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Pontop Room, Ushaw
Ushaw College has a proud history of distinguished Alumni, among whom some of the world's most astounding writers are held. This exhibition, taking place in Ushaw's Pontop Room, is a tribute to the lives and works of some of our finest alumni who entered the world of poetry.
Francis Thompson was born in Preston, Lancashire, in 1859. Educated at Ushaw College, he left in 1877 to begin medical training at Owens College, Manchester, where he undertook his studies unconsciously, choosing instead to dedicate his time to writing. In 1883, he went to London where his luck changed and he found himself homeless and addicted to opium.
His poetry was brought to the attention of William Meynell, the editor of the Catholic literary journal, Merry England. Meynell and his wife, Alice, befriended Thompson, induced him to enter a hospital, nursed him through convalescence, and in 1893 arranged publication of a collection, Poems.
From 1892 to 1896 Thompson lived near a Franciscan priory in north Wales, during which period he wrote Sister Songs (1895) and New Poems (1897). He also wrote a number of prose works, mostly published posthumously, including the essay Shelley (1909). The Works of Francis Thompson, 3 vol. (1913), was published by Meynell. Thompson died of tuberculosis.
Thompson is chiefly associated with rhapsodic accounts of religious experience written in a diction much influenced by 17th-century Catholic verse, though he could also produce elegant, direct, and moving short poems, such as “At Lord’s,” a remarkable lyric about cricket. His most famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” describes the pursuit of the human soul by God.
Patrick Lafcadio Charles Hearn (1850-1904) was born on the Greek island of Lefkáda. He grew up in Dublin and was educated at Ushaw College in 1863-67, where his name appears in College records as Patrick Hearn. He took Lafcadio as his pen name when his career as a reporter developed. Writing 32 books in his lifetime, Hearn’s search for what he termed ‘weird beauty’ led him to travel across the United States, the West Indies, and eventually settle in Japan.
Hearn’s most famous works relate to his time in Japan. His description of the country’s culture and history was the first insight the West had of Japan after it re-opened to trade and travel in 1854; coming out of a long period of isolation. Hearn was fascinated by all things supernatural and his stories focus on the hidden worlds of natural-spirits, goblins and ghosts which made up Japanese myths and folklore. His books helped to fuel the Western obsession with orientalism at the end of the 19th century and have influenced everything from literature to cinema for over a century. In Japan, Lafcadio Hearn has three museums dedicated to his life and works.