Religion seems always to be setting its beneficent ambush for those who thought themselves most securely on another road; but in the case of the victims of abnormal and distressful phases of experience there was something more than the splendid accident of reconciliation and forgiveness. One after another of the leaders of aesthetic disaffection and disease confessed to an almost involuntary inclination to seek the arms of the Church. The devil, prowling like a lion, might leap upon them, "but the Lamb, He leapeth too." Christ's actual presence, His miracles, His hand, were for the sick, the afflicted, the wrongdoer: His inspiration to-day most often rests upon those intellectual sinners who have seemed in their misfortune to be puffing out the light of the world. And this was not only a death-bed reconciliation. What English artist for fifty years has made a " Madonna and Child ? " Aubrey Beardsley made one. What poet had sung of the last sacraments ? Ernest Dowson's most beautiful verses are on the Extreme Unction. Lionel Johnson, whom Thompson knew, had not been a rebel, and he did not seek a death-bed reprieve. Nevertheless his name connects one form of failure with the literary life of his day and with an ardent adherence to Religion. Another type of a school that had set out to use bad language but could say nothing finally but its prayers, is he who then sang in company with Baudelaire, but whose poet, now he has become a priest, is Jacopone da Todi. So, too, with Simeon Solomon, as his reputation and his clothes became more ragged, who, as he grew "famous for his falls" but otherwise obscure, found a co-ordinating central inspiration for his work, and found it before the altars of the Carmelite Church in Kensington. Francis may well have jostled elbows with him there, or on the pavement.
The copper-plated Death of the sixteenth century is a caution no more gruesome or extreme than the picture of these poets and painters in their pains. or three to a lunatic asylum, one to death that smelt of suicide, and three at least to death hastened by drink- that is the hasty record of a certain group. Francis never met Wilde, the wit who stumbled and gasped the dull man's daily words of repentance, even before his audience was well aware of his jest; nor Beardsley the artist who found death's quill at his heart before he had time to destroy the drawings, which, in his agony, he learnt some devil rather than himself had made. To the hospitals, asylums, and prisons of London and Paris, to the Sanatorium of the Pacific or the Mediterranean, to the slums, and to starvation, Literature contributed numbers out of all proportion.
Francis knew none of them; but he had made a name in the 'nineties, had lived in the streets (the last resort of several of them), had died a Catholic (most damning evidence !), had written passionately (the divinity of his passion was not noted): there was circumstantial evidence enough. He was exalted : how should the obituary writers know the exaltation was not feverish ? His poetry he laid upon altar-steps; was it for them to guess he had chased no satyrs from his cathedral before he set himself to pray ? His view of Dowson is characteristic:
"... A frail and (in an artistic sense) faint minor poet. . . . The major poet moulds, rather than is moulded by, his environment. And it may be doubted whether the most accomplished morbidity can survive the supreme test of Time. In the long run Sanity endures ; the finest art goes under if it be perverse and perverted art, though for a time it may create life under the ribs of death."
Like the legend that seeks to give an evil or a sad account of men, is the easier legend of their laziness. All who have known joy and written vastly have been accused of inertia and despondency.
It is true that Francis was apprenticed to Idleness of wits, as well as Industry; but, finding both hard masters, and Idleness (of the common sort) the harder, he much sought to avoid it. As for his work (save in poetry) he knew few moments at which he could with Coleridge declare a happiness in difficulties, "feeling in resistance nothing but a joy and a stimulus." With Coleridge's other mood (" drowsy, self-distrusting, prone to rest, loathing his own self-promises, withering his own hopes -his hopes, the vitality, the cohesion of his being ") he was acquainted. But not long; the meaning of his inactivity would burst on him, until the thought of it was labour. But with Wordsworth he says :-
"... for many days my brain worked with a dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being," and for his reassurance he had at hand the same poet's
'Tis my faith that there are powers Which of themselves our minds impress ;
That we may feed this mind of ours In a wise passiveness.
Francis construed his own defence into a hundred aphorisms. These two are signed with his initials :-
" Where I find nothing done by me, much may have been done in me," and
" For the things to-day done in you, will be done by you to-morrow many things."
Lying abed, he was acutely aware of his duty to get up. It was a conscious and laborious laziness, akin to Dr. Johnson's, whose great bulk was shaken with almost daily repentance for its sloth. The dictionary makes our shelves creak in protest at the notion held by Johnson himself and his contemporaries that he was a lazy man ; and the pile of Thompson's papers, his letters, and the following placard he pinned upon his bedroom wall speak of his large industries and his girding at the spectre sloth :-
At the Last Trump thou wilt rise Betimes !
Up ; for when thou wouldst not, thou wilt shortly sleep long.
The worm is even now weaving thy body its night-shift.
Love slept not a-saving thee. Love calls thee,
Rise, and seek Him early. Ask, and receive.
I leave unprinted other more piteous solicitations for what, virtually, though he did not guess it, was the energy and health he could not possess. Upon another sheet more worldly persuasions were set to urge his waking eye. Of a printer's request for copy on an earlier day than that usually covenanted he writes :-