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Eliot and Hulme in 1916: Toward a Revaluation of Eliot's Critical and Spiritual Development

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2020

Ronald Schuchard*
Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia


MOST RECENT critical studies indicate that as the poetry and criticism of T. S. Eliot move toward their inevitable period of eclipse all of the old critical attitudes are still intact. Since the late twenties there have been numerous charges of inconsistency between Eliot's early and later criticism, and between his criticism and his poetry, and though a few critics have been piecing together the unfinished case for continuity, the cumulative criticism of Eliot's development as a poet-critic-Catholic has led most of us discussing Eliot's work in the classroom to accept the following prevalent assumptions and chronology: that the poems written from “Prufrock” to “The Hollow Men” are those of a despairing, skeptical poet probing spiritual bankruptcy in the modern world ; that from “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) to his conversion in 1927 Eliot's theory of tradition and criticism spring from literary rather than moral concerns; that in 1928, when in the Preface to For Lancelot Andrewes Eliot announces that his attitude is “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglocatholic in religion,” there is a rather sudden turn from an esthetic and literary theory of tradition to a moral and religious doctrine of orthodoxy; that in After Strange Gods (1934) and later Eliot not only sins against literature by employing his dogmatic religious beliefs as the narrow touchstone of his criticism, but yearns nostalgically for the unified sensibility and moral security of a lost medieval world. But these widespread opinions are misleading, for by 1916 Eliot's classical, royalist, and religious point of view was already formulated. A first step toward establishing this assertion, which calls for a full-scale revaluation of Eliot's development and of the primary concerns of his poetry and criticism before 1928, is to examine evidence of Eliot's critical and religious position in 1915–16, and especially the role of T. E. Hulme in defining that position.

Research Article
PMLA , Volume 88 , Issue 5 , October 1973 , pp. 1083 - 1094
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 1973

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1 To Criticize the Critic (New York: Farrar, 1965), p. 17.

2 “T. S. Eliot and His Relation to T. E. Hulme,” UTQ, 2 (April 1933), 380–96.

3 The Critical Ideas of T. S. Eliot (Tartu, Estonia: K. Mattiesen, 1932), p. 118.

4 The Achievement of T. S. Eliot, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1958), p. 71.

5 See, respectively, T. E. Hulme (London: Faber, 1938), p. 208; Poetry and the Modern World (Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1940), p. 91; The Armed Vision (New York: Knopf, 1948), p. 98; Poetry and Belief in the Work of T. S. Eliot (Oslo: Jacob Dybwad, 1949), p. 38; rev. ed. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961), p. 23; Literary Criti cism: A Short History (New York : Vintage-Random, 1957), p. 660.

6 A more recent critic, Marion Montgomery—T. S. Eliot: An Essay on the American Magus (Athens : Univ. of Georgia Press, 1969), pp. 2–3—also follows Matthiessen, but he goes on to argue that the kinship between Eliot and Hulme has been exaggerated, especially in regard to their attitudes toward the relation of esthetics and metaphysics in their conceptions of the image. John D. Margolis' T. S. Eliot's Intellectual Development (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1972), received too late for inclusion in the present essay, cites some of the evidence used later in this study to show that Eliot had read Hulme's poetry before 1924; however, Margolis asserts that Eliot was not familiar with Hulme's essays or critical theory until after the publication of Speculations.

7 “T. S. Eliot and the Romantic Heresy,” Yale French Studies, 13 (1954), 5.

8 From Gautier to Eliot (London: Hutchinson, 1960), pp. 163,157.

9 Sean Lucy, T. S. Eliot and the Idea of Tradition (London: Cohen & West, 1960), p. 33.

10 T. S. Eliot, A Sermon (Cambridge, Eng. : Cambridge Univ. Press, 1948), p. 5.

11 Unsigned review of Group Theories of Religion and the Individual, by Clement C. J. Webb, The New Statesman, 29 July 1916, p. 405.

