Reveal'd to none of all the Angelic State,
Save to the Lampads Seven1
That watched the Throne of Heaven !
Thompson's ending is
Pass the crystalline sea, the Lampads seven :- Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven.
We have seen an ending; here is a borrowed opening :-
Like a lone Arab, old and blind,
Some caravan had left behind,
Who sits beside a ruin'd well,
Where the shy sand-asps bask and swell;
And now he hangs his aged head aslant
And listens for a human sound-in vain, etc.
It develops into an allegory of illusion : the poet sits
1 Revelation iv, 5, ". . . there were seven lamps burning before the Throne, which are the seven spirits of God." desolate, and, thinking Love visits him, is deceived. Just thus is Thompson's passage beginning-
As an Arab journeyeth
Through a sand of Ayaman,
Lean Thirst, lolling its cracked tongue, etc. . . .
The staging, the characters, are the same. Perhaps curiosity in opium-eating led him early and im-pressionably to the study of Coleridge. "The Pains of Sleep" brings their experiences cheek to cheek- haggard cheek to haggard cheek. Thompson wrote a prose tale embodying the same terror of dreams and dream-existence. Both used humorous verse and conversation for a means of escape. They laughed to forget, and punned, not so much to laugh, as to be distracted in the exercise. One of them did the talking much better than the other; but their tongues moved to the same command, their voices ran on from the same fear. Even " Love dies, Love dies, Love dies-Ah ! Love is dead " is the reflection of a page of Coleridge's commonplaces.
These are casual likenesses, found on the penetrable levels of resemblance, comparable to the coincidence of the after-collegiate enlisting of the two men, the Bowles connexion, or the Strand experience. But Francis Thompson, as it happens, has been explicit on the subject of the unreachable quality of Coleridge :-
" No other poet, perhaps, except Spenser has been an initial influence, a generative influence, on so many poets. Having with that mild Elizabethan much affinity, it is natural that he should be a 'poets' poet' in the rarer sense-the sense of fecundating other poets. As with Spenser, it is not that other poets have made him their model, have reproduced essentials of his style (accidents no great poet will consciously perpetuate). The progeny are sufficiently unlike the parent. It is that he has
Of Words ; Of Origins; Of Metre incited the very sprouting in them of the laurel-bough, has been to them a fostering sun of song. Such a primary influence he was to Rossetti-Rossetti, whose model was far more Keats than Coleridge. Such he was to Coventry Patmore, in whose work one might trace many masters rather than Coleridge." ("Such he was to me," F. T., a reviewer in a public print, refrained from adding.) "' I did not try to imitate his style,' said that great singer. ' I can hardly explain how he influenced me: he was rather an ideal of perfect style than a model to imitate ; but in some indescribable way he did influence my development more than any other poet.' No poet, indeed, has been senseless enough to imitate the inimitable. One might as well try to paint air as to catch a style so void of all manner that it is visible, like air, only in its results. . . . Imitation has no foothold ; it would tread on glass." 1
F. T. noted in the Academy, November 20, 1897, the direct coincidence of Browning's
Its sad in sweet, its sweet in sad, and Crashaw's
Sweetness so sad, sadness so sweet.
It did not come within his scope as a reviewer to mention the doubly direct coincidence (or something nearer) of his own :
At all the sadness in the sweet, The sweetness in the sad.
Coleridge and the other poets to whom Coleridge had guided him; Shelley and, in prose, de Quincey, are prominent in his early reading. To go to de Quincey's " Daughter of Lebanon " for the pedigree of " The Hound of Heaven " is like going to the grocer's for the seeds, in coloured packets, of the passion flower. But the Victorian tassels of the earlier piece do not hide its lessons- "to suffer that God should give by seeming to refuse" -and pursuit is the theme common to both, and common to writers of most ages. De Quincey did no more than hand it on. From St. Augustine's "Thou wast driving me on with Thy good, so that I could not be at rest until Thou wast manifest to the eye of my soul"; to Meister Eckhart's " He who will escape Him only runs to His bosom ; for all corners are open to him," and so on, the idea is the same, though less elaborated and dramatic than in " The Hound."
1 F. T. in the Academy, February 6, 1897. 164
In the "Mistress of Vision" the scenery and the lady are Shelleyan ; one marvels that Thompson's teaching comes from those illusive lips. Thus would it have been written had such thoughts gained desired expression through Shelley. The thoughts are Francis Thompson's ; the mode the other's. Mr. Beacock refers one to passages of the " Witch of Atlas," but the likeness is too elusively general to be caught in particular verses, and such things as the borrowing of " blosmy " are nothing more than clues, like the fragmentary debris of a paper-chase, to the whereabouts of an influence.
An early book of transcription contains a deal of Donne and Stevenson (including Father Damien and poems), a touch of Andrew Lang, more of Blunt, a little Meredith ; much Rossetti and Cowley, some Suckling, the inevitable Browne, and a Theodore Watts. Drayton, too, is met in the Thompsonian verses: " Hear, my Muses, I demand," etc, so that when Mr. Chesterton says that the shortest way of describing the Victorian age is to say that Francis Thompson stood outside it, he might have gone on, with a little access of wilfulness, to say that the seventeenth century was best described by saying that in it was Francis Thompson.