Report of a Speech Day Address at the Kingswood School
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510 ] Report of a Speech Day address at the Kingswood School The Kingswood Magazine, 25.3 (July 1937) 86-89 TSE was invited in Jan 1937 by Headmaster Alfred Barrett Sackett (1895-1977) to give the annual Speech Day address at the Kingswood School in Bath, founded by John Wesley in 1748. On 28 Apr he informed Geoffrey Faber that he was going up on 24 June as one of the speakers “to give the Prize Day Address at Kingswood (Methodist) School and that will be great fun.” His speech on 25 June was the first of four Prize Day addresses given at Methodist schools, including two the following year at schools in Truro (5.623) and Penzance (5.630). On 25 Oct 1942 he informed Polly Tandy that his next Prize Day engagement was “at another Methodist School in Suffolk [Bury St. Edmunds], that makes my fourth Methodist school; this is getting a bit too oecumenical.” TSE’s Kingswood script does not survive; he may have left it with the Kingswood reporter for the quotations, as he did on other such occasions. This appears to be TSE’s first school event since he gave the graduation address at his former school, the Milton Academy, near Boston, in June 1933 (4.817).1 In welcoming Mr. Eliot, the Headmaster spoke of the eagerness, perhaps a trifle indiscreet, with which the upper part of the school looked forward to his coming. Many people owed a lot to Mr. Eliot for “his refusal to divorce poetry from religion,” and for his efforts to link again poetry and the stage. [. . .]2 The reception which greeted Mr. Eliot was eloquent of “the uncommon, if rather indiscreet eagerness” referred to by the Headmaster. Remembering his own Speech Days, he felt sure that then, as now, boys had far more important things to think about than speeches, however edifying. “The only thing I can do in these circumstances is to talk to myself. There is a certain human willingness for people to listen to things they are not intended to hear, when they frequently will not listen to what they are meant to hear. There are some occasions, like this, when a case can be made out for a man talking to himself.” Becoming more serious, Mr. Eliot, looking back, spoke of “a strong feeling for the mystery of life.” “I am aware of many good intentions, many of which came to nothing, and of mistakes, some of which led to good. But I am aware of very little conscious design. It seems to me that I have had very little to do with the shaping of my own life, and looking back, I am very [ 511 Report of a Speech Day Address much less certain now than I was then that I know the meaning of the word success.” Though success could be achieved in an isolated act, a successful life is a very different matter, for “in whatever thing you are successful you have to go on living after that.” His reaction to his own work was either fright that he would never write anythingasgoodagain,orfearthateverythinghehadwrittenwasbad.Thus, practically always dissatisfied, he was kept going by the hope of eventually doing something greater than before. “Yet I would not have it otherwise. I should not want to have any illusions that I was a great poet. The happiest state is not worrying whether it is good or bad, because one will never know. We cannot set out to be great artists, scientists or anything else, we can only follow the line to which we seem to be impelled.” People could be abstractly divided into three classes: the “conventional” people, who achieved nothing of distinction because of limited opportunities or easy circumstances, those, perhaps fortunate, who from an early age displayed one particular talent, and lastly a large class, in which he included himself, “whose temperament is less settled and who take a long time to find out what they are to do. We all have in us a little of each of these classes. We are all more or less conventional. Convention, we come to find, is not so much how we behave, but why we behave in such a way. We sometimes find that when we think we have been most unconventional, we have been more conventional than ever, because we have merely been accepting the prejudices of a new group of people instead of those of the old group. Nobody can hope in...