He professed no learning, boasted no single proficiency. In a young family that was finding its way about in journalism and painting and other professions, he offered no unfriendly criticism, and seemed to know of none. I wonderingly remember now how he let me help him in an article on Hardy. At first there had been a difficulty about the re-reading of the novels; " No, Wilfrid, it's no good. As I thought, it's no good, Wilfrid," he had said after searching the shops of Kil-burn for the books he wanted. "Your own copies are gone-gone from the shelves, and I've no way of procuring others." Even when supplied with copies he needed help, and wrote, as I know from the printed article, a thing of patchwork, with a centre-piece of his own well-knit prose, and a beginning and end ; the rest the bedraggled fringes, which I recognise with reluctance as I read them now for my own.
His earlier admiration of Swinburne is restated with reserves in his Academy review of the collected works of that poet, of whom it was rumoured that he disapproved of Thompson's liberties with the English language. Many younger poets might have been made the happier had they been aware whose was the pen that praised them in print. In Hand in Hand, Verses by a Mother and Daughter, F. T. makes the discovery of a sonnet with a last line that "is a touch of genius"- a sonnet by the daughter, Mr. Rudyard Kipling's sister, and called "Love's Murderer." Under the heading " Above Average," 1901, he deals with the books of Mr. Aleister Crowley and Mr. Madison Cawein. Mr. Crowley he had reviewed before. "TheMother's Tragedy" contains the " old vigour and boldness, the sinewy phrase that draws the praise out of you." At less length we read of Mr. Cawein, whose "strength lies in luxuriant descriptive power. . . . Assuredly, in this single gift, Mr. Cawein shows very great promise and no small accomplishment." He welcomes in the Academy the poetry of Mr. Sturge Moore, Mr. Alfred Noyes, and Lord Alfred Douglas; and anticipating George Meredith, he praises Dora Sigerson Shorter for her gifts of metrical narrative, adding: " Her ballads touch a deep and poignant feeling. The unconsciousness of a child contrasted with the sorrow of its earthly lot-this is a familiar theme, yet Mrs. Shorter handles it with unfamiliar freshness and power." He pulls the ropes for Mr. Newbolt's Admirals All; he ducks his head to Mr. Owen Seaman's parodies. He gathers "the teeming felicities" from the Studies in Prose and Verse of Mr. Arthur Symons. F. T. was one of the few critics who "lived by admiration." At the end of a day of reviewing he would still have the spirit to cut occasional verses from his evening paper and carry them for approbation to friends far quicker than he to shrug fastidious shoulders.
Aubrey de Vere, a man mellow in ancient stateliness, he met at Palace Court. The obituary notice of de Vere in the Academy was written by him. From the "Ode to the Daffodil" and "Autumnal Ode" he quotes enough to justify, with reservation, a high admiration :-
" Of warmth he was capable, especially in his younger days, but not of pathos or subtle suggestion. His general manner, it must be owned, was somewhat coldly grave. One of his odes is fine, with passages of absolute grandeur; some of his sonnets are only not among the best in that kind."
His appreciations were not ordered by papers committed to a policy of praise. On the contrary, he wrote : " My editors complain that I don't go for people-that I am too lenient." For all that, he knew the distress of the vapid verse that came his way, and he stopped to note it in rhyme :-
Of little poets, neither fool nor seer, Aping the larger song, let all men hear How weary is our heart these many days !
Of bards who, feeling half the thing they say, Say twice the thing they feel, and in such way Piece out a passion . . .
Of bards indignant in an easy chair
(Because just so great bards before them were)
Who yet can only bring
With all their toil
Their kettle of verse to sing,
But never boil,-
How weary is our heart these many days !
But the solace he had to the drudgery of reviewing was generally ancient. When he could set to and write a solid Academy page on the "clod-paced Drayton," note the sluggishness of " his thick-coming ideas in the strait pen of a defined stanza," chaff him for the room he needs to turn about in, and cry " hear, hear!" to his minor metres, he was doing lively work and was lively at it. Or when Samuel Daniel comes up for judgment, the critic is manifestly happy-happier than in the presence of Mr. Maurice Hewlett or Mr. Kipling. A review of an Elizabethan is touched with a quicker interest than that of the weightiest in contemporary literature. The evenness of his judgment, the unbiassed distribution of his attention makes for fairness, but somewhat spoils the current and local effectiveness. He enjoyed getting at Butler's wit more than getting at Oscar Wilde's. Hudibras was a book of the moment for him, whereas The Yellow Book was not. St. Francis de Sales might tempt him on a bookstall, but he never bought a new work. D'Annunzio and publishers' announcements did not catch his pennies; nor were his borrowings much more modern. The authors he had from my shelves were Swedenborg and Shakespeare, with W. W. Jacobs, in whose jolly company he spent a few of the last hours of his life.