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This article is taken from PN Review 218, Volume 40 Number 6, July - August 2014.

War of the Worlds: T.S. Eliot versus D.H. Lawrence Aram Saroyan
‘He is not a mystic’, E.M. Forster writes of T.S. Eliot in a 1928 review of For Lancelot Andrewes, a book of Eliot’s essays in which he advances his status as a sort of Pope of Poetry, with all of literature his purview. His first essay collection, A Sacred Wood (1920), still good reading, became a charter document of the movement comprising Eliot-influenced American poet-critics known as the New Criticism.

For Lancelot Andrewes (1928), while also still a bracing book, is filled with ex-cathedra pronouncements and rankings that weren’t as noticeable in A Sacred Wood. ‘Montaigne is inferior to Machiavelli,’ we’re told, ‘and Hobbes is inferior to Montaigne.’ Dante is perhaps a greater artist than Shakespeare, as Eliot liked to repeat. Forster writes:

[The book] contains several well-turned compliments to religion and Divine Grace but no trace of religious emotion… He has not got it; what he seeks is not revelation, but stability. Hence his approval of institutions deeply rooted in the State, such as the Anglican Church.

Eliot disdains the unmediated revelations of William Blake, for instance, because they fall outside the institutional parameters in which he took comfort. At the heart of his dismissal of figures ranging from George Bernard Shaw to Shelley to Ernest Hemingway is the judgmental, hierarchical disposition that Shaw himself defends, albeit with reservations, in the preface to his play Saint Joan because it sanctifies and stabilises civilisation’s current stage of development. In fact Eliot’s own face might not have looked out of place among the faces ...


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