Francis's health often dismayed him, and his terrors both in regard to sicknesses and politics covered many pages of threatening letters. The mere streets became more and more an oppression. Even Elgin Avenue grew (in 1900) as ugly to him as it always is to men less happily indifferent. At such times he could write to W. M. in the strain of the following letter :-
" I designed to call in on Wednesday, but was sick with a horrible journey on the underground. To-day, though better, I am still not well. I hope I may manage to-morrow. I have been full of worry, depression, and unconquerable forebodings. The other day, as I was walking outside my lodgings, steeped in ominous thoughts, a tiny child began to sing beside me in her baby voice, over and over repeating :-
' 0 danger, 0 danger 0 danger is coming near !'
My heart sank, and I almost trembled with fear."
He prophesied of war, and was tormented whole days by complications in the East, and the notion of a Yellow invasion. And even West Kensington, when small-pox was announced there, seemed to come marching on him, a Birnam forest of bricks. It was illness, with fear for a symptom. " Disaster was, and is, drawing downwards. . . . There are storm-clouds over the whole horizon, and I feel my private fate involved. I am oppressed with fatality," he writes in one letter (1900), and on the next page is involved in jokes which were heavy, not with fatality. Other letters contain complaints of dreams akin to Coleridge's :-
" A most miserable fortnight of torpid, despondent days, and affrightM nights, dreams having been in part the worst realities of my life."
On the engagement in 1903 of Monica of " The Poppy," of " Monica Thought Dying," and of Sister Songs, Francis wrote to her :-
" 28 Elgin Avenue, Saturday.
"Dear Monica,-I would have answered you long since if I had not been so worried with work that I do not know how to get through it. Having got rid of my poem, I have taken a little rest from work, to which I had no right, and my neuralgia seems happily to have got better-though I am almost afraid to say so, for I still feel very weak and jaded, so that it might easily return. Therefore I take this moment to write to you.
" Most warmly and sincerely I congratulate you, dear Monica, on what is the greatest event in a woman's life -or a man's, to my thinking. . . . Extend to him, if he will allow me, the affection which you once-so long since-purchased with a poppy in that Friston field. ' Keep it,' you said (though you have doubtless forgotten what you said) ' as long as you live.' I have kept it, and with it I keep you, my dearest. I do not say or show much, for I am an old man compared with you, and no companion for your young life. But never, my dear, doubt I love you. And if I have the chance to show it, I will do.
" I am ill at saying all I doubtless should say to a young girl on her engagement. I have no experience in it, my Monica. I can only say I love you ; and if there is any kind and tender thing I should have said, believe it is in my heart, though it be not here.-My dear, your true friend, Francis Thompson."
He Quotes "The Poppy"
At her bidding,«he went, on her marriage day, to the Church of St. Mary-of-the-Angels in Bayswater. He had never, in all probability, failed a tryst before by coming to it too early, but to all her commands he was obedient, and his mistake was but the symptom of his anxiety to be present. The poppy that she picked and gave him, with " Keep it as long as you live," was found in the leaves of his own copy of Poems-the only volume of his own works that he kept by him. So were all her injunctions observed. Having gone too early to Church, he left too early, and wrote :-
" Westbourne Grove, 12.30 p.m.
Wednesday, June 14, 1903.
" Dearest Monica,-You were a prophetess (though you needed not to be a sibyl) to foretell my tricks and manners. I reached the church just ten minutes after twelve, to find vacancy, as you had forewarned me. A young lady that might have been yourself approached the church by the back entrance, just as I came away ; but on inspection she had no trace of poppy-land. There must have been other nuptial couples about, I think,
" It seems but the other day, my dearest sister (may I not call you so ? For you are all to me as younger sisters and brothers - to me, who have long ceased practically to have any sisters of my own, so completely am I sundered from them), that you were a child with me at Friston, and I myself still very much of a child. Now the time is come I foresaw then-
Knowing well, when some few days are over, You vanish from me to another.
"You may pardon me if I feel a little sadness, even while I am glad for your gladness, my very dear.
" I was designing to call in to-night, till I learned from you that you would be occupied with your wedding-party. Then I hoped I might have got to you last night instead, but could not manage it. So, to my sorrow, I must be content only to write. Had I known before, I would have called in on Sunday, at all costs, rather than defer it to (as it turns out) the impossible Wednesday.
" I shall be with you all, at any rate, in spirit.-Yours ever dearly, my dear, Francis Thompson."
A few years before his death his manner had changed. His platitudes, now, were merely a means of getting through an evening without making a demonstration of the trouble he was in. That his ills might not be exposed he kept covering them up with talk, as constantly as a mother tucks in a child restless in fever. The man who always takes laudanum is always in need of it, and when he is in need he is ill. He is too ill to think, too uncomfortable to meditate or be wise.
Whenever he postponed his dram, and spent his day instead with his friends, he would say an easy thing once, and finding it easy, would say it over and over again. While he spent an evening explaining that last August was hot, but this hotter, his cry really was, "Where is my laudanum?" Nor was his need only physical: his soul, too, was crying, " Where is my God, my Maker, Who giveth songs in the Night ? Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of Heaven ? " I am told by a doctor that one of the greatest pains of relinquishing opium is the sense of the reason's unfitness. Thought is thrown out of joint, and hurts like a dislocated shoulder.