T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot; drawing by David Levine

In his essay “Literary Biography” in Golden Codgers, Richard Ellmann points out that even in the most candid biographical writings, like Michael Holroyd’s account of Lytton Strachey and his love life with Carrington, something is kept back, “the precise anatomical convolutions remain shrouded by the last rags of biographical decorum.” And commenting on Ernest Jones’s stopping short at certain points in his biography of Freud on the grounds that material has been touched on which is better left to the psychoanalysts, he observes that “one has the sense of descending into a cave only to be told that the real cave is further down, and unfortunately closed to the public.”

Ellmann goes on to state one objection to delvings into the unconscious life of the subject of biography. It is that we “lose sight of his conscious direction,” and are put in possession of material which enables us to make banal psychoanalytical interpretation. We fit the writer into some textbook category of childhood behavior: “Anality is banality.”

At the same time, Ellmann believes that we are committed to the psychoanalytic approach to biography. In this Freud remains the most helpful of our guides. With a penetration which is none the less acute for its being urbane and witty, Ellmann discusses examples of the use of analytic methods of biography by Sartre on Baudelaire and Genet, Erikson on Luther, and Edel on James. In practice the psychoanalytical approach results in each of these biographers substituting legend, myth, or rumor for verified historic fact. Sartre postulates a scene from Genet’s childhood in which the small boy is caught in the act of primal burglary by someone who enters the kitchen at the moment when he is opening a drawer to steal something from it. The intruder establishes the identity of Jean Genet by shouting, “You’re a thief.” Sartre having reconstructed the scene comments: “That was how it happened, in that or some other way.”

Erikson bases a whole theory about the “identity crisis” in Luther’s life on the account, put about by three contemporaries who were his opponents, of the fit in which Luther supposedly fell to the ground crying, “Ich bin’s nit! Ich bin’s nit!” or “Non sum! Non sum!” Ellmann quotes Erikson: “If some of this is legend, so be it: the making of legend is as much part of the scholarly rewriting of history as it is part of the original facts used in the work of scholars.” Ellmann comments, “Ultimately Erikson’s work is not so much biography as delineation of therapeutic possibility.” Edel takes a passage from James’s Notebooks, in which James, searching for a fictitious name, writes “Ledward-Bedward-Dedward-Deadward.” Edel interprets this as meaning “To be led to the marriage bed was to be dead,” but, as Ellmann points out, in searching for a name, James is trying out rhymes following on Ledward, in alphabetical order. It does seem to me though that James must surely have been aware, if only as a joke, of the deadly meaning to which Edel draws attention. Otherwise he would not have put two rhymes for D: first, “Dedward” and then, the very significant “Deadward.”

Although throwing doubt on these interpretations by Sartre, Erikson, and Edel, Ellmann accepts that biography is no longer concerned with the literal historic fact: “Biographies will continue to be archival, but the best ones will offer speculations, conjectures, hypotheses. The attempt to connect disparate elements, to describe the movements within the mind as if they were movements within the atom, to label the most elusive particles, will become more venturesome.”

The essays, mostly biographical fragments, in this book demonstrate the grace with which Ellmann himself can be venturesome. He carries much learning with lightness, and illumination. He employs the speculative psychoanalytical method in “Overtures to Salome” where, starting off from Wilde’s play, he traces back to Wilde’s Oxford undergraduate days his loyalties divided between Ruskin and Pater. Ruskin inspired the socialist and pre-Raphaelite preoccupations of Wilde, who, for a time, joined the team of undergraduates under Ruskin’s guidance who sweated to turn a muddy lane into “a flower-bordered country road.” Here Ruskin was being Wilde’s soul of socialism.

Pater’s writings signaled to him the aesthetic delights of decadence. The influences of Ruskin and of Pater meet and at the same point bifurcate in the ideas of each about the Italian Renaissance. Ruskin regarded Renaissance Venice as totally corrupt. In The Stones of Venice he attacked the degraded overluscious ornamentation of its (or “her” as he significantly calls Venice) carvings. Pater, in his Studies in the Renaissance, rejoiced in exactly those features of Italian art of the period which repelled Ruskin. What was for Ruskin “overcharged ornament” was, for Pater, “a languid Eastern deliciousness.” For Wilde Pater’s Renaissance writings were a secret influence on his whole life.


