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 classmate at Ushaw was the future Lafcadio Heam-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 Seminary-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 ne?t seven years.
" His mode of procedure along the ambulacrum was quite his own, and you might know at the furthest point from him that 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 were 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 :-
" 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, ddchirants (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 amputation to another. Pour a puddle into a thimble, or an Atlantic into Etna ; both thimble and mountain overflow. 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 impressions of school he could not write as a boy, or of boys: