His only encounter with the sage of Muswell Hill followed, but not at three sharp. To his escort, Mr. E. V. Lucas and Mr. Hind, Henley was the mighty overseer of men who had not found, save through him, their journalistic souls. The escort still marvels at F. T.'s unpunctu-ality. Francis owed neither his soul nor hours to any man, and was late. " I have had no time to eat, Hind," was his gloomy beginning. Mr. Hind has described what followed a meal at the station :-
" Suddenly he became rigid, his body swayed, and a film came over his eyes. A minute or two passed; then he recovered, lighted his pipe, and did not refer to the episode. We arrived at Henley's house two hours late."
Doubtless his timorousness was as great as theirs, only his timeliness was less. But it was he who fronted and appeased the wrathful master with talk of " London Voluntaries " and Henley's influence. Instead of reeking of Shelley he showed himself reeking of Henley, who was not abhorrent. The escort were left well to the rear in flatteries no less sincere than theirs. Thompson's admirations were always well set up and bright-eyed because they were so well reasoned. No prepossessions, whims, or sloths made up his opinion. No author was carelessly shelved or unshelved ; he did not put Swinburne aside although his angels and Swinburne's never rested nor flew on the wing together. His attention was widely inclusive. Often would he come with some cutting of fugitive verse and tender it for what it was worth, reading it aloud and expecting from his audience the controlled and properly adjusted pleasure he himself experienced. So tolerant was he, that anybody's complaint that there "was nothing in it," would cause him to reconsider his cutting; the " anybody" of poetry or criticism was the recipient of his constant courtesy. He was very slow-too slow for the short span of his life to alter his allegiance to the literature that had ever seriously contented him. The novels of Lord Lytton he read again at the end of his life because he had early cared for them, and reasonably, he found. So with Hardy ; of one passage I remember him to have often spoken with particular admiration-that in which Sergeant Troy thralls a woman by sword play and the swinging of his flashing steel round and round her person. So with Meredith, over whose novels I have found him sitting in a Westbourne Grove confectioner's, with, I am sure, " review " books unreviewed in his bag, and in his pocket telegrams from Hind. Of Meredith's poetry his admiration was of the established sort that needs no questioning. And Jacobs had his laugh, always readier than his tear, for pathetic print is more liable to stand suspect on the page than humorous. Whatever modern author he discussed it was his relish rather than his distaste that flavoured his opinion.
Henley and he were amiable for an afternoon; but the difference between them could hardly have been bridged for longer. The differences between them were made up of crude difference of speech, of the actual lipping of feelings and phrases. Thompson writes lightly in the following note-book comment, but he is treading lightly because the ground beneath quakes with radical conflict:-
"We are convinced Mr. H. has been misled by a false report. It is the more probable because Spring, of late years, has been flighty, and given rise to dissatisfied comment. We are aware that C. P. has spoken of 'all amorous May,' and yet another poet has gone so far as to call the same lady ' wanton.' But' the harlot spring'-Captain, these be very bitter words. Why in the name of wilfulness, why must poor Spring-of all seasons, poor Spring-be a harlot ? Even the author of Dolores, with all his disrelish for 'lilies and languors,' has not committed defloration of the poor young maid-'the girl child Spring'; he leaves her as he found her. If she escaped the dangerous society of Mr. S. (whose verse would 'thaw the consecrated snow that lies on Dian's lap') we cannot believe she should later make this slip."
Of Henley's " fads, blindnesses, wilful crotchets " as also of his critical prose, " the swift and restless brilliance of a leaping salmon in the sunlight," F. T. wrote in the Academy and brought, in doing so, the thought to one's mind of his own dissimilarity.
Perhaps nowhere in all the thousand columns F. T. contributed to the Press is a single wilful word. The unexpected must never be expected of him. His views on the general literature of the past may be taken for granted, or sought in their proper place. He will seldom be found at variance with the accepted estimates. Perhaps only once does he stand nearly alone. One of his earliest essays-"Bunyan in the Light of Modern Criticism "-approved Mr. Richard Dowling's assault upon The Pilgrims Progress. Thompson could not tolerate the dulness and insufficiency of Bunyan's descriptions:-
"In the account of the Valley of Despair he does flicker into a meagre glimmer of description; but its only effect is to leave the darkness of his fancy visible, and he flickers feebly out again. The Mouth of Hell is by the way; and, after his usual commonplace manner of vision, he introduces this tremendous idea with a dense flippancy, such as never surely was accorded it before."
If he essayed other reversals of conventional opinion, he did so in good faith. But one goes to his critical work, not for its consistent good faith and sound sense, but for the few dominant, vital enthusiasms that hold him and would have been written of, even if he had never contributed to the papers. The "Shelley" has been quoted incidentally in these pages; his "Crashaw," in its carefully critical tone, seems to deny an admiration often obvious in Thompson's work. As a reviewer he put by some of his impulsive affection. De Quincey and Patmore entered into his life ; to place them among the "reviewer's " authors would be absurd. Rossetti's name got into Thompson's criticisms from every quarter; it is in "Paganism Old and New," in the "Don Quixote," in " Crashaw," and in a dozen other papers; it dogs de Quincey's in and out of all the prose work.