" I gather from her last poem that Miss Tynan is no longer with you, or I should have hardly sent you the longer verses (the ' Sere of the Leaf'), for I feel that I have taken a perhaps unwarrantable liberty in apostrophising her, even in her poetical and therefore public capacity. I can only plead that verse, like 'l'Amour' in Carmen's song- est enfant de Boheme, Qui n'a jamais, jamais connu de loi!
The thing would not write itself otherwise. She happened to set the current of my thought, and I could not quit the current."
Of this liberty Miss Tynan, one of the earliest of Francis's admiring and admired, wrote to her poet:-
" I must thank you very much for associating my name with your luxuriantly beautiful poem in the current number (January 1891) of Merry England, and for giving my words place on the golden and scarlet web and woof of poetry. No one could fail to be proud and grateful for such a distinction. I have been deeply interested in your poetry since the first day I saw your name to ' Dream Tryst.' I am sure I was one of the first to write and ask,' Who is Francis Thompson ? ' "
And again in 1892 :-
"... You are too good to say you are indebted to me. If I thought you were, I should begin to feel proud of myself. I'd like to think better of my own work than I do of some of my friends' work-Mr. Yeats is one, and you are another-but I can't. My faculty of admiration is too true and strong. ... I hope you will write to me again, and I look forward to meeting and knowing you when I come to London. Your buying the' Poppies' in the circumstances was indeed a tribute. I am very glad to know you are now lifted to a safer position, out of danger of such poverty. I am very glad for you to be the Meynells' friend." . . .
F. T. to W. M :-
"Dear Mr. Meynell,-How good and kind and patient you are with me ! far more than I am with myself, for I am often sick with the being that inhabits this villainous mud-hut of a body. ... I beguiled the four ill nights I have spoken of, while the mental cloud was somewhat lifted, by writing the verses [one set of these was the ' Sere of the Leaf'] I herewith send you. If there be no saving grace of poetry in them they are damned; for I am painfully conscious that they display me, in every respect, at my morally weakest. Indeed no one but yourself-or, to be more accurate, yourselves- would I have allowed to see them ; for often verse written as I write it is nothing less than a confessional far more intimate than the sacerdotal one. That touches only your sins, and leaves in merciful darkness your ignominious, if sinless, weaknesses. When the soul goes forth, like Andersen's Emperor, thinking herself clothed round with singing-robes, while in reality her naked weakness is given defenceless to the visiting wind, not every mother's son would you allow to gaze on you at such a time. And the shorter of the two pieces especially is such a self-revelation, I feel, as even you have hardly had from me before. Something in them may be explained to you, and perhaps a little excused, by the newspaper cutting I forward. For some inscrutable reason it has affected me as if I never expected it. I knew of it beforehand; I thought I was familiarised with the idea ; yet when the newspaper came as I sat at dinner, and I saw her name among so many familiar names, I pushed away the remainder of my dinner and -well, I will not say what I did. I have been miserable ever since. The fact is my nerves want taking up like an Atlantic cable, and recasing. I am sometimes like a dispossessed hermit-crab, looking about everywhere for a new shell, and quivering at every touch. Figuratively speaking, if I prick my finger I seem to feel it with my whole body." The shell he had cast, with lamentations, was the encrustation of disease, of opium, of street miseries.
In February 1890, having bidden good-bye at Storrington to Daisy " and Daisy's sister-blossom or blossom-sister, Violet (there are nine children in the family, the last four all flowers-Rose, Daisy, Lily, and Violet)," he returned to London. In town the poetry was continued. " Love in Dian's Lap" was written as he paced, in place of the Downs, the library floor at Palace Court; and in Kensington Gardens, where I have seen him at prayer as well as at poetry, he composed " Sister Songs." Both were pencilled into penny exercise-books. His reiterated " It's a penny exercise-book" is remembered by every member of the household set to search for the mislaid first drafts of " Love in Dian's Lap "-he himself too dismayed to look.
In this form " Sister Songs " (written at about the time of "The Hound of Heaven," in 1891, but not published till 1895) was covertly handed as a Christmas offering to his friends, or rather left with a note where it would be seen by them :-
" Dear Mr. Meynell,-I leave with this on the mantelpiece (in an exercise-book) the poem of which I spoke. If intensity of labour could make it good, good it would be. One way or the other, it will be an effectual test of a theme on which I have never yet written ; if from it I have failed to draw poetry, then I may as well take down my sign.-Always yours, Francis Thompson."
Later, having recovered the manuscript to add to it the " Inscription " he returned it with :-
"Before I talk of anything else, let me thank you ab imis medullis for the one happy Christmas I have had for many a year. Herewith I send you my laggard poem. I have been delayed partly through making some minor corrections, but chiefly through having to transcribe the ' Inscription ' at the close of it."
He had watched the piling up of family presents before making his own, and in the " Inscription " he tells :-
But one I marked who lingered still behind, As for such souls no seemly gift had he:
He was not of their strain, Nor worthy so bright beings to entertain, Nor fit compeer for such high company; Yet was he surely born to them in mind, Their youngest nursling of the spirit's kind.