His toys he never quite relinquished; among the few possessions at his death was a cardboard theatre, wonderfully contrived, seeing that his fingers never learnt the ordinary tricks of usefulness, and with this his play was very earnest, as is attested in a note-book query- " Sylvia's hairs shall work the figures (?)." That he was content with his childhood, its toys, and even its troubles, he has particularly asserted. " I did not want responsibility, did not want to be a man. Toys I could surrender, with chagrin, so I had my great toy of imagination whereby the world became to me my box of toys." It is remembered by a visitor to the Thompson household that at meal times the father would call upon the children to come out of their rooms. But they, for answer, would lock their doors against the dinner hour : they were playing with the toy theatre. Francis went on playing all his life; his sister has kept her heart young in a convent. And there is no discontent in this particular memory of early loneliness :-
" There is a sense in which I have always been and even now remain a child. But in another sense I never was a child, never shared children's thoughts, ways, tastes, manner of life, and outlook of life. I played, but my sport was solitary sport, even when I played with my sisters ; from the time I began to read (about my sixth year) the game often (I think) meant one thing to me and another (quite another) to them-my side of the game was part of a dream-scheme invisible to them. And from boys, with their hard practical objectivity of play, I was tenfold wider apart than from girls with their partial capacity and habit of make-believe."
Crosses he also experienced, and the sense of injustice was awakened early. He lost the prize-a clockwork mouse, no less!-offered by his governess.
Although first in lessons, his brisker, punctual-footed sisters and governess would have to wait many times during a walk for him to come up with them. And so the mouse went to a sister. " I remembered the prize," she writes, " but had forgotten the reason of my luck. But Francis never forgot it; he could never see the justice of it, he said-and no wonder !" His tremulous, sudden " not ready!" jerked out at the beginning of a game of cards, is still heard in the same sister's memory, and also the leverage of calls and knockings that was required to get him from the house for church or .a train; and his unrecognising progress in the street. Every detail of the boy recalls the man to'one who had to get him forth from his chamber when he was a grown traveller, and has often seen him oblivious in the streets, and has heard his imperative appeals for " ten minutes more " in all the small businesses of his later life. His toys he could surrender, but he played the same games without them. As a youth during the Russo-Turkish war he built a city of chairs with a plank for drawbridge; " Plevna," his father said, would be found written in his heart for the interest he had in the siege. If Plevna was written there, then so was Ladysmith. He had no plank drawbridge during the Boer war, but he was none the less excited on that account.
He knew little of the technique of being a boy ; childhood was an easier role. Brothers would have told him it was bad form to care for dolls. He writes, in " The Fourth Order of Humanity," that he was " withheld even in childhood from the youthful male's contempt for these short-lived parasites of the nursery. I questioned,with wounded feelings,thestraitened feminine intolerance which said to the boy : 'Thou shalt not hold a baby; thou shalt not possess a doll.' In the matter of babies, I was hopeless to shake the illiberal prejudice; in the matter of dolls, I essayed to confound it. By eloquence and fine diplomacy I wrung from my sisters a concession of dolls; whence I date my knowledge of the kind. But ineluctable sex declared itself. I dramatized them, I fell in love with them ; I did not father them; intolerance was justified of her children. One in particular I selected, one with surpassing fairness crowned, and bowed before the fourteen inches of her skirt. She was beautiful. She was one of Shakespeare's heroines. She was an amity of inter-removed miracles; all wrangling excellencies at pact in one sole doll; the frontiers of jealous virtues marched in her, yet trespassed not against her peace ; and her gracious gift of silence I have not known in woman. I desired for her some worthy name; and asked of my mother: Who was the fairest among living women ? Laughingly was I answered that I was a hard questioner, but that perhaps the Empress of the French bore the bell for beauty. Hence, accordingly, my Princess of puppetdom received her style; and at this hour, though she has long since vanished to some realm where all sawdust is wiped for ever from dolls' wounds, I cannot hear that name but the Past touches me with a rigid agglomeration of small china fingers."
A housemaid remembers Francis on the top of the ladder in the book-cupboard, oblivious of her call to meals. Of this early reading he writes :-
"I read certain poetry-Shakespeare, Scott, the two chief poems of Coleridge, the ballads of Macaulay-mainly for its dramatic or narrative power. No doubt-especially in the case of Shakespeare, and (to a less extent) Coleridge - I had a certain sublatent, subconscious, elementary sense of poetry as I read. But this was, for the more part, scarce explicit; and was largely confined to the atmosphere, the exhalation of the work. To give some concrete instance of what I mean. In the ' Midsummer Night's Dream' I experienced profoundly that sense of trance, of dream-like dimness, the moonlight glimmer and sleep-walking enchantment, embodied in that wonderful fairy epilogue 'Now the cat' etc, and suggested by Shakespeare in the lines, 'These things seem small and undistinguishable, like far off mountains turned into clouds.' I did indeed, as I read the last words of Puck, feel as if I were waking from a dream and rub my mental eyes. No doubt the sense of the lines 'These things' etc, was quickened (it may be created-I will not at this distance say) by an excellent note on them in the edition I read. ' But the effect on me of the close was beyond and independent of all notes. So, in truth, was it with the play as a whole. So, again, I profoundly experienced the atmospheric effect of 'Macbeth,' 'Lear,' 'The Tempest,' ' Coriolanus,' of all the plays in various degree. Never again have I sensed so exquisitely, so virginally, the aura of the plays as I sensed it then. Less often I may have drunk the effluence of particular passages, as in the case already instanced. But never, in any individual passage, did I sense the poetry of the poetry, the poetry as poetry. To express it differently, I was over young to have awakened to the poetry of words, the beauty of language which is the true flower of poetry, the sense of magic in diction, of words suddenly becoming a marvel and quick with a preternatural life. It is the opening of the eyes to that wonder which signalises the puberty of poetry. I was, in fact, as a child, where most men remain all their lives. Nay, they are not so far, for my elemental perception, my dawn before sunrise, had a passion and prophetic intensity which they (with rare exceptions) lack. It was not stunted, it was only nascent."