He was known to friends as a connoisseur of cheese—there are several anecdotes about him in which the punch line is provided by a remark about cheese—and as a collector of umbrellas with custom handles.
He came to hold political and religious views that were far to the right of most of his contemporaries’, and to believe that Western civilization had been in decline since the thirteenth century, the time of Dante.
The project to which he committed most of the latter part of his career, the revival of verse drama, was a failure.
He was dismissive of grand theories of poetry, or anything else, and he never held a regular academic appointment.
The only contemporary writers he considered his peers were Pound and Lewis (though he knew their limitations extremely well). That London was the square of the board Eliot landed on was something of an accident.
If he had picked a city to expatriate to, it would probably have been Paris, where he spent a very happy year after graduating from Harvard College, in 1910. When he arrived in England, in August, 1914, just after the outbreak of the First World War, he was on a fellowship from the Harvard philosophy department. “I hate university towns and university people, who are the same everywhere, with pregnant wives, sprawling children, many books, and hideous pictures on the walls,” he wrote to an American friend, the poet Conrad Aiken.Richards’s wife, Dorothea, described Eliot, on a visit, as “very gaunt & grim—as if he had burnt himself out.His queer coloured, strangely piercing eyes in a pale face are the most striking thing about him.He is the most important figure in twentieth-century English-language literary culture, a position he achieved with a relatively small amount of writing produced in a relatively brief amount of time and in unpromising circumstances.He was a foreigner in a society, literary London, that is almost as incestuous and xenophobic as intellectual Paris.At the height of his creative and critical output, he had a nervous breakdown and diagnosed his condition as —lack of will.While he was recovering, he wrote “The Waste Land.”His success is an improbable and amazing story, and the publication, in two volumes, of his correspondence from 1898 to 1925, “The Letters of T. Eliot” (Yale; each), lets us watch that story as it was unfolding, day by day, from the inside.He claimed to consider Richard III, who died in 1485, the last legitimate English king.The poems and plays that Eliot published in his lifetime fill a single volume; his prose works are collections of talks and occasional journalism.He also made friends with many of their rivals, like the Old Guard novelists Hugh Walpole and Arnold Bennett. “Don’t think that I find it easy to live over here,” he wrote to his brother, Henry, in 1919, after he had been in England for five years:.They seek your company because they expect something particular from you, and if they don’t get it, they drop you. He saw that, among people so high-strung and self-centered, being an outsider, someone who appeared to have no personal stake in things, could be a source of authority.