In Darkest England

 

 

Go to:

 

A look at Francis Thompson's life and work

 

The influence of Francis Thompson on HW

 

Henry Williamson and the Francis Thompson Society

 

Henry Williamson and Catholicism

 

'A First Adventure with Francis Thompson' in The Mistress of Vision

 

 

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‘The Hound of Heaven’

 

‘In Darkest England’

 

Draft of Henry Williamson’s address

 

 

 

'In Darkest England'

 

 

Published in The Hound of Heaven (The Francis Thompson Society, 1967: 500 numbered copies; 3 guineas)

 

The book did not have a dust wrapper: the binding was of plain deep blue buckram.

 

HW's essay is reprinted in Threnos for T. E. Lawrence & Other Writings (ed. John Gregory, HWS, 1994; e-book 2014).

 

 

‘The Hound of Heaven’:

 

To recap, let us go back to the letter from Dr Gutala Krishnamurti to HW, dated 11 January 1966:

 

The exhibition and the publication of a book to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the publication of 'The Hound of Heaven' is progressing very satisfactorily . . .

 

The Commemoration Volume will consist of six specially written articles, a selection of the translations in their proper script besides the original, an Introduction and messages from the religious leaders like the Pope, the Primate of England, the Sankaracharya, the Dalai Lama and the Chief Rabbi . . . [and he hopes HW will write one of the essays].

 

Both the exhibition and the publication of the book were delayed: the exhibition finally opening on 21 January 1967 at 47 Palace Court, once the home of the Meynell family. The Hound of Heaven following in due course, but no exact publication date is known. As Krishnamurti notes in his Introduction, it was also published without the planned translations in seventy-five languages: 'This latter project proved too ambitious to realize.' It would also have made for an unwieldy book. It did however contain messages from three of Krishnamurti's hoped-for religious leaders:

 

 

ft letter pope

 

ft letter shankaracharya

 

ft letter dalai

 

 

In what is virtually an afterword, Krishnamurti reveals the spiritual comfort obtained from ‘The Hound of Heaven’ by 'two great men, one a soldier and the other a great prophet': the soldier was Field Marshal Wavell, Viceroy of India; the prophet was Mahatma Gandhi. As Krishnamurti states, in a very clever turn of phrase:

 

Thus Wavell came to India with Francis Thompson in his heart to face a man who had Francis Thompson in his mind.

 

Krishnamurti's 'Introduction' gives some useful background about the poem itself, stating that despite its adverse reception by critics it was still 'one of the best known and most loved poems in the English language'.

 

 

ft krishnamurti

 

 

The other essays in The Hound of Heaven, all interesting and informative, lie within the province of scholars and I do not intend to analyse them here. But before turning to HW's own essay, let us look briefly at the actual poem ‘The Hound of Heaven’.

 

The poem is basically about flight from and pursuit by the power of a 'jealous' God: that is, the one who flees cannot escape God's Will. The word 'hound' appears only in the title and not in the poem itself, but that image of a cosmic pursuing hound dominates one's understanding of its concept.

 

It is on one level a metaphor or allegory for FT's own situation: a cri de coeur. It is the poem of a man who had thought he had a vocation to serve God as a priest, only to have the door shut in his face. He had offered his life to God and been rejected. He was made to feel that the gift he had for poetry, that he had felt was a gift from God, was a sin. He felt himself alien, to his family, to society, and certainly to the Divine Community. He reacted by fleeing – literally of course, but also metaphorically.

 

At Storrington FT was once again living in a community of a Religious Order, for the first time since his schooldays at Usher. The garden was dominated by a huge crucifix (‘Ode to the Setting Sun’ was begun in its shadow and finished on Kithurst Hill), and he was surrounded by men in and of religious habit. Thus his mind had no escape from the fact of his rejection from the priesthood. Nevertheless, he also feels he has not been abandoned by God's grace. God would not let him go. His refuge was not in flight, but in surrender to the mystery of God's love – whose purpose is only dimly understood. The figure, a trumpeter, on the battlements as the poem comes to its climax, is taken from the mystic seventh Angel of the Apocalypse and is a messenger (as the angel Gabriel) but:

 

I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds.

 

(There may be an unusual association of ideas here: 'Gabriel's Hounds' are part of ancient folklore – noises heard in the sky at night which gave rise to various legends – but which were actually geese passing over and calling to each other.)

 

However, the greatness of the poem transcends any religious interpretation. Its power as a work of art lies in its imagery of the cosmos, its grasp of the infinite universe; a landscape that exists in the lofty vagueness of 'dim transtellar things'. The imagery, although extravagant, is controlled within the structure of the poem, and the poem is original, and unified within its own powerful entity: like a piece of great music, it speaks to all of the majesty of the greater world. Although the poem contains many classical and biblical references which point to hidden meanings, it can be enjoyed for its more obvious meaning and the beauty of its 'song'. It is also today as pertinent as when it was written – more so, as we learn more and more about the universe.

 

 

‘In Darkest England’:

 

This was the address given by HW at the opening of the 'Thompsoniana' exhibition, which opened at 47 Palace Court on 21 January 1967. He makes an interesting approach to his subject by opening with a reference to 'Francis Tancred' who had in January 1891 reviewed a book called In Darkest England in a magazine called Merry England.

 

'Francis Tancred' was, of course, a nom-de-plume of Francis Thompson. His review, headed 'Catholics in Darkest England', was of the book by William Booth, In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890). William Booth (1829‒1912) was the founder of the Salvation Army, and this book gives a powerful picture of the misery of the poor of London, with a programme to overcome this, proposed by the Salvation Army.

