T. S. Eliot scholar Richard Badenhausen’s “Totalizing the City” begins with the view of a hazy Manhattan from New York’s World Trade Center, itself the starting point of Michel de Certau’s own essay on the modern metropolis. Badenhausen does so in aid of “a vision of urban landscape that depends on descending from ‘above'” — a perspective he feels, however, Eliot saw as “rigid, panoptic, totalizing and false.” He contrasts that with “the street-level perspective” where one may “interact with waste, difference and disorder and consequently ‘enunciate’ a more authentic (though less legible) version of places.”
It is the heart, this struggle, of The Waste Land, written by Eliot in the first half of 1921 after a long period of internal thought and composition which culminated, Badenhausen notes, in “Eliot penn[ing] a new 54-line opening under the influence of the ‘Circe’ episode of Joyce’s Ulysses, a typescript copy of which the American poet since moved to London had received in early May.” In Eliot’s new opening “individual’s stumble through a composite urban landscape late at night,” a landscape called “thrilling” — Badenhausen’s words — through which the individual’s “embrace and even celebrate the disorder, anonymity and diversity of the city.” Under the influence of the tradition of the flaneur, “Eliot drew inspiration from Baudelaire . . . respond[ing] particularly to that writers ability to demonstrate how the “modern metropolis” could serve as “material for poetry.”
That “thrilling” urban landscape of the ” modern metropolis” Eliot “celebrated” was Boston’s, as the poet remembered it more than a decade after the night out on the town he decided a description of which should open the poem — but it was not the Boston of the Back Bay or of the Garden Suburb, both of which his relative, landscape architect Charles Eliot, had so powerfully urged on the world in his campaign for a metropolitan park system so admired on two continents. It was a very different Boston indeed, one long since supressed: the Boston of Dover Street, Boston’s Skid Row.
However, the way in which Eliot anticipated Certau’s dual urban perspective and sought to “enact a struggle between these two interpretations of urban space” as his means of expression is telling. So too is the fact that Badenhausen chiefly credits the surpression (untill Eliot’s widow published it after his death) of the Boston opening of The Waste Land — one reason the reader may not know about all this — to ” [Eliot’s] anxieties about structure and order,” not in his poem, nor even in just his own life, but in the life of his era generally. Thus “Eliot made a choice to dispense with this highly energetic set piece,” though the knowing reader always has recognized the ever present “struggle of competing impulses” in the poem.
That Eliot at the end of writing The Waste Land in mid 1921 sought to “launch the poem’s action on the streets of Boston” — remember we are discussing what remains, subsequent demythologizing of Eliot notwithstanding, the most famous poem of the last hundred years by arguably the greatest English-language poet of that century — seems always to have been a source of deep embarrassment for many Bostonians who know of the poems many Boston roots and sources, of which this prologue is but one of many as we shall see. No literary guide to Boston dwells on Eliot; certainly none so much as even mentions The Waste Land. And only one literary history, Shaun O’Connell’s forever superb Imagining Boston touches at all on its Bostonian resonance.
Midst the lofty utterances of Emerson or the penetrating prose of Henry James or Nathaniel Hawthorne or the equally astute poetry of Elizabeth Bishop or Sylvia Plath, the work of the god of 20th century English and American poetry as a young Boston Brahmin at Harvard is routinely associated with somewhere else — anywhere else ! — thus cutting off Boston from its historical Atlanticist and global role in aid of some spurious gentility.
Why? Probably for the same reason the artists of the Ash Can School — The Waste Land in oils, after all — are safely kept far away in New York, while the in many ways even grimmer Boston School of artists like Hyman Bloom and Jack Levine are regularly scanted in favor of the genteel left-over’s of a once vital 1890s and 1900s Boston School of genteel scenes by Tarbell and Paxton of Back Bay and Garden Suburb life.
Think again of of Certau’s duality as Badenhausen sees it. And think too of critic Anthony Pym’s reading of Walter Benjamin, so pertinent to Eliot’s great poem: “The assimilation of the artist and society took place in the street”. The Eliotic street, street of “restless nights in overnight cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster shells” (those images from Dover Street’s rival, Scollay Square): streets, indeed, of “insidious intent” compared to Back Bay and Beacon Hill drwaing rooms and Ashmont gardens.
Eliot’s Bostonian poetry had two sides, of course. One, better known and not considered here just now, was a satirical attack on his own Brahmin class, and given titles like The Boston Evening Transcript its connection to Boston is harder to ignore. But though it is easier to obscure the other side, his depictions of Boston’s slums, that does not excuse the conspiracy, however unpleasant the medicine may be for some still. Here, from the original draft of The Waste Land is T. S. Eliot on Dover Street:
We had dinner in good form, and a couple of Bengal Lights./When we get into the show . . . / I tried to put my foot in the drum, and didn’t the girl squeal, / She never did take to me, a nice guy, but rough; / The next thing we were out in the street, Oh it was cold ! / When will you be good ! Blow into the Opera Exchange, / Sopped up some gin, set to the cork game, / Mr. Fay was there, singing ‘The Maid of the Mill’; / Then we thought we’d breeze along . . .
Well. It was not by any means Boston’s most notable bender. Nor Harvard’s. That would come in what became the ‘lost’ generation after World War 1 that read The Waste Land , most notably the night in 1922, on the eve of fleeing Boston (“City of Dreadful Night” he called it) for Paris, Harry Crosby, Harvard ’22, drove his new Stutz Bearcat roundabout “down [into] the Arlington Street Subway [at the Public Garden] untill we crashed slapbang into an iron fence . . . shower of broken glass, a crushed radiator” and so on. But it was Eliot himself, afterall, who in his preface to Crosby’s Transit of Venus wrote that “it was necessary for poets to take chances.”
Still, Eliot’s own ruckus, just because Eliot’s, looms always importantly. And the fragment of his retelling of it I reproduce above is important in many ways a century later in ways that could never have been imagined then. Mr. Fay being there seems a matter of course, a fixture of the establishment, and his singing the 1875 song by Hamilton Aide the sort of time- honored traditional Irish saloon fare all expected. And where more likely to find him than downstairs from Fay Hall, which was just above McCarthy and Foley’s saloon. There certainly was a real Mr. Fay and there certainly still is a real Fay Street , on the corner of which with Dover at 117 still stands the J. J. Foley’s bar that has thrived now for a hundred years of many generations of family ownership. Was- Foley’s the saloon the poet was remembering? Eliot, I suspect, had recourse to what Certau calls “a second poetic georgraphy on top of the geography of the literal.”
But although the historian in me may rejoice at having perhaps identified the actual bar Eliot remembered as the “Opera Exchange”, no trace of which has even been found underthat name in any street or business directory, perhaps not even the present day owners Foley’s, now a very lovely and distinctly upscale pub, will welcome the news ! For Eliot’s gin-sopped night of debauchery — which later on involves a brothel and a near arrest in an alley — is an account, really, of the night I think he met (hence its opening of the poem) what another Eliot scholar, Ronald Schuchard, calls the poet’s “mental shadow”, his “dark angel”, which Schuchard characterizes as “at once his fury and his muse, causing and conducting the intense drama of shadows and voices that [would] inhabit [Eliot’s] acutely personal poems and plays.”
Lest this digression in this Eliotic mini- series midst these chapters on Boston’s role in the rise of the modern metropolis worldwide seem too long, I will urge another observation of Schuchards, that “from the beginning, it was in the city, not in the country, that Eliot would stage [his] drama.” Indeed, Schuchard continues after exploring this theme, concluding that “the dark angel had descended on Eliot in the streets of Boston, Paris and London”, and when, later on, the poet began to “transform the voices of his spectral dreamscapes into The Waste Land”, that angel did not leave him, angel first glimpsed, perhaps, in Roxbury and Dorchester and North Cambridge ( touched on previously here in our discussion of the Preludes) but first engaged I believe that night on Dover Street.
This is perhaps the right place to acknowledge University of Chicago literary historian James E. Miller’s use of my own work on Eliot, which The London Review of Books called extensive. It has been no end gratifying to learn how helpful Miller, a distinguished Eliot scholar as I am not, found my work on the 1900s Boston milieux of Eliot. However, I do not always come to the same conclusions as Professor Miller about the meaning of Eliot’s Boston sources or their effect on him, though of their overall importance there can now be no doubt in the wake of not only Professor Miller’s, but also Lyndall Gorodon’s and Peter Ackrod’s books.
