T. S. Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays

T. S. Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays

T. S. Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays

T. S. Eliot: A Collection of Critical Essays

Excerpt

The facts are simple. Thomas Stearns Eliot, M.A., arrived in London, aged twenty-six, late in August 1914, the war with the Central Powers having disrupted his plans for graduate study in philosophy at Marburg. The following year he commenced publishing poems in avant-garde periodicals, and reviewing books in respectable ones. Before long he figured among the "drunken helots" of an enraged reviewer's assault on literary Bolshevism; the Spartans, it seems, used to promote orgies among their serfs, to serve as a horrible example to the well-bred, and this was the only kind of purpose the reviewer in question could imagine such poetry fulfilling. Eliot went on reviewing for The New Statesman, The Athenaeum, even The Times Literary Supplement, and working in Lloyd's Bank. In 1922 his poetic and critical careers publicly converged, when The Waste land appeared (without notes) in the first issue of The Criterion, a literary periodical established under his editorship. The Times reviewer, with surprising restraint, contented himself with noting that this poem was sometimes "very near the limits of coherency"; it was widely felt to be a scandalous affair. This feeling has never quite died; Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch continued to the end to wonder whether T. S. Eliot had ever composed three consecutive lines of poetry in his life ; another elder was especially offended by what he took to be the poet's desire to become a crab. Yet by 1932 Eliot was delivering the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at the University where he had failed to complete the work for his doctoral degree; and by 1948 he was the Nobel Prizewinner for Literature, and had been for a decade or more the undisputed literary dictator of London.

This translation from obloquy to eminence came about without any taking of barricades by storm. It was the unforeseen and somewhat irrelevant resultant of a process which derives from the nature of Eliot's writing: from the odd withdrawal of any affirmative per-

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