Francis Thompson Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Francis Thompson, the son of a homeopathist, was brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and educated at Ushaw College in preparation for becoming a priest. At the age of seventeen, in accordance with his father’s desire, he began to study medicine at Owens College, Manchester. A frail and timid young man, he found medical study repugnant. After six years he gave up the attempt to become a physician and went to London, where he became addicted to opium and sank into the direst poverty. For a time he earned his living selling matches and newspapers. In the spring of 1888 he sent two poems to Wilfred Meynell, the editor of Merrie England, who accepted them for publication. With Meynell and his wife, Alice, as his patrons and supporters, the poet tried to break the opium habit.

Thompson’s first volume of poetry, simply titled Poems, contained “The Hound of Heaven,” a poem that despite its strict Catholic dogma became immediately popular. The poem recounts God’s pursuit of the speaker, who is ultimately saved from despair. In addition to Catholic mysticism, which informs particularly his early works, Thompson was tremendously influenced by the English Metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century. Thompson produced few works, and he probably never lived up to his potential. He was never able to break his addiction to opium. He died of tuberculosis on November 13, 1907, and was buried under his own epitaph: “Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven.”

Francis Thompson Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Halladay, Jean R. Eight Late Victorian Poets Shaping the Artistic Sensibility of an Age: Alice Meynell, John Davidson, Francis Thompson, Mary Coleridge, Katherine Tynan, Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993.

Parekh, Pushpa Naidu. Response to Failure: Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Francis Thompson, Lionel Johnson, and Dylan Thomas. New York: P. Lang, 1998.

Waldron, Robert G. The Hound of Heaven at My Heels: The Lost Diary of Francis Thompson. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999.