This essay “Classics and the Man of Letters” examines Eliot 1942 Presidential Address, ‘Classics and the Man of Letters,’ to this association and considers the structure of Eliot’s argument, and the relative importance Eliot attaches to its various elements…
It’s no surprise then that in 1942 Eliot was asked to become president of the Classical Association in April 1942. The Classical Association is an organization established in English in 1902 devoted to the preservation and teaching of classic literature in the humanities. The presidency switches yearly between a notable writer and a member of the academy (Stray 2003). This essay examines Eliot 1942 Presidential Address, ‘Classics and the Man of Letters,’ to this association and considers the structure of Eliot’s argument, and the relative importance Eliot attaches to its various elements.
Eliot begins his address by paraphrasing from an article that he read which promoted studying Greek, but only as one might study Egyptology. Eliot object to this characterization as it, while promoting the classics, downplays their central significance to a proper and complete education. Rather than refuting this claim from a theoretical perspective, Eliot states that he will refute it from the perspective of the ‘man of letters.’ Eliot notes that he has chosen to use this term instead of using the term ‘poet’ since poet carries with it the connotations not of scholarship and literacy, but rather the transitory act of creation through the mind of a genius. The view of the poet as central to literature then examines literature as “merely a succession of great writers, instead of looking at the literature of one European language as something which forms a significant whole in itself” (pg. 7). Eliot argues that in this poetic concept, the writer’s shortcomings in education are excused and merely attributed to his ‘genius;’ instead, Eliot argues that despite the undeniable success these writers have achieved through their creative works, they oftentimes remain flawed in certain respects as they lacked an education in classic literature, or associated with the wrong people. ...
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