Eliot Found In The Harvard Union English Literature Essay

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T.S. Eliot is a famous poet, literary writer, editor, and critic who was born in 1888 in St. Louis Missouri. He was best known for his poems more so than any of his other positions. He was widely renowned during his life, but it seems that soon after his death his reputation greatly declined.

Thomas Stearns Eliot, or more commonly known as just T.S. Eliot, was born in St. Louis Missouri on September 26, 1888, to Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte Champ Stearns. His father, Henry Ware Eliot, was the president of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, and his mother, Charlotte Champ Stearns, was a former teacher, a social work volunteer at the Humanity Club of St. Louis, and an amateur poet who was drawn to Emerson. Thomas was the youngest of seven children and was born after his parents were financially able, after his father had recovered from his earlier business failure. His siblings were also half way there to being adults by the time he was born. Thomas was diagnosed with a congenital double hernia, which required him to wear a hernia truss, which is a support garment that is used to prevent a hernia from enlarging. Because of his hernia he was in constant supervision of his mother and five older sisters.

It could easily be said that Eliot going to Harvard was already set in motion before he was born. His paternal grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, was a student of William Ellery Channing who was the dean of American Unitarianism. William Eliot graduated from Harvard Divinity School, and then founded the first Unitarian church in Boston. Because of his grandfather's connections to Harvard, and his parent's guarding their connection to Boston's Unitarian society, it seems that Eliot had no other choice but to go to Harvard. One of the ways his parents kept their connection to the Unitarian society was by visiting the north shore every summer. When he was young Eliot went looking for crabs and even became a sailor while he and his family were in Massachusetts. Later on in his life he said that he gave up a sense of belonging to either region, and that he always felt like a New Englander in the Southwest, and a South westerner in New England.

Regardless of his feeling of not belonging from both of the areas he called home, Eliot impressed many of his classmates with how easy it was for him to socially when he began to study at Harvard in the fall of 1906. Just like his brother Henry, who had also gone to Harvard, Eliot lived in a high class private dorm in a wealthy neighborhood during his freshman year. He joined a lot of clubs, which includes the literary Signet. Among all of his teachers, Eliot was attracted to the forcefulness of Irving Babbitt and the stylish skepticism of George Santayana. Both of these people helped reinforce his dislike for the "reform-minded, progressive university" created by Eliot's cousin. However, his attitude did not prevent him from taking advantage of the elective system that his cousin had introduced. As a freshman, his chosen courses were so various that he soon wound up on academic probation.

In December 1908 a book Eliot found in the Harvard Union library changed his life: Arthur Symons's "The Symbolist Movement in Literature" introduced him to the poetry of Jules Laforgue, and Laforgue's combination of ironic elegance and psychological nuance gave his juvenile literary efforts a voice. By 1909-1910 his poetic vocation had been confirmed: he joined the board and was briefly secretary of Harvard's literary magazine, the Advocate, and he could recommend to his classmate William Tinckom-Fernandez the last word in French sophistication--the Vers Libre of Paul Fort and Francis Jammes. On the "Advocate", Eliot started a lifelong friendship with Conrad Aiken.

In May 1910 a suspected case of scarlet fever almost prevented Eliot's graduation. By fall, though, he was well enough to undertake a postgraduate year in Paris. He lived at 151 bis rue St. Jacques, close to the Sorbonne, and struck up a warm friendship with a fellow lodger, Jean Verdenal, a medical student who later died in the battle of the Dardenelles and to whom Eliot dedicated "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." With Verdenal, he entered the intellectual life of France then swirling, Eliot later recalled, around the figures of Émile Durkheim, Paul Janet, Rémy de Gourmont, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Bergson. Eliot attended Bergson's lectures at the College de France and was temporarily converted to Bergson's philosophical interest in the progressive evolution of consciousness. In a manner characteristic of a lifetime of conflicting attitudes, though, Eliot also gravitated toward the politically conservative, neoclassical, and Catholic writing of Charles Maurras. Warring opposites, these enthusiasms worked together to foster a professional interest in philosophy and propelled Eliot back to a doctoral program at Harvard the next year.

In 1910 and 1911 Eliot copied into a leather notebook the poems that would establish his reputation: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," "Portrait of a Lady," "La Figlia Che Piange," "Preludes," and "Rhapsody on a Windy Night." Combining some of the robustness of Robert Browning's monologues with the incantatory elegance of symbolist verse, and compacting Laforgue's poetry of alienation with the moral earnestness of what Eliot once called "Boston doubt," these poems explore the subtleties of the unconscious with a caustic wit. Their effect was both unique and compelling, and their assurance staggered his contemporaries who were privileged to read them in manuscript. Aiken, for example, marveled at "how sharp and complete and sui generis the whole thing was, from the outset. The wholeness is there, from the very beginning."

In the fall of 1911, though, Eliot was as preoccupied with ideas as with literature. A student in what has been called the golden age of Harvard philosophy, he worked amid a group that included Santayana, William James, the visiting Bertrand Russell, and Josiah Royce. Under Royce's direction, Eliot wrote a dissertation on Bergson's neo-idealist critic F. H. Bradley and produced a searching philosophical critique of the psychology of consciousness. He also deepened his reading in anthropology and religion, and took almost as many courses in Sanskrit and Hindu thought as he did in philosophy. By 1914, when he left on a traveling fellowship to Europe, he had persuaded a number of Harvard's philosophers to regard him as a potential colleague.

Eliot spent the early summer of 1914 at a seminar in Marburg, Germany, with plans to study in the fall at Merton College, Oxford, with Harold Joachim, Bradley's colleague and successor. The impending war quickened his departure. In August he was in London with Aiken and by September Aiken had shown Eliot's manuscript poems to Pound, who, not easily impressed, was won over. Pound called on Eliot in late September and wrote to Harriet Monroe at Poetry magazine that Eliot had "actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own." The two initiated a collaboration that would change Anglo-American poetry, but not before Eliot put down deep English roots.

In early spring 1915 Eliot's old Milton Academy and Harvard friend Scofield Thayer, later editor of the Dial and then also at Oxford, introduced Eliot to Vivien Haigh-Wood, a dancer and a friend of Thayer's sister. Eliot was drawn instantly to Vivien's bluntness, and charmed by her family's Hampstead polish. Abandoning his habitual hesitation with women, in June 1915 he married Vivien on impulse at the Hampstead Registry Office. His parents were shocked, and then, when they learned of Vivien's history of emotional and physical problems, profoundly disturbed. The marriage nearly caused a family break, but it also indelibly marked the beginning of Eliot's English life. Vivien refused to cross the Atlantic in wartime, and Eliot took his place in literary London. They were, unfortunately, unable to have children.

Eliot and his wife at first turned to Bertrand Russell, who shared with them both his London flat and his considerable social resources. Russell and Vivien, however, became briefly involved, and the arrangement soured. Meanwhile Eliot tried desperately to support himself by teaching school, supplemented by a heavy load of reviewing and extension lecturing. To placate his worried parents, he labored on with his Ph.D. thesis, "Experience and the Objects of Knowledge in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley." As yet one more stimulating but taxing activity, he became assistant editor of the avant-garde magazine the "Egoist". Then in spring 1917 he found steady employment; his knowledge of languages qualified him for a job in the foreign section of Lloyds Bank, where he evaluated a broad range of continental documents.

The job gave him the security he needed to turn back to poetry, and in 1917 he received an enormous boost from the publication of his first book, "Prufrock" and "Other Observations," printed by the Egoist with the silent financial support of Ezra and Dorothy Pound.