" Dear Ev.,-I told your father I should come tomorrow, but I send you a line to tnak siccar-as the lover of artistic completion said who revised Bruce's murder of Red Comyn. It is interesting to see the tentative beginnings of the James school in Bruce, already at variance with the orthodox methods upheld by his critical collaborator. The critic in question considered that Bruce had left off too soon. But to Bruce's taste evidently there was a suggestion in the hinted tragedy of ' I doubt I have killed Red Comyn' more truly effective than the obvious ending substituted by his confrere. History, by the way, has curiously failed to grasp the inner significance of this affair.
" I am quite run down to-night." ....
forcing me to wonder what he thought of one for making such poor use, in his behalf, of the imputed characteristic ; " nor was I ever without sad overshadowings of the hurrying calamity. . . . ' The day cometh, also the night'; but I was born in the shadow of the winter solstice, when the nights are long. I belong by nativity to the season of 'heavy Saturn.' Was it also, I sometimes think, under Sagittarius ? I am not astronomer enough to know how far the precession of the equinoxes had advanced in '58 or '59. Were it so it would be curious, for Sagittarius, the archer, is the Word. He is also Cheiron, the Centaur, instructor of Achilles. The horse is intellect or understanding (Pegasus = winged intellect). He is the slayer of Taurus the Bull (natural truth and natural or terrestrial power and generation, the fire of unspiritualised sense), which sinks as he rises above the horizon. Ephraim, a type or symbol of the Word (as Judah of the Fathers and the Priesthood), was an archer, or symbolised as such. (See Jacob's dying and prophetic blessing of his sons, wherein each has a symbol proper to his character and that of his tribe, indicating his place as a type in the Old Church, and in the foreshadowing of the New.) But this is very idle chatter, and I don't know how I fell upon it when my mind is serious enough, indeed. Perhaps the mind wanders, tired with heavy brooding."
But it is always the gay word that could best bear the scrutiny of the poet himself if he were to pass the proofs of his own biography. In writing of a life that has a superficial look of disaster and pain, his biographer has a shamefaced feeling of dishonesty. Every other word is, in a sense, a misrepresentation, and worse. The memory of his smile shouts out to them, " You liars!"
There was always courtesy in his notes, mixed .with haste and complaints; and even he would weary of bulletin prose, so that his needs and ailments sometimes came recorded in doggerel:-
I am aweary, weary, weary,
I am aweary waiting here ! Why tarries Everard ? sore I fear he
Has forgotten my shirting-gear ! Ah, youth untender ! why dost thou delay With shirts to clothe me, an untimely tree Unraimented when all the woods are green ? But thou delay not more : unboughten vests Expect thy coming, shops with all their eyes Wait at wide gaze, and I thy shepherd wait, In Tennysonian numbers wooing haste . . .
Of great value is A. M.'s corrective record of his laugh:-
" He has been unwarily named with Blake as one of the unhappy poets. I will not say he was ever so happy as Blake ;-but few indeed, poets or others, have had a life so happy as Blake's, or a death so joyous; but I affirm of Francis Thompson that he had natural good spirits, and was more mirthful than many a man of cheerful, of social, or even of humorous reputation. What darkness and oppression of spirit the poet underwent was over and past some fifteen years before he died. It is pleasant to remember Francis Thompson's laugh, a laugh readier than a girl's, and it is impossible to remember him, with any real recall, and not to hear it in mind again. Nothing irritable or peevish within him was discovered when children had their laughter at him. It need hardly be told what the children laughed at;-say, a habit of stirring the contents of his cup with such violence that his after-dinner coffee was shed into the saucer or elsewhere-a habit which he often told us, at great length, was hereditary."
His laugh it is difficult to keep alive : the legend of his extinguished happiness is too strong. For laughter is commonly discredited; only Mr. Chesterton, for example, persists in making the Almighty capable of humour. While we are all ready to allow that thorns make a crown, we hold that bells do no more than cap us-the cap and bells of folly. Who ever spoke of a crown of bells ?
The refutation of the charge against his industry lies in his published work and in the pages of a hundred crowded note-books. The newspaper Odes alone are sufficient evidence of his power to compel even his muse to arduous and humble labours.
These Odes were pot-boiling journalism ; their inspiration by the clock and the column :-
"We have no doubt whatever that inspiration will not fail you for so great a subject-the Jubilee! We must have the copy by the afternoon of the 21st," wrote an encouraging editor (Mr. Massingham) on June 6, 1897. The request was made on the strength of Mr. Massingham's admiration for New Poems, and was not refused ; the ode was written within three weeks, and probably in the last three hours of them. From Mr. Garvin came another letter :-
"June 22, '97.
" Dear Francis Thompson,-I get the Manchester Guardian every day not merely by good hap, but because it is the best daily in England. Whose is the ode ? I thought on the leisure of the opening and then saw. Hot Jacobite as I am for England's one legitimate laureate by native grace and right divine, I could not repress the movement of natural pity for the respectable and conscientious wearer of statutory bays, who tries so hard to fly as if the Times page were Salisbury Downs and he a bustard. Every flap a stanza ; thirty flaps of the most desperate volatile intention; and no forrarder to the empyrean, where the Thompsonian ode sails with one supreme dominion through the azure deeps of air- vital, radiant, lovely. I told you I was your poor foster-brother of prose, in witness whereof is my thought of England's dead, and other little thoughts; in that the soul danced in me to the great pulse of your ode.-Always yours, Louis Garvin."