His correspondent has written :-
"As a thinker, Francis Thompson is profoundly meditative, and, if pessimistic, then pessimistic with submission and fear, not with revolt. His thought must not be called gloomy, even when it is dark as night, for in the darkness there is a sense of open and heavenly air."
The most natural thing in the world (although at first he did not see it, having been a seminarist, a person not always apt to be in the secret) was that the singer of the Church-the Church that defined the Immaculate Conception-should be a poet of woman-kind-one of the Marians. Seminary training did not prepare him for a world of women. A note on the Marriage of Cana, which proves, he avers, that " much wine is needed before a man may go through with matrimony," is characteristic of his schooling. In humour the schooling lasted when all else had been outlived. His unpublished comedy " Man Proposes, Woman Disposes " is full of ready-made gibes, and his " Dress," printed in the Daily Mail, is threadbare comic verse on a subject he treated reverently enough when there was no joke to crack. It is still, perhaps, as the seminarist that he notes: " In Burmah the monks complain that women are natively incapable of any true understanding of' religion." But it is a later Thompson who adds the comment: " The heart of woman is the citadel, the ultimum refugium of true religiosity." Genesis gives him the heading for several pages of a note-book devoted to such subjects: " I will put enmity between thee and the woman."
Rod, Root, and Flower set him to work in the same nursery-garden. His note-books reflect Patmore's aphoristic habit. He himself defended or denied the " fragmentary " nature of Patmore's book. " It might as well be said that the heavens are fragmentary, because the stars are not linked by golden chains. You are given the stars-the central and illuminative suggestions ; you are left to work out for yourself, by meditations, the system of which they are the nodal points." This, it will be seen, is his rewriting of Patmore's own comment on the book, quoted at p. 201.
I can do no more than bring together his scattered notes on Woman. He himself could hardly have fitted them into any satisfactory sequence.
In a note-book I find :-
"The function of natural love is to create a craving which it cannot satisfy. And then only has its water been tasted in perfect purity, if it awakens an insatiate thirst of wine."
His hope is made known in his poetry:-
The Woman I behold, whose vision seek
All eyes and know not; t'ward whom climb
The steps of the world, and beats all wing of rhyme.
And his prose :-
" When the federation of the world comes (as come I believe it will) it can only be federation in both government and religion of plenary and ordered dominance. I see only two religions constant enough to effect this : each based upon the past-which is stability; each growing according to an interior law-which is strength. Paganism and Christianism ; the religion of the Queen of Heaven who is Astarte, and of the Queen of Heaven who is Mary." (Note by F. T. : "' We offer sacrifice to the Queen of Heaven' " (Jer. xliv. 19).
Once he turns the subject with a stock phrase of playfulness-
Daughter of the ancient Eve,
We know the gifts ye gave-and give.
Who knows the gifts which you shall give,
Daughter of the newer Eve ?
You, if my soul be augur, you
Shall-0 what shall you not, Sweet, do ?
But before he is through with the poem he is led to greater explicitness, and, finally, to the solemn manner of concealment-
When to love you is (0 Christ's spouse !) To love the beauty of His house; Then come the Isaian days; the old Shall dream ; and our young men behold Vision-yea, the vision of Thabor-mount, Which none to other shall recount, Because in all men's hearts shall be The seeing and the prophecy. For ended is the Mystery Play, When Christ is life, and you the way; When Egypt's spoils are Israel's right, And Day fulfils the married arms of Night. But here my lips are still. Until
You and the hour shall be revealed,
This song is sung and sung not, and its words are sealed.
In thee, Queen, man is saturate with God.
Blest period To God's redeeming sentence. So in thee Mercy at length is uttered utterly.
In human passion, as in sun-worship, he relates everything to the Deity. It is within forbidden degrees if it cannot be referred back to Divine Love. His series " A Narrow Vessel," he describes as " being a little dramatic sequence on the aspect of primitive girl-nature towards a love beyond its capacities." Opening with a " rape of the lock," the whole breadth of the centuries and of the human mind apart from Pope's, the girl bemoans the gift of her hair :-
My lock the enforced steel did grate
To cut; its root-thrills came Down to my bosom. It might sate
His lust for my poor shame.
Here is unwonted attention to the minutiae of sensation ; and the third poem of the second series is the one that comes nearest in all Thompson's work to the many love poems of the many modern poetry-books. The likeness is startling. It is the only poem of his which the illustrators of " Tennyson " of 1857 would have relished to put upon wood. The girl was an actual girl named Maggie Bryan, of the Welsh village; his photograph was long kept in her narrow room, and her grave, made in the October following the poet's death, is near the scene of that love-making that was so incongruous and timid that it had little real existence in word or look. " Love Declared," the poem that sinks to the commoner level of love-poetry, is fiction and reads like it; the rest reality-only a little more than the reality.
But Thompson did not leave it at reality. No sooner has an unwary reader, who, on other pages, had been clutching at his poet, made sure, on this one, of his man than the creature of bone and muscle slips from him. The sequence, it is confessed in the last poem, is written solely in the interests of allegory. Here for once is actuality, one had said; but only to learn that no actuality bulks so large for the poet himself as the actuality of religious speculation. His own Pantasaph drama, a thing that passed in the high-street, hemmed in by cottages, noted by gossipers, with strong hill winds blowing in the faces of the actors, was most personal to the hero for its allegorical meaning-