Francis Joseph Thompson.
"P.S.-Doubtless, when I received no answer, I ought to have written again. My excuse must be that a flood-tide of misfortune rolled over me, leaving me no leisure to occupy myself with what I regarded as an attempt that had hopelessly failed. Hence my entire subsequent silence."
To this my father answered with an explanation and a repetition of his invitation to Francis to arrange for regular work, and despatched his answer by a special messenger to the address given, a chemist's shop in Drury Lane. The chemist's manner of accepting responsibility for the safe delivery of the letter was discouraging. He said that Thompson sometimes called for letters, but that he knew little of him. After a few days during which nothing was heard my father went himself in search. His obvious eagerness prompted a query from the man behind the counter : " Are you a relative ? he owes me three-and-ninepence." With that paid and a promise of ten-and-sixpence if he produced the poet, he agreed to do his best, and, many days after, my father, being in his workroom, was told that Mr. Thompson wished to see him. " Show him up," he said, and was left alone.
Then the door opened, and a strange hand was thrust in. The door closed, but Thompson had not entered. Again it opened, again it shut. At the third attempt a waif of a man came in. No such figure had been looked for ; more ragged and unkempt than the average beggar, with no shirt beneath his coat and bare feet in broken shoes, he found my father at a loss for words. "You must have had access to many books when you wrote that essay," was what he said. "That," said Thompson, his shyness at once replaced by an acerbity that afterwards became one of the most familiar of his never-to-be-resented mannerisms, " that is precisely where the essay fails. I had no books by me at the time save
Aeschylus and Blake." There was little to be done for him at that interview save the extraction of a promise to call again. He made none of the confidences characteristic of a man seeking sympathy and alms. He was secretive and with no eagerness for plans for his benefit, and refused the offer of a small weekly sum that would enable him to sleep in a bed and sit at a table. I know of no man, and can imagine none, to whom another can so easily unburden himself of uneasiness and formalities as to my father. To him the poor and the rich are, as the fishes and the flames to St. Francis, his brothers and his friends at sight, even if these are shy as fishes and sightless as flame. But the impression of the visit on my father was of a meeting that did not end in great usefulness-so much was indicated by a manner schooled in concealments. But Francis came again, and again, and then to my father's house in Kensington. Of the falsity of the impression given by his manner, his poetry in the address to his host's little girl is the proof:-
Yet is there more, whereat none guesseth, love !
Upon the ending of my deadly night (Whereof thou hast not the surmise, and slight Is all that any mortal knows thereof), Thou wert to me that earnest of day's light, When, like the back of a gold-mailed saurian
Heaving its slow length from Nilotic slime, The first long gleaming fissure runs Aurorian
Athwart the yet dun firmament of prime. Stretched on the margin of the cruel sea Whence they had rescued me, With faint and painful pulses was I lying; Not yet discerning well If I had 'scaped, or were an icicle,
Whose thawing is its dying. Like one who sweats before a despot's gate, Summoned by some presaging scroll of fate, And knows not whether kiss or dagger wait; And all so sickened is his countenance.
The courtiers buzz, " Lo, doomed !" and look at him askance :-
At fate's dread portal then
Even so stood I, I ken, Even so stood I, between a joy and fear, And said to mine own heart, " Now, if the end be here ! "
In the last four lines is probably an instance of his habitual appropriation of things seen for his poetic images. If the door of my father's room is here promoted to a part in Sister Songs, it takes its place with the clock of Covent Garden, the arrowy minute-hand of which Mr. Shane Leslie has remarked as suggesting Thompson's description of himself when he
Stood bound and helplessly For Time to shoot his barbed minutes at me.
In the continuation of the same passage is found another example :-
Suffered the trampling hoof of every hour
In night's slow-wheeled car; Until the tardy dawn dragged me at length From under those dread wheels ; and, bled of strength,
I waited the inevitable last.
Even before he was knocked down by a cab, as happened to him later, the heavy traffic of Covent Garden, harassing the straggler in the gutter, may well have been to him a type of danger and fears.
The idea of rescue came slowly and doubtfully to Francis, who was far less ready than my father to believe that he was fitted for the writing career. Their first talks were of books ; of his history he said nothing. He was willing to tell of the poets he had read in the Guildhall Library, until the police, being, as he said, against him, barred the entrance. He was willing, too, that anything he had written should be published, and bring temporary wealth ; but reluctant to admit that he might become a worker and quit the streets-so fixedly reluctant that some strong reason was conjectured. He would visit my father, then living in Kensington, but it was long before he would accept substantial hospitalities ; coming in the evening or afternoon, he would leave to return to his calling-literally a calling-of cabs. That he was also during this time either parting with or searching for his Ann is not unlikely. He took his reprieve as he had taken his doom; he went frightened and brave at once, at war with peace, at peace with war. With his hesitations, it was more than six months later that he wrote anew for Merry England, in the November issue of which appeared " Bunyan in the Light of Modern Criticism " ; his three previous appearances, in April, May, and June, with the " Passion of Mary," " Dream Tryst," and" Paganism Old and New," having exhausted the possible things among those first submitted. He was not an absentee because he could not write better than the oldest hand the articles exactly fitted for Merry England. The intention declared in an early number of my father's magazine was to give voice to a renascence of happiness; " We shall try to revive in our own hearts, and in the hearts of others, the enthusiasm of the Christian Faith." This enthusiasm was to inform essays on social problems and essays in literary and artistic criticism, and an optimistic editor had told his contributors to recover the humour, and good humour, of the Saints and Fathers. "Paganism Old and New," in which it was sought to expose the fallacy of searching for love of beauty and sweetness in the pagan mythology, and to reveal the essential modernity, and even Christianity, of Keats' and Shelley's pagan beauties, was a triumph of journalistic obedience and appropriateness.