“We can never, I mean wholly, explain the practical world from a theoretical point of view, because this world is what it is by reason of the practical point of view, and the world we try to explain is a world set out upon a table — there!”
— Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F.H. Bradley
“Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are that which we know.”
— Tradition and the Individual Talent
Just a couple of lines from two of T.S. Eliot’s essays, the second comparatively well-known and the first less so. Eliot’s prose work has been an important influence in some recent law and religion scholarship, including Steve Smith’s “Pagans and Christians in the City,” as well as in some recent reflections on politics and populism. It has also provoked forceful reactions and objections. Eliot’s prose, however, has been less carefully studied than his poems.
This new compilation in 8 volumes, therefore, is well worth looking at (I am celebrating a birthday soon, just in case anybody is thinking of giving me a $700 gift) and sure to stimulate many responses: The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot: The Critical Edition (Johns Hopkins Press), edited by Ronald Schuchard.
This monumental eight-volume edition of modern literature brings together, for the first time in print, all of the vastly influential prose writings of Nobel laureate T. S. Eliot, the poet and dramatist whose theories and criticism shaped twentieth-century thought and literature around the world. This complete collection provides access to over 6,000 pages of Eliot’s nonfiction prose writings on literature, philosophy, religion, cultural theory, world politics, and other topics of urgent and enduring import. It includes all of the essays that he collected in his lifetime, but also more than 1,000 uncollected, unrecorded, or unpublished items, many of which were missing or inaccessible for decades. From the formative “Interpretation of Primitive Ritual” (1913), written in graduate school at Harvard, to the summative “To Criticize the Critic” (1961), the Complete Prose offers readers full access to the immense scope and variety of Eliot’s works in their biographical, historical, and cultural context.
The individual volumes have received the highest praise from prominent scholars: volume II won the Modernist Studies Association’s 2015 Book Prize for an Edition, Anthology, or Essay Collection, while volumes V and VI were jointly awarded the 2017 Prize for a Scholarly Edition by the Modern Language Association. They display “uniform excellence,” wrote the Awards Committee: “Their thorough textual introductions, sophisticated annotations merging intelligent commentary with brevity and completeness, make the volumes a pleasure to read… and enlarge our understanding of Eliot as the public intellectual at work.” Together with recent editions of the Poems, the eight volumes of Letters, and the sensational opening in 2020 of Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale, the Complete Prose brings us to the threshold of a new age for the study of Eliot and the modernist writers of his day.