The Statements

1. By Emily Hale

At the urgent request of Mr. William S. Dix, currently Librarian of Princeton University Library, and my long-time friends, Professor and Mrs. Willard Thorp of Princeton (Professor Thorp is a prominent member of the English Department of the University), I am writing this brief review of my years of friendship with T. S. Eliot.

We knew each other first in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was working on his graduate course preparatory to completing his doctorate in philosophy. He left in 1913 for such preparation in Germany. Before leaving, to my great surprise, he told me how very much he cared for me; at the time I could return no such feeling. His subsequent life in Oxford and later citizenship in England are known by many and everyone who studies his work. At the close of the war he married an English girl whom he had met at Oxford. This marriage was a complete surprise to his family and friends and for me particularly, as he had corresponded quite regularly with me, sent flowers for special occasions, etc.; I meanwhile trying [sic] to decide whether I could learn to care for him had he returned to the ‘States’.

We did not meet until the summer of 1922, when I was in London with my aunt and uncle. His marriage was already known to be a very unhappy affair which was affecting both his creative work and his health. Only his closest friends at this time knew fully of the miserable relationship between his wife and him. Knowing this, I was dismayed when he confessed, after seeing me again, that his affection for me was stronger than ever, though he had assumed years of separation from his home in America and old friends would have changed his attitude toward me. From this meeting in London until the early 30’s I was the confidante by letters of all which was pent up in this gifted, emotional, groping personality.

He was finally legally separated from his mentally ill wife. That they were never divorced was due to his very strong adherence to his conversion to the Anglo-Catholic Church.

Up to 1935, between trips to America and correspondence, we saw each other and knew about each other’s life – though I had no feeling except of difficult but loyal friendship. I taught during these years at private schools or girls’ colleges; he was becoming more and more acclaimed in the world of letters, everywhere.

Hiw [sic] wife was finally committed to an institution, leaving him emotionally freer, at least, than in many years. From 1935–1939, under this change in his life, he came each summer to stay in Campden, Gloucestershire, for a week or so, with my aunt and uncle who rented a charming 18th century house in the town – and to which I came for the whole summer to help my aunt in her entertaining and greatly enjoy the days in the lovely Cotswold village. On one of his visits, we walked to nearby ‘Burnt Norton’ – the ruins of an 18th century house and garden. ‘Burnt Norton’, as Tom always said, was his ‘love poem’ for me. My relatives knew the circumstances of T.S.E.’s life, and perhaps regretted that he and I became so close to each other, under conditions so abnormal, for I found by now that I had in turn grown very fond of him. We were congenial in so many of our interests, our reactions, and emotionally responsive to each other’s needs; the happiness, the quiet deep bonds between us made our lives very rich, and the more because we kept the relationship on as honorable, to be respected plane, as we could. Only a few – a very few – of his friends and family, and my circle of friends knew of our love for each other; and marriage – if and when his wife died – could not help but become a desired, right fulfillment. To the general public, and our friends in England and America, I was only ‘his very good friend’.

Vivian [sic] Eliot died in the mid 40’s, at the close of the war, but instead of the anticipated life together which could now be rightfully ours, something too personal, too obscurely emotional for me to understand, decided T.S.E. against his marrying again. This was both a shock and a sorrow, though, looking back on the story, perhaps I could not have been the companion in marriage I hoped to be, perhaps the decision saved us both from great unhappiness I cannot ever know.

We met under these new difficult circumstances on each of the visits he continued to make to this country for personal or professional reasons. The question of his changed attitude was discussed, but nothing was gained by anyffurther [sic] conversation. However, in these years before his second marriage, he always came to see me, was gentle, and still shared with me what was happening to him, or took generous interest in speaking at the school where I then taught.

The second marriage in 1947 I believe took everyone by surprise. He wrote of it to two persons in this country, his sister Marian, and me. I replied to this letter, also writing to Valerie. I never saw T.S.E. nor ever met her after this marriage, although they came to Cambridge two or three times to be with his family and friends, as well as to deliver lectures or give readings.

I can truthfully say that I am both glad and thankful his second marriage brought him the great comfort and remarkable devotion of Valerie; everyone who knew her testified to her tireless care of him, as his health grew worse; his family were delighted with her. The memory of the years when we were most together and so happy are mine always and I am grateful that this period brought some of his best writing, and an assured charming personality which perhaps I helped to stabilize.

A strange story in many ways but found in many another life, public and less public than his. If this account will keep the prying and curiosity of future students from drawing false or sensational conclusions I am glad. After all, I accepted conditions as they were offered under the unnatural code which surrounded us, so that perhaps more sophisticated persons than I will not be surprised to learn the truth about us. At least, the biographers of the future will not see ‘through a glass darkly,’ but like all of life, ‘face to face.’

