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Full text of "The life of Francis Thompson"

NY PUBLIC LIBRARY THE BRANCH LIBRARIES 




B Thompson M 3 3333 10324 5763 

Meynel 1 , Everard. 
The 1 ife of Francis 
Thompson . 
589012 



LL 



The Newark 
Public Library 

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The Life of 
Francis Thompson 








i<77nh6 01 1 



in 







Life of 



Francis Thompson 



By Everard Meynell 

I/I 



New York 
Charles Scribner's Sons 

597~599 Fifth Avenue 
1913 



Printed in England 



_ Thtx$cV Cc / 



To 

Grazia 





The Author's thanks are here tendered to Mother Austin of the 
Presentation Convent, Manchester, the Poet's sister ; to Perceval 
Lucas and Father Austin Richmond for the fruits of research 
work ; to Mrs. Coventry Patmore and Lewis Hind for letters 
and memories ; and to many other kind helpers. 



Contents 

Chapter 

I. The Child i 

II. The Boy 15 

III. Manchester and Medicine 35 

IV. London Streets ...... 61 

V. The Discovery ...... 85 

VI. Literary Beginnings in 

VII. " Poems" 135 

VIII. Of Words; of Origins; of Metre . . 152 

IX. At Monastery Gates 180 

X. Mysticism and Imagination . . . 198 

XI. Patmore's Death, and "New Poems" . 233 

XII. Friends and Opinions. .... 245 

XIII. The Londoner 272 

XIV. Communion and Excommunion . . . 291 
XV. Characteristics ...... 308 

XVI. The Closing Years 316 

XVII. Last Things 339 

Index 353 



Illustrations 

Francis Thompson in 1895 . . . Frontispiece 

His Birthplace Facing page 4 

Francis, his Sisters and their Dolls, 1870 12 

St. Cuthbert's College, Ushaw ,,26 

Francis Thompson in 1875 . . 34 

Francis Thompson in 1877 . . 54 

No. 47 Palace Court 134 

Cast of the Poet's Hand 144 

His Parents 186 

" Mr. Thompson of Fleet Street " . 256 

(Drawn by Everard Meynell, 1903) 

The Life Mask, 1905 316 

Francis Thompson in 1907 328 

(Drawn by the Hon. Neville Lytton) 

The Memorial at Owens College . 344 



\ 



The Life of Francis Thompson 



CHAPTER I: THE CHILD 

"I WAS born in 1858 or 1859 (I never could remember 
and don't care which) at Preston in Lancashire. Re- 
siding there, my mother more than once pointed out 
to me, as we passed it, the house wherein I was born ; 
and it seemed to me disappointingly like any other 
house." 

The i6th of December 1859 was the day, 7 Winckley 
Street, a box of a house in a narrow road, the place 
of Francis Joseph Thompson's birth. He was the second 
son of Charles Thompson and his wife, Mary Turner 
Morton. 1 Charles Thompson's father (the poet's grand- 
father) was Robert Thompson, Surveyor of Taxes suc- 
cessively at Oakham in Rutlandshire, Bath, and Salisbury ; 
he married Mary Costall, the daughter of a surgeon, 
at Oakham in 1812, and died at Tunbridge Wells in 
1853. Charles, born in 1823, married Mary Morton in 

1857- 

Having first practised at Bristol and later been house- 
surgeon in the Homeopathic Dispensary in Manchester, 
he set up a practice in Winckley Street shortly after 
his marriage. Like his wife, his sisters, and the majority 
of his brothers, Dr. Thompson was a convert to the 
Catholic Church ; but, unlike his brothers, he never 

1 Their first child, a son, lived only one day, and of the three daughters 
whose births followed Francis's, one, Helen, died in infancy. Of the other 
two, the elder, Mary, is a nun in Manchester, the other, Margaret Richardson, 
wife and mother in Canada. 



The Child 

committed himself to authorship, and is remembered 
only in the many good opinions of those who knew 
him. For his patients he had something of the pastoral 
feeling ; his rounds were his diocese, and in the statistics 
of kindness which no man keeps in deference perhaps 
to the thoroughness of the Recording Angel his name 
is thought worthy to figure largely. Though he attended 
as many patients as the most successful members of his 
profession, his fees were smaller and fewer. He stood, 
like his clients of the poorer quarters, in fear of the 
Creator firstly, and of death secondly ; and so it happened 
that, having ministered to mother and child, he would 
pour out the waters of baptism over infants who made 
as if to leave the world as soon as they had entered it. 
This much of his kindness will serve as a preface to the 
story of the part which, forced to a seeming severity, 
he played in the career of his son. 

The verses of two of Charles Thompson's brothers 
(Francis's uncles l ) supply no clue, not even a plebeian 
one, to the origin of Francis's muse. Edward Healy 
Thompson's sonnets and John Costall Thompson's Vision 
of Liberty show that not a dozen such rhyming uncles 
could endow a birth with poetry. Eugenists must 
accept an inexplicable hitch in the prosaic unfolding 
of the Thompson birth-roll. While there can be no 
chart made of Francis's intellectual lineage, it is not 
surprising that an occasional phrase in his uncle's 
Vision of Liberty and other Poems, privately printed 
in 1848, bears some resemblance to his form and diction. 

1 Edward Healy Thompson married Harriet Diana, daughter of Nicolson 
Calvert, sometime M.P. for Hertford, by Frances, co-heir of the 1st and last 
Viscount Pery. Another uncle of the poet was the Rev. Henry Thompson, 
who was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford ; took clerical duty at Kirk 
Hammerton and at Greatham (Hants); published a sermon (1850) entitled 
The New Birth by Water and the Spirit ; married Julia, daughter of Sir 
William Yea, Bart. A daughter by this union, Charlotte Anne Hechstetter 
Yea Thompson, married (1869) Ralph Abercrombie Cameron, elder son of the 
Rev. Alexander Cameron by Charlotte, daughter of the Hon. Edward Rice, 
D.D., Dean of Gloucester. A fourth uncle of the poet, James Thompson, 
lost his life in South Africa. 

2 



The Writing Uncles 

A servant-maid destroyed John's autobiography an 
unkind accident, since it left his career to be summed up 
by a relative in seven words : " An utter failure in life 
and literature." Gladstone and Sir Henry Taylor at 
one time interested themselves in his work, but neither 
so keenly nor so persistently as to secure his good fame 
with an exacting brother. Yet Edward Healy Thompson 
(born 1813, educated at Oakham and Emmanuel College, 
Cambridge) is duller in verse than John Costall. He 
never saw, or never used, even a second-rate vision. 
Before his conversion to Catholicism he was curate 
in the parish of Elia's " Sweet Calne in Wiltshire" from 
July 1838 to January 1840, and had for neighbour there 
the friend of Lamb and Wordsworth, to whom Cole- 
ridge, before a meeting, had written 

My heart has thanked thee, Bowles, for those soft strains 
Whose sadness soothes the life with murmuring 
Of wild bees in the sunny showers of Spring. 

But sweet Calne had its harsher properties : its human 
bees murmured in wrath, and had stings. Incumbent 
and curate both held a poet in disrespect. Coleridge and 
Francis Thompson, in whom may be traced in common 
the spoliations of opium, are linked by the coincidence 
that they were condemned by those Wiltshire associates 
Coleridge by the rector in terms of high contempt, 
and Francis by the curate, who wrote in later days 
to warn Francis's London friends that he must be 
avoided as the writer of lt erotic verse." Edward Healy 
Thompson afterwards admitted Francis's genius, but 
found no hereditary explanation of it in Francis's parents 
or any member of the family. On the other hand, 
Miss Agnes Martin, a cousin of Francis, writes : tf From 
his father he inherited his passion for religion, and, from 
what I know of his poetry, I find he has expressed 
thoughts and yearnings habitual to other members of 
his father's family." It was Francis's custom to speak 

3 



The Child 

of his mother as if it were from her at least as much as 
from his father that he derived certain mental and 
physical characteristics. Born in Manchester in 1822, 
she was daughter of Joseph Morton and Harriet Sigley. 
Her father, a clerk in the bank of Messrs. Jones, Lloyd 
and Co., was afterwards secretary to the newly-founded 
Manchester Assurance Co., and later lost money in a 
personal business enterprise. In 1851 her family left 
Manchester for Chelsea, and there in 1854 sne was 
living with people who befriended her desire, frowned 
upon by her family, of becoming a Catholic. She 
became engaged to the son of the house, but he died, 
and before the close of the year she was received into 
the Church. In how far she was cast out by her own 
people I do not know, but to some degree she re- 
hearsed the part to be played, after her death, in her 
own household by her own son. She set out to make 
a living, and took a position as governess at Sale, near 
Manchester, having failed as he failed in his Ushaw 
days in an attempt to enter the Religious Life. 1 In 
the following year, while still in the neighbourhood 
of Manchester, she met her future husband. She died 
December 19, 1880, at Stamford Street, Ashton-under- 
Lyne. Dr. Thompson married as his second wife 
Anne Richardson, in 1887. 

The paternal relative (a cousin once removed) who 
finds in Francis thoughts and yearnings habitual to other 
members of his father's family, is better able to note 
them than he was. She tracks them in a girl (never 
seen by Francis) whose tragedy, since seeking admit- 
tance to a convent and failing to take final vows, is 
that she is not physically fit for the only life tolerable 
to her. She recognises the family mannerism in a relative 
who is famous in the suburban street of his choice for 
reciting the Psalms in a mighty voice in his sleep, so 
that no rest visits the guest new to the household noises. 

1 At the Convent of the Holy Child, St. Leonard's-on-Sea. 

4 


















The Poet's Birthplace 
No. 7, Winckley Street, Preston 









Family Likenesses 

She sees the family characters in Francis's niece who 
is about to end her noviciate and take vows in a 
Canadian community. She notes them in the two aunts, 
the sisters of Charles Thompson, who as Sister Mary 
of St. Jane Frances de Chantal of the Order of the Good 
Shepherd, and Sister Mary Ignatius of the Order of 
Mercy, lived and died as nuns ; of a third aunt nothing 
is known, but in a dozen other cases the inclination 
for a spiritual life or a disinclination for all the pleasures 
or successes of any other is apparent. She notes the 
same carelessness for worldly prosperity, the thought- 
lessness for mundane concerns that goes with certain 
trains of spiritual speculation. In a family singularly 
scattered the family trait is for ever reappearing. The 
aloofness or vagueness that led Francis to lose himself 
in London was responsible for many lost addresses. 
As Francis wandered alone in the Strand, without know- 
ing that he had relatives in Church Court within a 
stone's throw of his stony and uncovered bed, so do 
the brothers and sisters of the present generation in- 
habit London and its suburbs unknown to one another, 
but without real alienation or unkindness. She, the 
cousin here cited, has herself wished to enter a convent 
and failed, and knowing much of the family needs 
and inclinations, does not doubt that Francis's life-long 
trouble was that he failed in the attempt to be a priest. 
There is nothing to throw substantial discredit on such 
a reading of his career. 

From Winckley Street, associated with none of 
Francis's conscious experiences of existence, the family 
moved to Winckley Square and to Lathom Street, 
Preston, and in 1864 to Ashton-under-Lyne, where they 
remained until Francis's flight to London twenty-one 
years later. 

"KNOW you what it is to be a child ? " asks Thompson 
in his essay on Shelley ; the answer tells us what it was 

5 



The Child 

to be the child Francis : " It is to have a spirit yet stream- 
ing from the waters of baptism ; it is to believe in love, 
to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief ; it is to be so 
little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear ; 
it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into 
horses, lowness into loftiness, and nothing into every- 
thing, for each child has its fairy godmother in its own 
soul ; it is to live in a nutshell and to count yourself the 
king of infinite space ; it is 

To see a world in a grain of sand, 

And a heaven in a wild flower, 
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, 

And eternity in an hour ; 

it is to know not as yet that you are under sentence of 
life, nor petition that it be commuted into death. When 
we become conscious in dreaming that we dream, the 
dream is on the point of breaking; when we become 
conscious in living that we live, the ill dream is but just 
beginning." Francis was early alive. In a note-book 
he says : " Yes, childhood is tragic to me. And then 
critics complain that I do not write ' simply ' about it. 
O fools ! as if there was anything more complex, held 
closer to the heart of mystery, than its contemplation." 
He forgot perhaps that even fools have experienced the 
dereliction and despair which catches at all children at 
some time or another. It is improbable that he suffered, 
but possible that he remembered, more than other 
children. 

Having attended for two months the school of the Nuns 
of the Cross and the Passion a name full of anticipa- 
tions he reached, in the cold phrase that admits to first 
Confession and Communion, the " age of discretion." 
At seven years he was reading poetry, and, overwhelmed 
by feelings of which he knew not the meaning, had 
found his way to the heart of Shakespeare and Cole- 
ridge : their three ages of discretion kept company. 

6 



He reaches the Age of Discretion 

Already seeking the highway and the highway's seclusion, 
he would carry his book to the stairs, where, away from 
the constraint of chairs and tables and the unemotional 
flatness of the floor, his sister Mary remembers him. 
It is on that household highway, where the voices and 
noises of the house, and the footsteps of passengers on 
the pavement beyond the dark front door, come and 
pass quickly into other regions, that the child meditates 
and learns. There he may contract the habit of loneli- 
ness, populate his fancy with the creatures of fear ; and 
gather about him a company of thoughts that will be 
his intimates until the end. And all the thronging 
personages of the boy's imagination are perhaps darkly 
arrayed against him. The crowd will be of tremors 
rather than of smiles, of secret rather than open-handed 
truths ; the lessons learnt in that steep college of child- 
hood are not joyful. The " long tragedy of early ex- 
periences " of which he spoke was a tragedy adventured 
upon alone. With his mother and his sisters, their toys, 
his books, and his own inventions he was happy. He 
would give entertainments to a more or less patient and 
tolerant audience of sisters ; conjuror's tricks, and a model 
theatre on whose stage he would dangle marionettes, 
were the favourite performances, to one of which he was 
beholden for amusement and occupation till the end of 
his life. His early experience of the tragedy cannot be 
traced to the nursery. It was not there he built his 
barricade, or became in his own words "expert in con- 
cealment, not expression, of myself. Expression I 
reserved for my pen. My tongue was tenaciously disci- 
plined in silence." There befell some share of accidental 
alarm. In a note-book that he had by him towards 
the end of his life and in which there are many allu- 
sions to its beginnings, he wrote of the lt world-wide 
desolation and terror of for the first time, realising that 
the mother can lose you, or you her, and your own 
abysmal loneliness and helplessness without her." Such 

7 



The Child 

a feeling he compares to that of first fearing yourself 
to be without God. 

His toys he never quite relinquished ; among the few 
possessions at his death was a cardboard theatre, 
wonderfully contrived, seeing that his fingers never learnt 
the ordinary tricks of usefulness, and with this his play 
was very earnest, as is attested in a note-book query 
" Sylvia's hairs shall work the figures (?)." That he was 
content with his childhood, its toys, and even its troubles, 
he has particularly asserted. " I did not want responsi- 
bility, did not want to be a man. Toys I could surrender, 
with chagrin, so I had my great toy of imagination 
whereby the world became to me my box of toys." It 
is remembered by a visitor to the Thompson household 
that at meal times the father would call upon the children 
to come out of their rooms. But they, for answer, would 
lock their doors against the dinner hour : they were play- 
ing with the toy theatre. Francis went on playing all 
his life ; his sister has kept her heart young in a 
convent. And there is no discontent in this particular 
memory of early loneliness : 

"There is a sense in which I have always been and 
even now remain a child. But in another sense I never 
was a child, never shared children's thoughts, ways, 
tastes, manner of life, and outlook of life. I played, 
but my sport was solitary sport, even when I played 
with my sisters ; from the time I began to read (about 
my sixth year) the game often (I think) meant one 
thing to me and another (quite another) to them my 
side of the game was part of a dream-scheme invisible 
to them. And from boys, with their hard practical objec- 
tivity of play, I was tenfold wider apart than from 
girls with their partial capacity and habit of make- 
believe." 

Crosses he also experienced, and the sense of in- 
justice was awakened early. He lost the prize a 
clockwork mouse, no less ! offered by his governess. 

8 



He has Plevna by Heart 

Although first in lessons, his brisker, punctual-footed 
sisters and governess would have to wait many times 
during a walk for him to come up with them. And so the 
mouse went to a sister. " I remembered the prize," she 
writes, " but had forgotten the reason of my luck. But 
Francis never forgot it ; he could never see the justice of 
it, he said and no wonder!' His tremulous, sudden 
" not ready ! ' jerked out at the beginning of a game of 
cards, is still heard in the same sister's memory, and also 
the leverage of calls and knockings that was required to 
get him from the house for church or a train ; and his 
unrecognising progress in the street. Every detail of the 
boy recalls the man to one who had to get him forth 
from his chamber when he was a grown traveller, and 
has often seen him oblivious in the streets, and has 
heard his imperative appeals for "ten minutes more" in 
all the small businesses of his later life. His toys he 
could surrender, but he played the same games without 
them. As a youth during the Russo-Turkish war he 
built a city of chairs with a plank for drawbridge ; 
" Plevna," his father said, would be found written in his 
heart for the interest he had in the siege. If Plevna was 
written there, then so was Ladysmith. He had no plank 
drawbridge during the Boer war, but he was none the 
less excited on that account. 

He knew little of the technique of being a boy ; child- 
hood was an easier role. Brothers would have told 
him it was bad form to care for dolls. He writes, in 
''The Fourth Order of Humanity," that he was "with- 
held even in childhood from the youthful male's con- 
tempt for these short-lived parasites of the nursery. I 
questioned, with wounded feelings,the straitened feminine 
intolerance which said to the boy : 'Thou shalt not hold 
a baby; thou shalt not possess a doll.' In the matter 
of babies, I was hopeless to shake the illiberal pre- 
judice ; in the matter of dolls, I essayed to confound 
it. By eloquence and fine diplomacy I wrung from 

9 



The Child 

my sisters a concession of dolls ; whence I date my 
knowledge of the kind. But ineluctable sex declared 
itself. I dramatized them, I fell in love with them ; 
I did not father them ; intolerance was justified of 
her children. One in particular I selected, one with 
surpassing fairness crowned, and bowed before the 
fourteen inches of her skirt. She was beautiful. She 
was one of Shakespeare's heroines. She was an 
amity of inter-removed miracles ; all wrangling ex- 
cellencies at pact in one sole doll ; the frontiers of jealous 
virtues marched in her, yet trespassed not against her 
peace ; and her gracious gift of silence I have not known 
in woman. I desired for her some worthy name ; and 
asked of my mother : Who was the fairest among 
living women ? Laughingly was I answered that I 
was a hard questioner, but that perhaps the Empress of 
the French bore the bell for beauty. Hence, accordingly, 
my Princess of puppetdom received her style ; and at 
this hour, though she has long since vanished to some 
realm where all sawdust is wiped for ever from dolls' 
wounds, I cannot hear that name but the Past 
touches me with a rigid agglomeration of small china 
fingers." 

A housemaid remembers Francis on the top of the 
ladder in the book-cupboard, oblivious of her call to 
meals. Of this early reading he writes : 

"I read certain poetry Shakespeare, Scott, the two 
chief poems of Coleridge, the ballads of Macaulay mainly 
for its dramatic or narrative power. No doubt especi- 
ally in the case of Shakespeare, and (to a less extent) 
Coleridge I had a certain sublatent, subconscious, 
elementary sense of poetry as I read. But this was, for 
the more part, scarce explicit ; and was largely con- 
fined to the atmosphere, the exhalation of the work. 
To give some concrete instance of what I mean. In the 
' Midsummer Night's Dream ' I experienced profoundly 

10 



He reads Shakespeare 

that sense of trance, of dream-like dimness, the moon- 
light glimmer and sleep-walking enchantment, embodied 
in that wonderful fairy epilogue 'Now the cat' &c., 
and suggested by Shakespeare in the lines, ' These 
things seem small and undistinguishable, like far off 
mountains turned into clouds.' I did indeed, as I 
read the last words of Puck, feel as if I were waking 
from a dream and rub my mental eyes. No doubt the 
sense of the lines ' These things' &c., was quickened 
(it may be created I will not at this distance say) by 
an excellent note on them in the edition I read. But 
the effect on me of the close was beyond and indepen- 
dent of all notes. So, in truth, was it with the play as a 
whole. So, again, I profoundly experienced the atmos- 
pheric effect of < Macbeth,' 'Lear,' 'The Tempest/ 
' Coriolanus/ of all the plays in various degree. Never 
again have I sensed so exquisitely, so virginally, the aura 
of the plays as I sensed it then. Less often I may have 
drunk the effluence of particular passages, as in the case 
already instanced. But never, in any individual passage, 
did I sense the poetry of the poetry, the poetry as poetry. 
To express it differently, I was over young to have 
awakened to the poetry of words, the beauty of language 
which is the true flower of poetry, the sense of magic in 
diction, of words suddenly becoming a marvel and quick 
with a preternatural life. It is the opening of the eyes 
to that wonder which signalises the puberty of poetry. 
I was, in fact, as a child, where most men remain all 
their lives. Nay, they are not so far, for my elemental 
perception, my dawn before sunrise, had a passion and 
prophetic intensity which they (with rare exceptions) 
lack. It was not stunted, it was only nascent." 

Another recollection : 

" I understood love in Shakespeare and Scott, which 
I connected with the lovely, long-tressed women of 
F. C. Selous' illustrations to Cassell's Shakespeare, my 

ii 



The Child 

childish introduction to the supreme poet. 1 Those girls 
of floating hair I loved ; and admired the long-haired, 
beautiful youths whom I met in these pictures, and the 
illustrations of early English History. Shakespeare I 
had already tried to read for the benefit of my sisters 
and the servants ; but both kicked against ' Julius Caesar ' 
as dry though they diplomatically refrained from say- 
ing so. Comparing the pictures of mediaeval women 
with the crinolined and chignoned girls of my own day, 
I embraced the fatal but undoubting conviction that 
beauty expired somewhere about the time of Henry VIII. 
I believe I connected that awful catastrophe with the 
Reformation (merely because, from the pictures, and 
to my taste, they seemed to have taken place about the 
same time)." 

He " first beheld the ocean " at Colwyn Bay when he 
was five years old. It was there that the Thompsons 
spent their holidays, several excursions there during a 
year keeping them in touch with the sea. Its sunsets 
are still remembered by Mother Austin, his sister, in her 
convent in black Manchester, where her skies are for 
the most part locked behind bricks or otherwise tampered 
with. Remembered by this sister as particularly attract- 
ing Francis is "the phosphorescence on the crest of 
the waves at dusk." Her memory is good, for I find 
in a long mislaid note-book the following verse of an 
early epithalamium : 

The mighty waters of his soul 

Beat on her strand and break in fire ; 

Her spirit's shore , on which they roll, 
Bursts into answering desire 

From all its trembling depths together, 
Till their encountering souls illume 

The nuptial curtaining of gloom. 

1 A photograph (now missing), taken at the age of eleven or twelve, shows 
Francis with a small bust of Shakespeare the treasured gift of his mother. 
In all the early photographs he conforms to one early description " a 
boy known for his piety, obedience, and truthfulness" and he is tidy, too ! 

12 







rancd. 



d. ///.; .>/'.>( c/\>, and l/n-ir (1<>II. 



("[//if - r /7. ///V// 



He beholds the Ocean 

He adds, " I do not know whether the image is alto- 
gether clear to the ordinary reader, as it was in my own 
mind. Anyone, however, who has ever seen on a dark 
night a phosphorescent sea breaking in long billows of 
light on the viewless beach, while, as the hidden pools 
and recessed waters of the strand are stirred by the 
onrush, they respond through the darkness in swarms 
of jewel-like flashes, will understand the image at once." 

The sea was there, and Francis bathed, timidly and 
always with the consecrated medal that was still round 
his neck when he died. He would not strip it from 
its place, and his sister, only less pious, would laugh at 
his anxiety concerning it. On the beach brother and 
sister would score Hornby's centuries. That was the 
chief use and joy of the sands to the enthusiasts ; the 
whole series of triumphs would be thus shiftingly writ 
in full particularity. To Colwyn Bay he went before 
Ushaw, during the holidays and after he left college, 
and he went also to Kent's Bank, near Ulverstone, to 
Holyhead and New Brighton, so that it may be wondered 
why his poetry harbours so few seas. Topographically, 
his verse is very bare of allusion. The chapter of his 
childhood must close without the benefits of such witness, 
unless, as indeed it should be, the whole body of his 
poetry is taken as the evidence of his teeming experiences. 
Only in a nonsense verse found in his note-book 
(where doggerel keeps close, as the grave-digger to 
Hamlet, to the exquisite fragments of his poetry, so 
that strings of puns must be disentangled from chains 
of images) does he confess the place-names of his child- 
hood. Runs the doggerel : 

All along the gliding Lyne 

They told the nymphs of mislaid wine, 

And only by the mooney Med 

They found it had got in the driver's head. 

But even early experiences are rare. In "Dream 

13 



The Child 

Tryst " one is employed. He was eleven, older by two 
years than Dante smitten with love in Florence, when 
he met the Lucide of that poem in Ashton-under-Lyne. 
She was a school-friend of his sister, and tells me she 
had no knowledge of Francis's admiration. 1 

It may not be supposed that Francis was too busy 
collecting lore of Hornby's centuries or other boyish 
excitements to be moved by nature ; he tells little of his 
early childhood's experiences because he was moved 
only to meditative dumbness, whereas later, when he 
knew he was a poet, each experience, however fleeting, 
smote upon his heart as a hammer on an anvil, and the 
words flew from each immediate stroke. He was too 
full of emotional adventures when he was sent, after his 
trials, to Storrington and Pantasaph to need to ransack 
the unmeaning confusion of his early impressions. 
Childhood proper was snatched from him when he 
became a schoolboy. His childhood he had called the 
true Paradisus Vitae, and he would have combated the 
convention that school-days are the happiest of one's 
life. In an essay on his own childhood it had been his 
intention to include an account of his first year at 
Ushaw for the sake of contrast with his home existence, 
telling of the " refugium or sanctuary of fairy-tales, and 
dream of flying to the fairies for shelter" that he made 
there. 

1 "Dream Tryst" was afterwards alluded to by Mr. Edward Healy 
Thompson as " erotic" a poem, explained Francis, "addressed to a child. 
Nay, hardly that to the memory only of a child known but once when I was 
eleven years old." 



CHAPTER II: THE BOY 

IN 1870, after the summer vacation, Francis was sent to 
Ushaw College, four miles from Durham. By the kind 
fate that has kept many memories of him alive, his 
journey thither is remembered by Bishop Casartelli, 
who wrote to my father at the time of the poet's 
death : 

" I doubt if I ever saw F. Thompson since his boyhood. I 
well remember taking him up to Ushaw as a timid , shrinking 
little boy when he was first sent to college in the late sixties ; 
and how the other boys in the carriage teased and frightened 
him for 'tis their nature to and how the bag of jam tarts in 
his pocket got hopelessly squashed in the process ! I never 
thought there were the germs of divine poesy in him then. 
Strange that about the same time (but I think earlier) my class- 
mate at Ushaw was the future Lafcadio Hearn in those days he 
was ' Jack ' or ' Paddy ' Hearn ; I never heard the Greek forename 
till the days of his fame." 

Timid his journey must have been, for all the crises 
of his life were timidly and doubtfully encountered. 
Dr. Mann gives some account of the event and of his 
first impressions of the new boy : 

" Canon Henry Gillow the Prefect of that time in the Semi- 
nary assigned him his bedplace, and gave to him two ministering 
angels in the guise of play-fellows. Then, for initiation, a whin- 
bush probably occupied his undivided attention,, and he would 
emerge from it with a variant on his patronymic appellation ! 
' Tommy ' was he then known to those amongst whom he lived 
for the next seven years. 

" His mode of procedure along the ambulacrum was quite his 
own, and you might know at the furthest point from him that 

15 



The Boy 

you had ' Tommy ' in perspective. He sidled along the wall, 
and every now and then he would hitch up the collar of his coat 
as though it were slipping off his none too thickly covered 
shoulder-blades. He early evinced a love for books, and many 
an hour, when his schoolfellows were far afield, would he spend 
in the well-stocked juvenile library. His tastes were not as ours. 
Of history he was very fond, and particularly of wars and battles. 
Having read much of Cooper, Marryat, Ballantyne, he sought 
to put some of their episodes into the concrete, and he organised 
a piratical band." 

Another impression comes from Father George 
Phillips : 

" I was his master in Lower Figures, and remember him very 
well as a delicate-looking boy with a somewhat pinched expression 
of face, very quiet and unobtrusive, and perhaps a little melancholy. 
He always showed himself a good boy, and, I think, gave no one 
any trouble." 

From Dr. Mann's description, too, you get glimpses 
of the man. Those shoulder-blades were always ill- 
covered. The plucking-up of the coat behind was, after 
the lighting of matches, always the most familiar action 
of the man we remember ; while the tragedy of the tarts 
seems strangely familiar to one who later had a thousand 
meals with him. Fires he always haunted, and his 
clothes were burnt on sundry occasions, as we are told 
they \vere before the class-room fire. But of the 
piracy what shall we say ? Why, if he did not lose that 
habit of the collar and never shook off the crumbs of 
those tarts, why did he forget the way to be a pirate ? 
There was no rollick in Francis, and his own talk of his 
childhood showed him to have always been a youth of 
most undaring exploits. A good picture of his person 
is to be had from his schoolfellows' recollections ; for 
his mood we must go to his own recollections. In 
writing of Shelley he builds up a poet's boyhood from 
his own experience ; there is no speculation here : 

16 



Grief and the Child 

"Now Shelley never could have been a man, for he 
never was a boy," is the argument. " And the reason lay 
in the persecution which overclouded his school-days. 
Of that persecution's effect upon him he has left us, 
in 'The Revolt of Islam/ a picture which to many or 
most people very probably seems a poetical exaggeration ; 
partly because Shelley appears to have escaped physical 
brutality, partly because adults are inclined to smile 
tenderly at childish sorrows which are not caused by 
physical suffering. That he escaped for the most part 
bodily violence is nothing to the purpose. It is the 
petty malignant annoyance recurring hour by hour, 
day by day, month by month, until its accumulation 
becomes an agony ; it is this which is the most terrible 
weapon that boys have against their fellow boy, who 
is powerless to shun it because, unlike the man, he has 
virtually no privacy. His is the torture which the 
ancients used, when they anointed their victim with 
honey and exposed him naked to the restless fever of 
the flies. He is a little St. Sebastian, sinking under 
the incessant flight of shafts which skilfully avoid the 
vital parts. We do not, therefore, suspect Shelley of 
exaggeration : he was, no doubt, in terrible misery. 
Those who think otherwise must forget their own past. 
Most people, we suppose, must forget what they were 
like when they were children : otherwise they would 
know that the griefs of their childhood were passionate 
abandonment, dechirants (to use a characteristically 
favourite phrase of modern French literature) as the 
griefs of their maturity. Children's griefs are little, 
certainly ; but so is the child, so is its endurance, so is 
its field of vision, while its nervous impressionability 
is keener than ours. Grief is a matter of relativity : 
the sorrow should be estimated by its proportion to 
the sorrower ; a gash is as painful to one as an amputa- 
tion to another. Pour a puddle into a thimble, or an 
Atlantic into Etna ; both thimble and mountain over- 

17 B 



The Boy 

flow. Adult fools ! would not the angels smile at our 
griefs, were not angels too wise to smile at them ? So 
beset, the child fled into the tower of his own soul, 
and raised the drawbridge. He threw out a reserve, 
encysted in which he grew to maturity unaffected by 
the intercourses that modify the maturity of others into 
the thing we call a man." 

When he recalls in a note-book his own first impres- 
sions of school he could not write as a boy, or of boys : 

" The malignity of my tormentors was more heart- 
lacerating than the pain itself. It seemed to me 
virginal to the world's ferocity a hideous thing that 
strangers should dislike me, should delight and triumph 
in pain to me, though I had done them no ill and bore 
them no malice ; that malice should be without pro- 
vocative malice. That seemed to me dreadful, and a 
veritable demoniac revelation. Fresh from my tender 
home, and my circle of just-judging friends, these 
malignant school-mates who danced round me with 
mocking evil distortion of laughter God's good laughter, 
gift of all things that look back the sun were to me 
devilish apparitions of a hate now first known ; hate 
for hate's sake, cruelty for cruelty's sake. And as such 
they live in my memory, testimonies to the murky 
aboriginal demon in man." 

The word " reserve " is written large across the history 
of the schoolboy and the man ; that he laid it aside in 
his poetry and with the rare friend only made its habi- 
tual observance the more marked. He was safest and 
happiest alone at Ushaw, and little would his school- 
fellows understand the distresses of his mind there. 
One at least I know who could not recognise Thomp- 
son's painful memories as being conceivably based 
on actual experience. Teasing, at best, is an ignorant 

18 



Teasing, and a Punishment 

occupation ; at worst, not meant to inflict lasting 
wrong. 

I have in mind two gay and gentle men, once his 
class-fellows, who are unfailingly merry at the mention 
of college hardships ; they are now priests, whose pro- 
fession and desires are to do kindness to their fellow- 
men, and I do not suspect them of ever having done a 
living creature an intentional hurt. Thompson's poetry 
they can understand, but not his unhappiness at 
school. 

Nor does your normal boy, of Ushaw or any other 
school, admit that wrong is done him by the rod. The 
rod bears blossoms, says the schoolboy grown up ; and 
the convention which makes men call their school-days 
the happiest of their lives likewise makes them smile at 
the punishments in the prefect's study. For the average 
schoolboy this attitude is perhaps an honest one. His 
school-days are happy ; the cane is only an inconvenience 
to be avoided, or,if impossibleof avoidance, to be grimaced 
at and tolerated. But every boy at school is not a 
school-boy, and the boy at school has to suffer general- 
isations about the school-boy and the rod. The 
commonweal spells some individual's woe, and doubtless 
the discipline proper for the normal child was hard for 
the abnormal. The boy at school, unlike the school-boy, 
is not brave, or, if he is brave, his courage is of a tragic 
quality that should not be required of him. The school- 
boy's account of the punishment of the boy at school 
illustrates the difference between the two ; for the one it is 
fit matter for an anecdote, for Francis it was an episode 
never to be alluded to. Dr. Mann writes : 

" Some old Ushaw men may wonder whether, in his passage 
through the Seminary, he ever fell into the hands of retributive 
justice. To the best of his schoolfellows' recollections he did. It 
fell on a certain day during our drilling-hour that Sergeant 
Railton dropt into confidential tones, and we had grouped round 
him to drink in his memories of the Indian Mutiny, ' Tommy/ 



The Boy 



who scented a battle from afar, was with us. All went well until 
the steps of authority were heard coming round the corner near 
the music rooms, and with well-simulated sternness our Sergeant 
ordered us back into our ranks. * Tommy/ who, doubtless, was 
already making pictures of Lucknow or Cawnpore on his mental 
canvas, was last to dress up, and was summarily taken off to Dr. 
Wilkinson's Court of Petty Sessions, where, without privilege of 
jury or advocate, he paid his penalty. He was indignant, naturally, 
not to say sore, over this treatment." 

Such is the gallant and approved vein of school 
reminiscence, of which one of the classics is the jest 
about the Rev. James Boyer, the terror of Christ's 
Hospital : " It was lucky the cherubim who took him to 
Heaven were nothing but wings and faces, or he would 
infallibly have flogged them by the way." l 

But Francis was neither cheerful, nor mock-heroic, 
like Lafcadio Hearn, whose "The boy stood on the 
bloody floor where many oft had stood' \vas conned 
by his class-mates at Ushaw. Nor did a sense of the 
grotesque assuage the sense of injury, as in the Daumier 
drawing of a small boy's agonised contortions under the 
stroke of a wooden spoon upon the palm of the hand. 
He did not join his past school-mates in the brave bursts 
and claps of laughter and winking silences that I have 
known break in upon the narration of ancient floggings. 
Says Lamb, in describing Mr. Bird's blister-raising 
ferule, "The idea of a rod is accompanied with some- 
thing of the ludicrous": with Francis's school-mates it 
provokes a gaiety almost beyond the requirements of 
priestly light-heartedness. I am reluctant and ashamed 
to be less brave on the poet's behalf to be out of the 
joke; and yet I find it difficult to put a better face on 
it. To remember Thompson's own extreme gentleness 
is to be intolerant of a small but over-early injury. 

1 Lamb's jest was perhaps remembered when F. T. wrote : " If a boy 
were let into Heaven, he would chase the little angels to pluck the feathers 
out of their wings " a justification of Boyer rather than the Boy. 

2O 



Henry Patmore 

Being no observer, Francis failed to find the friends 
he might have found at Ushaw. Vernon Blackburn 
was his friend, but not till after-life. Henry Patmore, 
son of the poet, in a class above him, was as little 
known to him as he to Henry Patmore. Those who 
remember Francis as a shy and unusual boy, remember 
Henry Patmore "Skinny' Patmore in much the 
same terms. These two unusual boys had no more 
than the acquaintance of sight that is common in a 
school of over three hundred strong. Another school- 
fellow was Mr. Augustine Watts, who married Gertrude 
Patmore, Henry's sister. It was from Ushaw, where he 
went in 1870 (Thompson's year), that Henry Patmore 
wrote to his step-mother : 

" I will begin by telling you I am very happy. I have been much 
happier during these last two or three months than ever before. . . 
My bump of poetry is developing rapidly. For now poetry seems 
to me to be the noblest and greatest thing, after religion, on earth. 
. . . But what I mean by the development of my poetic bump is 
that I can now see the poetry in Milton, Wordsworth, Papa, and 
Dante as I never could till quite lately ; and I really think that 
being able to enjoy poetry is a new source of happiness added to 
my life." 

At Ushaw, then, were two readers in the conspiracy 
of spacious song. But Francis wrote no tidings of 
happiness home. Of schoolboys in general Henry Pat- 
more wrote, and, in writing, disproved his belief : 

"It is quite sickening, after reading the ' Apologia,' to turn to 
those around me and to myself, and see how very frivolous and 
aimless and selfish our lives are ; how we go on living from day 
to day for the day, as if we were animals put here to make the best 
of our time, and then ' go off the hooks ' to make way for others. 
Of course, grown-up people often live for God, but I think nearly 
all my ' compeers ' here (myself included) are animals." 

Paddy Hearn (referred to before) the Lafcadio of 

later life was an older schoolfellow. College can 

21 



The Boy 

be all things to all boys ; some may find there a 
genial scene and cordial entertainment ; others un- 
friendly and frightening surroundings. The case of 
Lafcadio Hearn, who arrived in Ushaw in 1863, 
a boy of thirteen, is not comparable to Thompson's, 
for Hearn mixed a strong rebelliousness with his 
nervousness ; and he was neither unhappy nor un- 
popular, although peculiar, and even " undesirable " 
from the principal's point of view. Sent there, like 
Thompson, that he might discover if his inclination lay 
in the direction of the priesthood, like Thompson he 
drifted, after Ushaw, to London, and suffered there. 
The circumstances are strangely like those of Francis's 
case. But the invitation of the road and sea maintained 
Lafcadio's spirits. He endured his poverty mostly near 
the docks : " When the city roars around you, and your 
heart is full of the bitterness of the struggle for life, 
there comes to you at long intervals in the dingy garret 
or the crowded street some memory of white breakers 
and vast stretches of wrinkled sand, and far fluttering 
breezes that seem to whisper ' come.' Thereafter the 
scope of his thought and action, with murder-case 
reporting in New York, with his unconfined sym- 
pathies for rebel blood, and contempt for "Anglo- 
Saxon prudery," might most easily be described as the 
opposite of Thompson's. A closer observer marks 
something more remarkable than dissimilarity. His 
Japanese biographer says of him that " he laughed with 
the flowers and the birds, and cried with the dying 
trees" words which have an accidental likeness to 
" Heaven and I wept together." 

Hearn's own words, in a letter to Krehbeil, the 
musician, show a much more deeply-rooted likeness. 
He says : 

" What you say about the disinclination to work for years upon 
a theme for pure love's sake touches me, because I have felt that 
despair so long and so often. And yet I believe that all the world's 

22 



Lafcadio Hearn 

art-work all that is eternal was thus wrought. And I also 
believe that no work made perfect for the pure love of art can 
perish, save by strange and rare accident. Yet the hardest of all 
sacrifices for the artist is this sacrifice to art, this trampling of 
self underfoot. It is the supreme test for admission into the ranks 
of the eternal priests. It is the bitter and fruitless sacrifice which 
the artist's soul is bound to make. But without the sacrifice, can 
we hope for the grace of heaven ? What is the reward ? the con- 
sciousness of inspiration only ? I think art gives a new faith. I 
think, all jesting aside, that could I create something I felt to be 
sublime, I should feel also that the Unknowable had selected me 
for a mouthpiece, for a medium of utterance, in the holy cycling 
of its eternal purpose, and I should know the pride of the prophet 
that has seen the face of God." 

Thompson's {t The conduit running wine of song ' 
exactly matches the last of Hearn's sentences. Is 
that the Ushaw spirit ? Probably Hearn was too little 
in touch with the school to have taken away such 
aspirations, even had they been in the air. But it is 
noteworthy that when the time came for him to choose 
a school for his own son he wrote : 

" What shall I do with him ? I am beginning to think that 
really much of the ecclesiastical education (bad and cruel as I used 
to imagine it) is founded on the best experience of man under 
civilisation ; and I understand lots of things I used to think super- 
stitious bosh, and now think solid wisdom." 

When an enthusiastic critic said, at the time Thomp- 
son's first book was published, that Ushaw would be 
chiefly remembered in the future for her connexion 
with the poet, Ushaw smiled, counting the host of canons 
of the Church whom she had reared, her bishops, her 
archbishops, and her cardinals. Ushaw remembered, 
too, Cardinal Wiseman's saying : Ushaw's sons are 
known not by words, but by deeds." But a few college 
friends did their best to keep Francis in sight during 
his early years in London, and if they did not help him, 
it was because he effectively hid himself among his 

23 



The Boy 

adversities. It would have been more pain to brook the 
conditions of assistance, more impossible to follow a 
regime of rescue than to shiver unobserved on the 
Embankment, or starve, with no invitation or punctuality 
to observe save the long and silent appeals of an empty 
stomach, in the Strand. He had privacies to keep 
intact, aloofness that made a law to him, and these he 
never abused, even in a doss-house. " What right have 
you to ask me that question ? ' he said to the gentle- 
man who accosted him in the street, asking him if he 
were saved. He had then been fifteen nights upon the 
streets, a torture insufficient to curb the spirit. 

Dr. Carroll, Bishop of Shrewsbury, Fr. Adam Wilkin- 
son, and Dr. Mann were of the few who remembered 
or sought to renew acquaintance. It is said that 
Bishop Carroll, when he came to London, would search 
"with unaccustomed glance " the ranks of the sandwich- 
men for his face. And when later the poet had a 
friend, and was to be found at his house, Bishop Carroll 
sought him there in London, and at Pantasaph from 
time to time, and had the poet, if not in his diocese, 
almost within his fold. We have Dr. Mann's record of 
a visit to London and a meal with Francis at Palace 
Court, but I know of no other meeting with a college 
friend. Thompson had never been a schoolboy, nor did 
he grow into an " old boy." 

Applicable to him are the words of Hawthorne, of 
which he was fond : " Lingering always so near his 
childhood, he had sympathies with children, and kept 
his heart the fresher thereby like a reservoir into which 
rivulets are flowing, not far from the fountain-head." 

The distractions of his imagination were the most 
pertinent to his needs at Ushaw. Some scraps from his 
class compositions and his note-books do not sufficiently 
illustrate the sway that literature already held in his 
heart and brain, for they are but exercises in expression, 
stiff words on parade, rather than the natural swinging 

24 



Ushaw Recreations 

publication of his thoughts. A writer in the Ushaw 
magazine lends us some knowledge of his literary and 
other recreations : 

" He never fretted his hour upon the stage when our annual { Sem 
play ' delighted the senior house. A pity that was, for such an ap- 
pearance might have helped to remove some of the awkward shyness 
which characterised him to the end. His recreation, as a rule, did 
not assume a vigorous form, though in the racquet houses he 
showed that at hand-ball he attained a proficiency above the 
average. At ' cat ' his services were at times enlisted to make up 
the full complement of players. But here his muse was his un- 
doing, for a ball sharply sent out in his direction would find him 
absent. He does not therefore figure as a party-game player. He 
seldom handled a bat or trundled a ball. Most of his leisure hours 
were spent in our small reading-room amongst the shades of dead 
and gone authors. It says a good deal for his perseverance and 
patience that he sometimes read and wrote when all around him 
was strife and turmoil of miniature battle. Thompson would be 
there, and pause was given to his dreamings ; he was rudely 
brought down from his own peculiar empyrean. After the vaca- 
tion of 1874 he automatically changes his surroundings, going from 
Seminary to College. The master who had then care of him 
exerted much influence over him ; he was a man of reading and 
a rare discriminating taste. In Grammar Francis had a still 
larger selection of books, and many of his beloved poets were 
well represented." 

Books that were not school-books compelled his 
attention in other places and at other times. It is 
remembered that 

"He would deliberately take up his seat opposite Mr. F. S., 
who presided at the cross-table near the door, and, after erecting 
a pile of books in front of him, would devote his whole soul to a 
volume of poetry. But Mr. F. S. was not of a restless, suspicious 
nature. Or it may be that he saw out of his spectacles more 
than we supposed, and of set purpose did not interfere with the 
broodings of genius." 

Glimpses of Francis in the social life of the college 
are few. He was not so social but that somebody 

25 



The Boy 

else sang his songs for him. Dr. Mann describes a 
picnic : 



(C 



After regaling ourselves at Cornsay with tea,, coffee, and toast, 
we did not leave the board till the old songs had been sung. I 
remember only the refrain. The first verse told of the virtues 
of our President (Dr. Tate), the second of the Vice (Dr. Gillow), 
the third of the Procurator (Mr. Croskell), and so on, each verse 
ending with 

Fill up your glass, here's to the ass 

Who fancies his coffee is wine in a glass." 

Somebody else, too, recited his prose for him, de- 
claiming "The Storming of the Bridge of Lodi ' amid 
applause in the Hall on a College-Speaking Day. It is 
the fourteen year essay of a schoolboy, and a fair speci- 
men of the stuff that put him head of his English 
class. The piece took the ears of his schoolfellows ; it 
was recited by his particular class friend in the school 
debating-room, and thence, having been heard by the 
class-master of elocution, was promoted to the Hall, in 
the company of passages from Macaulay and Gibbon. 1 

1 Prowess in English was officially reported. From Father Nowlan, a 
friend of the family, to Doctor Thompson, Easter, 1872: "You will 
be anxious to hear how Frank has passed at the last examinations. They 
have been very satisfactory indeed second in Latin and first in English. 
His master was speaking to me about him yesterday, and said that his 
English composition was the best production from a lad of his age which 
he had ever seen in this seminary. His improvement in Latin is also 
remarkable, and his steady improvement in this subject will depend in a 
great measure upon a cure of that absent-mindedness which certainly, at the 
very outset, threatened to prove a great obstacle to his application to study. 
This, I am happy to tell you, has disappeared in a great measure, and in a 
little time we may be quite sure of its entire disappearance." 

To the late Monsignor Corbishly I am indebted for the following record 
of the place Francis held in the compositions set three times a year : 

" In Latin he was first six times, second three times, and twice he was 
third. The lowest place was 6th, except when he composed in so-called 
Latin verse, when he got 23rd. His muse could not get going in a dead 
language. In Greek his place ran from 2nd to loth. In French, average 
place about 8th. In English, 1st sixteen times ; of his Arithmetic, Algebra, 
and Geometry the less said the better. He was a good, quiet, shy lad. 
Physically, a weakling : he had a halting way of walking, and gave the 
impression that physical existence would be rather a struggle for him. He 
did practically nothing at the games. Haec habeo quae dicam de nostro 
poeta praeclarissimo." 

26 




o 




O 

O 



The Greek of Dreams 

For such warlike enterprises in prose and a certain 
occasional straightening of the back and assumption of 
soldierly bearing the name of " Tommy' was some- 
times abandoned for " I'homme militaire." 

Another witness, in the Ushaw Magazine of March 
1894, remembers Francis on one occasion himself 
speaking his composition, but it is said by some that 
he never put such a trial upon his courage : 

" During his later years at College his literary gifts were well 
known. He declaimed some of his own compositions written in 
a clear, rich, vigorous prose at the public exhibitions in the Hall 
for the ' speaking playday.' His verse we never heard, except a 
skit in Latin rhyme, bidding farewell to work before the vacation, 
and beginning : 

Nunc relinquemus in oblivium 
Caesarem et Titum Livium. ; 

We have, however, a vivid recollection of him as he was accustomed 
to come into the Reading-room, on the long dim half-playday after- 
noons, with a thick manuscript book under his arm, and there sit 
reading and copying poetry, nervously running one hand through 
his hair." 

While Dr. Whiteside (later Archbishop of Liverpool) 
was Minor Professor at the College he had charge of 
Francis's dormitory. One night after lights were out 
he heard the sound of strictly forbidden talk. Searching 
for the offender, he found Francis reciting Latin poetry 
in his sleep. The Minor Professor awakened him and 
told him he was disturbing the dormitory. Ten minutes 
later he heard more noise, and found Francis, again 
asleep, reciting Greek poetry ! I doubt if Francis's 
Greek, save in dream or anecdote, was fluent enough 
to waken his fellows. 

The habit of humorous verse was already on him, 
and argues that he was light-hearted at school, even as 
the note-books, filled at the time of his greatest depres- 
sion in after years, argue that he never wholly lacked 

27 



The Boy 

relief. His joke showed his independence ; he was 
not under the thumb of his distresses. He could put 
them aside, or accept, or forget, or forbid, or do to them 
whatever may have been the armouring process. 

Of all the essays, in verse or prose, of his Ushaw days, 
the verses aimed at an invalid master had caught out 
of the future the most characteristic note. I can hear 
him say his tl Lamente Forre Stephanon " in the deep 
tremulous voice that he affected for reading, and it 
hardly comes amiss from the mature tongue : 

Come listen to mie roundelaie. 

' 

Come droppe the brinie tear with me. 
Forre Stephanon is gone awaye, 
And long away perchance wille be ! 

Our friendde hee is sicke, 

Gone to takke physicke, 

Al in the infirmarie. 

Swart was hys dresse as the blacke, blacke nyghte 

Whenne the moon dothe not lyghte uppe the waye, 
And hys voice was hoarse as the gruffe Northe winde 
Whenne he swirleth the snowe awaye. 
Our friendde hee is sicke, 
Gone to takke physicke, 
Al in the infirmarie. 

Eyn hee hadde lyke to a hawke, 

Soothe I saye, so sharpe was hee 
That hee e'en mought see you talke 
Whenne you talkynge did not bee. 
Our friendde hee is sick, 
Gone to takke physicke, 
Al in the infirmarie. 

We ne'er schalle see hys lyke agenne, 

We ne'er agenne hys lyke schalle see, 
Searche amonge al Englyshe menne, 
You ne'er will fynde the lyke of hee. 
Our friendde hee is sicke, 
Gone to takke physicke, 
Al in the infirmarie. 

28 



The First Verses 

A copy of the verses fell into the hands of Stephanon, 
without ill effects ; his mighty laugh is still raised when 
he remembers them. The resolve to be a poet is in 
some of the college verses ; the word has not been made 
poetry, but the spirit is willing and anxious. "Yet, my 
Soul, we have a treasure not the banded world can 
take," was the stuff to fill the manuscript book he 
clutched in recreation hours : 

Think, my Soul, how we were happy with it in the days of yore, 
When upon the golden mountains we saw throned the mighty 

Sun, 
When the gracious Moon at night-time taught us deep and mystic 

lore, 
And the holy, wise old forests spoke to us and us alone. 

Yes, I loved them ! And not least I loved to look on Ocean's face, 
When he lay in peace sublime and evening's shades were stealing 

on, 
When his child, the King of Light, from Heaven stooped to his 

embrace, 
And his locks were tangled with the golden tresses of the Sun. 

And much more ; in that last he is feeling his way toward 
the line, to be written in maturity, " Tangle the tresses 
of a phantom wind." He was already on nodding 
terms with nodding laburnum : 

The laden laburnum stoops 

In clusters gold as thy hair, 
The maiden lily droops 

The fairest where all are fair, 
The thick-massed fuchsias show 

In red and in white thy hue ! 
In a pendant cloud they spread and glow 

Of crimson, and white, and blue, 
In hanging showers they droop their flowers 

Of crimson and white, and crimson and blue. 

Pan was not yet done to death, nor did Francis know 
that he, of all poets, would most searchingly chase the 

29 



The Boy 

god from his lairs, and give over the forests of poetry 
to Him of the Rood, proving 

the Crucifix may be 
Carven from the laurel-tree. 

<4 

The schoolboy's invocation is : 

And thou, Pan, whose dwelling must be sought 
Deep in some vast grown forest, where the trees 
Are wet with cold large dew drops in the breeze, 
Where hangs dark moss in rain-steeped tresses long, 
Aid me, O aid, to body forth in song 
A scene as fair as thou in all thy days 
Hast gazed upon, or ever yet wilt gaze. 

Of Ushaw walks, another recreation fit for Francis, 
a companion writes : " In all weathers we tramped the 
roads, and it must have been at these times (for after 
he left college he saw little of meadows and hedgerows), 
that he unconsciously imbibed his wonderful knowledge 
of the flowers of the field." 

It was sowing-time and the soil rich, but an observer, 
in the exact sense, Francis never was. He would make 
any layman appear a botanist with easy questions about 
the commonplaces of the hedges, and a flowered dinner- 
table in London always kept him wondering, fork in air, 
as to kinds and names. On the other hand, he was 
essentially an observer : let him see but one sunset and 
the daily mystery of that going down would companion 
him for a life-time ; let him see but one daisy, and all 
his paths would be strewn with white and gold. He 
had the inner eye, which when it lifts heavy lashes lets 
in immutable memories. 

And of Religion : more pressing than the invitation 
to the northern road would be the invitation to Ushaw's 
Chapel. His lessons in ceremonial were not the least 
he was taught. Eton could have given him his Latin, 
but his Liturgy was more important. His singing-gown 

30 



Thoughts of the Priesthood 

was a vestment, and he learnt its fashioning at college. 
He learnt the hymns of the Church and became her 
hymn-writer ; he learnt his way in the missal, and came 
to write his meditation in "The Hound of Heaven." 
A priest, who was his schoolfellow, writes : 

" No Ushaw man need be told how eagerly all, both young and 
old, hailed the coming of the ist of May. For that day, in the 
Seminary, was erected a colossal altar at the end of the ambulacrum 
nearest the belfry, fitted and adorned by loving zeal. Before this, 
after solemn procession from St. Aloysius', with lighted tapers, all 
assembled, Professors and students, and sang a Marian hymn. In 
the College no less solemnity was observed. At a quarter past 
nine the whole house, from President downwards, assembled in 
the ante-chapel before our favourite statue. A hymn, selected 
and practised with great care, was sung in alternate verses by the 
choir in harmony, and the whole house in unison. ' Dignare me 
laudare, te, Virgo Sacrata/ was intoned by the Cantor ; ' Da 
mihi virtutem contra hostes tuos ' thundered back the whole con- 
gregation ; and the priest, robed already for Benediction, sang 
the prayer ' Concede, misericors Deus,' etc. Singing Our Lady's 
Magnificat, we filed into St. Cuthbert's, and then, as in the Seminary, 
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament followed. For thirty-one 
days, excepting Sundays and holy days, this inspiring ceremonial 
took place its memory can never be effaced." 

Although it is somewhere affirmed that Francis be- 
trayed no singular piety, we know how devout was his 
young heart. It was intended for him that he should 
enter the Church, and he studied for the priesthood. 
Letters written to his parents by those who had him 
under observation go to make the history of the case ; 
on September 6, 1871, Father Yatlock wrote : 

" I am sure, dear Mrs. Thompson, that it will be a pleasure and 
a consolation to you and Dr. Thompson that Frank gives the greatest 
satisfaction in every way ; and I sincerely trust, as you said the 
other evening, that he will become one day a good and holy priest." 

But at the last his ghostly advisers found him unfitted. 
They held his absent-mindedness to be too grave a 

3 1 



The Boy 

disability, and in his nineteenth year he was advised to 
relinquish all idea of the priesthood. In June 1877 the 
President wrote a letter proving the good will, a quality 
that may easily collapse before a silent, strange, evasive 
child, which was felt for Francis. 
The President wrote : 

" With regard to Frank, I can well appreciate the regret and 
disappointment which you and his mother must feel. Frank 
has always been a great favourite of mine ever since he came as 
a child to the Seminary. He has always been a remarkably docile 
and obedient boy, and certainly one of the cleverest boys in his 
class. Still, his strong, nervous timidity has increased to such 
an extent that I have been most reluctantly compelled to concur 
in the opinion of his Director and others that it is not the holy 
will of God that he should go on for the Priesthood. It is only 
after much thought, and after some long and confidential con- 
versations with Frank himself, that I have come to this conclusion : 
and most unwillingly, for I feel, as I said, a very strong regard 
and affection for your boy. I earnestly pray God to bless him, 
and to enable you to bear for His sake the disappointment this 
has caused. I quite agree with you in thinking that it is quite 
time that he should begin to prepare for some other career. If 
he can shake off a natural indolence which has always been an 
obstacle with him, he has ability to succeed in any career." 

Indolence is one name of many for the abstraction of 
Francis's mind and the inactivities of his body. He was 
not of the stuff to " break ice in his basin by candle- 
light," and no doves fluttered against his lodging window 
to wake him in summer, but he was not indolent in the 
struggle against indolence. Not a life-time of mornings 
spent in bed killed the desire to be up and doing. In the 
trembling hand of his last months he wrote out in big 
capitals on pages torn from exercise books such texts as 
were calculated to frighten him into his clothes. " Thou 
wilt not lie a-bed when the last trump blows"; "Thy 
sleep with the worms will be long enough," and so on. 
They were ineffectual. His was a long series of broken 

32 



The Disappointment 

trysts trysts with the sunrise, trysts with Sunday mass, 
obligatory but impossible ; trysts with friends. Whether 
it was indolence or, as he explained it, an insurmountable 
series of detaining accidents, it is certain that he, captain 
of his soul, was not captain of his hours. They played 
him false at every stroke of the clock, mutinied with such 
cunning that he would keep an appointment in all good 
faith six hours after it was past. Dismayed, he would 
emerge from his room upon a household preparing for 
dinner, when he had lain listening to sounds he thought 
betokened breakfast. He was always behindhand with 
punctual eve, and in trouble with strict noon. 

And yet there were the makings of the parish priest, or 
the hint of them, in his demeanour. " Is that the Frank 
Thompson I quarrelled about with my neighbouring 
bishop ? ' asked Cardinal Vaughan (then Bishop of 
Salford) when many years later he heard the name of 
the poet from my father ; " each of us wanted him for 
his own diocese." 

The ritual of the Church ordered his unorderly life ; 
he was priestly in that he preached her faith and 
practised her austerities. Nature he ignored till she 
spoke the language of religion ; and he, though secretly 
much engrossed in his own spiritual welfare, was, priest- 
like, audible at his prayers or poetry. His muse was 
obedient and circumspect as the voice that proclaims 
the rubrics. He was often merely in Roman orders, so 
to say, when the critics accused him of breaking the 
laws of English and common-sense. At the same time 
he failed signally in the practical service of his fellows. 
His rhymes were the only alms he gave ; but annoyances 
he seemed at times to distribute as lavishly as St. 
Anthony his loaves. 

Having done no wrong, he bore home a disappoint- 
ment for his parents. It is no light thing to have a son, 
destined for the sheltered rallying-place of the Church, 
thrust back into a world he had been well rid of. Nor 

33 c 



The Boy 

did his indifference as to his prospects (the disguise, 
perhaps, of his own disappointment) inspire them with 
confidence. I have already mentioned that it is thought 
by many persons well-versed in the spiritual affairs of 
the family that his failure in the Seminary was with him 
an acute and lasting grief. 

On the other hand, he was from his childhood a 
prophet in his own strange land, and it is probable that 
while his family were solicitous for him to enter the 
Church, he recognised the justice of his confessor's 
opinion. The "A.M.D.G." inscribed in his exercise 
books was none the less the perfect dedication. "To 
the Greater Glory of God ' was already his pen's 
motto. He saw " all the world for cell," and he made 
much of the pains he thought necessary for his poetry. 



34 







err- . r ,v 

. 7/TVun f/.i .y/v 



crmfo 



fodcm 



ltl 18 



CHAPTER III: MANCHESTER AND 

MEDICINE 

AN awed, awkward youth, Francis had yet, before the 
age of eighteen, experience enough to know how futile for 
him was the study of medicine. A career in medicine, 
a career in anything, made no appeal to one who saw 
himself a man spoiled for the world. Home from his 
daily lectures, he would, not seldom, shut himself up in 
his room. His cloister was solitude, and in that painful 
sanctuary he hid himself from success. He made a pre- 
tence of study, and for six years was a medical student. 

He had been seven years at Ushaw when he left in 
July 1877. The photographs of the time show him to 
have arrived at the most robust and perhaps most 
normal period of his life. But awaiting him at home 
were the traps of personality. There the opportunity 
to be himself set on foot and gave courage to all the 
essential peculiarities of his character. If he had evaded 
at Ushaw the claims of the community, he now evaded 
them much more. Although he resumed his play and 
make-believe with his sisters, he was growing further 
and further apart from a good understanding with any 
of his fellow-creatures. Holding himself little bounden 
to his duties, he soon started on a career of evasion and 
silence. After a pause of some more months he was 
examined, and passed with distinction in Greek, for 
admission as a student of medicine to Owens College. 
For six years he studied or attempted to study in Man- 
chester, making the journey from Ashton-under-Lyne 
under the compulsion of the family eye. But once round 
the corner he was safe from the too strict inquiry by a 

35 



Manchester and Medicine 

father never stern. The hours of his actual attendance 
at lectures were comparatively few. " I hated my 
scientific and medical studies, and learned them badly. 
Now even that bad and reluctant knowledge has grown 
priceless to me," he wrote in after life. 

The Manchester of his studies had little hold of him, and 
keeps few memories of him. In the wide but mean street 
leading to Owens College you may, it is true, picture 
him making a late and lingering way to work, or entering 
the cook-shops which even then had initiated him in 
the consumption of bad food (but he long remembered 
the excellence of one underground restaurant for modest 
commercial classes), or nervously awaiting the offer of 
the bookseller for some volume superfluous to a truant 
student's needs. The thoroughfare is so busy as to 
disregard the abstracted walk and expression of an 
eccentric wayfarer. Francis soon learned the art of 
being lonely in a multitude, and would only occasionally 
perceive one of the passers who turned and looked after 
him. Boys provoked to jeer at him he met to his own 
satisfaction, sometimes with a complete disregard, some- 
times with a threatening show of anger. He would con- 
gratulate himself upon his tactics, not knowing that he, 
a young man, was more timid and abashed than any 
seven-year-old rough of the pavement. The college 
building, oppressive and awesome in its arches, halls, 
and corridors, is difficult to reconcile with the timidity 
with which Francis faced it. Your footsteps " hullo ! ' 
at you in the passages, and must ring with self assurance 
or with carelessness if they are not to echo and ex- 
aggerate your doubtful mood. Laughter, the ungentle 
laughter of medical students whither, asked Stevenson, 
go all unpleasant medical students, whence come all 
worthy doctors ? swings down on you or bars you 
from a corner that you must needs pass. Among the 
sheltering cases of the deserted museum there is more 
room for the would-be solitary. Silent mineralogies, 

36 



The Doctor's Son 

fragments, fossils, tell the poet more than the boisterous 
tongues of the young men. Yorkshire delivered up to 
the museum a vast saurian and other creatures of the 
past of whom we hear in the " Anthem of Earth." 

Those were years of anything but the making of a 
doctor. To have conformed so little to the style of the 
medical student promised little for the expected practi- 
tioner. He would even leave his father's reputable 
doorstep with untied laces, dragging their length on the 
pavement past the windows of curious and critical 
neighbours. He did not work, and his idleness was all 
unlike the idleness proper to his class. He read poetry 
in the public library. One sort of idleness, an idleness 
that gave business to his thoughts for all his life, took 
him to the museums and galleries. In an essay of the 
'nineties he remembers 

" The statue which thralled my youth in a passion 
such as feminine mortality was skill-less to instigate. 
Nor at this let any boggle ; for she was a goddess. 
Statue I have called her ; but indeed she was a bust, a 
head, a face and who that saw that face could have 
thought to regard further ? She stood nameless in the 
gallery of sculptural casts which she strangely deigned 
to inhabit ; but I have since learned that men call her 
the Vatican Melpomene. Rightly stood she nameless, 
for Melpomene she never \vas : never went words of 
hers from bronzed lyre in tragic order ; never through 
her enspelled lips moaned any syllables of woe. Rather, 
with her leaf-twined locks, she seems some strayed 
Bacchante, indissolubly filmed in secular reverie. The 
expression which gave her divinity resistless I have 
always suspected for an accident of the cast ; since 
in frequent engravings of her prototype I never met 
any such aspect. The secret of this indecipherable 
significance, I slowly discerned, lurked in the singularly 
diverse set of the two corners of the mouth ; so that her 
profile wholly shifted its meaning according as it was 

37 



Manchester and Medicine 

viewed from the right or left. In one corner of her 
mouth the little languorous firstling of a smile had gone to 
sleep ; as if she had fallen a-dream, and forgotten that 
it was there. The other had drooped, as of its own 
listless weight, into a something which guessed at 
sadness ; guessed, but so as indolent lids are easily 
grieved by the prick of the slate-blue dawn. And on 
the full countenance these two expressions blended 
to a single expression inexpressible ; as if pensiveness 
had played the Maenad, and now her arms grew 
heavy under the cymbals. Thither each evening, as 
twilight fell, I stole to meditate and worship the 
baffling mysteries of her meaning : as twilight fell, and 
the blank noon surceased arrest upon her life, and in 
the vaguening countenance the eyes broke out from 
their day-long ambuscade. Eyes of violet blue, drowsed- 
amorous, which surveyed me not, but looked ever beyond, 
where a spell enfixed them, 

Waiting for something, not for me. 

And I was content. Content ; for by such tenure of 
unnoticedness I knew that I held my privilege to worship : 
had she beheld me, she would have denied, have con- 
temned my gaze. Between us, now, are years and tears ; 
but the years waste her not, and the tears wet her not ; 
neither misses she me or any man. There, I think, she 
is standing yet ; there, I think, she will stand for ever : 
the divinity of an accident, awaiting a divine thing 
impossible, which can never come to her, and she knows 
this not. For I reject the vain fable that the ambrosial 
creature is really an unspiritual compound of lime, 
which the gross ignorant call plaster of Paris. If Paris 
indeed had to do with her, it was he of Ida. And for 
him, perchance, she waits." 

Here already was the artist, the actor in unreal realities. 
Already he had been thrice in love with the heroines 
of Selous' Shakespeare, with a doll, with a statue. 

38 



Cricket 

Before he knew that his lot was to be more chipped 
and filled with blanks than the ladies of the Parthenon, 
he had set about furnishing the gaps with complementing 
fragments of fancy. He was winning consolation prizes 
before any races had been lost. " No youth expects to 
get a heroine of romance for a mistress/' he avers, but 
I doubt if many youths court woodcut and wax on 
that account. They look for their heroines in living 
replica ; Francis, the artist, went to book and toy-box. 
And he went walking often to the accompaniment of his 
father's talk of buds, and trees, and flowers. Mr. J. 
Saxon Mills, his neighbour, writes : 

" Some few may remember him when, a good many years ago, 
he used to take his walks up Stalybridge Road, and in the semi- 
rural outskirts of Ashton. They will recall the quick short step, the 
sudden and apparently causeless hesitation or full stop, then the 
old quick pace again, the continued muttered soliloquy, the frail 
and slight figure. Such was the poet during his studentship at 
Owens College. An intellectual temperament less adapted to the 
career of a doctor and surgeon could not be imagined. To such 
a profession, however, Frank was destined by a careful and prac- 
tical father." 

Besides the public galleries, the libraries, and the 
roads, he had the cricket-field. From the writing of 
his own and his sister's heroes' scores upon the sands 
at Colwyn Bay, he and she had taken to back-garden 
practice of the game. At school he had not played, but 
neither had he lost his enthusiasm there. Returning 
from Ushaw, he would, his sister tells me, go to a friend's 
garden and play for hours by himself, and bowl for 
hours at the net, which meant that he had, after each 
delivery, to retrieve his own ball. He was much at the 
Old Trafford ground, and there he stored memories that 
would topple out one over another in his talk at the end 
of his life. The most historic of the matches he wit- 
nessed was that between Lancashire and Gloucestershire 
in 1878. His sister remembers it, and he celebrates it 

39 



Manchester and Medicine 

in the following poem, written in the clear but tragic 
light that his devotion to the game shed upon the distant 
scene of whites and greens : 

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk, 

Though my own red roses there may blow ; 
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk, 

Though the red roses crest the caps, I know. 
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast, 
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost, 
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host 

As the run-stealers flicker to and fro, 
To and fro : 

my Hornby and my Barlow long ago ! 

It is Glo'ster coming North, the irresistible, 

The Shire of the Graces, long ago ! 
It is Gloucestershire up North, the irresistible, 

And new-risen Lancashire the foe ! 
A Shire so young that has scarce impressed its traces, 
Ah, how shall it stand before all resistless Graces ? 
0, little red rose, their bats are as maces 

To beat thee down, this summer long ago ! 

This day of seventy-eight they are come up North against thee, 

This day of seventy-eight, long ago ! 
The champion of the centuries, he cometh up against thee, 

With his brethren, every one a famous foe ! 
The long-whiskered Doctor, that laugheth rules to scorn, 
While the bowler, pitched against him, bans the day that he 

was born ; 
And G. F. with his science makes the fairest length forlorn ; 

They are come from the West to work thee woe ! 

Nor did Francis's cloistered sister forget. On reading 
Mr. E. V. Lucas's criticisms on her brother's cricket verses 
(Cornhill Magazine, 1907) she wrote to me : " The article 
stirred up many old memories, thank God. I can 
remember seven names out of the Lancashire XI of that 
match." For thirty years she remembered the seven 
jolly cricketers, with the seven joyful mysteries of the 

Rosary, to keep her young. 

40 



The Red Rose 

Francis in 1900 could draw up the whole of the 
Lanes. XI and name eight of the other XI, with a guess 
at a ninth man. Mr. E. V. Lucas knows all about the 
match. " It was an historic contest, for the two counties 
had never met before, and was played on July 25, 26, 27, 
1878, when the poet was eighteen. The fame of the 
Graces was such that 16,000 people were present on the 
Saturday, the third day of whom, by the way, 2000 did 
not pay but took the ground by storm. The result was 
a draw a little in Lancashire's favour. It was eminently 
Hornby's and Barlow's match. In the first innings the 
amateur made only five, but Barlow went right through 
it, his wicket falling last for 40. In the second innings 
Hornby was at his best, making with incredible dash 100 
out of 156 while he was in, Barlow supporting him while 
he made eighty of them. The note-book in which these 
verses are written contains numberless variations upon 
several of the lines. ' O my Hornby and my Barlow 
long ago ! ' becomes in one case < O my Monkey and 
Stone-Waller long ago ! ' Monkey was, of course, Mr. 
Hornby's nickname. ' First he runs you out of breath/ 
said the professional, possibly Barlow himself, 'then he 
runs you out, and then he gives you a sovereign ! ' A 
brave summary ! ' 

Other Lancashire heroes and other worship were here 
recorded : 

Sons, who have sucked stern nature forth 
From the milk of our firm-breasted north ! 
Stubborn and stark, in whatever field, 
Stand, Sons of the Red Rose, who may not yield ! 

Gone is Pattison's lovely style, 
Not the name of him lingers awhile. 

Lancashire Red Rose, Lancashire Red Rose ! 

The men who fostered thee, no man knows. 

Many bow to thy present shows, 

But greater far have I seen thee, my Rose ! 

4 1 



Manchester and Medicine 

Thy batting Steels, D. G., H. B., 
Dost thou forget ? And him, A. G., 
Bat superb, of slows the prince, 
Father of all slow bowlers since ? 

Yet, though Sugg, Eccles, Ward, Tyldesley play 
The part of a great, a vanished day, 
By this may ye know, and long may ye know, 
Our Rose ; it is greatest when hope is low. 

The Lancashire Red Rose, the Lancashire Red Rose ! 
We love the hue on her cheek that shows : 
And it never shall blanch, come the world as foes, 
For dipt in our hearts is the Lancashire Red Rose ! 

Vernon Royle, says the sister, was one of them ; nor 
did the brother forget him. I quote from his review of 
Ranjitsinhji's Jubilee Book of Cricket (The Academy, 
September 4, 1897) : 

"'From what one hears/ Prince Ranjitsinhji says, 
' Vernon Royle must have been a magnificent fielder.' 
He was. A ball for which hardly another cover-point 
would think of trying he flashed upon, and with a single 
action stopped it and returned it to the wicket. So 
placed that only a single stump was visible to him, he 
would throw that down with unfailing accuracy, and 
without the slightest pause for aim. One of the members 
of the Australian team in Royle's era, playing against 
Lancashire, shaped to start for a hit wide of cover-point. 
'No, no!' cried his partner, 'the policeman is there!' 
There were no short runs anywhere in the neighbourhood 
of Royle. He simply terrorised the batsmen. In addition 
to his swiftness and sureness, his style was a miracle of 
grace. Slender and symmetrical, he moved with the 
lightness of a young roe, the flexuous elegance of a 
leopard. ... To be a fielder like Vernon Royle is as 
much worth any youth's endeavours as to be a batsman 
like Ranjitsinhji or a bowler like Richardson." 

42 



Old Trafford 

The cricket verses are all lamentations for the dead. I 
doubt if he was ever so happy as when mourning his 
heroes. To decorate his boyish memories of the de- 
parted with rhymed requiems and mature rhythms was 
one of his few luxuries. The note-books were full of 
fragments : 

He that flashed from wicket to wicket 

Like flash of a lighted powder-train ; 
Where is that thunderbolt of cricket ? 

And where are the peers of Charlemain ? 
With this, with this, for an undersong, 

" But where are the peers of Charlemain ? ' 

He had projects beyond cricket verses and reviewing. 
At a late London period he proposed to write his 
cricket memories, gravely justifying his connoisseurship 
and his qualifications :- 

" For several years, living within distance of the O. T. 
Ground, where successively played each year the chief 
cricketers of England, where the chief cricketers of 
Australia played in their periodic visits, and where one 
of the three Australian test-matches was latterly decided, 
I saw all the great cricketers of that day, and it was a 
very rich day. Naturally, I have a few things to say 
about cricket now and then. . . . Thousands of others 
have the same basis, but it happens that I have what they 
have not some trained faculty of expression. The few 
remarks that follow carefully avoid the province of 
purely technical criticism, which is rightly engrossed by 
those who are themselves great cricketers. The only 
technical criticism worth having in poetry is that of 
poets, and the same is true of cricket." 

Of the true historian of the game he writes : " Nyren 
at once the Herodotus and Homer of cricket an epic 
writer if ever there was one." 

His Lancastrian ardour had suffered no diminution 

43 



Manchester and Medicine 

when, after an absence from the north and from cricket 
fields of twenty years, he and I talked cricket. There 
was a well-established understanding between us that 
he was for the red rose, I for the white. It was make- 
believe, but served during many seasons and in many 
letters. More chivalrous than a knight of Arthur in 
rivalry he would write thus : 

" Well done, Yorkshire ! your county is coming up 
hand over hand I see by the placards. I said how it 
would be, so I am not surprised. Our tail is not plucky. 
Love to all, dear Ev. F. T." 

That was about a match lost by Lancashire in 
1905. The year before, Thompson's fellow-lodgers, with 
an eye to comedy as much as to cricket, had persuaded 
him to meet them at a cricket-net near Wormwood 
Scrubbs. Of seven men and boys who met there, six 
had made some compromise with the conventional 
costume of the game ; they could boast a flannelled leg, 
soft collar, or at least a stud unfastened in deference to 
a splendid sun ; and they were active, and their shadows 
on the green quite playful. But he was dingy from boot 
laces to hat band. Timorously excited and wonderfully 
intent upon all the preparations, he stiffly waited his turn 
to bat. When it came he remembered he had no pads 
on and stayed to strap them with fingers so \veak that 
they were hurt by the buckle with which they fumbled. 
And then, supremely grave, he batted for the first time 
since he had faced his sister's bowling on the sands of 
Colwyn Bay. 

