Applicable to him are the words of Hawthorne, of which he was fond :-" Lingering always so near his childhood, he had sympathies with children, and kept his heart the fresher thereby like a reservoir into which rivulets are flowing, not far from the fountain-head."
The distractions of his imagination were the most pertinent to his needs at Ushaw. Some scraps from his class compositions and his note-books do not sufficiently illustrate the sway that literature already held in his heart and brain, for they are but exercises in expression, stiff words on parade, rather than the natural swinging publication of his thoughts. A writer in the Ushaw magazine lends us some knowledge of his literary and other recreations:-
" He never fretted his hour upon the stage when our annual' Sem play ' delighted the senior house. A pity that was, for such an appearance might have helped to remove some of the awkward shyness which characterised him to the end. His recreation, as a rule, did not assume a vigorous form, though in the racquet houses he showed that at hand-ball he attained a proficiency above the average. At ' cat' his services were at times enlisted to make up the full complement of players. But here his muse was his undoing, for a ball sharply sent out in his direction would find him absent. He does not therefore figure as a party-game player. He seldom handled a bat or trundled a ball. Most of his leisure hours were spent in our small reading-room amongst the shades of dead and gone authors. It says a good deal for his perseverance and patience that he sometimes read and wrote when all around him was strife and turmoil of miniature battle. Thompson would be there, and pause was given to his dreamings; he was rudely brought down from his own peculiar empyrean. After the vacation of 1874 he automatically changes his surroundings, going from Seminary to College. The master who had then care of him exerted much influence over him; he was a man of reading and a rare discriminating taste. In Grammar Francis had a still larger selection of books, and many of his beloved poets were well represented."
Books that were not school-books compelled his attention in other places and at other times. It is remembered that
" He would deliberately take up his seat opposite Mr. F. S., who presided at the cross-table near the door, and, after erecting a pile of books in front of him, would devote his whole soul to a volume of poetry. But Mr. F. S. was not of a restless, suspicious nature. Or it may be that he saw out of his spectacles more than we supposed, and of set purpose did not interfere with the broodings of genius."
Glimpses of Francis in the social life of the college are few. He was not so social but that somebody else sang his songs |for him. Dr. Mann describes "a picnic:-
" After regaling ourselves at Cornsay with tea, coffee, and toast, we did not leave the board till the old songs had been sung. I remember only the refrain. The first verse told of the virtues of our President (Dr. Tate), the second of the Vice (Dr. Gillow), the third of the Procurator (Mr. Croskell), and so on, each verse ending with-
Fill up your glass, here's to the ass v*
Who fancies his coffee is wine in a glass."
Somebody else, too, recited his prose for him, declaiming "The Storming of the Bridge of Lodi" amid applause in the Hall on a College-Speaking Day. It is the fourteen year essay of a schoolboy, and a fair specimen of the stuff that put him head of his English class. The piece took the ears of his schoolfellows; it was recited by his particular class friend in the school debating-room, and thence, having been heard by the class-master of elocution, was promoted to the Hall, in the company of passages from Macaulay and Gibbon.1
1 Prowess in English was officially reported. From Father Nowlan, a friend of the family, to Doctor Thompson, Easter, 1872:-"You will be anxious to hear how Frank has passed at the last examinations. They have been very satisfactory indeed-second in Latin and first in English. His master was speaking to me about him yesterday, and said that his English composition was the best production from a lad of his age which he had ever seen in this seminary. His improvement in Latin is also remarkable, and his steady improvement in this subject will depend in a great measure upon a cure of that absent-mindedness which certainly, at the very outset, threatened to prove a great obstacle to his application to study. This, I am happy to tell you, has disappeared in a great measure, and in a little time we may be quite sure of its entire disappearance."
To the late Monsignor Corbishly I am indebted for the following record of the place Francis held in the compositions set three times a year :-
" In Latin he was first six times, second three times, and twice he was third. The lowest place was 6th, except when he composed in so-called Latin verse, when he got 23rd. His muse could not get going in a, dead language. In Greek his place ran from 2nd to ioth. In French, average place about 8th. In English, ist sixteen times ; of his Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry the less said the better. He was a good, quiet, shy lad. Physically, a weakling: he had a halting way of walking, and gave the impression that physical existence would be rather a struggle for him. He did practically nothing at the games. Haec habeo quae dicam de nostro poeta praeclarissimo."
St. Cuthbert's College, Ushaw in Francis Thompson's time.
For such warlike enterprises in prose and a certain occasional straightening of the back and assumption of soldierly bearing the name of "Tommy" was sometimes abandoned for "l'homme militaire."
Another witness, in the Ushaw Magazine of March 1894, remembers Francis on one occasion himself speaking his composition, but it is said by some that he never put such a trial upon his courage :-