FRANCIS THOMPSON, a poet of high thinking, " of celestial vision," and of imaginings that found literary images of answering splendour, died in London in the winter of 1907. His life- always a fragile one-doubtless owed its prolongation to " man's unconquerable mind," in him so invincible through all vicissitude that he seemed to add a new significance to Wordsworth's phrase. To his mortal frame was denied the vitality that informs his verse. Howbeit, his verse was himself; he lived every line of it, fulfilling to the last letter his own description of the poet, piteous yet proud:
He lives detached days; He serveth not for praise;
He is not sold.
He asketh not world's eyes; Nor to world's ears he cries-
Saith, " These
Shut, if ye please!"
To this aloof moth of a man^science was nearly as absorbing an interest as was the mysticism that some thought had eaten him up; and, to give a light example of his actuality, he who had never handled a bat since he left Ushaw Col-
lege, knew every famous score of the last quarter of a century, and left among his papers cricketverses, trivial yet tragic. One such verse acquaints us incidentally with his Lancashire lineage:
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though my own red roses there may blow; It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though the red roses crest the caps, I know. For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast, And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost, And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro.
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!
Born at Preston, 1859, the son of a doctor afterwards in practice at Ashton-under-Lyne, he inherited no literary traditions. He had, to be sure, an uncle, an Oxford convert to Catholicism from the ranks of the Anglican clergy, whose name appears on the title page of Tracts which, perhaps because for their own Times, seem assuredly for no other. The seven years Francis Thompson passed at Ushaw-a college near Durham, which then possessed few literary traditions besides those of Lingard, Waterton and Wiseman, but can now boast Lafcadio Hearn's as well as Thompson's own -were, no doubt, influential for him; for a certain individualism, still lingering in outstanding seats of learning, gave him a lucky freedom to follow his own bent-the ample reading of the classics. After Ushaw he went to Owens College, to qualify for his father's profession; in his preliminary examination distinguishing himself in Greek. His attempts to translate dead language into living dated back to these days; though of the list of words, which some who were amused and others who were irritated put down to his own inventing, many were made familiar to him in his intercourse with Milton, with Shelley, with Shakspere-his most vital companions. If these poets went, like Alexander, as far as Chaos, and if Thompson hazarded one step more, as Emerson said Goethe did, Thompson too swung himself safely back again. In Manchester, Literature, if not Melancholy, had already marked him for her own; and it was his Religio Medici rather than his Materia Meiica that he put under his pillow, perhaps the lump of it suggesting to him his after image about the poet's dreaming:
The hardest pang whereon He lays his mutinous head may be a Jacob's stone.
A definite reminiscence of the dissecting-room at Manchester may certainly be discovered in his allusion (in An Anthem of Earth) to the heart as
Arras'd in purple like the house of kings,
the regal heart that comes at last
To stall the grey rat, and the carrion-worm
Possibly the sorrow of filial duty unperformed- a sorrow deeper with him than is common among such predestined delinquents-aggravated the bodily ailments which already beset him; and drastic, indeed, were the remedies he himself prescribed." Physician, heal thyself ": the dire taunt took flesh, as it were, in Francis Thompson, and his plight was visible to all men. Himself he could not save. Biography strangely repeats itself, not in common mental experience only, but also in uncovenanted details of fact and incident. Like De Quincey, whose writings he took into his blood, Thompson had a nervous illness in Manchester; like De Quincey he went to London, and knew Oxford Street for a stony-hearted stepmother; his wealth, likeDe Quincey's once,lay in two volumes, for he carried Aeschylus in one pocket, Blake in the other; and the parallel might, if to profit, be further outdrawn.