T. S. Eliot Additional Biography

Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. His celebrated statement of his allegiances in For Lancelot Andrewes—“classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion”—ran counter to the family tradition of Unitarianism; his grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, descendant of a pastor of Boston’s Old North Church, established the Unitarian Church of the Messiah in St. Louis. Eliot’s father himself was a renegade, refusing the ministry for what was eventually the presidency of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company. His mother, Charlotte Stearns, was a descendant of one of the judges in the Salem witch trials. An intellectual woman, Stearns began a career as a schoolteacher and eventually became active in children’s causes.

As Matthews notes, the family saying “Tace et fac (‘Shut up and get on with it’)” suggests a household in which indulgence gave way to duty. As a child, Eliot was considered delicate but precocious. At Smith Academy, he took the Latin prize and excelled in English. Deemed too young at seventeen to enter Harvard, he was sent first to Milton Academy. At Harvard, he was conservative and studious. He became an editor of the Advocate, a literary magazine, but his decision to accelerate his undergraduate work to pursue a master’s degree left him small leisure for friends, such as Conrad Aiken. Important influences during his college years included his discovery of Arthur Symons’s The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899), a book that led him to imitate the verse of Jules Laforgue; his love for Elizabethan drama; and, finally, his acquaintance with Irving Babbitt, the leader of the New Humanism, an anti-Romantic movement that stressed the ethical nature of experience. Certainly, Babbitt’s influence led Eliot to spend one of his graduate years in France, where, resisting the attractive Bohemianism open to a writer of his talents, he decided to pursue a degree in philosophy at Harvard, where he came under the influence of Bertrand Russell.

The fellowship that Harvard awarded Eliot in 1914 proved to alter the course of his life. Enrolled in Merton College, at Oxford, he began his long friendship with Ezra Pound , under whose aegis Eliot published “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in Poetry magazine in 1915. In England, Eliot met and married his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Described as a beautiful and...

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Biography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

To see Thomas Stearns Eliot’s end in his beginning is to recall that Andrew Eliot (1627-1704) emigrated from East Coker, Somerset, to Beverly, Massachusetts, in a century that his twentieth century scion would explore and reexplore in poetry and criticism for most of his life. Eliot’s grandfather, the Reverend William Greenleaf Eliot, forsook his native New England and went with missionary zeal to the outpost of St. Louis, Missiouri, in 1834. There he founded the (first) Unitarian church of the Messiah and later founded Washington University (originally, Eliot Seminary), where he became chancellor (1870-1887). In the year after William Eliot’s death, on September 25, 1888, Thomas Stearns Eliot, the seventh child of a second son, was born to Henry and Charlotte (Stearns) Eliot. Like the Eliots, the American Stearns family hailed from seventeenth century Massachusetts: Members of both families had done what they considered the right thing in the Salem witch trials, Andrew Eliot as a juror, a Stearns as a judge. Eliot’s schooling at Smith Academy was punctuated by summers in New England, chiefly at Gloucester and Rockport, Massachusetts (on Cape Ann), not far from the Dry Salvages. After a year at Milton Academy, Eliot matriculated at Harvard College, where he received a B.A. degree (1909) and pursued graduate studies (1910-1914), completing but not defending a doctoral dissertation on the philosophy of F. H. Bradley (published, 1964).

During the years 1910 to 1917, Eliot visited Paris and Germany (1910-1911) and studied at the Sorbonne; back in Cambridge (1911-1914), he studied philosophy (with Bertrand Russell), Sanskrit, and Pali, along with other subjects, and received a fellowship stipend to study at Marburg, Germany, in 1914—an award that he promptly transferred to Merton College, Oxford, at the onset of World War I. On September 22, 1914, Eliot met Ezra Pound; it was an event that marked the forging of a spiritual bond that endured for the rest of Eliot’s life. Since much has been made of Pound’s influence on Eliot’s poetry, especially The Waste Land, it may be useful to recall Pound’s statement that Eliot had “trained himself and modernized himself on his own.” It was largely through Pound’s...

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Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

T. S. Eliot began his career as a modernist poet, breaking with the traditions of nineteenth century literary standards and creating a new and innovative approach to the way poetry is written, read, and discussed. Born into a prominent and wealthy family, Eliot enjoyed a privileged education. After finishing two degrees at Harvard, he studied in Germany, at the Sorbonne in Paris, and at Merton College, Oxford. He settled in London, where he worked for Lloyds Bank, and in 1927 he became a British citizen.

Eliot is often associated with the American artists and writers who, dissatisfied with what they perceived as a decline in American cultural values, moved to Europe during and shortly after World War I. These expatriates transformed the senseless slaughter of the war and its socially disruptive aftermath into a metaphor for the general breakdown of civilization, fueled by the loss of a common cultural heritage and threatened by political destablization.

Eliot’s poetry reflects this view, often describing what he considered the decadence of contemporary life, plagued by a decay in spiritual values, a disregard for tradition, and the inability of government and religious institutions to provide significant order and meaning in life. His poems describe privileged men of culture displaced by the alienating effects of modern society; his poems also tell of victims, psychologically damaged products of a society in which transience has replaced any sense of community and the desire for novelty is purchased at the expense of quality. His characters are desperate for transcendence but impotent to effect any remedy for their spiritual malaise.

