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<target target-type="anchor" id="page_xiii" /> <sc>general editorial introduction</sc> general editorial introduction general editorial introduction <sc>i. the scope and state of t. s. eliot’s prose, 1965-2014</sc>

As one of the most prolific prose masters of his age, T. S. Eliot published several volumes of essays that have had an immeasurable impact on literature, culture, and the humanities worldwide. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, more than seven hundred pieces of Eliot’s prose remain uncollected or unpublished, and there are no critical editions of the work published in his lifetime. The situation is partly due to Eliot’s own reticence. He was highly selective about the works that he wished to preserve, declaring that he could never bear to reread his prose writings without “acute embarrassment.” In midcareer, in a letter to John Hayward, who was collecting and preserving much of his work, he confessed:

I have had to write at one time or another a lot of junk in periodicals the greater portion of which ought never to be reprinted. If any of this came to light, you would have to decide; but I wouldn’t expect you to collect it yourself: you could take it in general that what I have not published in books by the time of my death I don’t consider worth publishing. F[aber]. & F[aber] might be tempted, and your job would be to say no.

(15 Feb 1938)

Over twenty years later, when the scholar A. C. Partridge approached him about collecting and editing his prose, he was less adamant, but felt that such a project was premature:

It is not for me to have an opinion as to whether the undertaking of such a task is justified by the value of my prose writings, but on the whole it seems to me an enterprise which would be more suitable after my death than during my life time, especially as I hope that I shall continue for some years to produce both prose and verse. It may be that there are some of my uncollected contributions to periodicals which are worth preserving, but I feel that it is premature to consider any definitive collection of my prose writings.

(1 Apr 1959) He would soon begin discussions about publishing his doctoral dissertation on F. H. Bradley, but he seems to have given no thought to the future of the large number of unpublished addresses, broadcast scripts, and other prose items that had been accumulating in the forty-three years since his student days at Harvard and Oxford. The many uncollected items listed in the successive editions of Donald Gallup’s T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography(1953, 1969), a major resource for the present edition, were available for scholars to consult, but his unpublished prose remained restricted and inaccessible after his death. Thus, most critical assessments of Eliot’s work and thought have drawn primarily on the small percentage of essays that he gradually collected and put forth as a personal canon during his lifetime.

However severe he was about the collection of his own critical writings, as a critic Eliot had always recognized the necessity of having access to “every scrap” that a major author had written. As he asserted in a 1927 essay on Baudelaire, whose writings he had been studying steadily since 1919:

It is now becoming understood that Baudelaire is one of the few poets who wrote nothing, either prose or verse that is negligible. To understand Baudelaire you must read the whole of Baudelaire. And nothing that he wrote is without importance. He was a great poet; he was a great critic. And he was also a man with a profound attitude toward life, for the study of which we need every scrap of his writing.

(“Poet and Saint. . . ,” 1927) Determined to become involved in the intellectual life and cultural milieu of Great Britain and Europe, Eliot entered into dialogue with allies and antagonists in numerous fields, writing widely on poetry, fiction, drama, literary criticism, philosophy, religion, humanism, cultural theory, education, economics, world politics, and other topics of intellectual and social import. He addressed such issues more informally in his “A Commentary” for each issue of the Criterion, for...

Published By:   Faber & Faber logo    Johns Hopkins University Press

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