On days when London is cracked and bleared with cold, and passengers on the black pavement are grey and purple and mean in their distress, whipped by the East Wind and chivied by the draughts of the gutters; when lamp-posts and telegraph poles and the harsh sides of the houses ache together and shiver, Thompson would be the most forlorn and shrivelled figure in the open. It always seemed to be a necessity of his to be out in rough weather. I have never known him to stay in on its account; and at times when even riches lack confidence, and an universal scourge of cold and ugliness lashes the town, he was about. Even within, beside a fire, he was a weathercock of a man. The distress of his hands, and the veering of his hair from the comparative orderliness of other times would instantly proclaim an East wind. It was written all over him, and, though come to the shelter of four walls, the tails of his coat seemed still to be fluttering. One thought of him when East winds blew as the Pope of Chesterfield's description-". . . his poor body a mere Pandora's box, containing all the ills that ever afflicted humanity." Sensitive beyond endurance, Francis yet made nought of his pains so long as the keener sensitiveness of his conscience was undisturbed. Of all men the least fit to endure physical suffering, he endured it forgetfully and even light-heartedly unless, his spiritual assent being thwarted, he felt the chills of estrangement from God.
He was not more comfortable in the sun, and against the particular heat of 1906 he had particular ill-will. " Most people expatiate on the excellence of this summer, though the angry and malignant sun is as unlike the true summer sun as the heat of fever to the heat of youth." It was his habit to go forth in August in an ulster-threadbare, perhaps-but his own fever alone explains his distress.
Sister Songs opens with a complaint against the spring season of 1891 :-
Shrewd winds and shrill,-were these the speech of May ? A ragged, slag-grey sky-invested so, Mary's spoilt nursling, wert thou wont to go ?
"To my Godchild" opens in the same manner. The early months, drenched with icy rain, had meant misery and dumbness. Breaking of silence came with the breaking of the frost, and the poetry which returned with the warm weather is full of acknowledgments. It is something more than the small-talk of his verse; it is, like the dedications of the eighteenth century, a formal obeisance to a patron-" Sun-god and song-god."
The Spring found him happiest. The May of his poems is the May known to the Londoner. After deploring, in the proem of Sister Songs, the lateness of the season, it is suddenly upon him. He discovered it for certain round a street corner not far from his lodgings in Elgin Avenue-
Mark yonder how the long laburnum drips
Its jocund spilth of fire, its honey of wild flame.
That is the signal best known to the Londoner. Most of the details of his description in Sister Songs, from the stars to Covent Garden clock, are metropolitan. From his high room, down steep stairs, a faded oilcloth at his feet, the coiling patterns of a varnished wall-paper at his restricted elbow ; through the muffled light and air of the hall, and past the broken stucco of the front steps, he would emerge on a morning of good fortune, to see,
Not a dismal street of other lodgings exactly like his own, but,
A garden of enchanting
In visionary May,
Swayless for the spirit's haunting,
Thrice threefold walled with emerald from our mortal mornings grey.
We may imagine that St. Francis cared not overmuch for the look of the Assisi streets; it is doubtful whether Francis of Kilburn cared at all about the aspect of Kilburn. The gayest thoroughfare caught his eye no more than the most dismal-and Brondesbury is not gay. To " And your new lodging, Francis, what of it ? " he would give a good account of the rights and lefts that led there, but he would make no picture of it for you, having none himself. I do not suppose he found the soot and stucco architecture of Elgin Avenue any more or less entertaining than the red brick of Palace Court, and, while he might describe Oxford Street as " stonyhearted," I doubt if he could have described to the satisfaction of a builder the nature of its exterior stone. Manchester could hardly do less than blind the civic eye. Certainly Francis was no observer, and had retained the ignorance, rather than the innocence, of his Vision.
At this time, after his return from Pantasaph, his days were mostly spent at Palace Court and nights passed in the region which at first by accident and later by habit was his own. When, many years before, he came from Storrington, he was lodged at FernheadRoad, Paddington, and afterwards at various houses in Elgin Avenue with Landlady Maries, the wife of my father's printer. Faithful to the northern town, his last lodging was at 128 Brondesbury Road, Kilburn. At the junction of Elgin Avenue and Chippenham Road is the " Skiddaw " public-house, by whose parlour-fire he often spent nocturnal hours in preference to the hearths of the critics. Mr. Pile, the tobacconist next door, is remembered for the support that he gave to Francis's tremulous claims to a place next the fire. Francis seldom failed to receive kindness at the hands of rougher men ; his constant courtesy of speech and his humility were to the liking of a class quick to know a gentle man. From the whispered hints of Mr. Pile it was understood that the frail, shabby man of many platitudes and an abstracted eye was privileged.
From the situation of his lodgings it came about that the Edgware Road was his Rambla, his Via dei Palazzi, his Rue de Rivoli; and at the end of it, the site of Tyburn Tree. No local allusion, however, finds place in his " To the English Martyrs," which is another sign of his aloofness. But when he writes of the Tree that-
The shadow lies on England now Of the deathly-fruited bough, Cold and black with malison Lies between the land and sun ; Putting out the sun, the bough Shades England now, his voice rose from the frozen and fogged pavement that marks the very spot.