 

The review reveals its writer's own familiarity with the plight of the homeless multitude of the London streets. His tone is fierce and Blakeian. (FT was much influenced by Blake – as was HW.) But apart from reviewing the book, FT castigates the Roman Catholic Church for not addressing the problem:

 

Rousseau said it. So did Jesus Christ. It is the doctrine of the redcap. But is it likewise the doctrine of the red cassock . . .

 

(FT's choice of 'Tancred' as his nom-de-plume is interesting. Tancred: or, The New Crusade was the title of a novel by Disraeli (1847) in which Tancred (Lord Montacute) retraces the journey made by his ancestors to Jerusalem to find the roots of Christianity. This idea of 'journey' is the concept which pervades much of FT's writing – and that of HW.)

 

HW goes on to quote from the review and then asks the question:

 

Who was this man . . .?

 

and goes on to tell us that this man had lived the life of a homeless man on the streets of London, but had later written a poem to

 

a small girl, who lived in this very house where we are here today.

 

(Remember the exhibition, and this address, took place in the Meynell's old home.)

 

HW then quotes from what is Section 8 of Sister Songs: the series of poems – one long poem – written for the two Meynell daughters, Madeleine and Monica. This passage actually refers to the unnamed prostitute who had taken FT into her care, sharing the very little she had. (The truest act of charity that one could find, and one that surely must move all who read of the dire circumstances that they were both in.)

 

HW suggests FT used a nom-de-plume because he felt he had been rejected by his father as a failure. He is of course placing himself in that same position.

HW quotes further from FT's writings on the slums of London:

 

. . . Could they be gathered together and educated in the truest sense of the word . . .  Who grasps the child grasps the future.

 

This was of course one of HW's own main concerns, especially in the earlier days of his writing career.

 

HW then states (answering his own question: 'Who was this man?’) that 'a poet had arisen in our midst' – and by that he means a true poet: a seer. He quotes Conrad's thoughts that the true writer must see 'as a child', and equates that with the Cornish 'Perceval', the simple and innocent soul, and thus Wagner's 'Parsifal'. This reminds him that another 'idealistic German' named his airship Perceval; but also that airships dropped bombs on London 'during the Great War'. An interesting juxtaposition of thought. (Note that at the time he gave this address he was working on the final volume of the Chronicle, The Gale of the World, which is crowded with similar concepts.)

 

True poets tread a hard path. They are often misfits: the concept of 'outsider', of which FT was certainly one – and HW must have known he himself was another. He goes on to quote remarks made by various critics, disparaging those that were 'anti' with deadly verbal blows, for example:

 

—thus doing his lot to defend the realm of Pabulum.

 

In his file copy HW has crossed through 'lot' and written 'Job' in the margin: 'job' with a capital 'J' gives the word a Biblical ring. But Pabulum? The Concise Oxford states it means 'bland intellectual matter or entertainment'. In his draft copy HW actually wrote:

 

. . . defended the realm of Pabulum Poetry.

 

This expresses his meaning more clearly.

 

But, HW continues, some did appreciate the poet, and he mentions Arnold Bennett in particular, who had declared that:

 

'Francis Thompson has a richer natural genius, a finer poetical equipment, than any other poet save Shakespear.' (sic)

 

HW had himself received praise from Arnold Bennett, and the two men had corresponded and met occasionally.

 

HW notes here that he – the writer who is praising FT – is not a Catholic but as 'an old soldier of 1914-18' he believes the words of the Bible:

 

In my Father's house are many mansions.

 

HW had known in 1917 that FT was a great poet. And he recalls the first literary party he attended in 1921, having just had his first book accepted for publication, where he met Walter de la Mare and other famous writers (see Anne Williamson, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, p. 80). This took place immediately prior to his leaving London to live in North Devon. At this party, he states, he had asked Jack Squire (J. C. Squire, editor of the London Mercury, who later put forward Tarka the Otter for the Hawthornden prize of 1928) if he thought FT a greater poet than Hardy or Byron. Squire had wisely replied that 'one should not try to rank poets in order of greatness'.

 

HW now returns to his thoughts of reading FT in 1917, and relates more or less word for word the section in his earlier essay published in The Mistress of Vision the events of that night he was gassed and a mule driver (again un-named, but Driver Frith) killed within yards of him; and how that night, reading FT's poem ‘Peace’ he had altered the opening word to 'war' and a few other words to change the emphasis of its meaning.

 

HW moves into his closing paragraphs by going back to the slums of London theme of FT's review of Booth's In Darkest England. The long quotation from Sister Songs of his Mistress of Vision essay is left out here, but he refers briefly to the sisters whose parents gave FT succour in that very house they were currently in.

 

He then expands on the theme of 'dream and visions', in other words, 'The imagination':

 

The entire visible world is based on the invisible Imagination which, given to mankind, is the pure essence of self, of which a man is tenant-for-life . . .

 

 

ft hw intro

 

 

Those last words form the last two lines from FT's poem ‘The Kingdom of God “In no strange land”’ found among his papers after his death.

 

 

 

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There are no reviews of The Hound of Heaven in HW's archive.

 

 

 

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Draft copy of Henry Williamson's address from his archive:

 

Most of these pages are probably the second draft, fair copied from his first draft, of which there are two fragments here; they serve as excellent examples of the painstaking care that HW took over all his writing.

 

 

ft hw address1

 

ft hw address2

 

ft hw address3

 

ft hw address4

 

ft hw address5

 

ft hw address6

 

ft hw address6a

 

ft hw address7

 

 

 

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Go to:

 

A look at Francis Thompson's life and work

 

The influence of Francis Thompson on HW

 

Henry Williamson and the Francis Thompson Society

 

Henry Williamson and Catholicism

 

'A First Adventure with Francis Thompson' in The Mistress of Vision

 

 

 

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