Ellmann detects the presence of Ruskin in Wilde’s portrayal of the prophet Iokanaan denouncing Sodom in Salome, and of Pater in the voyeur longings of Salome herself. This analysis of the early Oxford influences in Wilde’s life, which fused as dramatic elements in Salome, shows how psychoanalytic biography can add a dimension to the work.

Reading Ellman’s criticism, I was struck by the coincidence of an obsession of Ruskin’s with one of Pound’s—though the former takes a characteristically nineteenth-century form, the latter a characteristically twentieth-century one. Ellmann writes that Ruskin provided a precise date for the Fall of Venice. This was May 8, 1418, the day of the death of the Venetian military leader Carl Zeno. The force of the appeal of this date to Ruskin was, Ellmann argues, that it was exactly 400 years before the date of his own conception: the idea of conception signifying for him his parents’ fall in starting a baby—a degradation which Ruskin would not inflict on himself and his wife. Ellmann quotes Ruskin:

The Stones of Venice had, from beginning to end, no other aim than to show that the Renaissance architecture of Venice had arisen out of; and in all its features indicated, a state of concealed national infidelity, and of domestic corruption.”

In the nineteenth century voluptuousness signified for Ruskin what in the twentieth century usury signified for Pound. In the mind of the purist of civilization of the nineteenth century sex is regarded as the root cause of the aesthetic corruption demonstrable in “overloaded ornament.” In the writing of Ezra Pound, the corresponding mind of the twentieth century, the economy—degraded by Florentine bankers who made great fortunes by lending money at rates of interest, and by the Jews—is blamed for the thickening of the line in the work of painters:

with usura the line grows thick
with usura is no clear demarca- tion….

Duccio came not by usura
nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’ not by usura

In his introduction to the three volumes of Joyce’s Collected Letters (reprinted in Golden Codgers) Ellmann justifies the publication of private material in biography by providing examples of its relevance to our understanding of the artist in his work. From reading this introduction and the letters themselves we can certainly understand better the reasons for which Joyce was “compelled to set images of purity against images of impurity.” Ellmann believes that we are condemned to total—or almost total—biographical candor, but he sees certain disadvantages to this: in the minds of many readers it reduces the level of the art which is the result of the “complexes” of the artist to the level of the readers’ neuroses.

In a passing observation, Ellmann admits that “no one has any trouble understanding why T.S. Eliot and George Orwell both stipulated that no biography be written of them” (he might now add to that list the name of W.H. Auden, which doesn’t leave us with many names of major modern writers about whom authenticated biographies can be written). However Eliot, Orwell, and Auden perhaps had more serious grounds of principle for trying to turn the art of instant contemporary biography into a very obstructive obstacle race than their own self-concern. They drew strong distinctions between the private and the public life. They considered privacy a protected area of freedom. They felt that an artist creates most freely when he lives in conditions in which on the one hand he has freedom from censorship, and on the other hand protection of his private life from publicity so that it can develop freely without the intrusion of a public consciousness into his private affairs.

It may be very important for an artist, not just for his own sake but for the sake of his art, that he should be able to do things, say things, write letters, which are not for public consumption now or at a later date, though such private matters may well be the material which he transforms into his art, which is public. What is freedom for the biographer to say everything will become the destruction of freedom for his subject to have a private life, or if he does have one he may feel obliged to destroy all the evidence relating to it. These are reasons of principle which may have impelled Eliot, Orwell, and Auden to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to write their biographies. (They have, of course, to pay a penalty to the outraged public anxious to know the worst, in the form of ill-informed biographies which no one can stop being written: of which Mr. T.S. Matthews’s book on T.S. Eliot provides a grim warning.)


A phenomenon related to candid biography is for a literary work to become absorbed into all the criticism which has been written about it, and into the history of the work itself—sketches, drafts, variorum editions. The effect of this is that the work dissolves into the mass of documentation out of which it grew and of comment which has grown up around it—and, of course, into the author’s biography.

Eliot provides the classic example of this. With certain poems one can trace the process. To early readers of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Prufrock, like Sweeney, was taken to be a convincing poetic-fictional character. Virginia Woolf, writing in 1928, regards him as “real” not with the “Arnold Bennett kind of reality” but with that of Leopold Bloom. And “Where in modern poetry are there characters realized with such effectiveness as Prufrock and Sweeney?” asked F.O. Matthiessen in 1934. Today however we have it on the authority of Hugh Kenner that Prufrock is not a character or person at all, but a “zone of consciousness.” One wonders whether this shows a real advance in the understanding of the character presented by the poem or whether Prufrock has become concealed not by “the yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,” but by the fog of explanations absorbing him. A very interesting study could be written about the dissolution of certain literary works (one might begin with “Kubla Khan”) into critical and biographical consciousness.