I was never at Lord's or the Oval with him, in 
spite of many plans, and he himself passed the turn- 
stile on very few occasions. But he was always thinking 
of the cricket he would see, and always for some good 
reason postponing the day, as for instance in a note 
written in 1905 : 

44 



Lord's 

" I did not go to Lord's. Could not get there before 
lunch ; and getting a paper at Baker Street saw Lancas- 
shire had collapsed and Middlesex were in again. So 
turned back without getting my ticket luckily kept from 
another disappointing day." 

Mr. E. V. Lucas has written of the incongruity of 
Thompson's appearance and his enthusiasm : 

" If ever a figure seemed to say, ' Take me anywhere in the 
world so long as it is not to a cricket match/ that figure was 
Francis Thompson's. And his eye supported it. His eye had no 
brightness : it swung laboriously upon its object ; whereas the 
enthusiasts of St. John's Wood dart their glances like birds. But 
Francis Thompson was born to baffle the glib inference." 

It was his unpromising figure that, making its way 
late at night from Granville Place to Brondesbury, would 
pass through St. John's Wood and be stirred with 
thoughts of the game. Had his mutterings reached the 
ear of the policeman on the Lord's beat, it would have 
been known that they were not always so tragically en- 
gendered as his mien suggested. The following lines he 
wrote out for me and posted in the early hours after 
such a journey : 

The little Red Rose shall be pale at last. 

What made it red but the June Wind's sigh ? 
And Brearley's ball that he bowls so fast ? 

It shall sink in the dust of the late July ! 

The pride of the North shall droop at last ; 

What made her proud but the Tyl-des-lie ? 
An Austral ball shall be bowled full fast, 

And baffle his bat and pass it by. 

The Rose once wounded shall snap at last. 

The Rose long bleeding it shall not die. 
This song is secret. Mine ear it passed 

In a wind from the field of Le-bone-Marie. 

45 



Manchester and Medicine 

At the end of two years at Owens College he went to 
London for the first time, staying with his cousin, Mr. 
May, in Tregunter Road, Fulham. 1 The trials of ex- 
amination were partly compensated for by a visit to the 
opera. 

In 1879 Francis fell ill, and did not recover until after 
a long bout of fever. He looks stricken and thin in 
photographs taken at his recovery, and it is probably at 
this time that he first tasted laudanum. It was at this 
time too, during his early courses at Owens College, 
that Mrs. Thompson, without any known cause or 
purpose, gave her son a copy of The Confessions of an 
English Opium Eater? It was a last gift, for she died 
December 19, 1880. Apart from the immediate conse- 
quences of this momentous introduction, fraught with 
suggestions and sympathies for which there was a 
gaping readiness in the young man, it greatly serves in 
the understanding of the opium-eater in general, of the 
Manchester opium-eater in particular, and of Francis 
Thompson, to make or renew acquaintance with de 
Quincey. Indeed if there is one favour that must be 
asked by the biographer of Francis Thompson, it is that 
his readers should also be readers of the Confessions, 
for, without the mighty initiation of that masterly prose, 
the gateways into the strange and tortuous landscape of 
dreams can hardly be forced, nor half the thickets and 
valleys be conquered, of the poet's intellectual history. 



1 It pleases the idle mind of the present writer to find that Francis visited 
Tregunter Road when my mother, who was years later to be the lady of " Love 
in Dian's Lap," was staying there, unknown to him. 

2 His uncle, Edward Healy Thompson, afterwards remembered that 
The Opium Eater was his favourite book at home : " We had often said his 
experiences would surpass those of de Quincey." 

At the same time the family noted other influences ; it was a tradition of 
theirs that "On the 3rd Sunday of September, 1885, Fr. Richardson of St. 
Mary's, Ashton-under Lyne, delivered a sermon on ' Our Lady of Sorrows,' 
which, Francis hearing, was the subject of his meditation, and, two years later, 
of his poem 'The Passion of Mary.' It is thought that he did not make any 
notes on the sermon in church, but in the drawing-room at home in Stamford 
Street he made use that same night of pencil and paper." 

46 



A de Quincey Parallel 

As a sight of the pictures of Tintoretto would serve to 
make known, to one entirely ignorant of the style, the 
possibilities and achievements of the Venetian School ; 
would serve to make known, not Titian, but the possi- 
bility of a Titian, so the style of de Quincey, the habit 
of his mind, the manner of his confessing, his conceal- 
ments and sincerities, his association of passion and 
idleness, his fretfulness and his habit of presaging dole, 
his manner of complaining of being cold a-bed, his 
bulletins, his conscious style and repetitions, serve to 
bring the personality of Thompson to the memory of 
those who knew him and into the ken of those who did 
not. For the family likeness, for the school manner, 
there are passages, too, in the history of Coleridge that 
will be found suggestive and explanatory. In knowing 
these cousins of the habit, you come, as you cannot 
come by any single and uncorroborated experience, into 
very convincing touch with him whom you are seeking. 
If, apart from the special significance of Francis's com- 
munion with de Quincey, these two are linked, and in 
them the family likeness is apparent, what of the like- 
ness and the linking when we find how strong was the 
allegiance sworn by Francis to the spirit of de Quincey; 
when we track allusions and words and mannerisms 
in the "Anthem of Earth' back to the Confessions; 
when coincidence of actualities as well as the coinci- 
dence of intellect, such as the two flights from Man- 
chester and the two lives in the streets of London, 
clashed upon the attention of the young man who 
was withdrawn from the companionship of contem- 
poraries ? 

De Quincey, like Francis, had spent much time in the 
Manchester library. There both made their vocabularies 
robust and rare from the same Elizabethans, both 
fattened to the marrow the bones of their English from 
Sir Thomas Browne. And both stumbled headlong 
down a precipice of despondency. De Quincey has 

47 



Manchester and Medicine 

said many things on his own behalf, in that despondency 
and in the recourse to opium, that may well be said 
on Thompson's. 

It happened as if in giving Francis the Confessions 
Mrs. Thompson had found for him a guardian, a spokes- 
man, as if she had borne to him an elder brother. For 
Francis's feeling for de Quincey soon came to be that 
of a younger for an elder brother who has braved a 
hazardous road, shown the way, conquered, and left it 
strewn with consolations and palliations. From de 
Quincey he received the passport, the royal introduction 
set forth in Sir Walter Raleigh-like language ringing 
with at least the assurance of its own stateliness and 
power : 

" just, subtle, and all-conquering opium ! that to the hearts 
of rich and poor alike, for the wounds that will never heal and for 
the pangs of grief that ' tempt the spirit to rebel/ bringest an 
assuaging balm : eloquent opium ! that with thy potent rhetoric 
stealest away the purposes of wrath, pleadest effectually for re- 
lenting pity, and through one night's heavenly sleep callest back 
to the guilty man the visions of his infancy, and hands washed 
pure from blood ; just and righteous opium ! that to the 
chancery of dreams summonest for the triumphs of despairing 
innocence false witnesses, confoundest perjury, and dost reverse 
the sentences of unrighteous judges ; then buildest upon the bosom 
of darkness, out of the fastastic imagery of the brain, cities and 
temples, beyond the art of Phidias and Praxiteles beyond the 
splendours of Babylon and Hekatbmpylos ; and, ' from the anarchy 
of dreaming sleep ' cullest into sunny light the faces of long-buried 
beauties, and the blessed household countenances, cleansed from 
the ' dishonours of the grave.' Thou only givest those gifts to 
man ; and thou hast the keys to Paradise, just, subtle, and 
mighty opium ! ' : 

Opium indeed was in the air of Manchester, the 
cotton - spinners being much addicted to its use. 
And it called aloud to Francis in these words of de 
Quincey. Damnable things become reasonable or toler- 
able in a city. It harbours such a multitude of distresses, 



The Confessions 

such a conflict of right and wrong the purposes 
of nature stand confused, instincts go haltingly along the 
streets, conscience and reasonings are stunned between 
stone walls. In one thing, then, did Francis mishear 
the edict of lawfulness. He took opium a very 
pitiful and, surely, very excusable misunderstanding. 
Constitutionally he was a target for the temptation of 
the drug ; doubly a target when set up in the mis-fitting 
guise of a medical student, and sent about his work in 
the middle of the city of Manchester, long, according to 
de Qtiincey, a dingy den of opium, with every facility of 
access, and all the pains that were de Quincey's excuse. 
He took opium at the hands of de Quincey and his 
mother. That she, " giver of life, death, peace, distress," 
should thus have confirmed and renewed her gifts was a 
strange thing to befall. From her copy of the Confessions 
of an English Opium Eaterhz learnt a new existence at 
her hands. That the life that opium conserved in 
him triumphed over the death that opium dealt out to 
him shall be part argument of this book. On the one 
hand, it staved off the assaults of tuberculosis ; it gave 
him the wavering strength that made life just possible 
for him, whether on the streets or through all those 
other distresses and discomforts that it was his character 
deeply to resent but not to remove by any normal 
courses ; if it could threaten physical degradation he 
was able by conquest to tower in moral and mental 
glory. It made doctoring or any sober course of life 
even more impractical than it was already rendered by 
native incapacities, and to his failure in such careers we 
owe his poetry. On the other hand, it dealt with him 
remorselessly as it dealt with Coleridge and all its con- 
sumers. It put him in such constant strife with his 
own conscience that he had ever to hide himself from 
himself, and for concealment he fled to that which made 
him ashamed, until it was as if the fig-leaf were of neces- 
sity plucked from the Tree of the Fall. It killed in him 

49 D 



Manchester and Medicine 

the capacity for acknowledging those duties to his family 
and friends which, had his heart not been in shackles, 
he would have owned with no ordinary ardour. 

It is on account of a hundred passages of the Con- 
fessions that the friendship was established. What 
solace of companionship must Francis have discovered 
when de Quincey told him, " But alas ! my eye is quick 
to value the logic of evil chances. Prophet of evil I ever 
am to myself ; forced for ever into sorrowful auguries 
that I have no power to hide from my own heart, no, 
not through one night's solitary dreams." Here was a 
boon though sorrowful companion. For here was one 
who could translate his distresses into a brave art ; one 
w 7 ho could extract good writing out of his disabilities. 
Doubtless it was he who first showed to Francis the 
profitableness of bitter experiences, and that, if gallant 
prose might come of weakness, poetry might be sown 
in the fields of failure, and the crown of thorns be 
turned to the chaplet of laurel. As it serves us in 
following the friendship that Francis had imagined for 
himself, a passage in which no immediate relation to 
him can be traced may perhaps be pardoned on 
this page. It is necessary inasmuch as it shows the 
equal ground trodden by the two men ; they were 
going the same road, the stride of their thoughts was 
equal. It occurs in the part of the Confessions telling of 
the eve of de Quincey's flight from school. Evening 
prayers are being said, and with nerves highly strung 
by the responsibilities of the morrow there comes to de 
Quincey the higher meanings and motives of the school 
devotions. He feels how "the marvellous magnetism 
of Christianity ' has gathered into her service the 
wonders of nature, and builded her temple with the 
bricks of Creation : 

" Flowers, for example, that are so pathetic in their beauty, 
frail as the clouds, and in their colouring as gorgeous as the heavens, 
had through thousands of years been the heritage of children 

5 



The School of Opium 

honoured as the jewellery of God only by them when suddenly the 
voice of Christianity, countersigning the voice of infancy, raised 
them to a grandeur transcending the Hebrew throne, although 
founded by God Himself, and pronounced Solomon in all his glory 
not to be arrayed like one of these. Winds again, hurricanes, the 
eternal breathings, soft or loud, of yEolian power, wherefore had 
they, raving or sleeping, escaped all moral arrest and detention ? 
Simply because vain it were to offer a nest for the reception of some 
new moral birth whilst no religion is yet moving amongst men that 
can furnish such a birth. Vain is the image that should illustrate 
a heavenly sentiment, if the sentiment is yet unborn. Then, 
first, when it had become necessary to the purposes of a spiritual 
religion that the spirit of man, as the fountain of all religion, should 
in some commensurate reflex image have its grandeur and its 
mysteriousness emblazoned, suddenly the pomp and mysterious 
paths of winds and tempests, blowing whither they list, and from 
what fountains no man knows, are cited from darkness and neglect, 
to give and to receive reciprocally an impassioned glorification, 
where the lower mystery enshrines and illustrates the higher. Call 
for the grandest of all earthly spectacles, what is that ? It is the 
sun going to his rest. Call for the grandest of all human sentiments, 
what is that ? It is that man should forget his anger before he 
lies down to sleep. And these two grandeurs, the mighty sentiment 
and the mighty spectacle, are by Christianity married together." 

Is that, then, a Manchester school of thought, or no 
more than an accident ? These two men, singularly 
conscious of nature's liturgy, one of whom wrote this 
passage, and the other of "pontifical death," had 
both been forced to dodge the cotton warehouses that 
they might see their sunsets ; both had to fly from the 
normal liturgy of life and be estranged from themselves 
and their fellow-creatures by those qualities and sensi- 
tivenesses of the intellect which best enabled them to see 
in themselves and in their fellow-men the symbols and 
instruments of the Almighty. 

Very like de Qumcey's repudiation of guilt would have 
been Francis's : 

" Infirmity and misery do not, of necessity, imply guilt. They 
approach, or recede from, the shades of that dark alliance in 

51 



Manchester and Medicine 

proportion of the probable motives and prospects of the offender, 
and to the palliations, known or secret, of the offence ; in pro- 
portion as the temptations to it were potent from the first, and as 
the resistance to it, in act or in effort, were earnest to the last." 

Through what complication of persuasion by weakness 
and pain, impulse and even reason, the other Manchester 
boy passed may be guessed at through the more palpable 
screen of de Quincey's prose. De Quincey published his 
offences and defences, prosecuted, summed up, and 
reported in his own case ; and it was upon his ruling 
that Francis built up his own subtler arguments, ad- 
vanced and judged in camera. 

Unlike de Quincey, he had no burning desire to justify 
himself ; his own private excuse he had no desire to 
strengthen with the written and published word, or by 
seeking the corroborating content of others. He was 
consistently silent and secret on the point, and, if his 
silence did not avail to hide his secret, he \vas still silent 
in the manner of the lover who stole a kiss in the 
"Angel in the House": we knew that he knew we 

o 

knew about his drug. His pleading was not before 
man's tribunal, but before the higher courts of con- 
science and of poetry. During his first experiences of 
the opium he had not the consolatory knowledge of his 
genius, for it was only in later years when he was 
delivered of his poetry and beheld it emerge unmarred 
by his former surrender to the drug, that he found 
peace of mind. 

De Quincey, while he averred that the object of his 
confessions " was to emblazon the power of opium not 
over bodily disease and pain, but over the grander and 
more shadowy world of dreams," did nevertheless owe 
his initial experience of the drug to the prompting and 
searching of frantic toothache. Nor was his object merely 
an emblazoning. On one page it is denunciation of an 
intolerable burden the "accursed chain"; on another 
his motive seemed to him to be to give to opium-eaters 

52 



" The Saving of my Life " 

the consolation and encouragement of the knowledge 
that the habit may be put off, " without greater suffering 
than an ordinary resolution may support, and by a 
pretty rapid course of descent." He sets up his admir- 
able argument in the midst of contradictions : he is 
positive of his own attitude even while he does not know 
which w r ay to face, whether towards dreams, or towards 
the harsher fields of actuality. Under the generalship of 
his prose his reader may be marshalled into toleration 
and acceptance, or sent hurrying away from the con- 
templation of a dreadful enemy. De Quincey's two 
minds are apparent, too, in the history of his case. At 
times he turned upon himself and mastered the habit 
to which at others he was obedient, and even reverent. 

How weak the prop, as \veak as broken poppies ; its 
very praises fade on the page, like water thrown on sand, 
in the setting forth. De Quincey writes that the opium- 
eater never finishes his work, that Coleridge's contribu- 
tions to literature were made in spite of opium, that it 
killed him as a poet, that the leaving off of this his 
mighty opium creates a new heaven and a new earth. 

"Opium, the saving of my life," is one of Thompson's 
own most rare allusions to it. For de Quincey he never 
abated his old ardour of respect. The heat of his 
partisanship may be sufficiently measured in a letter, 
dated 1900, in which he falls upon some critic of his 
Manchester master : 

" Read the essay on D. Q. read read, and if you ever 
meet the writer, kick him till he roar at the squeak of a 
boot and snuffle at the whiff of a leather shop for the 
rest of his life ! Yet canst thou not kick to the measure 
of his deserts, wert thou Polypheme with earthquake on 
thy feet. Shall such monstrous fellows live and publish 
their villainous mismeasurement of great literature, and 
be hailed ' sane critics ' by the muddy clappers-on of 
mediocrity ? I am whipped out of my patience that 

53 



Manchester and Medicine 

I cannot call these scullions in good print 'ass un- 
paralleled,' but must mince and fine my phrases to a 
smooth and customed censure." 

Only those who know how well his mental matched 
his physical inability in assault and battery can be 
certain of the utter artifice of this exercise in petulance. 
He could be angry only when his anger was safely 
out of range of giving pain. He would kick in the 
closet of his note-books, but would ever be nearer kissing 
when his action came to be communicated. And even 
in his note-books he would seldom indulge personal 
spite ; his unkind entries are sheathed in blanks, so that 
no accident of perusal could hurt the feelings of the 
censured. 

It has been doubted whether he actually " sat " for his 
medical examination, but considering how little bold he 
was among strangers and in a strange town, it is un- 
likely that on this first occasion he summoned enough 
courage to play truant. In all probability he was con- 
ducted to the place of examination, but one can only 
conjecture his behaviour as he was more than usually 
silent on his return. "I have not passed" is all the in- 
formation he vouchsafed when, some little time after, 
he is supposed to have received notice of his failure. 
Two years more of pretended study followed, with some 
real reading at home in the evenings. It was Francis's 
quickness of intelligence during these extra hours of 
more congenial research that enabled him to appear 
in conversation with his father as one moderately \vell 
equipped in the knowledge of medicine. But after 
Francis again visited London in 1882, after four years 
in all of study, and again returned with the formula of " I 
have not passed," his father called upon the authorities at 
Owens College, and learnt that Francis's non-attendances 
were far in advance of his attendances. During two 
more years of preparation he read less and less at home. 

54 




lion ihj cm 

7 ' V 77 



The Examinations 

He would come in late in the evening, declaring that 
a professor or a lecturer had taken him to give him 
extra instruction, and not till some time afterwards was 
it discovered that the house he visited was the home 
of a musician, and the instruction that of listening to 
music performed upon the piano. Of music he was 
extremely fond : his interest in it would be passionate 
or else totally obscured when, in later years, there was 
music going forward in his presence. 

Calling it his chief recreation, he continued for years 
without it. For Berlioz he kept the excited enthusiasm 
of a child, childish memory doing the trick. He would 
often tell of music (Berlioz, Beethoven, Chopin) heard in 
Manchester, where he attended concerts with his mother. 
He himself could no more than strike a sequence of 
chords upon the piano, which he would do with so much 
earnestness that I, as a child, was impressed by his per- 
formance. In listening to music his emotion was equally 
manifest. Standing at the piano, he would gaze at the 
performer, his body wavering to and fro in tremulous 
pleasure ; or, as often, he would not heed at all. 

It was decided that his third attempt upon the pro- 
fession of medicine should be made at Glasgow, where 
degrees were more easily, if less honourably, to be ob- 
tained. But the examination, if indeed it was actually 
accepted, was approached with no endeavour or even 
anxiety, except on the father's part, for success. Indeed, 
failure must have been very frankly courted by Francis, 
whose main fault was that he had not the courage openly 
to dispute his father's decision in regard to a career. 
Never once did he intimate that his heart was set on 
poetry, although from sixteen, as he afterwards said, he 
studied and practised metre ; it is not unlikely that to 
have been told to go and make a business of literature 
would have been more irksome to him than passing the 
years in the evasion of medicine. His secret absorption 
in his own interests was, after all, not uncomfortably 

55 



Manchester and Medicine 

circumstanced during all these years, for it is certain 
that literature was a second life to Francis which could 
be lived alone most happily. After failure in Glasgow, 
Francis met with a severe show of impatience and dis- 
appointment from his father. Many trials had been 
tolerated at the son's hands, hundreds of pounds had 
been expended, and the son's future was less secure than 
ever. Dr. Thompson determined on such courses as he 
thought would compel Francis to some undertaking of 
the responsibilities of life. 

No little money had been spent on examination fees 
to examiners who probably had no papers to examine ; 
on dissecting fees which did not once compel Francis's 
presence at the dissecting-table. He was already spend- 
ing money on opium. 

After many leniencies, such as accepting Francis's own 
account of his studies at Owens College and all his 
excuses for absences from home in the evening, Dr. 
Thompson put Francis to such obviously uncongenial 
tasks as were to be found in the establishment of a 
surgical instrument maker, whom he served for two 
weeks only, and as the purveyor of an encyclopaedia. 

At neither of these businesses did Francis succeed ; it 

took him two months to read the encyclopaedia, and then 

he discarded it, unsold. Nor was there any possibility of 

success. In reviewing his prospects at this time his father 

warned him, among other things, that he would have to 

enlist if he found no other means of support. Without 

a word, Francis went, like Coleridge, for a soldier. With 

what hopes or intentions it is difficult to conceive, but 

obviously still with that desire of obeying, so far as he 

was able, his father's instructions. It seems he did not 

suffer himself merely to be measured by the recruiting 

examiners, but also to be marched and drilled in the 

attempt to expand his chest to the necessary inches. He 

spoke in later years of the weariness it was to march, 

and of the barrack yard, and even maintained that his 

56 



He Enlists 

upright bearing had been learnt at that time. But as his 
upright bearing is exactly the upright bearing of a brave 
figure (his sister's), stiffer than the starched gear about 
her face and throat in the habit and convent of her order 
in Manchester, it does not follow that Francis's recruiting 
counts for very much. He returned from it late one 
night, silent as when he returned from the examinations 
in London and Glasgow. I do not think he even told 
the family as much as he told my father in later years 
that he was not tl Private Thompson " only because he 
failed to pass the army physical examination. 

On the second Sunday (day of rest and the turmoil 
bred of rest) in November, 1885, Francis was forced to 
find time for the discussion of his prospects with his 
father, and with it he found a certain energy of failure 
and despair. His demeanour gave rise to the notion in 
his family that he was in the habit of drinking. His 
father taxed him with it, but was mystified by Francis's 
strenuous denials ; opium, not alcohol, was the cause of 
his flushes. Here was yet another point of difficulty 
and trial. 

The next day (Monday, November 9, 1885), his 
sister found on her dressing-table a note from Francis 
saying that he had gone to London. It was a hopeless 
note ; his mood was hopeless. He later described his 
flight thus : " The peculiarity in my case is that I made 
the journey to the Capital without hope, and with the 
gloomiest forebodings, in the desperate spirit of an 
enfant perdu." But in hopelessness, as in all his moods, 
he hesitated. He did not want to leave home. "To 
stay under happy parental supervision, to work because 
I must, but to make my delight of the exercise of the 
imagination ' was his ambition. Parental supervision 
had not prevented the shutting of his door. So closely 
did he fasten it that he had never told his father of his 
exercises, or his sisters, who, according to an uncle, 
eschewed poetry as if it were a snare ; " both have 

57 



Manchester and Medicine 

character, but both are very reserved, indeed impene- 
trable." Small wonder there had been silence in the 
house, save about cricket and wars. " What does one 
want with a tongue when one has silence ? ' 

For a week he lingered in Manchester, living on the 
proceeds of the sale of his books and other possessions. 
It had been his habit to obey the command of the 
drug by the disposal of his books and medical instru- 
ments. His microscope had gone, and been replaced 
no light task for his father and now, at the crisis, he 
had to go bare even of poetry books. Ninety-five 
would he sell, but to the remnant of a library he would 
cling with a persistence that defied even the terrific imp 
of the laudanum bottle. 

For a week Francis hesitated and then wrote home, 
dating his letter from the Post Office, for his fare to 
London. It was sent, and he made the journey. What- 
ever its discouragement, it must yet have been some- 
thing added to the little sum of hopefulness to leave Man- 
chester. London, of conjectural disaster, drew him from 
the Manchester of tried and proved failure. His luggage, 
scanty enough in itself, was weighted with no regrets. 
He was going to new possibilities. But he carried 
Blake and Aeschylus in his pocket. Thus had de 
Quincey gone, content w r ith the same bodily starvation 
and mental food " carrying a small parcel with some 
articles of dress under my arm ; a favourite English 
poet in one pocket, and an odd volume, containing one- 
half of Canter's Euripides in the other." 

Of the father and the fugitive the poet's uncle after- 
wards wrote to my father : 

" He has been a great trouble and sorrow to his father from his 
want of ballast. He started with every advantage, but has 
come to nothing. At last he went to London, where he seems to 
have led a sort of Bohemian life. There does not appear to have 
been anything of what is usually termed immorality but he was 
never to be depended on, and I fear he indulged in drink. As his 

58 



His Father 

father expresses it in a letter to me this morning, he likes to lead 
a dawdling, sauntering sort of life. . . . There was nothing in his 
home life to lead him to divulge himself, no encouragement and 
no sympathy with his ambitions. His sisters, who might have 
been of use in expounding him if I may use such a phrase 
have so little of the poetical element in them that they seem on 
principle to have eschewed all poetry as if it were a temptation 
and a snare. . . . This I believe to be the key to, and so far an 
excuse for, his deceitful proceedings and his apparent callousness 
and ingratitude. I wish I were in a position to help him pecu- 
niarily, but at present I am not. However, I can show him sym- 
pathy and approbation. It is years since any communication 
took place between us, and in my last letter I ventured to give 
him some advice as to his hypercritical tendencies, and he never 
wrote to me again. So I suspect he did not relish my animad- 



versions.' 



Another Manchester letter from a close friend of his 
family runs : 

" To begin with, young Thompson was not brought up amongst 
1 gallipots ' ; no son could have been more kindly or more generously 
treated, and it was not until this genius was gone utterly to the 
bad that his father lost sight of him. He was most carefully 
educated, and no young man has ever had a better or a kinder 
mother or father. I don't think Dr. Thompson is destitute of 
the poetic imagination, and I think he might have been excused 
if he did not perceive at once that poetry which differs from all 
which has delighted the world for three thousand years was, of all 
poetry, the most to be admired. . . . The way in which you have 
compared the coming of Frank Thompson to the Messiah is ap- 
proaching the profane." 

But Francis had another opinion of the poetic in- 
fluence of his home ; and to see his sister and read in her 
eyes the new and more explicit version of the household 
spirituality, is to credit his own view. His statement 
that " the spirit of such poems as ' The Making of Viola ' 
and ' The Judgement in Heaven ' is no mere mediaeval 
imitation, but the natural temper of my Catholic training 
in a simple provincial home' is easily believed. It is 

59 



Manchester and Medicine 

not generally understood, he says, that the " irreverence ' 
(so called) of mediaeval poetry and drama is not merely 
primitive but Catholic. He quotes, as quite within his 
comprehension, the remark of Miss L. that, if she saw 
Our Lord, the first thing she would be impelled to do 
would be to put her arms about Him a remark prompted 
by a hostile comment on a Christ and St. Francis (in 
statuary) with their arms about each other. 

The father's own comment, when he found his son 
welcomed as a poet, was : '' If the lad had but told me ! ' 
Mr. J. Saxon Mills says : 

" The doctor was even more amused than gratified at seeing his 
son's name suddenly coupled with those of Shelley or Keats or 
Tennyson. He admitted, moreover, that Frank's productions 
were quite beyond his own comprehension, and I am not sure 
that the worthy doctor regarded the greenest of poetic laurels as 
a fair exchange for a thriving medical practice." 



60 



CHAPTER IV: LONDON STREETS 

To him who had during that last week fathomed 
the abysses of Manchester, the " unfathomable abyss " 
of London was hardly more black. It might be 
supposed that the city of Manchester was as good as 
another in which to be destitute ; poverty in modern 
streets is a mean and dirty business at its best as at its 
worst. But in London a staggering part is played on a 
great stage haunted with great presences. There is a 
literary grandiloquence about the capital's rags that 
Manchester's do not own : for the time it takes for the 
fraying of a pair of cuffs, we may suppose, this glamour 
has effect. It was something to tread the pavements 
of Oxford Street, something to despair, if despair one 
must, where Chatterton despaired ; fitting, in a poetic 
sense, as Francis had discovered when he wrote " In 
no Strange Land," to have your Christ walking on the 
dark waters of the Thames, and to rear your Jacob's 
ladder from Charing Cross. 

But if there is a ghostly companionship in the capital, 
it was mightily empty of the real solace of friendly 
presences. "The only fostering soil for genius" Lamb 
called the Metropolis. But Francis did not so regard 
it. The writing of the first poems and prose, the whole 
acceptance of a vocation, were undertaken in complete 
isolation. It was a hard soil, bare as the pavement. 
There were no allurements of companionship, no excite- 
ments or encouragements of example and emulation. He 
knew no laughing bookseller in St. Martin's Court. A 
poet, he knew no poet, save a formidable uncle, in the 

61 



London Streets 

flesh ; no writer, save the reputed " noted authors " whom 
he came to serve with slippers at a shop in Panton 
Street. Without friends or courage, Francis found no 
better job than that of a " collector " of books. Thus 
his first efforts for a livelihood in London were made 
with a sackful of literature upon his shoulders, the 
day's ''orders' of a general bookseller. His journeys 
would be laborious and slowly accomplished, and his 
turn in all probability the last served at the wholesale 
counters where he called out the list. Unlike his fellow- 
collectors, he would have an additional stock in his 
private pocket his own library and his interest would 
be in this rather than in the bundle on his back ; he 
might bend under works on cookery, sport, Methodism, 
and social reform, but Blake and Aeschylus would buoy 
him up. 

That he found no work commensurate with his attain- 
ments is but another item in the whole sequence of 
circumstances that liken his case to de Quincey's. 
De Quincey tells of difficulties imagined and real that 
kept him from applying to the friends of his father for 
assistance. Another mode of livelihood, " that of turn- 
ing any talents or knowledge that I might possess to a 
lucrative use I now feel half inclined to join my reader 
in wondering why I overlooked it. As a corrector of 
Greek proofs (if in no other way), I might surely have 
gained enough for my slender wants. . . . But why talk 
of my qualifications ? Qualified or not, where could I 
obtain such an office ? For it must not be forgotten 
that even a diabolic appointment requires interest. 
Towards that I must first of all have an introduction to 
some respectable publisher ; and this I had no means of 
obtaining. To say the truth, however, it had never 
once occurred to me to think of literary labours as a 
source of profit." With arguments as lengthy as those, 
Francis would often expound excellent reasons for not 
doing that which it had never occurred to him to under- 

62 



He does Odd Jobs 

take. The truth was that he came to London that he 
might exist and no more. 

o 

A desire of observing the town was de Quincey's 
excuse for his wanderings over London. Francis made 
no such plea, but wandered the same gait. Market-place 
and an occasional theatre ; door-step consolation and 
porch shelter ; the absorption in the things of the spirit 
and the stifling of the interruptions of material things 
with opium ; the momentary fears of bodily privation, 
succumbing to fortunate forgetfulness and numbness, the 
intellectual realisation of the awfulness of their surround- 
ings tempered by physical indifference ; and the admix- 
ture with this same physical indifference of an extreme 
bodily frailty and susceptibility to suffering all the con- 
tradictions found in the one man are confirmed in the 
other. That each was befriended by an unfortunate 
girl of the streets was a continuation of the duality of 
contradictions. Two outcast women were to these two 
outcast men the sole ambassadors of the world's gentle- 
ness and generosity. More of Francis's " brave, sad, 
lovingest, tender thing " will be set down on a later page. 

He was quick to lose his " book-collecting," slow to 
find other work. He liked the Guildhall Library better 
than " situations," and while he had seven shillings a 
week from home, he managed to be there a good deal. 
He spoke of having clung to outward respectability, and 
told that on the streets rags are no necessary accompani- 
ment to destitution. But his rags came quickly enough ; 
within a few weeks he was below the standards set by 
the employers of casual labour. He now began to learn 
something of his companions, of their slang, of their 
ways and means. It was not always amongst the lowest 
grades of the poor that he met the people he could 
most dislike. He notes that the street-outcast is gener- 
ally opposed to Atheism ; that he is often nameless, 
often kind, always honest with his fellows ( ft only once 
did any one try to cheat mei"). Generosity he noticed 

63 



London Streets 

particularly in the readiness of beggars to pay each 
other's lodgings. Once a policeman aided him, but that 
aid was unexpected and unrepeated. Of the men he 
met at common lodging-houses, or in whose company 
he slept in archways, or with whom he entered into 
partnership in the business of fetching cabs or selling 
matches, he names but very few : " The actor, poor 
Kelsall, 'Newcastle,'" is one entry in a note-book. The 
murderer to whom he makes several allusions, he disguises 
under the initials D. I. From one friend he had practical 
lessons in the arts of confinement, so that he could say 
to his editor in later years, when a review-book was lost : 
" You can either let me replace it, or put me in gaol. 
I know how to pick oakum." But there were some 
companions to disgust him : " Their conversation is im- 
possible of report. If you want to know it, (and you 
are every way a gainer by not knowing it, while you 
lose what can never be regained by knowing it) go to 
Rabelais and his like, where you will find a very faint 
image of it. Nearer you may get by reading 'West- 
minster Drolleries ' and other eighteenth century collec- 
tions of swine-trough hoggery. For naked bestiality you 
must go to the modern bete humatne." He learnt enough 
of their slang to be amused at the unreality of language 
put into the mouths of the thieves of fiction ; and in 
any case the foulness of the real thing is irreproclucible. 
He learned, too, of the workhouse, of homes of refuge ; 
that prison is held to be no disgrace ; and above all, as 
month succeeded month, that death is surprisingly slow 
on a shilling a day. 

His bed was made according to his fortune. If he had 
no money, it was the Embankment; if he had a shilling, 
he could choose his lodging ; if he had fourpence, he 
was obliged to tramp to Blackfriars. Something of his 
manner of spending his money he told me : " No, Evie, 
you do not spend your penny on a mug of tea. That 
will be gone very quickly. You spend it, Evie, not on 

64 



Boot-black 

a mug of tea ; not, I say, on a mug of tea, but on the 
tea itself. You buy a pennyworth and make it with 
the boiling water from the common kettle in the doss- 
house. You get several cups that way instead of one." 
It was at lodging-houses that he would lie watching the 
beetles crawling on the ceiling that was the exchange 
he made for " the abashless inquisition of each star " of 
the nights when he had no pennies and so no bed ; and 
it is the image he used afterwards in a Tom-o'-Bedlam's 
song : 

As a burst and blood-blown insect 

Cleaves to the wall it dies on, 
The smeared sun 
Doth clot upon 

A heaven without horizon. 1 

In a common lodging-house he met and had talk with 
the man who was supposed by the group about the fire 
to oe a murderer uncaught. And when it was not in 
a common lodging-house, it was at a Shelter or Refuge 
that he would lie in one of the oblong boxes without 
lids, containing a mattress and a leathern apron or 
coverlet, that are the fashion, he says, in all Refuges. 
The time came when for a week his only earning was 
sixpence got for holding a horse's head. That was after 
he had made an attempt to establish himself with a 
boot-black stand, and failed because of the interference 
of the police, who moved him on at the request of the 
shopkeeper at his chosen street-corner. 

His way home in later years was always northwards, 
along the Edgware Road. It is a thoroughfare that keeps 
late hours, crossing the highway between Paddington 

1 There is some parallel for this image (Tom-o'-Bedlam's, be it remembered) 
in Rossetti's 

But the sea stands spread 
As one wall with the flat skies, 
Where the lean black craft, like flies, 
Seem well-nigh stagnated, 
Soon to drop off dead. 

65 E 



London Streets 

and King's Cross ; it makes southwards towards Victoria 
and the town ; it has its music-halls, and, after they 
are closed, its coffee-stalls, tiny centres of distressed 
humanity waiting for the dawn. They are the pickets 
set up against the enemy Night, in a campaign which, 
on the whole, is less sullenly undertaken than the 
campaign of the day. There is much companionship 
along the pavements in the night watches : the regiment 
of the poor falls into some sort of rank, and whether a 
man's business is merely to keep moving till the park- 
gates are opened in the morning, or to reach some 
distant lodging, some favourite shelter, or a point of 
vantage for the coming day, he need never be com- 
panionless on this road. And seldom, unless he be 
very new to the manner of life or very old, does the 
poor man not fall in with the conviviality that is within 
his reach. Be he so stupid that he has failed in the 
meanest ambitions, yet he will be able to establish 
himself in this society, and be a man of affairs among 
beggars. 

Every man, and every woman however grossly she has 
fallen, acquires a certain aptitude in the University of 
the Last Resort. Some sort of shrewdness, entirely above 
the scullery pitch, has become a necessity by the time 
the pavement is the Home. And even the poet came, 
like the outcast ostler, or matchmaker, or scullery- 
maid, to possess a small share of this lower-worldliness. 
When it was a matter, during the day, of collecting 
coppers sufficient for the day and spending them in the 
pinched markets of poverty, he had perforce to be alive 
to the world about him. Later on, when there was no 
necessity, I could observe in him a certain flickering 
pride of experience : occasionally he would exert him- 
self to show that he knew how to pass the time of day 
with a man upon the street, how to invest in a pipe, 
a kettle, or in oddments of cheap food. Ordering his 

meal at a coffee-house, he would pretend to a certain 

66 



Miracle of the Halfpennies 

acumen in the matter of dishes or of waitresses, adjust- 
ing his tie and his expression. But who can ever have 
been deceived that here was any one save a timorous 
defaulter in the matter of savoir-faire ? Not, certainly, 
an A. B.C. girl or an observant tramp. 

Among the miracles is that of The Golden Half- 
pennies. They came to him on a day when he had 
not even the penny to invest in matches that might 
bring him interest on his money. He was, he told 
me, walking, vacant with desperation, along a crowded 
pavement, when he heard the clink of a coin and saw 
something bright rolling towards the gutter. He 
stooped, picked it up, looked around, found no claim- 
ant, and put into his waistcoat pocket, as he affirmed 
with the many repetitions that characterised his anec- 
dotes, a bright new halfpenny. He proceeded some 
distance on his way, pondering the things he could or 
could not procure with his money, when it struck him 
that the other direction would lead him to a shop with 
such wares as he had decided on. As he neared the 
place where he had found the first coin he saw another 
glittering in the road. This, too, he picked up, and 
again thought he held a halfpenny. But looking closer 
he discovered it to be golden and a sovereign, and only 
after much persuasion of his senses would he believe 
the first-found one to be likewise gold. "That was a 
sovereign too, Evie ; I looked and I saw it was a sove- 
reign too ! ' he ended, with rising voice and tremulous 
laughter. One who heard him tell his tale held strictly 
that he should have delivered the money to the nearest 
police-station to await the inquiry of its owner ; but that, 
surely, were an ill economy, to look after the farthings of 
scrupulousness at the cost of the pounds of Providence. 
Thompson, half suspicious of a miracle, made a shrewd 
guess that no angel would apply at Marlborough Street. 

At another time he did have scruples. One of the 
Rothschilds, buying a paper from him at the Piccadilly 



London Streets 

end of Park Lane, put a florin into his hand. " I was 
worried/' said Francis, " lest he thought it was a penny, 
and tried to catch him up in the street crowd. But he 
was gone, and it worried me." Years later the news of 
that Rothschild's death was read out at a meal at our house 
in Palace Court. Francis heard, and dropped his spoon, 
aghast. "Then I can never repay him ! ' he cried. 

For a time a few shillings might have been his each 
week for the fetching ; but he did not fetch them. 
An allowance, sufficient to lodge and feed him, and 
insufficient to do either fully, was sent to him by his 
father at a reading-room called, it is thought, the 
" Clarendon," in the Strand. The more he needed it 
the greater worry would it seem to collect it. Fear lest 
it were not there ; fear lest he should be refused it 
because of his rags, and, finally, an illusory certainty 
the certainty of dejection that it had been discontinued, 
prevented him, until at last, through his default, it did 
really cease. 

He had the words of the Proverb by heart " Give me 
neither poverty nor riches ; feed me with the food con- 
venient for me " but he would rather say his prayer in 
the street than ask for his allowance in the " Clarendon." 
He was willing to starve both ways : he wrote out for 
his comfort : " Even in the night-time of the soul wisdom 



remains." 



In addition to the allowance there were relatives and 
friends to whom Francis might have gone, if assistance 
in his need had been part of his scheme. Besides those 
with whom he stayed during his examinations in London, 
there was a Catholic relative who had an establishment 
for stationery off the Strand (he was not asked for so 
much as a pencil), and who died in Church Passage, 
Chancery Lane, about 1891 ; his paternal grandmother, 
then an old lady, lived in City Road, and Edward Healy 
Thompson had resided in Hinde Street, Manchester 
Square, and made many town friends. 

68 



Delirium 

The time came when he had no lodging ; when the 
nights were an agony of prevented sleep, and the days 
long blanks of half-warmth and half-ease. After seven 
nights and days of this kind he is deep immersed in 
insensibility. Pain, its own narcotic, throbs to painless- 
ness. Touch and sight and hearing are brokenly and 
dimly experienced, save when some unknown touch 
switches on the lights of full consciousness. Sensation 
is still painful, but disjointedly, impotently. When a 
cart jolts by the noise of its wheels comes to him long 
after or before he troubles to move out of reach of 
the shafts the yell of the driver seems to have no part 
in the incident. He knows not if it came from that 
or from another quarter. He sees things pass as 
silently as the figures on a cinematograph screen ; one 
set of nerves, out of time and on another plane, respond 
to things heard. The boys now running at one end 
of the alley, in front of him, are behind him the next, 
and their cries seem to come from any quarter and at 
random. Is it that they move too quickly for him or 
that he unknowingly is wheeling about in his walk, or 
that London herself spins round him ? For hours he 
has stood in one place, or paced one patch of pavement, 
as if his feet were trapped in the lines between the 
stones. He remembers that, as a child, he had made 
rules, treading only on the spaces, or only on the line 
of the pattern ; now they make much stricter bounds. 
He is tied to the few slabs of stone that fill the space 
beneath his archway. It seems dreadfully perilous to 
move beyond them, and he sways within their territory 
as if they edged a precipice. And then, he knows not 
how or why, his weakness has passed, and he is drift- 
ing along the streets, not wearily, but with dreadful ease, 
with no hope of having sufficient resolution to halt. Time 
matters as little to him as the names of the streets, and 
the very faces of the clocks present, to his thinking, not 
pictures of time and motion, but stationary, dead counte- 



London Streets 

nances. Noting that the hands of one have moved, he 
wonders at it only because its view of the passage of time 
is so laughably at variance with his own. Had it marked 
a minute since he had last looked, or a whole day, he 
would not have been surprised, but the foolish half-hour 
it told of is absurd. His time leaped or paused, while 
the clock went with lying regularity. The street-names, 
too, deceived him ; they were unfamiliar in most 
familiar places ; or they showed well-known names on 
impossible corners. He seemed to be spinning, like a 
falling leaf, and tossed by unseen winds of direction. 
Oxford Street was short and narrow ; Wardour Street 
big enough to hold the tribes of Israel, and the houses 
of it as high, he guessed, though he dared not lift his 
head to see, as the divided waves of the Red Sea. Out 
of confusion came a voice, " Is your soul saved ? ' It 
broke in upon his half-consciousness as the school gong 
wakes the boy. The mantle of protecting delirium fell 
away ; the voice broke in upon his privacy, threatening 
his reserves, seeking the confidences of the confessional. 
" What right have you to ask me that question ? ' he 
replied. 

To one who had spent a fortnight of nights on the 
streets, Mr. McMaster and family, standing forth 
against the comfortable background of shop, work- 
rooms, and parlour, should have loomed large. But 
what the rescued man thought worth telling of the in- 
cident of rescue was that in Wardour Street some one 
approached and asked him, in the resented voice of the 
intruder, if his soul were saved, and that he, clothed 
in the regimentals of the ragged, and with as much 
military sternness of voice and gesture as might be, 
made answer. Nothing seemed so important to him 
as the rebuff he imagined he had administered to a 
stranger threatening his privacy. He also recounted 
that the other then said : " If you won't let me save 
your soul, let me save your body," and a compact 

70 



Help at Hand 

was made on terms agreeable to his dignity. But it 
is probable that it was entered upon with greater zest by 
Mr. McMaster the enthusiast, churchwarden, and boot- 
maker, than by the indifferent poet, to whom it seemed 
to matter little whether he were rescued or not rescued. 
Francis was as little eager for this help as he was, two 
years later, for my father's. 

Francis recounted little more than the reproof and 
the fact that his new master was kind to him. But did 
he forget, do you think, the least detail of the shop in 
Panton Street, 1 or his companions there ? Did he 
forget Mr. McMaster the elder, or Mr. McMaster the 
brother, or the nieces, or the assistants, or Lucy ? It 
is because he could not forget that one must accept his 
account of the first encounter. The rescuer remembers 
it as happening in the Strand, but Thompson, who says 
Wardour Street, seems the surer witness. 

Before taking him into his employ at his bootmaker's 
shop, No. 14 Panton Street, Mr. McMaster wrote in 
August, 1886, to the Superintendent of Police at Ashton- 
under-Lyne asking if Francis Joseph was, as he stated, 
the son of a Dr. Charles Thompson of that place. 
Finding this to be the case, he secured a lodging for 
Francis in Southampton Row, clothed him, and with 
some hope, at first, set him to work. It was rather 
later that he communicated with Francis's father, who 
had been absent from Ashton on a holiday. 

I learn that Mr. McMaster was much interested in 

1 Here is a minor clue to the region of London best mapped out in his 
mind. From the Academy, 1900, he tore Mr. Whitten's review of an atlas 
of London, in which a comment is made on the restrictions of the scale 
three inches to the mile ; so that "York Street, Covent Garden, is merged in 
Tavistock Street ; and Panton Street, Haymarket, and its short continuation, 
Spur Street,are marked but not named." When Francis does not dog de Quincey 
he is at the heel of Coleridge. Each had gone for a soldier ; both were 
accosted with friendship in London. The Strand is remembered as the place 
where Coleridge was, as a youth, once walking in abstraction with waving 
arms, to find himself with his hand in a pedestrian's pocket and accused of 
attempted thieving. " I thought, sir, I was swimming in the Hellespont," 
he explained, and made a friend only less valuable than Mr. McMaster. 

71 



London Streets 

assisting the unfortunate. If he says "Thompson was 
my only failure/' it means that he was careful and useful 
in the rescuing of young men, particular in awarding 
his charity, and strict in enforcing reform. The 
men he cared for learned the trade of boot-making, 
possibly, and had been known to sing in the choir of 
St. Martin's Church, or to do other reputable deeds. 
They were civil-spoken men, or learnt to be, and 
tidy, whereas Francis would raise his voice, Mr. 
McMaster remembers would shout, as his only breach 
of good manners in medical and other arguments ; was 
a Catholic, and therefore not a church-goer in the ordi- 
nary sense, and was, of course, incapable of work. How 
did Mr. McMaster succeed so well with his only failure ? 
It is to his exceeding credit that he accepted Francis 
on the terms that were inevitable in accepting a waif 
subject to accidents and unpunctual. Francis would 
discuss literature and medicine, or be silent, or write, 
always in sight of the hammering and sewing group in 
the workroom behind the shop. In the delivery : of 
goods and the general running of messages he did ill 
the duties of a boy of twelve. And yet he was liked, 
and respected as well as pitied. His dignity and gentle- 
ness gave him the name of a gentleman among friends 
where the title is a talisman. 

It did not take long to discover that Francis could 
neither make boots nor sell them. He ran messages, 
and still in the make-believe of earning his food and 
lodging and the five shillings a week that were his wages, 
put up the shutters, as H. M. Stanley, whose back still 
ached with the memory when he came to write his 
autobiography, had done as a boy. It is incredible, to 
one who knew the hours Francis favoured, that he was 
present at their taking down. 

His master has interesting memories. He remembers 
the meeting in the street ; he remembers that he 
was informed immediately that Francis was a Catholic, 

72 



The Outcast's Devotions 

and he remembers the crucifix upon the wall of the 
bedroom in Southampton Row, and the medal round 
the collarless neck. " I knew he was of another belief 
not a bit of difference ! I am a Church of England 
man myself Churchwarden, and on the Council 
an average Church of England man, I trust. But not 
a bit of difference ! ' he repeats, and has it too that 
Francis "said his Mass always said his Mass at 
night." About Sunday church-goings he is uncertain, 
having the impression that Francis no longer held with 
the priests of his Church. "There was something 
between him and the priests. Perhaps I ought not to 
tell you (I take it you are Catholics), but I fancy there 
was something." Mr. McMaster's narrative is here in- 
terrupted, not by the poet's shout, but by the poet's 
record of his habit of prayer. Francis writes, in a note 
to the following poem, composed years later : " It was 
my practice from the time I left college to pray for the 
lady whom I was destined to love the unknown She. 
It is curious that even then I did not dream of praying 
for her whom I was destined to marry ; and yet not 
curious : for already I previsioned that with me it would 
be to love, not to be loved." 

With dawn and children risen would he run,, 
Which knew not the fool's wisdom to be sad, 
He that had childhood sometimes to be glad, 

Before her window with the co-mate sun. 

At night his angel's wing before the Throne 

Dropped (and God smiled) the unnamed name of Her : 
Nor did she feel her destinate poet's prayer 

Asperse her from her angel's pinion. 

So strangely near ! So far,, that ere they meet, 
The boy shall traverse with his bloody feet 

The mired and hungered ways, three sullen years, 
Of the fell city : and those feet shall ooze 
Crueller blood through ruinous avenues 

Of shattered youth, made plashy with his tears ! 

73 



London Streets 

As full of love as scant of poetry ; 
Ah ! in the verses but the sender see, 
And in the sender, but his heart, lady ! 

Mr. McMaster continues : tl Mr. Thompson was a 
great talker. I remember him asking me questions. My 
father, a University man or rather a Scottish College 
man . . . would talk to him, very interested." And his 
employer lent him books and discussed them, and had, 
as he remembers it, some hand in the making of an 
author. It was in his shop and on his paper that 
Thompson wrote continually. Bulwer Lytton was de- 
voured, then as in later years, and Francis took Mr. 
McMaster's Iliad even as far as Southampton Row along 
with Josephus and Huxley. " My Josephus and my 
Huxley," remembers his friend, who recalls, too, that 
he was " always reading the Standard Book of British 
Poetry!' Francis did not know then that the " little 
obscure room in my father's poor house," where Tra- 
herne learnt, as a child of four, to be a poet, was also 
at the back of a shoemaker's. Children were of the 
Panton Street household, and Mr. McMaster remembers 
Francis's awed but gentle ways with them. A niece, 
called Rosie Violet or Rosebud by the family, and Flower 
or Little Flower, as Mr. McMaster remembers, by Francis, 
was his particular friend, and used to take his tea to 
him and walk with him in the park. That there was 
" another lady who helped him ' may be an allusion to 
the friendship of the streets. 

After rather more than three months' service in the 
shop, it was arranged that Francis should go home for the 
Christmas of 1886. There is not much to tell of his 
home-coming. Other members of the Thompson family 
were adepts, like Francis, in reserve, and it was practised 
rigorously during his holiday. It was known that he had 
suffered ; and his sufferings, or the occasion of them, 
were no more to be spoken of than misdeeds that had had 

74 



He leaves the Boot-shop 

their punishment. He volunteered no account of himself 
and was asked for none, it being supposed that he had 
found a settled though humble way of life which allowed 
the past to fall back into the past. From his sister I 
learn that he filled his place in the family saddened, 
perhaps, but yet much as he had filled it before he left 
it : affection was there, on his side and on hers. 

On his return from Manchester, where he lingered or 
was delayed longer than had been expected, the shop 
was even less well served than before. He returned as 
from a bout of drinking, and with no regard for the 
things around him. He had periodic visitations of 
much more than customary uselessness ; they were 
such as Mr. McMaster observed in their approach. He 
would grow very restless and flushed, and then retire 
into an equally disconcerting satisfaction and peace of 
mind. These, of course, were the workings of opium, 
although Mr. McMaster mistook them, as Dr. Thompson 
had done previously, for those of alcohol. "There were 
accidents," says Mr. McMaster, with some horror of 
details. It seems Francis had let the shutter slip on a 
certain evening of delirium, and, it is gathered, a foot 
the foot of a customer, no less had been hurt. What- 
ever the immediate cause, Francis had to leave Panton 
Street in the middle of January 1887. Mr. McMaster 
stands an example. His charity was of such exceptional 
fortune as commends mankind to daily good works 
lest great benefits be left unperformed, lest our omissions 
starve a Francis Thompson. The persuasion of "Ye 
did it unto Me' may be varied by "Perhaps ye did 
it unto a Poet." 

Before he left, Francis had sent manuscripts, Mr. 
McMaster avers, to more than one magazine ; for the 
discarded McMaster account-books had all the while 
been as freely covered with poetry and prose as 
had been the bulky business folios of Mme. Corot, 
Marchande de Modes, with Jean Baptiste Camille's 

75 



London Streets 

landscapes of pen and ink. But Francis left Panton 
Street unanswered ; he left Panton Street for less kindly 
thoroughfares. Nor did he ever return, though imme- 
diately after his dismissal he came to be in desperate 
need of any charity. How little he felt himself bounden 
by the ties of gratitude or kindly feeling, both of which 
he felt strongly in an inactive manner, is shown in this 
as in all his negotiations with his family and friends. 
He never forgot a kindness or an injury (nor failed to 
forgive either). Both meant too much to him. If he 
neglected the obligations of gratitude, he also, by a hard 
habit of constraint and a close conscience, kept his 
tongue consistently innocent of recriminations, so that I 
have never heard him use really hard words of any man. 
Mr. McMaster was never told till after his assistant's 
death that Francis came to find success as a writer of 
books and a journalist. That Francis was fond of 
him might be gathered in the few words in which he 
mentioned him no less than in Mr. McMaster's own 
account, and in his brother's, who says that Francis's 
eyes would follow the boot-maker round the room with 
a persistence that made him, seemingly, entirely like a 
fawn. " I can only compare him to a fawn," declared 
the brother ; and he " not the only one to notice it ! ' 

As he stood on the threshold of the shop " Still, as I 
turned inwards to the echoing chambers, or outwards to 
the wild, wild night, I saw London extending her visionary 
gate to receive me, like some dreadful mouth of Acheron ' 
(de Quincey's words became his own by right of succes- 
sion) he was in no mood to fight for existence. He 
gave himself to Covent Garden, the archways and more 
desperate straits " a flood-tide of disaster " than he 
had known before. 

Jane Eyre, while she felt the vulture, hunger, sinking 
beak and talons in her side, knew that solitude was no 
solitude, rest no rest, and instinct kept her roaming 
round the village and its store of food, even while she 



He returns to the Streets 

dared not ask for it. But that you are in a city of 
larders, and that you sleep in Covent Garden, the pulse 
of London's kitchens, does not scare the vulture ; it is 
a town-bird, a cockney like the sparrow. I know that 
Thompson suffered hunger ; so much he told me. But 
he found no simile for his pain, and perhaps Charlotte 
Bronte, in that she did find one, was as deeply 
scarred. Misery is a bottle-imp which you may put to 
your lips without going through the swing-doors of 
experience. Francis came back through them with 
a light heart, while Charlotte Bronte's was heavy with 
inexperience. Many of the horrors of the street 
Francis knew only in later years, when the bandages 
with which nature covers the eyes of those whom she 
condemns were removed. He had walked the battle- 
field among bullets and not known that one nestled in 
his heart, another in his brain, another in his flesh ; 
only twenty years later did he grow weak with their 
poison, and develop a delirium of fear of the sights and 
sounds of London. It was in later years that he wrote : 
"The very streets weigh upon me. Those horrible 
streets, with their gangrenous multitude blackening ever 
into lower mortifications of humanity. . . . These lads 
who have almost lost the faculty of human speech : these 
girls whose very utterance is a hideous blasphemy 
against the sacrosanctity of lover's language. . . . We 
lament the smoke of London : it were nothing without 
the fumes of congregated evil." 1 It was later, too, that 
he wrote of 

the places infamous to tell, 
Where God wipes not the tears from any eyes. 

1 Of the despoiling of the Lady Poverty he writes in an unpublished 
poem : 

DEGRADED POOR 

Lo, at the first, Lord, Satan took from Thee 
Wealth, Beauty, Honour, World's Felicity. 
Then didst Thou say : " Let be ; 
For with his leavings and neglects will I 

77 



London Streets 

There is more in the same strain of heated hate and 
distress, but I quote no more, in the belief that it is far 
from illustrating his mood when he was actually on the 
streets. He had realised what the inexperienced does 
not, that "in suffering, intensity has not long duration ; 
long duration has not intensity," or again : " Beyond 
the maximum point of a delicate nature you can no 
more get increase of agony by increasing its suffering 
than you can get increase of tone from a piano by 
stamping on it. It would be an executioner's trick of 
God if he made the poet-nature not only capable of a 
pang where others feel a prick, but of hell where others 
feel purgatory." One learns from almost the same page 
of his contradictory notes that he knew suffering beyond 
the range of other men's knowledge, but that, knowing 
it, he also knew the narrow limits of suffering. 

Above all things, he learnt that lack of the world's 
goods is small lack, that to lose everything is no great 
loss a proposition easily proved by analogy to those 
who have gained everything and found it small gain. 
While in the streets he had his tea to drink and his 
murderer to think about. It was in retrospect that he 
beheld misery incarnate in the outcast, and it was 

Please Me, which he sets by, 

Of all disvalued, thence which all will leave Me, 

And fair to none but Me, will not deceive Me." 

My simple Lord ! so deeming erringly, 

Thou tookest Poverty ; 

Who, beautified with Thy Kiss, laved in Thy streams, 

'Gan then to cast forth gleams, 

That all men did admire 

Her modest looks, her ragged sweet attire 

In which the ribboned shoe could not compete 

With her clear simple feet. 

But Satan, envying Thee Thy one ewe-lamb, 

With Wealth, World's Beauty and Felicity 

Was not content, till last unthought-of she 

Was his to damn. 

Thine ingrate ignorant lamb 

He won from Thee ; kissed, spurned, and made of her 

This thing which qualms the air 

Vile, terrible, old, 

Whereat the red blood of the Day runs cold. 

7 8 



In Darkest London 

through the sheltering pane of a window in a lodging 
that he saw : 

" A region whose hedgerows have set to brick, whose 
soil is chilled to stone ; where flowers are sold and 
women ; where the men wither and the stars ; whose 
streets to me on the most glittering day are black. 
For I unveil their secret meanings. I read their human 
hieroglyphs. I diagnose from a hundred occult signs 
the disease which perturbs their populous pulses. 
Misery cries out to me from the kerb-stone, despair 
passes me by in the ways ; I discern limbs laden with 
fetters impalpable, but not imponderable ; I hear the 
shaking of invisible lashes, I see men dabbled with their 
own oozing life. This contrast rises before me ; and 
I ask myself whether there be indeed an Ormuzd and 
an Ahriman, and whether Ahriman be the stronger of 
the twain. From the claws of the sphinx my eyes 
have risen to her countenance which no eyes read. 

" Because, therefore, I have these thoughts ; and 
because also I have knowledge, not indeed great or 
wide, but within certain narrow limits more intimate 
than most men's, of this life which is not a life ; to 
which food is as the fuel of hunger ; sleep, our common 
sleep, precious, costly, and fallible, as water in a wilder- 
ness ; in which men rob and women vend themselves 
for fourpence ; because I have such thoughts and such 
knowledge, I needed not the words of our great Cardinal 
to read with painful sympathy the book just put forward 
by a singular personality." l 

Of the things he heard and misery, he says, cries out 
from the kerbstone the laugh, not the cry, of the chil- 
dren familiar with all evil was what appalled him most. 
Appalling, too, was the unuttered cry of children who 
knew not how to cry nor why they had cause. Among 
the notes are many jottings of a resolve to write on the 

1 F. T.'s review of Booth's In Darkest England. 

79 



London Streets 

young of the town, but these were used only incidentally 
in essays or letters. Such a one is found in the passage, 
of his study of Blessed John Baptist de la Salle, in which 
he states the case for Free Education : 

" Think of it. If Christ stood amidst your London 
slums, He could not say : < Except ye become as one of 
these little children.' Far better your children were cast 
from the bridges of London, than they should become as 
one of those little ones. Could they be gathered together 
and educated in the truest sense of the word ; could 
the children of the nation at large be so educated as to 
cut off future recruits to the ranks of Darkest England ; 
then it would need no astrology to cast the horoscope 
of to-morrow. La tete de I'homme du peuple, nay rather 
de renfant du peiiple around that sways the conflict. 
Who grasps the child grasps the future." 

He writes there at the high pressure of one who sees 
the tragedy and must shout " Help ! " 

" Let those who are robust enough not to take injury 
from the terrible directness with which things are 
stated read the chapter entitled 'The Children of the 
Lost.' 1 For it drives home a truth which I fear the 
English public, with all its compassion for our desti- 
tute children, scarcely realises, knows but in a vague, 
general way ; namely, that they are brought up in sin 
from their cradles, that they know evil before they know 
good, that the boys are ruffians and profligates, the girls 
harlots, in the mother's womb. This, to me the most 
nightmarish idea in all the nightmare of those poor little 
lives, I have never been able to perceive that people had 
any true grasp on. And having mentioned it, though 
it is a subject very near my heart, I will say no more ; 
nor enforce it, as I might well do, from my own sad 
knowledge." 

1 In Booth's In Darkest England. 
80 



His Friend 

To the juvenilia of the London period belongs a poem 
on an allied problem of the streets : 

Hell's gates revolve upon her yet alive ; 

To her no Christ the beautiful is nigh : 

The stony world has daffed His teaching by ; 

" Go ! " saith it ; " sin on still that you may thrive, 

Let one sin be as queen for all the hive 

Of sins to swarm around ; " 



The gates of Hell have shut her in alive. 

It was not improbably written while he was befriended 
by the girl who, having noticed his forlorn state, did all 
in her power to assist him. 

A monastic segregation of the sexes is often the hard 
rule of the outcast's road. Francis had no other friends 
among the women-folk or children of London, and often 
passed months without having speech of any save men. 
When he was again among friends and knew the children 
of Sister Songs he wrote : 

All vanished hopes,, and all most hopeless bliss 

Came with thee to my kiss. 
And ah ! so long myself had strayed afar 
From child, and woman, and the boon earth's green, 
And all wherewith life's face is fair beseen ; 

Journeying its journey bare 
Five suns, except of the all-kissing sun 

Unkissed of one ; 

Almost I had forgot 

The healing harms, 
And whitest witchery, a-lurk in that 
Authentic cestus of two girdling arms. 

This girl gave out of her scant and pitiable opulence, 
consisting of a room, warmth, and food, and a cab thereto. 
When the streets were no longer crowded with shameful 
possibilities she would think of the only tryst that 
her heart regarded and, a sister of charity, would take 
her beggar into her vehicle at the appointed place and 
cherish him with an affection maidenly and motherly, 

81 F 



London Streets 

and passionate in both these capacities. Two outcasts, 
they sat marvelling that there were joys for them to 
unbury and to share. Then, in a Chelsea room such 
as that of Rossetti's poem would they sit: 

Your lamp,, my Jenny, kept alight, 
Like a wise virgin's, all one night ! 
And in the alcove coolly spread 
Glimmers with dawn your empty bed. 

Weakness and confidence, humility and reverence, 
were gifts unknown to her except at his hands, and she 
repaid them with graces as lovely as a child's, and as 
unhesitating as a saint's. In his address to a child, in a 
later year, he remembers this poor girl's childishness : 

Forlorn, and faint, and stark 
I had endured through watches of the dark 

The abashless inquisition of each star, 
Yea, was the outcast mark 

Of all those heavenly passers' scrutiny ; 
Stood bound and helplessly 
For Time to shoot his barbed minutes at me ; 
Suffered the trampling hoof of every hour 

In night's slow-wheeled car ; 
Until the tardy dawn dragged me at length 
From under those dread wheels ; and, bled of strength, 
I waited the inevitable last. 

Then there came past 

A child ; like thee, a spring-flower ; but a flower 
Fallen from the budded coronal of Spring, 
And through the city-streets blown withering. 
She passed, brave, sad, lovingest, tender thing ! 
And of her own scant pittance did she give, 

That I might eat and live : 
Then fled, a swift and trackless fugitive. 

Therefore I kissed in thee 
The heart of Childhood, so divine for me ; 
And her, through what sore ways 
And what unchildish days. 

Borne from me now, as then, a trackless fugitive. 
Therefore I kissed in thee 
Her, child ! and innocency. 

82 



" Swift and Trackless Fugitive " 

Her sacrifice was to fly from him : learning he had 
found friends, she said that he must go to them and 
leave her. After his first interview with my father he 
had taken her his news. "They will not understand 
our friendship," she said, and then, " I always knew 
you were a genius." And so she strangled the oppor- 
tunity ; she killed again the child, the sister ; the 
mother had come to life within her she went away. 
Without warning she went to unknown lodgings and 
was lost to him. In " the mighty labyrinths of London " 
he lay in wait for her, nor would he leave the streets, 
thinking that in doing so he would make a final severance. 
Like de Quincey's Ann, she was sought, but never found, 
along the pavements at the place where she had been 
used to find him. 

With de Quincey Thompson could have said, " During 
some years I hoped that she did live ; and I suppose 
in the literal and unrhetorical use of the word myriad, 
I must, on my visits to London, have looked at myriads 
of female faces, in the hope of meeting Ann." And, 
again, that this incident of friendship " more than any 
other, coloured, or (more truly I should say) shaped, 
moulded and remoulded, composed and decomposed, 
the great body of opium dreams." Pursuit and search 
have been matters of much nocturnal and poetic moment ; 
such was Patmore's recurring dream of the dead 
whom 

I, dreaming, night by night seek now to see, 

And, in a mortal sorrow, still pursue 

Through sordid streets and lanes, 

And houses brown and bare, 

And many a haggard stair, 

Ochrous with ancient stains, 

And infamous doors, opening on hapless rooms, 

In whose unhaunted glooms 

Dead pauper generations, witless of the sun, 

Their course have run. 

83 



London Streets 

As with de Quincey, so with Patmore, so with Francis. 
To the dream, or sense, of pursuit, was added the sus- 
picion of balking interference. De Quincey says that 
throughout his dreams he was conscious "of some 
shadowy malice which withdrew her, or attempted to 
withdraw her, from restoration and from hope." And 
Patmore : 

And ofttimes my pursuit 

Is check'd of its dear fruit 

By things brimful of hate, my kith and kin, 

Furious that I should keep 

Their forfeit power to weep. 

Pursuit circles after flight, and flight circles before 
pursuit, and they go about and meet and are confounded 
as when children play round a tree in the dreams 
that were common to de Quincey and Thompson, in 
the " Daughter of Lebanon" of the one and "The 
Hound of Heaven " of the other. 

It was loyalty, the loyalty of one who knew what 
benefits he bestowed in receiving the alms of his forlorn 
friend, rather than love, that kept him so fast to his tryst 
with her that even when the chance offered for him to 
leave the streets, he refused at first to do that which 
would put an end to the possibility of their meetings. 
But he had not yet loved, nor met her whom he was 
destined to love the unknown She for whom in 
Manchester he had prayed every night. 

In an account of charities among the outcasts he 
quotes: "To be nameless in worthy deeds exceeds an 
infamous history. The Canaanitish woman lives more 
happily without a name than Herodias with one." 



CHAPTER V: THE DISCOVERY 

A RALLY, probably the result of a gift from Manchester, 
came about in the latter half of February 1887. I quote 
his own words : " With a few shillings to give me breath- 
ing space, I began to decipher and put together the 
half-obliterated manuscript of ' Paganism.' I came simul- 
taneously to my last page and my last halfpenny ; and 
went forth to drop the MS. in the letter-box of Merry 
England?- Next day I spent the halfpenny on two boxes 
of matches, and began the struggle for life." 

This was the covering letter to my father, its editor : 

" Feb. 23^, '87. Dear Sir, In enclosing the accom- 
panying article for your inspection I must ask pardon 
for the soiled state of the manuscript. It is due, not to 
slovenliness, but to the strange places and circumstances 
under which it has been written. For me, no less than 
Parolles, the dirty nurse experience has something 
fouled. I enclose stamped envelope for a reply, since 
I do not desire the return of the manuscript, regarding 
your judgment of its worthlessness as quite final. I can 
hardly expect that where my prose fails my verse will 
succeed. Nevertheless, on the principle of 'Yet will 
I try the last,' I have added a few specimens of it, with 

1 Merry England was a magazine he had known in Manchester, and 
noted especially during his Christmas holiday at home. His uncle, Edward 
Healy Thompson, was already a contributor, and among others were 
Cardinal Manning, Lionel Johnson, Hilaire Belloc, May Probyn, St. John 
Adcock, Sir William Butler, Coulson Kernahan, Alice Corkran, Coventry 
Patmore, W. H. Hudson, Katharine Tynan, J. G. Snead Cox, Aubrey de 
Vere, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Father R. F. Clark, J. Eastwood Kidson, and 
Bernard Whelan. 

85 



The Discovery 

the off chance that one may be less poor than the rest. 
Apologising very sincerely for any intrusion on your 
valuable time, I remain yours with little hope, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

Kindly address your rejection to the Charing Cross 
Post Office." 

Francis had more than remembered the existence of 
the magazine and its editor. " I was myself virtually his 
pupil and his wife's long before I knew him. He has 
in my opinion an opinion of long standing done more 
than any man in these latter days to educate Catholic 
literary opinion," he wrote to Manchester soon after his 
first appearance in the magazine. He knew the target 
at which he aimed. 

"Paganism Old and New' is written in the un- 
harassed manner of a man whose style, and cuffs, had 
been kept in order at the Savile Club. But he had no 
backing of library and chef to give him the courage of 
his fine sentences ; he was the man selling matches in 
the gutter and sharpening his pencil on the kerb-stone. 
The beauty of the circumstances of Pagan life, its pro- 
cessional maidens, " shaking a most divine dance from 
their feet," its theatres unroofed to the smokeless sky 
with these, he says, the advocates of a revived Paganism 
contrast the conditions of to-day : "the cold formalities 
of an outworn worship ; our ne plus ultra of pageantry, 
a Lord Mayor's show ; the dryadless woods regarded 
chiefly as potential timber ; the grimy streets, the grimy 
air, the disfiguring statues, the Stygian crowd ; the 
temple to the reigning goddess Gelasma, which mocks 
the name of theatre ; last and worst, the fatal degrada- 
tion of popular perception which has gazed so long on 
ugliness that it takes her to its bosom. In our capitals 
the very heavens have lost their innocence. Aurora 
may rise over our cities, but she has forgotten how to 
blush." From the pavement where the East sweeps the 

86 



Dead-letter Office 

soot in eddies round his ankles, he protests : " Pagan 
Paganism was not poetical. No pagan eye ever 
visioned the nymphs of Shelley." " In the name of all 
the Muses, what treason against Love and Beauty ! " he 
cries against Catullus, Propertius, and Ovid, for the arid 
eroticism that was satisfied to write of love without tribute 
to the colour of a lady's eyes. For contrast, he quotes 
Rossetti's 

Her eyes were deeper than the depth 

Of waters stilled at even ; 

Wordsworth's " Eyes like stars of twilight fair " ; 
Collins's Pity " with eyes of dewy light " ; Shelley's " Thy 
sweet-child sleep, the filmy-eyed." And of the fair 
love of Dante and other Christian poets he makes sweet 
and loyal praises. He was the lover to write an essay 
in defence of the social order that denied him love, 
sleep, pity, and the eyes of any lady. It was the essay, 
too, of a man physically hungry. He supped full, but 
with fancies. 

Thompson's manuscripts, most uninviting in outward 
aspect, were pigeon-holed, unread by a much-occupied 
editor for six months were then released, read, and 
estimated at their worth. The sanity of the essay was 
proof enough of the genius of Thompson's inspiration 
against the evidence in some of the poems of another 
inspiration that of drugs. My father and mother (the 
A. M. and W. M. of following pages) decided to accept 
the essay and a poem, and to seek the author. To this 
end my father wrote a letter addressed to Charing Cross 
Post Office, stating the intention of printing some of the 
manuscript, and asking Francis to call for a proof and 
to discuss the chances of future work. To that letter 
came no reply and publication was postponed, but when 
at last his letter was returned through the dead-letter 
office, he printed the " Passion of Mary " as the best way of 
getting into communication with the author. The poem 

87 



The Discovery- 
appeared in Merry England for April 1888, and on the 
I4th my father received the following letter : 

"April iqtk, 1888. DEAR SIR, In the last days of 
February or the first days of March, 1887 (my memory 
fails me as to the exact date), I forwarded to you for your 
magazine a prose article, " Paganism Old and New" (or 
"Ancient and Modern," for I forget which wording I 
adopted), and accompanied it by some pieces of verse, 
on the chance that if the prose failed, some of the verse 
might meet acceptance. I enclosed a stamped envelope 
for a reply, since (as I said) I did not desire the return 
of the manuscript. Imprudently, perhaps, instead of 
forwarding the parcel through the post, I dropped it 
with my own hand into the letter-box of 43 Essex Street, 
There was consequently no stamp on it, since I did not 
think a stamp would be necessary under the circum- 
stances. I asked you to address your answer to the 
Charing Cross Post Office. To be brief, from that day 
to this, no answer has ever come into my hands. And 
yet, more than a twelve-month since the forwarding 
of the manuscript, I am now informed that one of the 
copies of verse which I submitted to you (i.e. 'The 
Passion of Mary ') is appearing in this month's issue of 
Merry England. Such an occurrence I can only ex- 
plain to myself in one way, viz., that some untoward 
accident cut off your means of communicating with me. 
To suppose otherwise to suppose it intentional would 
be to wrong your known honour and courtesy. I have 
no doubt that your explanation, when I receive it, will 
be entirely satisfactory to me. I therefore enclose a 
stamped and addressed envelope for an answer, hoping 
that you will recompense me for my long delay by the 
favour of an early reply. In any case, however long 
circumstances may possibly delay your reply, it will be 
sure of reaching me at the address I have now given. 
I remain, yours faithfully, 

FRANCIS JOSEPH THOMPSON. 
88 



The Chemist's Capture 

n P.S. Doubtless, when I received no answer, I ought 
to have written again. My excuse must be that a flood- 
tide of misfortune rolled over me, leaving me no leisure 
to occupy myself with what I regarded as an attempt 
that had hopelessly failed. Hence my entire subsequent 
silence." 

To this my father answered with an explanation and 
a repetition of his invitation to Francis to arrange for 
regular work, and despatched his answer by a special 
messenger to the address given, a chemist's shop in 
Drury Lane. The chemist's manner of accepting 
responsibility for the safe delivery of the letter was dis- 
couraging. He said that Thompson sometimes called 
for letters, but that he knew little of him. After a few 
days during which nothing was heard my father went 
himself in search. His obvious eagerness prompted a 
query from the man behind the counter : " Are you a 
relative ? he owes me three-and-ninepence." With that 
paid and a promise of ten-and-sixpence if he produced 
the poet, he agreed to do his best, and, many days after, 
my father, being in his workroom, was told that Mr. 
Thompson wished to see him. " Show him up," he 
said, and was left alone. 

Then the door opened, and a strange hand was thrust 
in. The door closed, but Thompson had not entered. 
Again it opened, again it shut. At the third attempt a 
waif of a man came in. No such figure had been looked 
for ; more ragged and unkempt than the average beggar, 
with no shirt beneath his coat and bare feet in broken 
shoes, he found my father at a loss for words. " You 
must have had access to many books when you wrote 
that essay," was what he said. "That," said Thompson, 
his shyness at once replaced by an acerbity that 
afterwards became one of the most familiar of his never- 
to-be-resented mannerisms, lt that is precisely where the 
essay fails. I had no books by me at the time save 

89 



The Discovery 

Aeschylus and Blake." There was little to be done for 
him at that interview save the extraction of a promise to 
call again. He made none of the confidences character- 
istic of a man seeking sympathy and alms. He was 
secretive and with no eagerness for plans for his benefit, 
and refused the offer of a small weekly sum that would 
enable him to sleep in a bed and sit at a table. I know 
of no man, and can imagine none, to whom another 
can so easily unburden himself of uneasiness and 
formalities as to my father. To him the poor and the 
rich are, as the fishes and the flames to St. Francis, his 
brothers and his friends at sight, even if these are shy 
as fishes and sightless as flame. But the impression of 
the visit on my father was of a meeting that did not end in 
great usefulness so much was indicated by a manner 
schooled in concealments. But Francis came again, and 
again, and then to my father's house in Kensington. 
Of the falsity of the impression given by his manner, 
his poetry in the address to his host's little girl is the 
proof : 

Yet is there more, whereat none guesseth, love ! 

