FRANCIS THOMPSON (1860-1907), English poet, was born at Ashton, Lancashire, in 1860. His father, a doctor, became a convert to Roman Catholicism, following his brother Edward Healy Thompson, a friend of Manning. The boy was accordingly educated at Ushaw College, near Durham, and subsequently studied medicine at Owens College, Manchester; but he took no real interest in the profession of a doctor and was bent on literary production. A period of friendlessness and failure (from the point of view of "practical life") followed, in which he became a solitary creature who yet turned his visions of beauty into unrecognized verse. It was not till 1893 that, after some five obscure years, in which he was brought to the lowest depths of destitution and ill health, his poetic genius became known to the public. Through his sending a poem to the magazine Merrie England, he was sought out by Mr and Mrs Wilfrid Meynell and rescued from the verge of starvation and self-destruction, and these friends of his own communion, recognizing the value of his work, gave him a home and procured the publication of his first volume of Poems (1893). His debt to Mrs Meynell was repaid by some of his finest verse. The volume quickly attracted the attention of sympathetic critics, in the St James's Gazette and other quarters, and Coventry Patmore wrote a eulogistic notice in the Fortnightly Review (Jan. 1894). An ardent Roman Catholic, much of Francis Thompson's verse reminded the critics of Crashaw, but the beauty and splendid though often strange inventiveness of his diction were immediately recognized as giving him a place by himself among contemporary poets, recalling Keats and Shelley rather than any of his own day. Persistent ill health limited his literary output, but Sister Songs (1895) and New Poems (1897) confirmed the opinion formed of his remarkable gifts. But his health was hopelessly broken down by tuberculosis. Cared for by the friends already mentioned, he lived a frail existence, chiefly at the Capuchin monastery at Tanlasapt, and later at Storrington; and on the 13th of November 1907 he died in London. He had done a little prose journalism, and in 1905 published a treatise on Health and Holiness, dealing with the ascetic life; but it is with his three volumes of poems that his name will be connected. Among his work there is a certain amount which can justly be called eccentric or unusual, especially in his usage of poetically compounded neologisms; but nothing can be purer or more simply beautiful than "The Daisy," nothing more intimate and reverent than his poems about children, of more magnificent than "The Hound of Heaven." For glory of inspiration and natural magnificence of utterance he is unique among the poets of his time. (H. CH.)
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