Even without the Boston prologue, indeed, even before it was known, Badenhausen notes that “Virginia Woolf, for one, records in her diary that Eliot’s friend Mary Hutchinson supposedly viewed The Waste Land quite clearly as ‘Tom’s autobiography’ — a melancholy one.” All of which was confirmed when Valerie Eliot noted in the publication of the facsimile draft of the poem that “when Eliot was an undergraduate at Harvard . . . he would visit the Opera Exchange (as he remembered it in later life, although that name cannot be traced in records of the period) for a drink. The bartender, incidentally, was one of the prototypes of Sweeney.”
Actually Eliot himself is on record in this respect about the character he at least judged his most memorable. In Boston on a visit in 1958 he told Professor Francis Sweeney of Boston College that Conrad Aiken was only half right to trace Sweeney to Eliot’s boxing instructor in the South End of Boston”, the exact location of which has not yet been identified but may very well have been in the Dover Street neighorhood too. Anyway, quoth the elderly Eliot: “There were others”, and the B. C. professor recalled the poet saying: “among them the bartender of the Opera Exchange” — Foley’s? — ” also in Boston, where he had gathered with his friends,” the by then Nobel-Prize winning poet told Sweeney, ” in his Harvard student days, circling champagne corks on the table in a fortune-telling game. Eliot lifted his finger and waved it in a circle.”
That, of course, explains what the poet meant by “set to the cork game” as Mr. Fay was singing, and, overall, suggests that this Dover Street bar, whether Foley’s, as I think it was, or not, was a hang out for he and his friends on a fairly regular basis.
Now ask yourself: what was T. S. Eliot doing on Dover Street anyway?
First, however, I want to tell you what my grandfather was doing there at the same time.
T H E L I T T L E M I N I S T E R
Young Eliot’s rowdy all night cavorting in the vice-ridden ‘skid row’ of Boston’s South End entertainment strip at Dover and Washington Streets took place at the same time that on the periphery of the South End — like most slums originally a highly respectable quarter — there survived something of a faded gentility. That meant, in my best judgement, lodging as opposed to rooming houses.
The difference? One way to approach it is to say that Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote about lodging houses, which had a dining room; not rooming houses, where rooms only were rented and more often to transients. My own image of the lodging house is of (machine made) lace curtains behind always closed windows. Rooming house windows, on the other hand, as we will see later in this series, seem often to have been left purposefully open, the murmurings behind the blinds, usually pulled down, somewhat arresting and titilating, not to say beckoning.
For my grandmother, Margaret Shand, unmarried and definitely living in a lodging house, on St. Botolph Street, in the 1905-10 half decade of Eliots visits to the neighborhoods racier heartland on Dover Street, the distinction was crucial. My mother used to say her mother gave up ice cream, which she loved, as an economy measure, so vital was it to live in the more expensive lodging house at an indisputably respectable address. It was so vital, of course, because of that crucial moment when the young man who came courting walked one home and drew his own conclusions. Especially a suitor like my grandfather, the Reverend Lucian Stanley Groves, whose own very respectable address was on Beacon Hill’s Mount Vernon Street opposite Louisburg Square. That was the Boston University School of Theology, where he was a graduate student.
The reader who suspects Eliot’s deepest reasons for being so often on Dover Street were not unrelated to youthful lust will not have to be told that the travails in that department, not only of the rooming house, but also of the lodging house, the residents of both being so often unmarried, were also considerable. Witness page two of The Boston Journal on March 28, 1909, in one of the editions of that Sunday newspaper: “MRS. LUCIAN GROVES, A BRIDE, WHO IS VICTIM OF A SUITOR’S REVENGE” reads the headline, and the story following is equally heavy on the melodrama:
The revenge of of a disappointed suitor is revealed in a news note which appeared in newspaper society columns a day or two ago. The innocent sounding story that the romance of Miss Margaret Shand, sister-in-law of David C. Wyman, the well-known restaurant man, and Lucian Groves, a Boston University student, kept secret nearly a year, had just leaked out, is the concoction of an irate applicant for the girl’s hand, who, upon hearing of the marriage, sought to wreak his spite on the unoffending couple. ‘That story that has appeared in the paper about my sister-in-law is false’, declared Wyman, to a reporter . . . . The wedding took place at my house.’
