T. S. Eliot: The Metaphysical Perspective

T. S. Eliot: The Metaphysical Perspective

T. S. Eliot: The Metaphysical Perspective

T. S. Eliot: The Metaphysical Perspective

Excerpt

In April 1916, T. S. Eliot mailed across the Atlantic from England a doctoral dissertation titled "Experience and the Objects of Knowledge in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley" that was promptly read by the Division of Philosophy at Harvard and accepted, as Professor James H. Wood wrote to Eliot in June, without hesitation. Josiah Royce spoke of it as the work of an expert. Several years ago when I read this document (it was then in the Eliot House; now it is in the Houghton Library), it seemed interesting to anyone interested in Eliot as a literary theorist and Eliot as a highly self-conscious philosophical poet. Just what the relation was between the writer of this technical treatise on epistemology and the poet who had seen "Prufrock" printed in Poetry a year before was not clear. Not clear as well was how anyone would ever tell another person what the substance of the treatise is. Only two persons seemed to have treated of it with appreciation: Conrad Aiken, who must have studied it while it was being written, for he spoke in his autobiography of its powerful influence on him; R. W. Church, an F. H. Bradley scholar, who wrote a brief resumé of the work for The Harvard Advocate in 1938.

Though most Eliot scholars seemed to know of the manuscript, few appeared to have studied it. Hugh Kenner and Kristian Smidt, whose investigations brought them closest to the relation of Bradley and Eliot, appeared not to have read the dissertation. Finding the work significant, I thought I would like to give an account of it, and . . .

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