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- Letters from America - 4/18 -

mean far from the least responsive, exceptions; they were all fresh and free and acute and aware and in "the world," when not out of it; all together at the high speculative, the high talkative pitch of the initiational stage of these latest years, the informed and animated, the so consciously non-benighted, geniality of which was to make him the clearest and most projected poetic case, with the question of difficulty and doubt and frustration most solved, the question of the immediate and its implications most in order for him, that it was possible to conceive. He had found at once to his purpose a wondrous enough old England, an England breaking out into numberless assertions of a new awareness, into liberties of high and clean, even when most sceptical and discursive, young intercourse; a carnival of half anxious and half elated criticism, all framed and backgrounded in still richer accumulations, both moral and material, or, as who should say, pictorial, of the matter of course and the taken for granted. Nothing could have been in greater contrast, one cannot too much insist, to the situation of the traditional lonely lyrist who yearns for connections and relations yet to be made and whose difficulty, lyrical, emotional, personal, social or intellectual, has thereby so little in common with any embarrassment of choice. The author of the pages before us was perhaps the young lyrist, in all the annals of verse, who, having the largest luxury of choice, yet remained least "demoralised" by it--how little demoralised he was to round off his short history by showing.

It was into these conditions, thickening and thickening, in their comparative serenity, up to the eleventh hour, that the War came smashing down; but of the basis, the great garden ground, all green and russet and silver, all a tissue of distinguished and yet so easy occasions, so improvised extensions, which they had already placed at his service and that of his extraordinarily amiable and constantly enlarged "set" for the exercise of _their_ dealing with the rest of the happy earth in punctuating interludes, it is the office of our few but precious documents to enable us to judge. The interlude that here concerns us most is that of the year spent in his journey round a considerable part of the world in 1913-14, testifying with a charm that increases as he goes to that quest of unprejudiced culture, the true poetic, the vision of the life of man, which was to prove the liveliest of his impulses. It was not indeed under the flag of that research that he offered himself for the Army almost immediately after his return to England--and even if when a young man was so essentially a poet we need see no act in him as a prosaic alternative. The misfortune of this set of letters from New York and Boston, from Canada and Samoa, addressed, for the most part, to a friendly London evening journal is, alas, in the fact that they are of so moderate a quantity; for we make him out as steadily more vivid and delightful while his opportunity grows. He is touching at first, inevitably quite juvenile, in the measure of his good faith; we feel him not a little lost and lonely and stranded in the New York pandemonium--obliged to throw himself upon sky-scrapers and the overspread blackness pricked out in a flickering fury of imaged advertisement for want of some more interesting view of character and manners. We long to take him by the hand and show him finer lights--eyes of but meaner range, after all, being adequate to the gape at the vertical business blocks and the lurid sky-clamour for more dollars. We feel in a manner his sensibility wasted and would fain turn it on to the capture of deeper meanings. But we must leave him to himself and to youth's facility of wonder; he is amused, beguiled, struck on the whole with as many differences as we could expect, and sufficiently reminded, no doubt, of the number of words he is restricted to. It is moreover his sign, as it is that of the poetic turn of mind in general that we seem to catch him alike in anticipations or divinations, and in lapses and freshnesses, of experience that surprise us. He makes various reflections, some of them all perceptive and ingenious--as about the faces, the men's in particular, seen in the streets, the public conveyances and elsewhere; though falling a little short, in his friendly wondering way, of that bewildered apprehension of monotony of type, of modelling lost in the desert, which we might have expected of him, and of the question above all of what is destined to become of that more and more vanishing quantity the American nose other than Judaic.