(s) Emily Hale

2. From T. S. Eliot


regarding the envelope enclosed herewith.

Miss Emily Hale, of Massachusetts, has presented to the Library of Princeton University the letters which I wrote to her between 1932 and 1947 – possibly a few of them a little earlier; any written after the death of my first wife are so different in sentiment that she may not have included them. It has come to my ears that she has added, or is preparing to add, some sort of commentary of her own. It therefore seems to me necessary to place on record my own picture of the background of this correspondence, and my present attitude towards it.

I wish the statement by myself to be made public as soon as the letters to Miss Hale are made public. (I make clear a little further on what I mean by the term ‘make public’). This ought not to be until fifty years after my death. But a good deal of publicity is possible without publication (in print); and I feel no assurance that complete privacy will be preserved up to that date; and if the letters themselves, or any of them, or any excerpts or quotations from any of them, or Miss Hale’s ‘commentary’, are disclosed before that time, or if it transpires that any individual or individuals has or have been given access to any of the letters before that date, then I wish the enclosed statement to be made public at the same time.

In case the Princeton Library preserves my letters unopened (as it ought to do) until fifty years after my death, when my Executors will be dead also, I suggest that the sealed envelope enclosed herewith should be given by my wife to the Librarian in charge of the ‘Eliot Collection’ of my work and of other matter to do with me at Harvard University. (This collection is at present housed in the Houghton Library of Harvard University). It should be given to him with strict injunctions that it should be opened and made public fifty years after my death, or when the collection of letters to Miss Hale at Princeton University is made public before that date. If the latter collection is made public in any of the ways indicated above, then the enclosed letter should be made public in the same way. If it came to the knowledge of the Harvard authority or authorities in charge of the ‘Eliot Collection’ and of this sealed envelope, that any person or persons had had access to the letters in the Princeton Library, whether with a view to making use of them in any piece of written work or not, or to any of those letters or any part of any letter, I should wish this sealed envelope to be opened and its contents made public also.

T. S. Eliot
25 November 1960.


It is painful for me to have to write the following lines. I cannot conceive of writing my autobiography. It seems to me that those who can do so are those who have led purely public and exterior lives, or those who can successfully conceal from themselves what they prefer not to know about themselves – there may be a few persons who can write about themselves because they are truly blameless and innocent. In my experience, there is much for which one cannot find words even in the confessional; much which springs from weakness, irresolution and timidity, from petty self-centredness rather than from inclination towards evil or cruelty, from error rather than ill-nature. I shall be as brief as I can.

During the course of my correspondence with Emily Hale, between 1932 and 1947, I liked to think that my letters to her would be preserved and made public after we were dead – fifty years after. I was however, disagreeably surprised when she informed me that she was handing the letters over to Princeton University during our lifetime – actually in the year 1956. She took this step, it is true, before she knew that I was going to get married. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that her disposing of the letters in that way at that time threw some light upon the kind of interest which she took, or had come to take, in these letters. The Aspern Papers in reverse.

I fell in love with Emily Hale in 1912, when I was in the Harvard Graduate School. Before I left for Germany and England in 1914 I told her that I was in love with her. I have no reason to believe, from the way in which this declaration was received, that my feelings were returned, in any degree whatever. We exchanged a few letters, on a purely friendly basis, while I was up at Oxford during 1914–15.

To explain my sudden marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood would require a good many words, and yet the explanation would probably remain unintelligible. I was still, as I came to believe a year later, in love with Miss Hale. I cannot however make even that assertion with any confidence: it may have been merely my reaction against my misery with Vivienne and desire to revert to an earlier situation. I was very immature for my age, very timid, very inexperienced. And I had a gnawing doubt, which I could not altogether conceal from myself, about my choice of a profession – that of a university teacher of philosophy. I had had three years in the Harvard Graduate School, at my father’s expense, preparing to take my Doctorate in Philosophy: after which I should have found a post somewhere in a college or university. Yet my heart was not in this study, nor had I any confidence in my ability to distinguish myself in this profession. I must still have yearned to write poetry. For three years I had written only one fragment, which was bad (it is, alas, preserved at Harvard). Then in 1914 Conrad Aiken showed Prufrock to Ezra Pound. My meeting with Pound changed my life. He was enthusiastic about my poems, and gave me such praise and encouragement as I had long since ceased to hope for. I was happier in England, even in wartime, than I had been in America: Pound urged me to stay in England and encouraged me to write verse again. I think that all I wanted of Vivienne was a flirtation or a mild affair: I was too shy and unpractised to achieve either with anybody. I believe that I came to persuade myself that I was in love with her simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England. To her, the marriage brought no happiness: the last seven years of her life were spent in a mental home. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land. And it saved me from marrying Emily Hale.

