Exchanges 1 The T.S. Eliot Society (UK) Quarterly
Volume 9 Issue 7 Summer 2015 In This Issue: EDITORIAL COMMENT Editorial Comment This year's Festival focuses on Eliot and biography. Lyndall Gordon and Robert Crawford, Letter to Editor the foremost biographers of Eliot will both be speaking at the Eliot Festival on 18th July at Page 1 Little Gidding. Ron Schuchard will keep us up to date on the massive publishing venture from Faber and Faber and John Hopkins University Press, which will eventually gather all T.S. Eliot and Eliot's writing into one edition. This year is a one-day event and will close with Graham Cheese Fawcett, president of the Eliot Society reading Little Gidding. It promises to be a wonderful Page 2 occasion and not, unlike the past, clashing with Wimbledon.
…continued Paul Keers, the Society's Webmaster, has contributed an article on Eliot and cheese; Argot Page 3 includes a satirical piece written by Eliot and Vivienne. This fascinating and unexpected passage comes from the 2nd volume of the complete Eliot prose edited by Ron Schuchard. To Gummo Marx This is an ebook and available on line. Page 4 Thanks as always to Kathy Radley and Paul Keers who have established a membership of
over 100 people and keep them informed by means of the website. From the Diaries of Virginia Woolf Alan Bennett Letters to the Editor: Pages 5 Dear Editor,
Argot The Spring 2015 issue of EXCHANGES has been intellectually and emotionally uplifting Pages 6 and I'm sure that if Our Poet were alive he'd have approved without any Prufrockian ifs and perhaps and buts. …continued Page7 Professor Brooker's lecture T.S. Eliot and the Ecstasy of Assent is an example of the highest, finest and most elevated forms of literary criticism. We must thank Graham Pechey for his accurate reportage. I look forward to the two volumes by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue, which are due out in October. In Memoriam David Liston's Old Possum's Hat Trick....in The Waste Land unravels many mysteries and
personality identities that men of genius have to grapple with and contend with. How many Membership hats must a man wear? Our man was pinstriped and sported a City bowler hat. And yet he information loved London's music halls and the Cockney dialect and accent. But he never, so far as I Page 8 know, wore a cloth cap. In Memory of Henry James (from The Egoist 1918) recalls with forceful clarity TSE's mastery of criticism. Let us all pay homage to Park Honan. - Reginald Massey
TS Eliot and cheese
“The poets have been mysteriously silent” wrote GK Chesterton, “on the subject of cheese.” The one poet of whom this could not be said is TS Eliot. Indeed, Eliot exhibited a surprising volubility on the subject of cheese, and English cheeses in particular. Stilton, Double Gloucester, Cheddar and Cheshire all feature in his life and letters. Just look at Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, where one particular cheese features:
‘The term culture…includes all the characteristic activities and interests of a people; Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes…Wensleydale cheese…’
And his attitude towards cheese clearly influenced significant decisions in his life. Eliot declined an invitation from the critic IA Richards to visit Peking with him in 1929, on the grounds that he did “not care to visit any country which has no native cheese.”
Hugh Kenner, in his book The Pound Era, recalls a lunch with Eliot at the Garrick Club. (A link to the full extract is on the Miscellany page of our website.) Kenner declined dessert for himself, and suggested cheese:
‘To which [Eliot responded], “Very well. I fancy . . . a fine Stilton.” And as the waiter left for the Stilton, Eliot imparted the day’s most momentous confidence: “Never commit yourself to a cheese without having first . . . examined it.” Sage advice indeed from the great man. And when the waiter returned with the cheese, Eliot proceeded to deploy his critical faculties to the full.
‘The Stilton stood encumbered with a swaddling band, girded about with a cincture, scooped out on top like a crater of the moon. It was placed in front of the Critic. (“Analysis and comparison,” he had written some 40 years earlier, “Analysis and comparison, methodically, with sensitiveness, intelligence, curiosity, intensity of passion and infinite knowledge: all these are necessary to the great critic.”) ‘With the side of his knife blade he commenced tapping the circumference of the cheese, rotating it, his head cocked in a listening posture. It is not possible to swear that he was listening. He then tapped the inner walls of the crater. He then dug about with the point of his knife amid the fragments contained by the crater. He then said, “Rather past its prime. I am afraid I cannot recommend it.”