What we note in particular is that he likes, to all appearance, many more things than he doesn't, and how superlatively he is struck with the promptitude and wholeness of the American welcome and of all its friendly service. What it is but too easy, with the pleasure of having known him, to read into all this is the operation of his own irresistible quality, and of the state of felicity he clearly created just by appearing as a party to the social relation. He moves and circulates to our vision as so naturally, so beautifully undesigning a weaver of that spell, that we feel comparatively little of the story told even by his diverted report of it; so much fuller a report would surely proceed, could we appeal to their memory, their sense of poetry, from those into whose ken he floated. It is impossible not to figure him, to the last felicity, as he comes and goes, presenting himself always with a singular effect both of suddenness and of the readiest rightness; we should always have liked to be there, wherever it was, for the justification of our own fond confidence and the pleasure of seeing it unfailingly spread and spread. The ironies and paradoxes of his verse, in all this record, fall away from him; he takes to direct observation and accepts with perfect good-humour any hazards of contact, some of the shocks of encounter proving more muffled for him than might, as I say, have been feared--witness the American Jew with whom he appears to have spent some hours in Canada; and of course the "word" of the whole thing is that he simply reaped at every turn the harmonising benefit that his presence conferred. This it is in especial that makes us regret so much the scanting, as we feel it, of his story; it deprives us in just that proportion of certain of the notes of his appearance and his "success." _There_ was the poetic fact involved--that, being so gratefully apprehended everywhere, his own response was inevitably prescribed and pitched as the perfect friendly and genial and liberal thing. Moreover, the value of his having so let himself loose in the immensity tells more at each step in favour of his style; the pages from Canada, where as an impressionist, he increasingly finds his feet, and even finds to the same increase a certain comfort of association, are better than those from the States, while those from the Pacific Islands rapidly brighten and enlarge their inspiration. This part of his adventure was clearly the great success and fell in with his fancy, amusing and quickening and rewarding him, more than anything in the whole revelation. He lightly performs the miracle, to my own sense, which R. L. Stevenson, which even Pierre Loti, taking however long a rope, had not performed; he charmingly conjures away--though in this prose more than in the verse of his second volume--the marked tendency of the whole exquisite region to insist on the secret of its charm, when incorrigibly moved to do so, only at the expense of its falling a little flat, or turning a little stale, on our hands. I have for myself at least marked the tendency, and somehow felt it point a graceless moral, the moral that as there are certain faces too well produced by nature to be producible again by the painter, the portraitist, so there are certain combinations of earthly ease, of the natural and social art of giving pleasure, which fail of character, or accent, even of the power to interest, under the strain of transposition or of emphasis. Rupert, with an instinct of his own, transposes and insists only in the right degree; or what it doubtless comes to is that we simply see him arrested by so vivid a picture of the youth of the world at its blandest as to make all his culture seem a waste and all his questions a vanity. That is apparently the very effect of the Pacific life as those who dip into it seek, or feel that they are expected to seek, to report it; but it reports itself somehow through these pages, smilingly cools itself off in them, with the lightest play of the fan ever placed at its service. Never, clearly, had he been on such good terms with the hour, never found the life of the senses so anticipate the life of the imagination, or the life of the imagination so content itself with the life of the senses; it is all an abundance of amphibious felicity--he was as incessant and insatiable a swimmer as if he had been a triton framed for a decoration; and one half makes out that some low-lurking instinct, some vague foreboding of what awaited him, on his own side the globe, in the air of so-called civilisation, prompted him to drain to the last drop the whole perfect negation of the acrid. He might have been waiting for the tide of the insipid to begin to flow again, as it seems ever doomed to do when the acrid, the saving acrid, has already ebbed; at any rate his holiday had by the end of the springtime of 1914 done for him all it could, without a grain of waste--his assimilations being neither loose nor literal, and he came back to England as promiscuously qualified, as variously quickened, as his best friends could wish for fine production and fine illustration in some order still awaiting sharp definition. Never certainly had the free poetic sense in him more rejoiced in an incorruptible sincerity.


He was caught up of course after the shortest interval by the strong rush of that general inspiration in which at first all differences, all individual relations to the world he lived in, seemed almost ruefully or bewilderedly to lose themselves. The pressing thing was of a sudden that youth was youth and genius community and sympathy. He plunged into that full measure of these things which simply made and spread itself as it gathered them in, made itself of responses and faiths and understandings that were all the while in themselves acts of curiosity, romantic and poetic throbs and wonderments, with reality, as it seemed to call itself, breaking in after a fashion that left the whole past pale, and that yet could flush at every turn with meanings and visions borrowing their expression from whatever had, among those squandered preliminaries, those too merely sportive intellectual and critical values, happened to make most for the higher truth. Of the successions of his matter of history at this time Mr Marsh's memoir is the infinitely touching record--touching after the fact, but to the accompaniment even at the time of certain now almost ineffable reflections; this especially, I mean, if one happened to be then not wholly without familiar vision of him. What could strike one more, for the immense occasion, than the measure that might be involved in it of desolating and heart-breaking waste, waste of quality, waste for that matter of quantity, waste of all the rich redundancies, all the light and all the golden store, which up to then had formed the very price and grace of life? Yet out of the depths themselves of this question rose the other, the tormenting, the sickening and at the same time the strangely sustaining, of why, since the offering couldn't at best be anything but great, it wouldn't be great just in proportion to its purity, or in other words its wholeness, everything in it that could make it most radiant and restless. Exquisite at such times the hushed watch of the mere hovering spectator unrelieved by any action of his own to take, which consists at once of so much wonder for why the finest of the fine should, to the sacrifice of the faculty we most know them by, have to become mere morsels in the huge promiscuity, and of the thrill of seeing that they add more than ever to our knowledge and our passion, which somehow thus becomes at the same time an unfathomable abyss.

Rupert, who had joined the Naval Brigade, took part in the rather distractedly improvised--as it at least at the moment appeared--movement for the relief of the doomed Antwerp, but was, later on, after the return of the force so engaged, for a few days in London, whither he had come up from camp in Dorsetshire, briefly invalided; thanks to which accident I had on a couple of occasions my last sight of him. It was all auspiciously, well-nigh extravagantly, congruous; nothing certainly could have been called more modern than all the elements and suggestions of his situation for the hour, the very spot in London that could best serve as a centre for vibrations the keenest and most various; a challenge to the appreciation of life, to that of the whole range of the possible English future, at its most uplifting. He had not yet so much

Letters from America - 4/18

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