In talk with F. T. he said :-
" I look to you to crush all this false mysticism. Crush it j 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 Fortnightly 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 perception. 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.
" Mv 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 written ruptures T) 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,
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, reads proudly now :-
" I declare that for three days after this book appeared I read 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 improbably 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 unquestionable 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 equipment 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."