I start- Thy secrets lie so bare !
< • • • • With beautiful importunacy All things plead,' We are fair !' To me 285
The world's a morning haunt, A bride whose zone no man hath slipt But I, with baptism still bedript
Of the prime water's font.
On the other hand, let it be noted that all he left at his death was a tin box of refuse-pipes that would not draw, unopened letters, a spirit lamp without a wick, pens that would not write, a small abundance that remained merely because he had neglected to throw it away. The Prayer of Poverty had been half answered unto him :-
" Of thee, O Jesus, I ask to be signed with this privilege; I long to be enriched with this treasure; I beseech Thee, O most poor Jesus, that for Thy sake, it may be the mark of me and mine to all Eternity, to possess no thing our own under the sun ; but to live in penury so long as this vile body lasts."
That he was no snatcher of review-books is already noted. To the Serendipity Shop-the venture of a friend in Westbourne Grove-he would often go, but never with any curiosity as to the varied prints, books, and autographs with which it was stocked. Some one thing would catch his eye, and be discussed, but nobody I have known had less of the mere passion for acquisition. He collected nothing, and presents were acceptable to him but as the outward signs of kindliness: the meaning having once reached him, he had little use for the means. At no time did he possess a book-case, nor sufficient books to crowd the slenderest shelf. A man less encumbered could hardly be discovered in this work-a-day world. His inclination was to love the impersonal riches-the free flames, uncaged air, water without the pitcher, and the wandering winds. His authors were no less his own because he had not put them on his shelf and clapped his autograph upon the fly-leaf.
Physical self-denial, disregard of personal luxuries, are but the manifestations of a spiritual state, of the state recommended by Christ: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." For the Saint this state has its pressing calls. He puts his virtue to the proof; he embraces the leper, he lectures the birds, he is a man of action ; his remotest and most spiritual experiences take on actuality; the Passion puts its mark upon his hands, and feet, and side. The poet, also pierced, has no credentials. A man of inaction, he also renounces personal prides, ambitions, pleasures. The leper would pass Thompson unnoticed, and he was too shy, too little a man of the world, to preach to the practical sparrows of the Edgware Road. Though nearly a Franciscan, and learned in the difficult arithmetic of subtraction, he was necessarily not apt in the good works that marked the Master.1
The seclusion which, despite the bond between reader and writer, oppresses the poet, makes him impotent for actual good works. In a world where many things are ripe for the doing, he remains unaware of the duties of citizenship. On his behalf, as for the enclosed monk or nun, it may be urged that retreat from all worldly operations, even beneficent, is retreat from an entanglement of purposes and cross-purposes, of paradoxical and slipshod good; from a field where humility is vanity and strength goes to seed in abject poverty or abject riches. This alone were insufficient reason for withdrawal. There is a more positive motive. The poet's works are absolute good works. He is a missionary even if he never helps with gift or speech or touch another man's distress. The prayers of the Trappist neither clothe the naked, nor feed the hungry, but are not, even if judged by the laws of expediency, the less valuable. They preserve two joyful possessions-the art of prayer and the standards of austerity. They glorify God. So too does Poetry. Song, like Prayer, is for ever re-stating and re-establishing the permanent values. Francis Thompson's consciousness of Good and Evil is alone as profitable as the Bills of half a dozen Ministries. And his consciousness of Good and Evil had been less strong, had he known only the alloyed good and mitigated evil of active life, instead of knowing, in contemplation, their primaries.
1 There were exceptions to this habitual carelessness; in 1898 he asked his sister for prayers that a friend might join the Church. She gave them and begged his, for her own purposes, in fair return.
Something, as rigorous as the vows of a monk, bound him to his manner of life. He misused all the conveniences of existence; sought no shelter from cold, kept no easy hours, mismanaged his food, his work, his rest. He was without the Silurist's daily ecstasies and special Sunday " shoots of bliss: Heaven once a week." Thompson's Sundays were as dreary as Kilburn and a missed Mass could make them, as dreary as a sweated worker's. He knew, but neglected, as by a set purpose, the domestic economy of felicity observed by his fellows -Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw, and Traherne-
That Light, that Sight, that Thought Which in my Soul at first he wrought....
Consists in this;
My Duty too
In this I view.
It is a fountain or a spring
Refreshing me in everything.
As to health, if he was careless of it in himself and others, he is excused by St. Bernard's description of God " as the final health."
" To our generation uncompromising fasts and severities of conduct are found to be piteously alien; not because, as rash censors say, we are too luxurious, but because we are too intricate, nervous, devitalised. We find our austerities ready-made. The east wind has replaced the discipline, dyspepsia the hair-shirt. . . . Merely to front existence is a surrender of self, a choice of in-eludibly rigorous abnegation."
Such is the main argument of Health and Holiness. But it is probable that he generalised too liberally from his own disabilities. Tortures were not invented and practised because a robuster past could make light of them. The rack was always agonising, or it had never been used. The sailor who bore his 300 lashes in 1812 probably felt them as keenly as a sailor would feel them now. East winds penetrated hair-shirts. Man was the same, save that in greater saintliness he was ready to endure, and in greater cruelty was willing to inflict, more pain.
Capitulation such as Thompson's to a sordid environment may mean too great a severance from other things :-
" The perceptions of the spirit," as he confessed, " are not indefinitely credible and sufficing without the occasional confirmation and assurance of the body."
The confirmation made to him was fined down to the minimum. True, one sunrise sufficed for five years of idolatry. He could strike a fair balance for his spiritual load with a few crumbs of actuality. It would seem that the greater the spiritual load the smaller the range of corporeal experience necessary for the nice adjustment of the scales. Yet the adjustment must be perfect. One of his many analogies for the interlocking of our complementary natures is as follows :-
" Holiness is an oil which increases a hundred fold the energies of the body, which is as the wick. Important that this wick shall not needlessly be marred during preparation through some toughening ascetic process 289 T which must inflict certain injury. The flame is dependent after all on the corporeal wick."
He argued, further, from Manning's longevity and energy, that the more copious and pure the oil, the more persistently and brightly does the wick burn. The energising potentialities of sanctity he illustrates in the great works accomplished by St. Francis despite the constant haemorrhage of the stigmata.