The meaning of 'liberal' can change pretty fast indeed. By the 1910s, most
liberals were ready to countenance Home Rule, whereas the Tories
(significantly called 'Unionists' at the time) were screaming bloody murder
whenever the words were pronounced.
I am (re)sending my own puzzled reaction to Eliot's use of the word in his
letter (I've had problems getting through recently):
It's worth wondering what Eliot meant by 'Liberal' in the letter quoted
below. In 1919, half the Liberal party was part of the ruling coalition
(under Lloyd George). I don't really see what would have appealed to Eliot
in that part of the Liberal party that was in opposition.
References to whigs and liberals in the rest of his prose are generally less
than complimentary. I suppose the original question was prompted by what
seems to be a fairly unusual move by Eliot.
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----- Original Message -----
From: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Sunday, August 19, 2001 5:03 PM
Subject: Re: Eliot as liberal
> <<"I shall make enquiries as to whether there is any provision for
> overseas mails to the boats; this strike threatens at the moment to be a
> serious affair, and we are in the dark as to its real cause and its
> probable course. May own views are Liberal and strongly opposed to the
> Government in almost everything; but I cannot regard this present
> expression of labour discontent without gtave apprehension and distrust. .
> . . . " Letters, p. 336.>>
> I am sure many of you have already noted this, but I'll remind all that
> "liberal" had a very different political meaning in Eliot's day than it
> today. (Note the opposition to government, hardly the hallmark of modern
> liberalism.) The 19th C. liberals were in many respects the party of free
> and unregulated markets; thus, during the Potato Famine, the Irish
> the liberal govt. as far less helpful than the conservative (which was
> willing to disrupt markets to reach its ends.)
> While later in life Eliot did say some things suggesting more of a modern
> liberal attitude, that was in the 50's and 60's, and still rather limited.
> wouldn't sign him up for the Dukakis campaign on the basis of his
> self-description noted above.