12 [Hommage à Charles Maurras], Aspects de la France et du Monde (Paris), 25 April 1948, p. 6, cols. 1–2.

13 The New Age, 8 May 1913, p. 38.

14 Blasting and Bombardiering (London : Eyre & Spottis woode, 1937), p. 108.

15 “This Hulme Business,” Townsman (Jan. 1939), p. 15.

16 This letter is printed in Ezra Pound: Perspectives, ed. Noel Stock (Chicago: Regnery, 1965), pp. 110–11. Arnold Dolmetsch (1858–1940) and his wife developed principles and techniques for the recovery of early instrumental music in modern times. He achieved international reputa tion with his book The Interpretation of the Music of the xviith and xvnith Centuries (London: Novello, 1915), which Pound counseled all “anti-versilibristi” to read. See Pound's “Vers Libres and Arnold Dolmetsch,” The Egoist, July 1917, p. 90.

17 See Further Speculations, ed. Sam Hynes (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1955), pp. 147–69.

18 T. E. Hulme, Speculations, ed. Herbert Read (New York: Harcourt, 1924), p. x.

19 Alun R. Jones, The Life and Opinions of T. E. Hulme (Boston: Beacon, 1960), p. 135.

20 There has been some confusion over the authorship of the poem, which appears under the signature “T. ?. H.” with the title “Poem: Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr. T. ?. H.” According to A. R. Jones, there is a copy of the poem, with the title “Trenches, St. Eloi,” among Hulme's papers, but Jones says the poem “was reprinted by Ezra Pound as his own poem and without the signature T. ?. H. in . . . Umbra (1920). It is probable that Ezra Pound actually wrote the poem on the basis of one of Hulme's conversations during the period 1914–15 and credited Hulme with the authorship in his Catholic Anthology” (p. 151). A closer examination of Umbra (London :Mathews, 1920) clarifies the confusion. The title page contains a general description of the contents : “All that he now wishes to keep in circulation from 'Personae,' 'Exultations,' 'Ripostes,' etc. With translations from Guido Cavalcanti and the late T. E. Hulme.” Included in the volume are the five poems that make up “The Complete Poetical Works of T. E. Hulme,” together with “Poem / Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr. T. ?. H.,” as printed in Catholic Anthology. The presence of this poem is explained by Pound in a statement prefacing Hulme's poems: “Hulme's five poems were published as his Complete Poetical Works at the end of Ripostes in 1912; there is, and now can be, no further addition, unless my abbreviation of some of his talk made when he came home with his first wound in 1915 may be half counted among them” (p. 123). Though the poem is only “half” Hulme's, he was in London and associating with Pound at the time of its publication, and, as Jones points out, Hulme's friends certainly credited him with the authorship. The signature “T. ?. H.” here and on other essays of the period, as well as the pseudonym “North Staffs” on his “War Notes,” is possibly a precautionary measure resulting from Hulme's desire to remain incognito to the War Office.

21 Hynes says that after Hulme was released from the hospital he began “hanging around the Café Royal, talking to his friends” (p. xxvii). Hulme's friend Ramiro de Maetzu, who spent 1915 in London, says that Hulme could always be found at the Café Royal, where “me monstraba la inmensa transcendencia de la doctrina del pecado original” [Autobiographia, Madrid: Editora Nacional, 1962, p. 149].

22 “Orage: Memories,” New English Weekly, 15 Nov. 1934, p. 100.

23 The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, ii (London:Allen and Unwin, 1968), 19.

24 The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, ed. D. D. Paige (New York: Harcourt, 1950), p. 63.

25 The New Age, 23 Dec. 1915, p. 187; also Speculations, pp. 29–30.

26 The New Age, 6 Jan. 1916, pp. 234–35; also Speculations, pp. 39–45.

27 The New Age, 3 Feb. 1916, p. 318. Each of the “War Notes” from 27 Jan. 1916 was reprinted, under a different title and with minor textual revisions, two days later in The Cambridge Magazine, and some of Russell's replies there were reprinted in The New Age. Much of this controversy is reprinted in Further Speculations, pp. 174–213.

