Mr. Hayes gives me a reminiscence of his guest:-
" In the Autumn of the year 1896 Francis Thompson was my guest for a week at Edgbaston. The evenings were veritable Nodes Ambrosiance; but though the general impression of deep insight and opulent imagination, of many a flash of inspiration and radiant turn of speech, lingers as a precious recollection, the details of his conversation have vanished, for the^most part, from memory, as completely as the precise hues and cloud-shapes of the sunsets of those memorable days.
" One indelible impression, however, remains-his amazing range of reading, the infallibility of his literary memory, and the consequent wealth of allusion he had at his command.
" At meals he would sit mostly silent, sometimes quitting the table, his food half consumed, as if at some imperious mandate, but somehow without leaving behind him the slightest suspicion of discourtesy. These sudden disappearances, whose cause I never sought to discover, soon came to be expected, and only provoked a smile-it was Thompson's way. But let it not be supposed that he was uncouth or affected; his manner was that of a great child ; he was simply incapable of pose or unkindness.
" His personal appearance is deeply engraved on the tablets of my memory. He was a pathetic figure. His form and face bore, only too clearly, the marks of those grim years of tribulation of soul and torment of body from which he had so recently been delivered. His appearance smote me with deep pity, but even deeper respect; and within a few hours he had won my affection, I was struck, as were the few intimate friends who once met him at my house, with a strange other-worldliness about him, as if he were conscious of making only a hasty sojourn on earth in the course of an illimitable journey. ... I remember how the discoloured face would suddenly light up, and the dazed eyes flash, in such moments of happy excitement, as if a volcanic eruption of delight had broken through the crust of his soul. He gave me the impression of concealing within him two inexhaustible reservoirs of sorrow and joy; ebullitions from each appear in his poetry; but in his long talks with me he rarely drew except from the fountain of joy."
Some time after this visit he wrote to Mr. Hayes of his journalism, his book, and his desire to see his friend again:-
"I met Norman Gale, for a brief moment, at my publishers', in January or thereabouts. I was charmed with him. Alas, I am farther off from you than ever; it is not likely that I can visit you again for an unknown time to come. And I entertain such a happy recollection of you, your dear wife, and your charming children ! Let us pray for the unexpected, which always happens, you know !-Always yours, dear Hayes,
" I am very busy, or I would write at more length to you. Believe me, that I do not forget you ever."
From her invalid's couch Mrs. Hamilton King sent Francis treasured messages of trust and commendation, and, guessing his need, wrote him many things that sounded bravely to one who accused himself of something worse than futility in friendship :-
" It is true that everyone must live out his own life, and I am not sure that it is good that another should live it for him ; but you at least have done much for your friends. Coventry Patmore relied on you; and when I last saw Mr. Wilfrid Meynell he told me that both he and Mrs. Meynell felt themselves entirely your debtors-your poetry was so much for them. And you may have much more to do. I wish it were possible for you to live nearer and within reach of your friends. ... It is a great consolation to feel that one has ministered to the most sensitive and precious among the children of God, and also it is a great joy and privilege to me to have your friendship."
Between 1896 and 1900 he also had correspondence with one who was especially his friend, Miss Katharine Douglas King, Mrs. Hamilton King's daughter. Before meeting her he had written to W. M.:-
"Do you know that Miss K. Douglas King is-together with Winifred Lucas-one of the few women I ever desired particularly to meet ? She has a temperament of genius heaped up and running over. I read through all her Merry England stories some months ago, and was startled by their individual and impressive note."
Her book, The Child who will never Grow Old, published two years later, bears on its first page his line, "The heart of Childhood, so divine for me." Miss King played with the Palace Court children, and worked among the poor children of the East End who often figure in her stories. Francis once visited her and her charges at the hospital in Leonard Square. Writing subsequently, Miss King says :-
" I count you as an old friend, but I know now I did not really know you until Saturday. When you were by your little ' genius's'
-Harry's-bed, and the baby boy Percy with the white shoes was at your knee, that was to me a revelation ! I think of you now with that infant's serious, confiding face upturned to you. It was all so natural. To some people a child is a pretty ornamental addition. Your personality now seems incomplete without the child as the natural and exquisite finish to the whole man. Adieu, dear friend."
A later letter announces her impending marriage :-
"Forest Hall, April 1900.
" My dear Francis,-I have been wanting to write to you for so long, and yet have not been able to find time until now; and now I find it a little difficult, because one feels reluctant to speak of one's own great happiness to one whose life has been so sad and lonely as yours, even though that one should be so firm and true a friend as you have ever been to me. My marriage is fixed for the early part of July. Although my new home will be far away, we both hope that in time we may come to live nearer London, and I hope that my marriage will not bring me less, but more, in touch with my friends, amongst whom, Francis, I hope that I may ever count you as one of the first and nearest, and may God bless you.-Believe me, Your always affectionately, Katharine D. King."