Upon the ending of my deadly night 
(Whereof thou hast not the surmise, and slight 
Is all that any mortal knows thereof), 

Thou wert to me that earnest of day's light, 
When, like the back of a gold-mailed saurian 

Heaving its slow length from Nilotic slime, 
The first long gleaming fissure runs Aurorian 

Athwart the yet dun firmament of prime. 
Stretched on the margin of the cruel sea 
Whence they had rescued me, 
With faint and painful pulses was I lying j 

Not yet discerning well 
If I had 'scaped, or were an icicle, 

Whose thawing is its dying. 
Like one who sweats before a despot's gate, 
Summoned by some presaging scroll of fate, 
And knows not whether kiss or dagger wait ; 
And all so sickened is his countenance 

90 



Fie Hesitates 

The courtiers buzz, " Lo, doomed ! " and look at him askance : 

At fate's dread portal then 

Even so stood I, I ken, 
Even so stood I, between a joy and fear, 
And said to mine own heart, " Now, if the end be here ! " 

In the last four lines is probably an instance of his 
habitual appropriation of things seen for his poetic 
images. If the door of my father's room is here pro- 
moted to a part in Sister Songs, it takes its place with 
the clock of Covent Garden, the arrowy minute-hand 
of which Mr. Shane Leslie has remarked as suggesting 
Thompson's description of himself when he 

Stood bound and helplessly 
For Time to shoot his barbed minutes at me. 

In the continuation of the same passage is found 
another example : 

Suffered the trampling hoof of every hour 

In night's slow-wheeled car ; 
Until the tardy dawn dragged me at length 
From under those dread wheels ; and, bled of strength, 

I waited the inevitable last. 

Even before he was knocked down by a cab, as 
happened to him later, the heavy traffic of Covent 
Garden, harassing the straggler in the gutter, may 
well have been to him a type of danger and fears. 

The idea of rescue came slowly and doubtfully to 
Francis, who was far less ready than my father to 
believe that he was fitted for the writing career. 
Their first talks were of books ; of his history he said 
nothing. He was willing to tell of the poets he had 
read in the Guildhall Library, until the police, being, 
as he said, against him, barred the entrance. He was 
willing, too, that anything he had written should be 
published, and bring temporary wealth ; but reluctant 



The Discovery 

to admit that he might become a worker and quit the 
streets so fixedly reluctant that some strong reason 
was conjectured. He would visit my father, then living 
in Kensington, but it was long before he would accept 
substantial hospitalities ; coming in the evening or after- 
noon, he would leave to return to his calling literally a 
calling of cabs. That he was also during this time either 
parting with or searching for his Ann is not unlikely. 
He took his reprieve as he had taken his doom ; he 
went frightened and brave at once, at war with peace, at 
peace with war. With his hesitations, it was more than 
six months later that he wrote anew for Merry England, 
in the November issue of which appeared " Bunyan in the 
Light of Modern Criticism " ; his three previous appear- 
ances, in April, May, and June, with the " Passion of 
Mary," " Dream Tryst," and" Paganism Old and New," 
having exhausted the possible things among those first 
submitted. He was not an absentee because he could not 
write better than the oldest hand the articles exactly 
fitted for Merry England. The intention declared in 
an early number of my father's magazine was to give 
voice to a renascence of happiness ; " We shall try to 
revive in our own hearts, and in the hearts of others, 
the enthusiasm of the Christian Faith." This enthu- 
siasm was to inform essays on social problems and 
essays in literary and artistic criticism, and an optimistic 
editor had told his contributors to recover the humour, 
and good humour, of the Saints and Fathers. " Pagan- 
ism Old and New," in which it was sought to expose the 
fallacy of searching for love of beauty and sweetness 
in the pagan mythology, and to reveal the essential 
modernity, and even Christianity, of Keats' and Shelley's 
pagan beauties, was a triumph of journalistic obedience 
and appropriateness. 

It ends : "Bring back even the best age of Paganism, 
and you smite beauty on the cheek. But you cannot 
bring back then, the best age of Paganism, the age when 

92 



Making of a Poet 

Paganism was a faith. None will again behold Apollo 
in the forefront of the morning, or see Aphrodite in the 
upper air loose the long lustre of her golden locks. But 
you may bring back dii avertant omen the Paganism 
of the days of Pliny, and Statius, and Juvenal. . . . This 
is the Paganism which is formidable, and not the 
antique lamp whose feeding oil is spent, whose light 
has not outlasted the damps of its long sepulture." 
This he wrote, who might have been exercising his 
knowledge of ignominy in a Ventre de Londres or at least 
in such a book as the memorable Rowton House Rhymes. 
The streets, somehow, had nurtured a poet and trained 
a journalist. He had gone down into poverty so 
absolute that he was often without pen and paper, and 
now emerged a pressman. Neither his happiness, nor 
his tenderness, nor his sensibility had been marred, like 
his constitution, by his experiences. To be the target of 
such pains as it is the habit of the world to deplore as 
the extreme of disaster, and yet to keep alive the young 
flame of his poetry ; to be under compulsion to watch 
the ignominies of the town, and yet never to be nor to 
think himself ignominious ; to establish the certitude of 
his virtue ; to keep flourishing an infinite tenderness 
and capability for delicacies and gentilezze of love these 
were the triumphs of his immunity. A mother not yet 
delivered of her child must be protected from all ills of 
mind and body lest they do injury to the delicate and 
susceptible life within her. Horrors must not be spoken 
in her presence ; it has been held fit that she should 
have pictures about her bed of fair infants that her 
thoughts might instruct the features of the unborn child 
in good-favouredness. How otherwise was the poet 
dealt with, whose intellect was the womb of the word ! 
The making of Viola, as he tells it, is a sweeter busi- 
ness than the making of a poet of the maker of a 
" Making of Viola " but not more natural and inevitable. 
Thompson's muse rose intact, but trailing bloody in- 

93 



The Discovery 

signia of battle ; his spirit rose from the penal waters 
fresh as Botticelli's Venus. It had not been more 
marvellous if Sandro's lady, with cool cheeks, floating 
draperies, and dry curls, had risen from a real un- 
plumbed, salt, estranging sea, instead of from the silly 
ripples of Florentine convention. 

But physically he was battered ; and his condition led 
my father to prevail upon him, with much difficulty, to 
be examined by a doctor. " He will not live," was the 
first verdict, " and you hasten his death by denying his 
whims and opium." But the risk was taken, and Francis 
sent to a private hospital. 

Thus he alludes to the change within himself : 
" Please accept my warmest thanks for all your kindness 
and trouble on my behalf. I know this is a very per- 
functory looking letter ; but until the first sharp struggle 
is over, it is difficult for me to write in any other way." 

De Quincey thought that opium killed Coleridge as 
a poet, that it was the enemy of his authorship ; that 
the leaving off of opium creates a new heaven and a 
new earth. Thompson had now to experience such 
things by the denial of the drug. Of his links with 
Coleridge A. M. writes in the Dublin Review, January 
1908 : 

" Of his alienation from ordinary life, laudanum was the sole 
cause, and, of laudanum, early and long disease. Coleridge's 
fault was Thompson's an evasion of the daily dues of man to 
man. It was laudanum that dissolved Coleridge's bond to wife 
and child, and piled their unanswered letters by his bed of illu- 
sion and shattering dreams ; it was laudanum that held the hand 
bound to open them, turning it half callous and half timorous, as 
though insensibility should borrow of sensibility its flight, its 
cowardice, and its closed eyes ; or rather the sensitive and loving 
man was acting his own part, wearing a delusive likeness to him- 
self, while laudanum cared nothing for wife or child. It was 
laudanum that sent Coleridge to take refuge on one alien hearth 
when no fire was kindled to welcome him in any home of his 
kindred. It was laudanum that was the unspoken thing, the un- 

94 



He Renounces Opium 

named, in Coleridge's conscious talk ; other things he would 
confess, but not this, which was the daily desire, the daily posses- 
sion, and the daily stealth. So it was also, in his own degree, 
with this later sufferer. Francis Thompson was not like Coleridge ; 
he had not Coleridge's bond and obligations ; but the laudanum 
was alike in the wronged veins, the altered blood, of both." 

The renunciation of opium, not its indulgence, opened 
the doors of the intellect. Opium killed the poet in 
Coleridge ; the opium habit was stifled at the birth of 
the poet in Thompson. His images came toppling 
about his thoughts overflowingly during the pains of 
abstinence. This, too, was de Quincey's experience, 
told when he was unwinding " the accursed chain " : 
" I protest to you I have a greater influx of thoughts in 
one hour at present than in a whole year under the 
reign of opium. It seems as though all the thoughts 
which had been frozen up for a decade of years by 
opium had now, according to the old fable, been thawed 
at once." 

" The Ode to the Setting Sun ' was written at mid- 
summer in 1889, and on receiving it, his editor, with 
my mother and a young friend, Mr. Vernon Blackburn, 
straightway took the train to congratulate him on this 
first conclusive sign of the splendour of his powers. 
For the poet had been placed with the monks at 
Storrington Priory, and it was the music of three 
wandering musicians heard in the village street that 
opened the ode l : 

The wailful sweetness of the violin 
Floats down the hushed waters of the wind, 

The heart-strings of the throbbing harp begin 
To long in aching music. . . . 

Thus by accident were the words of Sir Thomas 
Browne, an author beloved of Francis words quoted by 

1 He himself notes the circumstances of composition. " Mem. ' Ode to 
Setting Sun ' begun in the field of the Cross, and under shadow of the Cross, 
at sunset ; finished ascending and descending Jacob's Ladder (mid or late 
noon ?) " " The Song of the Hours " also was written at Storrington. 

95 



The Discovery 

de Quincey again made good : " And even that tavern 
music, which makes one merry, another mad, in me 
strikes a deep fit of devotion." 

After requests for boots and writing-pads walking 
and writing made up his days he gives notice that 
with many misgivings he has fixed on Shelley for the 
theme of a first Dubhn Review article : 

" I have done so principally because I remember more 
of him than any other poet (though that is saying little). 
Coleridge was always my favourite poet ; but I early 
recognised that to make him a model was like trying to 
run up a window-pane, or to make clotted cream out of 
moonlight, or to pack jelly-fish in hampers. So that until 
I was twenty-two Shelley was more studied by me than 
anyone else. At the same time I am exposed to the 
danger of talking platitudes, because so much has been 
written about Shelley of late years which I have never 
read. I may have one or two questions to ask you in 
relation to the subject as I go on. Thank you for the 
American paper. Only the poet feels complimented. 
Your criticisms on the Merry England article were 
(for once in a way) entirely anticipated by my own 
impressions. Happy are they that hear their detractions 
and can put them to mending. With regard to what 
you say about the advantage of my being in a more 
booky place than Storrington 1 I entirely agree. Nor 
need you fear the opium. I have learned the advantage 
of being without it for mental exercise ; and (still more 
important) I have learned to bear my fits of depression 
without it. Personally I no longer fear it." 

In a later letter : " Shelley was sent off yesterday. 
Herewith the few fugitive verses I spoke of. With re- 
gard to the article, please take no notice of any writing 

1 The Shelley Essay bears signs of the booklessness of Storrington. All 
the quotations were made from memory, and nearly all were inaccurate. 

96 



At Storrington 

on the backs of the sheets, and disregard all pencilled 
writing, either front or back. The opening is carefully 
constructed so that, if you think advisable, you can detach 
it, and leave the article to commence on page 10." 

His next runs : 

"Surprised about Shelley. Seemed to me dreadful 
trash when I read it over before sending it. Shut my 
eyes and ran to the post, or some demon might have set 
me to work on picking it again. Don't see but what we 
can easily draw the knife out of your heart by knocking 
out the praise of Swinburne. Won't grieve you if we 
leave in the disparaging part of the comparison, I hope ? 
And I daresay you are perfectly right about it." 

Of this Shelley article nearly the whole history is 
told in a long letter to his own and his family's friend, 
Dr. Carroll : 

"The article on Shelley which you asked about I 
finished at last, with quite agonising pain and elabora- 
tion. It might have been written in tears, and is pro- 
portionately dear to me. I fear, however, that it will 
not be accepted, or accepted only with such modifica- 
tions as will go to my heart. It has not been inserted 
in the current issue of the Dublin a fact which looks 
ominous. First, you see, I prefaced it by a fiery 
attack on Catholic Philistinism (exemplified in Canon 

T , though I was not aware about him at the time I 

wrote the article), driven home with all the rhetoric 
which I could muster. That is pretty sure to be a 
stumbling-block. I consulted Mr. Meynell as to its sup- 
pression, but he said ' Leave it in.' I suspect that he 
thoroughly agrees with it. Secondly, it is written at 
an almost incessant level of poetic prose, and seethes 
with imagery like my poetry itself. Now the sober, pon- 
derous, ecclesiastical Dublin confronted with poetic prose 
must be considerably scared. The editor probably cannot 

97 G 



The Discovery 

make up his mind whether it is heavenly rhetoric 
or infernal nonsense. And in the midst of my vexation 
at feeling what a thankless waste of labour it is, I can- 
not help a sardonic grin at his conjectured perplexity. 
Mr. Meynell's opinion was "' Shelley" is splendid.' . . . 
tl There can now be no doubt that the Dublin Review 
has rejected my article. Nothing has been heard of it 
since it was sent. I only hope that they have not lost the 
MS. That would be to lose the picked fruit of three painful 
months a quite irreparable loss. I am not surprised, my- 
self. What is an unlucky ecclesiastical editor to do when 
confronted with something so sui generis as this my 
friend's favourite passage, and the only one which I can 
remember. I had been talking of the 'Cloud/ and remark- 
ing that it displayed ' the childish faculty of make-believe, 
raised to the n th power.' In fact, I said, Shelley was 
the child, still at play, though his play-things were larger. 
Then I burst into prose poetry. ' The universe is his box 
of toys. He dabbles his hands in the sunset. He is gold- 
dusty with tumbling amid the stars. He makes bright 
mischief with the moon. He teases into growling the 
kennelled thunder, and laughs at the shaking of its fiery 
chain. He dances in and out of the gates of heaven. 
He runs wild over the fields of ether. He chases the 
rolling world. He gets between the feet of the horses 
of the sun. He stands in the lap of patient Nature, 
and twines her loosened tresses after a hundred wilful 
fashions, to see how she will look nicest in his poetry/ 
The editor sees at once that here is something such as 
he has never encountered before. Personally, I recollect 
nothing like it in English prose. In French prose I 
could point to something not so dissimilar in Victor 
Hugo. But not in English. De Quincey is as boldly 
poetical, and his strain far higher ; but he is poetical 
after quite another style. The editor feels himself 
out of his latitude. He is probably a person of only 
average literary taste that is, he can tell the literary 



"Shelley" is Rejected 

hawk from the literary handsaw when the wind is 
southerly. He feels that discretion is the better 
part of valour. The thing may be very good, may 
be very bad. But it is beyond or below compre- 
hension. So he rejects it. Twelve years hence (if he 
live so long) he will feel uncomfortable should anyone 
allude to that rejection. Unless he has lost the MS. In 
that case the thing is gone for ever. 

" I had a commission (through Mr. Meynell) to write 
an article for the jubilee number of the Tablet ; but the 
editor would have nothing to do with it when it was 
written. I had said that Cardinal Wiseman too often 
wrote like a brilliant schoolboy (I might have said that, 
as regards his style, he seldom wrote like anyone else) ; 
and I had been guilty of other sins of omission and 
commission which were likely to bristle the hair of the 
Canon T s." 

And later, to the same correspondent : 

"August. I have been re-reading what I said regarding 
my rejected Shelley article, and I see that you might 
possibly interpret my language as referring to its merit. 
This would make my words read arrogantly in the ex- 
treme. When I said that I knew nothing just like it in the 
language, I was speaking of its kind, its style. As to the 
merit of that style, I have ventured no opinion of my 
own, but simply given you my friends' opinion. I am so 
poor a judge of my own work, that they never pay any 
attention to what I think about it. Please always 
bear this in mind. You may be sure that in speaking 
about my own work I always follow the same rule, to 
tell you merely what my friends say as to its merit." 

What little more remains to be told of the writing and 
the posthumous publication of the Shelley article comes 
from W. M. : 

" It happened that Bishop (afterwards Cardinal) Vaughan, who 
the poet's family well in Lancashire, and had known Francis 

99 



The Discovery 



himself at Ushaw, met him in London at our house, and out 
of this meeting and the Bishop's wish to serve him, came the 
suggestion that he should contribute a paper to the Dublin Review. 
That venerable quarterly, founded by Cardinal Wiseman half a 
century before, Bishop Vaughan now owned but did not edit. It 
inherited ecclesiastical rather than literary traditions ; and a due 
consideration for these dictated the opening passages of the Essay, 
since somewhat curtailed. Hence proceeded the plea that Theo- 
logy and Literature might be reconciled just such another recon- 
ciliation as Art had been adjured to seal with Nature at the end 
of the eighteenth century : 

Go find her, kiss her, and be friends again ! 

And Thompson's plea had this added relevance that the choice 
of a subject, left to himself, had fallen upon Shelley ; perhaps a 
dubious choice. At any rate the article was returned to him 
from the Dublin one more of those memorable rejections that 
go into the treasury of all neglected writers' consolations, perhaps 
their illusions. Thrown aside by its discouraged author, the 
Essay l was found among his papers after his death. His literary 
executor thought it right that the Review for which it was originally 
designed should again have the offer of it, since a new generation 
of readers had arisen, and another editor, in days otherwise re- 
generate. Thus it happened that this orphan among Essays 
entered at last on a full inheritance of fame." 

It appeared in the Dublin dated July 1908, and for the 
first time in a long life of seventy-two years the Review 
passed into a second edition. Its reissue in separate 
form has for preface Mr. George Wyndham's estimate 
of it as the most important contribution made to English 
literature for twenty years. 

From F. T. to W. M : 

" The Dublin article having been sent, I write to ask 
you for more work, or directions as to work. I am 
afraid, however, that even if there is room for it the 
article will hardly be in time, and that through my own 

1 Also a Shelley " Selection," not published. 

IOO 



He Learns to Work 

fault. I miscalculated the date from Father Driffield's 
letter, and seeing no newspapers, did not discover my 
error till I came to post it. This is something like a 
confession of failure, and I am naturally chagrined 
about it. But I have one comfort from the affair : I 
not only hope but think (though until I see how I pro- 
ceed with my next book I will not speak decidedly) that it 
has broken me to harness. You ask me to write frankly, 
and so I will tell you just how I have found myself 
get on with my work. At first I could not get on at all. 
I tried regularly enough to settle myself to writing ; but 
my brain would not work. During the last four days I 
wrote at a pretty uniform rate, and wrote so continuously 
as I have never been able to write before in fact, more 
continuously than I mean to write again, except in an 
emergency like this I began to feel very shaken at the 
end of it. But the valuable thing is that I was able to 
make myself write when and for as long as I pleased. I 
want some more work now, but if left to myself I may 
lose a habit scarcely acquired. . . . The only two ideas 
in my head both require books. The one is for an 
article on Dryden, the other an old idea for an article on 
' Idylls of the King/ Very likely my idea with regard 
to the latter has long been anticipated : so that to 
prevent any possible waste of labour let me briefly 
explain it. I have seen it objected to them that there 
are only the slightest and most arbitrary narrative links 
between them, and that they form no real sequence. 
My idea is to show that they have not a narrative, but 
a moral, sequence. (I have nothing to do with the 
allegory.) Tennyson's idea has been to show the gradual 
disruption of Arthur's court and realm through the 
' little pitted speck in garnered fruit ' of Guinevere's sin, 
which ' rotting inward slowly moulders all.' This he 
does by a series of separate pictures each exhibiting 
in a progressive style the disintegrating process. Each 
exhibits some definite development of decaying virtue 

101 



The Discovery 

in court or kingdom. Viewed in this light, they have a 
real relation to each other which is that of their common 
relation to the central idea. It is a crescendo of moral 
laxity ; and throughout, by constant little side touches, 
he keeps before my mind how all this is sprung from the 
daily visible sin of the Queen's life. That is the idea : 
judge for yourself if it is worth anything. If you have 
any work ready for me, I should prefer to do that ; I 
think I could now do work not originated by myself." 

He continues : 

" I gather from her last poem that Miss Tynan is no 
longer with you, or I should have hardly sent you the 
longer verses (the ' Sere of the Leaf '), for I feel that I 
have taken a perhaps unwarrantable liberty in apostro- 
phising her, even in her poetical and therefore public 
capacity. I can only plead that verse, like ' 1'Amour ' 
in Carmen's song 

est enfant de Boheme, 
Qui n'a jamais, jamais connu de loi ! 

The thing would not write itself otherwise. She 
happened to set the current of my thought, and I could 
not quit the current." 

Of this liberty Miss Tynan, one of the earliest of 
Francis's admiring and admired, wrote to her poet : 

" I must thank you very much for associating my name with 
your luxuriantly beautiful poem in the current number (January 
1891) of Merry England, and for giving my words place on the 
golden and scarlet web and woof of poetry. No one could fail to 
be proud and grateful for such a distinction. I have been deeply 
interested in your poetry since the first day I saw your name to 
' Dream Tryst.' I am sure I was one of the first to write and 
ask, ' Who is Francis Thompson ? ' 

And again in 1892 : 

" . . . You are too good to say you are indebted to me. If I 
thought you were, I should begin to feel proud of myself. I'd 

1 02 



The Confessional of Verse 

like to think better of my own work than I do of some of my 
friends' work Mr. Yeats is one, and you are another but I 
can't. My faculty of admiration is too true and strong. ... I 
hope you will write to me again, and I look forward to meeting and 
knowing you when I come to London. Your buying the ' Poppies ' 
in the circumstances was indeed a tribute. I am very glad to 
know you are now lifted to a safer position, out of danger of such 
poverty. I am very glad for you to be the Meynells' friend." . . . 

F. T. to W. M : 

"DEAR MR. MEYNELL, How good and kind and patient 
you are with me ! far more than I am with myself, for I 
am often sick with the being that inhabits this villainous 
mud-hut of a body. ... I beguiled the four ill nights I 
have spoken of, while the mental cloud was somewhat 
lifted, by writing the verses [one set of these was the 
' Sere of the Leaf '] I herewith send you. If there be 
no saving grace of poetry in them they are damned ; 
for I am painfully conscious that they display me, in 
every respect, at my morally weakest. Indeed no one 
but yourself or, to be more accurate, yourselves 
would I have allowed to see them ; for often verse written 
as I write it is nothing less than a confessional far 
more intimate than the sacerdotal one. That touches 
only your sins, and leaves in merciful darkness your 
ignominious, if sinless, weaknesses. When the soul 
goes forth, like Andersen's Emperor, thinking herself 
clothed round with singing-robes, while in reality her 
naked weakness is given defenceless to the visiting wind, 
not every mother's son would you allow to gaze on you 
at such a time. And the shorter of the two pieces 
especially is such a self-revelation, I feel, as even you 
have hardly had from me before. Something in them 
may be explained to you, and perhaps a little excused, 
by the newspaper cutting I forward. For some inscrut- 
able reason it has affected me as if I never expected it. 

I knew of it beforehand ; I thought I was familiarised 

103 



The Discovery 

with the idea ; yet when the newspaper came as I sat at 
dinner, and I saw her name among so many familiar 
names, I pushed away the remainder of my dinner and 
well, I will not say what I did. I have been miserable 
ever since. The fact is my nerves want taking up like 
an Atlantic cable, and recasing. I am sometimes like a 
dispossessed hermit-crab, looking about everywhere for a 
new shell, and quivering at every touch. Figuratively 
speaking, if I prick my finger I seem to feel it with my 
whole body." The shell he had cast, with lamentations, 
was the encrustation of disease, of opium, of street 
miseries. 

In February 1890, having bidden good-bye at Stor- 
rington to Daisy " and Daisy's sister-blossom or 
blossom-sister, Violet (there are nine children in the 
family, the last four all flowers Rose, Daisy, Lily, and 
Violet)," he returned to London. In town the poetry 
was continued. " Love in Dian's Lap ' was written 
as he paced, in place of the Downs, the library floor at 
Palace Court ; and in Kensington Gardens, where I have 
seen him at prayer as well as at poetry, he composed 
" Sister Songs." Both were pencilled into penny exercise- 
books. His reiterated " It's a penny exercise-book " 
is remembered by every member of the household set 
to search for the mislaid first drafts of " Love in Dian's 
Lap " he himself too dismayed to look. 

In this form " Sister Songs " (written at about the time 
of "The Hound of Heaven," in 1891, but not published 
till 1895) was covertly handed as a Christmas offering to 
his friends, or rather left with a note where it would be 
seen by them : 

" DEAR MR. MEYNELL, I leave with this on the mantel- 
piece (in an exercise-book) the poem of which I spoke. 
If intensity of labour could make it good, good it would 
be. One way or the other, it will be an effectual test of 
a theme on which I have never yet written ; if from it I 

104 



A Christmas Present 

have failed to draw poetry, then I may as well take down 
my sign. Always yours, FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

Later, having recovered the manuscript to add to it the 
" Inscription " he returned it with : 

" Before I talk of anything else, let me thank you 
ab imis medullis for the one happy Christmas I have had 
for many a year. Herewith I send you my laggard poem. 
I have been delayed partly through making some minor 
corrections, but chiefly through having to transcribe the 
' Inscription ' at the close of it." 

He had watched the piling up of family presents before 
making his own, and in the " Inscription " he tells : 

But one I marked who lingered still behind, 
As for such souls no seemly gift had he : 

He was not of their strain, 
Nor worthy so bright beings to entertain, 
Nor fit compeer for such high company ; 
Yet was he surely born to them in mind, 
Their youngest nursling of the spirit's kind. 

Last stole this one, 

With timid glance, of watching eyes adread, 
And dropped his frightened flower when all were gone ; 
And where the frail flower fell, it withered. 
But yet methought those high souls smiled thereon ; 
As when a child, upstraining at your knees 
Some fond and fancied nothings, says, " I give you these." 

Of the first notion for this poem's title, " Amphicy- 
pellon," he wrote : 

" It refers to the aju.<ptKV7re\\ov which Hephaestus, in 
Homer, bears round to the gods when he acts as cup- 
bearer by way of joke. When Schliemann's things from 
Troy were first exhibited at South Kensington, I re- 
member seeing among them a drinking-cup labelled 
' Perhaps the amphicypellon of Homer.' It was a boat- 
shaped cup of plain gold, open at the top and with 

105 



The Discovery 

a crescentic aperture at either extremity of the rim, 
through which the wine could either be poured or drunk. 
So that you could pour from either end, and (if the cup 
were brimmed with wine) two people could have drunk 
from it at the same time, one at either extremity. In a 
certain sense, therefore, it was a double cup. And it had 
also two handles, one at either of its boat-shaped sides, so 
that it was a two-handled cup. You will see at once 
why I have applied the name to my double poem." 

Later this title was abandoned : 

" Let it be 'Sister Songs ' as you suggest. But keep ' an 
offering to two sisters ' where it now is on the title 
page. ' Sister Songs ' was my own first alteration of the 
title, but was dropped I hardly know why." 

One of his first articles after he left his always beloved 
Storrington was the notice of General Booth's In Darkest 
England. Called "Catholics in Darkest England," and 
signed " Francis Tancred," it appeared in Merry England 
for January 1891. Mr. Stead, in the Review of Reviews ; 
wrote : 

" Tancred sounds a bugle-blast which, it is hoped, will ring 
through the Catholic ranks not only in England, but in all Catholic 
Christendom. After speaking highly of General Booth and his 
large, daring, and comprehensive scheme, he points out that it 
will of necessity lead to the proselytising of neglected Catholics. 
He, therefore, cries aloud for the creation of a Catholic Salvation 
Army, or rather, for the utilisation of the Franciscans, Regulars 
and Tertiaries, for the purpose of social salvation." 

" Mr. Francis Tancred " received from Mr. Stead the 
following letter : 

"January 12, 1891. 

" DEAR SIR, I beg to forward you herewith a copy of the 
Review of Reviews, in which you will find your admirable article 
quoted and briefly commented upon. Permit me to say that I 
read your article with sincere admiration and heartfelt sympathy, 
and that it delighted the Salvation Army people at headquarters 

106 



Cardinal Manning 

more than anything that has appeared for a long time. ' That 
man can write,' said Bramwell Booth to me, and I think he sin- 
cerely grudges your pen to the Catholic Church. I am, yours 
truly, W. T. STEAD." * 

Cardinal Manning 2 thereupon summoned Francis 
through my father, who was the Cardinal's friend, and 
to this single meeting Francis alludes in "To the Dead 
Cardinal of Westminster," a poem written, when, a 
year later, 1892, Manning died. Of this, A. M. has 
written : 

" In 1892 his editor asked him for a poem on Cardinal Manning, 
just dead, whom the poet had once visited ; surely never was 
a poem ' to order ' so greatly and originally inspired. I have 
alluded to days of deep depression in Francis Thompson's life, 
and they occurred now and then, with fairly cheerful intervals, 
at this time. It was in the grief and terror of such a day that 
he wrote ' To the dead Cardinal of Westminster,' which is a poem 
rather on himself than on the dead, an all but despairing presage 
of his own decease, which, when sixteen years later it came, brought 
no despair." 

Claiming the ear of the dead, because the Cardinal 
asked the poet to go often to him, he writes in a first 
version of the poem : 

I saw thee only once, 
Although thy gentle tones 

Said soft : 
" Come hither oft." 

1 There perished with Mr. Stead in the Titanic disaster in 1912 a 
Catholic priest, who had, shortly before sailing, recommended "The Hound 
of Heaven " (with the strangely significant line " Adown Titanic glooms of 
chasmed fears ") to a friend, as an antidote to decadent poetry. 

2 At this time he met another Cardinal, then without his Hat, who knew 
his people in Manchester. There were many pauses when the talk turned 
to his home. Francis, untamable in shabbiness, even to the point of 
rags, explained afterwards: "I did not like to dwell on the subject, lest he 
should discover that I was in poor circumstances. You see he corresponds 
with my father." But his father did, of course, already know of his need. 
A letter, dated April 1892, from Bishop Carroll, runs : 

" MY DEAR MR. MEYNELL, Francis Thompson's father has agreed to 
give me a small sum weekly (3^. 6d.) for his son. I have consented to 
forward it, and will do so monthly, adding a little myself. I now enclose a 
cheque for 245-. It is not much, but it will help. Ever yours sincerely, 

J. CARROLL." 

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The Discovery 

Therefore my spirit clings 
Heaven's porter by the wings, 

And holds 
Its gated golds 

Apart, with thee to press 
A private business ; 
Whence 
Deign me audience. 

Your singer did not come 

Back to that stern, bare home : l 

He knew 
Himself and you. 

I saw, as seers do, 

That you were even you ; 

And why, 
I too was I. 

In that, as in "The Fallen Yew " 

' I take you to my inmost heart, my true ! " 
Ah fool ! but there is one heart you 
Shall never take him to ! 

his theme is one that often pressed home upon 
him : 

" There is such goodwill to impart, and such good- 
will to receive, that each threatens to become the other, 
but the law of individuality collects its secret strength ; 
you are you and I am I, and so we remain." 

These concluding words are transcribed with a sup- 
pressed verse of " To the Dead Cardinal of Westminster " 
a verse suppressed, I imagine, because its poetry was 
not approved rather than because it committed its author 
to a too definite theory of Individualism. While he 
marks the impenetrability of mind and mind, he writes 

1 The old Archbishop's House in Carlisle Place. 

108 



Multitude and Solitude 

hotly nevertheless of the Political Economist's In- 
dividualism : 

"For diabolical this doctrine of Individualism is; it 
is the outcome of the proud teaching which declares it 
despicable for men to bow before their fellow-men. 
It has meant, not that a man should be individual, but 
that he should be independent. Now this I take to be 
an altogether deadly lie. A man should be individual, 
but not independent. The very laws of Nature forbid 
independence. . . . Independent, he puts forth no 
influence ; he is sterile as the sands of the desert. 
For it is little less than an immutable ordinance 
throughout the universe that without intercommunion 
nothing is generated. The plant may reproduce on 
itself, but if you would rise above mere vegetation, or 
the lowest forms of animal life, there can be no true 
hermaphroditism ; aye, even in the realm of Mind, 
'male and female created He them.' There is but one 
thing you can do for yourself ; you can kill yourself. 
Though you may try to live for yourself, you cannot, 
in any permanence, live by yourself. You may rot by 
yourself, if you will ; but that is not doing, it is ceasing." 

Afterwards he was to learn even more strictly from 
Patmore that the unit of the world has two persons. 

As in the realm of Mind, so in the Spiritual. What 
might seem the culmination of secret Individualism, the 
Communion between Christ and the Soul, is made 
universal in the Open Court of Catholicism. However 
strict the segregation of Francis's spiritual experiences, 
they were, save in some rare and awful moments of 
estrangement, offered to Christ, through Christ to the 
Church, through the Church to the men from whose 
intercourse he found himself debarred. Tolstoy's " every 
man in the depths of his soul has something he alone 
comprehends, namely, his attitude towards God" is a 
thought divinely expressed in the " Fallen Yew," but it is 

109 



The Discovery 

only one aspect of the truth, as the single reflection in a 
looking-glass is but a single aspect of the thing before 
it. Second thoughts, like second mirrors, encircle and 
multiply the first impression. 1 

1 At this time he wrote to W. M. of an article in Merry England: 
" The Franciscan article is decidedly good. But I am getting a little 
sick of this talk of individualism,' which only darkens counsel. The writer 
seems to mean by it not at all what it means to me and, I think, to the 
Cardinal. What he calls regulated individualism many people would call 
Socialism. In fact, some Socialists claim the Franciscans as a Catholic and 
religious experiment in the direction of Socialism. It seems to me that you 
can juggle with words like ' individualism' to suit your own whims." 



110 



CHAPTER VI: LITERARY BEGINNINGS 

THE discovery that a man cannot, with any per- 
manence, live by himself was made after his experience 
in London and at Storrington. He had returned to my 
father's neighbourhood resolved, not only to be a poet, 
but to meet the social labours of journalism. This, the 
elbowing with other workers at a close-packed table in 
the private room where, every Thursday, my father pro- 
duced with superhuman effort a fresh number of his 
Weekly Register, meant, much more than a visit to a 
Cardinal, a return to the humanities. He fell, with 
much talk, right into the thick of it. He was put to 
small tasks as much that he might be put out of train 
for talk as for the use he was. But no device was 
good enough to do that ; set him to write and there 
would be endless conversation on nibs and paper, of 
what was advisable to write, what to ignore, of his 
readers' alleged susceptibilities, and his care for the 
paper's circulation. In the end after a hard day there 
might, or might not, be a " par ' to show, or some 
doggerel not to show. To this last order belongs a 
later attempt to describe the frenzied atmosphere of 
work : 

In short, with a papal 
Election for staple, 

Were our inkpot a tun 
And our pen like a Maypole, 

We'd never be done 
With leader, leaderette, pad, comment, and citing, 

Nor I with this blighting 
Frenzy for jingles and jangles in-iting, 

ill 



Literary Beginnings 

And writing 

And inditing 

And exciting 

And biting 
My pencil, inviting 
Inspiration and plighting 

My hair into elf-locks most wild, and affrighting, 
And Registering, and daying and nighting ; 

Our readers 

Delighting 

With leaders 

That Whiteing 
Might envy before he found work more requiting. 

The instant demands of the "busy day' he never 
learnt to supply, nor was he put at all seriously to the 
task of learning. He was too tedious a pupil for hurried 
masters. On one busy day, when his platitudes had 
been so long chanted that they had got written into the 
manuscripts of his distracted audience, he was put in 
charge of a visitor who could match all commonplaces 
with tumultuously brilliant talk. But it was Thompson's 
day. With numbers on his side his repetitions came in 
hordes fit to annihilate opposition he plodded through 
a long afternoon in another room with the silent saviour 
of the workers. To the dinner table he came with 
the bright eye of enthusiasm ; " I have never known 
G more brilliant," he explained in all honesty. 

At times he would be sent for short visits to Crawley, 
whence he writes : 

" I began a letter to you last Wednesday, but it never 
got finished in consequence of the devotion with which 
I have since been working at a short article. Now that 
I feel on my feet again, I am longing to be back amongst 
you all. Touchstone, with the slightest alteration, 
voices my feelings about country life : ' Truly, shepherd, 
in respect of itself, it is a good life ; but in respect that 

112 



On the " Register " 

it is a shepherd's life, it is naught. In respect that it 
is solitary, I like it very well ; but in respect that it is 
private, it is a very vile life. Now in respect it is in the 
fields, it pleaseth me well ; but in respect it is not in the 
city, it is tedious/ I hope, nevertheless, that I shall not 
see you long after I return. For I hope that before the 
season gets too late you will yourself make your escape 
from that infectious web of sewer rats called London. 
I know how ill you were before I left ; and it is disgust- 
ing to think that here am I, like the fat reed that rots 
itself in ease on Lethe wharf, while you are hung up 
body and soul for the benefit of the villainous blubber- 
brained public. . . . The Register gave me a ' turn/ by 
the way, last week. My eyes strayed carelessly across 
the announcements of deaths, and suddenly saw 
' Monica Mary/ My heart stood still, I think. Of course 
the next second I knew it must be some other Monica 
Mary, not she who walks among the poppies and the 
restaurants. How, unwell as you must be, you have 
managed to make such good work of the Register and 
of Merry England I don't understand. M. ., in parti- 
cular, is an excellent number. There is not a poor article 
in it except my own, which is dull enough to please a 
bishop. B/s article I think the best of his that I have 
seen. It is really very good, allowing for the fact that 
it is essentially imitative writing. B., in fact, has 
made to himself a pair of breeches from Mrs. Meynell's 
cast-off petticoats. But it is cleverly done, and I did 
not think B. had been tailor enough to do it. There 
are really felicitous things in the article, though the art 
of them has been caught from her. For instance, the 
bit about the crops < bearing their sheaves of spires/ the 
transformation of the sheep-bells, the weeds putting on 
< the solistic immortality of sculpture/ &c. At bottom, 
doubtless, he has not much to say. But he has said it 
so well that it is a pity someone else could have said 

it so much better." 

113 H 



Literary Beginnings 

Or, like as not, instead of to the country, he would be 
sent forth on some expedition with the children to whom 
he bore himself as a sweet and eager, though not from 
their point of view an exciting, companion. He would 
concentrate on companionable things, and we have him 
writing like the gravest sportsman and intentest child of 
skating in Kensington Gardens in the winter of 1891 : 

"DEAR MR. MEYNELL, The discovery of what I have 
done to my own skates leads me to ask you to warn 
Monica next time she goes skating. If she wishes to 
preserve her skates, do not let her climb in them the 
bank of the Round Pond, where it is set with stones. 
Indeed, she ought not to go on the bank in her skates at 
all ; it is most destructive to them. For which reason, 
doubtless, I invariably do it myself. But you must make 
her understand I am like certain saints that man of 
exalted piety, St. Simeon Stylites, for instance to be 
admired for my sublime virtues, but not recommended 
for imitation. I forget how many feet of sublime virtue 
St. Simeon had ; mine defies arithmetic. Monica can 
already skate backwards a little I can't. She can do the 
outside edge a little I can't. It is true that her mode 
of terminating the latter stroke is to sit down rapidly on 
the ice ; but this is a mere individualism of technique. It 
is a mannerism which, as she advances in her art, she 
will doubtless prune in favour of a severer style ; but 
all youthful artists have their little luxuriances. Let me 
thank you for your kindness in trusting the children 
to me. Or shall I say trusting me to them ? For on 
reflection, I have a haunting suspicion that Monica 
managed the party with the same energy she devotes 
to her skating. Do not infer hence that she tyran- 
nised over me. On the contrary, both she and Cuckoo 
were most solicitously anxious lest I should mar my 
own pleasure in attending to theirs. A needless anxiety, 
since I desired nothing better than to play with them." 

114 



In Kensington Gardens 

Thus the fellowships he was learning at the work table 
were supplemented by younger friendships. There was 
no angel to pluck them from him by the hair ; no 
printer's boy to pluck his sleeve when he would attend 
elsewhere, save when he carried his work to Kensington 
Gardens and admonitory nurse-maids doubted him : 

"The notice of Mr. Yeats is my absolute opinion : 
indeed I have reined in a little of the warmth of language 
to which I was disposed, lest my pleasure and surprise 
should betray me into extreme praise. If the reviews 
are not very brilliant, you must excuse me if you can, 
for I myself am not very brilliant just now. Fact is, the 
dearest child has made friends with me in the park ; and 
we have fallen in love with each other with an instan- 
taneous rapidity not unusual on my side, but a good deal 
more unusual on the child's. I rather fancy she thinks 
me one of the most admirable of mortals ; and I firmly 
believe her to be one of the most daintily supernatural of 
fairies. And now I am in a fever lest (after the usual 
manner of fairies) her kinsfolk should steal her from me. 
Result I haven't slept for two nights, and I fear I shall 
not recover myself until I am resolved whether my 
glimpses of her are to be interdicted or not. Of course 
in some way she is sure to vanish elves always do, and 
my elves in particular." 

For the New Year, 1890, he offered his compliments 
in the letter and little fairy-tale that follow. They will 
be understood by everyone who knew how my father 
tended the needs of others : 

"DEAR MR. MEYNELL, I have imagined at times 
that in certain moments you may be inclined to have 
certain thoughts, just as I myself have fits in which I 
see the black side of everything. Will you pardon if I 
have not surmised them truly, and pardon me also for 
what is perhaps, I fear, the impertinence of sending you 

"5 



Literary Beginnings 

the enclosed little bit ? As a matter of fact it was just 
an attempt to put into a sentence or two what I was 
thinking this New Year's Eve ; when I pondered on the 
great work I discern you to have done, and still to be 
doing. I hope that many a New Year to come will see 
you spreading it ; and wish I could be your right hand 
in it ; not the clog I am. On account of your services 
to the Angelic Art in particular, I am sure the angels 
must be rehearsing a special chorus for you in Paradise. 
I thought so when I read Miss Probyn's poem. May 
they sprinkle every stone in your house. Ever most 
truly your FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

The " enclosed little bit " was : 

" Within the mid girth of banyan was the banyan- 
spirit, all an-ache with heavy heaving through the 
years ; and he was saddened, because he doubted to 
what end his weary pain of them had been. For be- 
yond his trunk the banyan spirit looked not. While 
without, the great grove hailed him sire ; and from 
every bird nestling among its thousand branches, 
Heaven's ear heard his voice." 

In 1891, at the birth of my brother Francis, he wrote 
to W. M. : 

" I hardly, I fear, gave you even commonplace 
thanks for the favour you conferred on me in choosing 
me for your little son's godfather. Even now I am 
utterly unable to express to you what I feel regarding it ; 
I can only hope that you may comprehend without 
words. As for the quietness with which I took it on 
Saturday for the premeditated of emotion in speech I 
have an instinctive horror which, I think, you share 
sufficiently to understand and excuse in me. Besides, 
the words which one might use have been desiccated, 
fossilised, by those amiable persons who not only use 

116 



A Wandering Contributor 

the heart as a sleeve-ornament, but conspicuously label 
it l This is a Heart.' One can only, like Cordelia, speak 
by silence. 

" Give my love to Monicella, and Cuckoo, and all the 
children. As for F. M. M., I doubt the primitive egoism 
is still too new in him for him to care a baby-rattle 
about my love." 

That he carried in his "copy' a day late mattered 
little ; that he then further delayed it by some accident 
seemed serious only to himself, and he would write thus 
to W. M. : 

" I called at Palace Court on Friday, and, rinding 
you were gone, started to follow you. Unfortunately I 
fell into composition on the way, and when I next 
became conscious of matters sublunary, found myself 
wandering about somewhere in the region of Smithfield 
Market, and the time late in the afternoon. I am 
heartily sorry for my failure to keep my appointment, 
and hope you will forgive me. I thought I had dis- 
ciplined myself out of these aberrations, which makes 
me feel all the more vexed about the matter. Always 
your F. T." 

Or, still more distressed : 

" I don't know what I shall do, or what you shall do. 
I haven't been able to write a line, through sheer 
nervousness and fright. Confound Canon Carroll ! It 
is he who has put me into this state. I wish you had 
never incumbered yourself with me. I am more in a 
condition to sit down and go into hysterics like a girl 
than to write anything. I know how vexed and im- 
patient you must feel to hear this from me, when you 
had expected to have the thing from me this morning. 
Indeed I feel that you have already done too much for 
me ; and that it would be better you should have nothing 
more to do with me. You have already displayed a 

117 



Literary Beginnings 

patience and tenderness with me that my kindred would 
never have displayed ; and it is most unjust that I should 
any longer be a burden to you. I think I am fit for 
nothing : certainly not fit to be any longer the object of 
your too great kindness. Please understand that I 
entirely feel, and am perfectly resigned to the ending of 
an experiment which even your sweetness would never 
have burdened yourself with, if you could have foreseen 
the consequences. F. T." 

With such fits my father made it his business to deal, 
and this he did with a persuasiveness and love that I 
think no other man could have summoned. But for his 
peculiar power F. T. would have returned to the streets. 1 

At Friston, in Suffolk, 

Summer set lip to earth's bosom bare, 
And left the flushed print in a poppy there. 

At Friston he was given the poppy and wrote the 
poem. I remember him as measuring himself, on the 
borders of a marsh, against a thistle, the fellow to that 
which stands six foot out of Sussex turf in "Daisy" ; I 
see him with the poplars on the marshes, and associate 
him with a picnic on the Broads among pine-cones and 
herons. I think it is he I see coming in at the farm- 
gate dusty from a road still bright in the dusk. But 
the recollections are elusive. His place in childish 
memories is not defined, like that of Brin, the friend 
who hit a ball over the farm roof, of the chicken pecking 
at the dining-room floor, a sister's first steps, the boy 
who twisted the cows' tails as he drove the cattle up 
from the pastures at night ; and better remembered is 
the hard old man who, stooping over his work in the 
vegetable garden, suddenly rose up and threw a stone 
as big as a potato at a truant boy. The boy and man, 

1 In after years Francis wrote letters that seemed to supply no possible 
opening for the comforter. Read to-day, their desperation offers no outlet 
but a return to the streets. But no sooner did F. T. come into my father's 
presence, than he was consoled, often without the exchange of a word. 

118 



In the Land of Flag-lilies 

the cry of the one and the grunted curses of the other, 
and their remorseless manner of settling again to work, 
were things for a London child to marvel at. But the poet, 
himself as gentle as children, is remembered, and remem- 
bered vaguely, as part of the general gentle world. Others 
are remembered for competence, for large authority, 
the freedom of their coming and going, their businesses, 
affluence, dreariness, or laughter ; they are the substantial 
people, more substantial than the people of to-day. 

There was a certain mightiness about them, like that 
of a mighty actor ; but Francis Thompson is not in the 
cast. Moreover, he is not among the insufferable 
" supers " who held one's hand too long or whose aspect 
was abhorrent to the fastidious eye of youth. In my 
earlier memories he is as unsubstantial as the angel I 
knew to be at my shoulder. Looking back I cannot see 
either clearly, but am not incredulous on that account. 

But however insignificant he may have been in the 
injudicious view of a boy, he was of consequence to the 
farm housewife, who could never bring herself to call 
him anything but " Sir Francis." 

There is more of Friston and the Monica of " The 
Poppy " in later verses : 

In the land of flag-lilies, 
Where burst in golden clangours 
The joy-bells of the broom, 
You were full of willy-nillies, 
Pets, and bee-like angers : 
Flaming like a dusky poppy, 
In a wrathful bloom. 



Yellow were the wheat-ways, 
The poppies were most red ; 
And all your meet and feat ways, 
Your sudden bee-like snarlings, 
Ah, do you remember, 
Darling of the darlings ? 

119 



Literary Beginnings 

Now at one,, and now at two, 
Swift to pout and swift to woo, 
The maid I knew : 
Still I see the dusked tresses 
But the old angers, old caresses ? 
Still your eyes are autumn thunders, 
But where are you, child, you ? 

My father, before the idea of a published volume had 
taken shape, sewed up into booklets a few copies of the 
poems already printed in Merry England. One copy 
was sent by a common friend to Tennyson, who gave 
thanks, through his son, thus briefly : 

' DEAR MR. SNEAD-COX, Thanks for letting us see the vigorous 
poems. Yours truly, HALLAM TENNYSON." 

Browning, on the other hand, who was a visitor at 
Palace Court and on whose ready sympathy for personal 
details my father would rely, wrote at generous length : 

"AsoLo, VENETO, ITALIA, Oct. 7, '89. 

" DEAR MR. MEYNELL, I hardly know how to apologise to 
you, or explain to myself how there has occurred such a delay 
in doing what I had an impulse to do as soon as I read the very 
interesting papers written by Mr. Thompson, and so kindly brought 
under my notice by yourself. Both the Verse and Prose are 
indeed remarkable even without the particulars concerning their 
author, for which I am indebted to your goodness. It is altogether 
extraordinary that a young man so naturally gifted should need 
incitement to do justice to his own conspicuous ability by en- 
deavouring to emerge from so uncongenial a course of life as 
that which you describe. Surely the least remunerating sort 
of ' literary life ' would offer advantages incompatible with the 
hardest of all struggles for existence, such as I take Mr. Thompson's 
to be. Pray assure him, if he cares to know it, that I have a 
confident expectation of his success, if he will but extricate him- 
self as by a strenuous effort he may from all that must now 
embarrass him terribly. He can have no better friend and ad- 
viser than yourself except himself, if he listens to the inner voice. 

" Pray offer my best thanks to Mrs. Meynell for her remem- 

120 



Browning's Letter 



brance of me who am, as she desires, profiting by the quiet and 
beauty of this place whence, however, I shall soon depart for 
Venice, on my way homeward. 1 I gather, from the absence of 
anything to the contrary in your letter, that all is well with you 
and so may it continue ! I do not forget your old kindliness, 
though we are so much apart in London ; and you must account 
me always, dear Mr. Meynell, as yours cordially, 

ROBERT BROWNING." 
F. T. to W. M. : 

"I have received Mr. Sharp's new Life of Browning, 
which reminds me to do what I have been intending to 
do for a long time past ; but whenever I wrote to you, 
my mind was always occupied with something else 
which put the subject out of my head. I had better do 
it now, for even my unready pen will say better what I 
wish to say than would my still more unready tongue. 
It is simply that I wanted to tell you how deeply I was 
moved by the reading of Browning's letter in Merry 
England. When you first mentioned it to me you 
quoted loosely a single sentence ; and I answered, I 
think, something to the effect that I was very pleased by 
what he had said. So I was ; pleased by what I thought 
his kindliness, for (misled by the form in which you had 
quoted the sentence from memory) I did not take it 
more seriously than that. When I saw Merry England 
I perceived that the original sentence was insusceptible 
of the interpretation w r hich I had placed upon your 
quotation of it. And the idea that in the closing days of 
his life my writings should have been under his eye, and 
he should have sent me praise and encouragement, is 
one that I shall treasure to the closing days of my life. 
To say that I owe this to you is to say little. I have 
already told you that long before I had seen you, you 
exercised, unknown to myself, the most decisive influ- 
ence over my mental development when without such 

1 Browning left Asolo at the end of October, and died in Venice early in 
December. 

121 



Literary Beginnings 

an influence my mental development was like to have 
utterly failed. And so to you I owe not merely 
Browning's notice, but also that ever I should have been 
worth his notice. The little flowers you sent him were 
sprung from your own seed. I only hope that the time 
may not be far distant when better and less scanty 
flowers may repay the pains, and patience, and tender- 
ness of your gardening." 

The poems as they appeared in Merry England or in 
journals quoting Merry England found notable adherents. 
"The Making of Viola" was re-printed by Miss 
Katharine Tynan in 1892 in a Dublin paper, to which 
she contributed a London letter, and it was in that 
form that Mr. Garvin, to be later the poet's inspiring 
critic and friend, first chanced upon Thompson. A 
leader-writer on the Newcastle Daily Chronicle, he found 
that " up in the north here, if one has a passion for the 
finer letters, one must possess his insulated soul in 
silence." After reading "The Making of Viola" (" I 
cannot tell you," he wrote to W. M. from Newcastle, 
" what I think of the angelic ingenuousness of that 
poem ; it exercised over me an instant fascination from 
which I never shall escape ") he heard nothing more of 
Thompson till the publication of Poems. His welcome 
of that volume is quoted in another page. Poems 
came to him while he was writing "leaders," and his 
brother, already Thompson-mad, declaimed "The Hound 
of Heaven " beside a desk where politics and poetry have 
fought hotly for the field, and where they have been 
known to embrace as unexpectedly as Botticelli's angels 
and shepherds. " I was obdurate and a little irritated 
when these ' snatches of Uranian antiphon ' broke 
grandly through my comments on the Russo-German 
commercial treaty, or Professor Garner's theories about 
the garrulous gorilla." One marvels that the gar- 
rulous gorilla leader was perfectly intelligible in next 

122 



Enter Mr. Garvin 

morning's Chronicle. Mr. Garvin's readers could not 
guess that Thompson's poems were already beginning 
"to swarm in his head like bees." He contrives to write 
about treaties, or make them, so that half the world 
knows nothing of the winged muse at his elbow. She 
herself may have sometimes thought him obdurate, for 
she has never yet succeeded in marring a " leader." 
Letters from Mr. Garvin, written ten years later, were 
kept among Francis's few valued possessions. The two 
were to meet at Palace Court in 1894 and at many 
other dates. 

My father had also the satisfaction of printing several 
of the poems (" Daisy, A Song of Youth and Age " and 
" To my Godchild ") in his anthology, The Child set in the 
Midst, by Modern Poets, the first book in which anything of 
F. T.'s had appeared. Thus to W. M. in his preface fell 
the task of writing of him as one " who has eluded 
fame as long as Shelley did, but cannot elude it longer. 
To most readers the poems will come as the revelation 
of a new personality in poetry, the last discovered of 
the Immortals." 

Francis's own chronicle of the period is found in a 
letter to Canon Carroll, a middle-man to whom he 
could write with somewhat less difficulty than to his 
family : 

" A.D. 1890. Finished August 12. Begun, Heaven knows when. 

[May 1890.] 

" DEAR CANON, I must beg your and everybody's 
pardon for my long silence. The fact is that I have 
been for months in a condition of acute mental misery, 
frequently almost akin to mania, stifling the production 
of everything except poetry, and rendering me quite 
incapable of sane letter-writing. It has ended in my 
return to London, and I am immensely relieved ; for 
the removal of the opium had quite destroyed my power 
of bearing the almost unbroken solitude in which I 
found myself. As for my prospects, unfortunately the 

123 



Literary Beginnings 

walls of the Protestant periodical press remain still 
unshaken and to shake. I have done recently a review 
of Lilly's Century of Revolution for the Register, which 
has, I fancy, appeared, but in some number which I 
have not seen. Poor work, and I don't want to see it. 
Also a review of Mr. Sharp's recent Life of Browning, 
which may or may not appear in the Register it is only 
just finished. No doubt you saw in the famous January 
Merry England Browning's letter about me. It is, I see, 
alluded to in Mr. Sharp's Life. Sharp's book has been 
remarkably successful, no doubt because it has come 
out just during the Browning boom, and has no rival. 
But it is badly written, and therefore very difficult to 
review. As for the verses published in this month's 
Merry England, don't know why they were published at 
all. Mr. Meynell told me himself that he did not care 
particularly for them, because they were too like a poem 
of Mrs.- Browning's. (You will find the poem a poem 
on Pan making a pipe out of a reed where it first 
appeared, namely, in one of your two old volumes of 
the Cornhill Magazine. There I read it ; and it is a 
great favourite of mine. The last two stanzas, with 
their sudden deeply pathetic turn of thought are most 
felicitous, I think.) The verses on Father Perry in last 
month's Merry England were the first verses of mine 
that attracted any praise from Catholic outsiders. An 
old priest wrote from Norwich expressing his admira- 
tion ; and Father Philip Fletcher also praised them to 
Mr. Meynell. 

"This must have been grateful to Mr. Meynell, for 
his previous experience had been very different. Good 
Uncle Edward (whom I shall write to after you, now 
that I am taking up my arrears of correspondence) 
writing about my first two little poems, liked 'The 
Passion of Mary,' but used words about ' Dream Tryst ' 
that usually bear a not very pleasant signification. Who 

do you think chose to put himself in a ferment about 

124 



He writes to Manchester 

the ' Ode ' ? Canon T ! When the editor of the 

Tablet was in Manchester, Canon T attacked him 

about the article on me which appeared in that paper. 
What, he asked, was the ' Ode ' all about ? He couldn't 
in the least understand what it was all about. But even 
if he had understood it, he was quite sure that it was 
not a thing which ought to have appeared in a Catholic 
magazine ! And Mr. Meynell subsequently received an 
anonymous letter, in which he was warned against publish- 
ing anything more of mine, since it would be found in 
the end that paganism was at the bottom of it. This 
with regard to me, who began my literary career with an 
elaborate indictment of the ruin which the re-introduc- 
tion of the pagan spirit must bring upon poetry ! As 
for the ' Song of the Hours,' to which you referred, Mr. 
Meynell was greatly pleased with it ; but considered 
that while it avoided the violence of diction which 
deformed the ' Ode,' it was not equal to that in range 
of power. 



" Since I wrote the foregoing pages a considerable 
time has elapsed. How long, I do not know, for they 
were written at intervals, and so were not dated. My 
health has been consistently bad ; though I have had, 
and have, nothing definite the matter with me, except 
dyspepsia and constant colds. My writing powers have 
deserted me, and I have suffered failure after failure, till 
I have been too despondent to have any heart for writ- 
ing to you. Much, no doubt, is due to this infernal 
weather. Confined to the house and deprived of sun- 
light, I droop like a moulting canary. It was not so 
when you knew me ; but my vital power has been 
terribly sapped since then. Only air and exercise keep 
me going now. As to the literary enterprises alluded to 
in the early part of this letter, they have successively 
failed. 



Literary Beginnings 

" The lines on Father Perry have taken hold of Merry 
England readers as nothing of mine has done. Mr. 
Meynell had several letters from ecclesiastics (including 
one from the head of a monastery I forget where or in 
what Order) expressing admiration of the poem ; and 
the sub-editor of the Tablet had one from some priest in 
Liverpool. I meant the thing merely for a pretty, grace- 
fully turned fancy ; what the Elizabethans would have 
called an excellent conceit. That it is nothing more, 
I quite agree with Mr. Blackburn, whose judgment I 
much value. In the first place he generally represents 
Mrs. Meynell's judgment, who is his guide and friend in 
everything and such a guide and friend no other young 
man in England has. In the second place he has an 
excellent judgment of his own. Of Mr. Meynell's 
opinion, I know merely that he dropped me a post-card 
saying the poem was ' very fine.' 

" Another very small poem on Shelley, Mrs. Meynell 
has pronounced 'a little masterpiece.' The expression, 
however, may have been hastily and inaccurately 
reported by Mrs. Blackburn ; I prefer to take it with 
caution. Another poem, a sonnet, I have heard 
nothing about ; but I have never yet really succeeded 
with a sonnet. I did a little minor work on the Tablet 
during the editor's absence part of the Chronicle of 
the Week, and two or three of the Notes, including a 
paragraph on Rudyard Kipling and a ferocious little 
onslaught on the trashy abomination which Swin- 
burne has contributed to the Fortnightly. In last 
week's Scots Observer appeared an exquisite little poem 
by Mrs. Meynell the first she has written since her 
marriage. A long silence, disastrous for literature ! The 
poem is a perfect miniature example of her most lovelily 
tender work ; and is, like all her best, of a signal 
originality in its central idea no less than in its de- 
velopment. 

126 



Prose in Embryo 

" Most women of genius George Eliot, Charlotte 
Bronte, and Mrs. Browning, who, indeed, alludes to her 
husband's penetration in seeing beyond l this mask of me ' 
have been decidedly plain. That Mrs.Meynell is not like 
them you may judge from ' Her Portrait.' Nor will she 
attain any rapid notice like them. Her work is of that 
subtly delicate order which as with Coleridge, for 
instance needs to soak into men for a generation or 
two before it gets adequate recognition. Nevertheless 
it is something to have won the admiration of men like 
Rossetti, Ruskin, and, shall I add, the immortal Oscar 
Wilde ? (A witty, paradoxical writer, who, nevertheless, 
meojudiciO) will do nothing permanent because he is in 
earnest about nothing.) Known or unknown, she cares 
as little as St. Francis de Sales would have cared what 
might become of his writings. 

"At present my prose article is like a lady about 
whom Mr. Blackburn told me renowned for her mala- 
propisms. A friend met her in Paris, and was about 
to address her when the lady put up her hand : l Hush, 
don't recognise me ! I am travelling in embryo.' So 
is my prose article. And now I think this letter 
should be big enough to cover a multitude of sins of 
omission in my correspondence. I see that you and 
a number of our friends were at Ushaw for the Exhibi- 
tion week. The death of my old master, Mr. Formby, 
to which you referred in your postcard, I saw in the 
Register. I was deeply sorry. Wishing not to bring 
myself under anyone's notice until I felt my position 
more assured, I had abstained from following my first 
impulse, which was to send him a copy of the magazine 
containing my 'Ode,' and accompanying it by a letter. 
Now I wish I had pocketed pride, and done so. Not 
knowing my circumstances, he may have thought I 
had forgotten him. But I had not forgotten him, as 
I will venture to think he had not forgotten me. 

" With best love to my father, and to Polly when you 

127 



Literary Beginnings 

next may see her (Maggie, I suppose, will by this time 
be beyond the reach of messages), I remain, yours 
affectionately, FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

" P.S. My address is still that given at the beginning 
of this letter, which is so enormous that I shall have 
to send it in two envelopes. I am afraid that you will 
have to read it by easy stages, unless you subdivide 
labour by calling in your curate. By the way, I spoke 
of my lines on Shelley as being risky for a Catholic 
audience. Let me explain the reason, lest you should 
suppose something worse. They are founded on a 
letter given in Trelawny's Recollections a letter from 
Jane Williams to Shelley two days before his death. 
The poem is put into the mouth of the dead Shelley, 
and is supposed to be addressed by the poet's spirit 
to Jane while his body is tossing on the waters of 
Spezzia. Now Jane Williams was a married woman. 
I have carefully avoided anything which might not be 
addressed by one warm friend to another ; but Catholic 

readers (witness Canon T ) are apt to shy sometimes 

at shadows. . . . When a poet writes love-verses to a 
lady, and gives them to her husband for her, it is 
surely evident that neither pistols nor the divorce court 
are necessary. Now that is what Shelley did." 

To Pantasaph in Wales, where he lodged at the gates 
of the Capuchin Monastery, he went early in 1892. His 
first business was the passing of Poems for the press. 
Busy over the proof sheets, he writes in answer to 
some suggestions of my father's as to the dedication : 

" I cannot consent to the withdrawal of your name. 
You have of course the right to refuse to accept the dedi- 
cation to yourself. But in that case I have the right 
to withdraw the dedication altogether, as I should cer- 
tainly do. I should belie the truth and my own feelings 
if I represented Mrs. Meynell as the sole person to 

128 



The Clogged Wheels Move 

whom I owe what it has been given to me to accom- 
plish in poetry. Suffer this the sole thing, as un- 
fortunate necessities of exclusion would have it, which 
links this first, possibly this only volume, with your 
name suffer this to stand. I will feel deeply hurt if 
you refuse me this gratification." 

A slight difficulty in sight, he writes on the impulse : 

" I find Lane has already announced the poems in his 
book-list, so I am bound to go through with them ; 
else I would let them go to the devil. I made myself 
ill with over-study, and have been obliged to give my 
head three weeks' entire rest. But I am much better 
again now. Inwardly I suffer like old Nick ; but the 
blessed mountain air keeps up my body, and for the 
rest my Lady Pain and I are au mieux. I send you 
two or three odd bits of verse ; but I hardly think you 
will find anything in them. . . . The country here is 
just beginning to get beautiful, and I am feeling the 
first quickening pulse of spring. Lord, it is good 
for me to be here very good. The clogged wheels in 
me are slowly beginning to move." 

The proofs reached him by way of Palace Court : 

"47 PALACE COURT, July 19, 1893. 

" MY DEAR FRANCIS, I am very glad that Mr. Lane asked me 
to send you the first pages of the book your poems, to which 
Wilfrid and I have so long looked forward. It is a great happiness 
to me to do so. ... I cannot express to you how beautiful your 
poems are. Always, my dear child, your affectionate 

ALICE MEYNELL." 

And again, in August, my mother writes : 

" Here are your wonderful poems most wonderful and beauti- 
ful. It is a great event to me to send you these proofs. You 
will, I trust, change the title, ' The Dead of Westminster.' People 
will think of nothing but Westminster Abbey. Please send me 
the revises, sixteen pages at a time." 

129 I 



Literary Beginnings 

F. T. to A. M. concerning final suggestions made in 
proof by Coventry Patmore and my parents : 

" DEAR MRS. MEYNELL, I have received the finding 
of the Court Martial over which you presided ; to which 
the undersigned begs to make answer, in form and 
manner following 

" i. To the first indictment he pleadeth guilty, and 
knows not how he omitted to alter the word, as had 
been his own intention. He begs, therefore, that for 
'soilured' may be substituted 'stealthwon.' 

" 2. In answer to the third indictment he submits him- 
self to the judgment of the court, and desires that Domus 
Tua shall be omitted, and the requisite alteration made 
in the numbering of the poems. 

"3. In regard to the second indictment, having already 
considered the matter, he refuseth to submit himself to 
the court, remaineth en contumace, and is prepared, in 
token of his unalterable resolution, to suffer the utmost 
rigours of the critics." 

And he continues, all on account of a misprinted 
comma in a magazine : 

" Now I carry the war into the enemy's country. 

" I do claim to wit that a foul and malicious alteration 
has been committed on the body of our King Phoebus' 
lieges, in a magazine bearing the style and denomina- 
tion of Merry England. And I hereby warn you, that if 
the same outrage is extended to the same unoffending 
poem in my volume, I shall hold you all and severally 
responsible. Hereunder follow the details of my 
accusation. There should be no fresh stanza and no 
stop after 'fertilise.' The pause should come after 
'impregnating' in the previous line; and then the next 
lines run on (as in the corrected pages I returned on 
Thursday) : 

For flowers that night-wings fertilise 
Mock down the stars' unsteady eyes, &c. 
130 



A Boast of Intimacy 

" The meaning (which I must have perfectly clear) 
is that flowers which are fertilised by night-insects con- 
front the moon and stars with a glance more sleepless 
and steady than their own. Surely anyone who knows 
a forest from a flower-pot is aware that flowers which 
are fertilised by night-insects necessarily open at 
night, and emit at night their odours by which those 
insects are attracted. The lines unfortunately altered 
are, in fact, explanatory of the image which has gone 
before. 

" But I sometimes wonder whether the best of you 
Londoners do not regard nature as a fine piece of the 
Newlyn School, kindly lent by the Almighty for public 
exhibition. Few seem to realise that she is alive, has 
almost as many ways as a woman, and is to be lived 
with, not merely looked at. People are just as bad here 
for that matter. I am sick of being told to go here and 
to go there, because I shall have ' a splendid view/ I 
protest against nature being regarded as on view. If a 
man told me to take a three-quarter view of the woman 
I loved because I should find her a fine composition, 
I fear I should incline to kick him extremely, and ask 
whether he thought her five feet odd of canvas. Having 
companioned nature in her bed-chamber no less than 
her presence room, what I write of her is not lightly to 
be altered." l 

He is a Gascon for boasting his knowledge of Nature's 
bed-chamber ; but he had some reason. In Wales he 
slept a night in the woods. Daring, he entered. One 
night means much for such as hold eternity in an hour. 
For Francis, any single sunrise opened a Day of Crea- 
tion, and any sunset awoke in him a comprehension of 
finality and death, of rebirth and infinity. The increase 
and decrease of darkness, the lights of diminishing and 

1 For all that, Mr. Wilfrid Blunt, who walked over his own acres with 
Thompson as his guest, wrote : " He could not distinguish the oak from the 
elm, nor did he know the name of the commonest flowers of the field." 



Literary Beginnings 

approaching day, were crowded into that single per- 
formance. 

" What you say of your night in the woods/' writes Mrs. Hamilton 
King, " is interesting. But it needed courage. I should never 
expect to sleep in a wood at night. The wood sleeps by day and 
wakes by night, and this grows more and more terrible and true as 
you approach the tropical forest, where no man alone can survive 
the night. ' At night all the beasts of the forest do move/ as the 
Psalmist says." 

" In regard to the alterations I now enclose to you 
in the < Fallen Yew,' by the correction of two words I 
hope that I have removed the obscurity, grammatical and 
otherwise. In ' Monica Thought Dying ' I have simply 
substituted ' eleven ' for < thirteen.' The word ' eleven ' 
fits the metre perfectly well without altering the rest of 
the line ; since the final ' e ' is a natural elision. Most 
elisions are artificial and conscious. Such is the elision 
of the ' a ' in ' seraph,' whereby the line in the ' Fallen 
Yew ' does scan, and so needs no alteration on that score. 
But there are a few words wherein we make unconscious 
elision, even in daily conversation. The final ' en ' after 
a 'v' we always so elide; and consequently it is the 
exception for a poet to count the final 'en' in such 
words as ' heaven/ < seven/ or ' eleven/ ' 

It is almost the rule that the author on the point of 
publishing should flout his public : 

" As for ' immeditatably ' it is in all respects the one and 
only right word for the line ; as regards the exact shade 
of meaning and feeling, and as regards the rhythmical 
movement it gives to the line. So it must absolutely 
and without any question stand woe's me for the public ! 
But indeed, what is the public doing dans cette galere ? 
I believe, it is true, the public has an odd kind of pre- 
judice that poems are written for its benefit. It might 
as well suppose that when a woman loves, she bears chil- 
dren for its benefit ; or (in the case of the poem in ques- 
tion) that when a man is hurt, he bleeds for its benefit." 

132 



The Flouted Public 

But whether he will or not, he bleeds and writes for 
mankind. If he stands by his " immeditatably/' it is 
only because he knows that the public will come to 
stand by it too. He chooses to be obstinate on behalf 
of someone who waits for the word. In flouting his 
public, the poet is like a man who, scattering sweets 
for children, tosses them away only that they shall be 
recovered ; or, hiding them, is distressed if they are not 
found. Thompson put his sweets in difficult places ; 
but only that he and the others might have the keener 
recreation. 

After more sheets had been corrected and returned to 
Palace Court, he writes : 

tf It seems to me that they read better than I had 
expected particularly the large additions to < To a 
Poet Breaking Silence/ 1 which were written at a time 
when I was by no means very fit for poetry. Your 
interest in the volume is very dear to me. I cannot 
say I myself feel any elation about it. I am past the 
time when such things brought me any elation. 

" I have not either of your books, 2 and of course should 
most greatly value them. I need not say how deeply 
I rejoice at your success." 

1 The poem by which my mother broke silence was " Veni Creator." 

2 Among the things he wrote when A. M.'s book came to hand is this of 
" Domus Angusta," an essay they had discussed before. " Never again meditate 
the suppression of your gloomy passages. It is a most false epithet for anything 
you could ever write. You might as well impeach of gloominess my favourite 
bit in ' Timon,' with the majestic melancholy of its cadence 

' My long sickness 

Of wealth and living now begins to mend, 
And nothing brings me all things.' 

Both that passage and yours are poignant ; both are deeply sad ; while 
yours has an added searchingness which makes it (in De Quincey's phrase) 
veritably 'heart-shattering'; but how can you call 'gloomy' what so nobly 
and resignedly faces the terror it evokes ? " 



133 



r 




47 PALACE COURT 



CHAPTER VII: "POEMS' 

IN 1893 Messrs. Elkin Mathews and John Lane pub- 
lished Poems, a square book in brown boards with 
gold circles and a frontispiece by Laurence Housman. 
The poet viewed it with pleasure, and elsewhere the 
praise and blame it received were both whole- 
hearted : 

" Many thanks for the copies. The book is indeed 
beautifully got up," he writes. lt I have to thank you for 
the Chronicle and to thank Mr. Le Gallienne for his 
article. Such unselfish enthusiasm in a young poet for 
the work of a brother poet is as rare as it is graceful 
in these times, when most litterateurs have adopted the 
French author's maxim: 'There are no writers of 
genius except myself and a few friends and I am not 
certain about my friends.' 

And later : 

"I have read in the Register with great surprise that 
the first edition is exhausted. I am even more glad for 
my publisher's sake than for my own. The St. James' s 
article, as unusually appreciative as that of the Chronicle , 
I am very pleased with." 

Recurring, in another letter to W. M., to Mr. Le 
Gallienne's Chronicle article, he writes : 

"When the first whirl of language is over (was it not 
a sin of my own former prose when I waxed enthusi- 
astic?) he settles down to appreciation which is at the 

135 



" Poems" 

same time criticism. Will it be believed, however, that 
after deprecating superlatives I am actually disposed to 
rank myself higher than Mr. Le Gallienne's final sentence 
might seem to imply. I absolutely think that my poetry 
is 'greater' than any work by a new poet which has 
appeared since Rossetti. Unless, indeed, the greater work 
to which the critic referred was Mrs. Meynell's. I 
frankly admit that her poetry has exquisite unclamorous 
qualities beside which all the fireworks of my own are 
much less enduring things. Otherwise, I will not vail 
my crest to Henley, or Robert Bridges, or even William 
Watson. For the rest I have nothing but warm and 
surprised gratitude for your untiring efforts on my 
behalf. I am very pleased with all the letters you have 
sent me, particularly Vincent O'Sullivan's from Oxford. 
Am I going to found a school there ? 

" The minor versifier has at any rate the asterisks in 
a 'Judgment in Heaven' which he can catch on to. 
There he can have the latest device in poetry, the whole 
apparatus procurable at my printer's. I have not for- 
gotten that it was Le Gallienne's admiration for the 
specimen sent to Lane which finally decided the publica- 
tion of my book ; and I should indeed be sorry to 
know that I had repaid him by wounding his feelings. 

F. T." 

In part his was but a share in the general welcome 
then accorded to the poets. Davidson was being hailed 
with intense zest ; Norman Gale himself, singing amid 
applause, offered congratulations and a review to F. T. 
Only with the appearance of Sister Songs and New 
Poems was he roundly and viciously abused. But 
already round the standard of " An Old Fogey " (Andrew 
Lang), raised in the Contemporary Review, February 1894, 
Apropos of "The Young Men," there was a considerable 
gathering. From the press cuttings of the year a good 
crop may be got of such sentences as : 

136 



He Reads the Reviews 



" 



I must agree with Mr. L.'s judgment of Mr. Francis Thompson. 
His faults are fundamental. Though he uses the treasure of the 
Temple, he is not a religious poet. The note of a true spiritual 
passion never once sounds in his book. ... He owes much to the 
perseverance of Mr. and Mrs. Meynell and the Catholics whom they 
influence." * 

It fell to a critic on the Westminster Gazette to do the 
out and out " slating." Leading off with quotations from 
" A Judgment in Heaven," he asks " Is it poetry ? is it 
sense ? is it English ? ' His case, with such phrases as 
" Supportlessly congest ;; well to the fore, was good. 
Quoting "To My God-child " as a happier example, he 
concluded, "This, too, is somewhat wild, but it means 
something." 

"The poet of a small Catholic clique" was a descrip- 
tion given by one of the two or three writers who 
constituted the opposition to his claims to a great place 
in English literature. They all made a common dis- 
covery Francis Thompson was a Catholic. 

" We had/' said the Weekly Register, " Mr. de Vere, Mr. Wilfrid 
Blunt,, Mrs. Hamilton King, Mr. Coventry Patmore, to name 
no others. We need not then have awaited Mr. Thompson's 
arrival to undermine the Press of England in the interests of 
' Sectarianism ' ! ' : 

It came to pass that this poet of fewest friends was 

1 His work having appeared in a Catholic magazine, it was known to the 
Catholic papers. Apart from the Weekly Register, where notices of his 
periodical writings were printed, priority belongs to The l^ablet, which printed, 
September, 1889, and I9th July, 1890, serious notices of the issues of Merry 
England containing the "Ode to the Setting Sun " and "The Hound of 
Heaven " ; and to Miss Katharine Tynan, who quoted the whole of " The 
Making of Viola" from Merry England, May, 1892, in the Irish Independent 
in the course of the same month. The Catholic papers made no particular 
sign of welcome when the books themselves were published, but it may be 
noted that the Ave Maria, Notre Dame, Indiana, had praise for the much- 
abused extravagance of the opening of the " Corymbus for Autumn." To the 
Catholic World, February, 1895, Mr. Walter Lecky contributed many compli- 
ments and several biographical inaccuracies. In the secular press of America 
F. T. fared less well. The New York Post, I9th of January, 1898, found 
his work". . . not altogether hopeful, since his impulses are wayward, like 
his life." The Critic, July, 1894, would by no means allow Browning's 
phrase, "conspicuous abilities," to pass unchallenged. 

