Before taking him into his employ at his bootmaker's shop, No. 14 Panton Street, Mr. McMaster wrote in August, 1886, to the Superintendent of Police at Ashton-under-Lyne asking if Francis Joseph was, as he stated, the son of a Dr. Charles Thompson of that place. Finding this to be the case, he secured a lodging for Francis in Southampton Row, clothed him, and with some hope, at first, set him to work. It was rather later that he communicated with Francis's father, who had been absent from Ashton on a holiday.
I learn that Mr. McMaster was much interested in assisting the unfortunate. If he says "Thompson was my only failure," it means that he was careful and useful in the rescuing of young men, particular in awarding his charity, and strict in enforcing reform. The men he cared for learned the trade of boot-making, possibly, and had been known to sing in the choir of St. Martin's Church, or to do other reputable deeds. They were civil-spoken men, or learnt to be, and tidy, whereas Francis would raise his voice, Mr. McMaster remembers-would shout, as his only breach of good manners-in medical and other arguments ; was a Catholic, and therefore not a church-goer in the ordinary sense, and was, of course, incapable of work. How did Mr. McMaster succeed so well with his only failure ? It is to his exceeding credit that he accepted Francis on the terms that were inevitable in accepting a waif subject to accidents and unpunctual. Francis would discuss literature and medicine, or be silent, or write, always in sight of the hammering and sewing group in the workroom behind the shop. In the delivery ;of goods and the general running of messages he did ill the duties of a boy of twelve. And yet he was liked, and respected as well as pitied. His dignity and gentleness gave him the name of a gentleman among friends where the title is a talisman.
1 Here is a minor clue to the region of London best mapped out in his mind. From the Academy, 1900, he tore Mr. Whitten's review of an atlas of London, in which a comment is made on the restrictions of the scale- three inches to the mile ; so that " York Street, Covent Garden, is merged in Tavistock Street; and Panton Street, Haymarket, and its short continuation, Spur Street,are marked but not named." When Francis does not dog de Quincey he is at the heel of Coleridge. Each had gone for a soldier; both were accosted with friendship in London. The Strand is remembered as the place where Coleridge was, as a youth, once walking in abstraction with waving arms, to find himself with his hand in a pedestrian's pocket and accused of attempted thieving. " I thought, sir, I was swimming in the Hellespont," he explained, and made a friend only less valuable than Mr. McMaster.
It did not take long to discover that Francis could neither make boots nor sell them. He ran messages, and still in the make-believe of earning his food and lodging and the five shillings a week that were his wages, put up the shutters, as H. M. Stanley, whose back still ached with the memory when he came to write his autobiography, had done as a boy. It is incredible, to one who knew the hours Francis favoured, that he was present at their taking down.
His master has interesting memories. He remembers the meeting in the street; he remembers that he was informed immediately that Francis was a Catholic, and he remembers the crucifix upon the wall of the bedroom in Southampton Row, and the medal round the collarless neck. " I knew he was of another belief- not a bit of difference ! I am a Church of England man myself-Churchwarden, and on the Council- an average Church of England man, I trust. But not a bit of difference!" he repeats, and has it too that Francis "said his Mass-always said his Mass-at night." About Sunday church-goings he is uncertain, having the impression that Francis no longer held with the priests of his Church. "There was something between him and the priests. Perhaps I ought not to tell you (I take it you are Catholics), but I fancy there was something." Mr. McMaster's narrative is here interrupted, not by the poet's shout, but by the poet's record of his habit of prayer. Francis writes, in a note to the following poem, composed years later : " It was my practice from the time I left college to pray for the lady whom I was destined to love-the unknown She. It is curious that even then I did not dream of praying for her whom I was destined to marry; and yet not curious : for already I previsioned that with me it would be to love, not to be loved."
With dawn and children risen would he run, Which knew not the fool's wisdom to be sad, He that had childhood sometimes to be glad,
Before her window with the co-mate sun.
At night his angel's wing before the Throne Dropped (and God smiled) the unnamed name of Her : Nor did she feel her destinate poet's prayer
Asperse her from her angel's pinion.
So strangely near ! So far, that ere they meet, The boy shall traverse with his bloody feet
The mired and hungered ways, three sullen years, Of the fell city: and those feet shall ooze Crueller blood through ruinous avenues
Of shattered youth, made plashy with his tears !
As full of love as scant of poetry; Ah ! in the verses but the sender see, And in the sender, but his heart, lady !
Mr. McMaster continues :-" Mr. Thompson was a great talker. I remember him asking me questions. My father, a University man-or rather a Scottish College man . . . would talk to him, very interested." And his employer lent him books and discussed them, and had, as he remembers it, some hand in the making of an author. It was in his shop and on his paper that Thompson wrote continually. Bulwer Lytton was devoured, then as in later years, and Francis took Mr. McMaster's Iliad even as far as Southampton Row along with Josephus and Huxley. "My Josephus and my Huxley," remembers his friend, who recalls, too, that he was "always reading the Standard Book of British Poetry!' Francis did not know then that the "little obscure room in my father's poor house," where Tra-herne learnt, as a child of four, to be a poet, was also at the back of a shoemaker's. Children were of the Panton Street household, and Mr. McMaster remembers Francis's awed but gentle ways with them. A niece, called Rosie Violet or Rosebud by the family, and Flower or Little Flower, as Mr. McMaster remembers, by Francis, was his particular friend, and used to take his tea to him and walk with him in the park. That there was "another lady who helped him" may be an allusion to the friendship of the streets.