THE story is a familiar one and has been told many times. The brilliant young man, born towards the end of the 1880s, his philosophical and literary gifts honed by the best education his country can provide, makes his first trip to Europe at the end of 1910. A pretext is attendance at Henri Bergson's celebrated lectures at the Collège de France, the consequence an immersion in Fauvist Paris that will prove pivotal in the development of his literary career. He does not serve with his contemporaries in the First World War, and his twenties are passed, in the time spared by work and marriage, in breaking into a literary world from which his background excludes him: mixing with literary smart society at Garsington, writing poetry, dabbling in verse drama, and gaining a growing reputation as a critic through contributions to small magazines and, eventually, the Athenaeum and Times Literary Supplement. His development is marred by crises of marital and nervous breakdown in his thirtyfourth year. Yet, out of this breakdown comes a new artistic and critical strength, witnessed, in particular, in the editorship of a magazine within which a distinctive critical practice arises and, slightly later, in an exploration of religious solutions to private and public senses of a contemporary crisis.
This is the story according to which T. S. Eliot arrived at the centre of English literary life, and in whose continuation he won all the accolades of popular and academic recognition that made him one of the last great public men of letters; the beginning of an ascent from obscure and tangled beginnings to the uplands of a singular critical renown. But in its outline and in all its particulars it is also the story of John Middleton Murry. Until his mid-thirties Murry, too, looked to have successfully climbed clear of his obscure beginnings and to promise a great future as a man of letters. Murry's creative writing would never come near the quality of Eliot's. In his critical writing,