137 



" Poems " 

charged not only with log-rolling, but with belonging 
to a "clique" that had its headquarters at Palace Court. 
The fact was that his few friends were even shyer than 
his friends' friends of praising him publicly. One young 
reviewer (the "Vernon" already mentioned) came at the 
stroke of morning's eight to shout through their bed- 
room doors his new discovered joy a poem in Merry 
England by F. T. " I know at last," was his loud con- 
fidence, "that there is a poet who may worthily take a 
place as Shakespeare's second." But in the papers this 
critic's notices were very halting : his praises did not 
call through the press as they did through the key- 
hole. The "clique" is proved in his notice the most 
unprofitable and unfriendly of companies. In Henley's 
National Observer he writes : 

' Mr. Francis Thompson is a young poet of considerable parts, 
whose present danger lies in the possibility of his spoiling. Having 
recently put forth to the world a book of poems, modest enough in 
bulk, he was presently attacked by a most formidable conspiracy 
of adulation. . . . Few writers of really distinguished quality 
have been introduced to the world under the shelter of such a 
farrago of nonsense." 

This writer, almost the only personal friend of 
Thompson's on the literary press, does not confine his 
strictures to the alleged "promoters" of Poems. He 
points to passages, ungainly and ugly, which explain 
why the book as a whole "proves repellent to the 
majority of readers" ; but 

" Let him take heart, then, and sedulously pursue a path of most 
ascetic improvement. A word, too, in his ear ; let him not use 
the universe quite so irresponsibly for a playground. To toss 
the stars about, ' to swing the earth,' &c., is just a little cheap." 

The same friend had his say in the Pall Mall Gazette 
and the Tablet, so that there was indeed one "con- 
spirator " among his reviewers. With all such things 
Francis was well pleased ; he enjoyed the smart of 

138 



The Clever Donkey 

them; and cut them out and pasted them in a scrap-book 
along with the panegyrics : 

" In regard to Vernon," he wrote, " I am quite 
satisfied with his articles. You must consider that he 
and I have in the past exhorted each other to a Spartan 
virtue of criticism when one deals with a friend if one 
thinks a friend can stand it. In taking placidly such 
unflinching candours there is a glow of self-approving 
delight akin to that afforded by taking the discipline, 
or breaking the ice to wash, or getting up in the morning, 
or any other unnatural act which makes one feel blessedly 
above one's neighbours." 

Another of his friends thought such treatment salutary : 
Coventry Patmore to A. M., February 3, 1894 : 

" Lang is a clever donkey. It will do F. T. nothing but good 
to be a little attacked." 

Coventry Patmore's own article in the Fortnightly, July, 
1894, was written before he and Thompson had met. It 
was easy for even frequent callers at Palace Court to 
miss F. T., since he never kept appointments. At this 
time A. M. wrote to F. T. : 

" I have been much disappointed at not having the opportunity 
of introducing you to Coventry Patmore. He wished so much 
to see you. If you knew the splendid praises he crowned you 
with! 

" He wants to review your book. He would have done so in the 
paper he calls the ' Twopenny Damn ' * (don't be shocked), if it had 
not died. As it is, he will do it somewhere." 

As a matter of fact the critics knew neither the poet 
nor his address. Even his occasional editors, among 
whom was Mr. Henry Nevvbolt, were for their conveni- 
ence saved direct communication with him. He knew 

1 The Anti-Jacobin, edited by Mr. Frederick Greenwood 

139 



"Poems" 

nobody ; and those who knew everybody did not know 
him. Mr. Yeats wrote at his death to W. M. : 

;< Now I regret that I never met him, except once for a few 
minutes. There seems to be some strange power in the forms of 
excess that dissolves, as it were, the external will, to make the 
character malleable to the internal will. An extreme idealism of 
the imagination seems to be incompatible in almost all with a 
perfectly harmonious relation to the mechanics of life." 

Another of the circle of his unacquaintance, Mr. 
Norman Gale, writing as an anthologist, for permission 
to quote, says to the poet : 

" Let me take this opportunity of congratulating you from my 
heart on the success of your book. I have said what I thought 
of it in print. I was candid." 

That, at least, does not betoken the log-roller. If 
Thompson was one of " a group ' ' it was a day of groups 
it was composed of cowled friars and the deaf Welsh 
hills. When from Mr. Hugh Chisholm, then the assistant 
editor of the St. James s Gazette, and the writer of an 
appreciative notice in that paper, came a request, rein- 
forcing his printed admiration, for an autograph copy 
of the " Daisy " the compliment was made through a third 
person, and such personalities as his review contained 
were not based on an acquaintance with the poet. 
Another stranger, Mr. John Davidson, wrote, I believe, 
the Speaker s praises, but disclaimed any responsibilities 
for his reviews when asked, in later years, if a passage 
from his article might be quoted he never meant any- 
thing said in reviews, was his 'afterthought about 
them. Nevertheless, since his were the words of a 
fellow-poet, I give them : 

" Here are dominion domination over language, and a sin- 
cerity as of Robert Burns. . . . We must turn from Mr. Thompson, 
the latest, and perhaps the greatest, of English Roman Catholic 
poets of post-Reformation times, to the exalted Puritan voice that 

140 



Log-rolling 



sang * At a Solemn Music ' for a strain combining in like manner 
intensity and magnificence." . . . (Of "Her Portrait") "A 
description masterful and overmastering, in which a constant 
interchange of symbol between earthly and heavenly beauty 
pulses like day and night." 

With the publication of Sister Songs in 1895 the 
same charge was renewed ; the Realm felt 

:c sorry for Mr. Thompson to think that he had been spoiled by 
indiscreet flatterers. He ought not to run away with the idea 
that anything he chooses to write is poetry." 

"The frenzied paeans of his admirers by profession ' 
were the words of a leading critic, and might well have 
stirred a desire in Francis to explain that he neither knew 
nor could profit his reviewers. When one journal became 
more explicit in its charges he went so far as to com- 
pose, but not to despatch, a reply made principally on 
somebody else's behalf : 

" My business is," he wrote, "as one of the I suppose 
I should say shameful seven pilloried by your critic, 
to give my private witness for Mr. Le Gallienne. The 
gravamen of the charge against him is not that he 
praised too effusively ; it is the far more heinous accusa- 
tion of log-rolling in other words, of praising in return 
for favours received, or favours which it was under- 
stood were to come. Here, then, are the facts in my 
own case. When my book appeared it was reviewed 
by Mr. Le Gallienne in terms no less generous than 
those used by him recently in the Weekly Sun. When 
his first review appeared Mr. Le Gallienne and myself 
were totally unacquainted and unconnected. Before 
the second, printed in the Weekly Sun y we had met 
once casually. And this is the whole extent of my 
personal acquaintance or communication with one who 
is accused of praising me because he is my friend. 
Nor does the meanness anonymously attributed to Mr. 

141' 



" Poems " 

Le Gallienne end here. He is accused of praising me 
not only as a friend but as one whom I praise in return. 
Allow me then to say that I have never before or since 
his review of my poems written a line about him in any 
quarter." 

His reserve in public did not mean that he was so 
little contentious that he never smote his foes in private. 
He was full of unspoken arguments, like the man you 
see talking to himself, or smiling as he walks, and of 
whom you may be sure that he is confounding or dis- 
missing an opponent. The solitary man is full of good 
answers, but they belong to an interview from which, 
over soon, he is speeding; for his triumph, generally, is 
the sad one of putting together a repartee or clinching 
an argument too late/ So it was with Thompson. He 
thought out his brisk repartees purely for his own satis- 
faction and at leisure, and would have blushed to answer 
his belittlers in the open. But in the mental "ring," in 
the note-book, he occasionally triumphed : 

" I need hardly say I have not escaped the accusation 
of belonging to a ' Mutual Admiration Society.' There 
are few writers, I fancy, but have at one time or another 
been surprised by the experience. For it is often an 
odd surprise. I myself, for example, am a recluse ; with 
one or two intimate friends whom I see and one or 
two whom I don't. If in the latter case you deny the 
intimacy you fail to grasp that I am a recluse. I saw 
them ten years ago there's intimacy. I might see them 
again next week, or year why then, there's more 
intimacy. And I don't need to see them at all go to, 
would you desire better intimacy ? The chapter of my 
intimate friends is as of the snakes in Ireland. My inti- 
mate friends I do, past question, encounter of odd 
times if that constitute the acquaintance, it is the limit 
of mine. But speculative assumption, as it is without 

142 



Inattention 

knowledge, so cannot have knowledge of its own in- 
congruity. 

" Nor is the reciprocal admiration of small men neces- 
sarily foolish : it is foolish only when it admires what 
each wishes to be, not what he is. For my part I have 
known in true literary men generosity united with un- 
flinching plainness of speech. They love literature too 
much, that they should bring into her presence less than 
severe truth, within the scope and compass of their con- 
ception." 

If Thompson had been scolded for his Catholic 
friends, his Catholic friends were to be scolded for their 
Thompson, but on a different score. In the American 
Ecclesiastical Review, for June 1898, Canon Sheehan, 
author of The Triumph of Failure, wrote : 

" For the present he will write no more poetry. Why ? I 
should hardly like to intrude upon the privacy of another's 
thoughts ; but Francis Thompson, who, with all his incongruities, 
ranks in English poetry with Shelley, and only beneath Shake- 
speare, has hardly had any recognition in Catholic circles. If Francis 
Thompson had been an Anglican or a Unitarian, his praises would 
have been sung unto the ends of the earth. He would have been 
the creator of a new school of poetry. Disciples would have 
knelt at his feet. But, being only a Catholic, he is allowed to 
retire, and bury in silence one of the noblest imaginations that 
have ever been given to Nature's select ones her poets. Only 
two Catholics literary Catholics have noticed this surprising 
genius Coventry Patmore and Wilfrid Meynell. The vast bulk 
of our co-religionists have not even heard his name, although it 
is already bruited amongst the Immortals ; and the great Catholic 
poet, for whose advent we have been straining our vision, has 
passed beneath our eyes, sung his immortal songs, and vanished." 

Another view of the poet's attitude towards his recep- 
tion comes from Mrs. Blackburn at Pantasaph, 1894 : 

11 As for Francis, I hardly know what to say. I wish he would 
show some kind of human elation at his unprecedented success, 
but he seems to take it all in a dull, mechanical way, which is 



" Sister Songs " 

inspiration." Mr. Symons was equally careful to estab- 
lish, coldly enough, his appreciation of such importance 
as might be safely allowed the new poet. No doubt that 
review, though W. M. labelled it favourable, made the 
generosity of Mr. Le Gallienne and the splendid 
appreciation of Mr. Garvin doubly valuable to send 
to Pantasaph. 

F. T. to W. M. : 

" I think Traill's article excellent and kind. But the 
Athenceum ! Call you this dealing favourably with 
a man ? Heaven save me, then, from the unfavourable 
dealers! Of course, he is right about the "To 
Monica Thought Dying"; but that and one or two 
other poems are not sufficient on which to base a charge 
of making Mr. Patmore a model. It would have been 
well, indeed, for the restraint and sanity of the poems 
if I had submitted somewhat to the influence of Mr. 
Patmore's example. As for what Watson says, it is not, 
like Symons', unfair. The sale of the book is indeed 
astonishing. Let us hope that the league of the weeklies 
will not materially damp it." 

When, with Sister Songs in 1895, came a second 
batch of reviews, F. T. wrote : 

" I should much like to see further notices of my 
book, if you would not find it too much trouble. Lane 
has sent me only Le Gallienne's in the Star. 1 From 
another source I have had the Daily Chronicle, St. James's 
and Manchester Guardian. Lane speaks of reviews in 

1 Of Sister Songs Mr. Le Gallienne wrote : 

" Critics are continually asking a writer to be someone else than himself, but 
happily Mr. Thompson seems to be one of those poets who go their own way, 
oblivious of the cackle of Grub Street. . . . Passion, in its ideal sense, has 
seldom found such an ecstatic, such a magnificently prodigal expression. 
For the love that Mr. Thompson sings is that love which never finds, nor 
can hope to find, ' its earthly close.' It is the poet's love of love in the 
abstract, revealed to him symbolically in the tender youth of two little girls, 
and taking the form of a splendid fantastic gallantry of the spirit." 



" Poems" 

the Realm, Saturday, and Athenceum. If the two latter 
are by Symons, as he says, I do not want to see them. 
He is the only critic of mine that I think downright 
unfair. . . . Coventry has sent me a poem of Mrs. 
Meynell's from the P. M. G. < Why Wilt Thou Chide ? ' 
No woman ever wrote a thing like that : and but one 
man Coventry himself." 

From Patmore's article on Poems in the Fortnightly 
Review, July 1894, which stands as the most important 
page in the history of the new poet's reception: 

" Mr. Francis Thompson is a writer whom it is impossible that 
any qualified judge should deny to be a ' new poet,' one altogether 
distinct in character from that of the several high-class mediocrities 
who, during the past twenty years or so, have blazed into immense 
circulation, and have deceived for a while many who have seemed 
to be of the elect among critics. And, unlike most poets of his 
quality, who have usually had to wait a quarter of a century or 
more for adequate recognition, this poet is pretty sure of a wide 
and immediate acknowledgment. A singular and very interesting 
history will convince thousands whom the rumour of it may reach, 
that he is an ' extraordinary person ' ; the heroic faith in and 
devotion to the interests of his genius which, through long years, 
has been shown by at least two friends, one of them a lady not 
inferior in genius to his own ; his recognition of her helpfulness 
by a series of poems which St. John of the Cross might have ad- 
dressed to St. Theresa, and which, had she not established by her 
own writings a firm and original hold on fame, would have carried 
her name to posterity in company with that of ' Mrs. Ann Killigrew ' ; 
the very defects of his writing, which will render manifest, by con- 
trast, its beauties, thereby ingratiating ' the crowd, incapable of 
perfectness ' ; his abundant and often unnecessary obscurities, 
which will help his popularity, as Browning's did his, by minister- 
ing to the vanity of such as profess to be able to see through mill- 
stones, are all circumstances which will probably do more for his 
immediate acceptance by the literary public than qualities which 
ought to place him, even should he do no more than he has done, 
in the permanent ranks of fame, with Cowley and with Crashaw. 

" Considering that these eighty-one pages of verse are all that 
Mr. Thompson has done, there would seem room for almost any 

146 



Taste 

hope of what he may do, but for one circumstance which seems to 
limit expectancy. He is, I believe, about thirty-five years old 
an age at which most poets have written as well as they have ever 
written, and at which the faculty of ' taste,' which is to a poet 
what chastity is to a woman, is usually as perfect as it is likely ever 
to be. It was Cowley's incorrigible defect of taste, rather than 
any fault of the time, that was responsible for the cold conglomerate 
of grit which constitutes the mass of his writing, though he was 
occasionally capable of ardent flights of pure and fluent verse ; 
and it is by the same shortcoming in Crashaw that we are con- 
tinually reminded that what he would have us accept for concrete 
poetic passion is mainly an intellectual ardour. The phraseology 
of a perfectly poetic ardour is always ' simple, sensuous, and 
passionate,' and has a seemingly unconscious finish from within, 
which no ' polish ' can produce. Mr. Thompson, as some critic 
has remarked, is a ' greater Crashaw.' He has never, in the present 
book of verses, done anything which approaches, in technical 
beauty, to Crashaw's ' Music's Duel ' ; but then Crashaw himself 
never did anything else approaching it ; and, for the rest of his 
work, it has all been equalled, if not excelled, in its peculiar 
beauties, as well as its peculiar defects, by this new poet. . . . 
Mr. Thompson's poetry is ' spiritual ' almost to a fault. He is 
always, even in love, upon mountain heights of perception, where 
it is difficult for even disciplined mortality to breathe for long 
together. The lady whom he delights to honour he would have 
to be too seraphic even for a seraph. He rebukes her for wearing 
diamonds, as if she would be a true woman if she did not delight 
in diamonds, if she could get them ; and as if she could be truly 
seraphic were she not a woman. The crown of stars of the Regina 
Cosli is not more naturally gratifying and becoming to her who, 
as St. Augustine says, had no sin, ' except, perhaps, a little vanity/ 
than the tiara of brilliants is to the Regina Mundi. Mr. Thompson 
is a Titan among recent poets ; but he should not forget that a 
Titan may require and obtain renovation of his strength by occa- 
sional acquaintance with the earth, without which the heavens 
themselves are weak and unstable. The tree Igdrasil, which has 
its head in heaven and its roots in hell (the ' lower parts of the 
earth '), is the image of the true man, and eminently so of the poet, 
who is eminently man. In proportion to the bright and divine 
heights to which it ascends must be the obscure depths in which 
the tree is rooted, and from which it draws the mystic sap of its 
spiritual life. Since, however, Mr. Thompson's spirituality is a 

147 



" Poems" 

real ardour of life, and not the mere negation of life, which passes, 
with most people, for spirituality, it seems somewhat ungracious 
to complain of its predominance. It is the greatest and noblest 
of defects, and shines rather as an eminent virtue in a time when 
most other Igdrasils are hiding their heads in hell and affronting 
heaven with their indecorous roots." 

In talk with F. T. he said : 

" I look to you to crush all this false mysticism. Crush it ; you 
can do it if you like ; you are the man to do it." 

Although C. P. had seen the proofs he had not met 
F. T. before the publication of Poems or his criticism of 
it in the Fortnightly. The proofs bear the marks of a 
critic intolerant of everything in which he detected 
excess of diction or imagery. One short poem he struck 
clean out, with the comment " It will do harm." He 
was the elder with a system, the master who knew " the 
end and aim of poetry," but later, speaking as with 
words fully weighed, he said in talk with F. T., " I am 
not sure you may not be a greater poet than I am." 

Sister Songs, published two years later, belongs to the 
same period of composition as Poems. In all the poetry 
there is personal revelation, his own experience being 
the invisible wind that moves the cloudy pageant of his 
verse. But in Sister Songs we see the experience itself ; 
he alludes to his nights in the streets, and can here say 
with Donne : " . . . my verse, the strict map of my 
misery . . ." But not in the first place is it a poem of 
sad experience, an unfit offering for little girls. It is 
what it would be beautiful, elaborate, innocent. The 
second part is addressed to Monica Meynell ; the first is 
a dance of words in honour of a younger sister " For 
homage unto Sylvia, her sweet, feat ways." 

F. T. to W. M. : 

" I have been wondering what criticisms had appeared 

on Mrs. Meynell. I have seen none, except the Fort- 

148 



"I Told You So" 

nightly and the Chronicle. Coventry all abroad about 
her poetry, Le Gallienne all abroad about her prose. 
But the latter's notice of her poetry showed real percep- 
tion. Coventry was excellent with regard to the side of 
her prose which he had seized ; but rather provoking 
for seizing it, since he has sent the Chronicle off after 
him on what is a false trail. The side is there ; but it is 
not the prominent side, and certainly not the side most 
markedly characteristic of her." 

C. P. to F. T. : 

" LYMINGTON, July 29, 1895. 

" MY DEAR THOMPSON, I am glad you think as I do about 
those ' wonderful verses ' (A. M.'s). I have quoted your words 
in a letter I have written to our Friend. They will delight her 
greatly. . . . 

"It is good news that you are writing prose. You know how 
perfectly great I think what I have read of your prose. After all, 
the greatest things must be said in prose. Music is too weak to 
follow the highest thought. I will try and go to Pantasaph as soon 
as I have arranged some engagements which have come into the 
foreground since I wrote to you. 

" I hear that Traill and Henley (who abused your first Book) 
are in raptures (should they not be v/ritten ruptures ?) with the 
last! 

" When will the ' critics ' understand the difference between an 
ounce of diamond dust and a diamond that weighs an ounce ! 
These gentlemen have written almost nothing about Rod, Root, 
and Flower. I suppose they can make nothing of it. But Bell 
tells me it sells fairly. Yours ever, 

COVENTRY PATMORE." 

Thompson himself adopted the view that Sister Songs 
lacked a proper sequence of idea and incident, or 
rather that, to the unready reader, it apparently lacked 
such sequence. 

Mr. Arnold Bennett's "Don't say I didn't tell you," 
saved fortunately from the flimsy pages of Woman } 
July 3, 1895, rea ds proudly now : 

" I declare that for three days after this book appeared I read 

149 



u Poems" 

nothing else. I went about repeating snatches of it snatches 
such as 

The innocent moon, that nothing does but shine, 
Moves all the labouring surges of the world. 

My belief is that Francis Thompson has a richer natural genius, a 
finer poetical equipment, than any poet save Shakespeare. Show 
me the divinest glories of Shelley and Keats, even of Tennyson, 
who wrote the ' Lotus Eaters' and the songs in 'The Princess/ and 
I think I can match them all out of this one book, this little book 
that can be bought at an ordinary bookseller's shop for an ordinary, 
prosaic crown. I fear that in thus extolling Francis Thompson's 
work, I am grossly outraging the canons of criticism. For the man 
is alive, he gets up of a morning like common mortals, not im- 
probably he eats bacon for breakfast ; and every critic with an 
atom of discretion knows that a poet must not be called great 
until he is either dead or very old. Well, please yourself what 
you think. But, in time to come, don't say I didn't tell you." 

Mr. Arnold Bennett was to discover for himself the 
secret of large sales : he did not negotiate them for 
his poet, who complained of "my ill-starred volume 
which has sold only 349 copies in twelve months." Bad 
enough, of course ; but poets of distinction have since 
then been contented, or discontented, with the sale of 
thirty in the same interval. New Poems did much worse. 

F. T. to W. M. : 

" Many thanks for the Edinburgh, which has indeed 
pleased me. I did not expect such an enthusiastic 
review of my work, and particularly of my last book, 
from a periodical so conservative and slow-moving. 
I am very gratified by what you say about Meredith. 
You know, I think, that I hold him the most unques- 
tionable genius among living novelists. I have read 
five of his novels : Harry Richmond, Evan Harrington, 
Richard Feverel, Diana of the Crossways, One of our 
Conquerors. Nothing beyond this." 



The " Edinburgh " Reviewer 

In another letter he again mentions the Edinburgh 
reviewer : 

" The writer shows not only taste, but what is nowadays 
as rare, that acquaintance with the range of English 
poetry, which ought to be a natural essential in the equip- 
ment of any poetical critic. Even where he is mistaken, 
he is intelligently mistaken. One remark goes curiously 
home that on the higher poetic rank of metaphor as 
compared to simile. It has always been a principle of 
my own ; so much so, that I never use a simile if I can 
use a metaphor. The observation on the burden of the 
poem to Sylvia shows a metrical sense unfortunately 
very unusual in our day." 



CHAPTER VIII: OF WORDS; OF ORIGINS; 

OF METRE 

THE Morning Post reviewer dwelt on his "incompre- 
hensible sentiments and unknown words/' and even 
his friends had before publication warned him that his 
meanings were lost in the "foam and roar of his 
phraseology." 

Lionel Johnson was hardly more candid than some 
others when he said of Francis Thompson that he had 
done more to harm the English language than the 
worst American newspapers : corruptio optimi pessima. 
And Mr. Gosse saw him as the defiler of the purity of 
the English language. 

But he was no very hardened coiner of words to be 
thus taken aback by objections : 

11 By the way, I see Blackburn has queried (on MS, of 
Sister Songs) ' lovesome.' Is there no such word ? I 
never made a doubt that there was. It is at any rate 
according to analogy. If it is an error, then 'lovely ' 
must be substituted throughout, which differs somewhat 
in nuance of meaning." 

He meets Mr. Archer's complaint by quoting Cam- 
pion's " Cold age deafs not there our ears," and Shakes- 
peare's " Beastly dumbed by him," and Keats' " Nighing 
to that mournful place " : 

" In all this I am a born rebel, founding myself on 
observed fact before I start to learn theory of theorisers, 
systems of system-mongers. I doubt me but English 

152 



The Born Rebel 

verbs are, or were, commonly suggested and derived 
from adjectives ; and had I time and a British Museum 
ticket would resolve the matter for myself. Anyway I 
have coined nought to the like ; I mistrust not but 
your same ' dumbed' is all Archer has against me in this 
quarrel, and all he shall advance against me whereon 
to build such charge, nor shall he find another like 
verb in ought of verse I have written, search he like 
a lantern of Diogenes. The word lay to my hand and 
was a right lusty and well-pithed word, close grained 
and forcible as a cudgel, wherefore I used it ; and surely 
I would have used a dozen such had they served my 
turn." 

In another case his defence is ready ; thus did he 
consider the weight, rarity, and character of a word or 
phrase : 

"Of 'nervure ' ; I should not, in a like passage, use cuticle 
of the skin of a flower or leaf : because it is a streaky 
word its two K sounds and mouse-shrewd u make it like 
a wire tweaked by a plectrum. The u of nervure is not only 
unaccented, therefore unprominent in sound, but the soft 
v and n quite alter its effect from that it has when com- 
bined with k's and parchment-tight t's." 

" ' In nescientness, in nescientness/ : ' complained A. T. Q. C. 
in the Speaker, June 5 and May 29, 1897, " puts me at once 
into a frame of mind unfavourable to thorough enjoyment of 
what follows. . . . Undoubtedly the eulogies of his friends have 
been at once so precipitate and defiant as to lead us to suspect 
that he is being shielded from frank criticism ; that his are not 
the rare and most desirable friends, who love none the less for 
their courage to detect faults and point them out; and that, by 
consequence, he is not being given a fair chance of correcting 
his excesses. . . . ' Monstrance} ' vaultages,' ( arcane,' ' sciential,' 
' coerule,' ' intemperably ,' ' englut' (past participle), 'most strainedest' 
(double superlative) these and the like are not easily allowed by 
anyone possessing a sense of the history of the language." 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

"Monstrance' is not the only word in that list that 
shows how hastily the critics fell foul of him, and those 
who think that Shakespeare bears some part in "the 
history of the language " may take " Most stillest " for a 
fair precedent of a double superlative. 

Mr. E. K. Chambers, reviewing Sister Songs in 1895, 
wrote : 



C( 



He showers out obsolete words, or at will coins new ones, 
with a profusion that at times becomes extravagant and grotesque. 
. . . His freaks of speech rarely prove anything but ugly lin- 
guistic monstrosities." 

"The obsolete ' riped,' ' "the rare ' heavened,' ' "im- 
pitiable," "saddenedly," "anticipatedly," " immeditat- 
ably" with these the critics were wroth. Parodies 
appeared in the Saturday Review " Latinate Vocabules ' ; 
and in the Westminster Gazette. While "monstrance" 
was found to have the suspect ring of a coined word, many 
of the words he did coin (according to Mr. Beacock's 
Concordance they number 130 odd) passed unnoticed. 
They include plain-going utilitarian feminine forms such 
as auxiliatrixy consortress ; plurals such as innocences, 
translucencies; adjectives with the prefix un, such as 
undelirious ; verbs with the suffix less, such as rebukeless 
and delimitless ; a number of substantives called into use 
as verbs, e.g. mcenadise, empillared, chap let ; and a less 
comfortable group of adverbs, such as supportlessly, 
predilectedly , and the unsustainable tamelessly, meaning 
untamably. (Browning's " abashless " is of the same 
class.) 

He did not, like Rossetti, go to the glossaries ; but 
" Nares," of which he never possessed a copy, contains 
his credentials. Thus shard is Shakespearian. Drayton 
has shawm. " Soilure" is in "Troilus and Cressida"; "with 
drunken spilth of wine " in "Timon of Athens." " Swart" 
"swink" "targe" "amerce" "avouch," " assoile" are all 
of common acceptance; "bruit" "eld" " empery" 

154 



The Latinisms 

"immediacy" " ostent" " threne" "incarnadine" and 
"troublous" are all Shakespearian, and more. " To 
gloom," according to precedent, is a verb, and so are 
"to englut" and "to fantasy" ; " lustyhed" is Drayton's 
and Spenser's. "Rondure" is common; " ramp ire" is 
in Dryden even ; " to port" and "ported" and, of course, 
" natheless" are accepted. " Crystalline" being Cowley's 
if for no other reason, would be ready to his tongue ; 
" devirginate" which has the sound of one of his own 
prolongations, is Donne's; " adamant can ' he would 
probably have coined, if Milton had not done so before 
him. " Temerarious' came to him as naturally as to 
Sir Thomas Browne. " Femineity " is Browning's, and 
" devisal" Patmore's, in their modern usage. " Immures " 
as a substantive still annoys his readers, but only before 
they find it in "Troilus and Cressida." 

His Latinisms were frequent. Of these the only test 
to the point is Dryden's : " If too many foreign words 
are poured in, it looks as if they were designed, not 
to assist the natives, but to conquer them." From a 
mature opinion of Sir Thomas Browne, a constant 
favourite, that his "prose suffered neither from excess 
of Latinities nor from insufficiency in the vulgar 
tongue," we learn that Thompson was careful to ob- 
serve the balance. 

In answer to the common rebuke against F. T., A. M. 
in the Nation, November 23, 1907, says : 

" Obviously there are Latinisms and Latinisms ! Those of 
Gibbon and Johnson, and of their time generally, serve to hold 
passion well at arm's length ; they are the mediate and not the 
immediate utterance of human feeling. But in F. T. the majestic 
Latin word is forged hot on the anvil of the artificer. No Old 
English in the making could be readier or closer." 

His own rule of writing was, "That it is the infantries 
of language, so to speak, which must make up the mass 
of a poet's forces ; i.e. common diction of the many in 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

every age; the numerous terms of prose, apart from 
special poetic diction." 

In an early review Thompson writes : 

" We have spoken somewhat contemptuously of 'fine 
language.' Let no one suppose from this that we have 
any antipathy to literary splendour in itself, apart from 
the subject on which it is exercised. Quite the contrary. 
To write plainly on a fine subject is to set a jewel in 
wood. Did our givers of literary advice only realise 
this, we should hear less of the preposterous maxim 
' aim always at writing simply.' Conceive merely 
Raleigh, Sir Thomas Browne, Jeremy Taylor, Milton, 
and de Quincey rendered into ' simple English.' 
Their only fit place would be the fire. The true abuse 
of 'fine language' is rich diction applied to a plain 
subject, or lofty words to weak ideas ; like most devices 
in writing this one also is excellent when employed 
as a means, evil when sought as an end." 

This is in an early essay : it is doubtful if later he 
would have so precisely matched fine writing and 
good matter. In his own work the finer meanings 
are not seldom put into the humbler words. 

For his words he had no need to seek far ; they were 
more naturally remembered for use in the poetry of 
splendid artifice than the language of the street. His 
search was not deliberate. In the offices of the Church 
he found words to his hand, but he did not go to the 
offices on their account. It is doubtful if he borrowed 
even a monosyllable from a poet he did not love. 
Very rarely he made notes : " Pleached an invaluable 
word," is the only memorandum I have come across. 
He had no list, like Rossetti's, of "stunning words for 
poetry," among them "gonfalon," "virelay," "citole," 
and " shent." He was at no pains to coin or collect, nor 
even to possess a theory. Bulwer Lytton's wholesale 

156 



Rough Drafts of Creation 

c ondemnation of Latinisms, and professed preference 
for such forms as scatterling and doomsman for ^'vaga- 
bond " and "executioner," were not the ways of a liberal 
master : 

' The labour, the art, the studious vocabulary/' says the writer 
in the Nation, November 23, 1907, " are locked together within 
the strenuous grasp of the man's sincerity. There is no dis- 
sociating, no disintegrating, such poems as these ; and Francis 
Thompson's heart beats in the words ' roseal,' ' cymars,' ' frore,' 
' amicedf ' lamped,' and so forth." 

Being led on in certain studies he became attached 
to the terms specially connected with those studies. 
The process may be traced in the case of his use of 
the names of extinct animals. Their discovery he 
calls pure romance; "but the romance which lies in 
the new and unimagined forms, hidden from the poets 
and tale-tellers of all previous ages, and given up to 
eyes almost satiate with wonders, has yet to find its 
writers. . . . Tennyson has seen its uses for large and 
impressive allusion 

Nature brings not back the Mastodon, 

but Tennyson is almost alone even in the use of the 
theme. In an occasional later and younger poet you 
may find mention of the plesiosaure or other typical 
monster." Again, still reviewing Mr. Seeley's Dragons 
of the Air, Thompson writes : 

" We have strayed, it seems, into the ancient forge and 
workshop of Nature, where she is busy with her first 
experiments. . . . We behold, cast off from her anvil, in 
bewildering succession, shapes so fantastical, grotesque, 
and terrible, as never peopled the most lawless dreams 
of an Eastern haschish-eater ; apparitions of inter- 
twisted types and composite phantasms, more and more 
strange than all the brute gods of Egypt. We are 
among the rough drafts of a creation." 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

The " occasional later and younger poet" was himself. 

Of his partial acceptance of the criticism of the Press 
he makes sign in a note he had intended printing in 
New Poems: 

" Of words I have coined or revived I have judged 
fit to retain but few ; and not more than two or three 
will be found in this book. I shall also be found, I 
hope, to have modified much the excessive loading both 
of diction and imagery which disfigured my former work." 

That the note was not printed must not strictly be 
taken to mean that he repented of his repentance. But 
he was not easily brought to correct or discard the 
initial process of composition had been too careful to 
be lightly tampered with. In A. M. he had a very stern 
critic for such words as " tameless," but he was found 
less amenable than George Meredith, who, accepting 
correction, altered two uses of words so formed. This 
letter was written during the making of Poems: 

"PALACE COURT HOUSE, Friday. 

" MY DEAR FRANCIS, The Bible has ' unquenchable,' and I 
don't think it could have ' quenchless.' Lowell has ' exhaustless ' 
somewhere. I think one can strictly hold ' less ' to equal ' minus ' 
or ' without,' and with these the verb is impossible. I remember 
refusing to be taught a setting of some words of Praed's that had 
' tameless ' for ' untamable/ so you see it is an old objection 
with me. 

" I must confess that ' dauntless ' has taken a very firm place 
in the language. 

" Never has there been such a dance of words as in ' The Making 
of Viola.' All other writers make their words dance on the ground 
with a certain weight, but these go in the blue sky. I have to 
unsay everything I said in criticism of that lovely poem. I think 
the long syllables make themselves valued in every case. But I 
do not like three syllables in the course of the poem the three 
that give the iambic movement. I have not made up my mind 
as to the alternative endings. They are all so beautiful. Ever 
most sincerely yours, ALICE MEYNELL." 

158 



The Habit of Words 

The suggestions as to metrical modifications he 
accepted. I print here a letter of which, however, the 
interest for me is not etymological : its interest is that 
he troubled to write at all to an inattentive Yahoo of a 
friend : 

ft Dear Ev., as to the note you asked the Latin simplex 
is from plecto (or rather its root) ' I entwine,' and 
some root allied to the Greek 'together.' The root- 
meaning is therefore ' twined together/ and it primarily 
means that which has synthesis or unity as opposed to 
that which is confused or perplexed by lack of oneness. 
When Wordsworth (is it not ?) somewhere speaks of a 
being ' simple and unperplexed/ consciously or uncon- 
sciously, he uses the word mainly in this original 
sense, though few even thoughtful folk explicitly so 
grasp it. It is degenerated in the common mouth to the 
meaning almost of 'elementary.' Milton, saying poetry 
should be simple, sensuous, and passionate (is that the 
third word ?), by simple means synthetic opposed to 
prose (especially, doubtless, he had in mind philosophic 
prose), which is analytic. Yours, F. T." 

He never dropped the habit of words. One of the last 
letters he wrote, dated from Rascals' Corner, Southwater, 
September 14, 1907, was written when he had detected 
a random paragraph of A. M.'s in the Daily Chronicle: 

" DEAR MRS. MEYNELL, You might have added to 
the ivillow par. the Latin salex and the Eng. sallow: 

Among the river sallows borne aloft 

Or sinking, as the light wind lives or dies ! 

The English, I should guess, may be from one of the 
Romance tongues ; if so all these modern forms are, 
mediately or immediately, from the Latin. But it is 
interesting to find the Latin and the Irish really identical 
(if you neglect the inflectional endings in the former) 
salic and salagh. Tis but the difference 'twixt a plain 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

and a guttural hard consonant for connective vowels 
are unstable endlessly. As for k and g, you see, e.g., 
reg-o evolve rec-tum. 

" Excuse this offhand note, but your paragraph in- 
terested me. 

" With warm love to yourself, Wilfrid, and all the 
quondam kids who are fast engaging themselves off the 
face of my earth. Yours ever, dear Mrs. Meynell, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

He watched with much interest his words creep into 
currency. Roseal "most beloved of my revivals" 
which he had known only in Lodge's Glaucus and Scylla, 
he saw reappear in Dowson and other writers, and realised 
it was probably from Thompson and not from Lodge that 
it had been learnt. In this he saw the sign the only 
one, he said of his influence. He could hardly have 
expected that two years after his death " labyrinthine " 
would be a word used not only in poetry books, but on 
political platforms by Mr. George Wyndham and his 
less-versed opponents. Words that ten years earlier 
irked the reader in poetry became, with a change of 
mood, acceptable in public speaking, so that Mr. 
Asquith's use of " fuliginous" irked nobody. 

The objection to a poet's range of phrase finds no 
support in the dictionaries, whose abundance is a 
reproach to the restricted scope of the modern tongue. 
Johnson is three parts made up of terms neglected or 
discarded, for the reason, chiefly, that we are lazy and 
unlearned. The coster-monger whose speech comprises 
fewer words each year, thinks the parson a fop for the 
extent of his vocabulary, and the parson in his turn is 
impatient with his poets. The curtailment of our speech 
goes on apace, and if we love the poet the Wordsworth 
of "Daffodils" or the Thompson of "Daisy" as a man 
of few words, we should admire him for being at times 
a man of many. 

******* 

1 60 



At Rossetti's Death 

By 1889 Rossetti had become an absorbing interest, 
but Coleridge, in what F. T. calls his Pre-Rossettian days, 
" had been my favourite poet." Before Coleridge, Shelley. 

An early poem not elsewhere printed, written on the 
anniversary of Rossetti's death, illustrates the closeness 
of his affection 

This was the day that great, sad heart, 
That great, sad heart did beat no more, 

Which nursed so long its Southern flame 
Amid our vapours dull and frore. 

>* 
Through voice of art and voice of song 

He uttered one same truth abroad, 
Through voice of art and voice of song 

That Love below a pilgrim trod : 
He said, through women's eyes, " How long ! 

Love's other half's with God ! ' : 

<$ 
He taught our English art to gaze 

On Nature with a learner's eyes : 
That hills which look into the heaven 

Have their fair bases on the earth ; 
God paints His most angelic hues 

On vapours of a terrene birth. 

May God his locks with glories twine, 

Be kind to all he wrought amiss ! 
May God his locks with glories twine, 

And give him back his Beatrice. 
This day the sad heart ceased to pine, 

, I trust his lady's beats at his, 
And two beat in a single bliss. 

Of all Thompson's lines the second of the sunset- 
image 

Day's dying dragon lies drooping his crest, 
Panting red pants into the West, 

has been found the most ludicrous. No critic hesitated 
in condemning it, and your reader most often splits 

161 L 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

the line with a laugh, thinking the while of Hope 
Brothers. But the poet thought upon his own thought 
and upheld his line in face of the query marks con- 
fidently balanced on the margin of his proofs ; he re- 
membered Coleridge's 

As if this earth in fast, thick pants were breathing. 

"Red" or " thick," there is little for the parodist to choose 
between them. Much closer borrowing from Coleridge, 
in which he pronounces the words and rhymes of his 
master but keeps his voice ringing high with personality, 
is found at the close of "To my Godchild." It is easy 
to know with what keen recognition he must have read 
Coleridge's " Ne Plus Ultra." He borrowed its weakest 
lines because he dared not borrow the strongest ; they 
would not have become more famous on his hands. 
Coleridge's poem ends : 

Reveal'd to none of all the Angelic State, 

Save to the Lampads Seven l 

That watched the Throne of Heaven ! 

Thompson's ending is 

Pass the crystalline sea ; the Lampads seven : 
Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven. 

We have seen an ending ; here is a borrowed open- 
ing : 

Like a lone Arab, old and blind, 

Some caravan had left behind, 

Who sits beside a ruin'd well, 

Where the shy sand-asps bask and swell ; 

And now he hangs his aged head aslant 

And listens for a human sound in vain, &c. 

It develops into an allegory of illusion : the poet sits 

1 Revelation iv, 5, "... there were seven lamps burning before the 
Throne, which are the seven spirits of God." 

162 



The Coleridge Influence 

desolate, and, thinking Love visits him, is deceived. 
Just thus is Thompson's passage beginning 

As an Arab journey eth 

Through a sand of Ayaman, 

Lean Thirst, lolling its cracked tongue, &c. . . . 

The staging, the characters, are the same. Perhaps 
curiosity in opium-eating led him early and im- 
pressionably to the study of Coleridge. "The Pains 
of Sleep " brings their experiences cheek to cheek 
haggard cheek to haggard cheek. Thompson wrote 
a prose tale embodying the same terror of dreams 
and dream-existence. Both used humorous verse and 
conversation for a means of escape. They laughed to 
forget, and punned, not so much to laugh, as to be 
distracted in the exercise. One of them did the talk- 
ing much better than the other ; but their tongues 
moved to the same command, their voices ran on from 
the same fear. Even " Love dies, Love dies, Love 
dies Ah ! Love is dead " is the reflection of a page of 
Coleridge's commonplaces. 

These are casual likenesses, found on the penetrable 
levels of resemblance, comparable to the coincidence of 
the after-collegiate enlisting of the two men, the Bowles 
connexion, or the Strand experience. But Francis 
Thompson, as it happens, has been explicit on the sub- 
ject of the unreachable quality of Coleridge : 

" No other poet, perhaps, except Spenser has been an 
initial influence, a generative influence, on so many 
poets. Having with that mild Elizabethan much affinity, 
it is natural that he should be a ' poets' poet' in the rarer 
sense the sense of fecundating other poets. As with 
Spenser, it is not that other poets have made him their 
model, have reproduced essentials of his style (accidents 
no great poet will consciously perpetuate). The pro- 
geny are sufficiently unlike the parent. It is that he has 

163 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

incited the very sprouting in them of the laurel-bough, 
has been to them a fostering sun of song. Such a 
primary influence he was to Rossetti Rossetti, whose 
model was far more Keats than Coleridge. Such he 
was to Coventry Patmore, in whose work one might 
trace many masters rather than Coleridge." ("Such 
he was to me," F. T., a reviewer in a public print, 
refrained from adding.) " ' I did not try to imitate his 
style,' said that great singer. < I can hardly explain how 
he influenced me : he was rather an ideal of perfect 
style than a model to imitate ; but in some indescrib- 
able way he did influence my development more than 
any other poet.' No poet, indeed, has been senseless 
enough to imitate the inimitable. One might as well 
try to paint air as to catch a style so void of all manner 
that it is visible, like air, only in its results. . . . Imita- 
tion has no foothold ; it would tread on glass." * 

F. T. noted in the Academy, November 20, 1897, the 
direct coincidence of Browning's 

Its sad in sweet, its sweet in sad, 
and Crashaw's 

Sweetness so sad, sadness so sweet. 

It did not come within his scope as a reviewer to 
mention the doubly direct coincidence (or something 
nearer) of his own : 

At all the sadness in the sweet, 
The sweetness in the sad. 

Coleridge and the other poets to whom Coleridge had 
guided him ; Shelley and, in prose, de Quincey, are 
prominent in his early reading. To go to de Quincey's 
" Daughter of Lebanon " for the pedigree of " The Hound 

1 F. T. in the Academy, February 6, 1897. 
164 



Various Authors 

of Heaven " is like going to the grocer's for the seeds, in 
coloured packets, of the passion flower. But the Vic- 
torian tassels of the earlier piece do not hide its lessons 
"to suffer that God should give by seeming to refuse' 
and pursuit is the theme common to both, and common 
to writers of most ages. De Quincey did no more than 
hand it on. From St. Augustine's "Thou wast driving 
me on with Thy good, so that I could not be at rest 
until Thou wast manifest to the eye of my soul " ; to 
Meister Eckhart's " He who will escape Him only runs 
to His bosom ; for all corners are open to him," and so 
on, the idea is the same, though less elaborated and 
dramatic than in " The Hound." 

In the "Mistress of Vision" the scenery and the lady 
are Shelleyan ; one marvels that Thompson's teaching 
comes from those illusive lips. Thus would it have been 
written had such thoughts gained desired expression 
through Shelley. The thoughts are Francis Thompson's ; 
the mode the other's. Mr. Beacock refers one to passages 
of the " Witch of Atlas," but the likeness is too elusively 
general to be caught in particular verses, and such things 
as the borrowing of " blosmy ' are nothing more than 
clues, like the fragmentary debris of a paper-chase, to the 
whereabouts of an influence. 

An early book of transcription contains a deal of 
Donne and Stevenson (including Father Damien and 
poems), a touch of Andrew Lang, more of Blunt, a little 
Meredith ; much Rossetti and Cowley, some Suckling, 
the inevitable Browne, and a Theodore Watts. Dray ton, 
too, is met in the Thompsonian verses : " Hear, my 
Muses, I demand," &c., so that when Mr. Chesterton 
says that the shortest way of describing the Victorian 
age is to say that Francis Thompson stood outside 
it, he might have gone on, with a little access of 
wilfulness, to say that the seventeenth century was best 
described by saying that in it was Francis Thompson. 

Marvell he had not read till after his first books "Just 

165 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

Crashaw and a little Cowley and I had formed my style 
before I knew Cowley, whom I really did curiously 
resemble ; though none perceived it, because none had 
read Cowley." 

The Crashaw descent may be traced by way of Cole- 
ridge, who said of certain lines of the " Hymn to St. 
Teresa " that " They were ever present in my mind whilst 
writing the second part of ' Christabel ' ; if, indeed, by 
some process of the mind, they did not suggest the first 
thought of the whole poem." Crashaw's Romanism did 
not interfere with Coleridge's pleasure, though in reading 
Herbert, whom he found " delicious," and at a time when 
he could note ft that he was comparatively but little 
known," he paused over inquiries as to the exactness of 
that author's conformity to Protestantism. Coleridge 
was much taken with Herbert's "The Flower," a poem 
"especially affecting" and naturally, to a poet. It is 
easy to suppose that Francis gave it particular attention 
on S. T. C.'s recommendation, and that he had in his 
mind the lines 

I once more smell the dew and rain 
And relish versing 

when, conscious of the wings "Of coming songs that 
lift my hair and stir it," he praises the 

Giver of spring, and song, and every young new thing ! 

Herbert, welcoming a return of grace in his heart, 
writes : 

How fresh, Lord, how sweet and clean 

Are Thy returns ! ev'n as the flowers in spring. 

Thompson, in " From the Night of Forebeing," 

writes : 

From sky to sod, 

The world's unfolded blossom smells of God. 

166 



Crashaw and a little Cowley 

Closer still is the resemblance, noted by Mr. Beacock, 
between Herbert's 

Only thy grace, which with these elements comes, 

Knoweth the ready way, 

And hath the privie key 
Op'ning the soul's most subtile rooms ; 

While those to spirits refin'd, at doore attend 

Despatches from their friend, 

and Thompson's 

Its keys are at the cincture hung of God. 

Mr. Beacock has also pointed out the resemblance 
between Southwell's 

Did Christ manure thy heart to breed him briers ? 
Or doth it need this unaccustom'd soyle 
With hellish dung to fertile heaven's desires ? 

and Thompson's 

Whether man's heart or life it be which yields 
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields 
Be dunged with rotten death ? 

Remembering his own acknowledgment "just 
Crashaw and a little Cowley" one may turn to Mr. 
Garvin's equally accurate summing up in the Bookman, 
March 1897 : 

" He is an argonaut of literature, far travelled in the realm 
of gold, and he has in a strange degree the assimilative mind that 
takes suggestions as a cat takes milk. . . . ' The Daisy ' was 
strangely Words worthian. But ' Dream-Tryst ' was like Shelley, 
and had that strange ethereal poignancy. There was the ' Dead 
Cardinal of Westminster,' with its stanzas of shuddering beauty 
upon the prescience of death. There was the resplendent ' Judg- 
ment in Heaven,' with the trenchant Elizabethan apothegm 
of its epilogue. The ' Corymbus for Autumn ' was an overwhelm- 
ing improvisation of wild and exorbitant fantasy. To be familiar 
with it is to repent of having ever reproached it for a splendid 

167 



Of Words j Of Origins ; Of Metre 

pedantry and a monstrous ambition. On the whole, if Mr. Thomp- 
son had stopped at his first volume we should have judged him 
more akin in stature and temperament to Marlowe than to any 
other great figure in English poetry. It seemed to reveal the same 
' high astounding terms/ the same vast imagery ; the same amour 
de Vimpossible ; the soul striking the sublime stars, the intolerable 
passion for beauty. But Mr. Thompson did not stop there. After 
the publication of his second volume, when it became clear that the 
' Hound of Heaven ' and ' Sister Songs ' should be read together 
as a strict lyrical sequence, there was no longer any comparison 
possible except the highest, the inevitable comparison with even 
Shakespeare's Sonnets. The Sonnets are the greatest soliloquy 
in literature. The ' Hound of Heaven ' and ' Sister Songs ' to- 
gether are the second greatest ; and there is no third. In each 
case it is rather consciousness imaged in the magic mirror of poetry 
than explicit autobiography. As to Mr. Francis Thompson, what 
strange indentures bound him to the Muse we cannot tell. We 
are permitted to guess some strict and sad apprenticeship paid 
with bitter bread and unimaginable dreams, some ultimate deliver- 
ance of song. It is only possible to realise all the beauty of Mr. 
Thompson's work when it is read as a lyrical sequence related 
to Shakespeare's Sonnets on the side of poetry, and to de Quincey's 
Opium Eater on the side of prose." 

To a certain extent Thompson states his own case in 
treating of Mangan's liberties with his Irish originals : 

" They are outrageous, or would be outrageous were 
the success not so complete. But poetry is a rootedly 
immoral art, in which success excuses well-nigh every- 
thing. That in the soldier is flat blasphemy which in 
the captain, the master of his craft, is but commendable 
daring. Exactly as a great poet may plagiarise to his 
heart's content, because he plagiarises well, so the truly 
poetical translator may reindite a foreign poem and call 
it a translation." 

And in reviewing Henley's Burns he writes, again 
with the braggart touch of one who may have gone 
the same rascally road : 

" Spartan law holds good in literature, where to steal 

168 



To Steal is Honourable 

is honourable, provided it be done with skill and 
dexterity : wherefore Mercury was the patron both of 
thieves and poets." 

Touching a more serious aspect of the case, he writes 
with Patmore in his mind : 

" There are some truths so true, that upon everyone 
who sees them clearly they force almost the same mode 
of expression ; they create their own formulas." 

It might not have been guessed that the author of 
" Horatius ' had the means wherewith to lend to the 
wealthy; but Macaulay's lines "On the Battle of 
Naseby " 

Oh ! wherefore come ye forth, in triumph from the North, 
With your hands, and your feet, and your raiment all red ? 

And wherefore doth your rout send forth a joyous shout ? 
And whence be the grapes of the wine-press which ye tread ? 

Oh ! evil was the root, and bitter was the fruit, 
And crimson was the juice of the vintage that we trod ; 

For we trampled on the throng of the haughty and the strong, 
Who sate in the high places, and slew the saints of God ! 

supply the model for the ecclesiastical ballad "The 
Veteran of Heaven" which begins 

Captain of the wars, whence won Ye so great scars ? 

In what fight did Ye smite, and what manner was the foe ? 
Was it on a day of rout they compassed Thee about, 

Or gat Ye these adornings when Ye wrought their overthrow ? 

" I am disposed to put in a good word for Macaulay's 
ballads," F. T. has said. 

A fair thought, a keen observation, a neat phrase 
are seldom strictly preserved. If accident does not 
take two or more writers to the same hill, show them 
the same sunset, and charge their minds with the 
same words, plagiarism will serve the purpose. Even 

169 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

if Cowley's rare wit had remained in manuscript unseen, 
its turns would not have been for many centuries 
entirely his own. Literature will out. To one or the 
other, to plagiarism or accident, is due a likeness between 
Thompson's 

So fearfully the sun doth sound, 
Clanging up beyond Cathay ; 
For the great earthquaking sunrise rolling up beyond Cathay, 

and Mr. Kipling's "And the sun came up like thunder 
out of China, 'cross the Bay." 

A wind got up frae off the sea. 
It blew the stars as clear could be. 
It blew in the een of a' the three, 

And the mune was shining clearly ! 

sang Stevenson's Highlander years before Thompson 
wrote 

And a great wind blew all the stars to flare. 

But in neither case is Thompson, though the dates are 
against him, proved a thief. 

Of a review of his Poems in the St. James s Gazette : 

" I only deprecate in it the implied comparison to 
Dante, and the to-me-bewildering comparison to 
Matthew Arnold. 'Tis not merely that I have studied 
no poet less ; it is that I should have thought we were 
in the sharpest contrast. His characteristic fineness lies 
in that very form and restraint to which I so seldom 
attain : his characteristic drawback in the lack of that 
full stream which I am seldom without. The one needs 
and becomes strict banks for he could not fill wider 
ones ; the other too readily overflows all banks. But 
these are casual specks on an appreciative article an 
article as unusually appreciative as that in the Chronicle" 

170 



The Vulgate 

" French poetry all modern European poetry may 
in the ultimate analysis be found derivable from the 
Latin hymn," says an Edinburgh reviewer (January 1911). 
Francis Thompson in that case was familiar with the 
remote ancestry of his house. He helped himself from 
the hymns. 

Of the prose of the Vulgate he wrote in a review of 
a paper by Dr. Barry on St. Jerome's revision : 

" No tongue can say so much in so little. And 
literary diffuseness is tamed in our Vulgate not only 
by the terser influence of the rustic Latin, but by the 
needs begotten of Hebrew brevity. Nor to any un- 
prejudiced ear can this Vulgate Latin be unmusical. 
For such an ear the authority of John Addington 
Symonds (though Dr. Barry adduces that authority) 
is not needed to certify its line variety of new move- 
ment. ' Surge, propera, ainica mea, columba mea, formosa 
mea, et vent; 1 that and the whole passage which follows, 
or that preceding strain closing in ' Fulcite mefloribtis, 
stipate me malis, quia amore langueo ' : could prose have 
more impassioned loveliness of melody ? Compare it 
even with the beautiful corresponding English of the 
Authorised (Protestant) Version ; the advantage in music 
is not to the English, but to the soft and wooing fall 
of these deliciously lapsing syllables. Classic prose, 
could it even have forgotten its self-conscious living- 
up to foreign models, had never the heart of passion 
for movement such as this, or as the queenly wail of 
the Lamentations ' Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena 
populo ! facta est quasi vidua domina gentium ! ' 

" If the Vulgate be the fountain-source, the rivers are 
numerous and neglected. How many outside the 
ranks of ecclesiastics ever open the Breviary, with its 
Scriptural collocations over which has presided a won- 
derful symbolic insight, illuminating them by passages 
from the Fathers and significant prayers ? The offices 

171 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

of the Church are suggested poetry that of the Assump- 
tion, for example, the ' Little Office,' and almost all 
those of Our Lady. The very arrangement of the 
liturgical year is a suggested epic, based as it is on a 
deep parallel between the evolution of the seasons and 
that of the Christian soul of the human race." 

And further on : 

" It is a pedant who cannot see in St. Augustine 
one of the great minds of the world, master of a great 
style. Some flights in the Confessions are almost lyric, 
such as the beautiful ' Sero te amavi,' or the magnificent 
discourse on memory. The last books especially of the 
City of God would sometimes be no wise incongruous 
beside the Paradiso of Dante. St. Bernard's prose 
rises at times into a beauty which is essentially that 
of penetratingly ethereal poetry : not for nothing has 
Dante exalted him in the Paradiso ; not for nothing 
does such a man exalt such men. In them is the meat 
and milk and honey of religion ; and did we read them 
our souls would be larger-boned." 

Of his early acquaintance with the Bible he writes : 

" The Bible as an influence from the literary stand- 
point has a late but important date in my life. As a 
child I read it, but for its historical interest. Neverthe- 
less, even then I was greatly, though vaguely, impressed 
by the mysterious imagery, the cloudy grandeurs, of the 
Apocalypse. Deeply uncomprehended, it was, of course, 
the pageantry of an appalling dream ; insurgent dark- 
ness, with wild lights flashing through it ; terrible 
phantasms, insupportably revealed against profound 
light, and in a moment no more ; on the earth hurryings 
to and fro, like insects of the earth at a sudden candle ; 
unknown voices uttering out of darkness darkened and 

172 



" Poor Thief of Song " 

disastrous speech ; and all this in motion and turmoil, 
like the sands of a fretted pool. Such is the Apocalypse 
as it inscribes itself on the verges of my childish 
memories. In early youth it again drew me to itself, 
giving to my mind a permanent and shaping direction. 
In maturer years Ecclesiastes (casually opened during 
a week of solitude in the Fens) masterfully affected a 
temperament in key with its basic melancholy. But 
not till quite later years did the Bible as a whole become 
an influence. Then, however, it came with decisive 
power. But not as it had influenced most writers. 
My style, being already formed, could receive no evident 
impress from it : its vocabulary had come to me through 
the great writers of our language. In the first place its 
influence was mystical ; it revealed to me a whole scheme 
of existence, and lit up life like a lantern." 

"Assumpta Maria' is "vamped' from the office of 
Our Lady ; he had no notion of concealing its origin, 
but rather sought to point it out. The prayer to the 
Virgin is itself a confession 

Remember me, poor Thief of Song ! 

He wrote in 1893, with an enclosure of poems, in- 
cluding the "Assumpta Maria" : 

"They are almost entirely taken from the Office of 
the Assumption, some from the Canticle, a few images 
from the heathen mythology. Some very beautiful 
images are from a hymn by St. Nerses the Armenian, 
rendered in Carmina Mariana. You will perceive 
therefore the reason of the motto from Cowley : 'Thou 
needst not make new songs, but say the old.' " 



It is at the close of the poem that Francis calls himself 
11 poor Thief of Song." The theme put honesty out of 
reach. It has been treated too often. Even Donne's 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

" Immensity cloistered in the dear womb ' is part of 
"the great conspiracy " of Marian Song. 

The lines most in question in St. Nerses's hymn, thus 
rendered in English by W. H. Kent, are 

Dwelling-place of light, be gladsome ; 
Temple, where the true Sun dwelleth ; 
Throne of God, rejoice, thou bearest 
Him, the Word of the Almighty . . . 
Home of him whom none may compass ; 
Hostel, where the sun finds resting . . . 
Daniel's great Stone-bearing Mountain ; 
Solomon's fair Hill of Incense ; 
Fountain sealed for him that keeps it ; 
Garden closed for him that plants." 

" I remember," Francis writes, " Father Anselm's ex- 
pression of comical surprise at a passage in ' Her Portrait,' 
where I had employed the terms of Canon Law relating 
to ecclesiastical property. Why, he said, here's a whole 
page of De Contractibus in poetry. His surprise was 
increased when I remarked that I had never read any 
work on the subject. ... I said I got the terms where 
any one else could get them from English history. 

"Equal was the surprise of another person at finding 
a whole passage of Anna Kingsford in my poetry. It was 
a passage describing the earth's aura, really remarkably 
like a passage in a book I had not at the time read." 

In all these cases he is an imitator by choice inde- 
pendent in taking only what suits him and depending 
only where he will. In one case he was an imitator not 
by choice but by compulsion, a slavish follower. There 
was no more choice for him in following Patmore than 
for a son born like his father. Such a poem as " By 
Reason of Thy Law " was born of the Unknown Eros odes. 



174 



Poets do not Err 

Here are quoted various sentences from F. T.'s note- 
books, letters, and published prose bearing on metre, or 
allied subjects. 

Of the learning of poets : 

" I have studied and practised metre with arduous 
love since I was sixteen ; reviewed poets and poetasters 
this twenty years or more, and never yet impeached one 
of such a matter as infraction or ignorance of academic 
metrical rule. For I know they don't do it either poet 
or poetaster. Poetasters least of all men, because they 
are your metrical Tybalts and fight by the book one, 
two, and the third in your bosom ; poets because they 
have the law in their members, assimilated by eager 
obedience from their practised youth ; their liberty is 
such liberty won by absorption of law, and is kept in 
its orbit by their sensitive feodality to the invisible the 
hidden sun of inspiration. 'They do not wrong but 
with just cause ' : such faults as they may commit in 
metre belong not to this elementary class. I have 
criticised poets' metre, but ever in the broader and 
larger things where blemish accused them not of ignor- 
ance or the carelessness that comes of inattention to 
rule. I repeat, they don't do those things, and my 
study of metre, poetry, and poets early taught me that." 

And he cites an unjustified attack on Stephen Phillips 
as a case in point. 

Of " Heard on the Mountain," a translation from 
Hugo in New Poems a metrical experiment : 

" That splendid fourteen-syllable metre of Chapman, to 
which Mr. Kipling has given a new vitality, I have here 
treated after the manner of Drydenian rhyming heroics ; 
not only with the occasional triplet, but also the occa- 
sional Alexandrine, represented by a line of eight accents. 
Students of metre will see the analogy to be strict, the 

175 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

line of eight being merely the carrying to completion of 
the catalectic line of seven, as the Alexandrine is merely 
the filling out of the catalectic line of five accents." 

Of "The Ode to the Setting Sun " : 

"An ode I have thought not unworthy of preserva- 
tion, though it was my first published poem of any 
importance. In view of the considerable resemblance 
between the final stanza and a well-known stanza in 
Mr. Davidson's ' Ballad of a Nun,' it is right to state that 
1 The Ode to the Setting Sun ' was published as long 
ago as 1889. The poem has some interest to me in view 
of the frequent statement that I modelled the metre 
of 'The Hound of Heaven' on the ode metre of 
Mr. Patmore. ' The Ode to the Setting Sun ' was 
published before I had seen any of Mr. Patmore's work ; 
and a comparison of the two poems will therefore show 
exactly the extent to which the later poem was affected 
by that great poet's practice. The ode metre of New 
Poems is, with this exception, completely based on the 
principles which Mr. Patmore may virtually be said to 
have discovered.'' 

Of accent and quantity : 

" The classic poets are careful to keep up an interchange 
between accent and quantity, an approach and recession, 
just as is the case with the great English poets. Yet 
with all the lover-like coquetry between the two elements, 
they are careful that they shall never wed again as 
with the great English poets. But (and here lies the 
difference) the position of the two elements is exactly 
reversed. It is quantity which gives the law is the 
masculine element in classic verse ; it is accent in 
English. In English, quantity takes the feminine or 
subordinate place, as accent does in classic verse. In 

both it is bad metre definitely to unite the two." 

176 



Blank Verse 

Sending poetry from Pantasaph, October 1894, he 
writes to A. M. : 

" My dear lady, . . . the long poem, (< The Anthem of 
Earth ') was written only as an exercise in blank verse ; 
indeed, as you will see, I have transferred to it whole 
passages from my prose articles. So it is solely for your 
judgment on the metre that I send it. It is my first 
serious attempt to handle that form, and it is not likely 
that I have succeeded all at once ; especially as I have 
not confined myself to the strict limits of the metre, but 
have laid my hand at one clash among all the licences 
with which the Elizabethans build up their harmonies. 
The question is whether individual passages succeed 
sufficiently to justify the belief that I might reach 
mastery with practice, or whether I fail in such a fashion 

as to suggest native inaptitude for the metre. M 

thinks the poem a failure. Being a mistress of numerous 
metre, she counts all her feet ; though her chosen 
method is the dactylic, since she uses her fingers for the 
purpose. It is well known that by this profound and 
exhaustive method of practical study, you may qualify 
yourself to sit in judgment on Shakespeare's metre, if 
he should submit his MS. to you from the Shades. I 
confess my practice is so slovenly that if anyone should 
assure me that my lines had eleven syllables apiece, I 
should be obliged to allow I had never counted them. 
We poor devils who write by ear have a long way to go 
before we attain to the scientific company of poets like 
M , who has her verses at her fingers' ends. F. T." 

To the same purpose are notes on Henley's " Volun- 
taries" : 

" They are in so-called ' irregular ' lyric metre, ebbing 
and flowing with the motion itself. Irregular it is not, 
though the law is concealed. Only a most delicate 
response to the behests of inspiration can make such 

177 M 



Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre 

verse successful. As some persons have an instinctive 
sense of orientation by which they know the quarter of 
the East, so the poet with this gift has a subtle sense of 
hidden metrical law, and in his most seeming-vagrant 
metres revolves always (so to speak) round a felt though 
invisible centre of obedience." 

The immethodical exactitude of his method is further 
suggested in his note-book : 

"Temporal variations of metre responsive to the 
emotions, like the fluctuations of human respiration, 
which also varies indefinitely, under the passage of 
changeful emotions, and yet keeps an approximate 
temporal uniformity." 

Here he evidently alludes particularly to the ode 
metre of " The Unknown Eros," for which Patmore 
claimed that the length of line was controlled by its 
emotional significance. On this subject another note 
must directly bear. It is to the effect that the matter 
forces the metre ; that the poet is the servant, not 
master, of his theme, and that he must write in such 
metre as it dictates. 

Again he writes : 

" Every great poet makes accepted metre a quite new 
metre, imparts to it a totally new movement, impresses 
his own individuality upon it." 

And again : 

" All verse is rhythmic ; but in the graver and more 
subtle forms the rhythm is veiled and claustral ; it not 
only avoids obtruding itself, but seeks to withdraw itself 
from notice." 

And again : 

11 Metrically Poe is the lineal projector of Swinburne, 

178 



Numerous Versification 

and hence of modern metre at large an influence most 
disastrous and decadent, like nearly all his influence on 
letters." l 

His own choice among his metrical exercises was "The 
Making of Viola/' of which a critic has said (the Nation^ 
November 23, 1907) " that the words seem never to alight, 
they so bound and rebound, and are so agile with life." 

In an early Merry England article he writes of 
Crashaw : 

" His employment (in the ' Hymn to St. Teresa ' and its 
companion 'The Bleeding Heart') of those mixed four- 
foot Iambics and Trochaics so often favoured by modern 
poets, marks an era in the metre. Coleridge (in the 
Biographia Literarid] adopts an excellent expression to 
distinguish measures which follow the changes of the 
sense from those which are regulated by a pendulum- 
like beat or tune however new the tune overpowering 
all intrinsic variety. The former he styles numerous versi- 
fication. Crashaw is beautifully numerous, attaining the 
most delicate music by veering pause and modulation 

Miser of sound and syllable, no less 
Than Midas of his coinage. 

We have said advisedly that the ' St. Teresa ' marks an 
era in metre. For Coleridge was largely indebted to it 
and acknowledged his debt." 

1 To this he recurs in a note on Tennyson : " Tennyson too pictorial. 
Picture verges on marches of sister-art, painting. Feminine ; only not so entirely 
so as Swinburne ; still has remnants of statelier mood and time. Metre 
beginning of degeneration completed in and by Swinburne." 



CHAPTER IX: AT MONASTERY GATES 

IN 1892 F. T. had gone to Pantasaph. He was quartered, 
at first, in Bishop's House, at the monastery gates, 1 and 
the sandalled friars looked after all his wants from 
boots to dogma. 

"Thompson is ever so much better," writes Fr. 
Marianus soon after the poet's arrival. " He looks it too. 
He is less melancholy, in fact at times quite lively," 
And they cared for him delicately : 

' There is only one little thing about which I have some diffi- 
culty. I know Thompson must need now and again some little 
things, but I don't like to ask him does he need anything (though 
I have supplied him with paper, ink, &c.), and I should feel grate- 
ful if you would kindly write to Thompson and tell him to ask me 
for anything he may want that I am his procurator." 

His own first letter from Wales : 

" Cen est fait, as regards the opium. ... I am very 
comfortable, thanks to your kindness and forethought. 
Father Anselm seems to have taken a fancy to me also 
he is afraid of my being lonely and comes to see me 
every other day. He took me all over the Monastery on 
Monday, and has just left me after a prolonged discus- 
sion of the things which ' none of us know anything 
about,' as Marianus says when he is getting the worst of 
an argument." 

Father Anselm, now Archbishop of Simla, was the one 
of the friars of whom the poet spoke as his philosophical 

1 Afterwards he lodged at the post-office, and finally in a cottage on the 
hill behind the monastery. 

1 80 



Franciscan Friends 

schoolmaster, and to whom he was indebted for the 
awakening of new intellectual interests. Coventry 
Patmore, too, as his correspondence testifies, knew how 
to appreciate the hospitality and good talk of the friars. 
Both the poets contributed to the Annals of Father 
Anselm's editorship. Between the younger poet and 
Father Anselm there sprang up a close friendship, which 
was not without its influence upon Thompson's later 
work. During his Guardianship at Crawley Father 
Anselm was responsible for the inception of the 
Roger Bacon Society, whose meetings F. T. sometimes 
attended. 

Father Alphonsus, whose death in 1911 deprived 
English Franciscans of their Provincial, also had much 
intercourse with Francis Thompson. For this priest, as 
he himself alleged, the odes of Coventry Patmore made a 
new earth and a new Heaven. 

It is not, perhaps, impertinent here and now to 
attribute to the younger poet's association with the 
friars an allusion in one of the most famous of his lines. 
" The bearded counsellors of God " has the local colour 
if not of Paradise, at least of Pantasaph. 1 

" Poetry clung about the cowls of his Order," wrote 
Francis, in dealing with the works of St. Francis and of 
Thomas of Celano. He had the right companions, as 
far as any were admitted, for the new periods of com- 
position. 

They, as he, had sacred commerce cum Domina Pau- 
pertate. These, his companions, were once named by 
her " my Brothers and most dear Friends " ; they, 
entertaining her on bread and water, had given her a 
couch upon earth and the grass. 

" When she asked for a pillow, they straightway brought her 
a stone, and laid it under her Head. So, after she had slept for a 
brief space in peace, she arose and asked the Brothers to show 

1 The Capuchins (Franciscans), are peculiar in aspect among Religious 
Orders as bearded friars. 

181 



At Monastery Gates 

her their Cloister. And they, leading her to the Summit of a Hill, 
showed her the wide World, saying : This is our Cloister, O Lady 
Poverty. Thereupon she bade them all sit down together, and 
opening her mouth she began to speak unto them Words of Life." 

Francis her poet heard, though at that time he was 
not come to the hills about Pantasaph. He had himself 
found stones for pillows in the market-place, and had 
written of one to whom he had half-likened himself 

Anchorite, who didst dwell 
With all the world for cell ! 1 

St. Francis himself had other words for the same 
thought : " Meditate as much while on this journey 
as if you were shut up in a hermitage or in your cell, for 
wherever we are, wherever we go, we carry our cell 
with us ; Brother Body is our cell." 

Of the grounds for a good understanding between the 
priests and the poet there are hints in Richard de Bary's 
Franciscan Days of Vigil : 

" Francis Thompson was just then [1894] a favourite with the 
Order, and there were keen discussions about his mystical intui- 
tions. In the spirit of the Franciscan Laudes Domini, the Breviary 
Offices of the Seasons, Thompson recalled them, and expounded 
the phases of asceticism that ran with them in his poem, ' From 
the Night of Forebeing.' 

******* 

" The centre of interest in the household was the poet, Francis 
Thompson, who spent the summer of that year in a neighbour- 
ing cottage. Walks in the late evening did not result in much 
conversation ; but at evening gatherings in my room the poet 
used often to join the party, and argued with vigour and persuasive- 
ness on favourite topics. The Franciscans had learnt a kind of 

1 This was written long before Mr. Montgomery Carmichael's translation 
of The Lady Poverty brought the thirteenth-century writer's claim to the 
world as the Franciscan cloister to Thompson's notice. 

t82 



More Poetry 



art of drawing their mystical guest into conversation. The way 
was to introduce a subtle contradiction to his pet theories, which 
would in a moment produce a storm of protesting eloquence." 

They drew him also on one only occasion into more 
formal speech. Fr. Anselm prevailed upon him to 
enter into the discussion that followed a paper read by 
the Hon. W. Gibson, now Lord Ashbourne, at a meeting 
of the Roger Bacon Society, held at the Monastery, 
Crawley, in January 1898. 

In April, 1894, an observer writes to W. M. : 

" You will be glad to hear that Francis has written an Ode 
which I hear is longer than anything he has done yet. Also that 
the ' frenzy ' being on him he has begun another poem yesterday. 
No one sees him but Fr. Anselm, to whom he comes every evening 
and whom he tells of his work. He told him last night that 
since you had left he seemed to have a return of all the old poetic 
power. Of course he is flying over hill and dale and never to be 
seen, but I am sure you will be as glad as I am at this fresh de- 
velopment especially as your and Alice's visit has evidently 
called it forth." 1 

To the departed visitors the poet himself wrote : 

" BISHOP'S HOUSE, PANTASAPH. 

" DEAREST WILFRID AND ALICE, As you are together 
in my thoughts, so let me join you together in this note. 
I cannot express to you what deep happiness your visit 
gave me ; how dear it was to see your faces again. I 
think 'the leaves fell from the day' indeed when your 
train went out of the station ; and I never heard the 
birds with such sad voices. 

" I send you herewith the poem I have been at work 
on. It is very long, as you will see as long, I think, 
as Wordsworth's great ode. That would not matter 
' so I were equal with him in renown.' But as it is 1 

" My fear is that thought in it has strangled poetic im- 
pulse. However of all that you are better judges than I. 

1 " After Her Going " was written in these days. 

183 



At Monastery Gates 

" Does the dear Singer still refuse me her songs ? My 
health is better again, though unfortunately more fluc- 
tuant than I could wish. Love to all the chicks. With 
very best love to yourselves, dear ones,' Yours ever, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

In another letter F. T. tells of his recurring powers of 
composition. 

"Am overflowing with a sudden access of literary 
impulse. I think I could write a book in three months, 
if thoughts came down in such an endless avalanche as 
they are doing at present. But the collecting and re- 
casting of my later poems for Lane blocks the way for 
the next month, so that 1 can only write an essay in an 
odd hour or two when I lie awake in bed." 

He heralds the coming of his sacred poetry in "From 
the Night of Forebeing" 

. . . The wings 

Hear I not in prsevenient winnowings 
Of coming songs, that lift my hair and stir it ? 



That but low breathe it, lest the Nemesis 

Unchild me, vaunting this 

Is bliss, the hid, hugged, swaddled bliss ! 

O youngling Joy caressed, 

That on my now first-mothered breast 

Pliest the strange wonder of thine infant lip. 

From the highlands of his poetry, from the glory of 
height in which he wrote "The Dread of Height" and 
other poems of ll Sight and Insight," he looked down 
upon his former poetry : 

Therefore I do repent 
That with religion vain, 
And misconceived pain, 
I have my music bent 

To waste on bootless things its skiey-gendered rain. 

184 



Depr< 



ession 

The writing done, he is again cast down : 

" I should be very glad if you will send me the 
Edinburgh. It would do me good ; I never since I 
knew you felt so low-hearted and empty of all belief in 
myself. I could find it in my heart to pitch my book 
into the fire ; and I shall be thoroughly glad to get it off 
to you, for my heart sinks at the sight or thought of 
it. The one remaining poem which had stuck in my 
gizzard at the last I succeeded in polishing off last night, 
sitting up all night to do it ; and I must start on the 
preface as soon as this letter is off." 

A neighbour's reminiscence is that given by Fr. David 
Bearne, S. J., in The Irish Monthly y November 1908, who 

" recalls two occasions on which I had the privilege of chatting 
with the poet once tete-a-tete in the delightful seclusion of the 
gardens at St. Beuno's College, within sight of Snowdon and of 
the sea ; once in the thick of the pious crowd that throng each year 
to Pantasaph for the Portiuncula. Of each occasion I retain the 
happiest memories, though I cannot recall the exact words of any 
single sentence that he uttered. He knew me only as a Jesuit 
student of theology, and though I longed to tell him how much I 
loved his work, I failed to do so, partly from a sort of reverential 
shyness, and partly because, though he was no chatterer, he led 
the conversation. On one occasion I know he had just been 
making a pilgrimage to St. Winefride's Well. He spoke of it at 
length and with great enthusiasm. But my own mind was occu- 
pied with the man, rather than with what he said. ... As men 
commonly understand the word there was no ' fascination ' about 
Thompson. There was something better. There was the sancta 
simplidtas of the true poet and the real child." 

In 1893 his father was at Rhyl, and Francis sought 
him there, but without invitation. He writes : 

" I went over on Monday only to find that he had 
left the previous Wednesday, after having been there 
for a month, which things are strange." 

