Early Life and Education
Eliot was born on 26th September, 1888, in a bourgeois family to Henry Ware Eliot, who was a successful businessman, president and also the treasurer of the Hydraulic- Press Brick Company in St. Louis. His family was originally from New England. Eliot himself had described St Louis to be a place, that had affected him more than any place else and that he was glad he was born there, instead of any big city. Eliot inherited his writing skills from his mother Charlotte Champe Stearns, who herself wrote poetry and was modern enough, to take up the role of a social worker, which was a new profession back in the 20th century. Eliot was born when both his parents were in their forties and was the last of six children. He had four sisters and a brother who was eight years old. Eliot was known as Tom, after his maternal grandfather Thomas Stearns.
T.S. Eliot in 1906, at age 19. (Houghton Library)
Eliot studied Latin, Ancient Greek, German and French, in Smith Academy during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. He was inspired by Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s poetry and began writing even at a young age of fourteen. He wrote “A Fable for Feasters” for school in his teens and the Smith Academy Record published it initially and later in The Harvard University’s student magazine, The Harvard Advocate.
Scofield Thayer, the person who published “The Waste Land”, first came to meet Eliot, when he joined the Milton Academy in Massachusetts, right after Graduation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy at Harvard, in just three years, rather than the usual four. Eliot came to get exposed to Arthur Symons’s The Symbolist moment in Literature of 1899, and this period is considered as an important moment for Eliot. Eliot got introduced to a lot of renowned writers. He believed that what he read had changed the course of his life. Some of his poems were published by the Harvard Advocate and he also got the friendship of the American novelist, Conrad Aiken.
Eliot first worked as a philosophy assistant at Harvard at the age of twenty one, then moved to Paris and studied philosophy at Sorbonne for two more years, attended lectures by Henri Bergson and poetry by Alain Fournier. He then went onto study Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit in Harvard for three years. Eliot, through scholarship, went to Merton College, Oxford when he was twenty six. He visited places like Marburg, Germany, where he was supposed to take a summer program, but turned to Oxford, after the world war.
He moved from Merton in a year and he expressed his hatred towards University towns and people and also compared his possible future at Oxford to that of death, despite describing Oxford to be beautiful. At the age of twenty eight, he had completed a PhD dissertation, but failed to return for viva voce.Thus began the life of one of the most Prolific poets of the twentieth century.