From all of which verbal persiflage one gathers that sometime in 1908 my grandparents had indeed tied the knot, where I could not tell you. The only additional information I can offer is from a story of three years earlier: “Special Dispatch to the Boston Herald”, dated “Washington, D. C. May 3, 1907: Miss Ida Isabelle Shand . . . and David C. Wyman [were] . . . unit[ed] as man and wife” that day in the nation’s capital, to which report was appended another just below it stating that “the bride has been living in Boston with her sister for the past two years.”
David C. Wyman was, after the fashion of the day, “D. C.”, described by the Boston Globe as “well known in in business circles as the proprietor of several restaurants and lunch rooms in Boston”, a man of a very different sort from my grandfather. The very model of the flamboyant entrepreneur of the Gilded Age, D. C. was a big man, flashy, given to cigars and diamond tie pins and, at least before he married Isabelle Shand, very much the boulevardier.
The reader may draw his or her own conclusions about all that, in aid of which we have a press report of the 1900s that captures very well the world of D. C. , which was that of Boston’s demi-monde, and therefore tells us of yet another aspect of the South End, a press report that conjurs a world very different from the staid lodging house on St. Botolph Street, never mind that of clerical Beacon Hill.
The report appeared in The Boston Globe on July 3, 1902, and it is a priceless description of Wyman’s encounter one Summer evening that year with a certain Mrs. Lennox, characterized as “a handsome, even a striking woman,” an encounter recounted by the reporter with a finesse worthy of Balzac:
Monday evening ‘Mrs. Lennox’ sauntered down to the Back Bay [Railway] Station [ at Copley Square], and there she met Mr. Wyman, who was waiting to meet a friend whom he expected on an incoming train. When his glance met that of the stylish woman, however, he forgot all about his friend. It was a case where introductions are superfluous. After the exchange of greetings, he accepted a cordial invitation to accompany the woman to her room, just for a little chat.
This droll recounting of what was, one imagines, not an uncommon experience in D. C.’s life, was followed by column after column of lurid newsprint exploring every angle of an encounter that was suddenly exceptional because it quickly took, as it turned out, a very ugly turn. Sufficient to say that while the address the couple repaired to was in a part of the South End that while more respectable by far than Dover Street was still problematic (a section where Bahmin historian Samuel Eliot Morison recalled his married cousin Willy “kept a mistress in a house on ShawmutAvenue”), Wyman, very much a man of the world, soon tumbled to the fact that more was afoot than he had bargained for. The newspapers headlines tell the story fully enough: “WYMAN WAS TOO SMART / HE SAYS ‘MRS. LENNOX’ ROBBED HIM / WENT TO SOUTH END HOUSE WITH HER / WHEN READY TO LEAVE HE MISSED WATCH/ DIAMOND [STICK PIN] WORTH $400 COULD NOT BE FOUND / WOMAN AND . . . ALLEGED ACCOMPLICE ARRESTED.”
Well, we are certainly moving back here to T. S. Eliot’s South End from my grandmothers. Sufficient to say the Shand/Wyman alliance did not end well. On the other hand, Lucian and Margaret’s marriage was a success from the beginning. Yet because of the nature of the risks the two unmarried and ambitious women took in venturing to the big city with only a sibling for family support, both sisters, afterall, failed: D. C. was rich but he was also unfaithful, and while my grandfather was faithful he was not at all well endowed with worldly means.
Moreover, my grandparents were in many ways seriously mismatched. He was a very patriotic American of German stock from rural Ohio whose own great great grandfather had been duped by a recruiter of the Hessian king to fight rebellous Americans but once in America in the 1770s had promptly changed sides, married and settled down in the newly independent United States. She was a Scots-Canadian from a family closely allied with United Empire Loyalists who settled in Canada during the American Revolution, the first Canadian settler of which, William Shand, was District Overseer of the Royal Engineers that built the great anti-American fortifications of Quebec. Lucian was a devout Methodist; Margaret glad to be a fashionable Anglican. He had come to Boston after Mount Union College in Ohio for graduate school to become a minister, evidence alike of his idealism and Boston’s growing repute as an educational center. She, eager to escape an unpleasant childhood as a poor relation of a prominent family, was drawn to Boston for much more materialistic reasons; determined to “marry up” just as her sister had, Margaret Shand sought respectability above all and, being something of a feminist, a certain independence, financial and otherwise.