‘He was not always so. That was one of his Garrick personae. An acquaintance reports that at dinner in Eliot’s home “an ordinary Cheddar” was “served without ceremony.”’ So perhaps it was only an ordinary Cheddar to which Valerie Eliot referred, when explaining that their relationship was a quiet one; she once said that “We used to stay at home, and drink Drambuie and eat cheese [my emphasis] and play Scrabble.” 3
But it was Stilton, which inspired one of Eliot’s most impassioned communications. In 1935, Eliot wrote to The Times and offered his support for Sir John Squire’s “manly and spirited defense of Stilton cheese”. He was less enthusiastic, however, about Squire’s idea of a public monument to its inventor: Eliot is of the opinion that “a “Stiltonian monument” is not appropriate. What is needed, Eliot writes, “if cheese is to be brought back to its own in England”, is “the formation of a Society for the Preservation of Ancient Cheeses.”
‘There is a great deal of work which such a society, and its members individually, could do. For instance, one of its first efforts should be to come to terms, by every possible persuasion, with the potteries which supply those dishes with three compartments, one for little biscuits, one for pats of butter, and one for little cubes of gorgonzola, so called. The production of these dishes could be stopped by a powerful organization of cheese-eaters. Also troops of members should visit all the hotels and inns in Gloucestershire, demanding Double Gloster [sic]. (On two occasions I have had to add the explanation: “it is a kind of cheese.”)’
Eliot goes on to claim superiority for “the noble Old Cheshire when in prime condition” over “even the finest Stilton”; but the letter ends by saying that “this is no time for disputes between the eaters of English cheese,” because “the situation is too precarious”.
Did Eliot take his position on cheese as part of his adopted English character? He certainly used cheese as a means of criticizing the tastes of his fatherland. In a letter to The New Statesman and Nation in 1935, he responded to a review by David Garnett of A Little Book of Cheese, a book by Osbert Burdett intended “to aid the reader in the choice of cheese”:
‘Sir – Mr. David Garnett is in error in supposing that there is no tolerable American cheese. There is a delicious Port Salut type made by Trappist monks in Ontario. But Trappist monks, like their cheese, are the product of “a settled civilisation of long standing,” and I fear that there is little demand for either. Americans seem to prefer a negative cream cheese, which they can eat with salad: and American salads are barbaric. (…) I for one would be glad to buy a Double Cottenham, if he could put me in the way of it.’
(And who would not? Double Cottenham, a cheese similar to Stilton, was last made a hundred and fifty years ago; cheese making in the village of Cottenham ceased after the cattle plague in 1866.)
It was clearly English cheese, as opposed to varieties from abroad, which was Eliot’s passion; and, indeed, perhaps his most poetic quote was inspired by the cheese he placed within his definition of culture. Wensleydale is now a Protected Geographical Indication, like Champagne, meaning that the cheese so described must come from that particular area. And within the government’s DEFRA documentation for the product, specifying its unique characteristics, TS Eliot is quoted, in perhaps his most poetic utterance on cheese. “Ah, Wensleydale,” he declared in The Observer. “The Mozart of cheese.”
TO GUMMO MARX June 1964
Last night Eden and I had dinner with my celebrated pen pal, T S Eliot. It was a memorable evening.
The poet met us at the door with Mrs Eliot, a good-looking middle-aged blonde whose eyes seemed to fill up with adoration every time she looked at her husband. He, by the way, is tall, lean and rather stooped over; but whether this is from age, illness or both I don’t know.
At any rate, your correspondent arrives at the Eliots’ fully prepared for a literary evening. During the week I had read ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ twice; ‘The Waste Land’ three times. And just in case of a conversational bottleneck, I brushed up on ‘King Lear.’
Well sir, as cocktails were served, there was a momentary lull – the kind that is more or less inevitable when strangers meet for the first time. So, apropos of practically nothing (and ‘not with a bang, but a whimper’) I tossed in a quotation from ‘The Waste Land.’ That. I thought, will show him I’ve read a thing or two beside my press notices from vaudeville.
Eliot smiled faintly – as though to say he was thoroughly familiar with his poems and didn’t need me to recite them. So I took a whack at ‘King Lear.’ I said the king was an incredibly foolish old man, which God knows he was; and that if he’d been my father, I would have run away from home at the age of eight – instead of waiting until I was ten.
That too, failed to bowl over the poet. He seemed more interested in discussing ‘Animal Crackers’ and ‘A Night at the Opera.’ He quoted a joke - one of mine – that I had long since forgotten. Now it was my turn to smile faintly. I was not going to let anyone – not even the British poet from St Louis – spoil my Literary Evening. I pointed out that King Lear’s opening speech was the height of idiocy. Imagine (I said) a father asking his three children: Which of you kids loves me the most? And then disowning the youngest – the sweet, honest Cordelia – because, unlike her wicked sister, she cannot bring herself to gush out insincere flattery. And Cordelia, mind you, had been her father’s favourite!