28 Eliot and Russell were close, but they had antithetical temperaments. From the moment Eliot encountered Russell in London in 1914 he declared he was “not a pacifist,” and, in a statement indicative of his philosophical spiritual position at this time, he later revealed his own significant attitude toward “A Free Man's Worship”: “I am sure that for me the strongest outside influences were negative. Observation of the futility of non-Christian lives has its part; and also realization of the incredibility of every alternative to Christianity that offers itself. One may become a Christian partly by pursuing scepticism to the utmost limit. I owe . . . something, in this way, to Bertrand Russell's essay, A Free Man's Worship: the effect this essay had on me was certainly the reverse of anything the author intended” (A Sermon, p. 5). In a March 1918 Nation review of Russell's Mysticism and Logic, which contains “A Free Man's Worship,” Eliot expressed long familiarity with Russell's Philosophical Essays (1903, 1910), in which the essay earlier appeared.

29 T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography, rev. and extended ed. (New York: Harcourt, 1969), pp. 343–44.

30 “T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound: Collaborators in Letters,” The Atlantic, 225 (Jan. 1970), 50. See also Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound (New York: Pantheon, 1970), p. 181. Margolis, pp. 9–12, cites the syllabus on modern French literature, which he uses to demonstrate Eliot's debt to Irving Babbitt.

31 In February 1916 the Oxford Univ. Extension Delegacy published a list of lectures showing Eliot offering the following courses (with the number of lectures in parentheses): “Tendencies of Contemporary French Thought” (6); “Contemporary French Poets and Novelists” (6); “Six Nineteenth-Century Thinkers: Chateaubriand, Michelet, Sainte-Beuve, Comte, Taine, Renan” (6 or 12); “The Novel in France” (6 or 12); “French Literary Criticism” (6 or 12); “Contemporary Literary Movements” (6). Presumably there was not sufficient demand for these courses, as the syllabi appear never to have been printed. The course Eliot did give seems to be a composite of the proposed courses. It was given in a series of six afternoon lectures during the Michaelmas term, 1916, at Ilkley in Yorkshire. I am grateful to F. W. Jessup, Secretary of the Oxford Extension Delegacy, for this information.

32 For interest and convenience I include the entire reading list. The following are primary books: Rousseau: The Social Contract; Confessions; De l'origine de l'inégalité; Lemaître: Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Barrés: Novels: Le Jardin de Bérénice; Colette Baudoche; La Colline inspirée; Political writings: Scènes et doctrines du nationalisme; La Patrie française; Pages choisies; Maurras: L'Avenir de l'intelligence; La Politique religieuse; Lasserre: Le Romantisme français; Péguy: Œuvres choisies, 1900–10; Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d'Arc; Notre Patrie; Sorel: Reflections on Violence; Claudel: Art poétique; The Tidings Brought to Mary; The East I Know; Bergson: Introduction to Metaphysics; Maeterlinck: Wisdom and Destiny; The Life of the Bee; P. Sabatier: Modernism; Disestablishment in France; France To-day: Its Religious Orientation; Loisy: The Gospel and the Church; War and Religion. The following books are recommended for special subjects: for Rousseau: John Morley, Rousseau, 2 vols.; Frederika Macdonald, Rousseau; H. N. Brailsford, Shelley, Godwin and Their Circle; Sydney Waterlow, Shelley; for the leading ideas of the nineteenth century: Renan, Souvenirs d'enfance et de jeunesse; Taine, Introduction à l'histoire de la littérature anglaise; Babbitt, Masters of Modem French Criticism; Bourget, Essais de psychologie contemporaine, 2 vols.; for exposition and criticism of contemporary ideas (neoclassicism, neo-Catholicism, etc.) various unnamed works of Brunetière, Faguet, and Lemaître were to be referred to in the course of the lectures; Anatole France, La Vie littéraire, 4 vols.; for contemporary literature: Amy Lowell, Six French Poets; Rivière, Etudes; H. Ghéon, Nos Directions; Ezra Pound, “The Approach to Paris” ; for Bergson: H. Wildon Carr, Bergson; for recent publications of French men of letters in connection with the war : Loisy, War and Religion; Barrés, Pages choisies; Romain Rolland, Above the Battle; A. Suarès, Péguy; Nous et eux; Lasserre, Le Germanisme et l'esprit humain; for the best short history of French literature: G. L. Strachey, Landmarks in French Literature.