To Dr. Thompson the strangeness would be in Francis's 



At Monastery Gates 

unwontedly active desire to see him. It is probable 
that each exaggerated the other's feeling of estrange- 
ment. When, in April 1896, Francis heard that his father 
was dying, he went to Ashton, but too late. After the 
funeral he writes : 

" I never saw my father again, I cannot speak 
about it at present. made it very bitter 

for me. It has been nothing but ill-health and sorrow 
lately, but I must not trouble you with these things. 
I saw my sister looking the merest girl still, and 
sweeter than ever. She did not look a day older than 
ten years ago. She said I looked very changed and 



worn." 1 



At Downing he had neighbours in the Feilding family, 
and it was to the monastery church that Lady Denbigh 
came to "make her soul' at the penitential seasons of 
the year. This church her husband began to build 
when he was an Anglican ; then, changing his religion, 
he had changed the dedication of his bricks and mortar. 
From a letter of the Hon. Everard Feilding to W. M. 
after F. T.'s death : 



" V, 



Your letter reached me at a time when my mind, like that, 
I think, of many others, was full of Francis Thompson ; and during 
the preceding three nights I had been reading and re-reading aloud 
to two or three friends certain of his poems which had specially 
touched me, including the Nocturn, infinitely pathetic from my 
knowledge, however slight, of the man. 

' Need I say that I am truly touched to hear that Thompson 
should have thought my modest appreciation of his work as any- 
thing more than the most natural thing in the world ? I only 
met him three times, each time in the company of my friend 
Head, 2 who shared my admiration. Our meeting came about in 
an absurd enough wise. A ghost (possibly you have heard, or 

The mortuary card, preserved in F. T.'s prayer-book, runs. 
" Of your charity pray for the soul of Charles Thompson, M.R.C.S., L.S.A., 
who departed this life April gth, 1896, aged 72, fortified by the rites of 
Holy Church" with the motto "The silent and wise man shall be 
honoured." 

2 Dr. Henry Head, F.R.S. 

1 86 




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C/3 

D. 

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The Pantasaph Ghost 

not heard, of my taste for these creatures) was reported active in 
the neighbourhood of Pantasaph, on my brother's place in Wales. 
My own inclination supplied the motive, and an idle week of Head's 
the occasion, of a visit there, and we camped a few nights in a 
derelict mansion, rejoicing in the appropriately ominous name of 
Pickpocket Hall, in hopes of interviewing the spectre. Needless 
to say, we failed. But we got the story of the Irish monk ; also 
the story of the practical nun, who scented buried treasure which 
she hoped to unearth to the profit of her community ; and of the 
oldest inhabitant ; and, finally, of the Poet. The people at the 
monastery had told us that Thompson had been a witness, and 
we decided on a call ; and at about five one evening made our way 
to the tiny cottage where he lodged, and asked for him. He was 
still in bed. We returned at 6.30. He was still in bed. So we 
concocted a letter, suitable, as we imagined, to the person who 
had written Thompson's poems, not quite English, somewhat 
elided, and as inverted as we could manage, ending with an invi- 
tation to breakfast at 9.30 that night and a conference with our 
hobgoblin. And somewhat pleased with our effort, we retired to 
our haunted mansion and awaited events. At 9.30 he came and 
breakfasted while we supped. We said at once to one another : 
' This is not the man to whom we wrote that letter.' For, instead 
of parables in polysyllables and a riot of imagery, we found sim- 
plicity and modesty and a manner which would have been almost 
commonplace if it had not been so sincere. But the charm and 
interest of his talk grew with the night, and it was already dawn 
when, the ghost long since forgotten, we escorted him back across 
the snow to his untimely lunch. He told us, I remember, of his 
poetical development, and of how, until recently, he had fancied 
that the end of poetry was reached in the stringing together of 
ingenious images, an art in which, he somewhat naively confessed, 
he knew himself to excel ; but that now he knew it should reach 
further, and he hoped for an improvement in his future work. 
New Poems was subsequent to this meeting. It was only in his 
account of the ghost, which had ' charged his body like a battery 
so that he felt thunderstorms in his hair,' that the imaginary 
individual to whom we had addressed our letter revealed himself. 

" He dined with us twice afterwards, the second time appearing 
an hour late, with his head tied up in an appalling bandage, the 
result of having been knocked down by a hansom, so that I took 
his arrival under the circumstances as a compliment second only 
to your own kind letter. For years I haven't seen him. A letter, 



At Monastery Gates 

to ask him if he would renew acquaintance, has several times 
trembled on the tip of my pen ; but I was told he had become 
inaccessible, and it never went, and now I am very sorry." 

Something of the Pantasaph ghost got into verse, 
which I take from a note-book : 

More creatures lackey man 

Than he has note of : through the ways of air 

Angels go here and there 

About his businesses : we tread the floor 

Of a whole sea of spirits : evermore 

Oozy with spirits ebbs the air and flows 

Round us, and no man knows. 

Spirits drift upon the populous breeze 

And throng the twinkling leaves that twirl on summer trees. 

In notes headed " Varia on Magic' he quotes the 

Anatomy of Melancholy : 

"The air is not so full of flies in summer, as it is at 
all times of invisible devils : this Paracelsus stiffly 
maintains." 

F. T. wrote to A. M. after the meeting : 

"Is it true that you are going to collect your contri- 
butions to the papers during the last few years ? I 
sincerely hope so. ... There was a Dr. Head, a member 
of the Savile Club, over here last autumn with Everard 
Feilding, who spoke with great enthusiasm of your " Auto- 
lycus." He quoted a bit relating, I think, to Angelica 
Kaufmann, 1 who spent a large number of years in ' taking 
the plainness off paper.' The phrase delighted him, as 
it did me who had not seen it. ... I passed a pleasant 
night with the two. We were sleeping in a haunted 
house to interview the ghost ; but as he was a racing-man, 
he probably found our conversation too literary to put 
off his incognito." 

1 It was not Angelica, but Mrs. Delany. 

1 88 



He is in Difficulties 

The friars helped him to another companion, 
Coventry Patmore, who as a member of the Third 
Order, went in 1894 to stay at Pantasaph. There Father 
Anselm, a bachelor of St. Francis, with the Lady 
Poverty first among his feminine acquaintance, could 
meet the greatest of English love-poets upon equal terms. 
It was to Fr. Anselm that Francis had lent Patmore's 
Religio Poetcs before trusting himself to review it, and it 
was by the same friar that he was helped to appreciate 
Patmore's trustworthiness as a witness to divine truths. 
By none save by a priest of the Church would the poet 
of the Church have been satisfied that he might lawfully 
accept, or attempt to accept, teaching that had once 
seemed to him inimical to orthodoxy. Religio Poetce, at 
first a stumbling-block, was to become the corner-stone of 
his later poetry. Two years before (in August 1892) he 
had said there were two points in C. P.'s teaching as to 
the nature of the union between God and man in this 
world and the next, and the definition of the constitu- 
tion of Heaven that he refused absolutely to accept. 
He went specially to Crawley in 1892 to consult Fr. 
Cuthbert on these points. And he had at first only 
unwillingly admitted Patmore's power over him. To a 
passage of St. John (chap, xxi.) he adds a note that reveals 
his mood : 

" Amen, Amen, I say to thee ; when thou wert 
younger, thou didst gird thyself, and didst walk where 
thou wouldst. But when thou shalt be old, thou shalt 
stretch forth thy hands and another shall gird thee, and 
lead thee where thou wouldst not." 

To this he adds : "Apply to spiritual maturity." 

The barriers down, they quickly recognised cause for 
intimacy. It was during Patmore's first visit that 
Francis made the discovery. He seems at first hardly 
to have known it. Writing of it to A. M. : 

" Dear Lady, I thank you for your kind letter, though 

189 



At Monastery Gates 

it observed an impenitent silence on the subject of your 
songs unsent. (That last phrase has a ring of the only 
Lewis.) x I have had a charming visit from Mr. Patmore. 
He bore himself towards me with a dignity and magna- 
nimity which are not of this age's stature. By the way, 
he repeated to me two or three short poems addressed 
to yourself. I hope there may be a series of such songs. 
You would then have a triple tiara indeed crowned by 
yourself, by me, and highest crowned by him." 

But afterwards in the more vivid light of memory, 
he said : 

"Though never a word on either side directly touched 
or explained the exceptional nature of the proposal, it 
was well understood between us by me no less than 
by him that it was no common or conventional friend- 
ship he asked of me. Not therefore has he sought out my 
Welsh hermitage ; and scalpelled the fibres of me." 

As a rule Francis found as much solitude among the 
Welsh mountains as in the desolation of the Harrow 
Road, but now Patmore walked with him. 

F. T. notes their common pleasure in the landscape, 
" particularly beautiful something to do with the light, 
Patmore thinks." To be in common light is even better 
preparation for the communion of poets than to be on 
common ground. Friar and seer between them enclosed 
him at evening in the monastic parlour. Patmore 
writes : 

" Francis Thompson and all the Fathers spent two hours last 
night in my room,, and we had excellent talk. Father Anselm, 
the Superior, and a profound contemplative, said he had never 
read anything so fine as the ' Precursor.' He and I had a long 
talk about nuptial love, and he went all lengths with me in honour 
of the marriage embrace. The Fathers help me to get through 
my cigarettes, of which I should like to have another consignment 
as soon as possible." 



1 An allusion to Lewis Morris's Songs Unsung. 

190 



Sanctity Essential Song 

And again: 

" I spend part of my day with Francis Thompson, who is a 
delightful companion,, full of the best talk." 

With the reading of Religio Poetce and the little book 
of St. Bernard translations, Francis discovers their 
author to be fl deeply perceptive of the Scriptures' sym- 
bolic meanings, scouted by moderns ; and his instant 
intuitional use of the symbolic imagery gives his work 
the quality of substantial poetry. In proportion to the 
height of their sanctity the Saints are inevitable poets. 
Sanctity is essential song. ;; These essays moved Francis 
to the rare point of letter-writing : 

"THE MONASTERY, PANTASAPH, June 15, '93. 

" DEAR SIR, The esoteric essays which I naturally 
turned to first could only have come from the writer of 
The Unknown Eros. One alone I have gracelessness 
not to dispute but to wish to extend. It is that on the 
1 Precursor,' where I quite admit the interpretation, but 
am inclined to stickle for an interpretation which would 
cover and include your own. Against one reprehensible 
habit of yours, however, revealed in this book, I feel 
forced to utter a protest. In a fragment of a projected 
article, which has remained a fragment, I had written 
of ' poets born with an instinctive sense of veritable 
correspondences hidden from the multitude.' Then I 
went on thus : ' In this, too, lies real distinction and 
fancy. Leigh Hunt, interpreting Coleridge as shallowly 
as Charmian interpreted the Soothsayer, said that fancy 
detected outward analogies, but imagination inward ones. 
The truth is that inward resemblance may be as super- 
ficial as outward resemblance ; and it is then the 
product of fancy, or fantasy. When the resemblance 
is more than a resemblance, when it is rooted in the 
hidden nature of things, its discernment is the product 
of imagination. This is the real distinction : fancy 
detects resemblances, imagination identities.' Now if 

191 



At Monastery Gates 

you will return to your own Religio Poetce, you will 
see of what I accuse you. Masters have privileges, I 
admit, but I draw the line at looking over their pupils' 
shoulders various odd leagues away. 

" To be serious ; your little book stands by a stream of 
current literature like Cleopatra's Needle by the dirt- 
eating Thames. 

" I fear, alas ! it will not receive the mysterious hiero- 
glyph of the British Artisan. I remain, yours sincerely, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

And a little later, of his own "Orient Ode" : 

"DEAR MR. PATMORE, I shall either send you with 
this, or later, a small poem of my own ; not for its 
literary merit, but because, without such a disclaimer, 
I fear you would think I had been the first to find your 

book *d d good to steal from.' As a matter of fact, 

it was written soon after Easter, and was suggested 
by passages in the liturgies of Holy Saturday, some 
of which at rather appalling length I have quoted 
at the head of its two parts. That was done for the 
sake of those who might cavil at its doctrines. Indeed 
with superfluous caution I intended much of it to be 
sealed ; but your book has mainly broken the seals I 
had put upon it. There is quite enough in it of yours, 
without the additional presumption that I had hastened 
to make immediate use of your last book. As far as 
others are concerned, it must rest under that imputation 
to which the frequent coincidence in the selection of 
symbolism as an example, the basing of a whole 
passage on the symbolic meaning of the West very 
naturally leads. To yourself such coincidence is ex- 
plicable, it will not be to ' outsiders.' Yours always, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

And later : 

"What I put forth as a bud he blew out and it 
blossomed. The contact of our ideas was dynamic ; 

192 



Egyptian Worship 

he reverberated my idea with such and so many echoes 
that it returned to me greater than I gave it forth. He 
opened it as you would open an oyster, or placed it 
under a microscope, and showed me what it contained." 

"CRECCAS COTTAGE, PANTASAPH, Tuesday. 

" DEAR MR. PATMORE, The poem, even if I am to take 
your high and valued praises quite literally, has a defect 
of which you must be conscious, though you have 
courteously refrained from noticing it. It echoes your 
own manner largely, in the metre, and even in some of 
the diction the latter a thing of which, I think, I have 
seldom before rendered myself guilty. 

" Now it is possible in rare cases e.g. Keats' 
' Hyperion ' for an echo to take on body enough to 
survive as literature. But even should my poem so 
survive it must rest under the drawback of being no 
more distinctive Thompson than f Hyperion ' is dis- 
tinctive Keats. 

"With regard to the other poem, I want to allude 
particularly to your invaluable correction of my misuse 
of the Western symbolism. On re-examination, the 
whole passage discloses a confusion of thought naturally 
causing a confusing of symbolism. My attention was 
called to the point about Egyptian worship by a footnote 
in Dr. Robert Clarke's ' Story of a Conversion,' in Merry 
England^ I at once perceived its symbolic significance, 

1 On this subject, and the derivation of portions of Ecclesiastes, he corre- 
sponded with Fr. Clarke. The contents of commonplace-books of a somewhat 
early period suggest a taste for many kindred themes. In one he has entered 
random "Varia on Magic," accounts of and comments on many heresies, 
suspicions of the Masons, and fears of a Divine Visitation upon the general 
wickedness in the shape of general war ; with these are important notes on 
Creation Myths, the Chaldean Genesis, the Egyptian Crocodile, the Kabbalist 
Doctrine of the Pre-existence of Souls ; some symbols connected with the 
Incarnation, the Lotus, the ritual of the funeral sacrifice, with transcriptions 
from the Book of Respirations, the Prayer to Amman A'a, &c. ; and The 
meaning of Easter, a cutting scored with his own excursions into the etymo- 
logy of the word from Ishtar, the Chaldtean goddess "And Ishtar I take 
to be Ashak Tar (or Tur) the Lady of the Light of the Way." But at the 
turn of a few pages he is found enlarging and correcting. Still nearer his 
real concern are the notes on varieties of the Cross symbol. 

193 N 



At Monastery Gates 

and asked myself how it came that we reckoned our 
points of the compass facing to the North. The only 
explanation I could surmise was that it was a relic of 
Set-worship among our Saxon ancestors. Do you mean 
that historically men have prayed in three distinct periods 

to W., E., and N. ? 

....... 

Always yours, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 
C. P. to F. T. : 

" LYMINGTON, HANTS, September 10, '95. 

" MY DEAR THOMPSON, I hope I have not kept your Poem 
too long. I have read it several times, and found it quite intel- 
ligible enough for song which is also prophecy. We are upon 
very much the same lines, but you, I think, are more advanced 
than I am. ' Dieu et ma Dame ' is the legend of both of us, but 
at present Ma Dame is too much for the balance, peace, and purity 
of my religion. There is too much of heart-ache in it. 

" I have ventured to affix a few notes of interrogation to unusual 
modes of expression. 

" I hear, from Mrs. Meynell, that Mr. Meynell is with you. 
Please remember me very kindly to him. Yours ever truly, 

COVENTRY PATMORE. 

" P.S. The world has worshipped turning to the West, to the 
East, and to the North. The ' New Eve ' is the South, and, when 
we turn thither, all things will be renewed, and God will ' turn our 
captivity as Rivers in the South,' and we shall know Him in 
the flesh ' from sea to sea.' 

He later explains that the "South" is the symbol of 
Divine Womanhood. The next letter from Patmore, 
dated a month later, is also of symbolism :- 

" I wish I could see and talk to you on the subject of the sym- 
bolism you speak of. The Bible and all the theologies are full of 
it, but it is too deep and significant to get itself uttered in writing. 
The Psalms especially are full of it. On the matter of the ' North ' 
note that verse : * Promotion cometh not from the South, nor the 
East, nor the West.' That is, it cometh from the North. The 
North seems always to signify the original Godhead, the ' Father ' 

194 



The North 

or the Devil. For the same symbol is used in the Bible and 
in the mythologies for either extreme. 1 ' Water/ for example,, 
is constantly used for the sensible nature in its extreme purity, as 
in the Blessed Virgin, or in its extreme corruption. This honouring 
of the ' North ' may very likely have been at the bottom of the 
seeking of the points of the compass from that quarter. 

" I hope, some day. to see and have speech with you on this 
and other matters. Meantime I will only hint that the North 
represents the simple Divine virility, the South the Divine woman- 
hood, 2 the East their synthesis in the Holy Spirit, and the 
West the pure natural womanhood ' full of grace.' I could give 
you no end of proofs, but it would take me months to collect 
them, from all I have read and forgotten." 

This spacious correspondence, on things that will not 
" get themselves uttered in writing," was, nevertheless, 
continued. F. T. writes : 

" You rather overlook the purport of my inquiry in 
regard to the symbolic question. I wanted to know if 
there had been any actual progressive development 
among the nations with regard to the quarters in which 
they worshipped as an historic fact, apart from symbolic 
meaning. But this is such a minor matter, and the 
concluding hint of your letter contains so much of value 
to me, that I am not sorry you misapprehended me. Of 
course I am quite aware that it is impossible to answer 
openly indeed impossible to ask openly deeper matters 
in a letter. But that is not requisite in my case. It is 
enough that my gaze should be set in the necessary 
direction ; the rest may be safely left to the practised 
fixity of my looking. Indicative longings such as you 

1 In a poem " The Schoolmaster for God," which P'rancis thought just not 
good enough to put into a volume, he represents Satan as scaling the walls 
of God's garth, stealing the seed, and giving it a clandestine growth, which 
grew to fruit that made men who ate it an-hungered for God. And in this 
poem Satan is named " that Robber from the Norlh." Again, in one of 
the "Ecclesiastical Ballads," the Veteran of Heaven declares, "The Prince 
I drave forth held the Mount of the North." 

2 See F. T.'s poem " The Newer Eve," or " After Woman," with whom the 
world should rise instead of fall. 

195 



At Monastery Gates 

employed in your letter, you may safely trust me to 
understand. With regard to what you say about the 
symbolism of the North, I had substantially discerned 
for myself. Indeed it formed part of a little essay already 
written. It will be none the worse for the corrobora- 
tion of your remarks ; there is always something in your 
way of stating even what is already to me a res visa, 
which adds sight to my seeing. The quotation from the 
Psalms is new and grateful to me. But I was aware of 
the thing to which it points. Shakespeare speaks of 
'The lordly monarch of the North' (I was confusing 
it with a passage in Comus), and Butler remarks 

Cardan believed great states depend 
Upon the tip o' the Bear's tail's end. 

" Set was given by the Egyptians the lordship of 
temporal powers ; and of course I am aware of the 
esoteric meaning of this and of Cardan's saying indeed 
this was what I intended by my observation that I 
surmised our Northern aspect in reckoning the compass 
to be a relic of Set-worship among our Teuton ancestors ; 
though of course I was aware that Set, by that name, 
was an Egyptian deity. 

" Also I am familiar with the principle and significance 
in this and mythological imagery generally. Indeed, 
without the knowledge of this principle both Scripture 
and the mythologies are full of baffling contradictions. 
When I began seriously to consider mythologies com- 
paratively, I cut myself with the broken reed on which 
all the ' scientific ' students fall back this significance 
belongs to an earlier, that to a later, development. But 
having eyes which ' scientific ' students have not, I soon 
saw that fact gave me the lie in all directions. And when 
I came to make a comprehensive study of the Hebrew 
prophets, with the Eastern mythologies in mind, I 
speedily discovered the systematic use of the dual 
significance, and the difficulty vanished." 

196 



Perfection beyond Hope 

From Coventry Patmore : 

' Thank you for your very interesting letter, which shows me 
how extraordinarily alike are our methods of and experience in 
contemplation. . . . 

' God bless and help you to bear your crown of thorns, 
and to prosper in the great, though possibly obscure, career He 
seems to have marked out for you ! My work, such as it is, is 
done, and I am now only waiting, somewhat impatiently, for death, 
and the fulfilment of the promises of God, which include all 
that we have ever desired here, in perfection beyond all hope. 
Yours, C. P." 



197 



CHAPTER X: MYSTICISM AND 
IMAGINATION 

I saw Eternity the other night, 

Like a great ring of pure and endless light. 

-VAUGHAN. 

I look to you to crush all this false mysticism. 

-C. P. to F. T. 

POEMS of " Sight and Insight," the first section of the 
new book, were to have been called " Mystical Poems." 
But the word mystical was, in the event, abandoned. 
As Catholic and thinker, he feared association with a 
label which means anything from mystification to " re- 
fined and luxurious indolence " Mr. Edward Thomas's 
phrase for Maeterlinck's tf Serres Chaudes." Unlike 
Thompson, the modern mystic shirks the rigid necessi- 
ties of mental deportment. Like the swimmer who 
discards half his nimble faculties with his tweeds and 
lies, without swiftness or horizon, beating the water 
with heels shaped for boots and the road, the modern 
mystic fancies himself a better man out of his element 
than in it. 

Even while the false mystic hopes to keep vacuity at 
arm's length, shadows press closely. His school is of 
shadows as the other of Light. Maeterlinck, on Mr. Arthur 
Symons's page of approval, is bidden take his place in 
the gloomy company. " He has realised how immeasur- 
able is the darkness out of which he has just stepped, 
and the darkness into which we are about to pass. And 
he has realised how the thought and sense of that two- 

198 



Morality to the N th Power 

fold darkness invades the little space of light, in which, 
for a moment, we move ; the depth in which they 
shadow our steps, even in that moment's partial escape." 
The difference is not of words only ; or if of words only, 
loose thinking or slack experience is abroad. The whole 
school of Catholic mystics insists, in opposition, upon 
the exterior radiance trailing clouds of glory as they 
come into a world that is in the shadow, whether of 
God's or of a sinister hand. 

Apart altogether from Maeterlinck's merits, his com- 
mentator's insistence illustrates the temper of the 
'nineties. It is mainly the artistic value of his mystic's 
sense of mystery that appeals to Mr. Symons. The 
void, like the sheet-iron which makes stage thunder, 
has specific uses ; chunks out of the abyss make his 
scenery ; for his most effective dialogue he borrows 
largely from silence. Did he fight his way into the 
midst of mystery ; did he cleave it with revelation, 
or morality, its artistic uses would be gone. Darkness 
is the stronghold of such interesting emotions as 
terror "fear shivers through these plays." "The 
mystic, let it be remembered, has nothing in common 
with the moralist," asserts Mr. Symons ; on the con- 
trary, Francis Thompson's nearest exponent used 
the definition, " Mysticism is morality carried to the 
n th power." 

Thompson's wariness about the word marks his 
respect for it. Joan, the hearer of voices, required a 
clear head when she stood her trial among the Theo- 
logians. Nor was the poet beguiled into the un- 
orthodox. Compared with Meredith's philosophy an 
illumination, it is true, but such illumination as candles 
give in his own draughty woods of Westermain 
Thompson's authority is steady as the sheltered lamp 
of the sanctuary. 

The mysticism that Thompson sought to avoid was 
obscuration, a thickening of the mental atmosphere by 

199 



Mysticism and Imagination 

stray gleams, like the thickening of the air in a dusty 
room into which a sun-ray slants obliquely. The mys- 
teries offer an excuse for confused thinking ; the men 
and women who discover the doctrine of unity are 
lost in the jungle of its simplicity. The name of God, 
and the titles of His attributes must set the generations 
groping somewhat blindly if they carry no lantern of 
authority, or if the names of God and His attributes 
are too often taken into the babelling languages of 
empirics, or too anxiously conned. 

tl It is easy for a man to know God if he does not 
force himself to define Him' ; is a saying that covers 
much of a poet's reticence. For Thompson religion 
was never confusion ; his mysteries blurred none of the 
common issues ; they were packed as carefully as 
another man's title deeds ; they were, he would have 
claimed, tied with red tape, cut from the cloth of the 
College of Cardinals. 

" He is," said Patmore, "of all men I have known 
most naturally a Catholic. My Catholicism was ac- 
quired, his inherent." 

Thompson carried his demand for clarity of thought 
and intention, if not always of diction, to great 
lengths :- 

" A little common-sense," he once wrote at a time of 
slight misunderstanding, tl is the best remedy and I at 
least mean to have it " a brave vaunt for a poet, but 
one which he made over and over again in regard to 
various aspects of the poetic character. "There is 
something wanting in genius when it does not show 
a clear and strong vein of common-sense. . . . Dante, 
indeed, is a perfect rebuke to those who suppose that 
mystical genius, at any rate, must be dissociated from 
common-sense. Every such poet should be able to give 
a clear and logical prose resume of his teaching, as 
terse as a page of scholastic philosophy." 

200 



A Recantation 

If portions of New Poems prove difficult and myste- 
rious, we must go to Patmore for the defence : " A sys- 
tematic philosopher, should he condescend to read the 
following notes (Rod, Root and Flower), will probably 
say, with a little girl of mine to whom I showed the stars 
for the first time, < How untidy the sky is ! ' 

Mysticism, as F T. knew it, " is morality carried to 
the n th power." Mysticism " rational mysticism' 
has been defined as "an endeavour to find God at first 
hand, experimentally, in the soul herself independently 
of all historical and philosophical presuppositions." 
But at the same time Von Hiigel condemns the 
mysticism that is self-sufficient ; the constitutional and 
traditional factors are essential to the Church. And 
the religion of the Church is not, firstly, an affair 
between the God and the man, but an affair between 
God and Man ; is not an affair of the heart, but an 
affair of Love ; not an affair of the brain, but of Mind. 

That " to the Poet life is full of visions, to the Mystic 
it is one vision " * was the double rule of Francis 
Thompson's practice. Having regarded the visions 
and set them down, he would, in another capacity, 
call them in. The Vision enfolded them all. Thus, 
not long after it was written, he cancels even the 
"Orient Ode," 2 and recants " his bright sciential idolatry," 
even though he had religiously adapted it to the 
greater glory of God before it was half confessed. 
" The Anthem of Earth " and the " Ode to the Setting 
Sun ' would also come under the censorship of his 
anxious orthodoxy, to be in part condemned. What 
profiteth it a man, he asks in effect, if he gain the 
whole sun but lose the true Orient Christ ? 



Mr. Albert Cock in the Dublin Review. 

2 The ending of the "Orient Ode" seems, in the frank exultation of its 
creed, to be unveiled and native pronouncement, as loud in its faith as the 
last line of Patmore's " Faint yet Pursuing," where he ends by "hearing the 
winds their Maker magnify." 

201 



Mysticism and Imagination 

He came, even to the point of silence in certain moods, 
to feel the futility of all writings save such as were ex- 
plicitly a confession of faith; and also of faithfulness 
to the institutional side of religion the Church and the 
organised means of grace. " The sanity of his mysticism," 
says one commentator, " is the great value to the present 
generation. A high individual experiencing of purga- 
tion, illumination, and union, a quiet constancy in the 
corporate life, and discipleship as well as leadership ; 
what combination more needed than this for our { un- 
courageous day ' ? ' 

The poet is a priest who has no menial and earthly 
service. He has no parish to reconcile with paradise, no 
spire that must reach heaven from suburban foundations. 
The priest puts his very hand to the task of uniting the 
rational and communal factors of religion with the 
mystical. The altar-rail is the sudden and meagre 
boundary line between two worlds ; he holds in his 
hand a Birmingham monstrance, and the monstrance 
holds the Host. He has no time to shake the dust of 
the street from his shoes before he treads the sanctuary. 
His symbolism is put to the wear and tear of daily use. 
As a middle-man in the commerce of souls, as the servant 
of the rational sides of the Church, tried by the forlorn 
circumstances of never-ceasing work, he may find him- 
self shut out from the more purely mystical regions of 
his communion. To correct or amplify his religious 
experience, there are the enclosed Orders, the contempla- 
tives of the Church. But to them, too, there must be 
complementary religious experience. They notch off 
the sum or score of the Church's experience, so that 
it may never be allowed to recede. It is left to the poet 
to prophesy or spy upon the increase of Wisdom and 
the multiplication of the Word. 

He, too, in so far as he writes, is circumscribed by the 
uses of the world. The priest's ministry in infinitudes 
is bounded by his parish ; the poet's by his language. 

202 



The Master-Key 

And if religion is rightly defined as something more than 
communion between the man and the Almighty, as being 
besides the communion between man and man, and the 
sum of Mankind and the Almighty, then the poet is the 
immediate servant of God and Man. 

Transfiguration is for Thompson the most familiar 
of mysteries. Good faith needs no Burning Bush. Or, 
rather, for the faithful every bush is alight. For 
this faithful poet the seasons were full of the promise 
of Resurrection. In spring he calls 

Hark to the Jubilate of the bird 

For them that found the dying way to life ! 

The rebirth of the earth after winter is the figure of 
the future life : 

Thou wak'st,, Earth, 

And work'st from change to change and birth to birth 

Creation old as hope, and new as sight. 

and 

All the springs are flash-lights of one Spring. 

In the same poem he is seen at his daily business, 
the routine work of co-ordinating and synthesising. 
Light the light of the sun is also 

Light to the sentient closeness of the breast, 
Light to the secret chambers of the brain ! 

Arguments that go from heaven downwards are the 
commonplaces of his poetry ; that he was ready to 
prove the sum of his wisdom from earth upwards is 
told in a passage of his prose : 

" If the Trinity were not revealed, I should neverthe- 
less be induced to suspect the existence of such a 
master-key by the trinities through which expounds 

itself the spirit of man. Such a trinity is the trinity 

203 



Mysticism and Imagination 

of beauty Poetry, Art, Music. Although its office is 
to create beauty I call it the trinity of beauty, because 
it is the property of earthly as of the heavenly beauty 
to create everything to its own image and likeness. 
Painting is the eye of Passion, Poetry is the voice of 
Passion, Music is the throbbing of her heart. For all 
beauty is passionate, though it be a passionless passion 
. . . Absolutely are these three the distinct manifesta- 
tions of a single essence." 

He had found another analogy in Pico della Miran- 
dola ; whom he thus renders : 

"'The universe consists of three worlds the earthly, 
the heavenly (the sun and stars), and the super-heavenly 
(the governing Divine influences). The same pheno- 
mena belong to each, but each have different grades 
of manifestation. Thus the physical element of fire 
exists in the earthly sphere ; the warmth of the sun in 
the heavenly ; and a seraphic, spiritual fire in the 
empyrean ; the first burns, the second quickens, the 
third loves.' Says Pico ' In addition to these three worlds 
(the macrocosm), there is a fourth (the microcosm) 
containing all embraced within them. This is Man, 
in whom are included a body formed of the elements, 
a heavenly spirit, reason, an angelic soul, and a re- 
semblance to God.' 

" There is one reason for human confusion w r hich is 
nearly always ignored. The world the universe is a 
fallen world. . . . That should be precisely the function 
of poetry to see and restore the Divine idea of things, 
freed from the disfiguring accidents of their Fall that 
is what the Ideal really is, or should be. . . . But of how 
many poets can this truly be said ? That gift also is 
among the countless gifts we waste and pervert ; and 
surely not the least heavy we must render is the account 
of its stewardship." 

204 



" Nature has no Heart " 

"To be the poet of the return to Nature," Thompson 
continues, "is somewhat; but I would be the poet of 
the return to God." He was the accuser of Nature. 
He did not say 

By Grace divine, 

Not otherwise, Oh Nature ! are we thine, 

but rather that by divine Grace Nature may be Man's, 
that he can go through it to his desire. Shut the gates 
of it and it is a cruel and obdurate abundance of clay, 
of earthworks. 

" Nature has no heart. . . . Did I go up to yonder 
hill," he writes, "and behold at my feet the spacious 
amphitheatre of hill-girt wood and mead, overhead the 
mighty aerial velarium, I should feel that my human sad- 
ness was a higher and deeper and wider thing than all." 
"The Hound of Heaven" is full of the inadequacy of 
Nature. She " speaks by silences " ; the sea is salt un- 
wittingly and unregretfully. F. T. quotes Coleridge, 
who, he says, speaks " not as Wordsworth had taught 
him to speak, but from his own bitter experience" : 

Lady, we receive but what we give, 
And in our life alone doth Nature live ; 

Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud ! 

* 

1 may not hope from outward forms to win 

The glory and the joy whose fountains are within. 

It is at this point that F. T. strides from his fellows. 
He is not content with others' praise or overblame 
of Nature. She is dumb and hopeless, a confusion to 
thought. She tangles Meredith's verse and leaves Shelley 
drowned in body, stifled among clouds. Thompson 
draws away from the Pantheist and the Pagan. Cole- 
ridge's words are true of Nature's relation to ourselves 
"not the truth with regard to Nature absolutely. Absolute 
Nature lives not in our life, nor yet is lifeless, but lives 

205 



Mysticism and Imagination 

in the life of God ; and in so far, and so far merely, 
as man himself lives in that life, does he come into 
sympathy with Nature, and Nature with him. She is 
God's daughter who stretches her hand only to her 
Father's friends. Not Shelley, not Wordsworth himself, 
ever drew so close to the heart of Nature as did the 
Seraph of Assisi, who was close to the Heart of God." 

There, again, the complete reasonableness and sincerity 
of his poetry is put to the test of his prose. It is as 
if another and most essential witness vouched for the 
wisdom of "The Hound of Heaven" a witness who, 
after focussing the different vision of a different art 
upon the same experience, swore to the same truth. He 
continues : 

"Yet higher, yet further let us go. Is this daughter 
of God mortal ? can her foot not pass the grave ? Is 
Nature, as men tell us, 

... a fold 
Of Heaven and earth across His Face, 

which we must rend to behold that Face ? Do our eyes 
indeed close for ever on the beauty of earth when 
they open on the beauty of Heaven ? I think not so ; 
I would fain beguile even death itself with a sweet 
fantasy. ... I believe that in Heaven is earth. Plato's 
doctrine of Ideals, as I conceive, laid its hand upon the 
very breast of truth, yet missed her breathing. For 
beauty such is my faith is beauty for eternity." 

The faith of " In Heaven is Earth " is but a tentative 
expression of his later gospel. At first he had been 
alarmed at the theory in the form in which it had 
reached him of the survival of earthly love in Heaven. 
He had not then read Patmore or Swedenborg. Even 
the tentative belief is timidly qualified : 

" Earthly beauty is but heavenly beauty taking to itself 
flesh. . . . Within the Spirit Who is Heaven lies 

206 



The Image-maker 



Earth ; for within Him rests the great conception of 
Creation . . . 

Yet there the soul shall enter which hath earned 
That privilege by virtue. . . . 

As one man is more able than his fellows to enter into 
another's mind, so in proportion as each of us by virtue 
has become kin to God, will he penetrate the Supreme 
Spirit, and identify himself with the Divine Ideals. 
There is the immortal Sicily, there the Elysian Fields, 
there all visions, all fairness engirdled with the Eternal 
Fair. This, my faith, is laid up in my bosom." 

His belief here lies close to Swedenborg, whose Con- 
jugial Love F. T. borrowed from my shelves with an 
eagerness evinced for no other book there. 

At every turn he is the devoted, intentest, faithfullest 
interpreter of the material world. All his "copy' 
awaited him in nature ; his translations from her 
tangible writings bear on every page the imprimatur of 
his faith. The generality of the revelation made to them 
did not spoil his appetite nor blur his surprising genius 
for detail. 

His couplings of the great and the small, not always 
so sweetly reasonable as that set between the flower 
and the star, sometimes need apology. The whole scale 
of comparisons is unexpected in the case of one who 
goes to the eating-house not only for his meals, but for 
his images ; who finds nothing outrageous in naming 
the Milky Way a beaten yolk of stars ; who takes the 
setting sun for a bee that stings the west to angry 
red ; and, when he would express the effect of an 
oppressive sunset upon Tom o' Bedlam's eye, who casts 
about in the lumber-room of memory which had been 
filled with oppressive images during nights endured 
in a common lodging-house. 

Even then he was only expressing, out of a set of 

207 



Mysticism and Imagination 

accidental impressions, the poet's unremitting desire 
to link up the sights and sensations of the universe. 
Drummond of Hawthornden's 

Night like a drunkard reels 
Beyond the hills 

may serve as a typical instance of such arbitrary simile. 
From the note-books I take these unpublished lines : 

Dost thou perceive no God within the frog ? 

poor, poor Soul ! 
Bristles and rankness only in the hog ? 

wretched dole ! 

No wry'd beneficence in the fever's germ ? 
Nor any Heaven shut within the worm ? 

Dost shudder daintily 
At words, in song, shaped so un-lovelily ? 

To school, to school ! 
For does it to thee seem 
That God in an ill dream 
Fashioned the twisted horrors of the standing pool ? 

Mr. Chesterton surmises the mountainous significance 
of minute things. In Tremendous Trifles, like the lover 
who writes an ode to his lady's eyebrow, or the professor 
who gives his life to the study of the capillary glands, 
he delights in disproportion. When Mr. Chesterton 
planned a volume of poems on the things in his pocket, 
but desisted because the volume would have bulked too 
large, he was only formulating, in a manner acceptable to 
the man who puts his hand in his pocket for a half- 
penny, the old " religio poetae." The things of the 
pocket constitute a pocket dictionary in more than two 
languages, a book of synonyms, a lexicon filled with cross 
references, all based upon the Word. The silly silver 
of men's purses is blessed, and every mortal thing 
assists in immortal liturgy. St. Charles was of one 
mind with those who sing the Magnificat of trifles. 
When asked how he would die, he answered : " Playing 

208 



Words and the Word 

cards, as I now do, if it should so chance." Whenever 
such an one dies he holds trumps. And like the priest, 
the poet touches mysteries with his very hand ; he makes 
daily communion. "To some," says Patmore, "there 
is revealed a sacrament greater than that of the Real 
Presence, a sacrament of the Manifest Presence, which 
is, and is more than, the sum of all the sacraments." 
And again we have Thompson's own 

In thee, Queen, man is saturate in God. 
The Psalmist is with him : 



(C 



If I climb up into heaven thou art there, if I go down into 
hell, thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning and 
remain in the uttermost parts of the sea ; even there also shall 
thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say 
peradventure the darkness shall cover me : then shall my night 
be turned into day ; the darkness and light to thee are both 
alike." 

Thompson's own 

. . . Nay, I affirm 
Nature is whole in her least things exprest 

is a splendid justification of the poet's dalliance with 
trifles. Vaughan confines Eternity in the scope of a 
night, a ring nay, a couplet : 

I saw Eternity the other night, 

Like a great ring of pure and endless light. 

In a couplet, or a letter, literature performs her 
miracles. Christina Rossetti told Katharine Tynan 
that she never stepped on a scrap of torn paper, but 
lifted it out of the mud lest perhaps it should have the 
Holy Name written or printed upon it. That is an 
attitude towards literature, towards words and the Word, 
not unlike Francis Thompson's. 

209 O 



Mysticism and Imagination 

In the "Orient Ode" he has addressed the sun : 

Not unto thee, great Image, not to thee 

Did the wise heathen bend an idle knee ; 

And in an age of faith grown frore 

If I too shall adore, 

Be it accounted unto me 

A bright sciential idolatry ! 

God has given thee visible thunders 

To utter thine apocalypse of wonders ; 

And what want I of prophecy, 

That at the sounding from thy station 

Of thy flagrant trumpet, see 

The seals that melt, the open revelation ? 

Or who a God-persuading angel needs, 

That only heeds 

The rhetoric of thy burning deeds ? 



Lo, of thy Magians I the least 
Haste with my gold, my incenses and myrrhs, 
To thy desired epiphany, from the spiced 
Regions and odorous of Song's traded East. 
Thou, for the life of all that live 
The victim daily born and sacrificed ; 
To whom the pinion of this longing verse 
Beats but with fire which first thyself did give, 
To thee, O Sun or is't perchance, to Christ ? 

Ay, if men say that on all high heaven's face 
The saintly signs I trace 

Which round my stoled altars hold their solemn place, 
Amen, amen ! For oh, how could it be, 
When I with winged feet had run 
Through all the windy earth about, 
Quested its secret of the sun, 
And heard what thing the stars together shout, 
I should not heed thereout 
Consenting counsel won : 
" By this, Singer, know we if thou see. 
When men shall say to thee : Lo ! Christ is here, 
When men shall say to thee : Lo ! Christ is there, 
Believe them : yea, and this then art thou seer, 
When all thy crying clear 

Is but : Lo here ! lo there ! ah me, lo everywhere ! " 

2IO 



" A Type Memorial 



_ l e iviemonai " 

Nature's shrines he had visited, but unavailingly : 



Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth. 
He cries to the sun : 

I know not what strange passion bows my head 
To thee, whose great command upon my veins 
Proves thee a god for me not dead, not dead ! 

He cries it to the sun, but only in the prelude to an ode 
that ends with the Cross. 
His songs of Nature are : 

Sweet with wild wings that pass, that pass away. 

All his wild things passed, that they might be garnered 
in heaven. The chase of the " Hound of Heaven" ends 
in a divine embrace ; like that ending is the ending of 
all his verse. 

Through the symbolism of the sun all things were 
brought into line. Likened to the Host, with sky for 
monstrance ; to the Christ, with the sombre line of the 
horizon for Rood ; to the Altar- Wafer, and signed with 
the Cross ; the Sun is to the Earth only what Christ is 
to the Soul : 

Thou to thy spousal universe 

Art Husband, she thy Wife and Church. 

Thompson offers his inspiration " ... to thee, O Sun, 
or is't perchance, to Christ ? " 1 

He would not have his harmonies mistaken for the 
repetition of " fair ancient flatteries." He takes the 
sun, at rising and at setting, as " a type memorial " 2 : 

Like Him thou hang'st in dreadful pomp of blood 
Upon thy Western rood ; 

1 "The sun is the type of Christ, giving life with its proper blood to the 
earth," is Mr. Edmund Gardner's concise statement of F. T.'s meaning. 

2 F. T. had a theory of the solar existence that did not stop short, with 
Science, at the measurement of gases and their density. " It has," Mr. Ghosh 
tells me he said, <l a life of its own, analogous to the life of the heart, periodic 
in its manifestations and ," but here Francis stopped. "To Western ears it 

211 



Mysticism and Imagination 

And His stained brow did vail like thine to-night, 

Yet lift once more Its light, 
And ; risen, again departed from our ball, 
But when It set on earth arose in Heaven. 

And in the After-Strain : 

Even so, O Cross ! thine is the victory. 

Thy roots are fast within our fairest fields ; 
Brightness may emanate in Heaven from thee, 

Here thy dread symbol only shadow yields. 

Of reaped joys thou art the heavy sheaf 
Which must be lifted, though the reaper groan ; 

Yea, we may cry till Heaven's great ear be deaf, 
But we must bear thee, amd must bear alone. 

Vain were a Simon ; of the Antipodes 

Our night not borrows the superfluous day. 

Yet woe to him that from his burden flees ! 
Crushed in the fall of what he cast away. 1 

He went farther : he made the sun the type of a church 
service : 

Lo, in the sanctuaried East, 

Day, a dedicated priest 

In all his robes pontifical exprest, 

Lifteth slowly, lifteth sweetly, 

From out its Orient tabernacle drawn, 

Yon orbed sacrament confest 

Which sprinkles benediction through the dawn ; 

And when the grave procession's ceased, 

will sound ridiculous," he said, and was silent. In vain Mr. Sarath Kumar 
Ghosh asserted his own Eastern aptitude for such speculation. Francis 
grimly repeated his excommunication, and Mr. Ghosh, conscious of a frock- 
coat and a great command of the English idiom, was half-convinced of its 

stness. 

1 Compare Donne's "No cross is so extreme, as to have none" a thought 
upon which many paradoxical couplets were turned in the seventeenth century. 
But Donne goes a little further than his fellows. He seems to have known 
that an image, bound up with its original, is more than a likeness : 

Let crosses so take what hid Christ in thee ; 
And be His image, or not His, but He. 

212 



The Cross 

The earth with due illustrious rite 

Blessed,, ere the frail fingers featly 

Of twilight, violet-cassocked acolyte 

His sacerdotal stoles unvest 

Sets, for high close of the mysterious feast, 

The sun in august exposition meetly 

Within the flaming monstrance of the West. 

salutaris hostia, 

Quce coeli pandis ostium ! 

The Cross spread its arms across his world. It was 
never heavier on his shoulder than when he copied 
out Donne's lines : 

Who can deny me power and liberty 
To stretch mine arms and mine own cross to be ? 
Swim, and at every stroke thou art thy cross : 
The mast and yard make one where seas do toss. 
Look down, thou spiest our crosses in small things, 
Look up, thou seest birds raised on crossed wings. 

Donne had encouraged him in his own early search 
for its symbols. In a prayer to the Blessed Virgin 
Thompson speaks of the general crucifixion of man : 

thou, who standest as thou hast ever stood 
Beside the Cross, whenas it shall be said 

" It is consummated," 
Receive us, taken from the World's rough wood ! 

But Donne's image is the more immediate ; and the 
" Veneration of Images," of a living poet, in which man 
is addressed as 

Thou Rood of every day 

confirms both their guesses. 

In his sunset Thompson found a symbol of the 
Crucifixion ; in Paganism his Calvary, and in Christianity 

an endless elaboration of Christ, so that he turns and 

213 



Mysticism and Imagination 

wonders at himself for standing at all in the mirk of 
ordinary daylight : 

And though the cry of stars 

Give tongue before His way 

Goldenly, as I say, 

And each, from wide Saturnus to hot Mars, 

He calleth by its name, 

Lest that its bright feet stray ; 

And thou have lore of all, 

But to thine own Sun's call 

Thy path disorbed hath never wit to tame : 

It profits not withal, 

And my rede is but lame. 

He regards his poetry, the poetry of unrevealed 
religion, of inquiry, and of hasty worship, even as he 
writes it, with some disfavour. But the prophetical 
portion of New Poems shows a new assurance 

I have my music bent 

To waste on bootless things its skiey-gendered rain : 

Yet shall a wiser day 

Fulfil more heavenly way, 

And with approved music clear this slip, 

I trust in God most sweet. 

Meantime the silent lip, 

Meantime the climbing feet. 

He saw only one possible ending to all modes of 
poetry, that " multitudinous-single thing " :- 

Loud the descant, and low the theme, 

(A million songs are as song of one] 
And the dream of the world is dream in dream, 
But the one Is is, or nought could seem ; 

And the song runs round to the song begun. 

This is the song the stars sing, 

( Toned all in time) 
Tintinnabulous, tuned to ring 
A multitudinous-single thing 

(Rung all in rhyme]. 

214 



The Unit and the Sum 

In " Form and Formalism ' Thompson says : 

" No common aim can triumph, till it is crystallized in 
an individual. Man himself must become incarnate in a 
man before his cause can triumph. Thus the universal 
Word became the individual Christ; that total God and 
total man being particularised in a single symbol, the 
cause of God and man might triumph. In Christ, 
therefore, centres and is solved that supreme problem 
of life the marriage of the Unit with the Sum. In 
Him is perfectly shown forth the All for one, and One 
for all, which is the justificatory essence of that sub- 
stance we call Kingship. . . . When the new heavens 
and the new earth, which multitudinous Titans are so 
restlessly forging, at length stand visible to resting 
man, it needs no prophecy to foretell that they will 
be like the old, with head, and form, and hierarchic 
memberment, as the six-foot bracken is like the bracken 
at your knee. For out of all its disintegrations and con- 
fusion earth emerges, like a strong though buffeted 
swimmer, nearer to the unseen model and term of all 
social growth; which is the civil constitution of angeldom, 
and the Uranian statecraft of imperatorial God." 



" Ritual is poetry addressed to the eye," he notes. 
The corollary of which supports his belief that poetry 
was an affair of ritual or images. 

Imagination is the sense or science that discovers 
identities and correspondences, while fancy takes a 
lower place because, said Thompson, it discovers only 
likenesses. Imagination discerns similarity rooted or 
enslded ; it is the origin of the symbolism that may 
be traced back to the heart of the truths and mysteries 
to which it supplies the outward shows. Imagina- 
tion is the spring ; Symbolism is here the manifes- 

215 



Mysticism and Imagination 

tation of Imagination, is the identity-bearer, partaking 
of the very essence of the Divinity. The Symbols of 
Divinity are Divine ; flesh is the Word made flesh ; the 
Eucharist is the true Presence ; and Christ is Himself 
the Way to Christ. Thompson's poetry and theology 
abode by the Image ; it was no necessity of their nature 
to penetrate beyond the barriers of expression and 
revelation. The go-betweens of others were his essentials. 
Holding so grave an estimate of the functions of the 
imagination, he found in poetry the highest human 
scope and motive. 

Another writer has said 

" Imagination is as the water that reflects clouds out of sight ; 
or so near the sun that they may not be viewed save in the darken- 
ing mirror." 

And images enlarge and qualify ; they create, too, in 
so far as they bear and nourish thoughts that can only 
be expressed through them. They belong, F. T. main- 
tained, to the highest poetry, the poetry of revelation 
and the intellect. In this idea he was confirmed ; for 
its sake he surmounted the opposition of the thinker in 
poetry to whom he was most dutiful in admiration. 
"It is false/' he declared with his whole heart, "that 
highest or supremest poetry is stripped of figure. 
Purely emotional poetry at its height is bare of imagery, 
not poetry of supremest flight. . . . Supreme emotion is 
not supreme poetry." And yet just in its own measure 
is the estimate he contested. It is set forth by A. M. in 
the Nation, 23 Nov., 1907 : 

' Imagery is not,, it may be held, the last,, or inmost, word of 
poetry. There is a simplicity on the yonder side. The simplicity 
of the hither side may be natural and pleasing enough, though it 
may also be ' natural ' as is the village fool. But the simplicity of 
the further poetry is a plainness within those splendid outer courts 
of approach where imagery celebrates ritual and ceremony. A 

216 



At the Junction-lines 

few poems abide in that further place a further place, did we call 
it ? It is far, indeed, from the access of the suitor, but closest of 
all things to the warm breast of the very Nurse. Francis Thomp- 
son dealt almost altogether in imagery ; and it is because of this 
that his less sympathetic readers accuse him of a lack of simplicity. 
And he himself, in a manuscript note, says : ' Imagery is so 
far from being " all fancy " (which is what people mean by say- 
ing it is " all imagination ") that the deepest truths even in the 
natural or physical order are often adumbrated only by images 
familiar, and yet conceived to be purely fanciful analogies. . . .' 
No ' lack ' was among his faults. Where he might be charged 
or questioned was in his commission, not in his omission his com- 
mission of the splendid fault of excess. How many poets might 
be furnished, not from the abundance, but from the overabundance, 
of his imagery, and the prunings and the chastenings of his ' fancy.' 
The spoils of such a correction as would have made a few of his 
odes more ' classical ' might have been gathered up, a golden arm- 
ful, by poets who need have stooped for nothing else, twelve 
basketsful of fragments, after the feeding of a chosen multitude." 

One is for the idea, the other for vision ; one for the 
word, the other for its conception. 

li He stood at the very junction-lines of the visible and 
invisible, and could shift the points as he willed," said 
F. T. of Shelley. And the lever was imagery ; the 
signals were images ; the sleepers were images all the 
machinery that made and marked the way. It binds 
the universe ; it expresses " the underlying analogies, the 
secret subterranean passages, between matter and soul ; 
the chromatic scales, whereat we dimly guess, by which the 
Almighty modulates through all the keys of creation." 

That modulation through time, also, Thompson traces 
in the transition from antiquity to the future, from 
Paganism to Christianity, from the Old Law to the 

New : 

On Ararat there grew a vine ; 
When Asia from her bathing rose, 
Our first sailor made a twine 
217 



Mysticism and Imagination 

Thereof for his prefiguring brows. 
Canst divine 
Where, upon our dusty earth,, of that vine a cluster grows ? 

On Golgotha there grew a thorn 
Round the long-prefigured Brows. 
Mourn, mourn ! 
For the vine have we the spine ? Is this all the Heaven allows ? 

On Calvary was shook a spear ; 
Press the point into thy heart 
Joy and fear ! 
All the spines upon the thorn into curling tendrils start. 

He had intended to show in an essay that symbolism 
is no arbitrary convention. He bids himself expound 
its elements by leading examples, and, had he done so, 
we should have known more of the geography of that 
region where symbols and their principles are merged. 
"All things linked are " ; the daisy is the signature of the 
star ; for the poet all terrestrial minutiae were signed, nay, 
scribbled all over with reference marks and sealed with 
the likeness of larger things. From an old commen- 
tator on St. Thomas Aquinas, F. T. copied : 

" The angelic intellect contains the things which 
belong to universal nature, and those also which are 
the principles of individuation, knowing by science 
divinely infused, not only what belongs to universal 
nature, but also individualities of things, inasmuch as 
these all form multiplied representation of the one 
Simple Essence of God." 

The ancient school of Herbalists believed that natural 
remedies were stamped with the likeness of the parts to 
which they would bring healing, as walnuts, which, 
because they "have the perfect signature of the head, 
are profitable to the brain." Poisons show something 
like contrition by taking to themselves colours and odours 
plainly evil ; vipers, as proper scholars of the alphabet, 
wear V for venom on their heads. The Herbalists took 

218 



Blake's Definitions 

the narrowing road, from vision down to practice. They 
pounded their discoveries to powder with the bald-head 
pestle of literalness. The mortar of the herbalist is the 
chalice of the poet. It is the difference again between 
illusion and imagination, or, as Blake figured them, 
between Adam and Christ. 

Blake's conception of the identity of and corre- 
spondence between the Complete or Divine Mind and 
Humanity led him to further definitions which are of 
weight in general consideration of the poetry of imagi- 
nation. Our world, he held, was a contraction of our 
mind from the mind of God of which it is a part. To 
illusion the perception and acceptance of the erroneous 
deductions of the contracted personality, or Adam he 
gave the name Satan. Besides Perception (here I have 
recourse verbatim to Mr. Edwin J. Ellis's invaluable 
disquisition) : 

" Besides perception, always tempting us to error, by leading 
through narrow to mistaken personality, there is ' imagination/ 
always inviting us to truth. For this Blake took the name of 
Saviour, or Humanity free from Adam's narrowness and Satan's 
falseness." 

Of the more purely literary aspect of imagery Thomp- 
son has written : 

" How beautiful a thing the frank toying with imagery 
may be, let 'The Skylark' and 'The Cloud' witness. It 
is only evil when the poet, on the straight way to a fixed 
object, lags continually from the path to play. This is 
commendable neither in poet nor errand-boy." 

And again : 

"To sport with the tangles of Neaera's hair may be 
trivial idleness or caressing tenderness, exactly as your 
relation to Neaera is that of heartless gallantry or love. 
So you may toy with imagery in mere intellectual 
ingenuity, and then you might as well go write acrostics ; 

219 



Mysticism and Imagination 

or you may toy with it in raptures, and then you may 
write a l Sensitive Plant.' 

In all the poetry belonging to the period of "The 
Mistress of Vision ' Patmore is the master of vision. 
He leads the way to "deific peaks' and "conquered 
skies," the Virgil of a younger Dante. 

Their thoughts chimed to the same stroke of metre 
and rhyme ; * for each of the mystical poems may be 
found suggestions in Patmore. For the " Dread of 
Height " we find among " Aurea Dicta " the following : 

" ' Searchers of Majesty shall be overwhelmed with the glory.' 
Blissfully overwhelmed ; ruined for this world, yet even in this 
enriched beyond thought ; happy searchers, consumed by the 
thunder of divine instructions and the lightning of divine per- 
ceptions, but surviving as new creatures in the very flesh of the 
destroyer." 

And again : 

" The spirit of man is like a kite, which rises by means of those 
very forces which seem to oppose its rise ; the tie that joins it 
to the earth, the opposing winds of temptation, and the weight of 
earth-born affections which it carries with it into the sky." 

Patmore's " Hate pleasure, if only because this is the 
only means of obtaining it ' is the root paradox of 
the many found in the lines beginning " Lose, that the 
lost thou may'st receive," and the rest. 

But go through the whole of the two poets, and 
even while recognising the twin enterprises of imagi- 
nation you will end in the enjoyment of their dis- 
similarity. Patmore has quoted St. Paul " Let each 
man abound in his own sense," and has said himself : 

" When once he has got into the region of perception, let him 
take care that his vision is his own, and not fancy he can profit 
himself or others much by trying to appropriate their peculiar 
variations of the common theme." 

1 " The metre in my present volume," wrote the author in a suppressed 
preface to New Poems, "is completely based on the principles which Mr. 
Patmore may be said virtually to have discovered." 

220 



To Each his Vision 

Patmore may have given Thompson a metre and a 
score of thoughts, but above everything else he gave 
him the freedom of his imagination. Having led him 
to a point of vantage, he looked in the same direc- 
tion, but the revelation varied as the view varies to 
two men who walk along a road towards the same 
sunset. They are a few paces apart ; to one an in- 
tervening tree may be black and sombre, to the other 
streaked with fire. The height they reached may have 
been the same, but the dread of height was to each a 
thing of his own. 

From Patmore, August 1895 : 

" I see, with joy, how nearly we are upon the same lines, but 
our visions could not be true were they quite the same ; and no 
one can really see anything but his own vision." 

Again, in November of the same year : 

" It is always a great thing to me to receive a letter from you. 
My heart goes forth to you as it goes to no other man ; for are we 
not singularly visited by a great common delight and a great 
common sorrow ? Is not this to be one in Christ ? ' 

Later : 
" You dissipate my solitude and melancholy as no other, but 



one, can.' 



Again from Patmore : 

" In the manner of your verse you are gaining in simplicity, 
which is a great thing. But I will speak more of that bye-and-bye. 
In the matter, I think you outstrip me. I am too concrete and 
intelligible. I fear greatly lest what I have written may not do 
more harm than good, by exposing Divine realities to profane 
comprehensions, and by inflaming ' popular esotericism.' : 

" The Mistress of Vision ' is described by F. T. as 
" a phantasy with no more than an illusive tinge of 
psychic significance." It is a masque in which he and 
his Muse observe the formalities of dialogue, but before 

221 



Mysticism and Imagination 

the poem is finished the truth is out ; as when, dawn 
breaking upon dancing lovers, their steps cease, and 
for a moment their embrace is real. So in the poem : 
the phantasy is not maintained; the masque is up. 
Christ, before one is aware, is treading the land of 
Luthany, is walking on the waters. Following, in care- 
fully considered sequence, is " Contemplation," and, 
afterward, the true fruits of The Unknown Eros. " I 
felt my instrument yet too imperfect to profane by 
it the highest ranges of mysticism," he had said, and, 
in "The Mistress of Vision," "The Dread of Height," 
and particularly in "The Orient Ode," something is 
withheld. As the rood-screen shields the altar, lan- 
guage screens revelation. 

Although the spirit of reservation in the literature of 
religious experience has apology in the saying that they 
who know God best do not seek to define Him, that 
is not the leading argument for reticence. Patmore 
said that in such matters the part is greater than the 
whole, and in any case 

" No great art, no really effective ethical teaching can come 
from any but such as know immeasurably more than they will 
attempt to communicate." 

And, beyond that, they recognised truths " which it 
is not lawful to utter," but knew that the poet may 
express them in ways that shade them to the eye, or 
make them invisible as the too-bright disc of the sun. 
Sufficient rays may pass through cloudy speech to 
diffuse life-sufficing warmth. " See that thou tell no 
man" is an injunction of which the poets keep the letter 
but break the spirit. 

"Not only among the Hebrews," writes F.T. in a review 
of a paper on St. Clement, " but among the Egyptians 
and Greeks, prophecies and oracles were delivered 
under enigmas. The Egyptian hieroglyphics, the apo- 

222 



Reservation 

thegms of the wise men of Greece, are instances of the 
practice of throwing a kind of veil around important 
truths in order that the curiosity of men may be aroused 
and their diligence stimulated. All who treated of 
divine things, whether Greeks or Barbarians, concealed 
the principles. . . . Whatever has a veil of mystery 
thrown around it, causes the truth to appear more 
grand and awful." 

St. Clement speaks of an unwritten tradition of 
blessed doctrine, handed down from SS. Peter, James, 
John, and Paul. St. Clement's own account of these 
sacred doctrines is, he himself says, incomplete ; some 
he has forgotten, others he would be unwilling to allude 
to even in speech, much more unwilling in writing, 
lest they who met them should pervert them to their 
own injury, and he should thus be placing, according 
to the proverb, a sword in the hand of a child. 

We may suspect Patmore and Thompson of this 
mystical knowledge, since they exercised St. Clement's 
caution. So does the Eastern teacher of the day ; and 
all of these conform in not being thinkers of the 
scientific or material order. The Socratic definition 
of the true philosopher " who in his meditations neither 
employs his sight nor any of his senses, but a pure 
understanding alone," must, with Blake's "Cultivate 
imagination to the point of vision," be printed on page i 
of the first First Reader in mysticism. 

Thompson dwells also on St. Paul's unspoken message, 
which, designated by the name of wisdom, he withheld 
from many of the Corinthians because they were not 
fit to hear it. He communicated it to the spiritual not 
to the animal man. Origen says that that which St. 
Paul would have called wisdom is found in the " Canticle 
of Canticles." Thompson dwells further on the hidden 
meanings of the Pentateuch, believing that there was 

"an inexhaustible treasure of divine wisdom concealed 

223 



Mysticism and Imagination 

under the letter of Holy Writ/' Thompson saw wise 
men whispering, and guessed that there were secrets ; 
their presence discovered, they were open secrets for 
such as he. " You have but to direct my sight, and the 
intentness of my gaze will discover the rest." Of the 
poet who is religious it may be said : "There hath drawn 
near a man to a deep heart, that is, a secret heart." 
Look not at a star if you wish to see it : avert your 
gaze and it is clearer to you. So with the rockets and 
flashes of revelation. The Mass has secrets, and so have 
children. It must be remembered that the greater part 
of F. T.'s seeming reservations are only such as exist be- 
tween the Church and the outer world. For instance : 

"The personal embrace between Creator and creature 
is so solely the secret and note of Catholicism, that 
its language to the outer sects is unintelligible the 
strange bruit of inapprehensible myth." 

During walks at Pantasaph and Lymington, Thompson 
penetrated on the one hand to places where thought 
is singed and scorched, on the other to healing regions 
of light ; at one time deep in melancholy, at another 
buoyantly content. A. M. observed that during certain 
drives with Coventry Patmore he would sit looking at 
the floor of the carriage with the harrowing expression 
that one gathers from Rossetti's " Wood Spurge." 

Imagination is onerous. Christina Rossetti points to 
more than a problem in artistry when she writes : 

" At first sight and apparently the easiest of all conceptions 
to realise, I yet suppose that there may, in the long run, be no 
conception more difficult for ourselves to clench and retain than 
this of absolute Unity ; this oneness at all times, in all connexions, 
for all purposes." 

But once grasped it may never be relinquished. And it 
is a commonplace of the mystics that contemplation is 
painful. St. John of the Cross's warning of the deso- 

224 



" Life is an Inkermann" 

lation that follows the dwelling in the neutral land 
between the temporal and the spiritual is one of many. 

There is no escape. Conscience is another name for 
consciousness. " If men understood clearly they would 
sin at every step, wherefore they understand grossly, that 
sin may not be imputed to them," wrote F. T., half 
protesting against the disabilities of clear understanding. 
And again : 

" Life is an Inkermann, fought in the mist. If men 
saw clearly, they would despair to fight. Wherefore the 
Almighty opens the eyes only of those whom He has led 
by special ways of gradual inurement and preparation." 

The futility of Francis's conversational repetition was 
a by-word ; but when he said a thing twice in verse or 
prose it probably mattered more than most other things. 
"The Dread of Height " states the burden of knowledge, 
and John ix. 41., quoted as the poem's motto, is made to 
enforce it too : " If ye were blind ye should have no 
sin ; but now ye say We see, your sin remaineth." 
What John said (in ix. 41, or elsewhere) he would gener- 
ally have thought sufficiently said. But in this matter he 
repeats John, and then more than once repeats himself. 

A man does not, because he is as conscious of his 
God as were the disciples who really had Him on the 
road to Emmaus, find the road an easy one. Bunyan 
holds good ; the better way is the roughest. The more 
excellent landscape is that which is seen against the 
sun. But it is rigid in its splendours ; every cock of 
hay, every clod, is a shadow. Is the ear that hears ll the 
winds their Maker magnify ' happier than that which 
can note only rattling of windows and the cracking of 
boughs ? During sound perhaps, not certainly during 
pauses in sound : 

" I never found any so religious and devout, that he 
had not sometimes a withdrawing of grace. There was 
never Saint so highly rapt and illuminated, who before 

225 P 



Mysticism and Imagination 

or after was not tempted. For he is not worthy of the 
high contemplation of God who has not been troubled 
with some tribulations for God's sake." 

The commonplaces of the Imitation are sound sense. 
"Thou visitest him early in the morning; and suddenly 
Thou provest him." 

I do think my tread, 

Stirring the blossom in the meadow-grass, 

Flickers the un withering stars. 

Such treading may be better than the asphalt of every 
day, but it is not easy going. 

Of futurity he wrote in a letter to A. M. : 

" You must know this thing of me already, having 
read those Manning verses, which I do not like to read 
again. You know that I believe in eternal punishment : 
you know that when my dark hour is on me, this 
individual terror is the most monstrous of all that haunt 
me. But it is individual. For others even if the 
darker view were true, the fewness is relative to the 
total mass of mankind, not absolute ; while I myself 
refuse to found upon so doubtful a thing as a few 
scattered texts a tremendous prejudgment which has 
behind it no consentaneous voice of the Church. And I 
do firmly believe that none are lost who have not wil- 
fully closed their eyes to the known light : that such as 
fall with constant striving, battling with their tempera- 
ment, or through ill-training circumstance which shuts 
them from true light, &c. ; that all these shall taste of 
God's justice, which for them is better than man's mercy. 
But if you would see the present state of my convictions 
on the subject turn to the new Epilogue of my 'Judge- 
ment in Heaven ' (you will find it in the wooden box)." 

His correspondent has written : 

" As a thinker, Francis Thompson is profoundly meditative, 
and, if pessimistic, then pessimistic with submission and fear, not 

226 



The Heart of Woman 

with revolt. His thought must not be called gloomy, even when 
it is dark as night, for in the darkness there is a sense of open and 
heavenly air." 

The most natural thing in the world (although at first 
he did not see it, having been a seminarist, a person 
not always apt to be in the secret) was that the singer of 
the Church the Church that defined the Immaculate 
Conception should be a poet of woman-kind one of 
the Marians. Seminary training did not prepare him for 
a world of women. A note on the Marriage of Cana, 
which proves, he avers, that " much wine is needed 
before a man may go through with matrimony/' is 
characteristic of his schooling. In humour the school- 
ing lasted when all else had been outlived. His unpub- 
lished comedy " Man Proposes, Woman Disposes " is full 
of ready-made gibes, and his " Dress," printed in the Daily 
Mail, is threadbare comic verse on a subject he treated 
reverently enough when there was no joke to crack. 
It is still, perhaps, as the seminarist that he notes : " In 
Burmah the monks complain that women are natively 
incapable of any true understanding of religion." But 
it is a later Thompson who adds the comment : " The 
heart of woman is the citadel, the ultimum refugium of 
true religiosity." Genesis gives him the heading for 
several pages of a note-book devoted to such subjects : 
" I will put enmity between thee and the woman." 

Rod, Root, and Flower set him to work in the same 
nursery-garden. His note-books reflect Patmore's aphor- 
istic habit. He himself defended or denied the u frag- 
mentary " nature of Patmore's book. " It might as well 
be said that the heavens are fragmentary, because the 
stars are not linked by golden chains. You are given the 
stars the central and illuminative suggestions ; you are 
left to work out for yourself, by meditations, the system 
of which they are the nodal points." This, it will be 
seen, is his rewriting of Patmore's own comment on the 
book, quoted at p. 201. 

227 



Mysticism and Imagination 

I can do no more than bring together his scattered 
notes on Woman. He himself could hardly have fitted 
them into any satisfactory sequence. 

In a note-book I find : 

" The function of natural love is to create a craving 
which it cannot satisfy. And then only has its water 
been tasted in perfect purity, if it awakens an insatiate 
thirst of wine." 

His hope is made known in his poetry : 

The Woman I behold, whose vision seek 

All eyes and know not ; t'ward whom climb 

The steps of the world, and beats all wing of rhyme. 

And his prose : 

" When the federation of the world comes (as come I 
believe it will) it can only be federation in both govern- 
ment and religion of plenary and ordered dominance. 
I see only two religions constant enough to effect this : 
each based upon the past which is stability ; each 
growing according to an interior law which is strength. 
Paganism and Christianism ; the religion of the Queen 
of Heaven who is Astarte, and of the Queen of Heaven 
who is Mary." (Note by F. T. : " ' We offer sacrifice to 
the Queen of Heaven ' ' (Jer. xliv. 19). 

Once he turns the subject with a stock phrase of 
playfulness 

Daughter of the ancient Eve, 

We know the gifts ye gave and give. 

Who knows the gifts which you shall give, 

Daughter of the newer Eve ? 

You, if my soul be augur, you 

Shall what shall you not, Sweet, do ? 

But before he is through with the poem he is led to 

228 



" A Narrow Vessel " 

greater explicitness, and, finally, to the solemn manner of 
concealment 

When to love you is (0 Christ's spouse !) 

To love the beauty of His house ; 

Then come the Isaian days ; the old 

Shall dream ; and our young men behold 

Vision yea, the vision of Thabor-mount, 

Which none to other shall recount, 

Because in all men's hearts shall be 

The seeing and the prophecy. 

For ended is the Mystery Play, 

When Christ is life, and you the way ; 

When Egypt's spoils are Israel's right, 

And Day fulfils the married arms of Night. 

But here my lips are still. 

Until 

You and the hour shall be revealed, 

This song is sung and sung not, and its words are sealed. 

In thee, Queen, man is saturate with God. 

Blest period 

To God's redeeming sentence. So in thee 
Mercy at length is uttered utterly. 

In human passion, as in sun-worship, he relates every- 
thing to the Deity. It is within forbidden degrees if it 
cannot be referred back to Divine Love. His series " A 
Narrow Vessel," he describes as "being a little dramatic 
sequence on the aspect of primitive girl-nature towards 
a love beyond its capacities." Opening with a "rape of 
the lock," the whole breadth of the centuries and of the 
human mind apart from Pope's, the girl bemoans the 
gift of her hair : 

My lock the enforced steel did grate 

To cut ; its root-thrills came 
Down to my bosom. It might sate 

His lust for my poor shame. 

Here is unwonted attention to the minutiae of sensa- 
tion ; and the third poem of the second series is the one 

229 



Mysticism and Imagination 

that comes nearest in all Thompson's work to the many 
love poems of the many modern poetry-books. The like- 
ness is startling. It is the only poem of his which the 
illustrators of " Tennyson " of 1857 would have relished 
to put upon wood. The girl was an actual girl named 
Maggie Bryan, of the Welsh village ; his photograph 
was long kept in her narrow room, and her grave, made 
in the October following the poet's death, is near the 
scene of that love-making that was so incongruous and 
timid that it had little real existence in word or look. 
" Love Declared/' the poem that sinks to the commoner 
level of love-poetry, is fiction and reads like it ; the rest 
reality only a little more than the reality. 

But Thompson did not leave it at reality. No sooner 
has an unwary reader, who, on other pages, had been 
clutching at his poet, made sure, on this one, of his man 
than the creature of bone and muscle slips from him. 
The sequence, it is confessed in the last poem, is written 
solely in the interests of allegory. Here for once is 
actuality, one had said ; but only to learn that no actua- 
lity bulks so large for the poet himself as the actuality 
of religious speculation. His own Pantasaph drama, a 
thing that passed in the high-street, hemmed in by 
cottages, noted by gossipers, with strong hill winds 
blowing in the faces of the actors, was most personal to 
the hero for its allegorical meaning 

" How many," he asks, " have grasped the significance 
of my sequence, A Narrow Vessel? Critics either over- 
looked it altogether or adverted to it as trivial and discon- 
nected. One, who prized it, and wished I had always 
written as humanly, grieved that the epilogue turned it 
into an unreal allegory. He could not understand that 
all human love was to me a symbol of divine love ; nay, 
that human love was in my eyes a piteous failure unless 
as an image of the supreme Love which gave meaning 

and reality to its seeming insanity. The lesson of that 

230 



The Girl and the Allegory 

sequence is just this. Woman repels the great and pure 
love of man in proportion to its purity. This is due to 
an instinct which she lacks the habits and power to 
analyse, that the love of the pure and lofty lover is so 
deep, so vast in its withheld emotion, as her entire self 
would be unable to pay back. Though she cast her 
whole self down that eager gulf, it would disappear as 
a water-drop in the ocean. And though the lover ask 
no more than her little tremulous self may think fit 
to give, she feels that so vast a love claims of right and 
equity her total surrender. Though the lover be gener- 
ously unexacting, that wonderful gift, she feels, exacts 
no less than all, and then she cannot with her entire 
potency and abandonment of love adequate the hungry 
immensity poured around it. So, with instinctive fear, 
she recoils from a love which her all cannot equal. 
Though the lover asks no more than she ; please to give, 
his love asks her very being, demands a continual upward 
strain. The narrow vessel dreads to crack under the 
overflowing love which surges into it. She shrinks with 
tremor ; she turns to the lover whose shallow love has 
nought to frighten her ; she can halt where she pleases, 
far short of total surrender. It is an easy beginning, 
which seems to involve so little and involves how much ! 
For she does not understand that once she begins to 
love, her nature will not rest short of supreme surrender 
(I assume an average nature capable of love), and that 
she will end by wasting her whole self on this thin soil, 
which will reject and anticipate it (while) she recoiled 
with dislike and fear from the great love which would 
have absorbed and repaid it an hundred-fold. Now this 
is but the image and explanation of the soul's attitude 
towards only God. The one is illustrated by the other. 
Though God asks of the soul but to love him what it 
may, and is ready to give an increased love for a poor 
little, the soul feels that this infinite love demands 
naturally its whole self, that if it begin to love God it 

231 



Mysticism and Imagination 

may not stop short of all it has to yield. It is troubled, 
even if it did go a brief way, on the upward path ; it fears 
and recoils from the whole great surrender, the constant 
effort beyond itself which is sensibly laid on it. It falls 
back with relieved contentment on some human love, a 
love on its own plane, where somewhat short of total 
surrender may go to requital, where no upward effort is 
needful. And it ends by giving for the meanest, the 
most unsufBcing and half-hearted return, that utter self- 
surrender and self-effacement which it denied to God. 
Even (how rarely) if the return be such as mortal may 
render, how empty and unsatiated it leaves the soul. 
One always is less generous of love than the other. Now 
this was the theme and meaning of my sequence. It 
did not (as it should have done) follow on to the facile 
welcome of a light love. But that was by implication 
glanced at in the epilogue, which drew what I have 
shown to be the real conclusion of the entire study 
even to the possible most tragic issue of all, in the soul 
which has taken the kiss of the Spouse (so to speak) only 
to fall away from Him, ' the heart where good is well 
perceived and known, yet is not willed.' 

That sequence, he said, was written solely in the 
interests of allegory. Obviously the episode was not 
sufficient unto itself. Only once had he known love 
really sufficient for love poetry. 



232 



CHAPTER XI: PATMORE'S DEATH 
AND "NEW POEMS" 

IN July, 1896, the year of his death, Patmore made an 
offer of service memorable from a man, called arrogant 
and harsh, to a man who might well, in personal 
matters, have stirred his prejudices :- 



1 You were looking so unwell when we parted, that, not having 
heard from you, I am somewhat alarmed. Pray let me have a 
post-card. 

" If, at any time, you find yourself seriously ill, and do not find 
the attendance, food, &c., sufficiently good, tell me and I will go 
to Pantasaph to take care of you for any time you might find me 
useful. It would be a great pleasure and honour to serve you in 
any way." 

Thompson answered : 

" . . . You have been most generously kind to me ; and 
I can truly say that I never yet fell from any friend who 
did not first fall from me. I thank you for the great 
honour you have done me by your offer to come up 
and look after me if I needed nursing. Fortunately it 
has not come to that yet. 

" I have not seen Meredith's article 1 I am so entirely 
cut off from the outside world." 

