T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

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Author: M. C. Bradbrook
Editor: Ian Scott-Kilvert
Date: 1979
From: British Writers(Vol. 7. )
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Critical essay; Biography
Length: 21,081 words

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T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

M. C. Bradbrook

WHEN T. S. Eliot celebrated his sixtieth birthday on 26 September 1948, tributes that he received from the country of his birth and the country of his adoption, from Europe, and indeed from all over the world made it plain that he was very generally acknowledged as the greatest living poet of the English language. Nevertheless, his poetry at first provoked strong disagreement, and the reviews of his later work, especially his dramas, show that his continued development and intellectual growth could still give rise to new misunderstanding.

Eliot’s literary career illustrates in a striking manner the controlling force of the poetic impulse. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, where his father held an important position in the business world. But he was descended on both sides from New England families of the early settlements: his ancestor Andrew Eliot went to Massachusetts from the Somerset village of East Coker in 1670, and his mother was a descendant of Isaac Stearns, who went out in 1630 as one of the original settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Among his forebears, T. S. Eliot numbered many distinguished scholars, clergymen, and men of letters; in his early poems there are a number of sketches, not always entirely dutiful, of Boston relatives and of that Puritan society, earnestly intellectual and highly exclusive, which still in some measure survives, although it no longer centers on the city of Boston. In Four Quartets (1943), Eliot has described both East Coker, the village from which his family emigrated more than three hundred years ago, and, in “The Dry Salvages,” the Massachusetts coast that he knew in his childhood.

Eliot’s family tradition connected him with Harvard, where he received his education. At Harvard there is now a collection of material relating to Eliot’s early life, together with much of his juvenilia. He spent four undergraduate years at this university, being especially interested in the study of philosophy. In 1910 he went to the Sorbonne, to read literature and philosophy, subsequently returning to Harvard for further study. Afterward he studied in Germany and at Oxford. During World War I he stayed in England, working first as a schoolmaster, then as a banker, and finally as an editor and publisher. It was during this period that his poetic work began to appear in various magazines, and between 1917 and 1920 in small volumes. But it was in 1922, with the publication of The Waste Land, that Eliot assumed that commanding position in English poetry which he ever after retained. In 1927 he became a British subject and announced in the preface to a book of essays that he was now a classicist in literature, a royalist in politics, and an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a statement that caused some disturbance in literary circles, where none of these tenets was very prominently advocated.

During the next decade he published some important poetry, wrote and lectured on a wide variety of subjects connected with literature...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1385300017