London and Boston: John Lane at the Bodley Head/Copeland and Day, 1895. First edition. Small quarto (8 inches tall), original gilt-decorated bevelled brown cloth, uncut. Bookplate. Boards toned, splitting to front joint, original tissue-guard partially detached, gilt bright and corners sharp. A lovely copy. Item #755
"THEY SAY EARTH'S BEAUTY SEEMS COMPLETEST / TO THEM THAT ON THEIR DEATH-BEDS REST / GENTLE LADY! SHE SMILES SWEETEST / JUST ERE SHE CLASP US TO HER BREAST" First edition of Francis Thompson's poem—in the lovely original Arts-and-Crafts binding by Laurence Housman. "If Alice Meynell is the central figure of the Catholic Revival in the middle phase, Francis Thompson is its greatest figure. He belongs to the 1890s" (Calvert Alexander). For Thompson the years (1885-88) on the streets of London were a time of "spiritual training. During these years he learnt what sin was...later he was to learn what God was, thus encompassing the two poles of the spiritual life, according to the words of St. Augustine, Noverim Me, Noverim Te" (Calvert Alexander). The poem is printed in two parts with a concluding Inscription. Issued by the publisher in a gilt-decorated binding, with a tissue-guarded frontispiece and letterpress title page (printed in red), all by Laurence Housman. Thompson's brief Preface dates the composition of Sister Songs to the same year (1891) as the Hound of Heaven and acknowledges a debt ("an unconscious plagarism") to Coventry Patmore's St. Valentine's Day.
Sister Songs, originally "scribbled in a penny exercise book, was presented to Wilfrid and Alice Meynell as a Christmas gift." It was the Meynell family which had rescued Thompson from his "midnight time" of homelessness and addiction but Thompson, Calvert Alexander says, benefited from an earlier female protector who intervened on his behalf: "a woman of the streets befriended him when he was most in need of assistance. He speaks of her in Sister Songs: 'She passed, - O brave, sad, lovingest, tender thing! / And of her own scant pittance did she give, / That I might and eat and live: / Then fled, a swift and trackless fugitive.' Her flight, we learn, was occasioned by the news brought to her by Thompson, after his first interview with Wilfrid Meynell, that his poetry had been praised and salvation was in sight." Sister Songs is preceded by a publisher's note: "Uniform with this: Poems by Francis Thompson with frontispiece, title-page and cover design by Laurence Housman." A leaf advertising the fourth edition of "Poems" along with a publisher's catalogue ("List of Books of Belles Lettres") is bound in at the end of the text. Calvert Alexander. The Catholic Literary Revival.