When the Laureateship fell vacant Patmore wrote to 
the Saturday Review proposing my mother's name. 
Francis wrote to him : 

" I think your Saturday letter very felicitously put. But 
alas ! small are the chances of any government acting 
on it. I fear the compliment to 'journalism' points 
too surely to Edwin Arnold. I have not received the 

1 "Mrs. Meynell's Essays" in the National Review, Aug. 1896. 

233 



Patmore's Death 

Selections. 1 A. M. has only once in my life sent me a 
book of hers her essays. I should indeed like to see 
the book. The selections in themselves must possess a 
peculiar interest for me ; and the Preface I am most 
eager to read." 

The appointment made, Francis again wrote to the 
point : 

" What a pity you could not uphold the dignity of the 
Laureateship in the eyes of Europe." 

Patmore died in November, 1896. To Mrs. Patmore 
Francis wrote : 

" I am shocked and overcome to hear of your and 
my bereavement ; there has passed away the greatest 
genius of the century, and from me a friend whose 
like I shall not see again ; one so close to my own soul 
that the distance of years between us was hardly felt, 
nor could the distance of miles separate us. I had a 
letter from him but last Monday, and was hoping that 
I might shortly see him again. Now my hope is turned 
suddenly into mourning. 

"The irrevocableness of such a grief is mocked by 
many words ; these few words least wrong it. My 
friend is dead, and I had but one such friend. Yours in 
all sympathy of sorrow, FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

At the same time he wrote to Palace Court : 

" CRECCAS COTTAGE, PANTASAPH. 

"DEAR WILFRID, I send you my lodging account for 
the last two months. 

<( Of nothing can I write just now. You know what 
friends we had been these last two years. And I heard 
from him but the Monday before his death. There is 
no more to say, because there is too much more to say. 
Yours always, FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

1 Poetry of Pathos and Delight, being selections made by Alice Meynell 
from the poetry of Coventry Patmore. 

234 



" Oceanic Vast of Intellect " 

" P.S. I am fearful about the Athenceum project. I 
told Coventry I had altered the sub-title to prevent 
identification, lest the poem 1 should offend his friends ; 
and since he did not dispute it, I conclude he took my 
view that it might give displeasure. To dwell on the 
harsher side of his character now has an ungracious 



air.' 



Of the same poem he wrote again to W. M. : 

" I am sorry I could not wire the correction in time. 
I did not see your letter till too late on Thursday to do 
anything. I would rather have had the phrase altered, 
and hope Mrs. Meynell may have taken on herself to do 
so, since it only affected the poem temporarily. In my 
book I shall retain the original phrase, which Coventry 
would have objected to have altered in permanent record. 
He accepted and justified my use of the phrase, in a 
poem drawing only an aspect of his character. But 
where it was connected with him as a funeral poem, I 
would certainly have wished it replaced by something 
else. About all things I trust soon to have personal 
talk with you. Always yours affectionately, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

The high-pitched phrases of the obituary poems con- 
fess the strain he put upon himself to publish his grief. 
He dropped into private prose while he was at the task. 
"Age alone will grasp in some dim measure what must 
have been the unmanifested powers of a mind from 
which could go forth this starry manifestation ; and 
what ' silence full of wonders' interspaced his opulent 
frugality of speech." " It remains a personal (and 
wonderful) memory that to me sometimes, athwart the 
shifting clouds of converse, was revealed by glimpses 
the direct vision of that oceanic vast of intellect." " The 

1 " A Captain cu Song," addressed to Patmore before his death, and at 
his death published in the Athenczum, December 5, 1896. 

235 



Patmore's Death 

basic silence of our love r and the " under-silence of 
love r ' are other phrases that tell of something not to 
be expresssed in the obituary column. There are scraps, 
also, of private verse which tell his sorrow : 

how I miss you any casual day ! 

And as I walk 

Turn, in the customed way, 

Towards you with the talk 

Which who but you should hear ? 

And know the intercepting day 

Betwixt me and your only listening ear ; 

And no man ever more my tongue shall hear, 

And dumb amid an alien folk I stray. 

He grieved for Patmore as a wife grieves for the 
husband who dies before the birth of her child. "This 
latest, highest, of my work," he says of a portion of 
New Poems, "is now born dumb. It had been sung 
into his sole ears. Now there is none who speaks its 
language." His loss made a visit to his friends in 
London desirable. 

Of the dedication he had previously written to 
Patmore : 

" The book (A. M.'s The Colour of Life} is dedicated to 
you, and just a fortnight ago I sent to London a volume 
of poems the product of the last three years which I 
had also (knowing nothing then of her intention, or 
even that she had a book on the point of appearing) 
taken the liberty of dedicating to you." 

That dedication to Patmore runs : 

Lo, my book thinks to look Time's leaguer down, 
Under the banner of your spread renown ! 
Or if these levies of impuissant rhyme 
Fall to the overthrow of assaulting Time, 
Yet this one page shall fend oblivion's shame 
Armed with your crested and prevailing name. 

236 



A Dedication 

The tribute is handsomely conceived without any of the 
insincerity that cowered behind the handsomeness of 
eighteenth century dedications. It was an occasion for 
setting forth the humility which was a very real part of 
Thompson's character. In a printed note the author 
explains : 

" This dedication was written while the dear friend 
and great Poet to whom it was addressed yet lived. 
It is left as he saw it the last verses of mine that were 
ever to pass under his eye." 

To Francis, Mrs. Patmore wrote just before the pub- 
lication of the book : 

" In to-day's Register I see that you have decided to retain 
the dedication of the poems you are now bringing out to my 
husband. I cannot resist thanking you and also letting you 
know how much pleasure the mark of your friendship gave him 
before he died. He was also looking forward to your visit to him 
with great delight." 

Before the publication of New Poems a preface was 
written and cancelled, and a dozen titles mooted and 
rejected. In one MS. the name Poems, partly mystical 
is followed by an Introduction : 

" This book represents the work of the three years 
which have elapsed since my first volume was pre- 
pared for the press, my second volume having been 
a poem of comparatively early date. The first section 
exhibits mysticism in a limited and varying degree. I 
feel my instrument yet too imperfect to profane by it 
the higher ranges. Much is transcendental rather than 
truly mystic. The opening poem ("The Mistress of 
Vision ") is a fantasy with no more than an illusive 
tinge of psychic significance. And of the other poems 
some are as much science as mysticism ! but it is the 
science of the Future, not the science of the scientist. 

2 37 



" New Poems 



55 



And since the science of the Future is the science of 
the Past, the outlook on the universe of the " Orient 
Ode," for instance, is nearer the outlook of Ecclesiastes 
than of, say, Professor Norman Lockyer. The " Orient 
Ode/' on its scientific side, must wait at least fifty 
years for understanding. For there was never yet poet, 
beyond a certain range of insight, who could not have 
told the scientists what they will be teaching a hundred 
years hence. Science is a Caliban, only fit to hew wood 
and draw water for Prospero ; and it is time Ariel were 
released from his imprisonment by the materialistic 
Sycorax." x In a letter to Patmore, he had written : 

" The bits of science that crop up in your essays 
remind me of little devils dancing among rose trees." 

The list of possible titles insists upon his regard for 
one aspect of his later work : Songs of the Inner Life ; 
Odes and other Poems ; New Things and Old ; Songs of a 
Sun-worshipper ; Music of the Future ; Night before Light ; 
At the Orient Gates ; The Dawn before the Day- Star. In 
the event New Poems was chosen ; and on the eve of 
publication, F. T. writes to W. M. : 

" Herewith I send the book. Now, if Alice and you, 
after you have read it in proof, say * this is bad poetry/ I 
will cut out half the book ; but not half a line to please a 
publisher's whim for little books and big margins. I was 
cabined and confined over my first book ; with my spurs 
won, I should be at liberty to make the book compre- 
hensive. It will be a book as long as the Unknown Eros, 
for if the Unknown Eros has about twenty more poems, 

1 " Many a bit of true seeing I have had to learn again, through science 
having sophisticated my eye, inward or outward. And many a bit I have 
preserved, to the avoidance of a world of trouble, by concerning myself no 
more than any child about the teachings of science. Especially is this the 
case in regard to light. I never lost the child's instinctive Tightness of out- 
look upon light because I flung the scientific theories aside as so much 
baffling distortion of perspective. ' Here is cart for horse,' I felt rather than saw, 
and would nothing with them. . . . Though scientists in camp stand together 
against me, I would not challenge the consensus of the poets." 

2 3 8 



The Contents Table 

none of them are so long as one half-dozen of mine. 
Treated in the sumptuous style, it would make a book 
about the size of Rossetti's first volume ; but there is no 
reason why it should be got up more than just well and 
simply. I believe it will be my last volume of poetry 
in any case my last for some years and I am deter- 
mined to make it complete, that I may feel all my work 
worth anything is on record for posterity, if I die. . . . 
I have sacrificed something to the levity of the critics. 
I have put a whole section of the lightest poems I ever 
wrote after the first terribly trying section, to soothe 
the critics' gums. If they are decent to the measure of 
their slight aim, that is all I care for ; they aimed little 
at poetry. That they are true to girl-nature I have a 
woman's certificate, besides the fact that I studied them 
with one exception from an actual original. . . . 
Again I have put a batch of four ' simple ' poems at the 
opening of the miscellaneous section to catch the 
critical eye, though their importance is not such as to 
give them a place so prominent. So I have done what 
artifice could do to lighten a very stern, sober, and diffi- 
cult volume. Tis more varied in range than my former 
work ; and by my arrangement I have done my best 
to emphasize and press into service this, the solitary 
redeeming fact from the popular standpoint. 

"From the higher standpoint I have gained, I think, 
in art and chastity of style ; but have greatly lost in 
fire and glow. 'Tis time that I was silent. This book 
carries me quite as far as my dwindling strength will 
allow ; and if I wrote further in poetry, I should write 
down my own fame." 

New Poems found the critics, in 1897, more hostile 
than before. Perhaps the Saturday Review was the 
most severe : 

" He has been, from the first, unfortunate in being shielded 
from sincere criticism. He has been persuaded by his friends that 

2 39 



" New Poems 



55 



he is a genius, divinely inspired, whose wildest utterances are his 
best. ... In no poet of reputation is it (order) more strikingly 
absent than in Mr. Thompson. Beautiful fancy, sonorous and 
picturesque diction we find here, indeed, but no motive power. 
These odes begin on one key, are shifted to another, take up a 
fresh subject, drop it, and, at length, as if merely wearied of their 
aimless flight, drop suddenly, and cease in the air." 

11 These, and the rest, are nonsense-verses," the same 
writer says of "The Mistress of Vision," but finds else- 
where "a touch of genuine sublimity." The former British 
Review picks out several examples of " his barbarous 
jargon ' (a phrase also used by Home of Meredith's 
" Song of Queen Theodolinda ") and prescribes for him 
Ben Jonson's pill for the poetaster and that he be 
shaken free of "the praises with which his friends now 
mislead him." The Literary World also sees need of 
doctoring, saying, " Nothing can be stronger than his 
language, nothing weaker than the impression it leaves 
on the mind. ... It is like a dictionary of obsolete 
English suffering from a fierce fit of delirium tremens." 
The Critic, of New York, takes Thompson's ignorance 
of religion and symbolism for granted ; the Times finds 
fault with both his poetry and Catholicism ; the Morning 
Post is unfavourable ; the Daily Chronicle, the Speaker, 
and the Guardian all begin severely but leave scolding 
before they ended to give generous praise. The Sheffield 
Daily Telegraph was handsome. The poet's obscurity 
was the chief cause of displeasure, since from thinking 
a man's meanings difficult it is fatally easy to go on 
to say he is meaningless. The case they make is start- 
lingly good ; one reaches for one's Thompson from the 
shelves to see if he is in truth so great as one had 
thought before spending an hour with his early critics. 
If one pauses before quoting them, it is not for fear of 
dealing unkindly with them. They are convincing ; only 

the Thompson of scraps they condemn is not the 

240 



" A Terrible Poem " 

Thompson we know by the book. When the Pall 
Mall says 

" There is a terrible poem called ( The Anthem of Earth ' 
without form and void, rhymeless and the work of a mediaeval and 
pedantic Walt Whitman/' 

the point may be conceded, as between that particular 
critic and his particular Thompson; it is even possible 
to share with the Pall Mall its " deep-rooted irritability " 
when one has to contemplate on its pages tortuous and 
steep passages torn from their text. 

Against the adverse may be set many good criticisms. 
Mr. Richard Whiteing wrote finely in the Daily News, 
for he cleared the hurdle of initial distaste "It is idle 
to throw the book to the other end of the room. You 
have to pick it up again." He hates such " outrageous 
conceits' as "The world's unfolded blossom smells of 
God " ; or " Soul fully blest to feel God whistle thee at 
heel." It is the old hatred, probably, of overhearing 
the " little language ;) of lovers or whispered prayers. 
But Mr. Whiteing admits that "to put him in order 
might only be to spoil him. He must have his way." 

In the Speaker, Sir A. T. Quiller-Couch, after com- 
menting, as usual, on the precipitate and defiant eulogies 
of the poet's "friends," continued : 

. . . On the other hand ; to be stung into denying that he is 
a poet, and an extraordinarily fine one, is to lose one's head just 
as wildly and less pardonably. ... Of ' The Mistress of Vision/ 
I can only say that it recalls, after many days, the wonder and 
delight with which as a boy I first read ' Kubla Khan.' " 

The Daily Chronicle, where Mr. Le Gallienne had given 
place to Mr. Archer, on a first reading, recognised " a 
man of imagination all compact, a seer and singer of 
rare genius"; the Athenceum "a singular mastery of 
verse " ; the Edinburgh, with ponderous speed, " a great 
poet," and the Academy and Bookman gave handsome 

241 Q 



" New Poems" 

welcomes. Notwithstanding these, the impression on 
public and poet was discouraging. The book sold badly, 
and soon died, so that for the first half of the year in 
1901 it brought in six shillings' worth of royalties : four 
copies had been sold. During the first half of 1902 the 
book found five buyers. 

F. T. so far felt depressed by the bulk of adverse 
criticism as to write his thanks to one of the few kindly 
reviewers of the new book. He got in answer, June 7, 
1897 : 

" I simply expressed (very inadequately) the pleasure your work 
had given me, without the least thought as to what anyone else 
thought or might think. That, however, is not strictly true. 
Your letter reminds me that I read some extracts to a friend, and 
then said, ' This is not work which can possibly be popular in the 
wide sense ; but it is work that will be read and treasured centuries 
hence by those who really care for poetry.' This comes back to 
me as you speak of the reaction. I assure you no conceivable 
reaction can wipe out or overlay such work as yours. It is firm 
based on the rock of absolute beauty ; and this I say all the more 
confidently because it does not happen to appeal to my own specu- 
lative, or even my own literary, prejudices. Yours very truly, 

WILLIAM ARCHER." 

Later F. T. met Mr. Archer casually at Mr. Doubleday's 
house in Westminster, and his poetry and portrait 
figured in Mr. Archer's Poets of the Younger Generation. 

He was not put out of humour by small royalties : 

" DEAR WILFRID, It strikes me that the cheque 
(2/11) has a very unseemly tail, which would be much 
improved by a piece grafted on to it, to give it a trifle 
more handsome proportions. Perhaps the thing might 
not be impossible to a patient operator (to speak ex- 
medical-studently). Yours ever, F. T." 

He could be tragic too. His interruption during a 
reading of "Othello" at our house is never to be 
forgotten. Desdemona was in death agony, when an 

242 



Mr. Garvin to the Rescue 

emphatic voice proclaimed : " Here's a go, Mrs. 
Meynell ; I have lost my Athencsum cheque." But he 
found it in another pocket. 

If buffers had been needed between the unfavourable 
reception of New Poems and the sensibility of the author 
they were supplied at this time by Mr. Garvin's splendid 
appreciation of his previous works, Poems and Sister 
Sotigs,'m the Bookman, March 1897: 

" Even with the greatest pages of Sister Songs sounding in one's 
ears, one is sometimes tempted to think the ' Hound of Heaven ' 
Mr. Thompson's high-water mark for unimaginable beauty and 
tremendous import if we do damnably iterate Mr. Thompson's 
tremendousness, we cannot help it, he thrusts the word upon us. 
We do not think we forget any of the splendid things of an English 
anthology when we say that the ' Hound of Heaven' seems to us, on 
the whole, the most wonderful lyric (if we consider Sister Songs as 
a sequence of lyrics) in the language. It fingers all the stops of 
the spirit, and we hear now a thrilling and dolorous note of doom 
and now the quiring of the spheres and now the very pipes of Pan, 
but under all the still sad music of humanity. It is the return of 
the nineteenth century to Thomas a Kempis. In Sister Songs Mr. 
Thompson has passed from agonies to exultations. Of pure power 
he had not more to reveal. But Sister Songs has the very sense of 
Spring : there is some lovely renaissance of spirit in the book, a 
melting of snows and all dewy germinations of delight. What 
rhythms are so lissome and persuasive as those of the first part ? 
In dainty and debonair invention it is altogether incomparable. 
Sister Songs opens with all the lyrical elan of Shelley perfectly 
married with the full and definite vision, the pure and vivid phrase 
of Keats. Thus in two of Mr. Thompson's many passages on 
childhood 

Or if white-handed light 
Draw thee yet dripping from the quiet pools, 

Still lucencies and cools, 
Of sleep, which all night mirror constellate dreams ; 

and again 

. . . bubbles from the calyces 
Of the lovely thoughts that breathe, 
Paving like water-flowers thy spirit's floor beneath. 

2 43 



" New Poems" 

" The second part of Sister Songs is in a greater mood. It is 
the high ritual of beauty, a very apocalypse of poetry, and one 
should only labour the futility of terms in attempting to praise it. 
The primary things of poetry are newly and immortally said. 
But Mr. Thompson's receptive mind is saturated with modern 
thought, and he uses it in a singular way to deepen the ancient 
interpretations. He touches Darwinism, and it becomes trans- 
mutable in a lovely and poignant lyric 

In pairing-time, we know, the bird 
Kindles to its deepmost splendour, 

And the tender 
Voice is tenderest in its throat. 

' May we not dare to say of this passage (beginning ' Wild 
Dryad ! all unconscious of thy tree ' in Sister Songs) that it almost 
arrives at that ultimate thing, that ' one thought, one grace, one 
wonder at the least,' which for Marlowe was beyond the furthest 
reach of words, and which poets have been seeking to declare from 
the beginning of song ? Mr. Thompson's poetry scarcely comes 
by way of the outward eye at all. He scarcely depends upon 
occasions. In a dungeon one imagines that he would be no less a 
poet. The regal air, the prophetic ardours, the apocalyptic vision, 
the supreme utterance he has them all. A rarer, more intense, 
more strictly predestinate genius has never been known to poetry. 
To many this may well appear the simple delirium of over-emphasis. 
The writer signs for those others, nowise ashamed, who range after 
Shakespeare's very Sonnets the poetry of a living poet, Francis 
Thompson." 



244 



CHAPTER XII: FRIENDS AND OPINIONS 

THE friends he found for distraction in London were 
few, his acquaintances still fewer ; thus his biographer, 
in falling back on such slight records as would go un- 
noticed in a life more thickly peopled, believes that they 
have at any rate the value of rarity. 

But in any case the chapter of his meetings could be 
more than matched with the chapter of his evasions. 
Thus ran the excuses : 

"Dear Wilfrid, I could not come in to tea with 
Blunt and Yeats, for I had to go down to the Academy, 
and was back much too late. Had I known on 
Thursday I would have altered my arrangements so 
as to accept your invitation. I am very sorry to have 
missed this chance of meeting Yeats, as I have long 
desired to do. You know I heartily admire his work." 

Meredith's invitations he could not permanently 
resist. At Box Hill he spent a night in June 1896. 
Meredith had written to A. M., " You and the poet will 
have Heaven's welcome to the elect. But the cottage 
will be wounded if you desire not to sleep in it after 
having tried its poor resources. Be kind." To dine 
and sleep and wake in that small cottage was to be at 
very close quarters with nature and a man. With birds 
at the window, trees bowing and rustling at the back 
door, and at the front the vivid grass ready for his feet, 
Francis was thrust into the presence of a showy bit of 
nature, and was hardly more easy than if he had been 
thrust at the theatre into a box directly adjoining a 
crowded stage. He would pull at his necktie, and 

2 45 



Friends and Opinions 

smooth his coat, and be most warily conscious of his 
companion's eye, microscopic, like a husband's, for de- 
fect. The singing of Meredith's blackbirds would be 
no less confusing than the stream of Meredith's talk ; 
the nodding flowers and the thousand shadows, the 
sunshine and the talker, were too strange to him. For 
years he had evaded nature and an eye ; here he was 
forced to be seen and to see in the unclouded at- 
mosphere of this garden on a hill, and during a long 
drive. Talk and caviare for breakfast were alike foreign 
to him, who never breakfasted even on toast. To be on 
tremendously good terms with Nature for her own sake, 
with talk for its own sake, with French literature, with 
the Celt, was Meredith's triumph ; Thompson was shy 
of all these. 

Meredith's method was one of acceptance, of bird's 
song and of Burgundy. Thompson's method was of 
refusal because he was not hardy enough for one or the 
other. With that mixture of precision and involved 
evasion that was his habit, Meredith praised " Love in 
Dian's Lap," quoting the lines 

And on this lady's heart, looked you so deep, 
Poor Poetry has rocked himself to sleep ; 
Upon the heavy blossom of her lips 
Hangs the bee Musing ; nigh her lids eclipse 
Each half-occulted star beneath that lies ; 
And in the contemplation of those eyes, 
Passionless passion, wild tranquillities. 

The lady, too, was in the garden to hear. 

In his written comments on Poems, Meredith had 
fastened on the misprinted passages as if they were 
evidences of the wilfulness of the poet, and he recalled 
these in talk, slow to relinquish an opportunity for his 
golden chaff. With the Edinburgh praise of Thompson 
he proclaimed himself in agreement, writing (July 19, 

1896) " I subscribe to the words on Francis Thomp- 

246 



Meredith 

son's verse." But he also called Thompson turgid, 
on the eve of passing to the writing of his own 
ode on the French Revolution; Sister Songs he had 
called at first sight a " voluntary." 

He discovered no consecutive argument in Sister 
Songs; but for his banter he found an immediate 
opening ; he invented a landlady for Thompson 
Amelia Applejohn to whom imaginary sonnets were 
addressed. He told how Amelia was summoned to 
Thompson's room to listen to the latest, rolling down 
her sleeves the while, and brushing the flour from 
her elbows. 

After Thompson's death, Meredith wrote to W. M. : 

"Box HILL, February 3, 1909. 

" DEAR MR. MEYNELL, The love of all the Meynells, let all 
the Meynells know, is precious to me. And the book of the poems 
(Selected, Poems] was very welcome, though a thought of the 
poet's broken life gives pain. What he might further have done 
hangs at the closing page. Your part in his history should help 
to comfort you. What we have of him is mainly due to the Meynell 
family. 

Our Portia I may suppose to be now in Italy, and Italy 
seems to me her natural home. For me, I drag on, counting more 
years and not knowing why. I have to have an arm when I would 
walk. I am humiliated by requiring at times a repetition of 
sentences. This is my state of old age. But my religion of life 
is always to be cheerful ; though I see little of my friends, I live 
with them. Ever to be counted yours, 

GEORGE MEREDITH." 

One of the few occasions on which Francis entered a 
friend's house (always excepting W. M.'s) in London 
was when, in December 1896,116 spent some weeks with 
Mr. and Mrs. Doubleday. Like a little boy, he posted 
word to W. M., as to a father, across the few intervening 
miles of London, of his safe arrival there, of his friend's 
kindness, and of his admiration of Mrs. Doubleday's 

247 



Friends and Opinions 

music making : " Mrs. Doubleday is very kind, and she 
is a simply exquisite pianist. Doubleday and I have 
fraternised over music." 

11 My friend Alfred Hayes," he used to say, almost 
with ostentation. And the phrase remains because he 
so rarely proclaimed or could proclaim a relationship of 
the sort. That he paid a visit and wrote letters and 
verses to Mr. Hayes were, even if he forgot to despatch 
one of the letters, unusual marks of consideration. The 
visit planned, it followed that he did not turn up in the 
expected way, so that his host, in his anxiety, asked 
W. M. for news, and later wrote : 

"20 CARPENTER ROAD, EDGBASTON, 
October 13, 1896. 

11 DEAR MR. MEYNELL, I am very sorry that, as all turned 
out well, I wrote to you in some apprehension as to Thompson. 
He turned up at the wrong railway-station and performed some 
other singular feats, but those were mere details, and we enjoyed 
his visit very much. I hope it did him good in spite of the fact 
that owing to its happening to be a very busy week for me at the 
office, I was obliged to leave him a good deal to his own devices, 
which consisted mainly in smoking innumerable pipes over the 
books he found in my study. The weather was so forbidding that 
we were only able to make two excursions afield. I hope he will 
come again in the summer when no infant daughter must again 
bar the way. Yours, ALFRED HAYES." 

Mr. Hayes gives me a reminiscence of his guest : 

" In the Autumn of the year 1896 Francis Thompson was my 
guest for a week at Edgbaston. The evenings were veritable 
Noctes Ambrosiance ; but though the general impression of deep 
insight and opulent imagination, of many a flash of inspiration 
and radiant turn of speech, lingers as a precious recollection, the 
details of his conversation have vanished, for the most part, from 
memory, as completely as the precise hues and cloud-shapes of 
the sunsets of those memorable days. 

" One indelible impression, however, remains his amazing 
range of reading, the infallibility of his literary memory, and the 
consequent wealth of allusion he had at his command. 

248 



cc My Friend Hayes 



'' At meals he would sit mostly silent, sometimes quitting the 
table, his food half consumed, as if at some imperious mandate, 
but somehow without leaving behind him the slightest suspicion 
of discourtesy. These sudden disappearances, whose cause I 
never sought to discover, soon came to be expected, and only pro- 
voked a smile it was Thompson's way. But let it not be sup- 
posed that he was uncouth or affected ; his manner was that of a 
great child ; he was simply incapable of pose or unkindness. 

" His personal appearance is deeply engraved on the tablets 
of my memory. He was a pathetic figure. His form and face 
bore, only too clearly, the marks of those grim years of tribulation 
of soul and torment of body from which he had so recently been 
delivered. His appearance smote me with deep pity, but even 
deeper respect ; and within a few hours he had won my affection. 
I was struck, as were the few intimate friends who once met him 
at my house, with a strange other-worldliness about him, as if he 
were conscious of making only a hasty sojourn on earth in the course 
of an illimitable journey. ... I remember how the discoloured 
face would suddenly light up, and the dazed eyes flash, in such 
moments of happy excitement, as if a volcanic eruption of delight 
had broken through the crust of his soul. He gave me the im- 
pression of concealing within him two inexhaustible reservoirs of 
sorrow and joy ; ebullitions from each appear in his poetry ; but 
in his long talks with me he rarely drew except from the fountain 
of joy." 

Some time after this visit he wrote to Mr. Hayes of 
his journalism, his book, and his desire to see his friend 
again : 

"I met Norman Gale, for a brief moment, at my 
publishers', in January or thereabouts. I was charmed 
with him. Alas, I am farther off from you than ever ; 
it is not likely that I can visit you again for an unknown 
time to come. And I entertain such a happy recollection 
of you, your clear wife, and your charming children ! 
Let us pray for the unexpected, which always happens, 
you know ! Always yours, dear Hayes, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

<f I am very busy, or I would write at more length to 
you. Believe me, that I do not forget you ever." 

249 



Friends and Opinions 

From her invalid's couch Mrs. Hamilton King sent 
Francis treasured messages of trust and commenda- 
tion, and, guessing his need, wrote him many things 
that sounded bravely to one who accused himself of 
something worse than futility in friendship : 

" It is true that everyone must live out his own life, and I am 
not sure that it is good that another should live it for him ; but you 
at least have done much for your friends. Coventry Patmore 
relied on you ; and when I last saw Mr. Wilfrid Meynell he told 
me that both he and Mrs. Meynell felt themselves entirely your 
debtors your poetry was so much for them. And you may have 
much more to do. I wish it were possible for you to live nearer 
and within reach of your friends. ... It is a great consolation to 
feel that one has ministered to the most sensitive and precious 
among the children of God, and also it is a great joy and privilege 
to me to have your friendship." 

Between 1896 and 1900 he also had correspondence 
with one who was especially his friend, Miss Katharine 
Douglas King, Mrs. Hamilton King's daughter. Before 
meeting her he had written to W. M. : 

"Do you know that Miss K. Douglas King is to- 
gether with Winifred Lucas one of the few women 
I ever desired particularly to meet ? She has a tempera- 
ment of genius heaped up and running over. I read 
through all her Merry England stories some months 
ago, and was startled by their individual and impressive 
note." 

Her book, Tke Child who will never Grow Old, pub- 
lished two years later, bears on its first page his line, 
"The heart of Childhood, so divine for me." Miss 
King played with the Palace Court children, and worked 
among the poor children of the East End who often 
figure in her stories. Francis once visited her and her 
charges at the hospital in Leonard Square. Writing sub- 
sequently, Miss King says : 

" I count you as an old friend, but I know now I did not really 
know you until Saturday. When you were by your little ' genius's ' 



250 



With Sick Children 

Harry's bed, and the baby boy Percy with the white shoes was 
at your knee, that was to me a revelation ! I think of you now 
with that infant's serious, confiding face upturned to you. It was 
all so natural. To some people a child is a pretty ornamental 
addition. Your personality now seems incomplete without the 
child as the natural and exquisite finish to the whole man. Adieu, 
dear friend." 

A later letter announces her impending marriage : 

"FOREST HALL, April 1900. 

" MY DEAR FRANCIS, I have been wanting to write to you for 
so long, and yet have not been able to find time until now ; and 
now I find it a little difficult, because one feels reluctant to speak 
of one's own great happiness to one whose life has been so sad 
and lonely as yours, even though that one should be so firm 
and true a friend as you have ever been to me. My marriage 
is fixed for the early part of July. Although my new home 
will be far away, we both hope that in time we may come to 
live nearer London, and I hope that my marriage will not 
bring me less, but more, in touch with my friends, amongst 
whom, Francis, I hope that I may ever count you as one of the 
first and nearest, and may God bless you. Believe me, Your 
always affectionately, KATHARINE D. KING." 

It was after this that he wrote the following descrip- 
tion of his friend : 

"There is no need of courage in the feminine woman, 
and I love her for the fact. Yet my dear friend (now 
removed by marriage) was a brave woman, and I loved 
her for it against all my wont. Perhaps, because she 
took me by surprise ; perhaps because who knows why ? 
She was not self-reliant with all her bravery, and I 
suppose the combination made her real femininity the 
more piquant. Perhaps it was rather her crystal truth 
than the courage which (I think) came from it, not 
caused it, that won me at sight. Truth integrity (or 
oneness) of nature is what calls to me." 

In the matter of his close friendships, he wrote to 

251 



Friends and Opinions 

Miss Agnes Tobin, 1 a lover of his poetry and herself 
a translator of Petrarch's sonnets : 

"Of what you say of me in relation to your spiritual 
development I dare not trust myself to write, lest I 
offend the modesty of words : it comes as a great prop 
to a life very lonely of support." 

Mrs. Vernon Blackburn is elsewhere named ; but of 
other acquaintances among women he had none, or 
only such as lasted during one or two meetings. The 
Duchess of Sutherland's invitations were found re- 
tained among his dusty papers like adventurous Sisters 
of Charity, stiff and clean in the ragged company of a 
neglected correspondence, old pipes and newspaper- 
cuttings. 

The people he did not know yet counted for some- 
thing in his history ; he has been associated with some 
he might have known, but did not, and with others he 
could never have known. Oscar Wilde, on hearing some 
of Sister Songs read aloud, said, " Why can't I write 
poetry like that ? That is what I've wanted to do all my 
life." The two, however, did not meet. In a letter 
from Mrs. Wilde, January 1895, I find, " I so enjoyed 
Mr. Thompson's visit to me on Friday," and in another, 
June 1894, "Oscar was quite charmed with the lines you 
read him of Francis Thompson." "Of the living poets 
whose work I like, he is one of the very few whom I like 
as well as their work," wrote Mr. Vincent O'Sullivan 
after meeting him at about the same time. 

Of the invitations he did not accept were those from 
Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton that he should sometimes 
go to her " for a quiet talk d deux 11 ; from Elliot and Fry 
that he should be photographed "in his study"; from 
a World writer that he should be interviewed as a subject 
for one of the " Celebrities at Home." 

1 To this lady's "genius for friendship" the dedication of Mr. Joseph 
Conrad's Under Western Eyes bears witness. 

252 



Mr. Whitten's Portrait 

In 1897 Mr. Lewis Hind found that the Academy 
might welcome something every week from Thompson, 
and wrote telling him so. Then he came into touch, 
slowly as was his way, with the office staff. ll I saw 
what I concluded was Clarence Rook at the Academy on 
Wednesday, but we did not even exchange a look, for 
Hind did not introduce us. So I left convinced that 
Hind meant to get out the Academy by hook or by 
C. Rook." From this time began his friendship with 
Mr. E. V. Lucas and Mr. Wilfred Whitten. All these, 
along with the " management," learnt how to smile on 
the trials provided by this contributor. Mr. Lucas is 
quoted on an earlier page devoted to cricket. Mr. 
Whitten has written : 

" I first met Francis Thompson at the Academy office in Chancery 
Lane, in 1897, the year in which, with his New Poems, he took fare- 
well of poetry and began, I fear, to look on life as so much dead lift, 
so much needless postscript to his finished epistle. . . . We gave 
Thompson as many books of theology, history, biography, and, of 
course, poetry as he cared to review. It was a usual thing, in read- 
ing the proofs, for one of us to exclaim aloud on his splendid handling 
of a subject demanding the best literary knowledge and insight. 
Thompson came frequently to the office to receive books for review, 
and to bring in his ' copy.' Every visit meant a talk, which was 
never curtailed by Thompson. This singer, who had soared to 
themes too dazzling for all but the rarest minds ; this poet of the 
broken wing and the renounced lyre had not become moody or taci- 
turn. At his best he was a fluent talker, who talked straight from 
his knowledge and convictions, yet never for victory. He weighed 
his words, and would not hurt a controversial fly. On great subjects 
he was slow or silent ; on trifles he became grotesquely tedious. 
This dreamer seemed to be surprised into a kind of exhilaration 
at finding himself in contact with small realities. And then the 
fountains of memory would be broken up, or some quaint corner 
of his amour propre would be touched. He would explain nine 
times what was clear, and talk about snuff or indigestion or the 
posting of a letter until the room swam round us. 

" A stranger figure than Thompson's was not to be seen in 
London. Gentle in looks, half-wild in externals, his face worn by 

253 



Friends and Opinions 

pain and the fierce reactions of laudanum, his hair and straggling 
beard neglected, he had yet a distinction and an aloofness of bear- 
ing that marked him in the crowd ; and when he opened his lips 
he spoke as a gentleman and a scholar. A cleaner mind, a more 
naively courteous manner, were not to be found. It was impos- 
sible and unnecessary to think always of the tragic side of his life. 
He still had to live and work in his fashion, and his entries and 
exits became our most cheerful institution. His great brown cape, 
which he would wear on the hottest days, his disastrous hat, and 
his dozen neglects and make-shifts were only the insignia of our 
4 Francis ' and of the ripest literary talent on the paper. No 
money (and in his later years Thompson suffered more from the 
possession of money than from the lack of it) could keep him in 
a decent suit of clothes for long. Yet he was never ' seedy.' From 
a newness too dazzling to last, and seldom achieved at that, he 
passed at once into a picturesque nondescript garb that was all his 
own and made him resemble some weird pedlar or packman in an 
etching by Ostade. This impression of him was helped by the 
strange object his fish-basket, we called it which he wore slung 
round his shoulders by a strap. It had occurred to him that such 
a basket would be a convenient receptacle for the books which he 
took away for review, and he added this touch to an outward 
appearance which already detached him from millions. . . . He 
had ceased to make demands on life. He ear-marked nothing for 
his own. As a reviewer, enjoying the run of the office, he never 
pounced on a book ; he waited, and he accepted. Interested still 
in life, he was no longer intrigued by it. He was free from both 
apathy and desire. Unembittered, he kept his sweetness and sanity, 
his dewy laughter, and his fluttering gratitude. In such a man 
outward ruin could never be pitiable or ridiculous, and, indeed, he 
never bowed his noble head but in adoration. I think the secret 
of his strength was this : that he had cast up his accounts with 
God and man, and thereafter stood in the mud of earth with a 
heart wrapt in such fire as touched Isaiah's lips." 

He had no valet of whom to make a conquest ; but 
a friendly editor, at any rate, was at his feet, even when 
they were unpunctual. Mr. Lewis Hind writes : 

" During the seven years that I edited the Academy, I knew 
the poet intimately, seeing him two or three times a week. It 
amused him to write articles, and to know that his landlady was 

2 54 



In Chancery Lane 



being paid, although such matters were of no real importance to 
him ; but the weekly wage gave him pocket-money to buy the 
narcotics of his choice, and that was important. 

" In memory I see him one miserable November afternoon 
communing with the Seraphim, and frolicking with the young- 
eyed Cherubim in Chancery Lane. The roads were ankle-deep in 
slush ; a thin, icy rain was falling ; the yellow fog enwrapped the 
pedestrians squelching down the lane ; and, going through them in 
a narrow-path, I saw Francis Thompson, wet and mud-spattered. 
But he was not unhappy. What is a day of unpleasant weather 
to one who lives in eternity ? His lips were moving, his head was 
raised, his eyes were humid with emotion, for above the roof of 
the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit Company, in the murk of the fog, 
he saw beatific visions. They were his reality, not the visible 
world. 

" He was on his way to the office of the Academy with the 
manuscript of a book review, and on his damp back was slung the 
weather-worn satchel in which he would carry away volumes for 
the ensuing week. A Thompson article in The Academy gave 
distinction to the issue. What splendid prose it was ! Reading 
the proofs, we would declaim passages aloud for the mere joy of 
giving utterance to his periods. He wrote a series of articles on 
' Poets as Prose Writers ' which must some day be recovered from 
the files ; he wrote on anything. I discovered that his interest in 
battles, and the strategy of great commanders was as keen as his con- 
cern with cricket. So the satchel was filled with military memoirs, 
and retired generals ensconced in the armchairs of service clubs 
wondered. Here was a man who manipulated words as they 
manipulated men. Once or twice in those seven years of our inter- 
course a flame of his old poetic fire blazed out, and once I was able 
to divert the flame into the pages of the Academy. When Cecil 
Rhodes died I telegraphed to Thompson to hasten to the office. 
That was on a Monday. He appeared on the Tuesday. I asked 
him point blank if he would write an ode on Cecil Rhodes for the 
next issue of the paper, and without waiting for his refusal talked 
Rhodes to him for half an hour, roused his enthusiasm, and he de- 
parted with a half promise to deliver the ode on Thursday morning. 
Thursday came and nearly passed. I sent him three telegrams, 
but received no answer. It was necessary to go to press at eight 
o'clock. At half-past six he arrived, and proceeded to extract 
from his pockets a dozen and more scraps of crumpled paper, each 
containing a fragment of the ode. I pieced them together, sent 

2 55 



Friends and Opinions 

the blurred manuscript to the printers, gave him money for his 
dinner, and exacted a promise that he would return in an hour to 
read the proof. He returned dazed and incoherent, read the proof 
standing and swaying as he read, and murmured : ' It's all right/ 
It was all right. I am prouder of having published that ode than 
of anything else that the Academy ever contained. In 1904, 
when I resigned the editorship of the Academy, we no longer met 
regularly ; but I saw Thompson at infrequent intervals at Mrs. 
Meynell's house. He would come to dinner at any hour that 
suited his mood, take his bite and sip, and pace the room with a 
book in his hand, striking innumerable matches, never keeping 
his pipe alight, rarely taking part in the general conversation, but 
ever courteous and ever ready to laugh at the slightest pleasantry." 

Of his editor, and to his editor, Thompson writes : 

" 39 GOLDNEY ROAD, HARROW ROAD, 
Sunday Night, 

"DEAR HIND, Since I was betrayed so unfortunately 
into putting a hasty definition into clumsy words, I beg 
to be allowed to define my intended meaning to define 
my definition, in fact. I called you, I believe, 'a man of 
the world with a taste for letters.' It would be nearer 
my meaning if I had called you a man of action with a 
love for letters and art. Wilfrid Blunt, Wyndham, &c., 
are examples of the class. I might also say Henley. 
It is true that you no more than Henley have ever 
been a man of action like Blunt or Wyndham. Some 
more inclusive term is needed. The essential thing 
is, that life occupies the principal place in your regard 
not life as it should be lived, the ideal of life in 
other words but actual everyday life, f life as she is 
lived.' This is foremost, letters or art second. Raleigh 
and a host of the great Elizabethans belonged to the 
same school. ' Man of action first ' is perhaps the 
nearest I can get to it. ' Man of the world' is bungling 
because it bears so many significations. Anyway, now, 
I hope, you have some idea of my meaning. It was an 
antithesis between the pure thinker and recluse, on one 

256 










,,A 



r 



r //'" ^J lionijjjcn r/ '!//<<? ( J//V-V 

rcucn !ni fii'frard (- ih'i/ncll . 
(7 (' 






Late Copy 

hand ; the man interested in action for its own sake, yet 
with a foothold in letters, on the other. Yours ever, 

F. T." 

Scruples in criticism, anxiety over ten shillings over- 
drawn from the Academy's cashier, and the imaginary 
coldness of his editor in consequence, brought Mr. 
Wilfred Whitten letters a column long, and though 
abbreviated (as most given in this book are), they are 
sufficiently characteristic of a profuse manner : 

"DEAR HIND, I muddled up the time altogether to- 
day. How, I do not now understand. I started off 
soon after 2. Thinking I had time for a letter to the 
Academy which it had been in my mind to write, I 
delayed my journey to write it. When I was drawing 
to a conclusion, I heard the clock strike 3 (as it seemed 
to me). I thought I should soon be finished, so went 
on to the end. A few minutes later, as it appeared, the 
clock struck again, and I counted 4. Alarmed, I rushed 
off vexed that I should get in by half-past 4 instead 
of half-past 3, as I intended and finished the thing 
in the train. I got to the Academy, and was struck all 
of a heap. There was nobody there, and it was ten 
past six! How I did it, I do not even now understand. 
I will be with you in good time to-morrow. But that 
cannot make amends to myself for such a fiasco and 
waste of time. Yours, F. T." 

At other times his copy is late because he has no 
stamp ; or, thinking he has delivered an article, the next 
day he finds half of it still in his pocket ; but illness is 
his stand-by, his most robust excuse. 

The two following letters tell of books lost on either 

side : 

" 16 ELGIN AVENUE, W. 
November 2, 1897. 

"MY DEAR HIND, I will do as you wish about the 
Crashaw. I think you are right, but in the absence of 

2 57 R 



Friends and Opinions 

any notification I kept to the stipulated length of two 
columns. 

" I received the letter you forwarded from Arthur 
Waugh ; but the book which should have accompanied 
it has not been sent me. Will you please see what has 
become of it, and have it forwarded at once. I am 
afraid it may have got mixed with the books for review ; 
and it is a book I value, sent me as a gift by Waugh, in 
recognition of my last f Excursion.' Please let the 
matter be looked into without delay. 

" I am glad to hear that Wells has given you well- 
deserved recognition in the Saturday. Yours sincerely, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

11 P.S. For fear of any confusion, I may add that 
Waugh's book is a volume of ' Political Pamphlets/ 
belonging to the same ' Library ' as the volume noticed 
in my last ' Excursion.' 

" DEAR HIND, I regret exceedingly to find that the 
Menpes was disposed of along with an accumulation of 
back review books, nor can I get it back, for it sold 
almost at once. I am very sorry it should have 
happened ; because it should not and would not have 
been sold, had it not gone among others when I was in 
a hurry, and my mind occupied only with the work I 
had in hand. Of course, under such circumstances, I 
hold myself responsible for replacing it as soon as I can. 
Or if you cannot wait, I would suggest you get the book 
and dock it out of my extra money. The only alter- 
native is for me to pick oakum (if they do that in debtors' 
gaols). And I have not the talents for oakum-picking. 
Though I enjoyed the distinguished tuition of a burglar, 
who had gone through many trials and houses in the 
pursuit of this little-known art, I showed such mediocre 
capacity that the Master did not encourage me to per- 
severe. Besides, seeing how overcrowded the profession 
is, it would be a pity for me to take the oakum out of 
another man's fingers. 

258 



More " Academy " 

" Seriously, I am very upset that this should have 
happened. I can think of nothing but what I have 
suggested. Yours sincerely, F. THOMPSON." 

tl DEAR HIND, I was taken sick on my way to the 
station, not having been to bed all night, and having 
been working a good part of to-day; and though I came 
on as soon as I could pull myself together again, I was 
too late. So I leave here the Dumas article, w 7 hich I 
brought with me, and will be down to-morrow morning, 
when I am told you will be here. Yours in haste, 

F. THOMPSON. 

11 P. S. You had another very interesting article last 
week ; but I had qualms whether your art of artistic 
romance, or of the Thing Seen, or the Thing which 
Ought to have been Seen if it Wasn't, was taking me in 
again with its realism more real than fact." 

" DEAR HIND, I was so unwell yesterday that I could 
not come neuralgia in the eye. I am the more sorry 
because the Watson article was ready to bring with me, 
as you desired. The acute pain drove it out of my head. 
Nor could I see to write an explanation of my absence. 
To-day, when I remembered the unsent article, I thought 
it of course too late to be of use to you this week. So, 
my eye being still weak, I decided to bring it (not the 
eye) to-morrow, with personal explanation. But getting 
your telegram I send it herewith. A really fine Ode 1 
though close (in point of style) to my 'Nineteenth 
Century' Ode in the Academy, Thorp perceived it, 
without any ' lead ' from me ; so it is not merely my 
own fancy. But it is, on the whole, a better poem than 
the original. If all made such fine use of the model, I 
would not mind imitation. Yours in haste, 

F. THOMPSON." 

1 William Watson's on the Coronation of Edward VII. 

259 



Friends and Opinions 

" 16 ELGIN AVENUE, W. 
Monday. 

11 MY DEAR HIND, I was taken very ill last week, and 
was totally unable to get in my work for the Academy. 
Having pulled round, I send you herewith the Words- 
worth, and trust to let you have the Fiona Macleod in 
the course of to-morrow, or at any rate by Wednesday 
morning by the latest. 

" With regard to your request for articles on Shelley, 
Browning, and Tennyson, I am sorry that, after careful 
consideration, I must ask you to hand them over to 
someone else. Considering the importance the great 
importance of what I am asked to treat, I do not feel 
that I could do justice either to my subject or my own 
reputation within the limit of 1000 words proposed. 
In the case of such minor men as Landor, or even 
possibly Macaulay, I should not object to the limitation 
biographical details being omitted. But I simply 
cannot pledge my name to a disposal of Tennyson or 
Browning in about two columns. It would be a mere 
clumsy spoiling of material which I might to greater 
advantage use elsewhere. I could only undertake it on 
the terms that the length of the article should be de- 
termined by the organic exigencies of my treatment 
alone. Of course I have never dreamed of anything 
beyond five columns as what you could reasonably 
allow me for important articles. If some have extended 
to more, it has been the result of miscalculation, and I 
should have quite acquiesced in your cutting such ex- 
cessive articles down. Yours very sincerely, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

Of the ethics of reviewing he writes at length, to the 
Editor : 

" I regret that in pressure of work and ill-health 

Miss Frances Power Cobbe's letter, which you forwarded 

260 



The Reviewer 

me, has not received the immediate attention which 
it deserved. I regret that my review should strike her 
as a personal attack. But I cannot see that it ex- 
ceeded the limits of impartial criticism. Miss Power 
Cobbe seems to imply that I in some way found Miss 
Shore's poems 'morally objectionable.' I am unaware 
of any sentence which could create such an impression. 
For the rest, I was necessarily unaware of Miss Shore's 
personal circumstances. I was not even aware of its 
being her first book of poems. When a book comes 
before a reviewer for criticism, he cannot be expected to 
know or take account of personal matters of anything 
outside the book itself. Many things might plead that 
he should be very gentle with the author, but he has no 
knowledge of them. The book is an impersonal thing to 
him ; and the author who publishes a book becomes im- 
personal, and must expect to be treated as a mere name 
at the head of so many printed pages ; it is the inevit- 
able consequence of publication. 

"The critic can but register his impressions, coldly 
impartial by his very function. Did he abstain from 
the blame he thought just, because (for example) of the 
writer's sex, it would be equivalent to abdicating criticism 
where women are concerned, extending the privileges of 
the drawing-room to the reviewing-column. But women 
of literary power would be the first to protest against 
the insincerity of 'letting them off' because of their 
sex." 

But it may be judged that reviewing is not always 
so strict a business : 

" 16 ELGIN AVENUE, W. 
Saturday. 

" MY DEAR HIND, I have been very unwell for the 
last two or three weeks, or your urgent requests should 
have been better attended to. The Dunlop article was 
finished on Monday week, when I got your letter from 

261 



Friends and Opinions 

Henley, and consequently bad partly to re-write it. 
And unluckily an attack of sickness which confined me 
to bed prevented my getting it in yesterday, although it 
was actually done. But I trust I am now much better 
all round, and shall be able to give the Academy proper 
attention. It is cutting my own throat for me to neglect 
it, and you may be sure I should not wilfully keep you 
waiting as I have done the last two or three weeks. I 
trust I have met Henley's wishes in the article as it now 
stands. I had no notion, to begin with, that there was 
so much to do over the book ; and so I had treated it 
slightly. I will call in on Monday, in case you have 
anything you might wish to say in regard to it. 

" With much regrets for my delay (but really I have 
been having a pretty beastly time of it) Yours sincerely, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

This was no longer the Henley of the great time, when 
every issue of the Scots Observer contained a poem or 
essay fit to make a beginning of fame for one of the 
"young men"; when this week the new cadences of 
Mr. Kipling's " Barrack-Room Ballads" sent city readers 
swinging and chanting back from their offices towards 
suburban sunset and supper. Those contributors fronted 
a famous future, their organ observed of all observers, 
their editor the instantaneous boisterous welcomer 
of the talent that served his turn. All the precious 
persons of his choice made the bluff figure of the 
chief the more defined. " I am the Captain of my 
Soul ' was his boast, but others knew him as the 
captain of a newspaper staff. Famous for the young 
men he made his own, he is here recalled for the young 
man he rejected. My father sent him a poem by Francis 
Thompson which, consistently enough, he refused. 
Indocile, he would probably still have resolution to 
refuse verses ''reeking of Shelley, whom I detest." It 
is proof of his perception that from the first he knew 

262 



A Rejection 

the newcomer was no shipmate for the Captain Silver 
of the literary weeklies. In the description of the lame 
pirate of Treasure Island the likening of his face to a 
ham suggests that the image of the editor, more massive 
than those of any two contributors, was before Steven- 
son as he wrote ; pirate and editor had each a crutch, 
and each threw it at an intruder. Thompson's words of 
Henley and his last book impute to him, too, a Silver's 
grip : 

" . . . We know exactly the best he has done, and 
resent instinctively the slightest deflection from it. Well, 
here there are such deflections that is all which can be 
said ; and we feel them in exact proportion to our love 
of the Henley who took us masterfully by the throat of 
old. He still takes us by the throat, but his grip is not 
compulsive. Yet now and again the old mastery thrills 
us, and we remember. It is good to remember." 

And Henley on his side learnt to admire. Where the 
poet had failed, the journalist writing about TJie 
Centenary Burns had his strong approval : 

''March 7, 1897. 

"DEAR HIND,, Thompson's article, which came in this morning, 
is quite masterly throughout. The worst I can say against it is, 
indeed, that it anticipates some parts of my own terminal essay, 
so that I shall have to quote it instead of writing out of my own 
stomach. All manner of compliments to him,, and a thousand 
thanks. I know not which to admire the more : his critical intelli- 
gence or his intellectual courage. 

" To one point only must I take exception. The book is re- 
ferred to throughout as ' Mr. Henley's/ This it is not ; so, in 
justice to Henderson (who feels the slight the more keenly because 
of the uncommon brilliancy of the work) I must ask you to find 
room for the protest herewith enclosed. . . . Sincerely yours, 

W. E. H." 

Henley's half-capitulation shows a streak of unsus- 
pected tolerance. F. T. reeked of so many things, 

263 



Friends and Opinions 

besides Shelley, that Henley detested. The Burns 
article itself, to which Henley makes allusion, says un- 
compromising things of Burns : 

" Imagination and tenderness demand either the refine- 
ment of education or the refinement of pure and sweet 
life. These things might be in peasant song. They 
are in the songs of the Dimbovitza, which are higher 
as absolute poetry than anything within Burns' compass. 
Not because these songs are the outcome of greater 
genius, but because they are the outcome of a healthier 
and sweeter rustic state ; a state in which the women 
were chaste and tender, the men brave and sober. 
Burns could well have sung it had he known it." 

Writing a year later, Henley, on the defensive, said : 

" MY DEAR HIND ; What a jackass is your F. Thompson ! I 
have never babbled the Art for Art's Sake babble. If I have, I'll 
eat the passage publicly. What I've said is, the better the writer 
the better the poet : that, in fact, good writing's better than bad. 
That is my only formula, and that I'm no more likely to swallow 
than F. T. is to write invariably well. Yours ever sincerely, 

W. E. HENLEY." 

But Henley and Thompson were to make friends : 

" MY DEAR THOMPSON, I saw Henley on Saturday. He wants 
us to call on him next Friday afternoon. Will you be here at 
three sharp ? Henley said some very nice things about you, and 
is quite anxious to meet you. He also bids me say that he is 
looking forward to your excursions on the Prophets. So do hurry 
them up. He tells me that many of the lyrics in his Anthology 
are from the Old Testament. This is entre nous. Sincerely yours, 

LEWIS HIND." 

His only encounter with the sage of Muswell Hill 
followed, but not at three sharp. To his escort, Mr. E. V. 
Lucas and Mr. Hind, Henley was the mighty overseer of 
men who had not found, save through him, their journal- 
istic souls. The escort still marvels at F. T.'s unpunctu- 
ality. Francis owed neither his soul nor hours to any 

264 



He Visits Henley 

man, and was late. li I have had no time to eat, Hind," 
was his gloomy beginning. Mr. Hind has described what 
followed a meal at the station : 

" Suddenly he became rigid, his body swayed, and a film came 
over his eyes. A minute or two passed ; then he recovered, 
lighted his pipe, and did not refer to the episode. We arrived at 
Henley's house two hours late." 

Doubtless his timorousness was as great as theirs, 
only his timeliness was less. But it was he who 
fronted and appeased the wrathful master with talk of 
" London Voluntaries " and Henley's influence. Instead 
of reeking of Shelley he showed himself reeking of 
Henley, who was not abhorrent. The escort were left 
well to the rear in flatteries no less sincere than theirs. 
Thompson's admirations were always well set up and 
bright-eyed because they were so well reasoned. No 
prepossessions, whims, or sloths made up his opinion. 
No author was carelessly shelved or unshelved ; he did 
not put Swinburne aside although his angels and Swin- 
burne's never rested nor flew on the wing together. His 
attention was widely inclusive. Often would he come with 
some cutting of fugitive verse and tender it for what it 
was worth, reading it aloud and expecting from his audi- 
ence the controlled and properly adjusted pleasure 
he himself experienced. So tolerant was he, that 
anybody's complaint that there " was nothing in 
it," would cause him to reconsider his cutting ; the 
"anybody' of poetry or criticism was the recipient 
of his constant courtesy. He was very slow too slow 
for the short span of his life to alter his allegiance 
to the literature that had ever seriously contented him. 
The novels of Lord Lytton he read again at the end 
of his life because he had early cared for them, and 
reasonably, he found. So with Hardy ; of one passage 
I remember him to have often spoken with parti- 
cular admiration that in which Sergeant Troy thralls 

265 



Friends and Opinions 

a woman by sword play and the swinging of his 
flashing steel round and round her person. So with 
Meredith, over whose novels I have found him sitting 
in a Westbourne Grove confectioner's, with, I am 
sure, " review ' books unreviewed in his bag, and in his 
pocket telegrams from Hind. Of Meredith's poetry his 
admiration was of the established sort that needs no 
questioning. And Jacobs had his laugh, always readier 
than his tear, for pathetic print is more liable to 
stand suspect on the page than humorous. Whatever 
modern author he discussed it was his relish rather than 
his distaste that flavoured his opinion. 

Henley and he were amiable for an afternoon ; but 
the difference between them could hardly have been 
bridged for longer. The differences between them were 
made up of crude difference of speech, of the actual 
lipping of feelings and phrases. Thompson writes 
lightly in the following note-book comment, but he is 
treading lightly because the ground beneath quakes 
with radical conflict : 

u We are convinced Mr. H. has been misled by a 
false report. It is the more probable because Spring, 
of late years, has been flighty, and given rise to dis- 
satisfied comment. We are aware that C. P. has spoken 
of 'all amorous May,' and yet another poet has gone 
so far as to call the same lady ' wanton.' But l the harlot 
spring' Captain, these be very bitter words. Why 
in the name of wilfulness, why must poor Spring of 
all seasons, poor Spring be a harlot ? Even the author 
of Dolores, with all his disrelish for ' lilies and lan- 
guors,' has not committed defloration of the poor 
young maid 'the girl child Spring'; he leaves her as 
he found her. If she escaped the dangerous society 
of Mr. S. (whose verse would ' thaw the consecrated 
snow that lies on Dian's lap ') we cannot believe she 
should later make this slip." 

266 



Bunyan 

Of Henley's "fads, blindnesses, wilful crotchets" as also 
of his critical prose, "the swift and restless brilliance of 
a leaping salmon in the sunlight," F. T. wrote in the 
Academy and brought, in doing so, the thought to 
one's mind of his own dissimilarity. 

Perhaps nowhere in all the thousand columns F. T. 
contributed to the Press is a single wilful word. The 
unexpected must never be expected of him. His views 
on the general literature of the past may be taken for 
granted, or sought in their proper place. He will 
seldom be found at variance with the accepted estimates. 
Perhaps only once does he stand nearly alone. One of 
his earliest essays "Bunyan in the Light of Modern 
Criticism " approved Mr. Richard Bowling's assault 
upon The Pilgrim's Progress. Thompson could not 
tolerate the dulness and insufficiency of Bunyan's 
descriptions :- 

"In the account of the Valley of Despair he does 
flicker into a meagre glimmer of description ; but its 
only effect is to leave the darkness of his fancy visible, 
and he flickers feebly out again. The Mouth of Hell 
is by the way ; and, after his usual commonplace 
manner of vision, he introduces this tremendous idea 
with a dense flippancy, such as never surely was ac- 
corded it before." 

If he essayed other reversals of conventional opinion, 
he did so in good faith. But one goes to his critical 
work, not for its consistent good faith and sound sense, 
but for the few dominant, vital enthusiasms that hold him 
and would have been written of, even if he had never 
contributed to the papers. The " Shelley' has been 
quoted incidentally in these pages; his " Crashaw," in 
its carefully critical tone, seems to deny an admiration 
often obvious in Thompson's work. As a reviewer he put 
by some of his impulsive affection. De Quincey and 
Patmore entered into his life ; to place them among the 

267 



Friends and Opinions 

"reviewer's " authors would be absurd. Rossetti's name 
got into Thompson's criticisms from every quarter ; it 
is in "Paganism Old and New," in the "Don Quixote," 
in "Crashaw," and in a dozen other papers; it dogs 
de Quincey's in and out of all the prose work. 

He professed no learning, boasted no single proficiency. 
In a young family that was finding its way about in 
journalism and painting and other professions, he 
offered no unfriendly criticism, and seemed to know of 
none. I wonderingly remember now how he let me 
help him in an article on Hardy. At first there had 
been a difficulty about the re-reading of the novels ; 
11 No, Wilfrid, it's no good. As I thought, it's no good, 
Wilfrid," he had said after searching the shops of Kil- 
burn for the books he wanted. " Your own copies are 
gone gone from the shelves, and I've no way of pro- 
curing others." Even when supplied with copies he 
needed help, and wrote, as I know from the printed 
article, a thing of patchwork, with a centre-piece of his 
own well-knit prose, and a beginning and end ; the rest 
the bedraggled fringes, which I recognise with reluct- 
ance as I read them now for my own. 

His earlier admiration of Swinburne is restated with 
reserves in his Academy review of the collected works of 
that poet, of whom it was rumoured that he disapproved 
of Thompson's liberties with the English language. 
Many younger poets might have been made the 
happier had they been aware whose was the pen that 
praised them in print. In Hand in Hand, Verses by a 
Mother and Daughter, F. T. makes the discovery of a 
sonnet with a last line that "is a touch of genius" 
a sonnet by the daughter, Mr. Rudyard Kipling's sister, 
and called " Love's Murderer." Under the heading 
"Above Average," 1901, he deals with the books of 
Mr. Aleister Crowley and Mr. Madison Cawein. Mr. 
Crowleyhehad reviewed before. "The Mother's Tragedy" 

contains the "old vigour and boldness, the sinewy phrase 

268 



Contemporaries 

that draws the praise out of you." At less length we 
read of Mr. Cawein, whose " strength lies in luxuriant 
descriptive power. . . . Assuredly, in this single gift, 
Mr. Cawein shows very great promise and no small 
accomplishment." He welcomes in the Academy the 
poetry of Mr. Sturge Moore, Mr. Alfred Noyes, and Lord 
Alfred Douglas; and anticipating George Meredith, he 
praises Dora Sigerson Shorter for her gifts of metrical 
narrative, adding : " Her ballads touch a deep and 
poignant feeling. The unconsciousness of a child con- 
trasted with the sorrow of its earthly lot this is a 
familiar theme, yet Mrs. Shorter handles it with un- 
familiar freshness and power." He pulls the ropes for 
Mr. Newbolt's Admirals All; he ducks his head to 
Mr. Owen Seaman's parodies. He gathers "the teem- 
ing felicities '' from the Studies in Prose and Verse of 
Mr. Arthur Symons. F. T. was one of the few critics 
who "lived by admiration." At the end of a day of 
reviewing he would still have the spirit to cut occasional 
verses from his evening paper and carry them for appro- 
bation to friends far quicker than he to shrug fastidious 
shoulders. 

Aubrey de Vere, a man mellow in ancient stateliness, 
he met at Palace Court. The obituary notice of de 
Vere in the Academy was written by him. From the 
"Ode to the Daffodil" and "Autumnal Ode" he quotes 
enough to justify, with reservation, a high admiration : 

" Of warmth he was capable, especially in his younger 
days, but not of pathos or subtle suggestion. His 
general manner, it must be owned, was somewhat coldly 
grave. One of his odes is fine, with passages of ab- 
solute grandeur ; some of his sonnets are only not 
among the best in that kind." 

His appreciations were not ordered by papers com- 
mitted to a policy of praise. On the contrary, he wrote : 
" My editors complain that I don't go for people that 

269 



Friends and Opinions 

I am too lenient." For all that, he knew the distress 
of the vapid verse that came his way, and he stopped 
to note it in rhyme :- 

Of little poets, neither fool nor seer, 
Aping the larger song, let all men hear 
How weary is our heart these many days ! 

Of bards who, feeling half the thing they say, 
Say twice the thing they feel, and in such way 
Piece out a passion . . . 

* 

Of bards indignant in an easy chair 

(Because just so great bards before them were) 

Who yet can only bring 

With all their toil 

Their kettle of verse to sing, 

But never boil, 

How weary is our heart these many days ! 

But the solace he had to the drudgery of reviewing 
was generally ancient. When he could set to and write 
a solid Academy page on the " clod-paced Drayton," 
note the sluggishness of "his thick-coming ideas in the 
strait pen of a denned stanza," chaff him for the room 
he needs to turn about in, and cry "hear, hear!' to 
his minor metres, he was doing lively work and was 
lively at it. Or when Samuel Daniel comes up for 
judgment, the critic is manifestly happy happier than 
in the presence of Mr. Maurice Hewlett or Mr. Kipling. 
A review of an Elizabethan is touched with a quicker 
interest than that of the weightiest in contemporary 
literature. The evenness of his judgment, the unbiassed 
distribution of his attention makes for fairness, but 
somewhat spoils the current and local effectiveness. He 
enjoyed getting at Butler's wit more than getting at 
Oscar Wilde's. Hudibras was a book of the moment 
for him, w r hereas The Yellow Book was not. St. Francis 

de Sales might tempt him on a bookstall, but he never 

270 



Last Books 

bought a new work. D'Annunzio and publishers' 
announcements did not catch his pennies ; nor were 
his borrowings much more modern. The authors he 
had from my shelves were Swedenborg and Shakespeare, 
with W. W. Jacobs, in whose jolly company he spent 
a few of the last hours of his life. 



271 



CHAPTER XIII: THE LONDONER 

ON days when London is cracked and bleared with cold, 
and passengers on the black pavement are grey and 
purple and mean in their distress, whipped by the East 
Wind and chivied by the draughts of the gutters ; when 
lamp-posts and telegraph poles and the harsh sides of 
the houses ache together and shiver, Thompson would 
be the most forlorn and shrivelled figure in the open. 
It always seemed to be a necessity of his to be out in 
rough weather. I have never known him to stay in on 
its account ; and at times when even riches lack con- 
fidence, and an universal scourge of cold and ugliness 
lashes the town, he was about. Even within, beside a 
fire, he was a weathercock of a man. The distress of 
his hands, and the veering of his hair from the com- 
parative orderliness of other times would instantly 
proclaim an East wind. It was written all over him, 
and, though come to the shelter of four walls, the tails 
of his coat seemed still to be fluttering. One thought 
of him when East winds blew as the Pope of Chester- 
field's description " . . . his poor body a mere Pandora's 
box, containing all the ills that ever afflicted humanity." 
Sensitive beyond endurance, Francis yet made nought of 
his pains so long as the keener sensitiveness of his con- 
science was undisturbed. Of all men the least fit to 
endure physical suffering, he endured it forgetfully and 
even light-heartedly unless, his spiritual assent being 
thwarted, he felt the chills of estrangement from God. 

He was not more comfortable in the sun, and against 
the particular heat of 1906 he had particular ill-will. 

" Most people expatiate on the excellence of this summer, 

272 



Spring in Kilburn 

though the angry and malignant sun is as unlike the 
true summer sun as the heat of fever to the heat of 
youth." It was his habit to go forth in August in an 
ulster threadbare, perhaps but his own fever alone 
explains his distress. 

Sister Songs opens with a complaint against the spring 
season of 1891 : 

Shrewd winds and shrill, were these the speech of May ? 
A ragged, slag-grey sky invested so, 
Mary's spoilt nursling, wert thou wont to go ? 

"To my Godchild' opens in the same manner. The 
early months, drenched with icy rain, had meant misery 
and dumbness. Breaking of silence came with the 
breaking of the frost, and the poetry which returned 
with the warm weather is full of acknowledgments. It 
is something more than the small-talk of his verse ; it is, 
like the dedications of the eighteenth century, a formal 
obeisance to a patron " Sun-god and song-god." 

The Spring found him happiest. The May of his 
poems is the May known to the Londoner. After 
deploring, in the proem of Sister Songs, the lateness of 
the season, it is suddenly upon him. He discovered 
it for certain round a street corner not far from his 
lodgings in Elgin Avenue- 
Mark yonder how the long laburnum drips 
Its jocund spilth of fire, its honey of wild flame. 

That is the signal best known to the Londoner. Most 
of the details of his description in Sister Songs, from the 
stars to Covent Garden clock, are metropolitan. From 
his high room, down steep stairs, a faded oilcloth at his 
feet, the coiling patterns of a varnished wall-paper at his 
restricted elbow ; through the muffled light and air of 
the hall, and past the broken stucco of the front steps, 
he would emerge on a morning of good fortune, to see, 

273 3 



The Londoner 

not a dismal street of other lodgings exactly like 
his own, but 

A garden of enchanting 
In visionary May, 
Swayless for the spirit's haunting. 

Thrice threefold walled with emerald from our mortal 
mornings grey. 

We may imagine that St. Francis cared not overmuch 
for the look of the Assisi streets ; it is doubtful whether 
Francis of Kilburn cared at all about the aspect of 
Kilburn. The gayest thoroughfare caught his eye no 
more than the most dismal and Brondesbury is not gay. 
To " And your new lodging, Francis, what of it ? ' he 
would give a good account of the rights and lefts that 
led there, but he would make no picture of it for you, 
having none himself. I do not suppose he found the 
soot and stucco architecture of Elgin Avenue any more 
or less entertaining than the red brick of Palace Court, 
and, while he might describe Oxford Street as "stony- 
hearted," I doubt if he could have described to the 
satisfaction of a builder the nature of its exterior stone. 
Manchester could hardly do less than blind the civic eye. 
Certainly Francis was no observer, and had retained the 
ignorance, rather than the innocence, of his Vision. 

At this time, after his return from Pantasaph, his days 
were mostly spent at Palace Court and nights passed in 
the region which at first by accident and later by habit 
was his own. When, many years before, he came from 
Storrington,he was lodgedat FernheadRoad, Paddington, 
and afterwards at various houses in Elgin Avenue with 
Landlady Maries, the wife of my father's printer. Faithful 
to the northern town, his last lodging was at 128 Brondes- 
bury Road, Kilburn. At the junction of Elgin Avenue 
and Chippenham Road is the "Skiddaw" public-house, 
by whose parlour-fire he often spent nocturnal hours in 
preference to the hearths of the critics. Mr. Pile, the 

274 



In the Edgware Road 

tobacconist next door, is remembered for the support 
that he gave to Francis's tremulous claims to a place 
next the fire. Francis seldom failed to receive kindness 
at the hands of rougher men ; his constant courtesy of 
speech and his humility were to the liking of a class quick 
to know a gentle man. From the whispered hints of 
Mr. Pile it was understood that the frail, shabby man of 
many platitudes and an abstracted eye was privileged. 

From the situation of his lodgings it came about that 
the Edgware Road was his Rambla, his Via dei Palazzi, 
his Rue de Rivoli ; and at the end of it, the site of 
Tyburn Tree. No local allusion, however, finds place 
in his " To the English Martyrs," which is another sign of 
his aloofness. But when he writes of the Tree that 

The shadow lies on England now 
Of the deathly-fruited bough, 
Cold and black with malison 
Lies between the land and sun ; 
Putting out the sun, the bough 
Shades England now, 

his voice rose from the frozen and fogged pavement that 
marks the very spot. 

Browning, too, knew, and far better, the "cheap 
jewellery and servants' underclothing' of the Edgware 
Road. Unlike Browning, F. T. had no eye for values. 
And among night-caps, he would never have known 
that they were cotton, and hardly that they were red. 
As soon as say whether jewellery or clothing was cheap, 
he could have argued with Browning on the vintages. 
A connoisseur in his books by right of imagination, his 
connoisseurship would not have passed muster in the 
shops; it was nailed to the counter. His waggon of 
wares ran smoothly enough in starry traces ; but hitched 
to cart-horses in Edgware Road he could not have 
driven it ten yards. Perhaps when Patmore, a collector 
of rubies and sapphires, drew specimen stones from his 

275 



The Londoner 

waistcoat, Thompson was thrilled with the real presence ; 
but not so much as by the love of immaterial jewels. 
Not even Meredith's burgundy could teach him who 
had written of grapes against the sun without ever enter- 
ing a vineyard anything of wine-merchant's wine. Be- 
fore Hedges and Butler were in partnership, before the 
chateaux were a-building, his own cellar had been laid 
down. 

His inattention in the Edgware Road was out and out ; 
one marvels that he ever turned the right corner, and 
not at all that he was knocked down by a cab. But 
instinctively his eyes would open in fair presences ; the 
things that made poetry struck through his closed lids, 
as daylight through a sleeper's. But inattention in the 
Edgware Road made the place blank as a railway tunnel. 
He could look upon the raiment of his sitter in " Love 
in Dian's Lap," and pay his compliments, but never a 
word had he for the bonnets of mistress or maid upon 
the highway. Riding in an omnibus he would not know 
whether Polaire or a Sister of Charity were at his side. 

He was constantly alone ; and, often as I have met 
him in the streets of London, I have seldom surprised 
him in a conscious moment. He would walk past, 
looking straight before him, and if he was always late 
for his appointments, and took longer, by several hours, 
to get home at night than the average man, it was be- 
cause he would retrace his steps, and go to and fro 
upon a certain beat as if indefinitely postponing the evil 
moment when he would have to confine himself for 
food, or sleep. 

The lamps of the town bring moths from the dark 
fields. They had no attraction for him. I never heard 
him talking of the beauty of London. There is no 
pleasure in his lines, which like others here quoted are 
put forward, not as poetry, but as biography 

The blear and blurred eyes of the lamps 
Against the damps, 
276 



The London Book 

or in the commentary on a London dawn from an- 
other note-book : 



The dreary scream of stable cocks 

Comes ghastly through the dark, 
The salty blues of day 

Slant on the dreary park ; 
The houses' massed fumes 

Against the heartless light 

Hold the black ooze of night. 

He never went sight-seeing ; the town was the dun 
background of his own visions, but certain actualities 
were etched vividly or heavily massed upon his mental 
canvas. Certain things he knew more completely than 
the practised desultory observer, and when, in 1897, he 
was asked by Messrs. Constable for a book on London, 
he could at once fetch out of the studio of his memory 
a great number of pictures that had been stored there, 
their faces to the wall. Although " my London book " 
and the work on it made for several months his password 
to late meals at our house, he never wrote it. His 
letters to Mr. William Hyde, whose drawings were to 
make half the book, were, as it proved, Francis's only 
contribution to the scheme : 



"47 PALACE COURT, W. 

" DEAR MR. HYDE, I regret to have delayed my 
answer to your letter so long. Firstly, I was occupied by 
unavoidable business ; secondly, when I was free to con- 
sider your notes, it took me some time really to master 
them, and consider my plan in relation to them. In 
the first place, I do not design a consecutive narrative 
of any kind. I do not design to treat either topography 
or the life of London, for both of which I am utterly 
unqualified. My design is to give impressions of 

London, such as present themselves to a wanderer 

277 



The Londoner 

through its streets. I intend to divide the book into 
parts, which by way of provisional title I might de- 
scribe as Fair London and Terrible London. For 
Fair London, the plates you have already done will 
supply sufficient material in the way of illustration. 
The other part will consist of studies of London under 
its darker aspects weird, sordid, and gloomy being 
drawn from its appearance rather than its life. Under 
this section would come some of the plates already 
done ; and I have marked others among your notes, 
any of which would fall into my ideas. Since the 
darker aspect of London is particularly evident to a 
houseless wanderer, it is my idea to include in this 
section a description of the aspect of London from 
midnight to early dawn for which my own experiences 
furnish me with material. I intend to take my wanderer 
through the Strand, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, 
perhaps part of Piccadilly, the Embankment, Blackfriars 
Bridge, &c., bringing him round to Fleet Street opposite 
St. Paul's at dawn ; and to describe the night effects 
and the effects of gradual dawn in the streets. You can 
see for yourself that some of your suggested drawings 
would be embraced in this, perhaps some of those already 
done for example, " Coffee Stall, early morning " ; the 
" houseless wanderer sleeping in the streets ' and even 
the "Factory at Night," since I have in my mind such a 
factory across Westminster. Also, as regards the 
general section, I have in my mind a bridge near a 
railway station, with long shafts of electric lights, 
mingled with other lights, utilitarian, and a river ; 
which suggests sufficiently your goods depot with 
electric light effects. In the same section I should 
dwell on such a neighbourhood as New Cut. Your 
suggestion as to this or Clare Market will therefore 
be certain to come a propos, whether by night or day ; 
though I think night exhibits such neighbourhoods 
most impressively and characteristically. And I intend 

278 



The Landladies 

to describe a night fire ; and the effects of vistas of 
lamps in such a neighbourhood as Pall Mall. Locality, 
you will see, is unimportant. It is effect I wish to dwell 
on ; the character -of horror, sombreness, weirdness, or 
beauty of various scenes. My own mind turns espe- 
cially towards the gloomier majesties and suggestive- 
ness of London, because I have seen it most peculiarly 
under those aspects." 

The book was written, but, as Francis's copy was 
never produced, by another author. 

Thompson's landladies were his faithful, patient, and 
puzzled friends. He disliked their food, broke their rules, 
burnt their curtains, but seldom rebuked them. They, 
on their part, found in him none of the virtue of a good 
lodger. Notwithstanding, they showed a gentleness of 
regard and manner that did credit to their liberality. I 
have known them show an unwillingness to lose him 
quite out of proportion to his value as a lodger, and 
he showed himself more reluctant to move away from 
them than was always consistent with their excellence 
as landladies. Of one of these he was genuinely fond, 
and her feeling for him she sought to explain when 
she said, " I can sympathise with him, you know, having 
a son in the profession myself." 

