- For others with this name, see Francis Thompson (disambiguation).
16 December 1859|
|Died||13 November 1907(aged 47)|
Francis Thompson (16 December 1859 – 13 November 1907) was an English poet and ascetic. After attending college, he moved to London to become a writer, but in menial work, became addicted to opium, and was a street vagrant for years. A married couple read his poetry and rescued him, publishing his first book Poems in 1893. Thompson lived as an unbalanced invalid in Wales and at Storrington, but wrote three books of poetry, with other works and essays, before dying of tuberculosis in 1907.
Life and work
Born in Preston, Lancashire, his father Charles was a doctor who had converted to Roman Catholicism, following his brother Edward Healy Thompson, a friend of Cardinal Manning. Thompson was educated at Ushaw College, near Durham, and then studied medicine at Owens College, now the University of Manchester. He took no real interest in his studies and never practised as a doctor, moving instead to London in 1885, to try to become a writer. Here he was reduced to selling matches and newspapers for a living.
During this time, he became addicted to opium, which he first had taken as medicine for ill health. Thompson started living on the streets of Charing Cross and sleeping by the River Thames, with the homeless and other addicts. He was turned down from Oxford University, not because he was unqualified, but because of his drug addiction. He would pick up newspapers and send letters to the editor. The editors would reply saying that there is a genius greater than Milton among us. Thompson left no return address, however, so the newspaper could not contact him.
Thompson lived a life of destitution until 1888, when he was 'discovered' after sending his poetry to the magazine Merrie England. He was sought out by the editors of 'Merrie England', Wilfrid and Alice Meynell and rescued from the verge of starvation and self-destruction. Recognizing the value of his work, the couple gave him a home and arranged for publication of his first book Poems in 1893. The book attracted the attention of sympathetic critics in the St James's Gazette and other newspapers, and Coventry Patmore wrote a eulogistic notice in the Fortnightly Review of January 1894.
Thompson subsequently lived as an invalid in Wales and at Storrington. A lifetime of extreme poverty, ill-health, and an addiction to opium took a heavy toll on Thompson, even though he found success in his last years. Thompson attempted suicide in his nadir of despair, but was saved from completing the action through a vision which he believed to be that of a youthful poet Thomas Chatterton, who had committed suicide almost a century earlier. Shortly afterwards, a prostitute - whose identity Thompson never revealed - befriended him, gave him lodgings and shared her income with him. Thompson was later to describe her in his poetry as his saviour. She soon disappeared, however, never to return. He would eventually die from tuberculosis at the age of 48.
Style and influence
His most famous poem The Hound of Heaven,  describes the pursuit of the human soul by God. This poem is the source of the phrase "with all deliberate speed," used by the Supreme Court in Brown II, the remedy phase of the famous decision on school desegregation. A phrase in his The Kingdom of God  is the source of the title of Han Suyin's novel and the movie Love is a Many-Splendored Thing. In addition, Thompson wrote the most famous cricket poem, the nostalgic At Lord's. He also wrote Sister Songs (1895), New Poems (1897), and a posthumously published essay, "Shelley" (1909). He wrote a treatise On Health and Holiness, dealing with the ascetic life, which was published in 1905.
G. K. Chesterton said shortly after his death that "with Francis Thompson we lost the greatest poetic energy since Browning." His grave is in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery in London. Among Thompson's devotees was the young J.R.R. Tolkien, who purchased a volume of Thompson's works in 1913-1914, and later said that it was an important influence on his own writing. The American novelist Madeleine L'Engle used a line from the poem "The Mistress of Vision" as the title of her last Vicki Austin novel, Troubling a Star.
- Thomson, John (1912). Francis Thompson, the Preston-Born Poet, with Notes on Some of His Works. Read Books. ISBN 978-1-4086-6531-2.
- The Hound of Heaven at ElCore.net
- Jim Chen, Poetic Justice, 29 Cardozo Law Review (2007)
- The Kingdom of God at Poets' Corner
- G. K. Chesterton, A Dead Poet.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Book of Lost Tales, Part One, p. 29n. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1984.
- Maura Del Serra, Nota a Francis Thompson, Canto d'amore arabo, in "Stilema", estate-autunno 1987, p. 86.
- Maura Del Serra, Nota introduttiva a Francis Thompson, Il Segugio del Cielo, in "Poesia", 35, 1990, pp. 23–24.
- Maura Del Serra, Il Segugio del Cielo e altre poesie di Francis Thompson, a c. di Maura Del Serra, Pistoia, Editrice C.R.T. ("Egeria. Letteratura, arte, pensiero d'Europa", 10), 2000, pp. 270.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Francis Thompson.
- Boston College Magazine.
- Breathnach, Caoimhghin S (February 2008). "Francis Thompson (1859-1907): a medical truant and his troubled heart". Journal of Medical Biography 16 (1): 57–62. doi:10.1258/jmb.2006.006075 (inactive 2008-06-26). PMID 18463068.
- BREATHNACH, C S (October 1959). "Francis Thompson-student, addict, poet". Journal of the Irish Medical Association 45: 98–103. PMID 13804081.
- Il Segugio del Cielo e altre poesie, cura e traduzione di Maura Del Serra, Pistoia, Editrice C.R.T., 2000, pp. 270.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Francis Thompson|
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Francis Thompson at Project Gutenberg
- A profile by Katharine Tynan in The Fortnightly Review [New Series].
- Feature: A misfit poet of heaven at ncronline.org A misfit poet from heaven