The Eliots listened politely. Mrs Eliot then defended Shakespeare; and Eden, too, I regret to say, was on King Lear’s side, even though I am the one who supports her. (In all fairness to my wife, I must say that, having played the Princess in a high school production of ‘The Swan’ she has retained a rather warm feeling for all royalty.)
As for Eliot, he asked if I remembered the courtroom scene in ‘Duck Soup.’ Fortunately, I’d forgotten every word. It was obviously the end of the Literary Evening, but very pleasant nonetheless. I discovered that Eliot and I had three things in common: (1) an affection for good cigars and (2) cats; and (3) a weakness for making puns – a weakness that for many years I have tried to overcome. T. S., on the other hand, is an unashamed – even proud – punster. For example there’s his Gus, the Theatre Cat, whose real name was Asparagus.’
Speaking of asparagus, the dinner included good, solid English beef, very well prepared. And, although they had a semi- butler serving, Eliot insisted on pouring the wine himself. It was an excellent wine and no maître d’ could have served it more graciously. He is a dear man and a charming host.
When I told him that my daughter Melinda was studying his poetry at Beverly High, he said that he regretted that, because he had no wish to become compulsory reading.
We didn’t stay late, for we both felt that he wasn’t up to a long evening of conversation – especially mine.
Did I tell you we called him Tom? – possibly because that’s his name. I, of course, asked him to call me Tom too, but only because I loathe the name Julius.
FROM THE DIARIES OF VIRGINIA WOOLF
Wednesday 19th December 1923
I'd like to record poor Tom's getting drunk, all the same. We went to a flat in an arcade, & asked for captain Eliot. I noticed that his eyes were blurred. He cut the cake meticulously. He helped us to coffee - or was it tea? Then to liqueurs. He repeated, L noticed, "Mrs Ricardo", as L told his story; he got things a little wrong. There was a long pale squint-eyed Oxford youth on the floor. We discussed the personal element in literature. Tom then quietly left the room. L then heard sounds of sickness. After a long time, he came back, sank into the corner, & I saw him, ghastly pale, with his eyes shut, apparently in a stupor. When we left he was he was only just able to stand on his legs. We heard a shuffling as we went, & Clive went back. Next day, I spent 10 minutes at the telephone receiving apologies - how distressing, what could we all think? Could we forgive him - the first time - would we ever come again? no dinner, no lunch - then sudden collapse - how dreadful - what a miserable end to the evening - apologies please to Leonard, to your sister - & so on. One of those comedies which life sometimes does to perfection.
Last April Hugh Black-Hawkins wrote to Alan Bennett inviting him to speak at this summer’s festival. “Some time went by,” writes Hugh, “and then I received a postcard with a picture of A Leeds to Carlisle Sprinter service on Ribblehead viaduct, seen from Littledale Beck. The message went as follows: “I do know Little Gidding but the thought of being confronted by a chapel full of experts on T S Eliot is too daunting, I’m afraid. I saw him once in 1964 on Leeds Central Station and my mother met him in Headingly with his (much younger) mother-in-law Mrs Fletcher – but I did not think that would take me very far with your society!”
6 ARGOT The following can be found in the second volume of Eliot's complete prose. It was published in The Criterion in 1926 under the name of Eliot but there is reason to believe that Vivienne Eliot had contributed to it.
On the Eve: A Dialogue [with Vivien Eliot] The Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 3 (Jan 1925) 278-81
“PANCAKES!” exclaimed Horace as Rose handed him the dish.
“Ah, pancakes,” murmured Alexander.
“I must have one, I don’t care what happens,” said Agatha recklessly.
They squeezed lemon-juice on their pancakes and covered them with sugar. Horace rolled his up in a neat roll, and began to eat it with gusto. Rose left the room looking pleased and complacent. The pancakes had been her idea – “and it makes a nice change for them,” she thought.
“But, Alexander,” said Agatha, continuing a discussion arising out of her country-house visit, which had begun before the arrival of the pancakes, “what I want to know is where they keep their money. It can’t be in this country or they wouldn’t be trying to work up a revolution.”
“Ah,” said Horace in a sinister voice, “that’s about the size of it.”
“And if they had it invested in another country,” went on Agatha; “do listen, Alexander — ”
“America,” said Horace. “ – then how did they get it there? I mean, how could they manage to sell their horrible stocks over here and get the cash to invest in America?”
