The criticism of T. S. Eliot is sometimes used to authorize a rigorous formalism. Such doctrines as the irrelevance of personality, of belief, of context, were extensions of positions outlined in The Sacred Wood ( 1920) and Selected Essays ( 1932). Eliot himself, however, was never a formalist. He winced at being celebrated by I. A. Richards as the artist who had purged poetry of its context in life ( SE, 230). He believed, moreover, that people should bring special knowledge to the reading of texts. In order to collaborate with the poet in the making of a poem, readers must be willing to close the book and dwell awhile with Ezekiel and Dante, among many others. Readers must be willing, according to Eliot, to prepare for reading a poem as a barrister prepares for presenting a court case.
Most readers of Eliot are particularly handicapped by an inadequate knowledge of modern philosophy. Eliot, an immensely learned poet, studied in prestigious universities where some of the most illustrious names in the history of philosophy were among his teachers. At Harvard University, his teachers included George Santayana, Josiah Royce, and Bertrand Russell; at the Sorbonne, Henri Bergson. At Merton College, Oxford, his tutor was Harold Joachim, the colleague and disciple of F. H. Bradley, generally considered (even by Russell) as the greatest living philosopher.1 Like many in his generation, Eliot was attracted to Bradley's thought and in 1916 completed a Ph.D. dissertation entitled "Experience and the Objects of Knowledge in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley." This document, "the work of an expert," according to Royce ( KE, 10), represents the culmination____________________