" I will begin by telling you I am very happy. I have been much happier during these last two or three months than ever before. . . My bump of poetry is developing rapidly. For now poetry seems to me to be the noblest and greatest thing, after religion, on earth. . . . But what I mean by the development of my poetic bump is that I can now see the poetry in Milton, Wordsworth, Papa, and Dante as I never could till quite lately; and I really think that being able to enjoy poetry is a new source of happiness added to my life."
At Ushaw, then, were two readers in the conspiracy of spacious song. But Francis wrote no tidings of happiness home. Of schoolboys in general Henry Patmore wrote, and, in writing, disproved his belief :-
" It is quite sickening, after reading the ' Apologia,' to turn to those around me and to myself, and see how very frivolous and aimless and selfish our lives are; how we go on living from day to day for the day, as if we were animals put here to make the best of our time, and then ' go off the hooks ' to make way for others. Of course, grown-up people often live for God, but I think nearly all my ' compeers' here (myself included) are animals."
Paddy Hearn (referred to before)-the Lafcadio of later life-was an older schoolfellow. College can be all things to all boys; some may find there a genial scene and cordial entertainment; others unfriendly and frightening surroundings. The case of Lafcadio Hearn, who arrived in Ushaw in 1863, a boy of thirteen, is not comparable to Thompson's, for Hearn mixed a strong rebelliousness with his nervousness; and he was neither unhappy nor unpopular, although peculiar, and even " undesirable" from the principal's point of view. Sent there, like Thompson, that he might discover if his inclination lay in the direction of the priesthood, like Thompson he drifted, after Ushaw, to London, and suffered there. The circumstances are strangely like those of Francis's case. But the invitation of the road and sea maintained Lafcadio's spirits. He endured his poverty mostly near the docks : " When the city roars around you, and your heart is full of the bitterness of the struggle for life, there comes to you at long intervals in the dingy garret or the crowded street some memory of white breakers and vast stretches of wrinkled sand, and far fluttering breezes that seem to whisper ' come.'" Thereafter the scope of his thought and action, with murder-case reporting in New York, with his unconfined sympathies for rebel blood, and contempt for "Anglo-Saxon prudery," might most easily be described as the opposite of Thompson's. A closer observer marks something more remarkable than dissimilarity. His Japanese biographer says of him that " he laughed with the flowers and the birds, and cried with the dying trees" - words which have an accidental likeness to " Heaven and I wept together."
Hearn's own words, in a letter to Krehbeil, jthe musician, show a much more deeply-rooted likeness. He says:- \
" What you say about the disinclination to work for years upon a theme for pure love's sake touches me, because I have felt that despair so long and so often. And yet I believe that all the world's art-work-all that is eternal-was thus wrought. And I also believe that no work made perfect for the pure love of art can perish, save by strange and rare accident. Yet the hardest of all sacrifices for the artist is this sacrifice to art, this trampling of self underfoot. It is the supreme test for admission into the ranks of the eternal priests. It is the bitter and fruitless sacrifice which the artist's soul is bound to make. But without the sacrifice, can we hope for the grace of heaven ? What is the reward ? the consciousness of inspiration only ? I think art gives a new faith. I think, all jesting aside, that could I create something I felt to be sublime, I should feel also that the Unknowable had selected me for a mouthpiece, for a medium of utterance, in the holy cycling of its eternal purpose, and I should know the pride of the prophet that has seen the face of God."
Thompson's " The conduit running wine of song" exactly matches the last of Hearn's sentences. Is that the Ushaw spirit ? Probably Hearn was too little in touch with the school to have taken away such aspirations, even had they been in the air. But it is noteworthy that when the time came for him to choose a school for his own son he wrote :-
" What shall I do with him ? I am beginning to think that really much of the ecclesiastical education (bad and cruel as I used to imagine it) is founded on the best experience of man under civilisation; and I understand lots of things I used to think superstitious bosh, and now think solid wisdom."
When an enthusiastic critic said, at the time Thompson's first book was published, that Ushaw would be chiefly remembered in the future for her connexion with the poet, Ushaw smiled, counting the host of canons of the Church whom she had reared, her bishops, her archbishops, and her cardinals. Ushaw remembered, too, Cardinal Wiseman's saying: " Ushaw's sons are known not by words, but by deeds." But a few college friends did their best to keep Francis in sight during his early years in London, and if they did not help him, it was because he effectively hid himself among his adversities. It would have been more pain to brook the conditions of assistance, more impossible to follow a regime of rescue than to shiver unobserved on the Embankment, or starve, with no invitation or punctuality to observe save the long and silent appeals of an empty stomach, in the Strand. He had privacies to keep intact, aloofness that made a law to him, and these he never abused, even in a doss-house. " What right have you to ask me that question ? " he said to the gentleman who accosted him in the street, asking him if he were saved. He had then been fifteen nights upon the streets, a torture insufficient to curb the spirit.
Dr. Carroll, Bishop of Shrewsbury, Fr. Adam Wilkinson, and Dr. Mann were of the few who remembered or sought to renew acquaintance. It is said that Bishop Carroll, when he came to London, would search "with unaccustomed glance " the ranks of the sandwich-men for his face. And when later the poet had a friend, and was to be found at his house, Bishop Carroll sought him there in London, and at Pantasaph from time to time, and had the poet, if not in his diocese, almost within his fold. We have Dr. Mann's record of a visit to London and a meal with Francis at Palace Court, but I know of no other meeting with a college friend. Thompson had never been a schoolboy, nor did he grow into an " old boy."