" During his later years at College his literary gifts were well known. He declaimed some of his own compositions-written in a clear, rich, vigorous prose-at the public exhibitions in the Hall for the ' speaking playday.' His verse we never heard, except a skit in Latin rhyme, bidding farewell to work before the vacation, and beginning:
Nunc relinquemus in oblivium Caesarem et Titum Livium.
We have, however, a vivid recollection of him as he was accustomed to come into the Reading-room, on the long dim half-playday afternoons, with a thick manuscript book under his arm, and there sit reading and copying poetry, nervously running one hand through his hair."
While Dr. Whiteside (later Archbishop of Liverpool) was Minor Professor at the College he had charge of Francis's dormitory. One night after lights were out he heard the sound of strictly forbidden talk. Searching for the offender, he found Francis reciting Latin poetry in his sleep. The Minor Professor awakened him and told him he was disturbing the dormitory. Ten minutes later he heard more noise, and found Francis, again asleep, reciting Greek poetry! I doubt if Francis's Greek, save in dream or anecdote, was fluent enough to waken his fellows.
The habit of humorous verse was already on him, and argues that he was light-hearted at school, even as the note-books, filled at the time of his greatest depression in after years, argue that he never wholly lacked relief. His joke showed his independence; he was not under the thumb of his distresses. He could put them aside, or accept, or forget, or forbid, or do to them whatever may have been the armouring process.
Of all the essays, in verse or prose, of his Ushaw days, the verses aimed at an invalid master had caught out of the future the most characteristic note. I can hear him say his "Lamente Forre Stephanon" in the deep tremulous voice that he affected for reading, and it hardly comes amiss from the mature tongue :-\
Come listen to mie roundelaie,
Come droppe the brinie tear with me. Forre Stephanon is gone awaye/ And long away perchance wille be ! Our friendde hee is sicke, Gone to takke physicke, Al in the infirmarie.
Swart was hys dresse as the blacke, blacke nyghte
Whenne the moon dothe not lyghte uppe the waye, And hys voice was hoarse as the gruffe Northe winde Whenne he swirleth the snowe awaye. Our friendde hee is sicke, Gone to takke physicke, Al in the infirmarie.
Eyn hee hadde lyke to a hawke,
Soothe I saye, so sharpe was hee That hee e'en mought see you talke Whenne you talkynge did not bee. Our friendde hee is sick, Gone to takke physicke, Al in the infirmarie.
We ne'er schalle see hys lyke agenne,
We ne'er agenne hys lyke schalle see, Searche amonge al Englyshe menne, You ne'er will fynde the lyke of hee. Our friendde hee is sicke, Gone to takke physicke, Al in the infirmarie.
A copy of the verses fell into the hands of Stephanon, without ill effects ; his mighty laugh is still raised when he remembers them. The resolve to be a poet is in some of the college verses ; the word has not been made poetry, but the spirit is willing and anxious. "Yet, my Soul, we have a treasure not the banded world can take," was the stuff to fill the manuscript book he clutched in recreation hours :-
Think, my Soul, how we were happy with it in the days of yore, When upon the golden mountains we saw throned the mighty Sun,
When the gracious Moon at night-time taught us deep and mystic lore,
And the holy, wise old forests spoke to us and us alone.
Yes, I loved them ! And not least I loved to look on Ocean's face, When he lay in peace sublime and evening's shades were stealing on,
When his child, the King of Light, from Heaven stooped to his embrace,
And his locks were tangled with the golden tresses of the Sun.
And much more ; in that last he is feeling his way toward the line, to be written in maturity, " Tangle the tresses of a phantom wind." He was already on nodding terms with nodding laburnum :-
The laden laburnum stoops
In clusters gold as thy hair, The maiden lily droops
The fairest where all are fair, The thick-massed fuchsias show
In red and in white-thy hue ! In a pendant cloud they spread and glow
Of crimson, and white, and blue, In hanging showers they droop their flowers
Of crimson and white, and crimson and blue.
Pan was not yet done to death, nor did Francis know that he, of all poets, would most searchingly chase the god from his lairs, and give over the forests of poetry to Him of the Rood, proving the Crucifix may be Carven from the laurel-tree.
The schoolboy's invocation is :-
And thou, O Pan, whose dwelling must be sought Deep in some vast grown forest, where the trees Are wet with cold large dew drops in the breeze, Where hangs dark moss in rain-steeped tresses long, Aid me, 0 aid, to body forth in song A scene as fair as thou in all thy days Hast gazed upon, or ever yet wilt gaze.
Of Ushaw walks, another recreation fit for Francis, a companion writes: " In all weathers we tramped the roads, and it must have been at these times (for after he left college he saw little of meadows and hedgerows), that he unconsciously imbibed his wonderful knowledge of the flowers of the field."
It was sowing-time and the soil rich, but an observer, in the exact sense, Francis never was. He would make any layman appear a botanist with easy questions about the commonplaces of the hedges, and a flowered dinner-table in London always kept him wondering, fork in air, as to kinds and names. On the other hand, he was essentially an observer: let him see but one sunset and the daily mystery of that going down would companion him for a life-time; let him see but one daisy, and all Tiis paths would be strewn with white and gold. He had the inner eye, which when it lifts heavy lashes lets in immutable memories.