To most incongruous modes of making a living he now put his hand. His assistantship in a shop near Leicester Square would have fitted him for the production of a record of Adventures among Boots; and later, as a " collector " for a bookseller he must often have bent beneath the sack, which, if heavy, so he might comfort himself, was at least heavy with books. Of these things he spoke with a matter-of-fact, all-accepting, simplicity when, a little later, some verses he sent to a magazine brought him believers, who sought until they found him. After a course of medical treatment, he went to Storrington. That beautiful Sussex village has now its fixed placemen the map of English literature. For there it was that Francis Thompson discovered his possibilities as a poet. On its common he met the village girl, whom he calls " Daisy," in the verses that are so named. And it was characteristic of this poet that from the ordinary episodes of ordinary days he made his " golden musics." When he saw the sunset at Storrington, the resulting Ode was dotted with local landmarks - the cross, for instance, casting its shadow in the monastery garden. The children of the family in London, into which he was received, were the subjects of
Poppy, The Maying of Viola, To Monica Thought
Dying, To my Godchild-all in the first book of Poems; while two of their number have a noble heritage in Sister Songs. Constant to the end, when he died some newly pencilled lines were found, addressed "To Olivia," a yet younger sister, recalling the 8 trains of fifteen years before:
I fear to love you, Sweet, because Love's the ambassador of loss.
To their mother likewise were addressed the poems of Fair Love, labelled Love in Dian's Lap, of which Coventry Patmore said that "Laura might have been proud"; hers also were many of the New Poems.
If, therefore, as one critic after another declared, a poet had dropped from the skies-those skies of light-of the Seventeenth Century, he dropped very much upon the spot. " Mr Thompson must simply be Crashaw born again, but born greater," declared the first of his reviewers; and Mr Traill, in The Nineteenth Century, inquired: "Where, unless perhaps here and there in a sonnet of Rossetti's, has this sort of sublimated enthu-
siasm for the bodily and spiritual beauty of womanhood found such expression between the age of the Stuarts and our own?" Mr Traill added boldly his belief-daring then, though acceptable enough now-that " alike in wealth and dignity of imagination, in depth and subtlety of thought and in magic and mastery of language," England possessed in this little volume the evidence of " a new poet of the first rank." More expectedly, Coventry Patmore, in The Fortnightly Review, hailed in the new-comer a disciple of their common master, the Florentine poet of Fair Love, and expressed the opinion that" Mr Thompson's qualities ought to place him in the permanent ranks of fame." The Hound of Heaven, was to Patmore " one of the very few great odes of which the language can boast."
Such pronouncements proved at least that a poet, who had no friend save such as his published poems gained for him, could count on an immediate recognition for high merits. For these tributes, and many more of like welcoming, placed him instantly out of range of the common casualties of criticism. And he had what poets of old to their great sorrow lacked; he had trial by his peers; a kind fate gave him fellow poets among his reviewers.
Perhaps a more convincing sign even than that of professional praise was conveyed by the chance allusion he lighted on later in Lady Burne-Jones's biography of her husband:" The winter's labour," she says, "was cheered by the appearance of a small Volume of poems by an author whose name (Francis Thompson) was till then unknown to us. The little book moved him to admiration and hope." And, speaking of The Hound of Heaven,
Burne-Jones himself said: "Since Gabriel's 'Blessed Damozel' no mystical words have so touched me. Shall I ever forget how I undressed and dressed again, and had to undress again-a thing I most hate-because I could think of nothing else ?"
Sister Songs, published in 1895-the poem of which Mr William Archer has said that" Shelley would have adored it"-is a poem to read aloud; for sound and sense herein celebrate their divine nuptials. One of the high memories of the present writer is that of hearing it so read by Mr George Wyndham at the hearthstone of Byron's granddaughter. The lines therein that deal with sex, dormant in the child-girl, yielded the poet perhaps his most amazing imagery." Superabundance," murmured some-surely a " fault" as happy as was ever son of Adam's. The charge of obscurity brought against the poem was more apt; for who that did not know of his days-and his nights-in the London streets, could follow such a poignant piece of autobiography as this!
Forlorn, and faint, and stark, I had endured through watches of the dark The abashless inquisition of each star; Yea, was the outcast mark
Of all those heavenly passers' scrutiny; Stood bound and helplessly strength, I waited the inevitable last.
Then there came past A child; like thee, a spring-flower; but a flower Fallen from the budded coronal of Spring, And through the city-streets blown withering. She passed,--O brave, sad, lovingest, tender thing! And of her own scant pittance did she give,
That I might eat and live: Then fled, a swift and trackless fugitive.
And how shall that final episode be turned more explicitly? There are still a few things left that cannot be uttered, or, if uttered, that become the counterpart, even for the willing ear, of that "tenuity of the bat's cry" reported to elude the common hearing. It is even as Balzac, great talker himself, says, that everything (especially theology I think) is made cheaper by being discussed. Yet this hinted-at story surpasses in romance that of De Quincey's Anne, and might, indeed, for a moment, reverse Rossetti's just indictment of the life of "Jenny "-" It makes a goblin of the sun," For this " flower fallen from the budded coronal of Spring" took root and flourished, even in London mire, and again the fragrant petals unfolded and the greenery grew.
In New Poems Francis Thompson put forth in The Mistress of Vision his stark gospel of renunciation. It is the last word of an asceticism which he practised as well as preached-most strait in its abnegation of everything but the beauty his verse, unlike his life, never could renounce. Coventry Patmore, Thompson's true " Captain of Song," used to say that the young poet's prose was even finer than his poetry, and his talk better than both. This was a statement with the true Patmorean touch of paradox. Any way, the talk had no reporter, and of his prose -his "heroic prose," as it has been called-only one example passed, during his life, into book form-the complaint made by Brother Ass, the Body, against its rider, the Soul. This was published under the title of Health and Holiness,
For Time to shoot his barbed minutes at me; 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 companioned by a Note from Father Tyrrell. But his experiences in prose, as a reviewer, were wide as his sympathies, and these were sanely universal. His articles in The Academy, under Mr Lewis Hind's editorship, must block up many a scrapbook. Later, his contributions to The Athenaeum afforded him his greatest scope and stimulant; and only with his death came the eclipse of his powers. Editors forbore to be angry at his delays, for, after a while of waiting, they got from him, at last, what none else could give at all.
About ten weeks before the darkness fell on him, the little flame of his life began visibly to flicker. A change to the country was advised; and he became the carefully tended guest of Mr Wilfrid Blunt-not many miles from the Storrington of his early love, to which, however, not wild arabs could any longer draw him. He was too weak for any travel, save that which brought him back to London-better, he himself said, but surely dying, as it seemed to solicitous eyes.
Ten days before his death he went as a private patient to the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, in St John's Wood, and there, at the age of forty-eight, on November 13, 1907, he passed away at dawn-the dawn that was the death-hour in his Dream Tryst. He was laid to rest in St Mary's Cemetery, Kensal Green. In his coffin were roses from the garden of Mr George Meredith, inscribed with Mr Meredith's testimony, "A true poet, one of a small band "; and violets from kindred turf went to the dead poet's breast from the hand of her whose praises he had divinely sung. Devoted friends lament him, no less for himself than for his singing. But let none be named the benefactor of him who gave to all more than any could give to him. He made all men his debtors, leaving to those who loved him the memory of a unique personality, and to English poetry an imperishable name.
Reprinted, with revisions,
from The Athenaeum
of November 23,1907.