ELIOT (T.S.) Autograph letter signed ("T.S.E."), to "Dear Lytton Strachey", inviting him to write, as lead author, for the Criterion, 10 December 1923

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Lot 177A
Autograph letter signed ("T.S.E."), to "Dear Lytton Strachey", inviting him to write, as lead author, for the Criterion, 10 December 1923

Sold for £ 2,000 (US$ 2,514) inc. premium
The Remaining Papers of Giles Lytton Strachey
Sold by order of the Strachey Trust
Autograph letter signed ("T.S.E."), to "Dear Lytton Strachey", inviting him to write, as lead author, for the Criterion ("...And once again – although I admire and enjoy your portraits in the Nation, it is to my interest to say that although they are not long enough to do you justice. So – although you once refused – two years ago – please remember that I should like to lead off a number of the Criterion with you, up to 5000 to 8000 words... I have thought that you ought to do MACAULAY – but anything from you would ensure the success of a number, besides the pleasure it would give me. Could you?..."), 8 pages, engraved Clarence Gate writing paper, in fine fresh condition, 8vo, 10 December 1923


  • T.S. ELIOT TO LYTTON STRACHEY, ASKING HIM TO BECOME LEAD AUTHOR FOR THE CRITERION. The first number of the review had kicked off fourteen months earlier with the The Waste Land, and stood at the apex of Eliot's modernist enterprise: ʻThe masterstroke of Eliot's self-conscious attempt to put himself on the literary map was to capitalize on the international success of The Waste Land by means of an equally ambitious (and equally internationalist) publication... The first number of The Criterion appeared in October 1922. Like The Waste Land, which The Criterion first published, it took the whole of European culture in its sights. The Criterion's editorial voice placed Eliot at the centre of first the London and then the continental literary scene' (Ronald Bush, ODNB).

    Sadly, Strachey never did write for the Criterion, which afterwards tended to adopt a rather disapproving tone towards him and indeed Bloomsbury in general. In 1929, for example, the Rev Charles Smyth lamented that in Elizabeth and Essex his mode of argument was to ʻsnigger' rather than employ proper historical analysis (Mark Hussey, ʻBloomsbury' in T.S. Eliot in Context, edited by Jason Harding, 2011, p. 235). Eliot's invitation may well have been prompted by Strachey's review ʻCongreve, Collier and Macaulay', published in the Nation on 13 October 1923. His essay on Macaulay – with its well-known opening defining the qualities required of an historian – was eventually to appear in the Nation on 21 January 1928 and to be collected in Portraits in Miniature in 1931.

    A passage from this letter was quoted by Michael Holroyd, as reproduced by us above (op. cit., 1971, p. 777). Although Holroyd had been shewn the letter by James Strachey, when Mrs Eliot came to search among the latter's papers the year after his death she was unable to find it (see The Letters of T.S. Eliot, vol.ii, where the Holroyd extract, only, is reprinted).

    Among the newly retrieved material is Eliot's statement of terms he is prepared to offer Strachey, a query as to his preferred literary bedfellows (doubting whether he would appreciate the likes of Charles Whibley, Stephen Gaslee and Jean Cocteau) and – best of all – an invitation to a small party to be held at 9.00pm on 17 December at 38 Burleigh Mansions, St Martin's Lane, "almost over Chatto & Windus" (no doubt meant as an encouragement, they being the publishers of Eminent Victorians). "It will", Eliot adds gravely, "be a very small party, as the room will only hold 3 or 4 people".

    Eliot's very small party was described two days later by Virginia Woolf in her diary entry for 19 December: ʻI'd like to record poor Tom's getting drunk... 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 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[eonard] heard sounds of sickness. After a long time, he came back, sank into a corner, & I saw him, ghastly pale, with his eyes apparently shut, apparently in a stupor. When we left he was only just able to stand on his legs. We heard a shuffling as we went out, and Clive went back' (The Diary of Virginia Woolf, vol.ii, edited by Anne Olivier Bell, 1978).

Saleroom notices

  • This letter is of 4 pages and not 8 as stated in the catalogue.
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