A Neglected Aspect of Chapman

We publish here for the first time T.S. Eliot’s lecture on George Chapman (1559–1634), the Elizabethan and Jacobean poet, dramatist, and translator, known particularly for his translations of Homer. The following headnote is by Anthony Cuda and Ronald Schuchard, coeditors of volume 2 of the forthcoming eight-volume edition of The Online Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot, in which all essays will appear with scholarly annotation and apparatus. The first two volumes (1905–1926) will be published in April 2014 on Project MUSE, a provider of digital humanities content made available by Johns Hopkins University Press in collaboration with the Milton S. Eisenhower Library.

—The Editors

T.S. Eliot delivered this unpublished lecture, which scholars have long believed lost, at Cambridge University on Saturday, November 8, 1924. In a letter of May 21, 1924, James Smith, English literary critic and president of the newly revived Cam Literary Club, invited Eliot to speak to the club on “any subject connected with the Elizabethan drama.” As late as November 6, Eliot told Richard Aldington that the lecture was “still in very rough shape.” Shortly afterward he wrote to Virginia Woolf that, despite all of his labors, it proved “unworthy of subsequent publication.” It did, however, dovetail with his creative efforts; on November 30 he told Ottoline Morrell, in reference to the recently published “Doris’s Dream Songs”: “They are part of a larger sequence which I am doing—I laid down the principles of it in a paper I read at Cambridge, on Chapman, Dostoevski & Dante.”

Eliot still hoped to revise and publish the essay in the Criterion; it was announced in a subscription flyer as “An Aspect of George Chapman” for the “next issue” (April 1925), where he ascribed its delay “to severe illness.” He later wrote regretfully in the preface to Essays on Elizabethan Drama (1956):

I did not, during that period of my life at which these essays were written, have occasion to write about the work of that very great poet and dramatist, George Chapman. It is too late now: to attempt to repair such a gap, after many years’ neglect, would be almost as futile as to attempt to remove the blemishes…in one’s early poems.

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Bettmann/Corbis
T.S. Eliot, 1940s

A Neglected Aspect of Chapman

There is a first part to this paper which is still unwritten. This is one chapter in a whole book of Prolegomena to Elizabethan Literature which is still unwritten. My excuse for not having written the book is that there have been a great many other people, better equipped in many ways than I, who have not written it either. This book should be an examination of the sources and of the assumptions—the received ideas or categories—of the Renaissance. There was one man—one of your Cambridge men—who might have written this book, had he not been wiped out by a German shell—and that was T.E. Hulme.


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Excerpted with permission from The Online Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot, Eliot prose © 2013 Estate of T.S. Eliot; Editorial Apparatus © 2014 Faber and Faber Ltd. and Johns Hopkins University Press. Made possible with generous support from the Hodson Trust.