Emily Hale would have killed the poet in me; Vivienne nearly was the death of me, but she kept the poet alive. In retrospect, the nightmare agony of my seventeen years with Vivienne seems to me preferable to the dull misery of the mediocre teacher of philosophy which would have been the alternative.

For years I was a divided man (just as, in a different way, I had been a divided man in the years 1911–1915). In 1932 I was appointed Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard for one year; and even Vivienne’s mother agreed that it was out of the question for Vivienne to go to America with me. I saw Emily Hale in California (where she was teaching in a girls’ college) early in 1933, and I saw her from time to time every summer, I think from 1934 on, as she always joined her aunt and uncle who took a house every summer at Chipping Campden.

Upon the death of Vivienne in the winter of 1947, I suddenly realised that I was not in love with Emily Hale. Gradually I came to see that I had been in love only with a memory, with the memory of the experience of having been in love with her in my youth. Had I met any woman I could have fallen in love with, during the years when Vivienne and I were together, this would no doubt have become evident to me. From 1947 on, I realised more and more how little Emily Hale and I had in common. I had already observed that she was not a lover of poetry, certainly that she was not much interested in my poetry; I had already been worried by what seemed to me evidence of insensitiveness and bad taste. It may be too harsh, to think that what she liked was my reputation rather than my work. She may have loved me according to her capacity for love; yet I think that her uncle’s opinions (her uncle by marriage, a dear old man, but wooly-minded) meant more to her than mine. (She was fond of her uncle John but did not get on very well with her Aunt Edith). I could never make her understand that it was improper for her, a Unitarian, to communicate in an Anglican church: the fact that it shocked me that she should do so made no impression upon her. I cannot help thinking that if she had truly loved me she would have respected my feelings if not my theology. She adopted a similar attitude with regard to the Christian and Catholic view of divorce.

I might mention at this point that I never at any time had any sexual relations with Emily Hale.

So long as Vivienne was alive I was able to deceive myself. To face the truth fully, about my feelings towards Emily Hale, after Vivienne’s death, was a shock from which I recovered only slowly. But I came to see that my love for Emily was the love of a ghost for a ghost, and that the letters I had been writing to her were the letters of an hallucinated man, a man vainly trying to pretend to himself that he was the same man that he had been in 1914.

It would have been a still greater mistake to have married Emily than it was to marry Vivienne Haigh-Wood. I can imagine the sort of man each should have married – different from each other, but also very different from me. It is only within the last few years that I have known what it was to love a woman who truly, selflessly and whole-heartedly loves me. I find it hard to believe that the equal of Valerie ever has been or will be again; I cannot believe that there has ever been a woman with whom I could have felt so completely at one as with Valerie. The world with my beloved wife Valerie has been a good world such as I have never known before. At the age of 68 the world was transformed for me, and I was transformed by Valerie.

May we all rest in peace.
T. S. Eliot

This was written on the 25th November 1960, but the last page [from the paragraph opening ‘I might mention at this point …’] has been slightly altered, and re-typed, on the 30th September 1963.

The letters to me from Emily Hale have been destroyed by a colleague at my request.1

T. S. Eliot2

1.TSE wrote to his editorial colleague Peter du Sautoy on 13 Mar. 1963: ‘As you are one of my executors, and as Valerie and I are flying to Bermuda and back, I want to let you know that there is a tin box in my office room containing papers all of which I have for a long time been meaning to destroy and would have done had we a coal-burning furnace. And a similar smaller box at our flat. In the event of our both being lost in an air accident (or die otherwise simultaneously) I should wish the entire contents of both to be destroyed’ (Faber Archive).

To du Sautoy, 14 Mar. 1963: ‘I’d rather you didn’t write me about these matters! Don’t want Valerie to think I am apprehensive. And I’m not.’

See too Peter du Sautoy, ‘T. S. Eliot: Personal Reminiscences’, in T. S. Eliot: Essays from the ‘Southern Review’ (Oxford, 1988), 84:

Much of what Tom wrote to me about in these later years was concerned with his will and with instructions as to how I should act if by any chance he and Valerie died together in an air crash. I was not to write to him about these matters because he didn’t want Valerie to think he was apprehensive, which he said he was not. In March 1963 he wrote to me, as at that time one of his executors, to say that there was a tin box in his office room containing papers, all of which he had for a long time been meaning to destroy; he would have destroyed them if he had had a coal-burning furnace. If he and Valerie perished together I was to destroy the papers, including some in a similar, smaller box in their flat. Luckily, of course, they returned safely together. But a short while after this Tom gave me a tin box and asked me to destroy the contents. As were living at the time in a block of flats near Bedford Square where there was a coal-burning furnace, it was easy for me to carry out this request, and I saw the contents of the box duly destroyed in the furnace. I did not examine the contents which appeared to be bundles of letters.

2.Added by hand.