The Selected Letters of Robert Frost, edited by Lawrance Thompson, was published in 1964 and remains the principal scholarly edition of Robert Frost's correspondence. However, Frost's letters to Frank S. Flint were being held in escrow at the time of Thompson's edition; therefore, none of these letters appeared in the book. In 1973, Elaine Barry used four of the letters Frost wrote to Flint in her collection, Robert Frost on Writing. Most recently several of the letters have appeared in John Walsh's excellent book Into My Own, but even Walsh used only selected letters from the Frost-Flint collection. (1)
Flint, the first literary figure Frost met in England, not only offered friendly moral support to an American in a foreign land, but also offered valuable practical assistance. He introduced Frost to important writers and critics such as Ezra Pound and T. E. Hulme, assessed unpublished manuscripts of Frosts poetry, acted as a sounding board for Frost's new poetic theory, and published reviews of Frost's works. Frost, in turn, reviewed Flint's manuscripts, offered to place Flint's works with an American publisher, strengthened the younger poet's self-esteem by encouraging him to stand up to Ezra Pound, and arranged that Flint meet the critic and poet, Edward Thomas. Without a doubt, the friendships Frost experienced among writers in England provided a nurturing experience that encouraged his creative output, and his friendship with Frank Flint was especially beneficial. At the time the letters were written from The Bungalow, Frost was writing poetry in his new, revolutionary blank-verse style using the language and speech patterns taken from New England farmers to create dramatic dialogues; this style would later establish him on the London literary scene as the new poet of New England.
Robert Frost and Frank S. Flint first met in January 1913, at the opening of Harold Monro's Poetry Bookshop on Devonshire Street in London. Following the meeting, Frost wrote his first letter to Flint on 21 January 1913. Both Barry and Walsh quote this letter in their books. Flint replied in a letter on 30 January and referred to a promise he had made to Frost the night they met: he would arrange a meeting between Frost and the very influential American critic in London, Ezra Pound. (2)
Flint's willingness to introduce Frost to important contacts in London like Ezra Pound and T. E. Hulme was essential to Frost's publishing success. Books of poetry were usually reviewed by critics who had some personal contact with the author. During March and April, Frost met several of England's best-known writers, thanks to Flint. (3) Because of Flint's introductions, many of the critics who reviewed Frost's first book, A Boy's Will , after it appeared in March were people Frost had met earlier and with whom he had become friends. Frost was especially pleased later in March when Ezra Pound arranged for him to meet W. B. Yeats.
When Ezra Pound's review of A Boy's Will appeared in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in May of 1913, Frost reacted with mixed emotions. He knew that Pound's review would be crucial in influencing other critics in England, and he was pleased to have the book reviewed, but he disagreed with Pound's assessment of his poetry as simple and untutored. (4) Also in May, Pound had led Frost to believe that he would send a manuscript copy of 'The Death of the Hired Man' to Poetry for publication; instead, and unknown to Frost, he sent the poem to Smart Set, a publication where Pound wanted to maintain connections for personal reasons. (5) This act of deceit added to Frost's growing distrust of Ezra Pound. The following unpublished post card was possibly written in May 1913.
The Bung Beak Bucks Dear Flint It occurs to me that I may have caused you anxiety. Be sure that I wouldn't drag you into any quarrel of mine. Nor would I betray a confidence. It occurs to me also that you may have thought my feelings about your poem rather mixed and my way of manifesting them of doubtful propriety. Let me say again I liked the poem. R.F. I have copied you two of mine but I can't enclose them in a post card. Things are always occurring to me. (6)
Even though Frost and Flint had very different writing styles, they were interested in reading each other's poetry and were able to offer constructive criticism to each other. Flint helped to promote Frost's reputation in England when he wrote a favorable review of A Boy's Will for Poetry and Drama in June.
Frost wrote a short note to Flint on 17 June 1913, suggesting that he come to Beaconsfield and bring some of his poetry to read. Frost even provided train schedules in an effort to be helpful and friendly.
