Degenerate worshippers who fall In purpled kirtle and brocade To 'parel the white Mother-Maid.
And he decides that her image as it stood arrayed
In vests of its self-substance wrought To measure of the sculptor's thought is " slurred by these added braveries."
It is doubtful whether he would have crossed the road to hear one preacher in preference to another, or to hear any; it is certain that he was as content to go to his prayers through a slit in a thin brick wall as under the tympanum of Chartres. If instead of being a Londoner, with the English climate, the disciplined and formal rows of benches, to dishearten him, he had had his lodging near St, Mark's or St. John Lateran, he might have become a more punctual church-goer.
Lionel Johnson, who couples Francis with the Martyr Southwell for "devout audacity," has said the things that are to say of the sacred poet's familiar attitude. He quotes the gentleman who confuted the view that man's attitude towards God must necessarily be abject -"Not abject! Certainly, it should be deferential, but not abject." Against the deferential gentleman he ranges all saints and poets, " His carollers and gay minstrels-His merry men."
And he had, besides a devotional familiarity, his own very strictly observed devotional formalities. Every notebook from Ushaw days till his death is dedicated with some such holy device as this :-
He had his triumphs at the Vatican, his victories at Farm Street; a Pope's messenger sought him in the Harrow Road with his Holiness's thanks for his translation of a pontifical ode, and of course did not find him. There is a legend that about this time he wrote an " Ecclesiastical History "-no less !-put the MS. into the hands of Cardinal Vaughan to beguile the way to Rome, and so lost it. The disappearance of the book might pass for fact, but I find no line about it among his papers, either before or after its alleged existence. His habit was to herald any attempt with written notes and exhortations to himself to begin, as thus :-" Mem. (ink in) I might, Deo Volente, one day try my hand at a version of the Imit. in Biblical style, so far as it is given to my power." Or " Revise Pastoral; and get buttons, if any possible chance."
Francis himself did not doubt his position as a Churchman. The boast he makes in " The Lily of the King " is more than any bishop would venture.
St. Francis, dining one day on broken bread, with a 283 large stone for table, cried out to his companion : "O brother Masseo, we are not worthy so great a treasure." When he had repeated these words several times his companion answered : " Father, how can you talk of treasure where there is so much poverty, and indeed a lack of all things ? For we have neither cloth, nor knife, nor dish, nor table, nor house ; neither have we servant nor maid to wait upon us." Then said St. Francis: " And this is why I look upon it as a great treasure, because man has no hand in it, but all has been given us by Divine Providence, as we clearly see in this bread of charity, in this beautiful table of stone, in this clear fountain."
Did Francis Thompson mate so happy a Poverty ? She whom he took in marriage was a very shrew in comparison. In place of rocky platforms she gave him the restaurant's doubtful table-cloth, or maybe he ate from paper bags. Broken bread that is appetising in Umbria is heavy in Soho; and Francis never drank from the clear stream. But for all that I remember his asserting, with utmost conviction in his voice, the excellence of the viands set before him in a shop in Westbourne Grove. " Here, Ev., I get what I like," I can hear him say; " here the beef is always good; excellent, Evie, excellent, I say."1
Both Francises said that happiness was stored in self-denial, but Francis of Assisi was the quicker to make good his statement by immediate happiness. The same desires, the same secret, the same grace possessed two men wedded at least into the same family. The contrast
1 It may also be observed in passing that, while he was more experienced in privation than were any of his friends, Francis could be fastidious. It is still told of him in Sussex, where a clever cook attended his invalided appetite, that he would make great demonstrations at the mere sight of a dish he disapproved. Laying down his knife and fork this frank guest would proclaim against one of the several viands. " Miss Laurence, I hate mutton !" The piled-up emphasis of his voice made such a sentence tremendously effective. " Wilfrid," he once said to my father, " Wilfrid, the Palace Court food is shocking I"
The Two Poverties is between their two ladies rather than themselves. She whom the Saint courted in the stony fields
Where clear Through the thin trees the skies appear In delicate spare soil and fen, And slender landscape and austere was not the modern maiden-
Ah ! slattern, she neglects her hair,
Her gown, her shoes. She keeps no state
As once when her pure feet were bare- with whom the poet of London kept company.
At times when he was most ill and thin and cold and lonely, his laugh, on joining friends, would outdo theirs for jollity, and with the unjoyful appetite of a man whose every organ was out of order, he offered a grace far longer than customary among the grateful and pious, a grace so long that his meat would get cold while he muttered, so long that he would sometimes seem to imagine it was at an end before the rightful moment, and take up his knife and fork to start his meal, only, on remembering an omission, to lay them down again until the end.
His sense of possession and privacy in possession of the beauties of nature exceeds Traherne's, whose ecstasy in the belief that he owned the world's treasuries was trebled by the thought that everybody else owned them too. Thompson is more selfish:-