If only she could talk Lucian out of graduate school and a career in the ministry. Which, of course, she promptly did.
My grandmother had the happy knack of knowing how to get her way without seeming to be the winner and the other person the looser. She calculated, she used to say, never letting her right hand know what her left hand was doing. It was her favorite saying. For instance, my grandfather, typically German, was an ardent music lover. And he was certainly delighted when his wife took their daughter Geraldine in hand and at only age seven — I still have the bill of sale so can prove this — conducted her into the Henry F. Miller showroom in Copley Square and bought her a grand piano; which she was not just to practice on, but to dust, every day. I do not doubt, however, that my grandmother’s desire for a grand piano in her front parlor was more social than musical in origin.
Never mind. It was like the new French Flat in the fashionable Back Bay apartment house she chose as their address, her choice carefully calculated to meet not only her need for an ultra-respectable locale where she could install herself and her colored maid, the legendary Lily — in this era black butlers in the Back Bay trumped everyone but Swedish maids — but my grandfathers needs as well . Not only was the flat on the first floor of an apartment house in the block adjoining that of the beautiful new Christian Science park in front of that huge domed basilica, park where child Geraldine could play to everyone’s delight, but it was all in the heart of the magnificent new center of Boston music rising on every side. Symphony Hall, Jordan Hall, the New England Conservatory, all were in sight from their front stoop, and a block or two beyond, and most important, was the spectacular new Boston Opera House of 1909.
Why, the reader is now supposed to ask, was my mother named Geraldine? Even today no opera lover will need to be told why another in the 1900s in Boston would choose that name for their daughter. Family lore has long had it that Lucian proposed to my grandmother after a performance of Madama Butterfly at the Boston Theatre in the spring of 1907 by the Boston-born reigning diva of the day, Geraldine Farrar. And nothing is surer than that when Farrar repeated that triumph at the new Boston Opera House three years later, and then for good measure essayed Tosca at Sumphony Hall in concert in 1916, both my grandparents were in the audience, in the latter case probably at a matinee, my mother in tow.
But if daughter Geraldine’s first name documents my grandfather’s love of grand opera, her middle name signaled just as surely how keen a social progressive and do-gooder he was. Her middle name was Ramona, after the title of a popular novel — still in print today — by Emily Dickenson’s Amherst classmate Helen Hunt Jackson, a novel about mistreatment by the U. S. government of native Americans that obviously moved my grandparents greatly. Therein I’m sure, for her daughter’s birth increased my grandmother’s feminism, they were as one in both deed and motivation.
A minister Lucian was, clearly, whatever his occupation; my grandfather, for all his love of opera — always suspect in Boston because neither the on-stage plot or the off-stage performers’ lives bore much scrutiny — had a sermon for every occasion by all accounts. So much so that D. C., who could not get far enough way, took to calling him “the little minister”. And that, by the way, was also after the title of a well known novel, by J. M. Barrie, evidence that, again for perhaps very different reasons, both Margaret and Lucian were as literary as they were musical. Certainly their best friend, who lived long enough to bring me up when he was a very old man, was the Boston publisher Harrison Hale Schaff, head of John Luce and Co., the American publishers of the Abbey Theatre Group and also of Oscar Wilde. Like my grandparents they often foregathered at the St James Cafe on Huntington Avenue in front of the theatre of that name across from the Christian Science park.
(These novels, some will realize, were not then the latest; indeed, they harked back a generaton. But they were kept alive by plays — “The Little Minister” was the drama T. S. Eliot and E. E. Cummings played opposite a certain young lady whose name will arise in the future here — while my poor mother, who thought Ramona a very sentimenal name indeed, ha d toendure in her youth no less than three “Ramona’s”; Mary Pickford’s in 1923. Dolores Del Rio’s in 1928 and Loretta Young’s in 1936.
