On a recent Sunday morning, to the TS Eliot exhibition at the British Library. It's small, but very good, focusing on his work as a publisher, supporting poets such as MacNeice, Spender, Ted Hughes and many others, and the exhibition consists mostly of letters and photographs, with one or two interesting recordings. Sadly, it finishes on 6 December, so it's almost too late to see it now. But it's was a fascinating insight into his work as a director at Faber & Faber (there was only one Faber, but he thought two sounded better!). His fellow directors were well aware of his value to the company, as author, icon and talent speaker, but they were not in awe of him, as this heading from an alphabetical catalogue shows:
But many of those younger writers that he brought to the company were very much overawed, including Ted Hughes. He said meeting Eliot, a quiet and slightly stiff persona, was like watching the Queen Mary bear down on you, very slowly. Eliot wrote a lot of letters himself, and both manuscripts and typescripts exist, exhorting this poet or that to greater efforts, or recommending that the firm take someone up. One of his great contacts, of course, was Auden, who took the mickey about some of the people Eliot met when doing lecture tours in the US:
E is for Eliot, a very stern man.
His prose is severe, and his poems don't scan.
T S Eliot is quite at a loss
When clubwomen hustle across
At literary teas
And say: "What if you please
Do you mean by A Mill On The Floss"?
As well as letters and pictures, there were many recordings to enjoy as well - the great man himself, reading from his own poetry, (you can him ploughing through the wonderful Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock here) and Ted Hughes reading Hawk in the Rain, and Auden reading As I Walked Out One Evening. One prose writer he enouraged was Djuna Barnes, whose Nightwood you will probably know, but I confess I didn't. All in all, a rewarding hour with an unsung side of the greatest poet in English of the past hundred years.