It was she who sought to mend his unsociable ways 
by subtle attacks upon his solitude, saying, " It's very nice 
for Mr. Thompson ; he's got the trains at the back every 
half hour and more, when he's in his bedroom. But 
then the trains, when all's said, aren't the same as the 
company he could get downstairs. Many a time I've 
asked him to have his bit of lunch in with me and the 
other ' mental ' O yes, she's a mental case, as I may 
have told you." On a few occasions she did entice 
him to her table, but more often he was content with 
the conversation of the District Railway engines at the 
bottom of the garden. His own comment on the 

279 



The Londoner 

trains was among the random manuscripts found in 
that same bedroom : 

The very demon of the scene, 
The screaming horror of the train, 
Rushes its iron and ruthless way amain, 
A pauseless black Necessity, 
Along its iron and predestined path. 

One landlady's memories of him are supported by the 
carpet in his room, which is worn in a circle round 
his table. All night long he would walk round and 
round ; in the morning he would go to bed. There was, 
she observed, a delicate precision in his manner that 
forbade all familiarity. His prayers, pronounced as if 
he were preaching, she often heard. 

An interior glimpse comes from a fellow-lodger : 

" I will tell you things as I remember them at the Elgin Avenue 
establishment. There was a Bengali, who showed me how to play 
poker ; there was a convert parson, a dramatic critic, and a man 
who acted. I seem to remember playing cards with them better 
than anything. It was generally then that Thompson would 
come in at the front door, and call down the kitchen-stairs for 
his porridge and beer. Coming into the room, he would talk of 
something he had seen or read ; or of food, cricket, or clothes. 
He wished he had bought a suit in a shop-window, because he had 
given more for those he wore. I fancy he was not exactly rich ; 
I suppose none of us were. He would eat ; then walk up and down 
the room talking at any ear that might be listening or at none ; 
then he would write under the gas-jet. He would leave as he came. 
I don't suppose he ever gave me a look, and I had no idea he was 
a great man. But I remember him ; though for the rest, I only 
know they existed." 

Mr. Wilfred Whitten tells of the rare perhaps the 
only occasion on which F. T. dined in a restaurant 
with a friend, after the common fashion : 

" Some seven years since we dined together at the Vienna Cafe. 
You remember how, in the one conversation which Boswell felt 
himself powerless to report, Johnson ' ran over the grand scale of 

280 



Milton and the Vienna Cafe 

human knowledge.' Thus it was that night. Thompson called 
up the masters of poetry , and their mighty lines. I shall never 
forget his repeating this, from ' Comus/ as one of the things in all 
English verse that he relished 

Not that nepenthe which the wife of Thone 
In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena. 

These words fell on my ear like the music of all poetry, and I turned 
to see Thompson's eyes humid with a vast understanding. He 
dealt in these great names and antiquities. The arts, the rites, 
the mysteries, and the sciences of eld gave him their secrets and 
their secret words. But I think he loved the pomp of facts only 
that he might transmute it into the pomp of dreams, and where 
his dreams ended let his poetry tell." 

Mr. Whitten's, like Patmore's, is the testimony of one 
who knew him familiarly enough to know his better sort 
of talk. The impressions of those who met him once 
or twice generally agree with Mr. William Hyde's : 

" I remember that he was so shy and nervous that I felt anxious 
not to say anything that would increase his diffidence. The tragedy 
of his aspect was obvious. Of the glorious moments he must 
have lived in when the soul was master very few external traces 
could be seen, save his eyes." 

Which were his churches; where the roof to his 
piety ? When the cross-roads did not make his tran- 
sept and the shops his aisle, he made shift with thin 
modern Gothic, with rigid varnished bench and Belgian 
Madonnas. His altars were decked with brass vases 
and huddled bunches of the disconcerting flowers of 
commerce. Being a late and irregular comer, he would 
often find the charwoman dryly banging her broom 
among the chairs. In the Harrow Road, between a 
printing-shop and a tobacconist's, was the church nearest 
the lodging of several years. To St. Mary of the Angels, 
Bayswater, he also went upon occasion. There was a 
friend, a second Mezzofanti for languages, with the 
language of poetry, in addition, very familiarly known; 

281 



The Londoner 

and there, too, were Other friends. At Lymington he 
would quite naturally become a more timely church- 
goer. At the foot of the steep High Street, past shuttered 
town-hall and boarded shops, and along a resounding 
passage, was the little church attended by Coventry 
Patmore. Here, in a Roman camp as formidable as 
Caesar's, but uncatalogued save in the Catholic Directories, 
these two followed the Mass. The Church at such 
moments had no need of architects. Her son, St. 
Francis of Assisi, had cathedrals and towers at hand, 
but put them to no use ; Francis Thompson had none 
at hand and was no poorer. He seemed the last person 
on earth to have noted if the candlesticks came not from 
Cellini, but Birmingham ; if the altar-rails were soap- 
stone travesties of antiquity. And yet he had, at any 
rate in verse, his preferences. In "Gilded Gold," he 
refers to 

Degenerate worshippers who fall 

In purpled kirtle and brocade 

To 'parel the white Mother-Maid. 

And he decides that her image as it stood arrayed 

In vests of its self-substance wrought 
To measure of the sculptor's thought 

is " slurred by these added braveries." 

It is doubtful whether he would have crossed the road 
to hear one preacher in preference to another, or to 
hear any ; it is certain that he was as content to go to 
his prayers through a slit in a thin brick wall as under 
the tympanum of Chartres. If instead of being a 
Londoner, with the English climate, the disciplined and 
formal rows of benches, to dishearten him, he had had 
his lodging near St. Mark's or St. John Lateran, he 
might have become a more punctual church-goer. 

Lionel Johnson, who couples Francis with the Martyr 

Southwell for "devout audacity," has said the things 

282 



God's Merry Men 

that are to say of the sacred poet's familiar attitude. 
He quotes the gentleman who confuted the view that 
man's attitude towards God must necessarily be abject 
-"Not abject! Certainly, it should be deferential, but 
not abject." Against the deferential gentleman he 
ranges all saints and poets, " His carollers and gay 
minstrels His merry men." 

And he had, besides a devotional familiarity, his own 
very strictly observed devotional formalities. Every 
notebook from Ushaw days till his death is dedicated 
with some such holy device as this : 

t 

DEO IN QUO ET PER QUEM MEDITATIONES 
EjUS REMEDITO. 

He had his triumphs at the Vatican, his victories at 
Farm Street ; a Pope's messenger sought him in the 
Harrow Road with his Holiness's thanks for his trans- 
lation of a pontifical ode, and of course did not find 
him. There is a legend that about this time he wrote 
an " Ecclesiastical History " no less ! put the MS. 
into the hands of Cardinal Vaughan to beguile the way 
to Rome, and so lost it. The disappearance of the book 
might pass for fact, but I find no line about it among 
his papers, either before or after its alleged existence. 
His habit was to herald any attempt with written notes 
and exhortations to himself to begin, as thus : " Mem. 
(ink in) I might, Deo Volente, one day try my hand at 
a version of the Imit. in Biblical style, so far as it is 
given to my power." Or " Revise Pastoral ; and get 
buttons, if any possible chance." 

Francis himself did not doubt his position as a Church- 
man. The boast he makes in " The Lily of the King ' 
is more than any bishop would venture. 

St. Francis, dining one day on broken bread, with a 

283 



The Londoner 

large stone for table, cried out to his companion : " O 
brother Masseo, we are not worthy so great a treasure." 
When he had repeated these words several times his 
companion answered : " Father, how can you talk of 
treasure where there is so much poverty, and indeed 
a lack of all things ? For we have neither cloth, nor 
knife, nor dish, nor table, nor house ; neither have we 
servant nor maid to wait upon us." Then said St. 
Francis : " And this is why I look upon it as a great 
treasure, because man has no hand in it, but all has 
been given us by Divine Providence, as we clearly see 
in this bread of charity, in this beautiful table of stone, 
in this clear fountain." 

Did Francis Thompson mate so happy a Poverty ? 
She whom he took in marriage was a very shrew in 
comparison. In place of rocky platforms she gave him 
the restaurant's doubtful table-cloth, or maybe he ate 
from paper bags. Broken bread that is appetising in 
Umbria is heavy in Soho ; and Francis never drank 
from the clear stream. But for all that I remember 
his asserting, with utmost conviction in his voice, 
the excellence of the viands set before him in a shop 
in Westbourne Grove. " Here, Ev., I get what I like," 
I can hear him say ; " here the beef is always good ; 
excellent, Evie, excellent, I say." l 

Both Francises said that happiness was stored in self- 
denial, but Francis of Assisi was the quicker to make 
good his statement by immediate happiness. The same 
desires, the same secret, the same grace possessed two 
men wedded at least into the same family. The contrast 

1 It may also be observed in passing that, while he was more experienced 
in privation than were any of his friends, Francis could be fastidious. It is 
still told of him in Sussex, where a clever cook attended his invalided appetite, 
that he would make great demonstrations at the mere sight of a dish he 
disapproved. Laying down his knife and fork this frank guest would pro- 
claim against one of the several viands. " Miss Laurence, I hate mutton ! " 
The piled-up emphasis of his voice made such a sentence tremendously 
effective. " Wilfrid," he once said to my father, " Wilfrid, the Palace Court 
food is shocking /" 

284 



The Two Poverties 

is between their two ladies rather than themselves. She 
whom the Saint courted in the stony fields 

Where clear 

Through the thin trees the skies appear 
In delicate spare soil and fen, 
And slender landscape and austere 

was not the modern maiden 

Ah ! slattern, she neglects her hair, 

Her gown, her shoes. She keeps no state 

As once when her pure feet were bare 

with whom the poet of London kept company. 

At times when he was most ill and thin and cold and 
lonely, his laugh, on joining friends, would outdo theirs 
for jollity, and with the unjoyful appetite of a man whose 
every organ was out of order, he offered a grace far 
longer than customary among the grateful and pious, a 
grace so long that his meat would get cold while he 
muttered, so long that he would sometimes seem to 
imagine it was at an end before the rightful moment, 
and take up his knife and fork to start his meal, only, on 
remembering an omission, to lay them down again until 
the end. 

His sense of possession and privacy in possession of 
the beauties of nature exceeds Traherne's, whose ecstasy 
in the belief that he owned the world's treasuries was 
trebled by the thought that everybody else owned them 
too. Thompson is more selfish : 

I start- 

Thy secrets lie so bare ! 
. i . . 

With beautiful importunacy 
All things plead, ' We are fair ! ' To me 

285 



The Londoner 

The world's a morning haunt, 
A bride whose zone no man hath slipt 
But I, with baptism still bedript 

Of the prime water's font. 

On the other hand, let it be noted that all he left 
at his death was a tin box of refuse pipes that would 
not draw, unopened letters, a spirit lamp without a 
wick, pens that would not write, a small abundance 
that remained merely because he had neglected to throw 
it away. The Prayer of Poverty had been half answered 
unto him :- 

" Of thee, O Jesus, I ask to be signed with this 
privilege ; I long to be enriched with this treasure ; 
I beseech Thee, O most poor Jesus, that for Thy sake, it 
may be the mark of me and mine to all Eternity, to 
possess no thing our own under the sun ; but to live in 
penury so long as this vile body lasts." 

That he was no snatcher of review-books is already 
noted. To the Serendipity Shop the venture of a 
friend in Westbourne Grove he would often go, but 
never with any curiosity as to the varied prints, books, 
and autographs with which it was stocked. Some one 
thing would catch his eye, and be discussed, but nobody 
I have known had less of the mere passion for acquisi- 
tion. He collected nothing, and presents were accept- 
able to him but as the outward signs of kindliness : the 
meaning having once reached him, he had little use for 
the means. At no time did he possess a book-case, nor 
sufficient books to crowd the slenderest shelf. A man 
less encumbered could hardly be discovered in this 
work-a-day world. His inclination was to love the 
impersonal riches the free flames, uncaged air, water 
without the pitcher, and the wandering winds. His 
authors were no less his own because he had not put 

286 



The Spoiled Priest 

them on his shelf and clapped his autograph upon the 
fly-leaf. 

Physical self-denial, disregard of personal luxuries, 
are but the manifestations of a spiritual state, of the 
state recommended by Christ : " Blessed are the poor 
in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." For 
the Saint this state has its pressing calls. He puts his 
virtue to the proof ; he embraces the leper, he lectures 
the birds, he is a man of action ; his remotest and most 
spiritual experiences take on actuality ; the Passion puts 
its mark upon his hands, and feet, and side. The poet, 
also pierced, has no credentials. A man of inaction, he 
also renounces personal prides, ambitions, pleasures. 
The leper would pass Thompson unnoticed, and he was 
too shy, too little a man of the world, to preach to the 
practical sparrows of the Edgware Road. Though nearly 
a Franciscan, and learned in the difficult arithmetic of 
subtraction, he was necessarily not apt in the good 
works that marked the Master. 1 

The seclusion which, despite the bond between reader 
and writer, oppresses the poet, makes him impotent for 
actual good works. In a world where many things are 
ripe for the doing, he remains unaware of the duties of 
citizenship. On his behalf, as for the enclosed monk 
or nun, it may be urged that retreat from all worldly 
operations, even beneficent, is retreat from an entangle- 
ment of purposes and cross-purposes, of paradoxi- 
cal and slipshod good ; from a field where humility is 
vanity and strength goes to seed in abject poverty or 
abject riches. This alone were insufficient reason for 
withdrawal. There is a more positive motive. The 
poet's works are absolute good works. He is a mission- 
ary even if he never helps with gift or speech or touch 
another man's distress. The prayers of the Trappist 

1 There were exceptions to this habitual carelessness ; in 1898 he asked 
his sister for prayers that a friend might join the Church. She gave them 
and begged his, for her own purposes, in fair return. 

287 



The Londoner 

neither clothe the naked, nor feed the hungry, but are 
not, even if judged by the laws of expediency, the less 
valuable. They preserve two joyful possessions the art 
of prayer and the standards of austerity. They glorify 
God. So too does Poetry. Song, like Prayer, is for 
ever re-stating and re-establishing the permanent values. 
Francis Thompson's consciousness of Good and Evil 
is alone as profitable as the Bills of half a dozen 
Ministries. And his consciousness of Good and Evil 
had been less strong, had he known only the alloyed 
good and mitigated evil of active life, instead of knowing, 
in contemplation, their primaries. 

Something, as rigorous as the vows of a monk, bound 
him to his manner of life. He misused all the con- 
veniences of existence ; sought no shelter from cold, 
kept no easy hours, mismanaged his food, his work, his 
rest. He was without the Silurist's daily ecstasies and 
special Sunday " shoots of bliss : Heaven once a week." 
Thompson's Sundays were as dreary as Kilburn and a 
missed Mass could make them, as dreary as a sweated 
worker's. He knew, but neglected, as by a set purpose, 
the domestic economy of felicity observed by his fellows 
Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw, and Traherne 

That Light, that Sight, that Thought 
Which in my Soul at first he wrought. . . . 

My bliss 

Consists in this ; 

My Duty too 

In this I view. 

It is a fountain or a spring 

Refreshing me in everything. 

As to health, if he was careless of it in himself and 
others, he is excused by St. Bernard's description of 
God "as the final health." 

" To our generation uncompromising fasts and severities of 
conduct are found to be piteously alien ; not because, as rash 

388 



Crumbs of Actuality 

censors say, we are too luxurious, but because we are too intricate, 
nervous, devitalised. We find our austerities ready-made. The 
east wind has replaced the discipline, dyspepsia the hair-shirt. . . . 
Merely to front existence is a surrender of self, a choice of in- 
eludibly rigorous abnegation." 

Such is the main argument of Health and Holiness. 
But it is probable that he generalised too liberally from 
his own disabilities. Tortures were not invented and 
practised because a robuster past could make light of 
them. The rack was always agonising, or it had never 
been used. The sailor who bore his 300 lashes in 1812 
probably felt them as keenly as a sailor would feel them 
now. East winds penetrated hair-shirts. Man was the 
same, save that in greater saintliness he was ready to 
endure, and in greater cruelty was willing to inflict, more 
pain. 

Capitulation such as Thompson's to a sordid environ- 
ment may mean too great a severance from other 
things : 

"The perceptions of the spirit/' as he confessed, "are 
not indefinitely credible and sufficing without the 
occasional confirmation and assurance of the body." 

The confirmation made to him was fined down to the 
minimum. True, one sunrise sufficed for five years of 
idolatry. He could strike a fair balance for his spiritual 
load with a few crumbs of actuality. It would seem 
that the greater the spiritual load the smaller the range 
of corporeal experience necessary for the nice adjust- 
ment of the scales. Yet the adjustment must be perfect. 
One of his many analogies for the interlocking of our 
complementary natures is as follows : 

" Holiness is an oil which increases a hundred fold 
the energies of the body, which is as the wick. Impor- 
tant that this wick shall not needlessly be marred during 
preparation through some toughening ascetic process 

289 T 



The Londoner 

which must inflict certain injury. The flame is depen- 
dent after all on the corporeal wick." 

He argued, further, from Manning's longevity and 
energy, that the more copious and pure the oil, the more 
persistently and brightly does the wick burn. The 
energising potentialities of sanctity he illustrates in the 
great works accomplished by St. Francis despite the 
constant haemorrhage of the stigmata. 



290 



CHAPTER XIV: COMMUNION AND 
EXCOMMUNION 

RENUNCIATION is the better part of possession : Francis 
states very clearly that compulsion must have no hand 
in it if it is to be profitable. He writes under the 
heading, " A distraught maiden complaineth against 
enforced virginity " 

Cold is the snow of the thawless valleys, 
Chill as death is the lily's chalice, 
Only she who seeks the valleys 
Groweth roses amid the snow. 

And he reiterated that spiritual experiences do not 
endure without from time to time falling back upon 
their base for supplies, ll the confirmation and assurance 
of the body." 1 That the lines of communication were 
cut was a pressing grief. I have seen the sense of 
isolation come up against him, hold him, and shake 
him. At such times he would be within sight of children, 
and though no angels then " snatched them from him 
by the hair," he could be conscious that he was less 
near them than their relatives. His praises of domestic 
relationships ring with the note of one whose compre- 
hension is sharpened by the desire of things out of 

1 " Bodily being is the analogy of the soul's being ; our temporal is our only 
clue to our spiritual life " ; our fleshly senses the only medium for our divine 
experience. We are the symbols of ourselves. To such thoughts he adds 
disjointed notes in confirmation from the ancient mythologies: "Bird-heads 
to gods with man-bodies." " Zeus = Sky." 

291 



Communion and Excommunion 

reach. In an incomplete " Ballad of Judgement " a man, 
marvelling at his rewards in Heaven, asks : 

when did I give thee drink erewhile 

Or when embrace Thine unseen feet ? 
What gifts Thee give for my Lord Christ's smile, 
Who am a guest here most unmeet ? 

and the answer comes : 

When thou kissedst thy wife and children sweet, 
(Their eyes are fair in My sight as thine) 

1 felt the embraces on My feet 

(Lovely their locks in thy sight, and Mine). 

Other verses of the same unpublished ballad, though 
imperfect, enforce the idea : 

If a toy but gladden his little brothers 
(A touch in caress to a child's hair given) 

Young Jesus' hands are filled with prayers 
(Sweep into music all strings of Heaven). 

and further that 

.... for his sweet-kissed wife 

God kissed him on his blissful mouth. 

Allegories of a happy road from bodily to heavenly 
experience fill many a more complex passage ; here it is 
given with Chap-book directness. 

Elsewhere he closely regrets his loneliness, and re- 
pudiates the merit of its heroism in this epitaph on the 
writer of " Love in Dian's Lap " : 

Here lies one wlw could only be heroic. 

How little, in the sifted judgement, seems 
That swelling sound of vanity ! Still 'tis proved 
To be heroic is an easier thing 
Than to be just and good. If any be 
(As are how many daily ones !) who love 
With love unlofty through no lofty days 
Their little simple wives, and consecrate 

292 



The Grief-Erudite Heart 

Dull deeds with undulled justice : such poor livers, 
Though they as little look to be admired 
As thou look'st to admire, are of more prizeful rate 
Than he who worshipped with unmortal love 
A nigh unmortal woman, and knew to take 
The pricking air of snowy sacrifice. 

Being without the occasional " confirmation," he 
yearned for it ; without that particular chance of being 
daily just and good, he saw in it the sum of life's pur- 
pose. And when he was threatened with the approach 
of too close affection, he grew alarmed, crying : 

Of pleasantness I have not any art 
In this grief-erudite heart. 



Sweet ! no flowers have withered on my hair, 

For none have wreathed them there ; 

And not to me ; as unto others' lots, 

Fell flowerful youth, but such the thorns that bare 

Still faithful to my hair. 

O sweet ! for me pluck no forget-me-nots, 

But scoop for me the Lethe water dull 

Which yields the sole elixir that can bless 

Utter forgetfulness 

And I shall know that thou art pitiful. 

Another form of his painful, elaborate, and even dis- 
ingenuous attitude towards happiness was distrust. 
" All life long he had been learning how to be wretched/' 
he quotes from Hawthorne, " and now, with the lesson 
thoroughly at heart, he could with difficulty comprehend 
his little airy happiness " ; then, continuing in his own 
verse : 

In a mortal garden they set the poet 
With mortal maiden and mortal child ; 

* H 

In a mortal garden they set the poet ; 

As a trapped bird he breathed wild. 

He had smiled in sorrow : not now he smiled. 



293 



Communion and Excommunion 

But into the garden pacing slowly, 

Came a lady with eyes inhuman .... 

And the sad slow mouth of him smiled again, 

This lady I know, and she is real, 

I know this lady, and she is Pain ! 

The Lady Pain figures, in one sense, in " Love in Dian's 
Lap." His only real love was itself a thing most strictly 
circumscribed ; it existed only to be checked : 

" I yielded to the insistent commands of my con- 
science and uprooted my heart as I supposed. Later, 
the renewed presence of the beloved lady renewed the 
love I thought deracinated. For a while I swung 
vacillant. I thought I owed it to her whom I loved 
more than my love of her finally to unroot that love, 
to pluck away the last fibres of it, that I might be beyond 
treachery to my resolved duty. And at this second 
effort I finished what the first had left incomplete. 
The initial agony had really been decisive, and to 
complete the process needed only resolution. But 
it left that lady still the first, the one veritable, full- 
orbed, and apocalyptic love of my life. Through her 
was shewn me the uttermost of what love could be 
the possible divinities and celestial prophecies of it. 
None other could have taught them quite thus, for none 
other had in her the like unconscious latencies of utter 
spirituality. Surely she will one day realise them, as by 
her sweet, humble, and stainless life she has deserved 
to do." 

Of one consolation he writes to her : 

"The concluding words of your letter, 'friend and 
child,' reminded me of some lines written at the time 
I was composing " Amphicypellon." They were written 
hastily to relieve an outburst of emotion ; and, not 
thinking there was any poetry in them worthy of you, 
I never showed them you. But when I read those con- 

294 



Pain 

eluding words of your letter, I resolved to transcribe 
them that you might see you could not have addressed 
me more according to my wish." 

These verses were : 

Whence comes the consummation of all peace, 

And dignity past fools to comprehend, 
In that dear favour she for me decrees, 

Sealed by the daily-dulled name of Friend, 

Debased with what alloy, 

And each knave's cheapened toy. 
This from her mouth doth sweet with sweetness mend, 
This in her presence is its own white end. 

Fame counts past fame 

The splendour of this name ; 
This is calm deep of unperturbed joy. 

Now, Friend, short sweet outsweetening sharpest woes ! 

In wintry cold a little, little flame- 
So much to me that little ! here I close 

This errant song. pardon its much blame 1 

Now my grey day grows bright 

A little ere the night ; 
Let after-livers who may love my name, 
And gauge the price I paid for dear-bought fame, 

Know that at end, 

Pain was well paid, sweet Friend, 
Pain was well paid which brought me to your sight. 

Pain he proclaimed a pleasure. Why, then, did he 
call his pains a sacrifice ? " Delight has taken Pain to 
her heart" was the sum of St. Francis's teaching on a 
subject dear to the guest at the Franciscan monastery- 
gates. He himself wrote a commentary on St. Francis : 

" Pain, which came to man as a penalty, remains 
with him as a consecration ; his ignominy, by a 
Divine ingenuity, he is enabled to make his exaltation. 
Man, shrinking from pain, is a child shuddering on 
the verge of the water, and crying, ' It is so cold ! ' 

295 



Communion and Excommunion 

How many among us, after repeated lessenings of 
experience, are never able to comprehend that there 
is no special love without special pain ? To such 
St. Francis reveals that the Supreme Love is itself full 
of Supreme Pain. It is fire, it is torture ; his human 
weakness accuses himself of rashness in provoking it, 
even while his soul demands more pain, if it be necessary 
for more Love. So he revealed to one of his companions 
that the pain of his stigmata was agonising, but was 
accompanied by a sweetness so intense as made it 
ecstatic to him. Such is the preaching of his words 
and example to an age which understands it not. Pain 
is. Pain is inevadible. Pain may be made the instru- 
ment of joy. It is the angel with the fiery sword 
guarding the gates of the lost Eden. The flaming 
sword which pricked man from Paradise must \vave 
him back." 

The something awry, the disordering of sympathy, 
the distorting perspective, is hard to name. Perhaps 
loneliness, perhaps disease, perhaps his poetry, perhaps 
the devil. But it was there a distemper, with his own 
discomfort for its worst symptom. Like the child that 
meditates upon the sweet it sucks, while it watches the 
progress of a squabbling world in the back-yard, he 
could be above the control of his environment ; but 
the sweet once sucked, the poetry gone, he heard and 
saw and felt, and was sad and sore. 

To each a separate loveliness, 
Environed by Thy sole caress. 

Christ the Just, and can it be 

1 am made for love, no love for me ? 
Of two loves, one at least be mine ; 
Love of earth, though I repine, 

I have not, nor, O just Christ, Thine ! 
Can life miss, doubly sacrificed, 
Kiss of maid and kiss of Christ ? 
Ah, can I, doubly-wretched, miss 
Maid's kiss, and Thy perfect kiss ? 

296 



Reticence 

Not all kisses, woe is me ! 

Are kissed true and holily. 

Not all clasps ; there be embraces 

Add a shame-tip to the daisies. 

These if, O dear Christ, I have known 

Let all my loveless lips atone. 

In a letter to A. M : 

11 . . . I have suffered from reticence all my life : the 
opening out of hearts and minds, where there is con- 
fidence, puts an end to so much secret trouble that 
would grow monstrous if it were brooded over." 

And in his verse : 

. . . The once accursed star which me did teach 
To make of silence my familiar. 

And again, from Elgin Avenue : 

" DEAR MRS. MEYNELL, I have been musing a little on 
the theme mentioned between us this afternoon ; and 
some frequent thoughts have returned to me or, I 
should say, recollections of frequent experience. (The 
theme 1 mean is the difficulty of communicating one- 
self. By the way, R. L. S.'s theme is more distinct from 
yours than I quite realised this afternoon. His is sin- 
cerity of intercourse, yours is rather adequacy of inter- 
course, and the two, though they may overlap and react 
on each other, are far from identical.) 

" But the thoughts of which I speak (they are but one 
or two) are as useless to myself as pebbles would be to 
a savage, who had neither skill to polish them nor 
knowledge whether they were worth the polishing. So 
I am moved to send them to the lapidary. If anything 
should appear in them worth the saying, how glad I 
would be that it should find in you a sayer. But it is a 
more possible chance that poor thoughts of mine may, 
by a beautiful caprice of nature, stir subtle thoughts in 
you. When branches are so thickly laden as yours, a 
child's pebble may bring down the fruit. 

297 



Communion and Excommimion 

" First, then, there is one obstacle to communication 
which exists little, if at alt, for the generality, but is 
omnipresent with the sensitive and meditative who are 
destitute of nimble blood. I mean the slow and in- 
determinate beginnings of their thought. For example, 
such a person is looking at a landscape. Her (suffer 
me to use the feminine pronoun it takes the chill off 
the egotism of the thing, to assume even by way of 
speech, that in analysing my own experience I am 
analysing yours) companion asks her, ' What are you 
thinking of ? ' A child under such circumstances (to 
illustrate by an extreme antithesis) would need no 
questioning. Its vivid, positive thoughts and sensations 
have to themselves a glib and unpremeditated voice. 
But she ? She is hardly thinking : she is feeling. Yet 
' feeling ' is too determinate and distinctive a term : 
nay, her state is too sub-intellectual for the term to be 
adequate. It is sensoriness instinct with mind ; it is 
mind subdued to sensoriness. She feels in her brain. 
She thinks at her periphery. It is blended twilight of 
intellect and sensation ; it is the crepuscular of thought. 
It is a state whose one possible utterance would be 
music. Thought in this subtle stage cannot pass into 
words because it lacks the detail ; as the voice, without 
division, cannot pass into speech ; as a smooth and even 
crystal has no brilliance. To that ' What are you think- 
ing of ? ' she can only answer ' Nothing ' or f Nothing in 
particular,' and not unlikely, her companion, seeing that 
she was full of apparent thought, is discouraged at what 
seems her unsympathetic reticence. Yet she longed to 
utter herself, and envied the people who, at a moment's 
notice, can take a rough pull of their thoughts. If one 
could answer, ' Stay a while, till my thoughts have mounted 
sufficiently to burst their dykes.' But no : by that time 
his interest would have faded, and her words would 
find him listless. She towers so high to stoop on her 
quarry, that the spectator loses sight of her, and thinks 

298 



Least Imperfect Sympathy 

she has lost sight of it. And the habit so engendered 
makes one slow of speech apart from slowness of 
thought. One cannot at the first signal mobilise one's 
words. How one wonders at the men, who, with an 
infinitely smaller vocabulary, have it always on a war- 
footing, and can instantly concentrate on a given subject. 

"Another point is that power of communication in 
oneself is conditioned by power of receptiveness in 
others. The one is never perfect ; neither, therefore, 
can the other be. For entire self-revelation to another, 
we require to feel that even the weak or foolish impulsive 
things we may let drop, will be received without chill, 
nay, even with sympathy, because the utterer is loved. 
That priceless ' other's ' principle must be (to parody 
Terence without an attempt at metre) THUS sum, niltuum 
mi alienum puto. But such an ' other ' is not among 
men no, nor women either. The perfectest human 
sympathy is only the least imperfect. 

"Then again, when we can communicate ourselves 
by words, it may often become a sensible effort to a 
sensitive person through the mere dead weight of lan- 
guage, the gross actualities of speech : exactly as to 
delicate you a lovely scene loses half its attraction, if it 
must be reached by the fatigue of walking to it. 

" Finally, I think there is the fact that, in what concerns 
their veritable spirit, all mortals are feminine. In the 
mysteries of that inner Bona Dea, speech is male, and 
may not enter. We feel that we could only admit to 
them the soft silence of sight. But then we cannot 
say : ' Draw aside my flesh and see.' Would we could ! 

"That reminds me of what you alluded to about the 
inefficiency of the eyes. I am so glad you mean to 
touch on that. I see much about the superior eloquence 
of eyes, &c. But it always seems to me they have just 
the eloquence of a foreign tongue, in which we catch 
only enough significance, from the speaker's tone and 
the casual sound of some half-familiar word to make us 

299 



Communion and Excommunion 

pained and desperate that we can comprehend no more. 
There is a turn in Seneca 

Illi mors gravis incubat, 
Qui, nimis notus omnibus, 
Ignotus moritur sibi. 

' On him death lies heavy, who, too known of all, dies 
unknown to himself ' * Too known of all ! ' with 
myself I am but too intimate ; and I profess that I find 
him a dull boy, a very barren fellow. Your Delphic 
oracles notwithstanding, a man's self is the most un- 
profitable acquaintance he can make ; let him shun such 
scurvy companions. But, ' nimis notus omnibus ! ' If 
this were the most likely terror death could yield, O 
Lucius Annaeus ! who is known to one? In that Mare 
Clausum of our being, sealed by the conventing powers 
of birth and death, with life and time acceding signa- 
tories, what alien trafficker has plied ? Far heavier, 
Luci mi, death weighs on him, who dies too known of 
himself, and too little of any man. I have bored 
you, I feel, unpardonably. Repentantly your Francis 
Thompson. But my repentance does not extend to 
suppressing the letter, you observe. A most human 
fashion of penitence ! ' 

But though "too little known of any man," the poet 
has faith in the reader's understanding greater than the 
reader's faith in his meanings. As for the reader, the 
best probe for seeming obscurity is faith. Let an ex- 
ample be taken from the parish priest who read "The 
Hound of Heaven' six times before he understood. 
Faith in divine meanings, and many blindfolded readings, 
are better beginnings than explanations. Sign articles 
with your master-poets ; sit, idly perhaps, in their work- 
shops, and one day you find yourself promoted from 
apprentice to partner. Their obscurities are your limita- 
tions, your limitations their obscurities, and you and 
they must have it out between you. And even at the 

300 



Hearer and Utterer 

moment when the Poet is most obscure, he is most plain 
with you, most intimate, most dependent on your per- 
sonal understanding and acceptance. Then most of all 
does he give you his confidence, have faith in your faith; 
then, most of all, does the anchor of his meaning need 
the clutch of your understanding, the kite of his fancy 
need the tail of your comprehension. He is riding such 
waves and flying in such winds of thought that he were 
lost without you 

We speak a lesson taught we know not how, 

And what it is that from us flows 

The hearer better than the utterer knows. 

And his confession of his dependence on you as his 
colleague makes a laureate of you. See that you be a 
Wordsworth rather than a Nathaniel Pye among readers. 
The silence in which he was most unhappy was a 
silence in poetry. Comparing his case to the earth's 
life in winter, " tearless beneath the frost-scorched sod," 
he writes : 

My lips have drought, and crack, 

By laving music long unvisited. 

Beneath the austere and macerating rime 

Draws back constricted in their icy urns 

The genial flame of Earth, and there 

With torment and with tension does prepare 

The lush disclosures of the vernal time. 

His second period of melancholy was the more severe ; 
he thought he saw in it, against all his convictions in 
regard to the rhythm or the resurrections of life, the 
signs of his poetry's final death. He suffered the 
torment and the tension in preparation for what he was 
convinced would be still-born song. 

The depression first came upon him with the publica- 
tion of New Poems 

"Though my aims are unfulfilled, my place insecure, 
many things warn me that with this volume I am pro- 
bably closing my brief poetic career." 

301 



Communion and Excommunion 

He had already written of himself as one 

Whose gaze too early fell 

Upon her ruinous eyes and ineludible. 



And first of her embrace 

She was not coy, and gracious were her ways, 

That I forgot all Virgins to adore. 

Nor did I greatly grieve 

To bear through arid days 

The pretty foil of her divine delays ; 

And one by one to cast 

Life, love, and health, 

Content, and wealth 

Before her, thinking ever on her praise, 

Until at last 

Nought had I left she would be gracious for. 

In "The Sere of the Leaf," an early poem written at 
the end of 1890, and published in Merry England, 
January 1891, he answers Katharine Tynan, a poet who 
had spoken of a full content : 

I know not equipoise, only purgatorial joys, 
Grief's singing to the soul's instrument, 

And forgetfulness which yet knoweth it doth forget ; 
But content what is content ? 

He makes a like protest in the " Renegade Poet on the 
Poet": 

"... Did we give in to that sad clog of a Robert Louis, 
we must needs set down the poor useless poet as a son 
of joy. But the title were an irony more mordant than 
the title of the hapless ones to whom it likens him 
Fillcs de joie P O rather filles damertume. And if the 
pleasure they so mournfully purvey were lofty and 
purging, as it is abysmal and corrupting, then would 
Mr. Stevenson's parallel be just ; but then, too, from 

ignoble victims they would become noble ministrants, 

302 



55 



" Needy with a Double Need 

. . . Like his sad sisters, but with that transfiguring 
difference, this poet, this son of bitterness, sows in 
sorrow that men may reap in joy. He serves his 
pleasure, say you, R. L. S. ? Tis a strange pleasure, if 
so it be." 

Forsaken, his complaints were doubled. Of many 
lamentations for his muse, the following lines to W. M. 
have a personal bearing : 

Ah, gone the days when for undying kindness 
I still could render you undying song ! 
You yet can give, but I can give no more ; 
Fate, in her extreme blindness, 
Has wrought me so great wrong. 
I am left poor indeed ; 
Gone is my sole and amends-making store, 
And I am needy with a double need. 

Behold that I am like a fountained nymph, 
Lacking her customed lymph, 
The longing parched in stone upon her mouth, 
Unwatered by its ancient plenty. She 
(Remembering her irrevocable streams), 
A Thirst made marble, sits perpetually 
With sundered lips of still-memorial drouth, 

" I shall never forget when he told me," writes Mr. 
Wilfred Whitten, " under the mirrored ceiling of the 
Vienna Cafe that he would never write poetry again." 

At one time he would declare lt Every great poem is 
a human sacrifice " ; but at another : 

" It is usual to suppose that poets, because their 
feelings are more delicate than other men's, must needs 
surfer more terribly in the great calamities which agonise 
all men. But, omitting from the comparison the merely 
insensible, the idea may be questioned. The delicate 
nature stops at a certain degree of agony, as the deli- 
cate piano at a certain strength of touch." 

303 



Communion and Excommunion 

And at another, in an early note-book : 

"The main function of poetry is to be a fruitful 
stimulus. That is, to minister to those qualities in us 
which are capable of increase. Otherwise, it is a sterile 
luxury. Nor should it be made to minister to qualities 
which are mischievous by much increase. Sought 
mainly to provoke waning emotion, it is a sterile luxury ; 
sought mainly to stimulate crescent emotion a pernicious 
luxury." 

In view of these various accounts of the poetic 
function one must ask : Were the sorrows necessary ? 
were they real ? One mistrusts the poet, to whom 
joy must necessarily often come in the affirmation of 
distress. 

One may argue that Thompson must have been happy 
on the score of his poetry. As a poet, no doubt, he was ; 
but not necessarily as a man. The two states did not 
overlap. He says in a letter to a friend that he did not 
realise that Sister Songs, so poor a thing, would give 
pleasure ; whereas in verse he speaks of sending it 
exultingly. 

His " I have no poetry," like the communicant's " I 
am unworthy," is but the prelude to the embrace. In 
the " To a Broom Branch at Twilight " (Merry England, 
November 1891), he declares that there are songs in the 
branches 

I and they are wild for clasping, 
But you will not yield them me. 

The thought that silence is the lair of sound was his 
own ample consolation for other unproductive periods : 
but now as he grew ill and really silent, he felt that 
silence could nurture only silence. 

His pride faces his distress; they stare each other out 
of countenance. It is certain that he often joined in 

304 



" Curse of Destinate Verse " 

George Herbert's address to a Providence who has 
made man "the secretary of her praise," though "beasts 
fain would sing," and " trees be tuning on their native 
lute " : 

Man is the world's high-priest ; he doth present 

The sacrifice for all ; while they below 

Unto the service mutter an assent 

Such as springs use that fall, and winds that blow. 

And against the many contrary passages of Francis's 
may also be set his on the poet's happiness : 

What bitterness was overpaid 
By one full verse ! world's love, world's pelf 
I fillipped from me, and but prayed 
Boon of my scantly yielded self. 

Here the " curse of destinate verse " reads like a blessing. 
Yet, strictly speaking, he found that unwritten predes- 
tinate verse means an ill case : 

For ever the songs I sing are sad 
With the songs I never sing. 

His complaint is not against the verse that gets written, 
which even when sad of origin is a boon : "Deep grief 
or pain, may, and has in my case, found immediate 
outlet in poetry." 

To his view of others on previous pages must be 
added his attitude towards the author of "The Anthem 
of Earth," of "The Hound of Heaven," of "Shelley." 
One who went to the task of reviewing his contem- 
poraries heavy, not with distaste, but with pent-up 
potential admirations, who had an appetite at once 
insatiable and fastidious for all literature, must needs 
have enjoyed in relaxation the splendours of his own 

305 U 



Communion and Excommunion 

verse. 1 But not merely as critic did Francis Thompson 
realise the greatness of Thompson. The innermost 
chambers of his consciousness buzzed with the certainty 
of his poetic gravity and significance. He trusted the 
quality of the poetry within him as an ordinary man trusts 
the beat of his pulse and counts upon it. There \vere 
anxieties of composition and, of course, the ebb and 
flow of satisfaction in himself and a final despair. But 
before that he had known that he was, and he still knew 
that he had been, a poet. That is why he is so often 
the laureate of his own verse 

Before mine own elect stood I, 

And said to Death : ' Not these shall die.' 

I issued mandate royally. 
I bade Decay : ' Avoid and fly ; 

For I am fatal unto thee.' 

I sprinkled a few drops of verse, 
And said to Ruin, ' Quit thy hearse ' : 

To my loved, ' Pale not, come with me ; 
I will escort thee down the years, 

With me thou walk'st immortally.' 

These vaunting rhymes were written that he might 
go on to declare his undoing, being now stripped of his 
songs. It was true, of course, that he lost, not the 
poetry, but the functions of the poet. In exquisite lines 
he begs his muses to stay their flight, and his exquisite 

1 With nothing that he has to say of another poet is it so impossible to 
agree as with his own estimate of the relative importance of the sections of 
New Poems 

"CRECCAS COTTAGE, PANTASAPH, November 1896. 

" MY DEAR DOUKLEDAY, I regret that I cannot consent to the omission of 
the translations. If anything is to be left out, it must be the section Ultima, 
not the translations. I said at Pantasaph that I would keep these, whatever I 
left out. They were held over from my first book, and I will not hold them 
over again. I regard the ' Heard on the Mountain ' as a feat in diction and 
metre ; and in this respect Coventry Patmore agrees with me. But I do not 
at all mind leaving out the section Ultima. Yours, F. T." 

306 



His Confidence 

lines belie the convention that they have flown, that the 
shrines of his heart are empty. 

In Mr. Wilfred Whitten's obituary notice of Thompson 
there is report at first hand of the poet's satisfaction in 
that his poetry was immortal. He quotes : 

The sleep-flower sways in the wheat its head, 
Heavy with dreams, as that with bread ; 
The goodly grain and the sun-flushed sleeper 
The reaper reaps, and Time the reaper. 

I hang 'mid men my needless head, 

And my fruit is dreams, as theirs is bread : 

The goodly men and the sun-hazed sleeper 

Time shall reap, but after the reaper 

The world shall gleam of me, me the sleeper ! 

And he adds : " When Francis Thompson wrote these 
verses, he did not indulge a fitful or exalted hope ; 
he expressed the quiet faith of his post-poetic years. 
Thompson knew that above the grey London tumult, 
in which he fared so ill, he had hung a golden bell 
whose tones would one day possess men's ears. He 
believed that his name would be symphonised on their 
lips with Milton and Dryden and Keats. This he told 
me himself in words too quiet, obscure, and long ago 
for record. But he knew that Time would reap first." 



307 



CHAPTER XV: CHARACTERISTICS 

THE poet is important, present, manifest to the poet. 
His poetry is an addition to his state, which yet is com- 
plete without it. The state of poetry, the state of the 
poet, has superfluity escaping into song. It is this 
superfluity that makes, not the poet, but the poetry- 
book. If Thompson had only written of his experi- 
ences as a poet, he would have written fine poetry ; 
when he wrote of the poet's songs he made songs, when 
he wrote of the poet's communings with God and 
Nature he made more songs, and, to make songs, need 
never have written directly of God and Nature. In one 
sense his descriptions of the poet's throes are out of 
all proportion to their product. He tells you so often 
of his Song, that it might be complained he had no 
time for singing. He will compose a poem to show 
he is Muse-forsaken, or to establish the fact that his 
lady is immortal only in his verse ; it hardly matters 
whether he wrote otherwise of her or not. He will 
tell you, with supremest diction, that his poppy and 
he lie safe in leaved rhyme. The great bulk of his 
poetry is about his poetry that is, you might read his 
three volumes and think they were but prefaces to 
thirty-three. Really they are the index not to forty- 
eight other volumes, but to the forty-eight years of 
the poet's existence to the Poet, that is. 

" The more a man gives his life to poetry, the less 
poetry he writes, " was Thompson's own experience. 

This harping upon himself is notable. His preoccu- 
pation is poetry and the poet. It is not a matter of 

308 



The Maker 

selfishness but of difference. New Poems meets with 
many objections on this score, for sharp distinctions 
within the species are always resented. The presence 
of the man is resented, and the presence of the poet, or 
prophet, is resented. But that he has his own place in 
creation he knows well enough. Isaiah knew it ; and 
when one of his kind says 

This dread Theology alone 

Is mine, 

Most native and my own ; 

And ever with victorious toil 

When I have made 

Of the deific peaks dim escalade, 

My soul with anguish and recoil 

Doth like a city in an earthquake rock, 



With deeper menace than for other men, 

he is proclaiming a family egoism that can no more be 
" pooh-poohed ' than a racial pigment or tribal dis- 
tinction, the stature of the pygmies or the stripe of the 
zebra. The tribal segregation of the spirit is distrusted, 
however, because it defies scientific classification. It is 
known as madness, saintliness, obscurity, affectation, 
" nerves," mania, fanaticism, conceit, according to its 
symptoms in a Blake, or a Jacopone da Todi ; all its 
kinds are labelled, but it is never brought to exact order. 
The variousness of degree in the poetic character is a 
necessity of the case. The poet makes the difference 
because he makes his own world, his own scope, his 
own experience. If he is one of a tribe, he is always the 
head of it a chief, like every other, with a tent as large 
as the sky, as large as the horizon which his own 
intellectual stature may command. 

The poet is conscious of his status as the " maker" 
the maker who presumes upon the common advantage 
of being made in the likeness of God, and gives point to 
the likeness. It is plainly stated by F. T. in "Carmen 

309 



Characteristics 

Genesis" and in an unpublished note written in support 
of the poem : 

Poet ! still, still thou dost rehearse, 
In the great fiat of thy Verse, 

Creation's primal plot ; 
And what thy Maker in the whole 
Worked, little maker, in thy soul 

Thou work'st, and men know not. 

Thine intellect, a luminous voice, 
Compulsive moved above the noise 

Of thy still fluctuous sense ; 
And Song, a water-child like Earth, 
Stands with feet sea-washed, a wild birth 

Amid their subsidence. 

And in prose repetition of the " Poet or Maker " : 

" In the beginning, at the great mandate of light, the 
sea suddenly disglutted the earth : and still in the 
microcosm of the poetic, the making mind, Creation 
imitates her august and remembered origins. Still, at 
the luminous compulsion of the poet's intellect, from 
the subsidence of his fluctuant senses emerges the 
express and founded consistence of the poem ; con- 
fessing, by manifold tokens, its twofold parentage, 
quickened with intellectual light, and freshened with the 
humidities of feeling. Of generations it shall endure the 
spiritual treading and to generations afford its fruits, 
a terra firnia which may scarce wear out before the 
prototypal earth itself. This is the function of the 
maker since God first imagined : though poetry's Book 
of Genesis is yet unwritten which might be written, and 
its Moses is desired and is late. An art not unworthy 
the Seraphic Order and the handling of Saints. For 
the poet is an Elias, that when he comes makes all things 
new. It is a converse, alas, and lamentable truth, that 
the false poet makes even new things old." 

310 



Pride of Poetry 



Of the Poet's powers of Creation or Transfiguration 
Wordsworth held an advanced estimate : 

" The objects of the poet's thoughts are everywhere ; though 
the eyes and senses of men are,, it is true, his favourite guides, yet 
he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation 
in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all 
knowledge it is immortal as the heart of man. If the labours 
of the men of science should ever create any material revolution, 
direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which 
we habitually receive, the poet will sleep then no more than at 
present. ... If the time should ever come when what is now 
called science, thus familiarised to men, shall be ready to put on, 
as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the poet will lend his divine 
spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the Being thus 
produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man." 

Pride of poetry, when Francis was forgetful of pride 
of pain, crops up in a hundred places ; he writes, for 
instance, of Davidson's "The Testament of an Empire 
Builder " : 

" We still lament that here, as in the preceding poems 
of the series, there is far too much metrical dialectic, 
argument in verse, which is a thing anti-poetic. Poetry 
should proclaim, poetry is dogmatic ; when it stoops to 
argue, it loses its august privilege and becomes, at the 
best, a K.C. in cloth of gold." 

It was easily perceived he was not candidly and fully 
himself in common conversation. He was as much 
shut within his repetitions as the last little Chinese box 
is shut within a series of Chinese boxes. Lift all the 
lids and you find emptiness in the last. Francis insisted 
on your putting all the little boxes back again, fitting 
the right lid on each, for, having made his point, he 
seldom failed to prove it backwards. Had he been of 
another age and race, he would have had an hermitage 
and been sought by those who wished instruction the 
instruction that is not seldom done in silence. But who 



Characteristics 

was ready to listen to Francis's silences in London ? 
It is possible that if a child had sought him in Ken- 
sington Gardens, as he sat oblivious of the sparrows 
and the leaves and the nursemaids, and had asked for 
knowledge, revelation might have followed. We know 
that in the study at Lymington Patmore came to the 
conclusion that his visitor's prose was better than his 
poetry, his talk better than his prose. The windows of 
that Lymington study were thrown open to the ample 
airs of Heaven ; in London lodgings the east winds 
made the noise outside, and Thompson's talk about the 
weather filled the air within. The Eastern must have 
communion, even the communion of silence, before he 
lights the lamp of common knowledge ; Plato needed 
the magnetism of listeners and learners. Francis needed 
none but the absent, perhaps the unborn, reader. The 
shares he issued were all deferred shares. 

And every stanza was an act of faith ; every stanza a 
declaration of good-will. It is optimism that compels 
the poet to give the superfluity of his inner song to the 
world. He knows, perhaps against all common-sense, 
that the world will some day be fit for it. He launches 
the utmost treasures of his rare estate upon the nonde- 
script audience. The pessimist either ceases writing 
(what is the use ?), or, if he writes, cannot always be 
trusted to give his best to a posterity he despises. But 
Francis gave out no secrets unless he had wrapt them 
in poetry. He bore them secretly, and set them free 
only when he had decked them in imagery. He was 
too busy making clothes against their birth for other 
companionship. Also, he was shy of his own inability 
to be communicative and shy of his own ardent emotions 
towards his friends : 

" I know how it must tax you/' he wrote to A. M., 
" to endure me ; for you are a friend, a mother ; while I, 
over and above these, am a lover spiritual as light, and 

312 



A Habit of Life 

unearthly as the love of one's angelic dreams, if you will 
but yet a lover ; and even a seraph enamoured must 
be a trying guardian angel to have to do with." 

And again : 

" I am unhappy when I am out of your sight, but 
you, of course, can have no such feeling in reference 
to me. Now my sense of this inspires me with a 
continual timidity about inflicting my society on you 
in any way, unless you in some way signify a desire 
for it." 

He inflicted his society on nobody. What he did inflict 
was the unaccomplished proxy of himself. Of the 
manner of his detachment he writes : 

" I do not know but, by myself, I live pretty well as 
much in the past and future as in the present, which 
seems a very little patch between the two. It has been 
more or less a habit through life, and during the last 
fifteen years, from the widened vantage of survey then 
gained, it has come to dominate my mental outlook. 
So that you might almost say, putting it hyperbolically, 
I view all mundane happenings with the Fall for one 
terminus and the Millennium for the other. If I want to 
gauge the significance of a contemporary event of any 
mark, I dump it down as near as I can, in its proximate 
place between these boundaries. There it takes up very 
little room." 

His very backwardness was benevolent ; his eye, often 
pre-occupied, was never indifferent ; neither careless nor 
trivial, it never sought an easy exchange of confidences, 
nor made friends by suggestion of either tact or in- 
telligence. He was a man who, if he entered not into 
much intercourse, did not stand aloof through contempt 
or active disinclination, but for other friendlier reasons. 

313 



Characteristics 

He was a man to be observed, not to observe ; to be 
seen, not to see. Neither he nor his room-mates would, 
as a rule, be at great pains to come together ; but, even 
if you held no talk with him, he was sufficiently interest- 
ing or endearing to take your eye. 

It was after an evening divided between silence and 
explanations that, wondering how well he covered the 
fires of his imagination, one went to the door to help 
with hat and coat. Some final repetition, unblushingly 
proclaimed with "As I have said before," would still 
longer delay his return to himself ; but once he had 
begun to go down the flights of steps in Granville 
Place, where we had taken a flat, he would find himself 
face to face again with the realities of life that he chose 
to keep private, and be loudly talking to himself in a 
style more meaningful and threatening than any speech 
of his in company. Then the hall door would be 
slammed ; and still in the silent street, past puzzled 
policemen, he would stride away in fierce agitation, but 
less solitary than when he sat among us. But a certain 
sweetness went with him ; he did not need to talk to 
stimulate that grateful mood of charity and peace that 
some know only when they can actually do works of 
mercy with their tongues and eyes. His gentle eye 
proved that not all his silent thoughts were troubled ; and 
often his gaze would climb to some invisible and fair 
peak of contemplation, resting there content in silence. 
Sometimes he was obviously happy in small-talk and 
his companionships, but that was when commonplaces 
were not used solely as a shelter from the inconveni- 
ence of thoughts not commonplace. Even his half- 
penny paper, as he read it over in his tea-shop, was a 
root of happiness. He was fair game for the journalist 
of Lower Grub Street. Here is a random list of the 
things he cut from the Daily Mail: "Maria Blume's 
Will," " Insurance of Domestic Servants," " Help for 
the Householder," "Mikado Airs on Japanese Warship 



Cuttings 

-Amusing Scenes," " Freaks of Weather : Startling 
Changes of Temperature," "The Milk Peril, What 
hinders Reform," and " Joy/' a poem by Mr. Sturge 
Moore with a little more margin to it, and straighter 
scissors-work. 



315 



CHAPTER XVI: THE CLOSING YEARS 

As F.T. grew busier with journalism, and was helped to 
bread by it, he grew peevish with his prose, as other 
men do with a servant : 

" Prose is clay ; poetry the white, molten metal. It is 
plastic, not merely to gross touch, but to the lightest 
breath, a wish, a half-talent, an unconscious feather- 
passage of emotional suggestion. The most instantan- 
eously perfect of all media for expression. Instant and 
easy as the snap of a camera, perfect as star in pool to 
star above, natural as breathing of sweet air, or drinking 
of rain-fresh odours ; where prose asks a certain effort 
and conscious shaping. But prose can be put in shafts 
(to its slow spoiling) ; verse, alack ! hears no man's 
bidding, but serves when it lists, even when it consents 
to lay aside its wings." 

" Poetry simple or synthetic ; prose analytic." 

"It might almost be erected into a rule that a great 
poet is, if he pleases, also a master of prose," he writes 
in one of several studies of "The Prose of Poets" 
including Sir Philip Sidney's, Shakespeare's, Ben Jon- 
son's, and Goldsmith's, first published in the Academy. 

At times the every-day difficulties of journalism seemed 
insurmountable. Then would he write desperately to 
W. M. of the necessity for cowardice on his part and a 
return to a mode of life that had no responsibilities : 

"Things have become impossible. B did not out- 
right refuse me an advance on my poem, but told me to 

316 







R 



Money Matters 

call again and 'talk it over.' . . . The only thing is for 
me to relieve you of my burthen at any rate for the 
present and go back whence I came. There will be no 
danger in my present time of life and outworn strength 
that I should share poor Coventry's complaint (that of 
outliving his ambition to live). . . . For the reverse of 
the medal, you have Ghosh who has just been promised 
.220 odd for a series of tales. 

"... For the present, at any rate, good-bye, you 
dearest ones. If for longer 

Why, then., this parting was well made. 

Yours ever and whatever comes, 

FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

During the years when such despairs were common 
W. M.'s favours were forced upon a spasmodically 
reluctant poet, whose earnings seemed never at best to 
leave him a margin for incidental expenses : 

"To have to talk of money-matters to you is itself 
a misery, a sordidness. How much worse in its 
way all this must press on you is comprehensible to 
anyone. We are no longer as we were ten years ago. 
You have grown-up children to launch in life. . . ." 

For W. M. there was never a doubt of the honour 
and pleasure of his position. If Francis's rent fell 
sometimes in arrears, it was not because there was any 
falling-away in willingness, but because it had taken its 
place among the many liabilities of the master of a large 
household, and had to wait among them for its turn to 
be met. 

After a desperate letter foretelling the end, a little 
conversation with my father w r ould correct his despair, 
and he could return to his landlady with the most 

317 



The Closing Years 

obvious remedy, or some suggestion equally effica- 
cious : 

"You are right. Mrs. Maries has given way, on the 
understanding that you will make some arrangement 
with her before the end of the month." 

Again, to W. M. : 

"... As for poetry, I am despondent when I am 
without a poetical fit, yet when I have one I am miser- 
able on account of my prose. I came lately across a 
letter of Keats' (penned in the prae-Endymion days), 
which might almost word for word be written by myself 
about myself. It expresses exactly one of the things 
which trouble me, and make me sometimes despair of 
my career. ' I find ' (he says) * I find I cannot do 
without poetry without eternal poetry ; half the day 
will not do the whole of it. I began with a little, but 
habit has made me a leviathan. I had become all in a 
tremble from not having written anything of late : the 
sonnet over-leaf did me good ; I slept the better last 
night for it : this morning, however, I am nearly as bad 
again.' I, too, have been 'all in a tremble' because I 
had written nothing of late. I am constantly expecting 
to wake up some morning and find that my Daemon has 
abandoned me. I hardly think I could be very vain of 
my literary gift ; for I so keenly feel that it is beyond 
my power to command, and may at any moment be 
taken from me." 

This nervousness for his muse, like to Rossetti's for 
his sight, came upon him more hardly in later years. 

Misrepresentation it is easy to trace its origin was 
busy before his death. The word went round that the 
streets had put a worse slur than hunger, nakedness, 
and loneliness upon him. In 1906 a pamphlet reached 
him from the University Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 

318 



Misrepresentation 

in which he read that he "had been raised out of 
the depths": 

" No optimism of intent can overlook the fact of his having 
fallen, and no euphemism of expression need endeavour to cloak 
it. Down those few terrible years he let himself go with the 
winds of fancy, and threw himself on the swelling wave of every 
passion, desiring only to live to the full with a purpose of mind 
apparently like that of his contemporary, Oscar Wilde, but in 
circumstances now vastly different from those the brilliant young 
Oxford dandy knew. He said, ' I will eat of all the fruits in the 
Garden of Life,' and in the very satisfaction of his desire found 
its insatiableness." 

With gossip turning the pages, that reader found the 
proof of Thompson's wrong-doing in "The Hound 
of Heaven." 

I fled Him down the nights and down the days, 

could only mean that the runaway was a criminal, and 
the Almighty the policeman who hurries when he is 
sure of a crime. " The Hound of Heaven," a study in 
the profound science of renunciation, was said to be 
the work of a man who had " thrown himself on the 
swelling wave of every passion." It mattered nothing 
that in the poem we read only that the poet had "clung 
to the whistling mane of every wind," had turned to 
children "very wistfully," had "troubled the gold gate- 
way of the stars." There is really nothing in it to 
support the blacker theory. A better way to understand 
the poetry and know the poet is to believe the poet 
and the poetry. This pamphleteer and the writer of the 
obituary notice in the Times were strangers, their know- 
ledge was based on hearsay. In face of such misunder- 
standing, at the time of his death it was hardly sur- 
prising to read in the Mercure de France that tl he went 
mad, and death happily put an end to his miseries." 

319 



The Closing Years 

A Professor of Romance Languages in Columbia Uni- 
versity may be right in thinking that Thompson does 
not ever sink so low as Verlaine, nor ever rise quite 
so high, and that greater poets than Thompson, from 
Collins to Coleridge, have often failed in the ode-forms, 
but he is inaccurate when he says that, " like Verlaine, 
he is the poet of sin." 

Since there was so little to go upon, it is hardly sur- 
prising that the alien onlooker's conception of Francis 
Thompson was a misconception. His poor living, his 
unknown lodging, his fugitive seclusion encouraged the 
legend that he was still an outcast. Since this alien 
had never heard him laugh, and to the ear's imagina- 
tion it is easier to frame a cry, the subject of 
the ready-made legend never even smiled ; there were 
no fioretti connected with his name, and the weeds 
were taken for granted. The heavy remorsefulness of his 
muse seemed, to such as are unfamiliar with the confiteor 
of the saints, to mark a more real repentance, and 
therefore real misconduct, than does the ordinary, facile 
peccavi of modern poetry-books. We notice that at his 
death the writers of the obituary notices who were 
ready with suggestions of evil days were equally ready 
with the usual liberal condonation. " No such condo- 
nation was called for though by some it was offered 
in the case of Francis Thompson," wrote A. M. in the 
Dublin Review ', January 1908. " For, during many years 
of friendship, and almost daily companionship, it was 
evident to solicitous eyes that he was one of the most 
innocent of men." 

To The Nation, November 23, 1907, W. M. wrote his 
protest : 

' I see in the Times a paragraph about Francis Thompson, 
against which I will ask you to let me make appeal. It comes 
from : A Correspondent/ who ' writes to us ' ; and I am just such 
another, writing to you. But I knew Thompson, and no pen but 

320 



Misrepresentation 



an alien's could have written this to Printing House Square : 
' There are occasions on which the conventional expression of 
regret becomes a mockery, and this is one of them. What the 
world must regret is not the release of Mr. Thompson, but the fact 
that the cravings of the body from which he is released should 
have had power to ruin one of the most remarkable and original 
of the poetic geniuses of our time.' I know what the writer in- 
sinuates. I know, too, that he has overshot his mark. But the 
public will only too greedily infer from his words that Thompson 
was a degraded man he who carried dignity amid all vicissitude ; 
that he was a debauchee he who lived, as he sang, the votary 
of Fair Love. Nor need I adopt in his regard the fine passage in 
which Mr. Birrell defends Charles Lamb's ' drinking.' For Mr. 
Francis Thompson did not ' drink.' 

" The ' genius ' of Francis Thompson was not ' ruined,' or we 
should not have the evidence of it on every page of three volumes, 
presenting together a body of best poetry equal in size to that of 
most of our poets. But it is true that Thompson's health was 
wretched from first to last. It is true also that he doctored him- 
self disastrously with laudanum from almost the early days of 
his medical studentship in Manchester. When he came to the 
streets of London, the drug delivered him in a manner from their 
horrors, and, besides, was, I think, some palliation of the disease 
of which he finally died consumption. . . . 

" Again, Thompson was an uncertain worker ; but his friendly 
editors did not hustle him. And they could always count on him 
to keep time with even a ' commissioned ' poem. The Odes on the 
Nineteenth Century and on the Victorian Jubilee did not get late 
to the editor of the Daily Chronicle ; and even if they had been 
late, nobody else could have sent them so quickly, for nobody else 
could have sent them at all. Every week, in the Academy, under 
Mr. Lewis Hind, Thompson's articles made fine reading his essay 
on Emerson marking the high-water mark of that manner of 
criticism ; and I am certain that the editor of the Athen&um, 
for whom he was in harness almost until the last week of his life, 
and who treated him with a consideration never to be forgotten 
by his friends, is in sorrow that Thompson is dead. 

" Such, in brief, was my friend : a moth of a man, who has 
taken his unreturning flitting ! No pen least of all, mine can 
do justice to him : to his rectitude, to his gentleness, to his genius. 
.... If he had great misfortunes, he bore them greatly ; they 
were great because everything about him was great. It is my 

321 X 



The Closing Years 



consolation now,, amid tears for Thompson from eyes that never 
thought to shed so many again, to know that he knew and 
accepted his fate and mission, and that he willingly ' learned 
in suffering what he taught in song.' But I have spoken too 
much. I did not mean to do more than make the writer in 
the Times aware that somebody loves his life less because Thomp- 
son is dead." 

The argument of the poet's sanctity is in his poems ; 
and it were tiresome to take the oath in the discredited 
witness-box of biography in denial of any particular 
accusation. But the circumstances that made imputa- 
tion of evil likely and credible form part of the literary 
history of the period. The Mid-Victorian respectability 
which Patmore lifted to Parnassus in the u Angel in the 
House/' and which lifted Tennyson to the Peerage, had 
given way to reaction. Swinburne's showy metres had 
persuaded the young that bad morality could be good 
art. Instead of Burns's heavy drinking and light loves, 
Verlaine and absinthe served for a new argument to 
confound the squeamish. Verlaine made a fashion, and 
his tragedy came easily, even to minor poets, and was 
not altogether impious. The young men anxious to fall 
as he fell were anxious also to share in the depths of 
his contrition. The duet about commission of sin and 
contrition for sin had great vogue, and accounts for 
a deal of the poetry of self-accusation, made, not 
seldom, in regard to imaginary offences. Contrition 
was, after all, the main force at work, and, in the 
naked, truthful, and intense moments of death, this was 
the ruling passion. The reaction had, after all, been 
merely a reaction, and not a little genius had been 
spilled in barren soil. The Church and the Sacraments 
were at the service of men who had fondly believed that 
their chief strength was in rebellion, and that they had 
strayed into ways of loss and salvation peculiar to them- 
selves, but who ended by being sorry. 

Religion seems always to be setting its beneficent 

322 



A Certain Group 

ambush for those who thought themselves most se- 
curely on another road ; but in the case of the victims 
of abnormal and distressful phases of experience there 
was something more than the splendid accident of re- 
conciliation and forgiveness. One after another of 
the leaders of aesthetic disaffection and disease con- 
fessed to an almost involuntary inclination to seek the 
arms of the Church. The devil, prowling like a lion, 
might leap upon them, "but the Lamb, He leapeth 
too." Christ's actual presence, His miracles, His hand, 
were for the sick, the afflicted, the wrongdoer : His 
inspiration to-day most often rests upon those intel- 
lectual sinners who have seemed in their misfortune to 
be puffing out the light of the world. And this was not 
only a death-bed reconciliation. What English artist for 
fifty years has made a " Madonna and Child ? ' Aubrey 
Beardsley made one. What poet had sung of the last 
sacraments ? Ernest Dowson's most beautiful verses are 
on the Extreme Unction. Lionel Johnson, whom Thomp- 
son knew, had not been a rebel, and he did not seek a 
death-bed reprieve. Nevertheless his name connects one 
form of failure with the literary life of his day and with an 
ardent adherence to Religion. Another type of a school 
that had set out to use bad language but could say nothing 
finally but its prayers, is he who then sang in company 
with Baudelaire, but whose poet, now he has become 
a priest, is Jacopone da Todi. So, too, with Simeon 
Solomon, as his reputation and his clothes became more 
ragged, who, as he grew " famous for his falls " but 
otherwise obscure, found a co-ordinating central in- 
spiration for his work, and found it before the altars of 
the Carmelite Church in Kensington. Francis may 
well have jostled elbows with him there, or on the pave- 
ment. 

The copper-plated Death of the sixteenth century 
is a caution no more gruesome or extreme than the 
picture of these poets and painters in their pains. Two 

323 



The Closing Years 

or three to a lunatic asylum, one to death that smelt of 
suicide, and three at least to death hastened by drink 
that is the hasty record of a certain group. Francis 
never met Wilde, the wit who stumbled and gasped the 
dull man's daily words of repentance, even before 
his audience was well aware of his jest; nor Beardsley 
the artist who found death's quill at his heart before he 
had time to destroy the drawings, which, in his agony, 
he learnt some devil rather than himself had made. 
To the hospitals, asylums, and prisons of London and 
Paris, to the Sanatorium of the Pacific or the Medi- 
terranean, to the slums, and to starvation, Literature 
contributed numbers out of all proportion. 

Francis knew none of them ; but he had made a 
name in the 'nineties, had lived in the streets (the last 
resort of several of them), had died a Catholic (most 
damning evidence !), had written passionately (the divinity 
of his passion \vas not noted) : there was circumstantial 
evidence enough. He was exalted : how should the 
obituary writers know the exaltation was not feverish ? 
His poetry he laid upon altar-steps ; was it for them 
to guess he had chased no satyrs from his cathedral 
before he set himself to pray ? His view of Dowson 
is characteristic: 

"... A frail and (in an artistic sense) faint minor 
poet. . . . The major poet moulds, rather than is 
moulded by, his environment. And it may be doubted 
whether the most accomplished morbidity can survive 
the supreme test of Time. In the long run Sanity en- 
dures ; the finest art goes under if it be perverse and 
perverted art, though for a time it may create life under 
the ribs of death." 

Like the legend that seeks to give an evil or a sad 
account of men, is the easier legend of their laziness. 
All who have known joy and written vastly have been 
accused of inertia and despondency. 

3 2 4 



Idleness and Industry 

It is true that Francis was apprenticed to Idleness of 
wits, as well as Industry ; but, finding both hard masters, 
and Idleness (of the common sort) the harder, he much 
sought to avoid it. As for his work (save in poetry) he 
knew few moments at which he could with Coleridge 
declare a happiness in difficulties, "feeling in resistance 
nothing but a joy and a stimulus." With Coleridge's 
other mood (" drowsy, self-distrusting, prone to rest, 
loathing his own self-promises, withering his own hopes 
his hopes, the vitality, the cohesion of his being") he 
was acquainted. But not long ; the meaning of his 
inactivity would burst on him, until the thought of it was 
labour. But with Wordsworth he says : 



.- 



. for many days my brain worked with a dim and 
undetermined sense of unknown modes of being," 

and for his reassurance he had at hand the same poet's 

'Tis my faith that there are powers 

Which of themselves our minds impress ; 

That we may feed this mind of ours 
In a wise passiveness. 

Francis construed his own defence into a hundred 
aphorisms. These two are signed with his initials : 

"Where I find nothing done by me, much may have 
been done in me," and 

" For the things to-day done in you, will be done by 
you to-morrow many things." 

Lying abed, he was acutely aware of his duty to get 
up. It was a conscious and laborious laziness, akin to 
Dr. Johnson's, whose great bulk was shaken with almost 
daily repentance for its sloth. The dictionary makes our 
shelves creak in protest at the notion held by Johnson 
himself and his contemporaries that he was a lazy man ; 
and the pile of Thompson's papers, his letters, and the 
following placard he pinned upon his bedroom wall 

325 



The Closing Years 



b 



speak of his large industries and his girding at the 
spectre sloth : 

At the Last Trump thou wilt rise Betimes ! 

Up ; for when thou wouldst not, thou wilt shortly sleep long. 

The worm is even now weaving thy body its night-shift. 

Love slept not a-saving thee. Love calls thee, 

Rise, and seek Him early. Ask, and receive. 

I leave imprinted other more piteous solicitations for 
what, virtually, though he did not guess it, was the energy 
and health he could not possess. Upon another sheet 
more worldly persuasions were set to urge his waking 
eye. Of a printer's request for copy on an earlier day 
than that usually covenanted he writes : 

" Remember the new Atkenceum dodge testifies against 
you." 

It was he who found time to be pleased with Brearley's 
bowling or merry with the anticipation of the morrow ; 
he, sitting in grey lodgings, who crowded into the chilly 
ten minutes before 3 A.M. the writing of a long letter to 
be posted, after anxieties with address and gum of which 
we know nothing, and a stumbling journey down dark 
stairs, in a pillar box still black in threatening dawn. 
There are few such journeys of my own I can count 
to my credit, and few words I can remember, written 
or spoken, to set against his thronging puns and his 
constant sequence of " Yours ever." At any rate he 
was outdone at every turn in kindness, attentions, 
sallies, patience and wit by one among his friends, 
my father, who had to crowd his generosity to the 
poet between stretches of persistent overwork, the real 
thronging anxieties that were at least as pressing as 
Francis's imaginary ones. In reading a series of letters 
Francis wrote to me in the last years, I am sorry to 
think how slovenly must have been my response to 
his tenacious jesting. And it was he who troubled to 

326 



His Looks 

make his notes kind and acceptable, neat and long. 
One marvels, among the mass of his journalism and 
letters, at the estimate of him that passed undisputed 
during his life, as a man who misspent his powers and 
wasted his minutes as he wasted his matches. If he was 
unfortunate, he was also merry. Without excuse his 
biographer confesses to the moodiness, the silence, the 
disorderliness that is imputed to the poet. The consola- 
tion for all my family is the thought of my father's 
incessant care for and good humour towards him. 

Of the hours he kept there are many legends, all made 
according to Greenwich time. But it is not expected of 
the lamp-lighter, or the contract-winder of office clocks, 
or the milkman, that he should write Thompson's poetry, 
or even read it, and yet we started with a wholly 
illogical desire of constraining Francis, if not to fulfil 
their duties, at least to be a party to their punctuality. 

Mr. Orpen desired to paint him ; sittings were even 
appointed ; but not till Mr. Neville Lytton found him 
under the same roof, at Newbuildings, was his elusive 
likeness caught by an artist. 

To look at, as it happens, he was something between 
a lamp-lighter and a man of letters, but nearer the lamp- 
lighter ; unless, seeing him stand beneath a street gas-jet 
to write an overdue article, one noticed he carried a 
pencil instead of a pole. Thus were the flares of 
Brown's bookstalls in Bishop's Road used by him. On 
and on would he write until the last shutter was closed 
and the gas turned down. Then dashing off the final 
sentence, he would rush into the shop to sell his book, 
and to the pillar-box with his article. 

If he is to besought for among the old masters, it is 
to El Greco that one would go. He had the narrow 
head and ardent eye that served that painter for Saint, 
Beggar, and Courtier. None other recalls his presence 
to me, or creates an atmosphere in which he could have 
lived. Rembrandt's was too rich and still, Tintoretto's 

327 



The Closing Years 

too invigorating. Titian recognised no such pallor, 
Giorgione no such slightness, and Veronese no such 
shabbiness. For the Florentines, they were better built ; 
their poets' countenances were more established and 
secure, and their excellent young men were less nervous 
and restless than he. 

He alludes in a letter to a belief (principally, I believe, 
his own) that he resembled two Personages : 

lt DEAR Ev., Character counts, even in cricket. This 
morning I was looking at a Daily Mail photo, of the 
South African team for the coming cricket season. 
One of the faces instantly caught my eye. ' Well ! ' said 
I, ' if character count for anything in cricket, this should 
be the bowler they say has the Bosanquet style.' . . . 
Since Hall Caine is no Shakespeare, Plonplon no soldier, 
and neither the Tsar nor the Prince of Wales \George V] 
are Thompsonian poets, great was my surprise when I 
found the fellow was the Bosanquet bowler." 

Had he compared his own youthful photographs with 
those of the present Prince of Wales he might perhaps 
have been confirmed in one of his impressions. 

The only faces he much pondered were the poets'. 
Round the walls of his room he pinned the Academy 
supplements, full-page reproductions from the National 
Portrait Gallery ; and with these was a reproduction 
given him by Coventry Patmore of Sargent's drawing of 
A. M. The supplements he liked all the better because 
they illustrated a favourite theory of facial angles. On 
foreheads he set no value ; but insisted that genius was 
most often indicated by a protruding upper jaw. This 
did not mean for him that thick lips had significance, 
but where the bony structure from the base of the 
nose to the upper teeth was thrust forward, as, notably, 
in Charlotte Bronte and Coventry Patmore, he found 
the character that interested him. 

328 




... 














i^ .J li 

cn.. \ c\',Hc J?,ttcn 



His Letters 

Here is another letter, written in a bad light but 
copious good spirits, before a visit to " the Serendi- 
pity Shop " :- 

" DEAR Ev., This to remind you I shall be at the shop, 
whereof the name is mystery which all men seek to look 
into, and in the mouth of the young man Aloysius 
doubtful is the explanation yea, shuffleth like one 
that halteth by reason of the gout ; in the forehead and 
forehand of the bland and infant day, yet swaddled in the 
sable bands of the first hour and i\\s pre-diluculum. For 
the Wodensday, a kitten with its eyes still sealed, is laid 
in the smoky basket of night, awaiting the first homoeo- 
pathic doses of the morn's tinctured euphrasy (even 
as euphrasia once cured an inflammation of my dim 
lid)." 

Mr. Andrew Lang has complained of de Quincey's 
digressions ; a further sample of F. T.'s habitual guilti- 
ness may be taken from one of the slightest of his 
notes : 

" DEAR Ev., I told your father I should come to- 
morrow, but I send you a line to mak siccar as the lover 
of artistic completion said who revised Bruce's murder 
of Red Comyn. It is interesting to see the tentative 
beginnings of the James school in Bruce, already 
at variance with the orthodox methods upheld by his 
critical collaborator. The critic in question considered 
that Bruce had left off too soon. But to Bruce's taste 
evidently there was a suggestion in the hinted tragedy 
of < I doubt I have killed Red Comyn ' more truly effec- 
tive than the obvious ending substituted by his confrere. 
History, by the way, has curiously failed to grasp the 
inner significance of this affair. 

" I am quite run down to-night." .... 

