The observation <The Cambridge Companion to TSE says that the "biographies
that exist range from partisan to abusive; none are satisfactory, for no
biographer has had access to Eliot's papers"> is doubtless generally
accurate. Bearing it in mind, perhaps the best introduction to Eliot's life,
although somewhat conventional in its reading of the poetry & plays, is the
memoir by Eliot's long & good friend, Robert (George) Sencourt: "T. S. Eliot:
A Memoir," Donald Adamson, ed. (NY: Dodd, Mead, 1971). Something of its
manner may be suggested by the poem about Eliot by Cecil Day Lewis ("At East
Coker") with which it opens: "A presence, playful yet austere," &c.
Several older anthologies of remembrances (like that edited by Tate) are also
particularly good, and one often finds interesting if brief & incidental
highlights in the lives and letter of others, like, e.g., the correspondence
of Lawrence Durrell & Henry Miller, for whom the discovery of "possum" is a
new thing, and hence is obviously "recent" (a 1950 sample, re: "The Cocktail
Party," Durrell to Miller: ". . . really a little masterpiece; effortless and
wry and beautifully put together, with every symbol working overtime . . . .
To be profound playfully is new for him [sic]: he's become a Chinaman. And I
can't tell you how sweet as a human being -- vastly unlike the grave and
composed man we met in our flat in 1938. His gentleness and humour and
lovability have come to the fore . . . ," plus the related letters).
Similarly, though generally less strictly "biographical," many interesting
things may be found in the various homages presented in the 1938 "The Harvard
Advocate" (vol. 124, no. 3) devoted to Eliot.
Guy Story Brown
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