The Bungalow Beaconsfield Bucks June 17 1913 Dear Flint:- Let it be Sunday the twenty-second if you can. Bring something of your own to read. And you will be able to tell me what all this talk of a post-Georgian anthology means. There is a train from Paddington at 9.18; one from Marylebone at 10.30. Come on either or both. I shall be at the station for both only in case I don't find you on the first. Sincerely yours, Robert Frost (7)
Only two days later, Frost again displayed his eagerness for Flint's visit. No date appears on Frost's original letter, but Walsh sets the date as 19 June 1913. Frost referred with apprehension to some of his own manuscripts that Flint had given to T. E. Hulme to read. Flint had introduced Frost and Hulme in April. (8) Frost was very anxious to know Hulme's reaction to his poetry, but at the same time he did not want Hulme to know of his eagerness. Frost's self-doubt at this time is somewhat ironic. John Walsh points out: 'It was in this unsettled mood, as he brooded in a ferment of doubt and discomfort, that he wrote "Birches."' (9) 'Birches,' of course, is widely recognized today as one of the masterpieces of American literature.
Frost and Flint corresponded throughout the summer of 1913. The two men continued to criticize each other's manuscripts and to encourage each other. On 1 July, Frost had his now-famous meeting with T. E. Hulme that Frank Flint arranged where he discussed his poetical theory of sound and sense. These two were the only English writers with whom Frost shared his new ideas on poetry or from whom he sought a reaction to his theory. Also at the meeting, Frost had left some poems in manuscript for Flint to read later. Flint responded to the manuscript in a letter written on 3 July. The manuscript Frost had left contained dramatic dialogues written in his new style. Flint referred to them as 'little dramas' and was highly complementary of them. His main criticism was that Frost must be careful that selections for an entire book should be free of monotony. (10) Frost wrote his reply on 6 July to Flint's critique, commenting that he valued Flint's opinion and wished that he had said more. Some of the poems Frost had left with Flint were ones that made up the core of the yet-to-be-published, epoch-making book, North of Boston. Also in his letter, Frost launched a new attack on Pound complaining again about his review of A Boy's Will . He chastized Flint for being in awe of Pound and for labeling Frost's irritation with Pound as 'weakness' in the face of Pound's 'perfidy.' But once again Frost looks to Flint June for reassurance when he asked: 'Did I reach you with the poems, did I get them over, as the saying is?' (11) At this time, Frost was writing at a high level of creativity and inspiration, yet he still needed reassurance from his friend.
A turning point in Frost's life occurred in the fall of 1913 when he met the critic Edward Thomas on 6 October. He liked Thomas immediately. Years later Frost spoke of Thomas as 'the only brother I ever had.' (12) Frost was eager for his two new friends, Flint and Thomas, to meet. He wrote letters to Flint on 10 October, 12 October, 10 December, and circa 20 December trying to arrange a meeting. Three of these letters have never been published.
In the 10 October letter, Frost described Edward Thomas as a man who had little love for Ezra Pound. As a member of the Imagist group of poetry, Flint was dependent upon Pound's good favor and support. Pound was the shepherd and primary promoter of the group. Flint would not want to be placed in a position that would make him appear to be disloyal to Pound, and Frost did not want a meeting with Thomas to compromise Flint's position.
The Bungalow Beaconsfield Bucks England October 10 1913 Dear Flint: Would you think it too disloyal to the man 'through whom alone you have a market for your poetry' (I quote) to meet with me some afternoon or evening a person who loves Pound as little as the critic Edward Thomas? Figure that out at your leisure and give me an answer in the spirit in which it is meant. Thomas was remembering your book the other day and I saw from the way he spoke he would like to know you. Yours R.F. (13)
In a post card reply a few days later, Flint adamantly denied that he had ever said that Ezra Pound was the 'only market' for his poetry. (14)
In his letter of 12 October, Frost referred to a comment Flint had made in an effort to get him out of the doldrums by punning the name 'Frost'. The letter reflected Frost's state of depression. He had just finished a time of extreme productivity, assembling and writing the poems that would be sent to the firm of David Nutt for the publication of North of Boston. Perhaps part of Frost's depression stemmed from the fact that Mrs. Nutt had a restrictive option clause on future publications, which had been set in his contract for A Boy's Will . Frost was now realizing his own ambitions, and he had come into focus on the limitations that had been set on him.
