Letters TSElliott to TEFaber

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Lot 626

Sold for £ 45,600 (US$ 57,605) inc. premium
Series of nearly fifty typed letters signed ("Uncle Tom" etc), to his first godson Thomas Erle Faber, son of his publisher and colleague Geoffrey Faber, the first eleven letters dating between 1930 and 1936 during the composition of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, dedicated to him (see note below); the letters written throughout with great affection, especially when his godson himself faces difficult decisions ("...you have my sympathy and I hope some understanding. When I say 'sympathy' I mean it literally: I found myself, at 26, chucking up the results of four or five years' preparation, and embarking on a new, precarious way of life with a very uncongenial and unpromising means of livelihood. I hope you won't have to go through anything like that..."), and the series as a whole revealing Eliot at his most genial and humorous, often giving himself to flights of fancy or facetious digressions: on subjects such as hospital diet ("...after experiencing all the ways in which Spam can be disguised, I can declare that there is only one proper way to eat Spam, and that is straight out of the tin..."), his typewriter ("...if the typing of my last letter caused you anxiety about my infirmities, let me assure you that the trouble is not chilblains, or gout, or a lesion in the cerebral cortex, but the increasing infirmities of this Baby Empire de Luxe. Not that it was ever quite normal: even when it was quite new it insisted on writing ccritical and surprisee, instead of critical and surprised... But it was made in Switzerland, and I suspect was brought up to write in Zurich dialect..."), godfatherly presents ("...calculated to coincide with no festival or special occasion having any relation to the recipient: and shall in future be distributed so as to call your attention to some important anniversary which you might otherwise overlook, thus enlarging your knowledge of history both sacred and profane..."), American academics ("...I should like to put you in touch with Mr. Mandelbaum of New York, who is writing a thesis on the Dynamics of Audience-Response to the Cocktail Party. This is called Sociology, and is an American disease. I do not know whether Mr. M. has seen the play..."), Chicago ("...apart from Cicero and the gangsters, Chicago is full of ravening hostesses, professors, professors' wives, refugee intellectuals, vice-presidents of the University, English Speaking Unions, P.E.N. clubs, and every kind of creature including Julian Huxley. I lecture and the folk seem easily pleased. I give a 'seminar', nobody knows what about. I read poetry aloud. I go to cocktail parties, dinners and lunches. It is a terrible life..."), the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton ("...This letter paper is the most appropriate for writing to you on; and you had better not smile at it, for if you do you will be smiling on the Other Side of your Face before many years are out, when you will using it yourself, when you have become (temporarily) one of Bob Oppenheimer's boys, and foxtrotting with lady atom-bombers from Japan..."), days out in Cambridge during Tom's residence at Trinity ("...I would suggest however that if you cut down your weeping for the martyrdom of SS. Timothy, Hippolytus and Symphorian by fifteen minutes each, you might give three quarters of an hour to REJOICING,


  • in some manner appropriate to your tastes and within the resources of Cambridge, over their elevation to the Company of Saints...And I think that the groaning from 18.00 to 24.00 might be varied by singing, breaking windows, and taunting the local constabulary..."), his forthcoming Confidential Clerk ("...the tremendous rush to see this new play which, it is rumoured, is to be what we call in the entertainment industry a 'mirthquake'. 'Audience helpless with laughter' is what I hope to read in Daily Mirror..."), a sighting of James Clerk Maxwell ("...I am puzzled by your aged scientists. You say that one of them saw J. Clerk Maxwell (plain) as an infant. The D.N.B. tells me that J. Clerk Maxwell (the proprietor, I believe, of the bonnie braes) was born in 1831. I am no mathematician: but even if they were infants together (pulling the gowans fine) is seems to me that your scientist must be of a greater age than 86. Perhaps that accounts for his laughing at your musichall turn: advanced senility. I quote your text: you say 'stared at James Clerk Maxwell as an infant.' Well, I can beat that. I have stared, though the staree was unaware of it, at Thomas Erle Faber as an infant..."), Tom's scientific career ("...The scientist, it is commonly observed, is nowadays regarded with the awe formerly reserved for the priest and previously the medicine man. But it is precisely as medicine man or magician that the ordinary public does (or do) admire him. They don't respect you for your Knowledge or for your Discoveries, but only because they believe you have the power - in other words, you are respected as a practical magician who can either blow them up or keep them warm without the trouble of stoking the furnace. And if the public take this degraded view, haven't the scientists sometimes encouraged them to do so?..."), presents received from Tom ("...In the past, you have given your attention primarily to my personal cleanliness and tidiness - the bathroom motif, or the dressing room motif, has always been dominant. With this last eccentric and maddening object, demon spring or nightmare serpent, I observe that your are turning your attention towards the development of my mind. The benefit I have so far obtained from Slinky is simply the arousing of my dormant curiosity about the laws discovered, or (as Goethe might say) invented by a member of your college, Isaac Newton. My education needs to be carried further, and I hope that you will take the first opportunity, when we meet, to instruct me in the formulae governing Slinky's unaccountable behaviour...") including the gift of a rhyming dictionary ("...I noticed with satisfaction that it contains no rhymes not accepted in 1806, which suits my book. The verses (to name them modestly) will now pour forth from my machine faster than Faber & Faber can print them. I have a breme aposteme which musts needs be treated with a phleme. Do you grasp my philosopheme?..."), Tom's aspersions on his clothes ("...As for your assumption that the three pieces of the suit are vestiges of three distinct dress suits, cut for me at three distinct phases of my physical development, I dismiss that without consideration...you would be under obligation to speculate over the mysterious disappearance of the 6 other portions of the 3 suits..."), his drawing of the lion of St Mark ("...And he, I hasten to remark Is called the Lion of St Mark: A Saint of whom you have heard tell Who wrote a book that sold quite well And had considerable fame Before the firm of Faber came..."), Christmas festivities ("...And I venture to hope you are still feeling perky,/ After such a huge pudding and such a small turkey..."), etc.; with enclosures (see note below), envelopes, etc., approximately 80 pages, 4to and 8vo, a few of the later letters with minor fraying etc., Russell Square, Princeton, Chicago and elsewhere, 1930 to 1960

