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Which Jo(h)nson Is It?…Eliot Doesn’t Know

By Harriet Staff


A letter written by T.S. Eliot has surfaced after 40 years of obscurity, according to this news item from the BBC. The letter was a addressed to Jacob Isaacs and concerned the republication of Eliot’s 1927 essay “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca.”

[Eliot’s essay] examined how the popularity of the Greek writer’s tragedies in Elizabethan England influenced Shakespeare’s writing – and was due to be republished in 1957, prompting Eliot to contact his friend.

He asked Isaacs if he could “throw any light” on the identity of Webster, who was referred to in the essay, but Eliot was unable to remember.

The letter conveys further confusion on behalf of the writer: “Incidentally, I do not even remember whether I meant Sam Johnson or Ben Jonson. It is Jonson in my text, but is this a misprint? No one will ever know.”

The letter was typed on Faber and Faber headed paper, indicating it was written at the publishing house where Eliot was employed as editor.

It was part of a collection donated to Queen Mary by Isaacs’ wife upon his death in 1973.

We don’t have that essay in our archives, but you can read some scholarship by Eliot here and here. Hope that makes your day.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.