Finally, there was another and much more important reason for that Huntington Avenue address. It was in the most cosmopolitan part of the Back Bay to be sure, but that meant also it was the closest part of that fashionable neighborhood to the distinctly unfashionable South End.
Why, the dear reader is now set up to ask, would that be significent? Many will see what’s coming I’m sure.
Although my grandfather gave up the ministry, he didn’t at all, of course, change his stripes; no way he could have. Such are the mysterious ways of marriage, somewhat he managed to get his back, so to speak, by insisting when he became D. C. ‘s partner that he not be based at the companies head office in the downtown Old South Building, where according to family tradition he first met my grandmother at Wyman’s flagship restaurant at 9 Spring Lane, but, instead, in one of the firm’s lunch rooms on skid row.
Thus it was that in 1909, in the first year of their marriage and the first of his conversion from minister to businessman — and in T.S. Eliot’s junior year at Harvard — my grandfather too found himself on Dover Street. Needless to say, D. C., glad not to be under survelience, was only to happy to agree.
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S O U R C E S
Ackroyd, Peter. T. S. ELIOT (Simon & Schuster) 1984
Badenhausen, Richard. “Totalizing the City” in STUDIES IN THE LITERARY IMAGINATION (March 22, 2007)
Barrie, J. M. THE LITTLE MINISTER (Good Words) 1891
[Certau, Nichel de ] – see Badenhausen.
Crosby, Harry. See Eliot, T. S.
Eliot, T. S. THE WASTE LAND: A FACSIMILE AND TRANSCRIPT OF THE ORIGINAL DRAFTS> Ed. Valerie Eliot. (Houghton) 1971
Eliot, T. S. Preface to TRANSIT OF VENUS by Harry Crosby (Black Sun Press) 1931
[Farrar, Geraldine] Hale, Philip. Program Notes/Boston Symphony Orchestra 1915-16.
[Foley’s, J. J. ] There is no reliable history of Foley’s. The name of the saloon may be tracked through the Boston Street Directory 1909-2010.
Gordon, Lyndall. T. S. ELIOT (Norton) 1998
[Groves, Schaff, Shand, Wyman Families] “Mrs. Lucian Groves”,BOSTON JOURNAL (March 28, 1908); Shand-Tucci, Douglass. “The Shand Family”, MISSISQUOI LOYALIST LEGACIES (Missisquoi Historical Society/Vol.14, 1976); Speck, Isaac G. GENEALOGY OF THE SPECK AND BENJAMIN REED FAMLIES FROM 1754 TO 1900 (Dupont, Ohio, 1900); “Harrison Hale Schaff”, BOSTON GLOBE (Jan 15, 1960); Shand-Tucci, Douglass, THE CRIMSON LETTER (St. Martin,s, 2003); A photograph of the intersection of Dover and Washington Streets, Dover Street Station and the Royal Dairy Lunch is reproduced on p. 103 of Cheney, Frank and Sammarco, Anthony M, WHEN BOSTON RODE THE EL [Arcadia, 2000).
Jackson, Helen Hunt. RAMONA (Harpers) 1884
[LONDON EVIEW OF BOOKS] – see Miller, James E.
[Miller, James E.] Miller, James E. T> S> ELIOT (Penn State Univ. Press) 2005; Ford, Mark, “Hyacinth Boy”, LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS (21 Sept. 2006)
Nash, Roderick. “The American Cult of the Primitive” in AMERICAN QUARTERLY (Autumn 1966)
O’Connell, Shaun. IMAGINING BOSTON (Beacon) 1990
Pym, Anthony. “The Meaning of ‘Life’ in European Aesthetics at te End of the Nineteenth Centry . . .” Ed. Christian Berg. (De Gruyter) 1995 (www.tinet.cat/_apym/m-line/intercultures/1995.life.pdf)
Schuchard, Ronald. ELIOT’s DARK ANGEL (Oxfrd) 2001
Sweeney, Francis. “T S Eliot” Boston College (Winter 2001)
Wolff, Geoffrey. BLACK SUN (Random House) 1985
Wood, Robert. THE CITY WILDERNESS (Houghton) 1898
[Wyman, D. C.] “Wyman was too smart” in BOSTON GLOBE (July 31, 1902)