The Bungalow Beaconsfield Bucks Oct 12 Dear Flint: How have you time during work or energy after work to be torturing jokes out of my sacred name? I should think I would have been safe from you. Yes, since you ask me, I have melted (with ruth [sic] for all mankind). But I have not evaporated. In this climate at this time of year, nothing evaporates, not even the water in the clothes on the line -- you ask your wife. And yet there is an American sense in which I have evaporated: I have dried up. Which is to say I have shut up. Which is to say I am not saying. I have said all I am going to say for a while. I make haste to add that that won't preclude my writing now and then to a friend -- when I have anything better than your post card laconics to write in answer to. You will have to say something to start me off. Come on. I'll tell you what I will remark gratis, however, and that is, what a pretty romance in the Poetry Shop, and I trust you have not been behindhand with felicitations. You don't feel as poor Monro does, I trust, that the whole thing is a conspiracy to rob him of a contributory poet and confidential secretary at one and the same fell stroke. I mean to see you soon. Doubtless you were at Monro's party in Frith St. last night. I should have seen you there, if I had been able to get in. I must arrange with Thomas for the meeting I spoke of. I'll let you know. Blessins. R. (15)
Frost wrote on 10 December 1913 that he thought he could 'pull off' a meeting between Flint and Thomas on the Monday before Christmas. In the same letter Frost admitted that he and Flint have not responded much lately to each other's manuscripts. At first Frost blamed himself, stating that perhaps he had 'messed up' his criticism in giving his opinion, but then he quickly shifted blame, stating that perhaps Flint preferred the opinions of Pound and Monro. Nevertheless, he thanked Flint for getting some of his poems published in Monro's journal, Poetry and Drama.
Frost sent another letter to Flint reminding him of the meeting with Thomas, and in the letter he also expressed his shock that Flint had been asked by his employer to undergo an on-the-job test to hold his civil service position. This unpublished letter must have been written around 20 December 1913.
Saturday night Dear Flint I am sorry; and I promise not to laugh at anything whatsoever while it is going on. All the world hates a bureaucrat qua bureaucrat. But you mustn't blame Mair, the man. I wish you could meet him. I wonder if he would be large enough to distrust the system you are a victim of. Give me any day a nation of adventurers (like me) who have got in by hook or crook in preference to one of examinees. There'll soon be no one left alive but those who can't be outfaced by a point-blank question. The ultimate unnatural selection: selection by quiz. How many feet across is equal to three feet sideways? I-dunnow-oh- Radamanthus. How thus shalt thou be entrusted with spade and pickaxe to dig in the street if you will not answer the simplest question that has nothing to do with the job? Outer darkness for yours. But you must tell me that you will meet Thomas on Monday week either at four or some hour you like better. I know he wants to see you and I think he blames me a little that I haven't brought you together before. Just a word, so that I may let him know. I will accept a card under the circumstances. You dont mean that you have actually to pass an examination to hold the job you have? There's some advancement you are looking for. Affectionately R. F. (16)
Another letter from the Frost-Flint collection that bears no date and has not been published possibly dates from later in December 1913. In the letter Frost tried to build up Flint's self-esteem. Ironically, Frost was 'up' and Flint was 'down.' Frost offered to send Flint's book, In the Net of the Stars, to the American publisher Thomas B. Mosher. Mosher was the publisher of a journal The Bibelot and of a series of books titled The Lyric Garland. This letter was probably the last one from Frost to Flint written from The Bungalow.
The Bung Beak Bucks Dear Flint You make me want to shake you and perhaps I shall shake you before you are much older. You will have to be gotten out of your present mood somehow. But perhaps it is not as bad as I am disposed to believe, and even while I talk this way and you talk that other way you are cunningly planning and executing your magnum. Lets hope so. Anyway I can do one thing. It isn't much because I lack as yet the literary authority to put it through. I want to try it just the same unless you refuse me your consent. I am going to send my new-found friend Mosher a copy of your Net of the Stars with the request that he will like this dreaming. 'You, sir, are on the look out for poetry for your Bibelot and your Lyric Garland, etc.' I shall say very little: the less said the better. Forbid me not. I wish I felt sure that I could get away with it. You may prefer that I should say nothing -- just let the book speak for itself. Tell me. Yours R.F. (17)
Frost did write to Mosher in January 1914 and enclosed a copy of Flint's book.(18) In March 1914 the Frost family moved from The Bungalow in Beaconsfield to another part of England. Frost continued to expand his friendships with other writers such as Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, and Edward Thomas. Frost's break with Ezra Pound had strained his relationship with Flint and fewer letters were written between the men during Frost's remaining time in England. Nevertheless, he always recognized the debt he owed to his first friend in England. When he set sail for home on 13 February 1915, Frost was thinking of Flint and wrote a goodbye letter from aboard the USMS Saint Paul thanking him for his help and friendship. (19) Unfortunately, the letter was written too late to be sent ashore and remained unopened among Frost's personal documents for many years. Frost and Flint renewed their correspondence in 1916; the friendship continued for the remainder of their lives.