‘The Return of Foxy Grandpa’

We publish here for the first time T.S. Eliot’s review of two books by the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947). The following headnote, textual note, and footnotes are by Frances Dickey, Jennifer Formichelli, and Ronald Schuchard, coeditors of Literature, Politics, Belief, 1927–1929, volume 3 of the forthcoming eight-volume edition of The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, in which all essays will appear with scholarly annotation and apparatus. The first two volumes (1905–1926) were published online in September 2014; volumes 3 and 4, English Lion, 1930–1933, edited by Jason Harding and Ronald Schuchard, will be published this fall on Project MUSE by Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber and Faber.—The Editors

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W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot meeting in the US, circa 1925

“The Return of Foxy Grandpa,” T.S. Eliot’s unpublished review of Alfred North Whitehead’s successive Lowell Lectures at Harvard, Science and the Modern World (Macmillan, 1925) and Religion in the Making (Macmillan, 1926), was set in type for The Enemy, edited by Wyndham Lewis, for publication in the third issue, March 1927 (see textual note at end). Foxy Grandpa was the title character of a popular American newspaper comic strip (1900–1918), in which Grandpa consistently outwitted his two trickster grandsons.

Professor Whitehead’s two recent books, Science and the Modern World and Religion in the Making, have been received with acclamation.1 Indeed they deserve it; Dr. Whitehead has a power of lucid exposition of the most difficult subjects, great historical knowledge and ability to generalise his knowledge. He has a rare and remarkable combination of ability. It is remarkable that so eminent a mathematician and physicist should also have an historical mind. It would be still more remarkable to find that he had, in addition, a theological mind. His books have been received with jubilation by liberal Christians, and with great annoyance by atheists. But before we allow ourselves to be gratified or vexed, as the case may be, by Dr. Whitehead’s rehabilitation of religion, it might be well to enquire what sort of religion his writings are likely to further, and whether that sort is intrinsically valuable. It is a matter which all earnest atheists and Christians should take to heart.

Dr. Whitehead belongs to a generation which may be said to include within its limits elder statesmen such as the late William James, and younger statesmen such as Mr. Wells and Mr. Russell. Many of the eminent men of that generation conceal the tender heart of sentiment behind the brilliant emblems of authority. Mr. Shaw, after all his pamphlets, his economics, his Fabianism and mild ferocity, had no better vision to offer us than the earthly paradise of Back to Methuselah, to be staged by perspiring pupils of Miss Margaret Morris.2 Mr. Russell’s lonely Prometheus of thought, the undaunted hero of Liberalism, flourishes smirkingly the instruments of contraception in the faces of the clergy.3 Mr. Wells, with a tremendous machinery of comparative anatomy, evolves a Deity who is merely a celestial captain of industry.4 The disproportion between the elaborateness of the equipment and the mediocrity of the product is still more impressive in the work of Professor Whitehead. In every case the Father Christmas turns out to be merely our Sunday school superintendent in disguise.

We might take warning at the outset from Whitehead’s use of the term “religion.” He says “The conflict between religion and science is what naturally occurs to our minds when we think of this subject.”5 This hoary old notion must have done duty,…

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Excerpted with permission from The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, Vol. 3: Literature, Politics, Belief, 1927–1929; Eliot prose © Estate of T.S. Eliot; Editorial Apparatus © 2015 Faber and Faber Ltd. and Johns Hopkins University Press. Made possible with generous support from the Hodson Trust.