33 Subsequent editions delete Hulme's Preface. References to the Preface are to its reprinting in Speculations (hereafter cited in the text as Spec), which is more accessible than the 1916 edition of Reflections on Violence.

34 Selected Essays, new ed. (New York: Harcourt, 1964), pp. 20–21.

35 “On TSE,” in T. S. Eliot: The Man and His Work, ed. Allen Tate (New York: Delta-Dell, 1967), p. 4. For Eliot's later discussion of Hulme's theory of poetry, see The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London: Faber, 1933), p. 149.

36 Athenaeum, No. 4640 (4 April 1919), p. 134.

37 Chapbook, 2 March 1920, p. 2.

38 This restricted letter is located in the Academic Center Library, Univ. of Texas at Austin.

39 There is not room to demonstrate this here, but the early drift away from Bradley is implicit in numerous places, including Conrad Aiken's Ushant (Cleveland, Ohio: Meridian-World, 1962), pp. 214–16. Aiken, describing the growing distance between himself and Eliot during the war years, says that “from this [Eliot's] remarkable thesis, which had contributed much to the ‘fixing’ of D.'s [Aiken's] implicit intellectual or philosophic position, adding, as it did, the basic 'why' as to the values of knowledge, the Tsetse [Eliot] was gradually to retreat, as if that magnificent vision, into the apparent chaos which blazed and swarmed and roared beyond the neat walls of Eden, was one he found insupportable” (p. 215). In his review of Russell's Mysticism and Logic Eliot states: “As a philosopher Mr. Bradley attains a perfection which is so emphatically a perfection of destruction, the most valuable part of his work is so purely sceptical, that his greatness is due rather to a consummation of dialectical technique than to a single vision.” Nation, 23 March 1918, p. 770.

40 “A Prediction in Regard to Three English Authors,” Vanity Fair, Feb. 1924, pp. 29, 98. This is the revised English text of “Lettre d'Angleterre,” Nouvelle Revue Française, 1 Nov. 1923, 619–25.

41 See “Notes on Bergson, iv,” The New Age, 30 Nov. 1911, p. 110–12; rpt. in Further Speculations, pp. 46–54. In this essay Hulme develops his idea of doubt, belief, and the modern “saint,” who “in every generation has to struggle with an obstacle which stands in the way of any idealist or religious interpretation of the universe.” It directly parallels Eliot's own conception, which he developed primarily in his essays on Baudelaire, beginning in 1922. See, e.g., “Poet and Saint. . ., ” The Dial, May 1927, pp.424–31; rpt., with minor revisions, as “Baudelaire in Our Time.”

42 “Mr. P. E. More's Essays,” TLS, 21 Feb. 1929, p.136.

43 See esp. “An American Critic,” New Statesman, 24 June 1916, p. 284; also “Mr. Leacock Serious,” New Statesman, 29 July 1916, p. 404–05, and n. 11, above. In the 1916–17 Victorian literature syllabus Eliot treats “as moralist” Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, Newman, George Eliot, Arnold (who is compared with Carlyle and Emerson), and Ruskin.

44 These notebooks are presently available for examination, but not for quotation. They are located in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, to whose authorities I am thankful for permission to examine the Eliot MSS. See Donald Gallup, “The ‘Lost’ Manuscripts of T. S. Eliot,” TLS, 7 Nov. 1968, pp. 1237–40.

45 I am grateful to the Emory Univ. Research Committee for a grant that made possible part of this research.