Of all recent poets of his kind, Flecker is the most successful. The classical tradition of poetry has been mocked and mutilated by many of the noisy young in the last few years. Flecker was a poet who preserved the ancient balance in days in which want of balance was looked on as a sign of genius. That he was what is called a minor poet cannot be denied, but he was the most beautiful of recent minor poets. His book, indeed, is a treasury of beauty rare in these days. Of that beauty, The Old Ships is, as I have said, the splendid example. And, as it is foolish to offer anything except a poet’s best as a specimen of his work, one has no alternative but to turn again to those gorgeously-coloured verses which begin:
I have seen old ships sail
like swans asleep
Beyond the village which men still call Tyre,
With leaden age o’ercargoed, dipping deep
For Famagusta and the hidden sun
That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
And all those ships were certainly so old—
Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
The pirate Genoese
Hell-raked them till they rolled
Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
But now through friendly seas they softly run,
Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.
That is the summary and the summit of Flecker’s genius. But the rest of his verse, too, is the work of a true and delightful poet, a faithful priest of literature, an honest craftsman with words.
Mr. Edward Garnett has recently collected his prefaces to the novels and stories of Turgenev, and refashioned them into a book in praise of the genius of the most charming of Russian authors. I am afraid the word “charming” has lost so much of its stamp and brightness with use as to have become almost meaningless. But we apply it to Turgenev in its fullest sense. We call him charming as Pater called Athens charming. He is one of those authors whose books we love because they reveal a personality sensitive, affectionate, pitiful. There are some persons who, when they come into a room, immediately make us feel happier. Turgenev seems to “come into the room” in his books with just such a welcome presence. That is why I wish Mr. Garnett had made his book a biographical, as well as a critical, study.
He quotes Turgenev as saying: “All my life is in my books.” Still, there are a great many facts recorded about him in the letters and reminiscences of those who knew him (and he was known in half the countries of Europe), out of which we can construct a portrait. One finds in the Life of Sir Charles Dilke, for instance, that Dilke considered Turgenev “in the front rank” as a conversationalist. This opinion interested one all the more because one had come to think of Turgenev as something of a shy giant. I remember, too, reading in some French book a description of Turgenev as a strange figure in the literary circles of Paris—a large figure with a curious chastity of mind who seemed bewildered by some of the barbarous jests of civilized men of genius.