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T.S. Eliot and Faber, London
Miss Helen Slingsby was my maiden aunt,
And lived in a small house near a fashionable square
Cared for by servants to the number of four.
Now when she died there was silence in heaven
And silence at her end of the street.
The shutters were drawn and the undertaker wiped his feet--
He was aware that this sort of thing had occurred before.
The dogs were handsomely provided for,
But shortly afterwards the parrot died too.
The Dresden clock continued ticking on the mantelpiece,
And the footman sat upon the dining-table
Holding the second housemaid on his knees--
Who had always been so careful while her mistress lived.
When T.S. Eliot arrived in England, the First World War had recently broken out. He studied at Oxford and taught in London, where he took a job with the foreign department Lloyd's Bank, close to the Bank of England. In his first year in England, he also found time to make an ill-fated marriage with the English writer Vivienne Haigh-Wood. If nothing else, his failed marriage helped confirm Eliot in his enthusiasm for the country he would adopt as his own. He later wrote, 'I believe that I came to persuade myself that I was in love with her simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England'.
It was this year that his poetry was first seen in print, when The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock was published in Poetry magazine. He began to write copiously, publishing his poetry in some periodicals, and taking over editorship of others. Perhaps his most famous poem, The Waste Land first appeared in 1922, amongst the pages of Criterion which Eliot had founded and edited himself. In 1925, he took a position as literary advisor with the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer, and was appointed to a directorship when the firm changed to Faber and Faber four years later.
Faber's buildings on Russell Square, in Bloomsbury, are perhaps the London location most associated with Eliot. He kept an office on the premises for forty years until his death. A plaque now commemorates his tenure with the firm.
He was never averse to promoting himself and his literary work, but during Eliot's time at Faber, he showed great devotion to the development of his peers. Faber had already developed a reputation for publishing poetry, which Eliot's involvement - even at a young age - could only have enhanced. Under his directorship many of the twentieth century's best regarded writers were added to the Faber catalogue. Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, Lawrence Durrell, Phillip Larkin, Robert Lowell and Ted Hughes all joined the firm during Eliot's time there.
For much of this time, Eliot rented an apartment in Carlyle Mansions, where Henry James had lived before him. For the last eight years of his life, he moved north into Kensington where he took a flat in Kensington Gardens. This spot brought him close to the South-West corner of Hyde park, and the Round Pond, where he is supposed to have passed the time during his final illness. He died of emphysema in 1965, and is now remembered in a plaque on the wall at Kensington Gardens.© David Thorley, 2007.
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