Mr. Eliot's Double Life


These two massive volumes—the first published originally in 1988, the second now joining it with much fanfare—chronicle the period during which T.S. Eliot developed from the scion of a prosperous Midwestern family to the poet of The Waste Land and “Prufrock,” but also to a banker and one-man editorial staff of a fledgling new journal of “cosmopolitan tendencies and international standards,” The Criterion, which would attract writers across Europe.

Perhaps the most notable of these early letters includes the draft of a poem that did not see publication until long after the poet’s death, in Inventions of the March Hare (1997).  The poem, a slightly erotic reverie called “The Love Song of St. Sebastian,” was later included in a notebook given to John Quinn, a lawyer and early supporter of Eliot who makes frequent appearances in these letters.  Eliot sent the draft in July 1914 to his friend the poet Conrad Aiken, whom he had met when they were undergraduates at Harvard, and wrote that he was glad that “the war danger was over”—though that, of course, was not to be.   A letter written to his mother the following month recounts Eliot’s hastily leaving Marburg, where he...

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