The Habit Of Words

The suggestions as to metrical modifications he accepted. I print here a letter of which, however, the interest for me is not etymological: its interest is that he troubled to write at all to an inattentive Yahoo of a friend:-

" Dear Ev., as to the note you asked the Latin simplex is from plecto (or rather its root) ' I entwine,' and some root allied to the Greek 'together.' The root-meaning is therefore ' twined together,' and it primarily means that which has synthesis or unity as opposed to that which is confused or perplexed by lack of oneness. When Wordsworth (is it not ?) somewhere speaks of a being ' simple and unperplexed,' consciously or unconsciously, he uses the word mainly in this original sense, though few even thoughtful folk explicitly so grasp it. It is degenerated in the common mouth to the meaning almost of ' elementary.' Milton, saying poetry should be simple, sensuous, and passionate (is that the third word ?), by simple means synthetic-opposed to prose (especially, doubtless, he had in mind philosophic prose), which is analytic.-Yours, F. T."

He never dropped the habit of words. One of the last letters he wrote, dated from Rascals' Corner, Southwater, September 14, 1907, was written when he had detected a random paragraph of A. M.'s in the Daily Chronicle:-

"Dear Mrs. Meynell,-You might have added to the willow par. the Latin salex and the Eng. sallow:

Among the river sallows borne aloft

Or sinking, as the light wind lives or dies !

The English, I should guess, may be from one of the Romance tongues; if so all these modern forms are, mediately or immediately, from the Latin. But it is interesting to find the Latin and the Irish really identical (if you neglect the inflectional endings in the former)- salic and salagh. 'Tis but the difference 'twixt a plain

Of Words ; Of Origins ; Of Metre and a guttural hard consonant-for connective vowels are unstable endlessly. As for k and g, you see, e.g., reg-o evolve ra>tum.

" Excuse this offhand note, but your paragraph interested me.

" With warm love to yourself, Wilfrid, and all the quondam kids who are fast engaging themselves off the face of my earth.-Yours ever, dear Mrs. Meynell,

Francis Thompson."

He watched with much interest his words creep into currency. Roseal-"most beloved of my revivals"- which he had known only in Lodge's Glaucus and Scylla, he saw reappear in Dowson and other writers, and realised it was probably from Thompson and not from Lodge that it had been learnt. In this he saw the sign-the only one, he said-of his influence. He could hardly have expected that two years after his death " labyrinthine " would be a word used not only in poetry books, but on political platforms-by Mr. George Wyndham and his less-versed opponents. Words that ten years earlier irked the reader in poetry became, with a change of mood, acceptable in public speaking, so that Mr. Asquith's use of " fuliginous " irked nobody.

The objection to a poet's range of phrase finds no support in the dictionaries, whose abundance is a reproach to the restricted scope of the modern tongue. Johnson is three parts made up of terms neglected or discarded, for the reason, chiefly, that we are lazy and unlearned. The coster-monger whose speech comprises fewer words each year, thinks the parson a fop for the extent of his vocabulary, and the parson in his turn is impatient with his poets. The curtailment of our speech goes on apace, and if we love the poet-the Wordsworth of "Daffodils" or the Thompson of "Daisy"-as a man of few words, we should admire him for being at times a man of many.


By 1889 Rossetti had become an absorbing interest, but Coleridge, in what F. T. calls his Pre-Rossettian days, " had been my favourite poet." Before Coleridge, Shelley.

An early poem not elsewhere printed, written on the anniversary of Rossetti's death, illustrates the closeness of his affection-

This was the day that great, sad heart,

That great, sad heart did beat no more, Which nursed so long its Southern flame

Amid our vapours dull and frore. . . ■ 1 .

Through voice of art and voice of song

He uttered one same truth abroad,- Through voice of art and voice of song-

That Love below a pilgrim trod : He said, through women's eyes, " How long !

Love's other half's with God ! "

He taught our English art to gaze

On Nature with a learner's eyes : That hills which look into the heaven

Have their fair bases on the earth; God paints His most angelic hues

On vapours of a terrene birth.

May God his locks with glories twine,

Be kind to all he wrought amiss ! May God his locks with glories twine,

And give him back his Beatrice. This day the sad heart ceased to pine,

I trust his lady's beats at his, And two beat in a single bliss.

Of all Thompson's lines the second of the sunset-image-

Day's dying dragon lies drooping his crest, Panting red pants into the West, has been found the most ludicrous. No critic hesitated in condemning it, and your reader most often splits the line with a laugh, thinking the while of Hope Brothers. But the poet thought upon his own thought and upheld his line in face of the query marks confidently balanced on the margin of his proofs; he remembered Coleridge's-

As if this earth in fast, thick pants were breathing.

"Red" or " thick," there is little for the parodist to choose between them. Much closer borrowing from Coleridge, in which he pronounces the words and rhymes of his master but keeps his voice ringing high with personality, is found at the close of " To my Godchild." It is easy to know with what keen recognition he must have read Coleridge's " Ne Plus Ultra." He borrowed its weakest lines because he dared not borrow the strongest; they would not have become more famous on his hands. Coleridge's poem ends :-