This section is from the book "The Life Of Francis Thompson", by Everard Meynell. Also available from Amazon: The life of Francis Thompson.
It was after this that he wrote the following description of his friend :-
" There is no need of courage in the feminine woman, and I love her for the fact. Yet my dear friend (now removed by marriage) was a brave woman, and I loved her for it against all my wont. Perhaps, because she took me by surprise; perhaps because-who knows why ? She was not self-reliant with all her bravery, and I suppose the combination made her real femininity the more piquant. Perhaps it was rather her crystal truth than the courage which (I think) came from it, not caused it, that won me at sight. Truth-integrity (or oneness) of nature-is what calls to me."
In the matter of his close friendships, he wrote to "Of what you say of me in relation to your spiritual development I dare not trust myself to write, lest I offend the modesty of words : it comes as a great prop to a life very lonely of support."
Mrs. Vernon Blackburn is elsewhere named; but of other acquaintances among women he had none, or only such as lasted during one or two meetings. The Duchess of Sutherland's invitations were found retained among his dusty papers like adventurous Sisters of Charity, stiff and clean in the ragged company of a neglected correspondence, old pipes and newspaper-cuttings.
The people he did not know yet counted for something in his history; he has been associated with some he might have known, but did not, and with others he could never have known. Oscar Wilde, on hearing some of Sister Songs read aloud, said, "Why can't I write poetry like that ? That is what I've wanted to do all my life." The two, however, did not meet. In a letter from Mrs. Wilde, January 1895, I find, " I so enjoyed Mr. Thompson's visit to me on Friday," and in another, June 1894, " Oscar was quite charmed with the lines you read him of Francis Thompson." "Of the living poets whose work I like, he is one of the very few whom I like as well as their work,'- wrote Mr. Vincent O'sullivan after meeting him at about the same time.
Of the invitations he did not accept were those from Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton that he.should sometimes go to her "for a quiet talk d deux" ; from Elliot and Fry that he should be photographed " in his study " ; from a World writer that he should be interviewed as a subject for one of the "Celebrities at Home."
1 To this lady's "genius for friendship" the dedication of Mr. Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes bears witness.
In 1897 Mr. Lewis Hind found that the Academy might welcome something every week from Thompson, and wrote telling him so. Then he came into touch, slowly as was his way, with the office staff. " I saw what I concluded was Clarence Rook at the Academy on Wednesday, but we did not even exchange a look, for Hind did not introduce us. So I left convinced that Hind meant to get out the Academy by hook or by C. Rook." From this time began his friendship with Mr. E. V. Lucas and Mr. Wilfred Whitten. All these, along with the " management," learnt how to smile on the trials provided by this contributor. Mr. Lucas is quoted on an earlier page devoted to cricket. Mr. Whitten has written :-
" I first met Francis Thompson at the Academy office in Chancery Lane, in 1897, the year in which, with his New Poems, he took farewell of poetry and began, I fear, to look on life as so much dead lift, so much needless postscript to his finished epistle. . . . We gave Thompson as many books of theology, history, biography, and, of course, poetry as he cared to review. It was a usual thing, in reading the proofs, for one of us to exclaim aloud on his splendid handling of a subject demanding the best literary knowledge and insight. Thompson came frequently to the office to receive books for review, and to bring in his ' copy.' Every visit meant a talk, which was never curtailed by Thompson. This singer, who had soared to themes too dazzling for all but the rarest minds ; this poet of the broken wing and the renounced lyre had not become moody or taciturn. At his best he was a fluent talker, who talked straight from his knowledge and convictions, yet never for victory. He weighed his words, and would not hurt a controversial fly. On great subjects he was slow or silent; on trifles he became grotesquely tedious. This dreamer seemed to be surprised into a kind of exhilaration at finding himself in contact with small realities. And then the fountains of memory would be broken up, or some quaint corner of his amour propre would be touched. He would explain nine times what was clear, and talk about snuff or indigestion or the posting of a letter until the room swam round us.
" A stranger figure than Thompson's was not to be seen in London. Gentle in looks, half-wild in externals, his face worn by pain and the fierce reactions of laudanum, his hair and straggling beard neglected, he had yet a distinction and an aloofness of bearing that marked him in the crowd; and when he opened his lips he spoke as a gentleman and a scholar. A cleaner mind, a more naively courteous manner, were not to be found. It was impossible and unnecessary to think always of the tragic side of his life. He still had to live and work in his fashion, and his entries and exits became our most cheerful institution. His great brown cape, which he would wear on the hottest days, his disastrous hat, and his dozen neglects and make-shifts were only the insignia of our ' Francis' and of the ripest literary talent on the paper. No money (and in his later years Thompson suffered more from the possession of money than from the lack of it) could keep him in a decent suit of clothes for long. Yet he was never ' seedy.' From a newness too dazzling to last, and seldom achieved at that, he passed at once into a picturesque nondescript garb that was all his own and made him resemble some weird pedlar or packman in an etching by Ostade. This impression of him was helped by the strange object-his fish-basket, we called it-which he wore slung round his shoulders by a strap. It had occurred to him that such a basket would be a convenient receptacle for the books which he took away for review, and he added this touch to an outward appearance which already detached him from millions. ... He had ceased to make demands on life. He ear-marked nothing for his own. As a reviewer, enjoying the run of the office, he never pounced on a book; he waited, and he accepted. Interested still in life, he was no longer intrigued by it. He was free from both apathy and desire. Unembittered, he kept his sweetness and sanity, his dewy laughter, and his fluttering gratitude. In such a man outward ruin could never be pitiable or ridiculous, and, indeed, he never bowed his noble head but in adoration. I think the secret of his strength was this : that he had cast up his accounts with God and man, and thereafter stood in the mud of earth with a heart wrapt in such fire as touched Isaiah's hps."