After the publication in 1971 of the drafts and rewritings of “a long poem” which Eliot left with Pound in Paris on his return from the clinic at Lausanne where he had been recovering from a “nervous collapse,” The Waste Land has doubtless undergone a further metamorphosis. The poem which, up till 1971, had seemed a controlled explosion, looks now like a theme extracted from the sprawling amorphous formlessness of many themes, thanks to the midwifery of Ezra Pound, tactfully assisted by its author.

Hugh Kenner suggests, in Eliot in His Time, that Eliot did not at all intend The Waste Land to be the poem it turned into. “The long poem was to be an urban poem, a poem about London,” he writes. He considers that in writing it, Eliot was influenced by Mark van Doren’s John Dryden, which he had reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement in June, 1919. There is, it is true, a good deal about London in The Waste Land. William Empson has recently suggested that Eliot discovered as the theme common to a pile of sketches he had been accumulating over several years the certain Carthaginian destruction of London in the next war, “because it is in the hands of international financiers. The very place of it will be sown with salt, as Carthage was, and forgotten by men; or it will be sunk under water.”

Sometimes one has the impression that in writing The Waste Land Eliot threw down a pack of playing cards (not the Tarot pack) from which each reader may draw a hand. The “complete” Waste Land now provides a new, greatly expanded pack, from which Kenner and Empson have drawn as leading suit, London. For my part, I draw Western civilization, the strong suit being here provided by quotations from Wagner (I once asked Eliot whether, when writing The Waste Land he had been studying the libretto of Rheingold. He answered, “Not just Rheingold—the whole Ring.” I begin to wonder now whether he also studied Parsifal); the “hooded multitudes” walking in circles in “What the Thunder Said”; and the reference in the Notes to Hermann Hesse’s Blick ins Chaos. Also, of course: “Jerusalem Athens Alexandria / Vienna London / unreal.”

Perhaps the most original essay in Eliot in Perspective is Richard Wollheim’s “Eliot and F.H. Bradley: An Account.” Here Wollheim traces Eliot’s career as a philosophy student at Harvard and at Oxford, and examines the extremely obscure thesis on F.H. Bradley (published in 1964 under the title Knowledge and Experience) which Eliot wrote in England, early in World War I. Wollheim writes as a philosopher, not as a literary critic or as a poet. His conclusions are interesting, though I myself, judging Eliot by the poetry and not by the ideas expressed in it, would dispute them. They are that Eliot spent a great deal of time retreating from positions which he had taken up, that he was “compelled to deny an idea of his own once he had asserted it”: the results of this temperamental compulsion being that he was “progressively led to substitute, in his mind, on the one hand, ideas of less content for ideas of more content, and, on the other, poorer and softer ideas for better and stronger ideas.” This is perhaps true of some nonliterary critical writings, but I cannot see that there is evidence of it in the poetry up to and including Four Quartets.

But Wollheim’s suggestion, at the end of his essay, that Eliot was unduly influenced in Four Quartets by works of popular philosophy like J.W. Dunne’s Experiment with Time does raise questions about the effect on poetry of ideas that are part of the experience transformed by the poetry. This disturbed Eliot himself when considering the poetry of Shelley or of Yeats. Wollheim’s attack would have more weight if he appeared able to relate to the poetry what he finds hollow in the philosophy. Perhaps, as a result of his essay, some critics will attempt this.

Donald Davie has an attitude toward Four Quartets which is as far as possible from the philosophical interpretation. To him, this is symbolist poetry, independent of logic external to the language. He supports this view with statements which are not so much half truths as only half of the story. For example, “It is notable that, as Eliot got older, he could be seen in his critical writings to give steadily more attention to symbolist poetry, narrowly considered.” This becomes only half as notable when one notes that Eliot grew steadily less interested in literary criticism, “narrowly considered.” This is important because his interest in the connection between Christianity and society, culture and education, implied his increased interest in the subject matter of poetry, and therefore cannot be considered as quite apart from his literary criticism. Finally, in the essay “From Poe to Valéry” Eliot makes some observations which throw light on Four Quartets:

What has happened in the case of Valéry is a change of attitude toward the subject matter. We must be careful to avoid saying that the subject matter becomes “less important.” It has a quite different kind of importance: it is important as means: the end is the poem. The subject exists for the poem, not the poem for the subject. A poem may employ several subjects, combining them in a particular way; and it may be meaningless to ask “what is the subject of the poem?” From the union of several subjects there appears, not another subject, but the poem.

