T.S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri in September of 1888. His full birth-name was Thomas Stearns Eliot and he was one of six surviving children born to parents Henry Ware Eliot and Charlotte Champe Stearns. His father was a businessman and board member of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company and his mother was a writer and social worker.
Early Life and Education
Eliot was the youngest of his siblings, four of whom were girls. Eliot’s childhood was not a peaceful one. He developed a love for literature after being confined to his home. He was afflicted with congenital double inguinal hernia, this meant he was unable to socialize with his peers and forced to spend a great deal of time alone. He soon came to love stories of the Wild West and those of Mark Twain.
When Eliot was ten years old he attended Smith Academy in St. Louis. He studied languages such as Ancient Greek and German. It was a few years later that he began to write poetry. His first works were disappointing to the young writer and he destroyed them. Eliot published his first poem in 1905 in the Smith Academy Record, a publication run by his school. Only a few months later he published what is now his oldest surviving poem, ‘Song,’ in The Harvard Advocate. It was followed by a number of short stories which detailed a visit to the Igorot Village during the World’s Fair of St. Louis.
After graduating from the academy, Eliot went on to attend Milton Academy in Massachusetts and later Harvard College. It was here that he would receive his bachelor’s degree in only three years. He would go on to receive an MA in English.
In 1910, Eliot moved to Paris where he studied philosophy at Sorbonne. He retuned to Harvard for a short time to study Indian philosophy and Sanskrit and then moved on to Merton, College Oxford. While Eliot was traveling throughout Europe WWI began. In 1915, Eliot met his future wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood. They were married in June. The following year Eliot completed a doctoral dissertation but did not return to complete the final requirements for his degree.
Around this same time Eliot took on a number of teaching jobs in England at the University of London. He lived with Bertrand Russel for a time.
Although the two were only recently married, they were not happy. Vivienne was often ill, both physically and mentally. She was in hospital for extended periods of time and the couple final separated in 1933.
In 1917 Eliot was working at Lloyds Bank. It was during his tenure at Lloyds that he published ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in his volume, Prufrock and Other Observations. This collection also included ‘Portrait of a Lady’ and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night.’ He would remain in that position until 1925 when he became the director of the publishing firm later to be known as Faber and Faber. He would work here for the rest of his career. He was responsible in part for publishing the works of Ted Hughes and W.H. Auden.
In 1920 his second collection, Poems, was published. It included words such as ‘Whispers of Immortality’ and ‘Gerontion.’ It was followed two years later by The Waste Land and then Hollow Men. These two works were composed during dark periods of Eliot’s life, such as while his marriage was falling apart.
Later Life and Death
In the 1930s Eliot accepted a professorial position at Harvard for one academic year. He retuned to England after this time period and published a number of plays, such as Sweeney Agonistes, Murder in the Cathedral and The Cocktail Party. These were followed by works of non-fictions and literary criticism.
His poetic works, Ash Wednesday, Coriolan, and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats were all published in the 30s.
During the later part of his life Eliot married Esmé Valerie Fletcher. She was thirty years old and he was sixty-eight. The two married in secret and did not have any children. In January of 1965 Eliot contracted emphysema and died in his home in Kensington London. He was cremated and his ashes were brought to St Michael and All Angel’s Church in Somerset. It was here that his ancestors had first landed upon emigrating to America.