No other Bohemian writer received such recognition as Vrchlicky. Clubs were formed with his name; foreign critics as, for instance, Alfred Jensen, the Swede, came to Bohemia to write his biography; his works were translated into German, Polish, Russian, Servian, French and Hungarian, in short, like Ibsen, he lived to see his fame.
His value to Czechs and Czech literature is greater because of his cosmopolitanism; his ability to transfuse the spirit and the essence of foreign lore into his native tongue, than because of his inherent genius as a national poet. His themes are mostly foreign, his works a motley wreath of miscellanies. Hellenic, Hebraic, Hindoo, Slavic, English, German and French songs and ballads follow each other, a kaleidoscope of poetical gems. His works total sixty-six volumes. He wrote forty-two hundred poems, three of which, ‘Bar Kochba,’ ‘Hilarion,’ and ‘Twardowski’, have over ten thousand printed pages, and ran through one hundred and thirty editions. Says Alfred Jensen: ‘This unheard of activity in literature, the like of which can only be found in old Spanish school of poetry, shows first of all an undying and inexhaustible desire to work and to create. Vrchlicky could say of himself what he said of Michaelangelo: ‘The more I join and lose myself in life’s flood and tide, the greater my fervor: to love and to labor.’
Urging his muse, Vrchlicky says:
No, you shan’t grow silent, my rising song of storm
········ Does the lark ask the purpose of its thrill?
Does the gem forlorn have less beautiful a form?
The rose unseen breathe fragrance with less will?’
It is not in drama or in prose that the charm of Vrchlicky can be found. He is distinctly a poet. His favorite creations are traveling comedians, circus-riders, gypsies. A man of the world, a thorough cosmopolite, he, nevertheless, was a pagan at heart; a man who for the poetry of an overturned idol, forgotten urn would sell all the material progress of the scientific world. His poem, ‘Down with Wings,’ predicts a deluge of apathy and spiritual death, when all have discarded wings, when art, like Ararat, can be reached only by those, who, in the past, in spite of steam, electricity and accomplishments could chase after rhymes and look for images in the stars, clouds and sunsets.
To judge Vrchlicky’s work by the selection of his one-act drama, ‘At the Chasm,’ would be unfair.
The customary introduction of a translator is an apology for his existence; but were he to excuse himself for selecting a minor work of a great author he could justly be accused of literary impertinence.