The book was written, but, as Francis's copy was never produced, by another author.
Thompson's landladies were his faithful, patient, and puzzled friends. He disliked their food, broke their rules, burnt their curtains, but seldom rebuked them. They, on their part, found in him none of the virtue of a good lodger. Notwithstanding, they showed a gentleness of regard and manner that did credit to their liberality. I have known them show an unwillingness to lose him quite out of proportion to his value as a lodger, and he showed himself more reluctant to move away from them than was always consistent with their excellence as landladies. Of one of these he was genuinely fond, and her feeling for him she sought to explain when she said, " I can sympathise with him, you know, having a son in the profession myself."
It was she who sought to mend his unsociable ways by subtle attacks upon his solitude, saying, " It's very nice for Mr. Thompson ; he's got the trains at the back every half hour and more, when he's in his bedroom. But then the trains, when all's said, aren't the same as the company he could get downstairs. Many a time I've asked him to have his bit of lunch in with me and the other 'mental'-O yes, she's a mental case, as I may have told you." On a few occasions she did entice him to her table, but more often he was content with the conversation of the District Railway engines at the bottom of the garden. His own comment on the trains was among the random manuscripts found in that same bedroom:-
The very demon of the scene, The screaming horror of the train, Rushes its iron and ruthless way amain, A pauseless black Necessity, Along its iron and predestined path.
One landlady's memories of him are supported by the carpet in his room, which is worn in a circle round his table. All night long he would walk round and round; in the morning he would go to bed. There was, she observed, a delicate precision in his manner that forbade all familiarity. His prayers, pronounced as if he were preaching, she often heard.
An interior glimpse comes from a fellow-lodger :-
" I will tell you things as I remember them at the Elgin Avenue establishment. There was a Bengali, who showed me how to play poker; there was a convert parson, a dramatic critic, and a man who acted. I seem to remember playing cards with them better than anything. It was generally then that Thompson would come in at the front door, and call down the kitchen-stairs for his porridge and beer. Coming into the room, he would talk of something he had seen or read; or of food, cricket, or clothes. He wished he had bought a suit in a shop-window, because he had given more for those he wore. I fancy he was not exactly rich; I suppose none of us were. He would eat; then walk up and down the room talking at any ear that might be listening or at none; then he would write under the gas-jet. He would leave as he came. I don't suppose he ever gave me a look, and I had no idea he was a great man. But I remember him; though for the rest, I only know they existed."
Mr. Wilfred Whitten tells of the rare-perhaps the only-occasion on which F. T. dined in a restaurant with a friend, after the common fashion :-
" Some seven years since we dined together at the Vienna Cafe. You remember how, in the one conversation which Boswell felt himself powerless to report, Johnson ' ran over the grand scale of human knowledge.' Thus it was that night. Thompson called up the masters of poetry, and their mighty lines. I shall never forget his repeating this, from ' Comus,' as one of the things in all English verse that he relished-
Not that nepenthe which the wife of Thone In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena.
These words fell on my ear like the music of all poetry, and I turned to see Thompson's eyes humid with a vast understanding. He dealt in these great names and antiquities. The arts, the rites, the mysteries, and the sciences of eld gave him their secrets and their secret words. But I think he loved the pomp of facts only that he might transmute it into the pomp of dreams, and where his dreams ended let his poetry tell."
Mr. Whitten's, like Patmore's, is the testimony of one who knew him familiarly enough to know his better sort of talk. The impressions of those who met him once or twice generally agree with Mr. William Hyde's :-
" I remember that he was so shy and nervous that I felt anxious not to say anything that would increase his diffidence. The tragedy of his aspect was obvious. Of the glorious moments he must have lived in when the soul was master very few external traces could be seen, save his eyes."
Which were his churches; where the roof to his piety ? When the cross-roads did not make his transept and the shops his aisle, he made shift with thin modern Gothic, with rigid varnished bench and Belgian Madonnas. His altars were decked with brass vases and huddled bunches of the disconcerting flowers of commerce. Being a late and irregular comer, he would often find the charwoman dryly banging her broom among the chairs. In the Harrow Road, between a printing-shop and a tobacconist's, was the church nearest the lodging of several years. To St. Mary of the Angels, Bayswater, he also went upon occasion. There was a friend, a second Mezzofanti for languages, with the language of poetry, in addition, very familiarly known; and there, too, were other friends. At Lymington he would quite naturally become a more timely churchgoer. At the foot of the steep High Street, past shuttered town-hall and boarded shops, and along a resounding passage, was the little church attended by Coventry Patmore. Here, in a Roman camp as formidable as Caesar's, but uncatalogued save in the Catholic Directories, these two followed the Mass. The Church at such moments had no need of architects. Her son, St. Francis of Assisi, had cathedrals and towers at hand, but put them to no use; Francis Thompson had none at hand and was no poorer. He seemed the last person on earth to have noted if the candlesticks came not from Cellini, but Birmingham; if the altar-rails were soap-stone travesties of antiquity. And yet he had, at any rate in verse, his preferences. In " Gilded Gold," he refers to