an exceptional position in the literary society of his day. Mr. W. M. Rossetti accurately describes him as 'a man of more than common height, lithe and straight, with very self-possessed gentle manners, and clear deliberate utterance.' One of his sons, Mr. Allred Egmont Hake, is the biographer of General Gordon and the editor of his Chinese journals.
[Hake's Memoirs of Eighty Years; W. M. Rossetti's Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti; W. Bell Scott's Autobiographical Notes, vol. ii.; Thomas Bayne in Miles's Poets and Poetry of the Century; Mr. Theodore Watts-Duuton in Athenæum, 19 Jan. 1895; personal knowledge.]