Half the story here is what Donald Davie is saying—the part in which Eliot insists that the subject exists for the poem. But Eliot goes on to make several remarks which draw a line between himself and Valéry. He points out that Valéry combined extreme self-consciousness with extreme skepticism; that he did not adopt a doctrine of “art for art’s sake” because he was too skeptical to believe even in art. “He had ceased to believe in ends, and was interested only in processes. It often seems as if he had continued to write poetry, simply because he was interested in the introspective observation of himself writing it.” In view of this it seems inadequate to say that “Burnt Norton” is, like Valéry’s poetry, symbolist, “a poem which describes and discusses itself.” That it does so is only half the story; and I think the truth about Four Quartets is that it is a poem of two halves of the story, one in which the poetry and not the subject matters, the other in which the subject and not the poetry matters, and that these two go in double harness.

To William M. Chace in his book The Political Identities of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, the subject of the poetry seems supreme. He writes: “Four Quartets is partly about the impossibility of doing or even saying certain things. It is about the inarticulateness of words, the ineffectiveness of activity, the conflation of time into a single instant, and the claim of the transcendent, the suprahuman on us.” This, of course, runs counter to the idea that “the subject exists for the poem, not the poem for the subject.” But Mr. Chace implies that the poet who relegated the subject to this position of being mere fodder for the digestive and transforming process of poetry is merely inventing the rules of his particular game, and there is no reason why the critically minded reader who happens to believe in a different set of rules should accept Eliot’s.

Without accusing the poet of self-deception or of bad faith in devising his own rules, one might also say that in choosing a certain subject he exhibits the interest of the class or the creed to which he belongs. Myself, I find that I have strong reservations about Mr. Chace’s views when he deduces political attitudes from Eliot’s poetry, but I do not have them when he writes about his prose.

In fact Mr. Chace’s book is intensely interesting. I shall restrict myself here to discussing his views about Eliot—and not those about Pound, serious though they are—because most of the books under review in this article are to do with Eliot. Mr. Chace sees Eliot as having had extremely political attitudes, though he spends much time qualifying what is meant by “political.” Eliot’s politics were based on principles which were supposedly detached from party interest but which nevertheless should, in theory, be capable of being realized by political action.

From his Harvard days, when he was strongly influenced by Irving Babbitt, and which were interrupted by his stay in Paris in 1911, where he was deeply impressed by the ideas and political movement of Charles Maurras, Eliot was conservative in a way which makes one feel that reactionary political views corresponded to his deepest instincts. Although Eliot insisted on the separateness of the activities of literary criticism, metaphysics, politics, etc.—and took a departmentalized view of his own writings—it is clear that his politics were rooted in the sense of tradition which was central to his literary criticism. Eliot once made the crack that Shelley was one of “nature’s MPs” which, when I first read it, made me inclined to retort that Eliot was a kind of parliamentary representative on this earth of the dead of the tradition (not a bad thing to be).

The politics of the tradition were so deeply instilled in Eliot, and they were, of course, so completely beyond the vulgarities of nearly all contemporary politics, that he had the conviction—which he frequently expressed in his commentaries for the Criterion—of his own disinterestedness. He recognized the same disinterestedness in the principles, if not the propaganda and quasi-militarist activities, of Charles Maurras, and, of course, also in Irving Babbitt, Julien Benda (who based his own political contempt for politicizing fellow intellectuals on his own position as a “clerc” who stood above and outside politics), T.E. Hulme, Jacques Maritain, and Wyndham Lewis. He saluted losing conservative causes such as southern agrarianism, perhaps because their unfeasibility as programs of action elevated them into politics of principles, untainted by practicality.

His famous statement of his position, “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion,” is perhaps too much a gesture to be taken as politically significant. What is more revealing is the near-disclaimer which follows:

I am quite aware that the first term is completely vague, and easily lends itself to claptrap; I am aware that the second term is without definition, and easily lends itself to what is almost worse than claptrap, I mean temperate conservatism; the third term does not rest with me to define.

