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Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, at St. Louis, Missouri, an industrial city in the United States. His paternal ancestor, Andrew Eliot, migrated from East Coker (the name of one of T.S. Eliotís Four Quartets) in Somerset, England, in 1667 to settle down in Boston, USA. His maternal ancestor, Isaac Stern, was one of the early settlers in the Massachusetts colony in 1630. The Poetís grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, left New England for St. Louis in 1860 and established a Unitarian church there. He also established a University in St. Louis and wrote a number of religious tracts. The poetís father, Henry Ware Eliot, did not enter the church but took to the brick-trade at St. Louis and was quite successful. Our poet was the seventh and last child of Henry Eliot and Charlotte (Nee Stearns) who came directly from Boston before her marriage, she was actively involved in social work and was a writer of some caliber.
Schooling and College
Thus, from his mother and paternal grandfather, Eliot derived his interest in writing, academics and religion. He derived his business acumen from his father, which led him to work in a bank and later made him the successful head of a British publishing firm. He spent the first seventeen years of his life in St. Louis with occasional holidays on the Massachusetts coast where he developed his love for sailing. After his early schooling in St. Louis, he entered, Harvard in 1906. He earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees in English literature by 1910, then spent a year (1910-11) at Sorbonne University, Paris and returned to Harvard to work for his doctoral degree on the philosophy of Francis Herbert Bradley.
Shy by nature, Eliot even took boxing lessons at Harvard to overcome his introversion. As a student he had wide-ranging interests in comparative studies in language and literatures like Greek and Latin, German, French, English and even Sanskrit. He was also influenced by two of his teachers: Irving Babbilt and George Santayana. From them, he developed his strong sense of tradition. Around 1908, he read Arthur Symons influential work: The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899). This stimulated his interest in the poetry of the French symbolists, especially Charles Baudelaire and Jules Laforque. Between 1911 and 1914, Eliot traveled intermittently in France, Germany and England, studying for some time in Marburg, Germany and at Merton College, oxford, before submitting his doctoral thesis.
With the outbreak of World War I, Eliot left Germany and decided to stay in England after his meeting with Ezra pound on Sept. 22, 1914. In July, 1915, Eliot married Vivien Haigh-wood, daughter of the painter Charles Haigh-wood. Pound introduced Eliot into Londonís lively literary circles and helped him publish The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock in Poetry (June 1915). Soon after his marriage, Eliot took up school teaching briefly and then joined the Lloydís Bank in London on March 19, 1917, working there for 8 years.
Though he had been writing poetry since his schooldays, Eliot achieved a major breakthrough with his first volume: Prufrock and other Observations in 1917. This book of poems ushered in the era of modern poetry through its ironic vision, deliberate incongruities and conversational style. His second volume Poems (1920) contained such remarkable pieces as Gerontion and the Sweeney poems. In August 1920, Eliot went on holiday to France, along with Wyndham Lewis. Here he met James Joyce and read parts of the great Irish writerís monumental novel Ulysses.