In fact, Eliot learned Latin in school and had read The Aeneid in the original before he went to Harvard. He studied Sanscrit at Harvard. When he went to Paris in 1910, his French was not very good, and he studied with Alain-Fournier while there. I'm not sure when he studied German, but he was clearly fairly fluent when he went in 1914. But he did not learn them all all at once.
As someone who finds languages difficult, I admire and envy those who can learn many. But Eliot's facility, while good, could be matched by many people.
On the other hand, the son of one of my colleagues was fluent in six languages, including Irish Gaelic and Mandarin, by the age of 15 and was invited to the Gaelic school in Ireland at, I think, 16. I have no idea how many he has learned since then, though one is the language of Penobscot Native-Americans: he was working with the last living speaker, who has since died. I am not sure if he is working to sustain it. At the age of fifteen, he was sitting in a park downtown, and I ran into him. I asked how his summer was going. He was quite enthusiastic and informed me he was teaching himself Finno-Ugric. Now that is "phenomenal."
>>> Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]
> 11/12/12 3:38 AM >>>
Mark Twain once said, "My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years."
Eliot seems to have learned them all, all at once, not to mention Latin and Sanskrit.
I don't recall our having discussed Eliot's facility with language, which it seems to me to have been quite phenomenal and one of the things that makes his work so incredibly attractive. I know it is gauche on this list to say nice things about Eliot, but there it is. I've done it and I'm very glad.