Eliot then names the titles of three books—The School of Donne, The Outline of Royalism, and The Principles of Modern Heresy—which were in preparation and none of which was published, though After Strange Gods presumably took the place of the third. Eliot sought to identify practice with absolute principle—while confessing that this seemed to him practically impossible.

Still any compromise with the materialism and progressive ideas of modern civilization represented to him the greatest threat to traditional values, which were to be vested in the classics, royalty, the Church of England (cf. T.E. Hulme’s “Institutions are necessary”). Liberalism propagated such compromise which led to the dissolution of all past values, in the names of toleration, progress, and freedom.

As Mr. Chace points out at the beginning of his discussion of Eliot, “The difficulty in coming to terms with [his] political position is that these terms are not entirely political, or entirely stable.” And in the sentence preceding this he observes: “Concerned though he was with the reality of political forces, Eliot felt compelled to transcend those forces, to walk alone, to be suprapolitical.” Yet he insists: “To talk about Eliot at all is to talk about his political identity.” From the Marxist point of view which Mr. Chace sometimes though not always adopts, this is true.

He argues that Eliot “made no real departure from the consciousness of his age” and that his attitudes were very much those of his social environment, despite the revolution which he and Pound effected in poetry. In practice he was a conservative with a philosophy of conservatism which undermined the position of political conservatives, a churchman who held reactionary social vews, an editor who confessed that if he had to choose between fascism and communism in the 1930s he preferred fascism. Yet beyond all this there was a kind of space compounded of his religion, his ideas about poetry, his Bradleyan philosophy, and even the kind of remoteness which he attributed to the views of Charles Maurras and T.E. Hulme which did separate him from “the consciousness of his age.” He was also a man who, unlike those who represented the consciousness of his age, really did practice virtues of austerity and charity.

Lastly he despised the modern political and social world so completely that even when he was tempted to take sides with reactionaries who seemed to support the values of the past, he always found that with very few exceptions (and these nearly always Frenchmen) they were too representative of the contemporary world to have any understanding of the principles which he would have wished them to represent.

I do not agree with Wollheim’s condemnation of Eliot’s ideas as hollow. But I do think that during most of his life as editor and social critic his views about society while very strongly held operated in a kind of vacuum created by his adherence to principles which were unrelated to contemporary politics, whether of the right, left, or center. In his Criterion commentaries he criticizes conservatives, fascists, and communists—all of them—on the grounds that they lack what he calls “ideas”: by which he means that they have programs with which he sympathizes or does not sympathize, but they do not have thoughts which awake in him the slightest response.

Late in life when working with fellow Christians who had formed various organizations for the purpose of introducing Christian values in political action into English government, he became less intolerant. He even adopted some rather liberal attitudes. Once or twice (in his lectures on education at the University of Chicago for example) he even let drop the word “progress” in a not completely disparaging sense. All the same, when one reads Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, one goes away with the feeling that he does not really believe there is the basis for any real culture in contemporary society, and that he is only discussing all this out of a sense of Christian duty or humility.

One result of Eliot’s intellectual isolation is that although he sniffed at the baits offered by fascists, he did not take them. He was moved, even to poetry, by a newspaper account of Mussolini’s march on Rome, but when he came to look at fascism, he found it as lacking in interesting ideas as communism.

Mr. Chace, commenting on a remark of mine about Eliot’s “Sweeney” poems, writes:

Spender wants to understand Eliot nominally, as a poet, and to see the literary criticism as an extension of the poetry, the political criticism as an extension of the literary criticism. This line of reasoning comes, I think, as a result of two things: the benumbing power of the title “poet,” and the desire to guide attention away from what might prove distasteful upon close scrutiny. But it is invalidated by the fact that Eliot himself did not treat his political concerns as ancillary. Again and again, with greater frequency as he grew older, he involved himself deeply in political questions.

Reading this in Mr. Chace’s book, I was well prepared to believe that what followed might prove me wrong; but having read it, I am not sure whether I was not right in thinking that if a poet writes great poetry, one should feel “numbed” by the word “poet”: “Numbed” because I feel that for the writer of great poetry, his poetic insights into experience will inevitably be his central truth, and all his other attitudes and opinions represent his perhaps clumsy and inadequate attempts to relate secondary views to the insights of the imagination.

