T.S. Eliot: Poet and President

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Criterion Oct 1922

The Wasteland appeared in The Criterion in October 1922 and in The Dial in America the following month

TS Eliot

T.S. Eliot joined the Library in 1918 four years before the publication of the most influential poem of the 20th century – The Waste Land.

We join Helen O’Neill for the last time before Christmas as she opens the final window on the Library’s archive advent calendar.

I reserved the last window on our archive advent calendar for one of the greatest poets of the English language: T.S. Eliot. A London Library member from 1918 and the Library’s President between 1952 and 1965 T.S. Eliot exerted a towering influence on the literary landscape during his lifetime and left a lasting legacy to Literature and to the Library after his death.

Eliot joined the Library a year after the publication of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and four years before The Waste Land first appeared.  T.S. Eliot’s joining form dates from 1918 when he was still working at Lloyd’s Bank before he made the move to Faber and Faber.  He lists his occupation as “Lecturer and journalist” though the Lloyds Bank address at 17 Cornhill is given on his form.

The Waste Land appeared in The Criterion in October 1922 and in The Dial (in America) the following month. It is regarded as the most influential poem of the 20th century. Virginia Woolf handset the poem and published a limited run of 500 copies at the Hogarth Press in 1923.

In 1948 T.S. Eliot was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature for Four Quartets. Comprised of four poems: Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding, Four Quartets is an undisputed poetic masterpiece.

Delivering his inaugural address as the Library’s President four years after the Nobel award T.S. Eliot made what he called “a testament of faith” in the Library:

“I am convinced that if this library disappeared, it would be a disaster to the world of letters, and would leave a vacancy that no other form of Library could fill”.

Over the last two weeks we have opened small windows onto the Library’s literary past and it is against this historical backdrop that T.S. Eliot’s “testament” should be seen.  I hope you will come with me next year as my PhD journey through the archive and the Library’s 172 years of extraordinary institutional history continues.

© Helen O’Neill