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The Motives of T.S. Eliot

In response to:

The Beast in the Jungle from the November 10, 1988 issue

To the Editors:

Robert M. Adams’s “The Beast in the Jungle” [NYR, November 10] is criticism of such a high order that to suggest even one amplification seems an impertinence. But the statement that Eliot “[wrote] reviews for money in his spare time” could be amplified by comment on his other motives. Eliot confirms this in a 1919 letter to his mother: “Writing will give me notoriety and in the end more money.”

The young correspondent (The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Vol. I, 1898–1922) covets power and is determined to attract attention and impose his judgments. Part of his method in achieving these aims is to “write for the Ath[enaeum] and keep my fingers in it…. With that and the Egoist…I can have more than enough power to satisfy me.” He quickly realizes that “I probably have more influence and power and distinction outside of the journalistic struggle.” The success of the less-than-humble thirty-year-old is considerable: “I really think that I have more influence on English letters than any American has ever had, unless it is Henry James.”

Few writers can have tended their reputations more closely. Though careful not to be tainted by any literary association with the likes of, among many others, the Sitwells (“EDITH Shitwell,” in a letter to Pound), he has no qualms about cultivating them socially. Nor is he above playing up to people whose work he despises but who are in positions to further his. (For an example of this, compare Eliot’s letters to Virginia Woolf and the Horizon obit for her in which he signally fails to conceal his low opinion of her as an artist.) In short, and in a language he would not like, Eliot emerges as a ganzer Macher.

Mr. Adams does not mention the anti-Semitism, perhaps for the reason that it is so much milder than the anti-Americanism, but at least one indication of the prejudice, “Burnham is a Jew merchant, named Lawson (sc. Levi-sohn?),” has gently tickled the undersigned.

Robert [Lawson] Craft

Pompano Beach, Florida

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