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 performance. 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 profession of medicine should be made at Glasgow, where degrees were more easily, if less honourably, to be obtained. 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 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 disappointment 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 spending 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 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 " 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 character, but both are very reserved, indeed impenetrable." 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 ? "