ELIOT (T.S.) Correspondence with his publisher Methuen & Co, arranging for publication of The Sacred Wood, 1920

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Lot 154

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Correspondence with his publisher Methuen & Co, arranging for publication of The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism in America, comprising two typed letters signed (“T.S. Eliot”) by Eliot to Methuen’s, and retained carbons of four typed letters by Methuen’s to Eliot; the correspondence opening on 25 September with Methuen’s informing Eliot that they have sent a set of proofs of The Sacred Wood to Knopf in America, quoting terms for supply of sheets and asking whether, if Knopf preferred to set up the book himself and pay out royalties, Eliot would agree, on the understanding that Methuen’s would pay him two-thirds of royalties received; Eliot replies on 7 October, raising questions about the rate of profit and adds: “I should have preferred to have made a somewhat different choice of material for the American public, which I know something about; but this would involve witholding [sic] the American edition for certainly some months, which you would probably consider a disadvantage. I should be interested to hear when you expect to be able to bring out the book in this country”; Methuen’s reply on 8 October, setting out the details of their proposal, and giving a publication date: “We hope to publish ‘The Sacred Wood’ on the 4th of November. We shall send you some copies a few days before publication”; Eliot replies on 10 October, agreeing with their suggestion that Knopf print the book themselves rather than using Methuen’s unbound sheets (“...When Messrs. Knopf brought out my poems, this spring, they had the copyright registered in my name: I believe this is usual in America. I suppose in either case the contract would be solely between Messrs. Knopf and yourselves, and that my interests would be covered by the contract which I have with you...”); Methuen’s reply on the next day, saying they will now write to Knopf, and on 29 October they write Eliot a further letter, stating that, as a result of their correspondence, Knopf has purchased 350 copies of the book, the correspondence pinned together as a file, the Eliot letters 2 pages, 4to, the replies on sometimes irregular flimsy carbon sheets, 4to, Crawford Mansions, 8 and 10 October 1920


  • 'WE HOPE TO PUBLISH "THE SACRED WOOD" ON THE 4TH OF NOVEMBER" – T.S. Eliot launches his first book of criticism in the United States, with the caveat: "I should have preferred to have made a somewhat different choice of material for the American public, which I know something about".

    This seemingly hitherto unknown correspondence demonstrates Eliot's aptitude for the business of publishing, which he was famously to put to use upon joining Faber's five years later. It also affords us a glimpse of him two years before The Waste Land, carefully launching his career as a published author, a strategy that has been described by Ronald Bush: 'More accomplished than Pound in the manners of the drawing-room, Eliot gained a reputation as an observer who could shrewdly judge both accepted and experimental art from a platform of apparently enormous learning. It did not hurt that he calculated his interventions carefully, publishing only what was of first quality and creating around himself an aura of mystery. In 1920 he collected a second slim volume of verse (Poems) and a volume of criticism (The Sacred Wood). Both displayed a winning combination of erudition and bravura, and both built upon the understated discipline of a decade of philosophical seriousness. The success of Eliot's essays in The Sacred Wood and afterwards helped to change the critical sensibilities of Britain and America. Shifting the focus of criticism from the author to the work and altering the centre of gravity of previous English writing from the Romantics to the Elizabethan dramatists and the metaphysical poets, Eliot reshaped the study of literature in and out of the academy' (ODNB).

    Methuen – as per this correspondence – brought out The Sacred Wood in November, and Knopf the American edition in February. In the event, as the last letter from Methuen's to Eliot indicates, Knopf put out a small edition of 365 copies from the English sheets with cancel half-title and title (Gallup A5b); following it that same year by the American printing as agreed to here. This correspondence is not printed in The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 1: 1898-1922, revised edition, edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton (2009).
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