"I had never your lightness of heart," he writes, 

329 



The Closing Years 

forcing me to wonder what he thought of one for making 
such poor use, in his behalf, of the imputed charac- 
teristic ; "nor was I ever without sad overshadowings 
of the hurrying calamity. . . . l The day cometh, also 
the night ' ; but I was born in the shadow of the winter 
solstice, when the nights are long. I belong by nativity 
to the season of ' heavy Saturn.' Was it also, I some- 
times think, under Sagittarius ? I am .not astronomer 
enough to know how far the precession of the equinoxes 
had advanced in '58 or '59. Were it so it would be 
curious, for Sagittarius, the archer, is the Word. He is 
also Cheiron, the Centaur, instructor of Achilles. The 
horse is intellect or tinder standing (Pegasus = winged in- 
tellect). He is the slayer of Taurus the Bull (natural 
truth and natural or terrestrial power and generation, 
the fire of unspiritualised sense), which sinks as he rises 
above the horizon. Ephraim, a type or symbol of the 
Word (as Judah of the Fathers and the Priesthood), was 
an archer, or symbolised as such. (See Jacob's dying 
and prophetic blessing of his sons, wherein each has a 
symbol proper to his character and that of his tribe, 
indicating his place as a type in the Old Church, and in 
the foreshadowing of the New.) But this is very idle 
chatter, and I don't know how I fell upon it when my 
mind is serious enough, indeed. Perhaps the mind 
wanders, tired with heavy brooding." 

But it is always the gay word that could best bear the 
scrutiny of the poet himself if he were to pass the proofs 
of his own biography. In writing of a life that has a 
superficial look of disaster and pain, his biographer has 
a shamefaced feeling of dishonesty. Every other word 
is, in a sense, a misrepresentation, and worse. The 
memory of his smile shouts out to them, " You liars ! ' 

There was always courtesy in his notes, mixed .with 
haste and complaints; and even he would weary of 

330 



His Laugh 

bulletin prose, so that his needs and ailments sometimes 
came recorded in doggerel : 

I am aweary, weary, weary, 

I am aweary waiting here ! 
Why tarries Everard ? sore I fear he 

Has forgotten my shirting-gear ! 
Ah, youth untender ! why dost thou delay 
With shirts to clothe me, an untimely tree 
Unraimented when all the woods are green ? 
But thou delay not more : unboughten vests 
Expect thy coming, shops with all their eyes 
Wait at wide gaze, and I thy shepherd wait, 
In Tennysonian numbers wooing haste . . . 

Of great value is A. M.'s corrective record of his 
laugh : 

" He has been unwarily named with Blake as one of the un- 
happy poets. I will not say he was ever so happy as Blake ; but 
few indeed, poets or others, have had a life so happy as Blake's, 
or a death so joyous ; but I affirm of Francis Thompson that he 
had natural good spirits, and was more mirthful than many a man 
of cheerful, of social, or even of humorous reputation. What 
darkness and oppression of spirit the poet underwent was over 
and past some fifteen years before he died. It is pleasant to 
remember Francis Thompson's laugh, a laugh readier than a girl's, 
and it is impossible to remember him, with any real recall, and not 
to hear it in mind again. Nothing irritable or peevish within him 
was discovered when children had their laughter at him. It need 
hardly be told what the children laughed at ; say, a habit of 
stirring the contents of his cup with such violence that his after- 
dinner coffee was shed into the saucer or elsewhere a habit 
which he often told us, at great length, was hereditary." 

His laugh it is difficult to keep alive : the legend of 
his extinguished happiness is too strong. For laughter is 
commonly discredited ; only Mr. Chesterton, for example, 
persists in making the Almighty capable of humour. 
While we are all ready to allow that thorns make a crown, 
we hold that bells do no more than cap us the cap and 
bells of folly. Who ever spoke of a crown of bells ? 

331 



The Closing Years 

The refutation of the charge against his industry lies 
in his published work and in the pages of a hundred 
crowded note-books. The newspaper Odes alone are 
sufficient evidence of his power to compel even his muse 
to arduous and humble labours. 

These Odes were pot-boiling journalism ; their inspira- 
tion by the clock and the column : 

" We have no doubt whatever that inspiration will not fail 
you for so great a subject the Jubilee ! We must have the 
copy by the afternoon of the 2ist/' 

wrote an encouraging editor (Mr. Massingham) on June 6, 
1897. The request was made on the strength of Mr. 
Massingham's admiration for New Poems, and was not 
refused ; the ode was written within three weeks, and pro- 
bably in the last three hours of them. From Mr. Garvin 
came another letter : 

"June 22, '97. 

" DEAR FRANCIS THOMPSON, I get the Manchester Guardian 
every day not merely by good hap, but because it is the best daily 
in England. Whose is the ode ? I thought on the leisure of the 
opening and then saw. Hot Jacobite as I am for England's one 
legitimate laureate by native grace and right divine, I could not 
repress the movement of natural pity for the respectable and 
conscientious wearer of statutory bays, who tries so hard to fly as 
if the Times page were Salisbury Downs and he a bustard. Every 
flap a stanza ; thirty flaps of the most desperate volatile intention ; 
and no forrarder to the empyrean, where the Thompsonian ode 
sails with one supreme dominion through the azure deeps of air- 
vital, radiant, lovely. I told you I was your poor foster-brother 
of prose, in witness whereof is my thought of England's dead, and 
other little thoughts ; in that the soul danced in me to the great 
pulse of your ode. Always yours, Louis GARVIN." 

Of an article on Browning Mr. Garvin had written : 



l & 



" DEAR FRANCIS THOMPSON, Tell me by what native instinct 
or faculty acquired you so easily avoid henotheism in your critical 
writings. My poet of the moment, as I am drawn to his centre 

332 



The Newspaper Odes 

and become enveloped in his light, seems to absorb all the radiance 
of all song. I know there are exterior suns, but the poet only 
remembered bears up with difficulty against him immediately 
contemplated. It is henotheism exactly. But here you take 
the crabbed case of Browning, you extricate him from the multi- 
tude of words and you directly declare middle justice upon him, 
and so he betakes him to his place. Yet if a word had been said 
against a certain oleaginous obesity of optimism that glistens upon 
the plump countenance of this well-groomed poet in easy circum- 
stances, mayhap it had been well. 

" But I went most willingly with you when you laid your finger 
upon Browning's Elizabethan aptitude for the dramatic form of 
motive analysis and critical comment. And that not because of 
Browning. I have long had it in my mind to say that I feel the 
same faculty to be latent in you somewhere. I fancy very strongly 
that you could handle the Elizabethan form better than anybody 
else these two hundred years and fifty and a little more. The 
Elizabethan spirit of course you have to that degree. The point 
about Browning's manipulation of character and circumstance is 
completely put. Don't you wish, though, to take the other part 
volition diving at the imminent billow of life and buffeting a sea 
of circumstance ? Indefinite potentialities I feel sure you have 
especially of the drama that gives a separate voice and name to all 
the sides of one's own numerous personality. 1 I pine for the odes. 
Always yours affectionately (if I may be), Louis GARVIN." 

In a letter to his sister about the Jubilee Ode, Francis 
says : 

" Thereon forthwith followed the severe and most 
unhappy cab accident about which I informed you. . . . 
I have had a year of disasters. You will notice a new 
address (39 Goldney-road, Harrow-road, N.W.) at the 
head of this letter. I have been burned out of my 
former lodgings. The curtain caught fire just after I 
had got into bed, and I upset the lamp in trying to ex- 
tinguish it. My hands were badly blistered, and I 
sustained a dreadful shock, besides having to walk the 
streets all night. The room was quite burned out." 

1 Note by F. T. : " That is not drama, but lyric." 

333 



The Closing Years 

This letter he never posted, so that his sister writes 
out of her unwearied solicitude two years later : 

" MY DEAR FRANK, Doubtless you will be surprised to receive 
a letter from me after so long a silence. But the apparent negli- 
gence is not my fault, for I have been trying for twelve months 
past to obtain your address, and only succeeded about a fortnight 
ago. You see, my dear brother, I have no one to give me any infor- 
mation of you, and as you never write to me the consequence is 
I am utterly in the dark. My life is very uneventful, therefore 
my letters to you must, I know, be very uninteresting ; but they 
must just show you that you have still got a sister who loves you 
and thinks of you and also prays much for your well-being here 
and hereafter." 

Later the old century was " sung on her way " in an 
ode appearing in the Academy, at the beginning of 1901 ; 
and in the death of Cecil Rhodes (March 26, 1902) his 
editor saw the occasion for another paper ode. Mr. 
Hind describes the hasty manner of its composition, 
and when it appeared in the Academy for April 12, 1902, 
it bore the marks of a trumped-up emotion's inspiration. 
In May 1902 Mr. Fisher, now of the Chronicle, asked F. T. 
for a Peace Ode, to be pigeon-holed against the con- 
clusion of the South African War. 

Very often F. T. would decide for an eight-hour day, 
and offer himself, through my father, to the journals. 
Like most men who find work irksome when they have 
it, and delay all commissions, he imagined, when he had 
none, that the difficulty was in the getting. "The 
Academy should not and shall not have a monopoly of 
me," he writes, without any provocation from the 
Academy. "Take this chance for me now." (W. M. had 
mentioned the Daily Chronicle as an opening) " Bite a 
cherry while it bobs against your mouth." Nor were 
his reasons for complaint against his journalistic fate 
always ungrounded. The Academy demanded no mono- 
poly, being willing to accept his unpunctual copy 
whenever it arrived, and in almost any quantity; but 

334 



J ournalistic Flurries 

elsewhere minor reverses were made the most of. F. T. 
writes : 

" I have just got home. The Imperial and Colonial 
Magazine asked me to submit ' one or two poems ' of an 
Imperialist nature. I sent them one, as you know. 
They have rejected it. If the poem sent through you is 
also rejected (as I expect) I shall give up. I cannot go 
on here or anywhere else under these circumstances. 
Try as I will, all doors are shut against me. If your 
poem miscarries that is the end. Yours ever, F. T." 

Thus were his fears communicated to the person 
who made them futile and absurd. But Thompson 
would never forgo them. 

Commissions, however, when they came, were rejected 
in silence, or accepted and neglected 

" DEAR SIR, I shall be greatly obliged if you can send me the 
articles you kindly agreed to write for the Catholic Encyclopaedia 
in the letters B and C " 

is a note I find among his papers, and others came, 
were ignored and lost. " Having done an article for 
the Chronicle" he writes, " I have still seventeen volumes 
of poetry undone for it." When Mr. Hind left the 
Academy the poet was in some flurry and distress ; 
having called on the new editor, Mr. Teignmouth Shore, 
he writes : 

"The interview last Friday landed me on a doubtfully 
hospitable Shore. All articles to be cut down to a 
column. Immediate result, fifteen shillings for this 
week. . . . Therefore am waiting most anxiously for 
your return, when I may explain all the complexities of 
the situation. At present most perplexed and anxious. 
Do not cut short your holiday ; yet I do need to see 
you." 

He continued fitfully on the Academy, but gradually 

335 



The Closing Years 

transferred his allegiance to the Atken&um. In the 
meantime my father arranged that a publishing house 
whose literary adviser he was should supply him with 
work that could be done at any time and be paid for 
at any moment. The Life of St. Ignatius was com- 
missioned. He delivered every few pages as he finished 
them three were passport to a pound and, so final 
was his method of composition, he neither desired nor 
needed to see a single page of the manuscript again. 
The reviewing my father obtained for him on the 
Athenceum he did with success till within a month or 
two of his death. Letters from Mr. Vernon Kendall 
illustrate the courtesy of his editors: 

"ATHENAEUM OFFICE, December 20, 1905. 

" DEAR MR. THOMPSON, I am very sorry to hear of your illness, 
which may have been aggravated I fear by our clerks. I will try 
to make them send things correctly in future. Do not hurry now 
about anything you have. You are sure to be in need of rest and 
recreation which,, indeed, is supposed to be the fair perquisite 
of all at this season. Yours very truly, VERNON REND ALL." 

And again : 

"ATHENAEUM OFFICE, March 14, 1906. 

" DEAR MR. THOMPSON, I was very glad to hear of your re- 
covery, and hope you will now enjoy established health. We were 
clearly as much at fault as you in the delay of the notices you 
mention. I quite agree with you about Morris. Generally, I try 
to send you books worth reading, and, tho' we never have too 
much space to spare, I am sure that you know as well as anybody 
the value of a book, and I hope you will not restrict your notice 
of what you think really good. Yours very truly, 

V. RENDALL." 

And, later, from another office : 

"THE NATION, April 9, 1907. 

" DEAR MR. THOMPSON, Mrs. Meynell will have sent you a 
letter of mine about the beautiful poem [" The Fair Inconstant "] 
which you wrote for us last week, and about the more elaborate 
work, which, in continuance of old Daily Chronicle days, you might 

336 



His Plays 



be willing to do for us. I have always retained the utmost admira- 
tion for your poetic genius, and regard with much warmth its 
association with a paper like the Nation. Yours very truly, 

H. W. MASSINGHAM." 

Of another literary enterprise which, like his journalism, 
shews that he could be diligent, he writes : 

" DEAR WILFRID, I have summoned up pluck to send 
my little play 1 (which Mrs. Meynell and you have seen) 
to W. Archer, asking him whether it afforded any en- 
couragement to serious study of writing for the stage. 
His answer is unfavourable though he refrains from a 
precise negative. This sets my mind at rest on that 
matter. None the less, I wanted to read you one or two 
bits from my chucked-up Saul, since they seemed to me 
better than I knew." 

" I never yet missed my Xmas wishes to you, and it 
seems uglily ominous if I should do so now. But I 
have been working desperately at a poem for the 
Academy. . . . When I met Whitten this morning he 
looked uneasy, repeatedly advised me to ' get something.' 
I explained I already had ' got ' some tea (with my break- 
fast). 'Yes, but get something more,' he said, and 
alleged that I was looking shrunk with cold. 

O CD 

1 This play was again unfavourably received when, in 1903, he submitted it 
to T. P.'s Weekly. It is thus set forth on his MS. title page : 

NAPOLEON JUDGES 
A Tragedy in Two Scenes 

DRAMATIS PERSON/E 
NAPOLEON. 
GENERAL AUGEREAU. 

MADAME LEBRUN (an opera-dancer, Augereau's Mistress}. 
PRESIDENT OF THE COURT MARTIAL. 
A FRENCH DESERTER. 
OFFICERS. SOLDIERS. 

Place. Augereau's Camp. Time. The Italian Campaign of 17960 
During the first scene Napoleon is absent from Augereau's Camp. 

Of another class is a modern comedy, full of laboriously smart give and take, 
called " Man Proposes, but Woman Disposes. Un Conte sans Raconteur. In 
Two Scenes." 

337 Y 



The Closing Years 

" Of course I will come in to-morrow night. Did I 
not, you might be sure I was knocked off my legs 
altogether, and I should feel that the world had gone off 
its hinges. I have never missed seeing you at Christmas 
save when I was at Pantasaph. Every happy wish to 
you, dear Wilfrid, and may God be as kind to you as 
you have ever been to me." 



333 



CHAPTER XVII: LAST THINGS 

FRANCIS'S health often dismayed him, and his terrors 
both in regard to sicknesses and politics covered many 
pages of threatening letters. The mere streets became 
more and more an oppression. Even Elgin Avenue 
grew (in 1900) as ugly to him as it always is to men 
less happily indifferent. At such times he could write 
to W. M. in the strain of the following letter : 

" I designed to call in on Wednesday, but was sick 
with a horrible journey on the underground. To-day, 
though better, I am still not well. I hope I may manage 
to-morrow. I have been full of worry, depression, and 
unconquerable forebodings. The other day, as I was 
walking outside my lodgings, steeped in ominous 
thoughts, a tiny child began to sing beside me in her 
baby voice, over and over repeating : 

' danger,, danger 
danger is coming near ! ' 

My heart sank, and I almost trembled with fear." 

He prophesied of war, and was tormented whole days 
by complications in the East, and the notion of a 
Yellow invasion. And even West Kensington, when 
small-pox was announced there, seemed to come march- 
ing on him, a Birnam forest of bricks. It was illness, 
with fear for a symptom. " Disaster was, and is, draw- 
ing downwards. . . . There are storm-clouds over the 
whole horizon, and I feel my private fate involved. I 
am oppressed with fatality," he writes in one letter (1900), 
and on the next page is involved in jokes which were 

339 



Last Things 



heavy, not with fatality. Other letters contain complaints 
of dreams akin to Coleridge's : 

" A most miserable fortnight of torpid, despondent days, and 
affrightful nights, dreams having been in part the worst realities 
of my life." 

On the engagement in 1903 of Monica of " The Poppy," 
of " Monica Thought Dying," and of Sister Songs, Fran- 
cis wrote to her : 

" 28 ELGIN AVENUE, 
Saturday. 

" DEAR MONICA, I would have answered you long 
since if I had not been so worried with work that I do 
not know how to get through it. Having got rid of my 
poem, I have taken a little rest from work, to which I 
had no right, and my neuralgia seems happily to have 
got better though I am almost afraid to say so, for I 
still feel very weak and jaded, so that it might easily 
return. Therefore I take this moment to write to you. 

"Most warmly and sincerely I congratulate you, dear 
Monica, on what is the greatest event in a woman's life 
or a man's, to my thinking. . . . Extend to him, if he 
will allow me, the affection which you once so long 
since purchased with a poppy in that Friston field. 
* Keep it,' you said (though you have doubtless for- 
gotten what you said) < as long as you live/ I have 
kept it, and with it I keep you, my dearest. I do not 
say or show much, for I am an old man compared with 
you, and no companion for your young life. But never, 
my dear, doubt I love you. And if I have the chance to 
show it, I will do. 

" I am ill at saying all I doubtless should say to a young 
girl on her engagement. I have no experience in it, my 
Monica. I can only say I love you ; and if there is any 
kind and tender thing I should have said, believe it is in 
my heart, though it be not here. My dear, your true 
friend, FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

340 



55 



He Quotes "The Poppy 

At her bidding,*he went, on her marriage day, to the 
Church of St. Mary-of-the- Angels in Bayswater. He 
had never, in all probability, failed a tryst before by 
coming to it too early, but to all her commands he was 
obedient, and his mistake was but the symptom of his 
anxiety to be present. The poppy that she picked and 
gave him, with " Keep it as long as you live," was found 
in the leaves of his own copy of Poems the only volume 
of his own works that he kept by him. So were all her 
injunctions observed. Having gone too early to Church, 
he left too early, and wrote : 

" WESTBOURNE GROVE, 12.30 P.M. 

Wednesday , June 14, 1903. 

" DEAREST MONICA, You were a prophetess (though 
you needed not to be a sibyl) to foretell my tricks and 
manners. I reached the church just ten minutes after 
twelve, to find vacancy, as you had forewarned me. A 
young lady that might have been yourself approached 
the church by the back entrance, just as I came away ; 
but on inspection she had no trace of poppy-land. There 
must have been other nuptial couples about, I think. 

" It seems but the other day, my dearest sister (may 
I not call you so ? For you are all to me as younger 
sisters and brothers to me, who have long ceased 
practically to have any sisters of my own, so com- 
pletely am I sundered from them), that you were a child 
with me at Friston, and I myself still very much of a 
child. Now the time is come I foresaw then 

Knowing well, when some few days are over, 
You vanish from me to another. 

" You may pardon me if I feel a little sadness, even 
while I am glad for your gladness, my very dear. 

" I was designing to call in to-night, till I learned from 
you that you would be occupied with your wedding- 
party. Then I hoped I might have got to you last night 

341 



Last Things 

instead, but could not manage it. So, to my sorrow, I 
must be content only to write. Had I known before, I 
would have called in on Sunday, at all costs, rather than 
defer it to (as it turns out) the impossible Wednesday. 

" I shall be with you all, at any rate, in spirit. Yours 
ever dearly, my dear, FRANCIS THOMPSON." 

A few years before his death his manner had changed. 
His platitudes, now 7 , were merely a means of getting 
through an evening without making a demonstration 
of the trouble he was in. That his ills might not be 
exposed he kept covering them up with talk, as con- 
stantly as a mother tucks in a child restless in fever. 
The man who always takes laudanum is always in 
need of it, and when he is in need he is ill. He is 
too ill to think, too uncomfortable to meditate or be 
wise. 

Whenever he postponed his dram, and spent his day 
instead with his friends, he would say an easy thing 
once, and finding it easy, would say it over and over 
again. While he spent an evening explaining that last 
August was hot, but this hotter, his cry really was, 
" Where is my laudanum?' Nor was his need only 
physical : his soul, too, was crying, " Where is my God, 
my Maker, Who giveth songs in the Night ? Who 
teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and 
maketh us wiser than the fowls of Heaven ? ' I am 
told by a doctor that one of the greatest pains of re- 
linquishing opium is the sense of the reason's unfitness. 
Thought is thrown out of joint, and hurts like a dislo- 
cated shoulder. 

"Nature," says Emerson, "never spares the opium or 
nepenthe, but wherever she mars her creature with some 
deformity or defect, lays her poppies plentifully on the 
bruise." And even for the bruises made by poppies she 
has her salve. Some redress, a rebate of the price 
paid, was made to Francis Thompson for the agony of 

342 



Laudanum 

the opium habit. That he seldom spoke of it meant that 
it was a thing too bitter to speak of ; meant, too, that it 
was at times a thing too little to speak of, that Nature 
minimised its terrors. There is mercy for the slave of a 
bad habit : the more confirmed, the more often must 
there be periods during which its mastery is forgotten, 
even in its presence. The sorriest drunkard is not 
necessarily the drunkard oftenest sorry. The opium- 
eater is sometimes persuaded of his own invented 
theory of the causes of his weakness, of its uses and 
necessity. Francis, who would have loathed himself 
to the point of extinction, or redemption, if he had been 
an ordinary sinner, who would have found life with 
himself intolerable had he sullied life with common 
offences against the Law, was provided with some sort 
of protection against remorse for his own particular 
failing. Nature gave him poppies to set against 
poppies. 

Periods of misery and dejection came to him, as to his 
fellows. With Coleridge he could in certain moods 
have written : " The stimulus of conversation suspends 
the terror that haunts my mind ; but when I am alone, 
the horrors that I have suffered from laudanum, the 
degradation, the blighted utility, almost overwhelm me." 
And again in words very like de Quincey's, Coleridge 
speaks of "fearful slavery," of being " seduced to the 
accursed habit ignorantly." From the starker visita- 
tions of remorse Coleridge, too, \vas justly sheltered. 
His son has said for him : 

" If my Father sought more from opium than the mere absence 
of pain, I feel assured it was not luxurious sensations or the glowing 
phantasmagoria of passive dreams ; but that the power of the 
medicine might keep down the agitations of his nervous system, 
like a strong hand grasping the strings of some shattered lyre." 

His own "my sole sensuality was not to be in pain' 
is sufficient for himself and for others. 

343 



Last Things 

F. T.'s comments on Coleridge's case are valuable, 
since they rebound in his own direction :- 

" Then came ill-health and opium. Laudanum by the 
wine-glassful and half-pint at a time soon reduced him to 
the journalist-lecturer and philosopher, who projected all 
things, executed nothing ; only the eloquent tongue left. 
So he perished the mightiest intellect of the day, and 
great was the fall thereof. There remain of him his 
poems, and a quantity of letters painful to read. They 
show him wordy, full of weak lamentation, deplorably 
feminine and strengthless." 

And again :- 

" It is of the later Coleridge that we possess the most 
luminous descriptions. A slack, shambling man, flabby 
in face and form and character ; womanly and unstayed 
of nature ; torrentuous of golden talk, the poet sub- 
merged and feebly struggling in opium-darkened oceans 
of German philosophy, amid which he finally foundered, 
striving to the last to fish up gigantic projects from the 
bottom of a daily half-pint of laudanum. And over the 
wreck of that most piteous and terrible figure of all 
our literary history shines and will shine for ever the 
five-pointed star of his glorious youth ; those poor five 
resplendent poems, for which he paid the devil's price of 
a desolated life and unthinkably blasted powers." 

Even if Francis spilled brown laudanum on his paper 
as he wrote those superlatives, he did not fit the cap of 
disaster to two heads. 

In 1906 he again visited the monastery at Crawley, 
where his friends had offered him hospitality over many 
years, and helped him to keep an occasional feast. I 
take a sample at random of Prior Anselm's courtesy : 

" HOLY SATURDAY. 

u DEAR FRANCIS., The Alleluias have been sung, and I echo 
them to you, dearest friend, hoping they bring you joy and 
peace and blessings." 

344 




u 



bJD 



1 



o 

e 



At Crawley 

Again :- 

' DEAR FRANCIS, Could you give me and the community the 
great pleasure of your company on the Feast of St. Anthony, when 
the Bishop of Southwark will assist ? I do hope you will come, as 
it is the last feast I shall have before the Chapter, an event that 
may scatter us all to the four winds of heaven." 

And again : 



' The community and particularly myself would be delighted 
to have the pleasure of your company on Oct. 4th, the Feast of 
our holy Father St. Francis and your name-day. I am looking 
forward to some long talks. How I long for a return of the 
happy days at Pantasaph, when we discussed all things in heaven 
and on earth and in infernis." 

Before his departure to Crawley Francis wrote to me : 

" . . . I feel depressed at going away from you all 
it seems like a breaking with my past, the beginning of 
I know not what change, or what doubtful future. 
Change as change is always hateful to me ; yet my life 
has been changeful enough in various ways. And I 
have noticed these changes always come in shocks and 
crises after a prolonged period of monotony. In my youth 
I sighed against monotony, and wanted romance ; now 
I dread romance. Romance is romantic only for the 
hearers and onlookers, not for the actors. It is hard 
to enter its gates (happily) ; but to repass them is im- 
possible. Once step aside from the ways of ' comfort- 
able men,' you cannot regain them. You will live and 
die under the law of the intolerable thing they call 
romance. Though it may return on you in cycles and 
crises, you are ever dreading its next manifestation. 
Nor need you be ' romantic ' to others ; the most terrible 
romances are inward, and the intolerableness of them 
is that they pass in silence. . . . One person told me 
that my own life was a beautiful romance. ' Beautiful ' 
is not my standpoint. The sole beautiful romances are 

345 



Last Things 

the Saints', which are essentially inward. But I never 
meant to write all this." 

All this, and much unwritten trepidation, because he 
had to travel three-fourths of the railroad to Brighton ! 
Of all places Sussex, he had said, was the place where 
he preferred to live ; but the getting him there was as 
difficult as a journey to Siberia. And from Crawley he 
wrote : 

" I am a helpless waterlogged and dismasted vessel, 
drifting without power to guide my own course, and 
equally far from port whichever way I turn my eyes. 
I can only fling this bottle into the sea and leave you to 
discern my impotent and wrecked condition." 

The flung bottle was stamped and caught the post ! 

In the following year (1907) it became evident that F. T. 
was again in urgent need of change. He was thinner, 
even less punctual, more languorous when he fell into 
fits of abstraction ; less precise when he would have 
assumed the pathetically alert step and speech by 
which he had been used to respond to introductions and 
the calls of the very unexacting establishment he still 
visited sometimes twice, sometimes thrice, and always 
once a week. He had grown listless and slow, and it 
was proposed he should go to the country. " Certainly, 
Wilfrid," he responded, coming the next evening to 
explain it was impossible ; his boots, which looked 
stronger than himself, would not travel, he said ; the 
coat covering his insufficient shoulders was insufficient. 
Boots and shirts were bought. It was arranged that we 
should call for him the next day at eleven. Accordingly 
my father and I and a friend presented ourselves in 
a motor at his dwelling, prepared to wait his dressing- 
time. But he was already out ; nor could his land- 
lady, who had not seen him abroad at such an hour 
in all her experience, say why or where. When at last 

346 



He Goes to Newbuildings 

he came, he carried a paper bag with food purchased 
at a shop far distant. No gourmet could have been 
at greater pains to secure the particular pork-pie, and 
no other, that he wanted. 

At first he and I had sleeping quarters in an indepen- 
dent pavilion among fern and young oaks, as guests of 
Mr. Wilfrid Blunt at Newbuildings. Breakfast and a 
log-fire used to be prepared for us by David, a genius 
among odd-men, who came through the dew before 
we were aw r ake, and disturbed us with the fragrance 
of his toast and coffee. Francis would get up quite 
early, but at night he was late. I used to see him in 
his room, propped against pillows, with candles burning 
and his prayer-book in his hand far into the night ; 
and his light would still be bright when the stars had 
begun to grow faint in the plantation. 

Later, he was moved to David's cottage, whence he was 
fetched every day to Newbuildings, half a mile away, 
for luncheon and tea. David and Mrs. David had gained 
the unwilling confidence of the invalid, and Mr. Wilfrid 
Blunt, adept in everything, himself saw that medical 
help was necessary. In September a doctor was con- 
sulted, but if no effective treatment followed it was pro- 
bably because Francis's evasions successfully prevented 
a satisfactory diagnosis. 

To the care he received in Sussex there was no end. 
On September 6, 1907, a companion of Mr. Blunt 
wrote : 

" Mr. Blunt paid Mr. Thompson a long visit last evening, and 
I hear to-day that he is better. He told Mr. Blunt that he will 
stay here for the present. The doctor is going to see him again. 
Mr. Thompson liked him,, which is something gained,, and he is 
also pleased with David and his wife. Mr. Thompson has not come 
to-day, but we have sent twice, and the boy will enquire again this 
evening." 

His little tragedy at Newbuildings was a wasp-sting. 
Enmity had started some days before, when a wasp 

347 " 



Last Things 

fell into his wine-glass. It got out and was staggering 
on the table when I came upon the scene. Francis 
stood still, watching with fire in his eye. " You drunken 
brute," he said with loud severity. But no wasp, 
drunken or respectable, would he kill, though he could 
be bitter. The next day he was stung, and Mr. Wilfrid 
Blunt holds it of faith that for all that summer, after the 
poet's malediction, no wasps buzzed in Sussex. " Sir, 
to leave things out of a book merely because people 
tell you they will not be believed, is meanness," says 
Mr. Blunt in the words of Dr. Johnson. For all that 
(since a biographer's unbelief must count for something) 
I do not here record the lesser miracles remembered 
by Mr. Blunt. But the following (an earlier experience) 
is of Francis's own telling, in HealtJi and Holiness : 

" In solitude a poet underwent profound sadness and 
suffered brief exultations of power : the wild miseries of 
a Berlioz gave place to accesses of half-pained delight. 
On a day when the skirts of a prolonged darkness were 
drawing off for him, he walked the garden, inhaling the 
keenly languorous relief of mental and bodily convales- 
cence, the nerves sensitised by suffering. Passing in 
a reverie before an arum, he suddenly was aware of a 
minute white-stoled child sitting on the lily. For a 
second he viewed her with surprised delight, but no 
wonder; then returning to consciousness, he recognised 
the hallucination almost in the instant of her vanishing." 

Father Gerrard, who met him in Sussex, afterwards 
wrote : 

" Only a few weeks ago, I was chatting with Francis Thompson 
in his cosy retreat at Southwater, whither he had gone as the 
guest of Mr. Wilfrid Blunt,, to see if haply he might pull together his 
shattered frame. But the phthisis fiend had caught him in a tight 
grip. He was a dying man,, and an old man, although only forty- 
eight years of age. Still, even in his extremity the characteristics 
of his life were manifest, a shrinking from fellowship, a keen per- 
ception and love of the Church, a ready and masterful power of 

348 



In Hospital 



language. I could not say that conversation with him was ever 
an easy thing, if by conversation one means unceasing talk. Be- 
sides talk there were thoughtful silences. Then, after the thought, 
came the outpouring of its rich expression. The doings of the 
outside world had little interest for him, but the messages which 
I had for him from his little circle of friends set him all aglow." 

He returned weaker than he went. In his extremity 
of feebleness any hurt seemed grievous to him. Upon an 
umbrella falling against him in the railway carriage, he 
turned to me with a tremulous : " I am the target of all 
disasters ! ' And when a busy-body of a fellow asked 
him, on account of his notable thinness : " Do you 
suffer with your chest, sir ? ' Thompson, who had but 
one lung, and that diseased, answered sharply, " No ! " 
Even then he did not know the extent of his trouble. 

In error he attributed all his ills to one cause. My 
father, seeing him on his return, said to him, t{ Francis, 
you are ill." ft Yes, Wilfrid," he answered, " I am more 
ill than you think" ; and then spoke a word from which 
both had refrained for ten years. " I am dying from 
laudanum poisoning." 

My father asked him if he were willing to go to the 
Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth. The fact that 
my sister the Sylvia of Sister Songs chanced at that 
moment to be lying ill there, led him to consider the 
institution without hostility, and the next day, my 
father having previously recommended him to the nuns, 
he went unreluctant to his death-bed. Consumption 
was the mortal disease, and he had grown grievously 
thin, and too weak to be allowed much less than his 
habitual doses of laudanum. Some little while before 
the hours at which these became due, the tax upon his 
remaining strength was very heavy ; but only when in 
acutest need of the one medicine that could keep him alive 
(as, indeed, it had done over a long course of years) were 
the last days distressing for him. During most of them 
(he was in St. John and St. Elizabeth's ten days) he was 

349 



Last Things 

content with his surrounding, and knew Sister Michael, 
his most kind nurse. 

His reading was divided between his prayer-book and 
Mr. W. W. Jacobs' Many Cargoes, neither of which at- 
tested his realisation of the end. But he was not ignorant 
of it. When I last saw him he took my father's hand 
and kept it within his own, chafing and patting it as if to 
make a last farewell. He died at dawn on November 13, 
1907. 

But, for all that friends were at hand, the nurse tender, 
and the priest punctual, his passing was solitary. His 
bedside was not one at which watchers share comming- 
ling cold, as when a widow's burning fingers, holding 
those of her dead, are turned to inner ice ; his going 
not as a child's, which chills the house. The fires 
quenched were his own. It seemed to his friends as if 
it were a matter personal to himself ; while their sorrow 
for their own loss was mixed almost with satisfaction at 
something ended in his favour, as if at last he had had 
his way in a transaction with a Second Party, who might 
have long and painfully delayed the issue. 

Nothing improvident or improper, it seemed to those 
at hand, had happened in the hospital ward. Such were 
one's feelings beside the tall window, among nuns who 
smiled happily because he had received the Sacraments. 
His features, when I went to make a drawing of him in 
the small mortuary that stood among the wintry garden- 
trees, were entirely peaceful, so that I, who had some- 
times known them otherwise, fell into the mood of the 
cheerful lay-sister with the keys, who said : " I hear he 
had a very good death." To the priest, who had seen 
him in communion with the Church and her saints at 
the moment which may be accounted the most solitary 
possible to the heart of man, no thought of especial lone- 
liness was associated with his death. 

He was too magnanimous to take one to his dead 
heart. Suffering alone, he escaped alone, and left 

350 



Death 

none strictly bound on his account. He left his friends 
to be busy, not with his ashes, but his works. It was as 
if the winds that caught and checked his breath were 
those that blew his fame into conspicuous glows. He 
was laid to rest in St. Mary's Cemetery, Kensal Green. 
In his coffin, W. M. records, were roses from Meredith's 
garden, inscribed with Meredith's testimony " A true 
poet, one of the small band," and violets went to the 
dead poet's breast from the hand of my mother whose 
praises he had divinely sung. 

ft Devoted friends lament him/' wrote W. M., " no 
less for himself than for his singing. But let none be 
named the benefactor of him who gave to all more than 
any could give to him. He made all men his debtors, 
leaving to those who loved him the memory of his per- 
sonality, and to English poetry an imperishable name." 



35 1 



Index 



ABSENT-MINDEDNESS, Francis Thomp- 
son's, 9, 26 ., 31, 276 

Academy, The, 71 ., 329 ; articles by 
F. T. in, 42, 163-4, 255, 257, 259-64, 
267-70, 316, 321, 332-3; poems by 
F. T. in, 255, 259, 337; F. T.'s con- 
nexion with, 245, 253-64, 334-5 

Accent, 176 

Acerbity, F. T.'s assumed, 89 

Aeschylus, 58, 90 

" After her Going," 183 

"After Woman, The," 195, 228-9 

Aloofness, F. T.'s, 8, 24, 35-6, 279-80 

Alphonsus, Father, 181 

" Amelia Applejohn," 247 

American Ecclesiastical Review, 143 

" Amphicypellon " (Sister-Songs), 105- 
106, 294 

Ann (De Quincey's), 63, 83 

Ann (Francis Thompson's), 63, 81-4, 
92 

Anger, F. T.'s incapacity for, 54, 
141-2 

Anselm, Fr. (now Archbishop of Simla), 
174, 180-1, 183, 189-90; letters to 
F. T., 344-5 

"Anthem of Earth, An," 37, 47, 177, 
201, 241 ; alluded to, 157 

Aquinas, St. Thomas, 218 

Archer, Mr. William, 144, 152-3, 
337! quoted, 241; letter to F. T. , 
242 

Arnold, Matthew, F. T. on, 170 

Arnold, Sir Edwin, 233 

Ashbourne, Lord, 183 

Ashton-under-Lyne, 5, 39, 71 

Asquith, Mr., 160 

" Assumpta Maria," 173-4 

Astrology, 330 

" Astronomer, A Dead," 124, 126 

Athenaeum, The, poem by F. T. in, 
235 ; reviews of F. T. in, 144-6, 
241 ; F. T.'s connexion with, 243, 

3 26 . 33 6 
Augustine, St., quoted, 147, 165 ; F. T. 

on, 172 

Austin, Mr. Alfred, 332 
Ave Maria (Notre Dame, Indiana), 

137 n. 



BALLANTYNE, R. M., 16 

Barry, Rev. Canon, 171 

Beacock, Mr., Concordance to F. T., 
154, 165, 167 

Beardsley, Aubrey, 323-4 

Bearne, Fr. David, 185 

Beauty, female, 10, 12 

Bennett, Mr. Arnold, 149-50 

Berlioz, 55, 348 

Bernard, St., 172, 191, 288 

Beuno's, St., College, 185 

Bible, the, its diction, 158, 171 ; sym- 
bolism in, 191, 194, 196; F. T.'s 
reading of, 172-3 ; Apocalypse. 
172-3; Canticles, 223; Ecclesiastes, 
X 73. 193. 238 ; Genesis, 227 ; Penta- 
teuch, 223 ; the Prophets, 196, 264 ; 
Psalms, 194, 196, 209 ; St. John, 189, 
225 

Blackburn, Mrs., 126, 143, 252 

Blackburn, Vernon, 21, 95, 126-7, 



Blackfriars, 64, 278 

Blake, 331 ; quoted, 223 ; F. T.'s read- 

ing of, 58, 90 ; Mr. E. J. Ellis on, 

219 
Blunt, Mr. W. Scawen, 85 n., 137,245, 

347-8 ; quoted, 131 n. ; F. T. on, 256 ; 

F. T.'s reading of, 165 nju 

Bookman, The, review of New Poems, 

241 ; Mr. Garvin's article in, on 

F. T., 167,243 
Bootblack, F. T. as a, 65 
Booth, Mr. Bramwell, 107 
Booth, "General," 79-80, 106 
Bootmaker's assistant, F. T. as a, 71-5 
Boys and boyhood, 17-19, 21 
Breviary, the, 171-3, 182 
Bridges, Mr. Robert, 136 
"Brin," 118 
British Review, 240 
Broads, the Norfolk, 118, 173 
Brondesbury, 45, 274 
Bronte, Charlotte, 76-7, 127, 328 
" Broom-branch at Twilight, A," 304 
Browne, Sir Thomas, quoted, 84, 95- 

6; F. T.'s reading of, 95, 165; his 

diction, 47, 155-6 
Browning, E. B., 124, 127 



353 



Index 



Browning, R., Browning on F. T. , 
120-2, 124, 137 n. ; William Sharp's 
Life of, reviewed by F. T. , 121, 124 ; 
his obscurity, 146 ; his diction, 154-5 ; 
his observation, 275 

Bryan, Maggie, 230 

Bunyan, 225 

" Bunyan in the Light of Modern 
Criticism," 92, 267 

Burns, Robert, F. T. compared with, 
140 ; F. T. on, 168, 263-4 

Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, 188 

Butler, Samuel {Hudibras}, 196, 270 

" By Reason of thy Law," 174 

CAMPION, 152 

Cancelled passages, 107-8 

Canon Law in Her Portra it, 174 

"Captain of Song, A," 235 

Capuchins, 128, 140, 180-1 

Cardan, 196 

Cardinal points, symbolism of the, 

192-6 

Carlisle Place, 108 
Carmen, 102 

" Carmen Genesis," 285-6, 309-10 
Carmina Mariana, 173 
Carroll, Dr. , late Bishop of Shrewsbury, 

24, 107 n., 117, 144; letters 10,97, 

123 

Casartelli, Dr., Bishop of Salford, 15 
Catholic Encyclopaedia, 335 
Catholic World (N.Y.), 137 . 
Catholicism, F. T. on, 59-60, 224 
" Catholics in Darkest England," 106 
Cawein, Mr. Madison, 268-9 
Chambers, Mr. E. K. , 154 
Chancery Lane, 253-4 
Chapman, 175 

Charing Cross, 61 ; post office, 86-8 
Charles Borromeo, St., 208-9 
Chatterton, 61 
Chelsea, 4, 82 
Chesterfield, Lord, 272 
Chesterton, Mr. G. K., 165, 208, 

3.3 * 
Child set in the midst by Modern Poets, 

The, 123 

Child who will never grow old, The, 
250 

Children and Childhood. F. T.'s 
childhood, 5-14, 24, 98 ; his child- 
likeness, 247, 249; his ways with 
children, 74, 104, 114-17, 119,251; 
on the children of London, 79-82 

Chisholm, Mr. Hugh, 140 

Church, the, 202, 226, 322 

Church Court (or Passage), Chancery 
Lane, 5, 68 

" Clarendon " Reading Room, 68 

Clarke, Fr. R. F., 85, 193 

Clement, St., 222-3 



Cobbe, Frances Power, 260-1 

Cock, Mr. Albert, 201 

Coleridge, F. T.'s early reading of, 10, 
96, 161-2, 241 ; affinities and ana- 
logies with F. T.,3, 47, 49, 56,71 n., 

94-S. l6 3. 2 4i. 3 2 S. 34. 343-4; and 

opium, 53; as a poet, 127, 163-4; 

quoted, 166, 179, 205 
" Collecting " books, 62 
Collins, 87 

Colwyn Bay, 12-13, 44 
Constable & Co., Messrs., 277 
" Contemplation," 222 
Contemporary Review, 136 
Conversation, F. T.'s, 47, 62, in, 253, 

311-12, 314, 342, 349 
Cooper, T. Fen i more, 16 
Corbishly, Monsignor, 26 
Corporal Punishment, 19-20 
" Corymbus for Autumn, A," 137 n., 

167 

Courage, F. T.'s lack of active, 55, 62 
Covent Garden, 76-7, 91, 273, 278 
Cowley, 170; F. T. compared to, 146- 

7; diction, 155; F. T.'s reading of, 

165-7; quoted, 173 
Crashaw, F. T. and, 144, 146-7, 164, 

166-7, I 79> 257, 267-8, 288 
Crawley, 112, 181, 189, 344-6 
Cricket, 13, 39-45, 326, 328 
Critic, 7^(N.Y.), 137, 240 
Cross, the, 6, 95 n., 193 n., 211-13 
Crosskell, Canon Charles, Procurator 

of Ushaw, 26 
Crowley, Mr. Aleister, 268 
Cuthbert, Fr., 189 

Daily Chronicle, reviews of F. T. , 135, 

145, 170, 240, 241 ; review of Mrs. 

Meynell, 149; paragraph by A. M. , 

159 ; odes by F. T. in, 321, 333 
Daily Mail, verse by F. T. in, 227 ; 

F. T.'s reading of, 314-15, 328 
Daily News, 241 
"Daisy," 104, 118, 123, 140, 160, 

167 

Daniel, Samuel, 270 
Dante, 14, 87, 170, 172, 200 
Darwinism, 244 
"Daughter of Lebanon" (De Quin- 

cey's), 84, 164 
David, Mr. and Mrs., 347 
Davidson, John, 136, 140-1, 176, 311 
" Dead Cardinal of Westminster, To 

the," 107-8 {cancelled stanzas), 129, 

167, 226 

de Bary, Mr. Richard, 182 
Dedications to Poems and New Poems, 

128, 236-7 
Denbigh, Lady, 186 
Depression, F. T.'s fits of, 27, 47, 96, 

185 



354 



Index 



De Quincey, affinities and analogies 
with F. T., 46-7, 50-2, 62-3, 76, 83- 
84, 95, 168, 329, 343 ; F. T.'s reading 
of, 46-7, 50, 53-4,98, 164-5, 267-8; 
and opium, 48-9, 51-3,95; other- 
wise quoted, 133 n. 

Despairs and panics, 117-8, 316-7, 335 

De Vere, Aubrey, 269 

Diction, F. T.'s, 132-3, 148, 152-60, 193 

Dimbovitza, The Bard of the, 264 

Dolls, 9-10 

" Domus Tua," 130, 148 

Donne, 148, 155, 165, 173-4, 212 n., 
213 

Doubleday, Mr. and Mrs. , 242, 247-8 ; 
letter to Mr. Doubleday, 306 n. 

Douglas, Lord Alfred, 269 

Dowling, Mr. Richard, 267 

Dowson, Ernest, 160, 323-4 

Drayton, Michael, 154-5, 165, 270 

"Dread of Height, The," 220, 222, 

225 

' Dream Tryst," 13-14, 92, 102, 124, 
167 

" Dress" (verses in Daily Mail}, 227 

Driffield, Fr. , 101 

Drummond of Hawthornden, 208 

Drury Lane, 89 

Dryden, 101, 146, 155, 175, 307 

Dublin Review, 94, 96-7, 100, 201 

Dumas, 259 

EARLY verse, 27-30 

Ecclesiastical Ballads, 169, 195 n, , 283 

Eckhart, Meister, 165 

Edgbaston, 248 

Edgware Road, 65, 275, 287 

Edinburgh Review, 150-1, 171, 185, 

241, 246 

Egoism, the poets', 308 
Egyptian religion, 193-4, 196, 222-3 
Elgin Avenue, 273-4, 280, 339 
Eliot, George, 127 
Elision, 132 

Elizabethans, the, 177, 256, 270, 334 
Embankment, Thames, 24, 278 
Emerson, 321, 342 
Encyclopaedia, an, 56 
Enlistment, 56-7, 163 
" Erotic" poet(!), F. T. as an, 3, 14 . , 

124 

Esotericism, 191-6, 223-4 
Eternal punishment, 226 
Etymologies, 159-60 
Eve, the New, 194-5 
Exercise-books, 32, 34, 104 
Extinct animals, 37, 157 

FAILURES, F. T.'s successive, 32-4, 

54-6, 57 

Fairy Tales, 14, 103, 116 
"Fallen Yew, The," 108, 109, 132 



Fancy and imagination, 191 

Feilding, Everard, 186-8 

Fiona Macleod, 260 

Fisher, Mr., 334 

Fletcher, Fr. Philip, 124 

" Form and Formalism," 215 

Formby, Mr., 127 

Fortnightly Review, 126, 139, 146-9 

Francis, St. , of Assisi, 60, quoted, 181-2, 

283, 295 ; F. T. on, 181, 295-6 
Francis, St., of Sales, 127, 270 
Franciscan Days of Vigil (De Bary's) 

quoted, 182 

Franciscans, the, lion., 180-3 
Freemasonry, 193 n. 
Friston, Suffolk, 118-19, 340-1 
"From the night of Forebeing," 166, 

184 
F. S. , 25 



GALE, Mr. Norman, 136, 140, 249 
Gardner, Mr. Edmund, 211 n. 
Garvin, Mr. James, 122 
Garvin, Mr. Louis, 122-3, J 45> 

243 ; letters to F. T. , 332-3 
Gentleness, F. T.'s extreme, 20, 119 
Gerrard, Fr. T. J., 348 
Ghosh, Mr. S. K., 211-12 n., 317 
Ghost, a, 186-7, * 88 
Gibbon, 26 

Gillow, Canon Henry, 15, 26 
Glasgow, 55-6 
Gloom, 133, 227 
Golden Halfpennies, the, 67 
Gosse, Mr. Edmund, 152 
Granville Place, 45, 314 
Greco, El, 327 
Guardian, The, 240 
Guildhall Library, London, 63, 91 



HARDY, Mr. Thomas, 265-6, 268 
Harrow Road, 190, 281 
Head, Dr. Henry, 186-8 
Hawthorne, quoted, 24, 293 
Hayes, Mr. Alfred, 248-9 
Health and Holiness, 288-90, 348 
" Heard on the Mountain," 175, 306 
Hearn, Lafcadio, 15, 20, 21-3 
Henley, W. E. , F. T. on, 136, 177-8, 

256, 263, 266-7 ; n F- T. , 149, 262- 

4; meeting with, 264-6 
Herbert, George, 166-7, 288, 305 
" Her Portrait," 127, 141, 174 
Hind, C. Lewis, 253, 263-5, 3 21 ' letters 

from F. T. to, 256-64 ; letter to F. T. 

from, 264 

Hinkson, Mrs. , see Tynan, Katharine 
Holyhead, 13 
Homer, 74, 105 
Hospital, F. T. in, 94, 349-50 
Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth, 

349-5 



355 



Index 



"Hound of I KM von, The," 84, 122, 
I37//., 144, 164-5, 176, 205-6, 2ii, 
300, 319 

Housman, Mr. Laurence, 135 

1 liigel, Baron von, 201 
Huso, Victor, 08, 175. 306 n. 
Humility, F. T.'s, 187, 237 
Humorous verse, 13, 27 8, in u, 

331 

Hunt, Leigh, igi 
Huxley, 74 
Hyde, Mr. William, -77, 281; letter 

from F. T. to, 277 

" IDYLLS of the King," F. T. on the, 

101 

Ignatius Loyola, Life of St., 336 
Illness and ill-health, 46, 94, 104, 125, 

129, 257, 260, 272-3, 339, 349 
Imagery, F. T.'s, 13, 91, 187, 207, 

216; F. T. on his own imagery, 

97-8, 158 ; F. T.'s imagery criticised, 

148; A. M. on imagery, 216-17; 

F. T. on imagery in general, 151, 

215-17, 219 

Imagination, 191, 215-16 
Imperial and Colonial Magazine, \y-> 
Indifference to comfort, F. T.'s, 287, 

288 

Individualism, F. T. on, 108-10 
Individuality, 108 
Inexpertness, F. T.'s, 8, 75 
Jnobservance, F. T.'s, 274, 276 
/;/.*// Monthly, 185 

JACOBS, Mr. W. W., 266, 271, 350 

Jacopone da Todi, 309, 323 

James, Henry, 329 

Jerome, St., 171 

Joan of Arc, 199 

John, St., 225. See also Bible 

John, St., and St. Elizabeth, Hospital 

of, 283, 349-5 

John of the Cross, St. ,146, 224 
Johnson, Dr., 325 ; quoted, 348 
Johnson, Lionel, 85, 323; quoted, 152, 

282 

Josephus, 74 

Joubert, quoted, 200 (222) 
Journalism, 93, in, 316, 334 
" Judgment in Heaven, A," 59, 136, 

137, 144, 167 

KEATS, 92, 150, 152, 164, 193, 243, 



^ 
Kelsall, an actor, 64 

Kempis, Thomas a, 225-6, 243, 283 
Kensall Green, St. Mary's Cemetery, 



Kensington Gardens, 104, 114-15 

Kent, W. H., 174 

Kent's Bank, near Alverstone, 13 



Kilburu, 268, 274 

King, Miss Katharine Douglas, 250-1 ; 

letters to F. T. 250-1 
King, Mrs. Hamilton, letters to F. T. , 

132, 250 

Kingsford, Anna, 174 
Kipling, Mr. Kudyard, 126, 170, 175. 

262, 268, 270 

L. , Miss, 60 

Laburnum, 29, 273 

Ladysmith, siege of, o 

Lamb, Charles, 20, 61, 321 

Landor, 260 

Landladies, 274, 279-80, 317 

Lane, Mr. John, 129, 135 6, 14;, 

184 

Lang, Mr. Andrew, 136-7, 139, 165 
1 .atin, 171 

Latinisms, 33, 155-7 
Laureateshi]), the, 233-4 
Leeky. Mr. Walter, 137 
Le Gallienne, Mr. Richard, 135-6, 141. 



356 



Leo XIII., 283 

Leonard Square, 250 

Leslie, Mr. Shane, 91 

Libraries, F. T. as a haunter of, to, 

16, 25, 27, 37, 47, 63 
Light, igo, 238 ;/. 

Light-heartedness, F. T.'s, 27-8, 77 
Lilly, W. S. , Century of Revolution, 

124 

" Lily of the King, The," 283 
Literary ll'orlii, 240 
Liturgy, the, 30-31, 33, 156, 171-4 
Lockyer, Sir Norman, 238 
Lodge, 160 
Lodging-houses, 64-5 
"Lodi, Storming of the Bridge, at," 

26 

Log-rolling, 138, 140-143 
London, F. T. on, 77, 79, 277-9 ; F. T. 

in, 46, 54, 61-93, I0 4- 2 3 6 
Lord's, 44-5 
Love and love-affairs, n, 14, 38, 73-4, 

230-2 

" Love declared," 230 
Lower-worldliness, F. T.'s, 64-7 
Lucas, Mr. E. V., 41, 45, 253, 264 
Lucas, Winifrid (Mrs. H. Le Bailly). 

250 

Lytton-Bulwer, 74, 157, 265 
Lytton, Hon. Neville, 337 

MACAULAY, 10, 26, 169, 260 

Maeterlinck, 198-9 

" Magic, Varia on," 188, 193 

" Making of Viola, The," 59, 93, 122, 

iS8. 179 

" Man Proposes, Woman Disposes," 
227, 337 n. 



Index 



Manchester, F. T. in, 35-6, 46-9, 51, 

55- 5^. 61, 75' 8 4. 274 ' 
Manchester Guardian, 145, 332 
Mangan, 168 
Mann, Rev. Horace K., 15-16, 19, 24, 

26 
Manning, Cardinal, 79, 85 ., 107-8, 

in, 290 

Marianus, Fr. , 180 
Maries, Mrs., 274, 318 
Marlowe, 168, 244 
Marryat, Captain, 16 
Martin, Miss Agnes, 3, 4 
" Martyrs, To the English," 275 
Marvell, i r 
Mary, the Blessed Virgin, 4672., 172-3, 

227, 228 
Mary Ignatius, Sister (F. T.'s aunt), 

Mary of St. J. F. de Chantal, Sister 

(F. T.'s aunt), 5 
Mary of the Angels, St., Bayswater, 

281, 341 
Mary's, St., Cemetery, Kensal Green, 



Massingham, Mr. H. W. , letters to 

F. T., 332, 336-7 
May, Mr. (F. T.'s cousin), 46 
M'Master, Mr., 70-76 
Medal, a consecrated, 13, 73 
Medical student, F. T. as, 35-56 
Melpomene, the Vatican, 37-8 
Mercure de France, 319 
Meredith, George, F. T.'s reading of, 
150, 165, 266; on A. M., 233; 
F. T.'s meetings with, 245-7; on 
F. T. , 246-7, 351 

Merry England, 85, no, 113, 121, 193, 
250; poems by F. T. in, 87-8, 92, 
95, 102, 107, 120, 122, 124, 126, 
130-31, 137 n., 138, 304; prose 
articles by F. T. in, 85, 92, 96, 106, 
179 

Metaphor and simile, 151 
Metre, 151, 158-9, 175-9, 220 
Meynell, Alice, on F. T. , 94-5, 107, 
126, 155, 157, 179, 216-17, 226-7, 
320,331; F. T. on, 86, 113, 126-8, 
J 33 n -> J 3^. r <0' H^ 9. 216 ; other 
references, 95, 120-1, 137, 183, 194, 
224, 234, 238, 245-7, 250, 256, 336 ; 
letters from F. T. to, 130-1, 133 n., 

!59- !77. i 8 3. i 23-9. 226, 297, 312, 
313 ; letters to F. T., 129, 139, 158 

Meynell family, F. T. and the, 114, 
116-7, 160, 184, 247, 268 

Meynell. Mr. Wilfrid, F. T. and, 87, 
8 9-92, 95, 97, 107, in, 137, 143, 
194, 247, 250, 262, 2^4 ., 303, 317, 
327. 33 6 - 3491 F. T. on, 86; on 
F. T., 98-100, 123, 124-5, 320-2; 
letters from F. T. to, 85, 88, 100, 



103-4, now., 114-17. 129, 135, 145- 
6, 180, 183, 234-5, 238, 242, 250, 
316-18, 335, 337, 339 ; other letters 
to, 58, 107 n., 120, 140, 183, 186-8, 
247-8 

Michael, Sister, 350 

Mills, Mr. f. Saxon, 39, 60 

Milton, 140, 155-6, 159, 196, 281, 307 

Miracles, 67, 3:', 

"Mistress of Vision, The," 165, 222, 
237, 240-1 

Monica Mary (Saleeby, nee Meynell), 
113-14, 118-19, X 43, 34O-i; letters 
to, 340-1 

" Monica thought dying, To," 132, 145 

" Monica, To, after nine years," 119 

.->,ore, Mr. Sturge, 269, 315 

Morning Post, 152, 240 

Morris, Sir Lewis, 190 

Moulton, Mrs. Louise Chandler, 252 

Murderer, a (" D. I."), 64, 78 

Music, F. T.'s love of, 55 

Mysticism, true and false, 148, 198-9 

221, 223, 237 

Mythologies, 196 

NAPOLEON JUDGES, 337 n. 

Nares' Glossary, 154 

" Narrow Vessel, A," 229-32 

Nation, The, 155, 157, 179, 216, 320, 

336 
National Observer, 138 

National Revievj, 233 

Nature, F. T. on, 30, 131-2, 205-7, 

211 

Nersc-s, St., the Armenian, 173-4 
New Brighton, 13 
New Poems (1897), 187 ; its reception, 

136, 150, 239-43, 253, 308; a can- 
"A preface, 158, 175-6, 185, 220, 

237-8; mysticism in, 201, 214, 238; 

F. T. on, 236, 238-9, 301, 306; 

dedication, 236-7 
New York Post, 137 
Newbolt, Mr. Henry, 139, 269 
Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 122 
"Nocturn," 186 
Notebooks, F. T.'s, 27, 227 ; quoted, ?,, 

12, 13, 18, 64, 78, 142, 175, 178, 188, 

208, 228, 276-7, 283, 303-4 
Nowlan, Fr. , 26 n. 
Noyes, Mr. Alfred, 269 
Nuns of the Cross and Passion, 6 
Nyren, 43 

ODES, occasional, 321, 332-4 

Ode to the Setting Sun, 95, 95 n. , 124- 

5, 127, 137 n., 176, 201, 211-12 

" Old Fogey, An," (Andrew Lang, soi- 

disant\, 136 

Old Trafford cricket-ground, 39, 43 
Opera, the, 46 



357 



Index 



Opium, F. T. and, 3, 46, 48-9, 51-3, 
56-8, 63, 83, 87, 94-6, 104, 123, 163, 
254-5, 321 

"Orient Ode," 192, 201, 201 n., 210, 
222, 238 

Origen, 223 

Orpen, Mr, 327 

Ostade, 254 

O'Sullivan, Mr. Vincent, 136, 252 

Outcasts, 63-4, 74, 81-4 

Owens College, Manchester, 35-6, 46, 

54 
Oxford Street, 61, 70, 274 

PADDINGTON, 65, 274 

Paganism, 125, 205, 228 

" Paganism, Old and New," 85-7, 92, 
125, 268 

Pain, 69, 129, 294, 295 

Palace Court, Kensington, F. T. at, 
24, 68, 104, 117, 123, 271, 274, 
284 n. 

Pall Mall Gazette, 138, 146, 241 

Pan, 29-30, 124 

Pantasaph, F. T. at, 24, 128-9, I 3 I ~ 2 - 
143-6, 148-9, 177, 180-97, 230, 233- 
236, 238-9 

Pantheism, 205 

Panton Street, 62, 71, 74-5 

" Passion of Mary, The," 46 ., 87, 88, 
92, 124 

Passion, The, 6, 288 

Parodies, 154, 331 

Patmore, Coventry, 130, 143, 275, 282, 
328; F. T.'s friendship with, 146, 
148-9, 189-90, 224, 233-6, 250, 312; 
F. T.'s affinities with, 144-5, I ^9> I 74- 
192-3, 220-1, 223, 267; "irregular" 
metre of, 176-8, 193, 220; quoted, 
8 3~4. 139. 146-8, l6 4, 190-1, 198, 200, 

2OI, 2O9, 22O, 222, 266, 306 ., 312, 

317 ; The Poetry of Pathos and De- 
light, 234 ; Religio Poetce, 189, 191-2 ; 
Rod, Root and Flower, 149, 192, 201, 

220, 227; translation of St. Bernard, 
191; The Unknown Eros, 181, 191, 
222, 238; letters to, 191-3, 195, 233, 
236, 238 ; letters from, 149, 194, 197, 

221, 233 

Patmore, Henry, 21 
Paul, St., 220, 223 

Perry, Fr. Stephen, 124, 126 
Phillips, Fr. G. E., 16 
Phillips, Mr. Stephen, 17: 
Pickpocket Hall, 187 
Pico della Mirandola, 204 
Pile, Mr., 274-5 
Plagiarism, 168 
Plevna, siege of, 9 
Poe, 178 

Poems (1893), 122, 129, 135-48, 158, 
170, 238, 243, 341 



"Poet breaking Silence, To a," 126, 

133 
" Poets as Prose Writers," 255, 316 

Politics, 335, 339 

Pope, 229, 272 

"Poppy, The," 118, 341 

Portiuncula, the, 185 

Poverty, fair and foul, 77-8 n., 181, 

284-5 

Prayer, 73, 84, 104, 280, 286, 287 n. 
Premonstratensians, 95 
Preston, i, 5 
Priesthood, F. T. and the, 5, 31-2, 

33- 73 
Prison, 64, 258 

Probyn, Miss May, 85, 116 

Prose, F. T.'s, 97-8, 135, 149, 177, 206, 

267, 310, 312 
Puns, 13, 326] 

QUANTITY, 176 

Quiller-Couch, Sir A. T., 153, 241 

RABELAIS, 64 

Railton, Sergeant, 19 

Raleigh, Sir Walter, 48, 156, 256 

Ranjitsinjhi, Prince, 42 

Realm, The, 141, 146 

Reformation, the, 12 

Refuges, 65 

Religion, 30, 31, 33, 34. See Catho- 

licism, and Mysticism 
Rendall, Mr. Vernon, letters to F. T. , 

336 

" Renegade Poet on the Poet, A," 302 
Reserve, F. T.'s, 7, 18, 32, 35, 74, 90, 

297 
"Retrospect" ("Sight and Insight"), 

184, 214 

Review of Reviews, 106 
Reviews byF. T. , 121, 124, 156-7, 168, 

171, 175, 253-5, 260, 269 
" Rhodes, Cecil, Ode on," 255-6, 335 
Rhyl, 185 

Richardson, Fr. , 46 n. 
Richardson, Mrs. Margaret, ?iee 

Thompson (the poet's sister), i, 128, 



Roger Bacon Society, The, 181, 183 

Rook, Mr. Clarence, 253 

Rossetti, Christina, 209, 224 

Rossetti, D. G., quoted, 65 n., 82, 87; 
F. T.'s reading of, 161, 165, 268; other 
references, 127, 136, 154, 156, 164, 
224, 239, 318 

Rothschild, 67-8 

Rowton House Rhymes, 93 

Ruskin, 127 



358 



S., F., 25 

St. Beuno's College, 185 

St. fames'; Gazette, 135, 140, 145, 170 



Index 



St. John's Wood, 45 

Saturday Review, 146, 154, 233, 239 

Salle, Blessed J. B. de la, 80 ' 

" Saul," an unfinished drama, 338 

Scholarship, F. T.'s, 26 n., 27, 35 

Science, 36, 196, 237-8 

Scots Observer, 126, 262 

Scott, 10, ii 

Sea, the, 12-13 

Seaman, Mr. Owen, 269 

Seeley's (Mr. H. C.), Dragons of the 
Air, 157 

Selected Poems (1908), 247 

Self -appraisements, F. T.'s, 98, 131, 
136, 158, 187, 306 

Self-revelation in F. T.'s poetry, 103, 
148 

Selous, F. C. , illustrations to Shake- 
speare, ii, 38 

Seneca, 300 

" Sere of the Leaf, The," 102-3, 302 

Serendipity Shop, the, 286, 329 

Set-worship, 194, 196 

Seventeenth Century, 165 

Shakespeare, 271 ; F. T.'s early reading 
of, 6, 10-12, 38 ; his metre, 177 ; his 
diction, 154-5 ; quotations from, or 
other allusions to, by F. T. , 85, 
112-13, "7. r 33 J 7S. J 9 6 . 238 ; F. T. 
compared with, 138, 143, 150, 168, 
244 

Sharp, William, 121, 124 

" She, the unknown," 73, 84 

Sheehan, Canon Patrick, 143 

Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 240 

Shelley, F. T's reading of, 87, 92, 96, 
161, 164; F. T. on, 206, 260; 
Essay on, 96-100 ; Essay on Shelley, 
quoted, 5-6, 17-18, 98, 217, 219; 
F.T.'s " Shelley " poem, 126, 128 ; his 
"Shelley" selection, 100 n. ; F. T. 
compared with, 143, 150, 165, 167, 
243, 262 

Shelters, 65 

Shore, Mr. W. Teignmouth, 335 

Shore, Miss, 261 

Shorter, Mrs. Dora Sigerson, 269 

" Sight and Insight," 184, 198 

Silence ("my familiar"), 7, 35, 58, 
297 

Simile and metaphor, 151 

Simplicity, F. T.'s personal, 185, 187 

" Sir Francis," 119 

Sister Songs, its writing, 104-6, 152 ; 
its reception, 136, 141, 145, 154, 243- 
244 ; Meredith's epithet, 247 ; Wilde's 
appreciation, 252; F. T.'s feeling 
for it, 304 ; its actuality, 273 ; auto- 
biographical, 81, 148, 168 

Skating, 114 

Smithfield Market, 117 

Snead-Cox, Mr. J. G., 85, 120 



Snowdon, 185 

Socialism, no n. 

Socrates, 223 

Solomon, Simeon, 323 

"Song of the Hours," 95 ;/., 125 

Sonnets, 73, 126 

South African War, 9 

South Kensington Museum, 105 

Southampton Row, 71, 74 

Southwater, 159, 349 

Southwell, 167 

Speaker, The, 140, 153, 240, 241 

Spenser, 155, 163 

Staly bridge, 39, 144 

Standard Book of British Poetry, 74 

Star, The, 145 

Stead, W. T., 106-7 

Stephanon, Lamente forre, 28-9 

Stevenson, R. L., 165, 170, 297, 302 

Storrington, 95-6, in 

Strand, the, 24, 71 n., 163, 278 

Suckling, 165 

Sun, the, and sun-worship, 210-12, 

^ 229, 238, 272-3 

Sunrises and Sunsets, 131, 161, 290 

Sussex, 346 

Sutherland, the Duchess of, 252 

Swedenborg, 206-7, 271 

Swinburne, F. T's reading of, 97, 265, 

268 ; F. T. on, 126, 178-9, 266 
"Sylvia," 8, 148, 151,349 ' 
Symons, Arthur, 144-6, 198-9, 269 
Symbolism, 193-6, 211, 215, 218 

Tablet, The, 99, 125, 126, 137 n., 138 

" Tancred, Francis" (pseudonym of 
F. T.), 106 

Tate, Dr., President of Ushaw, 26, 32 

Taylor, Jeremy, 156 

Tennyson, 101, 120, 179 n., 230, 260 

Terence, 299 

Texts as stimulants, 32, 68, 325-6 

Thames Embankment, 24, 64, 192, 278 

Theresa, St., 146 

Thomas a Kempis, 225-6, 243, 283 

Thomas, Mr. Edward, 198 

Thomas of Celano, 181 

Thompson, Dr. Charles (F. T.'s father), 
i, 2, 4, 36, 54-60, 71, 107 ., 127. 
144, 185-6 

Thompson, Edward Healy (F. T.'s 
uncle), 2, 3, 14 n., 46;^., 58-9, 61, 
68, 85 n., 124 

Thompson family, the, 1-5 

THOMPSON, FRANCIS JOSEPH, birth, 
pedigree, parentage, 1-4 ; his pater- 
nal uncles, 2, 3 ; other relatives, 4, 
5 ; childhood, 6 seq. ; home-life, 7- 
14. 35. 54-5. 57-6o, 74-5; early 
reading, 6, 10-12; at the seaside, 12, 
13; cricket, 13, 39-45; at Ushaw, 
15-21, 24-32 ; intention of the priest- 



359 



Index 



hood abandoned, 32-4 ; a medical 
student at Owens College, Man- 
chester, 35-46 ; visits to London 
(1879 and 1882), 46, 54; illness, 46; 
reading de Quincey, 46; taking 
opium, 48-53, 56 ; fails in his exams. , ! 
54-6 ; love of music, 55 ; enlists, 
56-7 ; flight from home, 57, to Man- 
chester, 58, to London, 58, 61 ; odd 
jobs, 62-3; an outcast, 63-4; lodg- 
ing-houses and refuges, 64-5 ; pieces 
of good-luck, 67-8; roofless nights, 
69-70; with Mr. McMaster (the 
bootmaker), 70-75 ; a Christmas at 
home, 74-5 ; "in darkest London," 
76-80; his "brave, sad, lovingest, 
tender thing," 81-4, 92 ; a meeting 
with the editor of Merry England, 
85-90 ; the Meynell household, 90-2 ; 
contributes to Merry England, 92, 
120-6 ; sent to a private hospital, 
94; renunciation of opium, 94-5 ; at . 
Storrington, 95 ; writing poetry, 95; 
the essay on Shelley, 96-100 ; return 
to London, 104; "The Hound of 
Heaven " and " Sister Songs," 104 ; 
article on General Booth's In Darkest 
England, 106-7 ; interview with Car- 
dinal Manning, 107-8 ; journalism, 
HI-I2, 117, 253-70; visits to Craw- 
ley, 112-13, 344-6 ; in Kensington 
Gardens, 114-15; at Friston, in 
Suffolk, 118-19; at Pantasaph, 128- 
33; 140, 143-48, 177, 180-97, 230- 
39; Poems (1893), 128-48; Sister 
Songs (1895), 141, 145, 149-5: 
friendship with Coventry Patmore, 
139, 146-9, 189-97, 220-4, 233-4; 
his critics, 152-61 ; his congeners, 
161-70, 174 ; his father's death, 185- 
186; his mysticism, 191-232; his 
attitude to Nature, 205-8 ; his re- 
ligion, 224-7 1 ms attitude to women, 
227-32 ; a love-affair, 230 ; death of 
Patmore, 234-7; A'ew Poems, 198, 
201, 203, 236-43 ; return to London, 
245 ; meeting with Meredith, 245-7 ; 
other friends, 247-52 ; writes for The 
Academy, 253-70, 334-6 ; criticisms j 
on and meeting with W. E. Henley, 
262-7 ; his catholic appreciation of 
modern literature, 265-6, 268-9 ! but 
preference for the older writers, 270- 
271; as a Londoner, 272-81, 284, 
288; his poverty, 284-7; hisloneliness, 
291; bereft of song, 301-4, 306-7 ; was \ 
he happy or unhappy? 304-5, 329- 
33 ; his personal appearance, 327-8 ; 
writes for Tiie Athen&um, 336; a 
return to opium, 342 ; visits to Sussex, 
344-49 ; returns to London, and 
goes into hospital, 349; death, 350 

360 



Thompson, Francis Joseph, letters 
from, to Mother Austin (his sister 
Mary), 333 ; to Dr. Carroll, 97, 123; 
to Mr. Doubleday, 306 . ; to Mr. 
C. L. Hind, 256-61 ; to Mr. William 
Hyde, 277 ; to Mrs. Meynell, 130, 
132-3, 159, 177, 183, 188-9, 226, 
297, 312-13 ; to Everard Mevnell, 
44, 159, 328-31, 345; to Wilfrid 
Meynell, 85, 88, 100, 103-5, no n., 

112, 114-17. I2 9. *35' *4S, l8 . 
183, 234-5, 238, 242, 250, 316-18, 
334-5, 337-8 ; to Coventry Patmore, 
191-3, 195, 233-4, 236, 238; to 
Mrs. Patmore, 234 ; to Mrs. Saleeby 
(ne'e Monica Meynell), 340-341 ; to 
Miss Agnes Tobin, 252 

Letters to, from Father Anselm, 

344-5; from Mr. W. Archer, 242; 
from Mother Austen (his sister Mary), 
334; from Mr. J. L. Garvin, 332-3; 
from Mr. C. L. Hind, 264 ; from 
Mrs. Hamilton King, 132, 250 ; from 
Miss K. Douglas King, 250 ; from 
Mr. H. W. Massingham, 332, 336 ; 
from Mrs. Meynell, 129, 158; from 
Coventry Patmore, 149, 194, 197, 
221, 233 ; from Mrs. Patmore, 237 ; 
from Mr. Vernon Rendall, 336 ; from 
W. T. Stead, 106 ; from Mrs. Tynan 
Hinkson, 102 

Thompson, Helen '(F. T.'s sister), 
i n. 

Thompson, John Costall (F. T.'s 
uncle), 2, 3 

Thompson, Margaret (F. T.'s sister), i, 
128 

Thompson, Mary (F. T.'s sister), 
" Mother Austin," a nun, i n. , 7, 8, 
12-14, 39-40. 57, 59, 75, 127, 186, 
287 ., 341; letter to, 333; letter 
from, 334 

Thompson, Mary Turner, nee Morton 
(F. T.'s mother), i, 4, 7, 10, 46/48-9 

Thorp, Mr., 259 

Times, The, 240, 319, 320 

Timidity, F. T.'s, 13, 15, 32, 265 

"To my Godchild," 123, 137, 162, 

273 

Tobin, Miss Agnes, 252 
Tolstoy, 109 
" Tommy," 15, 19, 27 
" Tom o' Bedlam," 65, 207 
Toys, F. T.'s, 8, 98 
Traherne, 74, 285, 288 
Traill, Mr. H. D. , 144-5, I 49 
Tregunter Road, Fulnam, 46 
" Twopenny Damn, The," 139 
Tyburn, 275 
Tynan, Katharine (Mrs. Hinkson), 

85 n., 102, 122, 137 n., 209,302; letters 

to F. T. , 102 



Index 



" ULTIMA," 306 

University Press, Notre Dame, Ind., 

318-9 
Unpublished fragments of verse, 65, 

81, 161, 188, 208, 213, 236, 270, 

276-7, 280, 291-3, 295 
Unpublished poems, 73-4, 77~ 8 . 292-3, 

296-7 
Unpunctuality, F. T.'s, 9, 33, 72, 257, 

264-5, 327 

Unworldliness, F. T.'s, 5, 249, 287-8 
Ushaw, F. T. at, 14, 34, 127 

VAUGHAN, Henry, 198, 209, 288 
Vaughan, Cardinal, 33, 99, 283 
Verlaine, 320, 322 
" Veteran of Heaven, The," 169, 

195 n. 

Vienna Cafe, The, 280, 303 
Vulgate, the, 171 

WALES, F. T. in, 24, 128-32, 143-9, 

177-97, 230-9 

War, fears of a general, 193 n., 339-40 
Wardour Street, 70 
Watson, Mr. William, 136, 145, 259 
Watts, Mr. Augustine, 21 
Watts-Dunton, Mr. Theodore, 165 



Waugh, Mr. Arthur, 258 
Wetkly Register, The, in, 113, 124, 

127, 135, 137 
Weekly Sun, 141 
Wells, Mr. H. G., 258 
Westbourne Grove, 266, 284, 286 
" Westminster Drolleries," 64 
Westminster Gazette, 137, 154 
Whiteing, Mr. Richard, 112, 241 
Whiteside, Dr., Archbishop of Liver- 
pool, 27 

Whitten, Mr. Wilfred, 71 n., 257, 337; 
his reminiscences of F. T. , 253-4, 
280-1, 303, 307 
Wilde, Oscar, 127, 252 
Wilkinson, Fr. Adam, 20, 24 
Winefride's Well, St., 185 
Wiseman, Cardinal, 23, 99, ico 
Woman, F. T. on, 227-9, 231 
Woman on F. T., 149 
Wordsworth, quoted, 311 ; quoted by 
F. T. , 87, 159; points of contact 
withF. T., 160, 167, 183, 325 ; points 
of opposition, 205-6; F. T.'s article 
on, 260 

Wormwood Scrubbs, 44 
Wyndham, Mr. George, 100, 160, 
256 



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