The discovery that a man cannot, with any permanence, 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 produced 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 m-iting, in
And biting My pencil, inviting Inspiration and plighting My hair into elf-locks most wild, and affrighting, And Registering, and daying and nighting;
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 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 disgusting 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. E., in particular, 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,' etc. 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."
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 tyrannised 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."