“Or Canada,” said Horace. “I mean to say, well, God knows I never can sell anything. My few bits of stuff which pay me about twopence a year are all absolutely unsaleable – and we all know, don’t we, Alexander? that we shall be completely and utterly ruined if there is an extreme socialist government. We shall be destitute. But they won’t suffer. That’s obvious. They go on spending just as much, living in the lap, and yet their one interest and amusement is to pull down and shatter England.”
Horace looked ferocious as he took another pancake from the dish on the sideboard. “Curse them,” he said bitterly, “but you know, Agatha, you do have bad luck in always hobbing and nobbing with those sort of piefaced blokes. There are, I assure you, a few stoutish fellows left – more than a few in fact – more than you imagine.”
“But not enough to save England,” said Agatha in a low voice. “Besides, they have no confidence in themselves — ”
“Oh, I don’t know. Because they’re not always blustering and bleating and showing off — ”
“The fact is,” said Alexander at last, looking up from his plate. 7
“They are ‘capitalists’ because they live upon a civilisation to which they contribute nothing – and they are ‘anarchists’ because they are ready to destroy the civilisation, which bore and nourished them. There is a certain irony, of course, about the fate of these Gadarene swine. They have always stood for ‘progress’ – and the progress which they set in motion is on the point of obliterating them for ever — ”
“You might just ring the bell, will you, Horace,” said Agatha. “They have stood for the extension of democracy – and now that democracy is extended to the utmost, democracy is on the point of deposing them in favour of a new oligarchy stronger and more terrible than their own — ”
“Are you ready for the coffee, ’m?” asked Rose.
“Yes, because I’ve got to be off, you know,” added Horace.
“They cling, at the last, to the paltry satisfaction of ‘holding the balance of power’ between two parties both of which they affect to despise. They have been squandering everything that the humble people have worked to create – soldiers and generals and diplomats and administrators are humble people, in my opinion,” said Alexander acidly. “The Whigs have no principles,” he continued, summing up judicially. “Look at their policies towards Russia, and Ireland, and India — ”
“Yes, poor old Ireland – that’s where they got us,” interjected Horace. “But they will never see what has happened. It is at their dinner-tables that one hears the most antiquated political theories, and the most unintelligent expressions of the most snobbish and insincere literary taste. Constitutional government,” pursued Alexander, now well away —
“Speed it up!” said Horace. “– is no longer possible. It does not matter how this election turns out. No election matters now. The best we can hope for, the only thing that can save us is a dictator.” “Good old Mussolini,” shouted Agatha. “But a dictatorship is only a palliative — ”
He paused to light a cigarette. Horace, who had, during the whole of dinner, been surreptitiously reading the Evening Standard, which he held folded on his knee, now suddenly burst loudly into song, in the hoarse, quavering voice which is used by songsters in the streets of London –
It’s the sime the whole world over – It’s the pore what gets the blime, It’s the rich what gets the pleashur: Isn’t it a ber-loody shime! he sang. “Well,” he said, rising from the table, “thanks for the pleasant discourse. I’ve got to shove off to the club now. See y’ later.”
Agatha followed him out of the room. Alexander was left, brooding over his coffee. The door opened again and Agatha thrust her head in.
I say, can you lend me some money?” she asked. “I simply must pay Rose.” Alexander obliged, and Agatha again left him. “Good night, ’m,” shouted Rose, “good night, sir,” and she stumped out and left the flat. She was going to meet her friend and line up for the second house at the Metropolitan Music Hall. She walked down the wide staircase, sniffing loudly as the cold air met her nostrils after the hot kitchen. In the flat, sniffing had to be restrained – but once outside —
“Ow-oo,” cooed Lizzie the lift-girl, as Rose passed the lift, in which Lizzie sat knitting a jumper. “Aren’t you la-eete!” “
“They been sitting over their coffee,” Rose said glumly. “It’s always the way if you want to go out anywhere.”
“What a sha-aime,” said Lizzie. “Ow-oo, isn’t that a lovely fer-lower you’ve got!”
“My lady give me that; she brought a great big bunch o’ them back from where she been staying. ’Ot ’ouse flowers, they are.”
“Ow-oo, it’s ni-eece to be rich, isn’t it,” chanted Lizzie happily. “Ah,” said Rose meaningly, with the air of one who knows both sides of a question. She sniffed. “Well, I’ll say good night,” and she passed through. the swinging doors.
IN MEMORIAM We are saddened to hear of the death of Peter Cochran (1944-2015) Teacher, Actor and Scholar. He will be remembered for his contributions to the Festival and in particular his wonderful readings of Eliot’s poetry. Peter served on both the TSE Society Committee and the Festival Committee for the past five years and will be sadly missed.
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Exchanges is a quarterly newsletter published by the T.S. Eliot Society (UK) For membership or more information, contact:
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