Eliot, like Yeats, Pound, Lawrence, and Forster, belonged to a generation of artists who had paradoxical views about art. On the one hand, they felt that art was apolitical, but on the other hand they also felt that, although their art had no political implications, they themselves, as artists and critics, represented the past, the civilization and the culture, all of which were threatened and which could only be defended by politics. Most of them, in youth, strongly defended a kind of aestheticism which insisted on the total separation of the standards of art from those of society. Their politics came later and were primarily attempts to defend the conditions of civilization which made it possible to produce unpolitical art in a modern world which they condemned as the enemy of the past.

The attempt to accept responsibility in human activities with which they had so little sympathy, in itself surely praiseworthy, led to regrettable results. In the case of Pound the results of his postulating a kind of society without usury and on the model of small Italian city states as the sine qua non of an innocent and noble art were tragic. Eliot’s intense preoccupation with politics was theoretically with the politics of a supernatural life operating within the modern world; but he often showed a peculiar insensitivity to what was happening to people in their lives.

T.S. Matthews’s Great Tom has a moral without having any morality. The moral is what happens when a great writer tries to prevent his biography being written by leaving instructions to executors that material should not be made available to anyone for a biography. Mr. Matthews, searching in his foreword for some reason for his writing this book, can find none that passes muster beyond the facts that the publishers asked him to do so, and that he and Eliot—apart from having the same initials and first name—had rather similiar backgrounds. A note of childish facetiousness, consisting of insinuating mis-“quotes” from Eliot’s prose or poetry into quite unrelated contexts, sets the tone of the book. For example, “Tom’s ideas, although so cautiously expressed in his father’s presence as to be inaudible, nevertheless were felt by Mr. Eliot immediately as the odor of a rose…” or “The walls of St. Stephen’s hold the quite explicable splendor of Edwardian green and gold….” The envy of the ex-Time editor for the “highbrow” shows through in passages of pointless spite:

Renewed acquaintance…led to introductions: to Lady Ottoline Morrell (Russell’s current mistress) and all the Comus crew that battened on her at Garsington Manor for well-fed weekends—Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Middleton Murry, Aldous and Maria Huxley, Vanessa and Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, and lesser lights.

Mindlessly spiteful, because, apart from the fact that only two of those named could conceivably be called members of a “Comus crew,” if staying for weekends at Garsington qualified whoever did to be described as “battening on her,” then the Eliots (and for that matter, D.H. Lawrence) answer to the same description. We are not surprised that the writer of the above should ask:

Did he masturbate? Of course. And was he ashamed of it? Unspeakably. For an adolescent boy of his sort, as for a monk, “purity” had one overriding sense: refraining from masturbation.

Where did Mr. Matthews learn all this? How many monks has he interviewed?

There are unbearable homilies:

Belief in God is an extreme last resort: finally there is nothing else to believe in. Belief in God, shaky, uncertain, and indefinite as it must be, is nevertheless also a great relief from the ridiculous “waste sad time” that stretches before us and after, and our only consolation for history, that unrelieved record of man’s inhumanity to man.

Here, without comment, is an example of Mr. Matthews’s critical judgment:

And like many clever men, Eliot was at times obtuse. Like the Edwardian butler in Punch, he never chips or cracks—when he breaks he smashes utterly. Only Eliotolatry can explain the admiration for such a line as this, from The Waste Land:

Inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold.

Mr. Matthews has had a distinguished career as a writer and journalist, and has always, I think, been treated by colleagues with respect as an eminent member of his profession. It seems something of a personal tragedy that late in life he should have written this book, especially when he falls into the most obvious of traps: that of using Eliot as a stick with which to beat his contemporaries such as Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, whom Mr. Matthews is in no position to judge.

A certain amount of research has gone into this book and the chapter about Eliot’s relationship with Emily Hale is informative.

Mr. Eliot as Ecologist

We are being made aware that the organization of society on the principle of private profit, as well as public destruction, is leading both to the deformation of humanity by unregulated industrialism, and to the exhaustion of natural resources, and that a good deal of our material progress is a progress for which succeeding generations may have to pay dearly. I need only mention, as an instance now very much before the public eye, the results of “soil-erosion”—the exploitation of the earth, on a vast scale for two generations, for commercial profit: immediate benefits leading to dearth and desert.

—In “Conformity to Nature,” 1939

This Issue

September 19, 1974