How Eliot Became Eliot

Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917

by T.S. Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks
Harcourt Brace, 428 pp., $30.00

The Waste Land, the 75th anniversary edition

by T.S. Eliot, with an afterword by Christopher Ricks
Harcourt Brace, 47 pp., $4.00 (paper)

In the summer of 1910, when he was twenty-two, T.S. Eliot bought a notebook at a bookstore in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he was vacationing with his parents, and transcribed into it the poems he had written since the previous fall. He continued to use the notebook as a depository for final, or near-to-final, drafts of his work until 1917, when his first volume of poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations, was published by the Egoist Press in London. Two years later, the Hogarth Press, run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, who had befriended Eliot after he moved to England in 1914, printed seven more of Eliot’s poems in a pamphlet entitled Poems. Then, in 1920, Eliot put the contents of those two books plus several new poems into a single volume which was published in England as Ara Vos Prec and in the United States as Poems. The American publisher was Alfred A. Knopf, who also brought out an edition of Eliot’s first volume of criticism, The Sacred Wood.

Eliot received help with these American editions from John Quinn, the New York lawyer who provided patronage to a number of artists and writers, including Pound and Joyce. Two years later, when Eliot needed an American venue for The Waste Land, Quinn was helpful again. He acted as Eliot’s agent in negotiations with The Dial, which printed the poem in its November 1922 issue and awarded it a cash prize, and with the publisher Horace Liveright, who brought out a book edition a month later. (In England, Eliot printed the poem in his own magazine, The Criterion; the Woolfs did the book.) American publication was especially important to Eliot because he wanted to impress his family with the wisdom of his decision to remain in England and become a literary man rather than return to America and become a professor; and the negotiations were fraught because there were contractual problems, and also because Eliot needed money badly, and had a tendency to feel squeezed by his publishers.

To express his appreciation, Eliot offered Quinn the manuscript of The Waste Land or, if he preferred, the notebook containing his earlier poems. Quinn accepted the gift of the first on condition that he be allowed to purchase the second, which, after Eliot agreed, he did, for $140. Though Eliot had stopped recording his poems in the notebook in 1917, when the Prufrock volume appeared, he stuck into it—possibly at the last minute in order to add value to the whole, since Quinn was having it appraised—pages containing drafts of many of the poems he had written between 1917 and 1920. This may have also been the moment when he scratched out the title he had originally given the notebook, “Inventions of the March Hare,” and replaced it with the slightly less facetious title “The Complete Poems of T.S. Eliot.” He also took the precaution of tearing out several pages of scatological verses.

Quinn received the material in 1923. A year later, he died. The…

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