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Francis Thompson wrote ‘The Hound of Heaven’ about religious doubt

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

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This edited article about Francis Thompson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Owens College, picture, image, illustration

Owens College where Francis Thompson studied medicine

The brilliant poet, Francis Thompson, was born at Preston in Lancashire on December 13th 1859. He had two uncles who were writers and was brought up as a Roman Catholic.

When the family moved to Ashton-under-Lyme, Francis was sent to Ushaw College to study for the priesthood, but was soon found unsuitable because of his neurotic temperament.

He then studied medicine at Owens College for six years but, having failed his final examinations three times, he moved to London in 1885.

There he lived in extreme poverty, selling matches or newspapers, suffering ill-health and misery, and becoming addicted to the laudanum which he had taken for his sickness.

During this time he wrote some poems and sent them to a magazine Merry England, which was edited by another poet, Wilfred Meynell. After putting them aside for a time Meynell finally got in touch with Thompson in 1888, just in time, it seems, to rescue the poet from the depths of misery to which he had sunk. He went to stay at a monastery in Sussex to restore his health and while there wrote several poems, including his most famous work ‘The Hound Of Heaven.’ a magnificent, powerful poem in which he describes his flight from God.

For the rest of his life, Thompson made his home with Wilfred Meynell and his wife, Alice, who was also a poet.

His published poems include Poems (1893) Sister Songs (1895), written for the Meynell’s daughters, and New Poems (1897).

One of Thompson’s favourite hobbies was watching cricket, about which he wrote several odd pieces of verse. He also wrote an Essay on Shelley and other pieces of prose.

He died at the age of 47 on November 13th, 1907.

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