Eliot’s poetry specifically depicts the point of view of an educated, white European male alienated by cultural values he does not respect or understand. He writes from a narrow ideological base, having once described himself as “a classicist in literature, a royalist in politics, an Anglo-Catholic in religion.” The technical mastery of his poetry and the acute intellectual insight of his criticism have had an enormous influence on the history of literature. Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 26, 1888, the youngest child of a family with four daughters and a son. Eliot’s grandfather, the Reverend William Greenleaf Eliot, arrived in St. Louis from Boston in 1834 and quickly rose to prominence. The Reverend Eliot made his mark not only as a Unitarian minister and abolitionist but also as an educator, becoming chancellor of Washington University in 1872. As a boy, Eliot was much influenced by his grandfather and by his family’s New England heritage. His summers were usually spent in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where his father had built a vacation home. His mother, Charlotte Champe Stearns, herself a poet, also reinforced in Eliot a sense of his family’s essentially New England outlook. As he matured, his sympathies shifted still farther east, to Great Britain. In his twenties, Eliot established permanent residence in England, eventually becoming a British citizen. The pull of these three very different places—the Midwest, New England, and Great Britain—is crucial to understanding Eliot both as a man and as a writer. His last great work, Four Quartets (1943), is in a sense an extended meditation on the way that history and geographical place had formed him.

Although his father, Henry Ware Eliot, was a business executive (president of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company), Eliot was encouraged by his mother to pursue literary and scholarly interests. In fact, his early education was begun under her supervision, and her love of poetry very likely sparked his own. In 1898, Eliot began attending Smith Academy in St. Louis, and in 1906, he spent a year at Milton Academy in Massachusetts before entering Harvard. He received his B.A. in philosophy in 1909.

During this period, Harvard’s department of philosophy was rich in stimulating and original thinkers, and Eliot studied under two important twentieth century philosophers, George Santayana and Irving Babbitt. He began work on his master’s at Harvard in the fall of 1909. He spent the following academic year, 1910-1911, studying in France, where he attended the lectures of another major modern philosopher, Henri Bergson. At the same time, however, Eliot became acquainted with the poetry of the nineteenth century French Symbolist poets, particularly Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Jules Laforgue. Although he had written poetry throughout his adolescence and later at Harvard, the work of the Symbolists transformed him as a writer. His verse began to change radically, culminating four years later in the publication of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915).

The year that Eliot spent in France, his biographers agree, altered him...

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Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Many readers of modern poetry know the twentieth century as “The Age of Eliot.” Be that as it may, T. S. Eliot’s stature ranks him among the two or three great English-language poets of the last hundred years (the others being, perhaps, Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats).

This is so for three reasons. First, as Pound pointed out, Eliot was the century’s poetic forerunner: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” stands at the threshold of the twentieth century’s modernist tradition. Second, certain of Eliot’s poems—especially The Waste Land—seem to convey the anonymity, confusion, and urbanity of the time better than those of any other poet. Third, Eliot was perhaps the last “Man of Letters” in the old English literary tradition; his views on literature and the canon held ultimate authority for many years and still have an astonishing influence throughout the English-speaking world.

Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Stearns Eliot is so much the dominant figure in poetry and literary criticism in English in the first half of the twentieth century that some have called that period the Age of Eliot. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1888, into a prominent family with New England roots. His grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, founded a Unitarian church in St. Louis and then founded Washington University, establishing a family tradition of public service and piety. Eliot’s father, Henry Ware Eliot, deviated from this tradition by going into the brick business but passed the basic Eliot ethos on to his son. T. S. Eliot’s mother, Charlotte Champe Eliot, was active in social reforms and was an amateur poet and biographer. Eliot...

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Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226225-Eliot.jpg T. S. Eliot Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 26, 1888, the son of Henry and Charlotte (Stearns) Eliot, whose ancestors were among the early settlers of seventeenth century Massachusetts. Eliot’s grandfather, the Reverend William Greenleaf Eliot, left New England in 1834 to evangelize an outpost of civilization at St. Louis. There he founded the (first) Unitarian Church of the Messiah and Eliot Seminary which, under his leadership as chancellor (1870-1887), became Washington University.

Eliot’s early schooling at Smith Academy and his summers at coastal Rockport and Gloucester, Massachusetts, would inform the imagined landscapes of his subsequent poetry, as would visits to his ancestral home...

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Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Eliot’s multiyear quest “to purify the language of the tribe” found its reward in his reception of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948—“for the entire corpus,” he supposed. A poet in the forefront of modernism whose later work sought to give life to a vigorous union of the poetic and the spiritual, Eliot’s poetry, drama, and criticism remain cultural forces to which successive generations have had recourse in probing the same issues—sometimes disquieting issues—that Eliot had examined before them.

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Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Thomas Steams Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 26, 1888. Although the Eliots had lived in St. Louis for two generations,...

(The entire section is 303 words.)

Biography

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Thomas Stearns (T. S.) Eliot was born into a large and prosperous family September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. Eliot grew up with...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Biography

(Drama for Students)

Many readers familiar with T. S Eliot's works do not realize that he was American by birth. In fact, he came from an old New England family....

(The entire section is 448 words.)

Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Eliot was born in 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri, a member of a distinguished family that included Puritan ancestors who had been original...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Biography

(Poetry for Students)

Eliot was born September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. He was a bright and hardworking student, who experienced a classical, wide-ranging...

(The entire section is 786 words.)

Biography

(Drama for Students)

T. S. Eliot was bom in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 26, 1888, into a family that stressed the importance of education and tradition. His...

(The entire section is 500 words.)