Fifty years ago yesterday

Posted by Helen Monday, January 05, 2015 , , ,

Very remiss of this blog not to note the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the great poet, essayist and conservative thinker, T. S. Eliot yesterday. As it happens, I am writing this in London Library, of which he was President from 1952 to 1964 and which has recently benefited greatly from the generosity of his widow, Valerie Eliot. Indeed, the new section of the library is called after the great man though I should have preferred it to be known as Old Possum House. Ah well, cannot have everything.

A few other links on the subject: the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Foundation and the Nobel Prize website, which also has his acceptance speech.

And, for conservative thinkers and readers, here is Roger Scruton's brilliant essay on Eliot as a conservative mentor.
T. S. Eliot was indisputably the greatest poet writing in English in the twentieth century. He was also the most revolutionary Anglophone literary critic since Samuel Johnson, and the most influential religious thinker in the Anglican tradition since the Wesleyan movement. His social and political vision is contained in all his writings, and has been absorbed and reabsorbed by generations of English and American readers, upon whom it exerts an almost mystical fascination—even when they are moved, as many are, to reject it. Without Eliot, the philosophy of Toryism would have lost all substance during the last century. And while not explicitly intending it, Eliot set this philosophy on a higher plane, intellectually, spiritually, and stylistically, than has ever been reached by the adherents of the socialist idea.

Eliot attempted to shape a philosophy for our times that would be richer and more true to the complexity of human needs than the free-market panaceas that have so often dominated the thinking of conservatives in government. He assigned a central place in his social thinking to high culture. He was a thorough traditionalist in his beliefs but an adventurous modernist in his art, holding artistic modernism and social traditionalism to be different facets of a common enterprise. Modernism in art was, for Eliot, an attempt to salvage and fortify a living artistic tradition in the face of the corruption and decay of popular culture.
It is very well worth reading in full.


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