This section is from the book "The Life Of Francis Thompson", by Everard Meynell. Also available from Amazon: The life of Francis Thompson.
Marvell he had not read till after his first books-"Just 33Of Words; Of Origins ; Of Metre
Crashaw and a little Cowley-and I had formed my style before I knew Cowley, whom I really did curiously resemble ; though none perceived it, because none had read Cowley."
The Crashaw descent may be traced by way of Coleridge, who said of certain lines of the " Hymn to St. Teresa" that "They were ever present in my mind whilst writing the second part of ' Christabel'; if, indeed, by some process of the mind, they did not suggest the first thought of the whole poem." Crashaw's Romanism did not interfere with Coleridge's pleasure, though in reading Herbert, whom he found "delicious," and at a time when he could note "that he was comparatively but little known," he paused over inquiries as to the exactness of that author's conformity to Protestantism. Coleridge was much taken with Herbert's " The Flower," a poem "especially affecting"-and naturally, to a poet. It is easy to suppose that Francis gave it particular attention on S. T. C.'s recommendation, and that he had in his mind the lines
I once more smell the dew and rain And relish versing when, conscious of the wings "Of coming songs that lift my hair and stir it," he praises the
Giver of spring, and song, and every young new thing!
Herbert, welcoming a return of grace in his heart, writes:-
How fresh, 0 Lord, how sweet and clean
Are Thy returns ! ev'n as the flowers in spring.
Thompson, in "From the Night of Forebeing," writes:-
From sky to sod,
The world's unfolded blossom smells of God.
Crashaw and a little Cowley
Closer still is the resemblance, noted by Mr. Beacdck, between Herbert's
Only thy grace, which with these elements comes,
Knoweth the ready way,
And hath the privie key Op'ning the soul's most subtile rooms ;
While those to spirits refin'd, at doore attend
Despatches from their friend, and Thompson's
Its keys are at the cincture hung of God.
Mr. Beacock has also pointed out the resemblance between Southwell's
Did Christ manure thy heart to breed him briers ? Or doth it need this unaccustom'd soyle With hellish dung to fertile heaven's desires ?
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields Be dunged with rotten death ?
Remembering his own acknowledgment-"just Crashaw and a little Cowley"-one may turn to Mr. Garvin's equally accurate summing up in the Bookman, March 1897 :-
"He is an argonaut of literature, far travelled in the realm of gold, and he has in a strange degree the assimilative mind that takes suggestions as a cat takes milk. . . . ' The Daisy' was strangely Wordsworthian. But ' Dream-Tryst' was like Shelley, and had that strange ethereal poignancy. There was the ' Dead Cardinal of Westminster,' with its stanzas of shuddering beauty upon the prescience of death. There was the resplendent ' Judgment in Heaven,' with the trenchant Elizabethan apothegm of its epilogue. The ' Corymbus for Autumn' was an overwhelming improvisation of wild and exorbitant fantasy. To be familiar with it is to repent of having ever reproached it for a splendid pedantry and a monstrous ambition. On the whole, if Mr. Thompson had stopped at his first volume we should have judged him more akin in stature and temperament to Marlowe than to any other great figure in English poetry. It seemed to reveal the same ' high astounding terms,' the same vast imagery; the same amour de Vimpossible ; the soul striking the sublime stars, the intolerable passion for beauty. But Mr. Thompson did not stop there. After the publication of his second volume, when it became clear that the ' Hound of Heaven' and ' Sister Songs' should be read together as a strict lyrical sequence, there was no longer any comparison possible except the highest, the inevitable comparison with even Shakespeare's Sonnets. The Sonnets are the greatest soliloquy in literature. The ' Hound of Heaven' and ' Sister Songs' together are the second greatest; and there is no third. In each case it is rather,consciousness imaged in the magic mirror of, poetry than explicit autobiography. As to Mr. Francis Thompson, what strange indentures bound him to the Muse we cannot tell. We are permitted to guess some strict and sad apprenticeship paid with bitter bread and unimaginable dreams, some ultimate deliverance of song. It is only possible to realise all the beauty of Mr. Thompson's work when it is read as a lyrical sequence related to Shakespeare's Sonnets on the side of poetry, and to de Quincey's Opium Eater on the side of prose."
To a certain extent Thompson states his own case in treating of Mangan's liberties with his Irish originals:-
" They are outrageous, or would be outrageous were the success not so complete. But poetry is a rootedly immoral art, in which success excuses well-nigh everything. That in the soldier is flat blasphemy which in the captain, the master of his craft, is but commendable daring. Exactly as a great poet may plagiarise to his heart's content, because he plagiarises well, so the truly poetical translator may reindite a foreign poem and call it a translation."
And in reviewing Henley's Burns he writes, again with the braggart touch of one who may have gone the same rascally road :-
" Spartan law holds good in literature, where to steal is honourable, provided it be done with skill and dexterity : wherefore Mercury was the patron both of thieves and poets."
Touching a more serious aspect of the case, he writes with Patmore in his mind :-
" There are some truths so true, that upon everyone who sees them clearly they force almost the same mode of expression ; they create their own formulas."
It might not have been guessed that the author of "Horatius" had the means wherewith to lend to the wealthy; but Macaulay's lines " On the Battle of Naseby "-