Late in 1961 Boston College's Professor Francis Sweeney had lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Eliot at the River Club in New York. Here is Sweeney's account of part of the conversation they had:
I asked Eliot about the prototype of the rough-and-ready Sweeney image in his poems--for example, in "Sweeney Erect" and "Sweeney Agonistes." He had commented once, "It happens that I know many Sweeneys, some of them among friends of mine. I happen to like the name. It has a pleasant sound."
Among his friends named Sweeney was John Lincoln Sweeney, a humanities preceptor at Harvard. At the River Club, I said, "Your classmate, Conrad Aiken, traces Sweeney to your boxing instructor in the South End of Boston."
"There were others," Eliot said--among them the bartender at the Opera Exchange, also in Boston, where he had gathered with friends in his Harvard student days, circling Champagne corks on the table in a fortune-telling game. Eliot lifted his forefinger and waved it in a circle.
Years later, after Eliot's death and after the drafts of The Waste Land were published, Sweeney noticed how the poem's opening in the draft resembled the scene described by Eliot and he wrote of this to Mrs. Eliot. In his article he assured us "That was unmistakably a night out in Boston."
The text was taken from the online edition of the article.
Sweeney, Francis. "Bard Watching," Boston College Magazine, Boston, Winter 2001