Finding-Aid for the T.S. Eliot Collection (MSS153)


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Biographical Note

Thomas Stearns Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965) was a publisher, playwright, literary and social. Although he was born an American, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 and was naturalized as a British subject in 1927. The poem that made his name, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock—started in 1910 and published in Chicago in 1915—is seen as a masterpiece of the Modernist movement, and was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including Gerontion (1920), The Waste Land (1922), The Hollow Men (1925), Ash Wednesday (1930), and Four Quartets (1945). He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

For a poet of his stature, Eliot produced a relatively small amount of poetry and he was aware of this early in his career. Typically, Eliot first published his poems individually in periodicals or in small books or pamphlets, and then collected them in books. His first collection was Prufrock and Other Observations (1917). In 1920, he published more poems in Ara Vos Prec (London) and Poems: 1920 (New York). These had the same poems (in a different order) except that "Ode" in the British edition was replaced with "Hysteria" in the American edition. In 1925, he collected The Waste Land and the poems in Prufrock and Poems into one volume and added The Hollow Men to form Poems: 1909–1925. From then on, he updated this work as Collected Poems. Exceptions are Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), a collection of light verse; Poems Written in Early Youth, posthumously published in 1967 and consisting mainly of poems published between 1907 and 1910 in The Harvard Advocate, and Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917, material Eliot never intended to have published, which appeared posthumously in 1997.

Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri. From 1898 to 1905, Eliot attended Smith Academy, where his studies included Latin, Ancient Greek, French, and German. He began to write poetry when he was fourteen under the influence of Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a translation of the poetry of Omar Khayyam. His first poem published, "A Fable For Feasters," was written as a school exercise and was published in the Smith Academy Record in February 1905. Also published there in April 1905 was his oldest surviving poem in manuscript, an untitled lyric, later revised and reprinted as "Song" in The Harvard Advocate, Harvard University's student magazine.

After graduation, Eliot attended Milton Academy in Massachusetts for a preparatory year, where he met Scofield Thayer, who would later publish The Waste Land. He studied philosophy at Harvard from 1906 to 1909, earning his bachelor's degree after three years. After working as a philosophy assistant at Harvard from 1909 to 1910, Eliot moved to Paris, where from 1910 to 1911, he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. From 1911 to 1914, he was back at Harvard studying Indian philosophy and Sanskrit. Eliot was awarded a scholarship to Merton College, Oxford in 1914. He first visited Marburg, Germany, where he planned to take a summer program, but when the World War I broke out, he went to Oxford instead. Eliot did not settle at Merton, and left after a year. In 1915, he taught English at Birkbeck, University of London. By 1916, he had completed a doctoral dissertation for Harvard on Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley, but he failed to return for the viva voce exam. After leaving Merton, Eliot worked as a schoolteacher, most notably at Highgate School, a private school in London, where he taught French and Latin. Later he taught at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. To earn extra money, he wrote book reviews and lectured at evening extension courses. In 1917, he took a position at Lloyds Bank in London, working on foreign accounts. In 1925, Eliot left Lloyds to join the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer, later Faber and Faber, where he remained for the rest of his career, eventually becoming a director.


Scope and Contents Note

Includes revised copy of T. S. Eliot's Collected Poems, 1909-1935, with corrections and annotations in the author's hand, undertaken in preparation for a new edition. Also included is a typescript of section titled Occasional Verses, which was added to the original edition. These poems include "Defense of the islands," "A Note on War Poetry," "For the Indian Soldiers[sic] Who Died in Africa," "To Walter De La Mare", and "A Dedication to My Wife". Also typescript of author's notes to accompany the poems, and an autograph list of Eliot poems, possibly in preparation for a reading.

 


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Users of the collections must read and abide by the Reading Room and Reproduction Policy. Users of the collections who wish to use items from this collection, in whole or in part, in any form of publication (as defined in the form) must sign and submit to the Washington University Department of Special Collections a hard copy of the Notification of Intent to Quote from or Publish Manuscript Materials. All publication not covered by fair use restricted to those who have permission of the copyright holder.