    "Invitation To All Pollicle Dogs & Jellicle Cats To Come To The Birthday Of Thomas Faber": T.S. Eliot to his first godson Tom Faber - the series that gave birth to 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats'. The cats make their first appearance in a letter to the three-year-old Tom of 20 January 1931: "Thank you Very much for your Letter To-day, which I should have answered Before but could not Until after you had Written it, as I have been Ill with Influentia and Milk-Toast; so there will be a Smalstonnerproovle soon./ I am glad you have a Case only if you come to see Me we Must be careful not to get them mixed up, because Mine has Tom on it Too. I am glad you have a Cat, but I do not believe it is So remarkable a cat as My cat. My Cat is a Lilliecat Hubvously. What a lilliecat it is. There never was such a Lilliecat. Its Name Is JELLYLORUM and its one Idea is to be Useful!! For Instance It Straightens The Pictures - It Does The Grates - Looks Into the Larder To See What's Needed - And Into The Dustbin To See That Nothing's Wasted - And Yet Is So Lillie And Small That It Can Sit On my Ear (Of course I had to draw my Ear rather Bigger than it Is to get the Lilliecat onto it)". This letter (and the next two) are quoted by Valerie Eliot in her note on Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Trevor Nunn's musical Cats, printed in the souvenir brochure for the company's fourth national tour. That Easter, just before Tom's fourth birthday, Eliot sends him a verse "Invitation To All Pollicle Dogs & Jellicle Cats To Come To The Birthday Of Thomas Faber", beginning: "Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats!/ Come from your Kennels & Houses & Flats..." (this hitherto unpublished poem was incorporated into the lyrics of the Prologue of Cats). That Christmas, Eliot writes to Tom: "Now I must tell you about my Cat. You Remember that we had a black & white Jellicle Cat that lived with us? Well, it got to staying out Nights and trying to be a Big Bravo Cat and it took to visiting Neighbours and then it began to complain of the Food and saying it didn't like Dried haddock & Kippers and why wasn't there more Game even when there was no Game in Season, so finally it went to live somewhere else. So then I advertised for Another Cat to come and Board with us, and now we have a Beautiful Cat which is going to be a Good Old Gumbie Cat in Time. It is a very Grand Cat too because it is a Persian Prince and it is Blue because it has Blue Blood, and its name was Mirx Murad Ali Beg but I said that was too Bid a Name for such a Small Flat, so its name is Wiskuscat...". On 7 January 1936 Eliot writes the entire letter in verse, incorporating 'The Naming of Cats' ("...Now that's what my friend, the Man in White Spats,/ Has asked me to tell you, about the names of Cats./ I don't know myself, so I will not endorse it,/ For what's true in Yorks may be falsehood in Dorset..."). The chief glory of these early cat letters is their illustrations, such as those showing the Jellyorum Cat following in Eliot's ludicrous wake, or one showing the plus-foured poet and the Practical Cat practising country sports ("...I told the Practical Cat all about it, and the Practical Cat was so Excited that we finally said we would Go in for Country Life. Foreinstance, there's Tennis/ Golf/ Fishing/ Rough Shooting/ Picking Flowers/ And Watching Birds..."). For Tom's dedication copy, see below.

    Included in the series are typescripts or carbons of the following Old Possum poems, all of which received further revision before they published: 'The Ad-Dressing of Cats', 'Of the Awful Battle Between the Pekes and the Pollicles..." (here subtitled 'A Bed Time Ballad'), 'Growtiger's Last Stand', 'The Naming of Cats' (incorporated into the letter), and 'The Rum Tum Tugger' ("...I enclose the last poem I have written. I have not yet done any Illustrations to it because I think the Poem might be improved a good deal in places, but I send it to you meanwhile and of course should be grateful for any criticism of it..."), the accompanying carbon marked "(sent on appro.)". In addition there are texts of 'Billy M'Caw, the Remarkable Parrot' (used in Cats), and an illustrated 'Mr Pugstyles: the Elegant Pig'.
"Invitation To All Pollicle Dogs & Jellicle Cats To Come To The Birthday Of Thomas Faber"
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