At Friston he was given the poppy and wrote the poem. I remember him as measuring himself, on the borders of a marsh, against a thistle, the fellow to that which stands six foot out of Sussex turf in " Daisy " ; I see him with the poplars on the marshes, and associate him with a picnic on the Broads among pine-cones and herons. I think it is he I see coming in at the farm-gate dusty from a road still bright in the dusk. But the recollections are elusive. His place in childish memories is not defined, like that of Brin, the friend who hit a ball over the farm roof, of the chicken pecking at the dining-room floor, a sister's first steps, the boy who twisted the cows' tails as he drove the cattle up from the pastures at night; and better remembered is the hard old man who, stooping over his work in the vegetable garden, suddenly rose up and threw a stone as big as a potato at a truant boy. The boy and man, the cry of the one and the grunted curses of the other, and their remorseless manner of settling again to work, were things for a London child to marvel at. But the poet, himself as gentle as children, is remembered, and remembered vaguely, as part of the general gentle world. Others are remembered for competence, for large authority, the freedom of their coming and going, their businesses, affluence, dreariness, or laughter ; they are the substantial people, more substantial than the people of to-day.
1 In after years Francis wrote letters that seemed to supply no possible opening for the comforter. Read to-day, their desperation offers no outlet but a return to the streets. But no sooner did F. T. come into my father's presence, than he was consoled, often without the exchange of a word.
There was a certain mightiness about them, like that of a mighty actor ; but Francis Thompson is not in the cast. Moreover, he is not among the insufferable "supers " who held one's hand too long or whose aspect was abhorrent to the fastidious eye of youth. In my earlier memories he is as unsubstantial as the angel I knew to be at my shoulder. Looking back I cannot see either clearly, but am not incredulous on that account.
But however insignificant he may have been in the injudicious view of a boy, he was of consequence to the farm housewife, who could never bring herself to call him anything but " Sir Francis."
There is more of Friston and the Monica of "The Poppy " in later verses :-
In the land of flag-lilies, Where burst in golden clangours The joy-bells of the broom, You were full of willy-nillies, Pets, and bee-like angers : Flaming like a dusky poppy, In a wrathful bloom.
Yellow were the wheat-ways, The poppies were most red ; And all your meet and feat ways, Your sudden bee-like snarlings, Ah, do you remember, Darling of the darlings ?
Now at one, and now at two, Swift to pout and swift to woo, The maid I knew : Still I see the dusked tresses- But the old angers, old caresses ? Still your eyes are autumn thunders, But where are you, child, you ?
My father, before the idea of a published volume had taken shape, sewed up into booklets a few copies of the poems already printed in Merry England. One copy was sent by a common friend to Tennyson, who gave thanks, through his son, thus briefly :-
" Dear Mr. Snead-Cox,-Thanks for letting us see the vigorous poems.-Yours truly, Hallam Tennyson."
Browning, on the other hand, who was a visitor at Palace Court and on whose ready sympathy for personal details my father would rely, wrote at generous length :-
"Asolo, Veneto, Italia, Oct. 7, '89.
" Dear Mr. Meynell,-I hardly know how to apologise to you, or explain to myself how there has occurred such a delay in doing what I had an impulse to do as soon as I read the very interesting papers written by Mr. Thompson, and so kindly brought under my notice by yourself. Both the Verse and Prose are indeed remarkable-even without the particulars concerning their author, for which I am indebted to your goodness. It is altogether extraordinary that a young man so naturally gifted should need incitement to do justice to his own conspicuous ability by endeavouring to emerge from so uncongenial a course of life as that which you describe. Surely the least remunerating sort of ' literary life' would offer advantages incompatible with the hardest of all struggles for existence, such as I take Mr. Thompson's to be. Pray assure him, if he cares to know it, that I have a confident expectation of his success, if he will but extricate himself-as by a strenuous effort he may-from all that must now embarrass him terribly. He can have no better friend and adviser than yourself-except himself, if he listens to the inner voice.
" Pray offer my best thanks to Mrs. Meynell for her remembrance of me-who am, as she desires, profiting by the quiet and beauty of this place-whence, however, I shall soon depart for Venice, on my way homeward.1 I gather, from the absence of anything to the contrary in your letter, that all is well with you- and so may it continue ! I do not forget your old kindliness, though we are so much apart in London; and you must account me always, dear Mr. Meynell, as yours cordially,
F. T. to W. M. :-
"I have received Mr. Sharp's new Life of Browning, which reminds me to do what I have been intending to do for a long time past; but whenever I wrote to you, my mind was always occupied with something else which put the subject out of my head. I had better do it now, for even my unready pen will say better what I wish to say than would my still more unready tongue. It is simply that I wanted to tell you how deeply I was moved by the reading of Browning's letter in Merry England. When you first mentioned it to me you quoted loosely a single sentence; and I answered, I think, something to the effect that I was very pleased by what he had said. So I was ; pleased by what I thought his kindliness, for (misled by the form in which you had quoted the sentence from memory) I did not take it more seriously than that. When I saw Merry England I perceived that the original sentence was insusceptible of the interpretation which I had placed upon your quotation of it. And the idea that in the closing days of his life my writings should have been under his eye, and he should have sent me praise and encouragement, is one that I shall treasure to the closing days of my life. To say that I owe this to you is to say little. I have already told you that long before I had seen you, you exercised, unknown to myself, the most decisive influence over my mental development when without such an influence my mental development was like to have utterly failed. And so to you I owe not merely Browning's notice, but also that ever I should have been worth his notice. The little flowers you sent him were sprung from your own seed. I only hope that the time may not be far distant when better and less scanty flowers may repay the pains, and patience, and tenderness of your gardening."