Eliot had conflicting thoughts on whether his letters should be made public after his death
A letter written by esteemed American poet TS Eliot has been discovered after being hidden for 40 years.
Eliot, famed for epic poem The Waste Land as well as writing the inspiration for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats, had written to his friend Jacob Isaacs.
The archives of Isaacs, an author and lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London in 1957, were being catalogued when the letter was unearthed.
In it Eliot queried the content of an essay he wrote on Shakespeare.
Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca, originally published in 1927, was considered a milestone in Eliot’s development as a scholar of the Bard.
It examined how the popularity of the Greek writer’s tragedies in Elizabethan England influenced Shakespeare’s writing – and was due to be republished in 1957, prompting Eliot to contact his friend.
He asked Isaacs if he could “throw any light” on the identity of Webster, who was referred to in the essay, but Eliot was unable to remember.
The letter conveys further confusion on behalf of the writer: “Incidentally, I do not even remember whether I meant Sam Johnson or Ben Jonson. It is Jonson in my text, but is this a misprint? No one will ever know.”
The letter was typed on Faber and Faber headed paper, indicating it was written at the publishing house where Eliot was employed as editor.
It was part of a collection donated to Queen Mary by Isaacs’ wife upon his death in 1973.
Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri in the USA, but later moved to the UK and settled in London.
He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, and is probably best known for The Waste Land, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats – which was later became Lloyd Webber’s musical, Cats.
The author had conflicting thoughts on whether he wanted the public to read his private letters.
In 1927, he said: “I don’t like reading other people’s private correspondence in print, and I do not want other people to read mine.”
But six years later, he confessed an “ineradicable” desire for his letters to reach a wider audience.
“We want to confess ourselves in writing to a few friends, and we do not always want to feel that no one but those friends will ever read what we have written.”