In creating a life fellowship for Robert Frost, by the terms of which he has merely to remain in residence at Ann Arbor and write poetry, the University of Michigan has done an excellent piece of work. The esoteric quality of poetry precludes any great financial returns, and since the institution of private patrons is dead, the poet who is rich in imagination but poor in purse finds himself sore beset by creditors.
But there is danger in the subsidy of a muse. The artist who is too heavily wined and dined comes to regard his profession as an avocation, and soon spends his time in resting up for another dinner. Christopher Morley recognized this when he said: "I am and always have been too well fed. Great literature, proceeds from an empty stomach." Michigan must be careful not to be too lavish, or it will destroy that which it wishes to foster.
The academic society at Ann Arbor must also exercise a due restraint. To produce a real, live poet at a tea is an end aimed at by every hostess, but it has a bad effect on the poet. He is rushed like a florist's fern from one glittering gathering to another, until the peace and retirement necessary to the practise of a great art becomes a myth.
If the University of Michigan succeeds in giving moderately where the inclination is to be generous, and if Ann Arbor society can refrain from draping Mr. Frost in a corner of the salon three or four times a week, something really beneficial will have been accomplished for American literature. At least it will be a strong incentive to a greater appreciation of men of letters.