" The malignity of my tormentors was more heart-lacerating than the pain itself. It seemed to me- virginal to the world's ferocity-a hideous thing that strangers should dislike me, should delight and triumph in pain to me, though I had done them no ill and bore them no malice; that malice should be without provocative malice. That seemed to me dreadful, and a veritable demoniac revelation. Fresh from my tender home, and my circle of just-judging friends, these malignant school-mates who danced round me with mocking evil distortion of laughter-God's good laughter, gift of all things that look back the sun-were to me devilish apparitions of a hate now first known; hate for hate's sake, cruelty for cruelty's sake. And as such they live in my memory, testimonies to the murky aboriginal demon in man."
The word " reserve " is written large across the history of the schoolboy and the man; that he laid it aside in his poetry and with the rare friend only made its habitual observance the more marked. He was safest and happiest alone at Ushaw, and little would his schoolfellows understand the distresses of his mind there. One at least I know who could not recognise Thompson's painful memories as being conceivably based on actual experience. Teasing, at best, is an ignorant
Teasing, and a Punishment occupation; at worst, not meant to inflict lasting wrong.
I have in mind two gay and gentle men, once his class-fellows, who are unfailingly merry at the mention of college hardships; they are now priests, whose profession and desires are to do kindness to their fellow-men, and I do not suspect them of ever having done a living creature an intentional hurt. Thompson's poetry they can understand, but not his unhappiness at school.
Nor does your normal boy, of Ushaw or any other school, admit that wrong is done him by the rod. The rod bears blossoms, says the schoolboy grown up ; and the convention which makes men call their school-days the happiest of their lives likewise makes them smile at the punishments in the prefect's study. For the average schoolboy this attitude is perhaps an honest one. His school-days are happy; the cane is only an inconvenience to be avoided,or, if impossible of avoidance, to be grimaced at and tolerated. But every boy at school is not a school-boy, and the boy at school has to suffer generalisations about the school-boy and the rod. The commonweal spells some individual's woe, and doubtless the discipline proper for the normal child was hard for the abnormal. The boy at school, unlike the school-boy, is not brave, or, if he is brave, his courage is of a tragic quality that should not be required of him. The schoolboy's account of the punishment of the boy at school illustrates the difference between the two ; for the one it is fit matter for an anecdote, for Francis it was an episode never to be alluded to. Dr. Mann writes :-
" Some old Ushaw men may wonder whether, in his passage through the Seminary, he ever fell into the hands of retributive justice. To the best of his schoolfellows' recollections he did. It fell on a certain day during our drilling-hour that Sergeant Railton dropt into confidential tones, and we had grouped round him to drink in his memories of the Indian Mutiny, ' Tommy/ who scented a battle from afar, was with us. All went well until the steps of authority were heard coming round the corner near the music rooms, and with well-simulated sternness our Sergeant ordered us back into our ranks. ' Tommy,' who, doubtless, was already making pictures of Lucknow or Cawnpore on his mental canvas, was last to dress up, and was summarily taken off to Dr. Wilkinson's Court of Petty Sessions, where, without privilege of jury or advocate, he paid his penalty. He was indignant, naturally, not to say sore, over this treatment."
Such is the gallant and approved vein of school reminiscence, of which one of the classics is the jest about the Rev. James Boyer, the terror of Christ's Hospital: " It was lucky the cherubim who took him to Heaven were nothing but wings and faces, or he would infallibly have flogged them by the way." 1
But Francis was neither cheerful, nor mock-heroic, like Lafcadio Hearn, whose "The boy stood on the bloody floor where many oft had stood" was conned by his class-mates at Ushaw. Nor did a sense of the grotesque assuage the sense of injury, as in the Daumier drawing of a small boy's agonised contortions under the stroke of a wooden spoon upon the palm of the hand. He did not join his past school-mates in the brave bursts and claps of laughter and winking silences that I have known break in upon the narration of ancient floggings. Says Lamb, in describing Mr. Bird's blister-raising ferule, "The idea of a rod is accompanied with something of the ludicrous" : with Francis's school-mates it provokes a gaiety almost beyond the requirements of priestly light-heartedness. I am reluctant and ashamed to be less brave on the poet's behalf-to be out of the joke; and yet I find it difficult to put a better face on it. To remember Thompson's own extreme gentleness is to be intolerant of a small but over-early injury.
1 Lamb's jest was perhaps remembered when F. T. wrote: " If a boy were let into Heaven, he would chase the little angels to pluck the feathers out of their wings "-a justification of Boyer rather than the Boy.
Being no observer, Francis failed to find the friends he might have found at Ushaw. Vernon Blackburn was his friend, but not till after-life. Henry Patmore, son of the poet, in a class above him, was as little known to him as he to Henry Patmore. Those who remember Francis as a shy and unusual boy, remember Henry Patmore - "Skinny" Patmore - in much the same terms. These two unusual boys had no more than the acquaintance of sight that is common in a school of over three hundred strong. Another schoolfellow was Mr. Augustine Watts, who married Gertrude Patmore, Henry's sister. It was from Ushaw, where he went in 1870 (Thompson's year), that Henry Patmore wrote to his step-mother :-