Selected Essays, 1917-1932 Characters
by T. S. Eliot

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Selected Essays, 1917-1932 Characters

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Dante Alighieri
Alighieri (1265-1321) is one of the most revered poets of the Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy, written in the common language of Florence, Italy, is a masterpiece of Catholic philosophy and poetry. His earlier work, Vita Nuova, describes Dante's idealized youthful love for a Florentine woman named Beatrice. Eliot calls Dante the most "universal'' of poets because his poetry has "peculiar lucidity'' (a clear and transparent beauty) and his philosophy has the benefit of a united cultural belief (influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas). Born in 1265 and raised in Florence, Dante was exiled in 1301 because of fighting between political factions in the Guelph family.

St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) was the most important religious philosopher of medieval Europe. By reconciling Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology in Summa theologica, he created the extremely influential system of thought apparent in the work of Dante Alighieri.

William Archer
Archer (1856-1924) was an important critic who argued that modern plays were much more appropriate for the stage than earlier works and should be performed more often. Eliot argues with this view throughout section VII.

Matthew Arnold
Arnold (1822-1888) was one of the most important critics and advocates for"culture'' (arts and humanities, particularly literature) in Victorian England. Champion of ‘‘disinterested criticism,’’ he argued for a standard of critical taste that is not influenced by one's subjective perception of a work. He was not widely thought to be sacrilegious—in fact, he emphasized the importance of studying the Bible—but Eliot argues (particularly in section VII) that Arnold takes morality from culture when instead he should take it from religion. Arnold, like Eliot, wrote poetry in addition to criticism and was central in establishing the literary taste of his generation.

Irving Babbitt
Babbitt (1865-1933), who was Eliot's professor at Harvard, greatly influenced Eliot's philosophy. Babbitt is best known as the father of American ‘‘new humanism,’’ which resisted the self-expressionist and romantic philosophies of the time. Instead, Babbitt advocated a return to classical modes of thought by studying traditional works of literature.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes
Andrewes (1555-1626) held a number of important positions in the Anglican Church between 1589 and 1626. Eliot revived an interest in this distinguished scholar and linguist—whose sermons are inaccessible to most people because of their dense classical allusions—by calling him ‘‘second to none in the history of the formation of the English Church.’’

Charles-Pierre Baudelaire
A French poet, critic, and translator, Baudelaire (1821-1867) is mainly famous for his lyrical and truly felt (sometimes sordid) poetry. As a young man in Paris, he had affairs with prostitutes, went to prison, and contracted large debts. Eliot discusses Baudelaire's philosophy and tendency towards form in the first essay of section VII, implying that Baudelaire was a latent Christian despite the blasphemy in some of his poetry.

William Blake
Blake (1757-1827) was a poet and an artist of the romantic period. He never went to school but read widely and was taught by his mother until he became an engraver by trade. He crafted all of his poetic works into ornate plates of his own unique design. Songs of Innocence and of Experience is one of his earliest and perhaps best-known works, but he went on to create poems about mythological worlds and philosophical systems he invented.

Francis Herbert Bradley
An English philosopher about whom Eliot wrote his doctoral thesis, Bradley (1846-1924) was interested in ethics, logic, and metaphysics (a branch of philosophy that deals with the origins of the universe). In section VII, Eliot discusses Bradley's moral philosophy, its connection with religion, and its superiority to the philosophy of Matthew Arnold.

Bishop John Bramhall
Bramhall (1594-1663) was a British-Irish...

(The entire section is 1,786 words.)