In 1893 Messrs. Elkin Mathews and John Lane published Poems, a square book in brown boards with gold circles and a frontispiece by Laurence Housman. The poet viewed it with pleasure, and elsewhere the praise and blame it received were both wholehearted :-
"Many thanks for the copies. The book is indeed beautifully got up," he writes. " I have to thank you for the Chronicle and to thank Mr. Le Gallienne for his article. Such unselfish enthusiasm in a young poet for the work of a brother poet is as rare as it is graceful in these times, when most litterateurs have adopted the French author's maxim: 'There are no writers of genius except myself and a few friends-and I am not certain about my friends.' "
And later :-
"I have read in the Register with great surprise that the first edition is exhausted. I am even more glad for my publisher's sake than for my own. The St. James's article, as unusually appreciative as that of the Chronicle, I am very pleased with."
Recurring, in another letter to W. M., to Mr. Le Gallienne's Chronicle article, he writes:-
"When the first whirl of language is over (was it not a sin of my own former prose when I waxed enthus i -astic?) he settles down to appreciation which is at the " Poems"
In part his was but a share in the general welcome then accorded to the poets. Davidson was being hailed with intense zest; Norman Gale himself, singing amid applause, offered congratulations and a review to F. T. Only with the appearance of Sister Songs and New Poems was he roundly and viciously abused. But already round the standard of " An Old Fogey " (Andrew Lang), raised in the Contemporary Review, February 1894, & propos of " The Young Men," there was a considerable gathering. From the press cuttings of the year a good crop may be got of such sentences as:- same time criticism. Will it be believed, however, that after deprecating superlatives I am actually disposed to rank myself higher than Mr. Le Gallienne's final sentence might seem to imply. I absolutely think that my poetry is 'greater' than any work by a hew poet which has appeared since Rossetti. Unless, indeed, the greater work to which the critic referred was Mrs. Meynell's. I frankly admit that her poetry has exquisite unclamorous qualities beside which all the fireworks of my own are much less enduring things. Otherwise, I will not vail my crest to Henley, or Robert Bridges, or even William Watson. For the rest I have nothing but warm and surprised gratitude for your untiring efforts on my behalf. I am very pleased with all the letters you have sent me, particularly Vincent O'sullivan's from Oxford. Am I going to found a school there ?
" The minor versifier has at any rate the asterisks in a ' Judgment in Heaven' which he can catch on to. There he can have the latest device in poetry, the whole apparatus procurable at my printer's. I have not forgotten that it was Le Gallienne's admiration for the specimen sent to Lane which finally decided the publication of my book; and I should indeed be sorry to know that I had repaid him by wounding his feelings.
" I must agree with Mr. L.'s judgment of Mr. Francis Thompson. His faults are fundamental. Though he uses the treasure of the Temple, he is not a religious poet. The note of a true spiritual passion never once sounds in his book. ... He owes much to the perseverance of Mr. and Mrs. Meynell and the Catholics whom they influence."1
It fell to a critic on the Westminster Gazette to do the out and out " slating." Leading off with quotations from "A Judgment in Heaven," he asks "Is it poetry? is it sense ? is it English ? " His case, with such phrases as " Supportlessly congest" well to the fore, was good. Quoting "To My God-child" as a happier example, he concluded, "This, too, is somewhat wild, but it means something."
"The poet of a small Catholic clique" was a description given by one of the two or three writers who constituted the opposition to his claims to a great place in English literature. They all made a common discovery-Francis Thompson was a Catholic.
" We had," said the Weekly Register, " Mr. de Vere, Mr. Wilfrid Blunt, Mrs. Hamilton King, Mr. Coventry Patmore, to name no others. We need not then have awaited Mr. Thompson's arrival to undermine the Press of England in the interests of ( Sectarianism'!"
It came to pass that this poet of fewest friends was charged not only with log-rolling, but with belonging to a " clique " that had its headquarters at Palace Court. The fact was that his few friends were even shyer than his friends' friends of praising him publicly. One young reviewer (the "Vernon " already mentioned) came at the stroke of morning's eight to shout through their bedroom doors his new discovered joy-a poem in Merry England by F. T. " I know at last," was his loud confidence, "that there is a poet who may worthily take a place as Shakespeare's second." But in the papers this critic's notices were very halting : his praises did not call through the press as they did through the keyhole. The "clique" is proved in his notice the most unprofitable and unfriendly of companies. In Henley's National Observer he writes :-
1 His work having appeared in a Catholic magazine, it was known to the Catholic papers. Apart from the Weekly Register, where notices of his periodical writings were printed, priority belongs to The Tablet, which printed, September, 1889, and 19th July, 1890, serious notices of the issues of Merry England containing the "Ode to the Setting Sun" and "The Hound of Heaven"; and to Miss Katharine Tynan, who quoted the whole of "The Making of Viola" from Merry England, May, 1892, in the Irish Independent in the course of the same month. The Catholic papers made no particular sign of welcome when the books themselves were published, but it may be noted that the Ave Maria, Notre Dame, Indiana, had praise for the much-abused extravagance of the opening of the " Corymbus for Autumn." To the Catholic World, February, 1895, Mr. Walter Lecky contributed many compliments and several biographical inaccuracies. In the secular press of America F. T. fared less well. The New York Post, 19th of January, 1898, found his work". . . not altogether hopeful, since his impulses are wayward, like his life." The Critic, July, 1894, would by no means allow Browning's phrase, " conspicuous abilities," to pass unchallenged.