Browning, too, knew, and far better, the "cheap jewellery and servants' underclothing" of the Edgware Road. Unlike Browning, F. T. had no eye for values. And among night-caps, he would never have known that they were cotton, and hardly that they were red. As soon as say whether jewellery or clothing was cheap, he could have argued with Browning on the vintages. A connoisseur in his books by right of imagination, his connoisseurship would not have passed muster in the shops; it was nailed to the counter. His waggon of wares ran smoothly enough in starry traces ; but hitched to cart-horses in Edgware Road he could not have driven it ten yards. Perhaps when Patmore, a collector of rubies and sapphires, drew specimen stones from his waistcoat, Thompson was thrilled with the real presence ; but not so much as by the love of immaterial jewels. Not even Meredith's burgundy could teach him-who had written of grapes against the sun without ever entering a vineyard-anything of wine-merchant's wine. Before Hedges and Butler were in partnership, before the chateaux were a-building, his own cellar had been laid down.
His inattention in the Edgware Road was out and out; one marvels that he ever turned the right corner, and not at all that he was knocked down by a cab. But instinctively his eyes would open in fair presences ; the things that made poetry struck through his closed lids, as daylight through a sleeper's. But inattention in the Edgware Road made the place blank as a railway tunnel. He could look upon the raiment of his sitter in " Love in Dian's Lap," and pay his compliments, but never a word had he for the bonnets of mistress or maid upon the highway. Riding in an omnibus he would not know whether Polaire or a Sister of Charity were at his side.
He was constantly alone; and, often as I have met him in the streets of London, I have seldom surprised him in a conscious moment. He would walk past, looking straight before him, and if he was always late for his appointments, and took longer, by several hours, to get home at night than the average man, it was because he would retrace his steps, and go to and fro upon a certain beat as if indefinitely postponing the evil moment when he would have to confine himself for food, or sleep.
The lamps of the town bring moths from the dark fields. They had no attraction for him. I never heard him talking of the beauty of London. There is no pleasure in his lines, which like others here quoted are put forward, not as poetry, but as biography-
The blear and blurred eyes of the lamps Against the damps
The London Book or in the commentary on a London dawn from another note-book:-
The dreary scream of stable cocks
Comes ghasdy through the dark, The salty blues of day
Slant on the dreary park ; The houses' massed fumes
Against the heartless light
Hold the black ooze of night.
He never went sight-seeing; the town was the dun background of his own visions, but certain actualities were etched vividly or heavily massed upon his mental canvas. Certain things he knew more completely than the practised desultory observer, and when, in 1897, he was asked by Messrs. Constable for a book on London, he could at once fetch out of the studio of his memory a great number of pictures that had been stored there, their faces to the wall. Although " my London book " and the work on it made for several months his password to late meals at our house, he never wrote it. His letters to Mr. William Hyde, whose drawings were to make half the book, were, as it proved, Francis's only contribution to the scheme :-
"47 Palace Court, W.
"Dear Mr. Hyde,-I regret to have delayed my answer to your letter so long. Firstly, I was occupied by unavoidable business; secondly, when I was free to consider your notes, it took me some time really to master them, and consider my plan in relation to them. In the first place, I do not design a consecutive narrative of any kind. I do not design to treat either topography or the life of London, for both of which I am utterly unqualified. My design is to give impressions of London, such as present themselves to a wanderer through its streets. I intend to divide the book into parts, which-by way of provisional title-I might describe as Fair London and Terrible London. For Fair London, the plates you have already done will supply sufficient material in the way of illustration. The other part will consist of studies of London under its darker aspects-weird, sordid, and gloomy-being drawn from its appearance rather than its life. Under this section would come some of the plates already done; and I have marked others among your notes, any of which would fall into my ideas. Since the darker aspect of London is particularly evident to a houseless wanderer, it is my idea to include in this section a description of the aspect of London from midnight to early dawn-for which my own experiences furnish me with material. I intend to take my wanderer through the Strand, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, perhaps part of Piccadilly, the Embankment, Blackfriars Bridge, etc, bringing him round to Fleet Street opposite St. Paul's at dawn; and to describe the night effects and the effects of gradual dawn in the streets. You can see for yourself that some of your suggested drawings would be embraced in this, perhaps some of those already done-for example, "Coffee Stall, early morning" ; the "houseless wanderer sleeping in the streets" and even the "Factory at Night," since I have in my mind such a factory across Westminster. Also, as regards the general section, I have in my mind a bridge near a railway station, with long shafts of electric lights, mingled with other lights, utilitarian, and a river; which suggests sufficiently your goods depot with electric light effects. In the same section I should dwell on such a neighbourhood as New Cut. Your suggestion as to this or Clare Market will therefore be certain to come a propos, whether by night or day ; though I think night exhibits such neighbourhoods most impressively and characteristically. And I intend to describe a night fire; and the effects of vistas of lamps in such a neighbourhood as Pall Mall. Locality, you will see, is unimportant. It is effect I wish to dwell on ; the character-of horror, sombreness, weirdness, or beauty-of various scenes. My own mind turns especially towards the gloomier majesties and suggestive-ness of London, because I have seen it most peculiarly under those aspects."