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 was ready to listen to Francis's silences in London? It is possible that if a child had sought him in Kensington 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 nondescript 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 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 intelligence. 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.
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 interesting 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 inconvenience of thoughts not commonplace. Even his halfpenny 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
-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.