The text of The Dial Magazine's announcement that T.S. Eliot won it's award for 1922

What follows is the editorial comment announcing that T.S. Eliot won The Dial magazine's annual prize for outstanding service to letters. The prize carried an award of $2,000.

The revision date of this file is: $Date: 2003/02/12 02:15:41 $


"Comment,"  The Dial magazine.  New York.  vol. 73.6.  (December 1922)  pp. 685-87
(The page numbers from the magazine are given as comments in the HTML markup.)


The editors have the pleasure of announcing that for the year 1922 The Dial's award goes to Mr T. S. Eliot.

Mr Eliot has himself done so much to make clear the relation of critic to creative artist that we hope not to be asked whether it is his criticism or his poetry which constitutes the service to letters which the award is intended to acknowledge. Indeed it is our fancy that those who know one or the other will recognize the propriety of the occasion; those who know both will recognize further in Mr Eliot an exceedingly active influence on contemporary letters.

Influence in itself, however, is no service, and what makes Mr Eliot a significant artist is that his work, of whatever nature, is an indication of how ineffective the temptation to do bad work can, for a least once, become. Few American writers have published so little, and fewer have published so much which was worth publication. We do not for a moment suspect Mr Eliot of unheard-of capacities; it is possible that he neither has been pressed to nor can write a popular novel. But the temptation not to arrive at excellence is very great, and he is one of the rare artists who has resisted it. A service to letters peculiarly acceptable now is the proof that one can arrive at eminence with the help of nothing except genius.

Elsewhere in this issue will be found a discussion of Mr Eliot's poetry, with special reference to his long work, The Waste Land, which appeared in The Dial of a month ago; in reviewing The Sacred Wood, and elsewhere, we have had much to say of his critical work, and may have more. At this moment it pleases us to remember how much at variance Mr Eliot is with those writers who having themselves sacrificed all interest in letters, are calling upon criticism to do likewise in the name of the particular science which they fancy can redeem the world from every ill but themselves. As a critic of letters Mr Eliot has always had preeminently one of the qualifications which he requires of the good critic: "a creative interest, a focus upon the immediate future. The important critic is the person who is absorbed in the present problems of art, and who wishes to bring the forces of the past to bear upon the solution of these problems." This is precisely what Mr Eliot has wished, and accomplished, in this function as critic of criticism. It is impossible to read the opening essays of The Sacred Wood without recognizing that it is from these pages that the attack upon perverted criticism is rising. The journalists who wish critics to be for ever concerned with social laws, economic fundamentals, and the science of psychoanalysis, and never by any chance with the erection into laws of those personal impressions which are the great pleasure of appreciation, would do well to destroy Mr Eliot first; for it is from him that new critics are learning "that the 'historical' and the 'philosophical' critics had better be called historians and philosophers quite simply" and that criticism has other functions, and other pleasures to give.

There is another, quite different sense, in which Mr Eliot's work is of exceptional service to American letters. He is one of a small number of Americans who can be judged by the standards of the past--including therein the body of Occidental literature. It is a superficial indication of this that Mr Eliot is almost the only young American critic who is neither ignorant of nor terrified by the classics, that he knows them (one includes Massinger as well as Euripides) and understands their relation to the work which went before and came after them. There are in his poems certain characters, certain scenes, and even certain attitudes of mind, which one recognizes as peculiarly American; yet there is nowhere in his work that "localism" which at once takes so much of American writing out of the field of comparison with European letters and (it is often beneficial to their reputations) requires for American writers a special standard of judgement. We feel nothing aggressive and nothing apologetic in his writing; there is the assumption in it that the civilized American no less than the civilized German can count Shakespeare and even Poe as part of his inheritance.

When Prufrock in paper covers first appeared, to become immediately one of the rarest of rare books (somebody stole ours as early as 1919) Mr Eliot was already redoubtable. Since then, poet with true invention, whom lassitude has not led to repeat himself, critic again with invention and with enough metaphysics to draw the line at the metaphysical, his legend has increased. We do not fancy that we are putting a last touch to this climax; we express gratitude for pleasure received and assured. If pleasure is not sufficiently high-toned a word, you may, in the preceding paragraphs, take your pick.

Mr Eliot's command of publicity is not exceptional, and we feel it necessary to put down, for those who care for information, these hardily gleaned facts of his biography. In 1888 he was born in St. Louis; in 1909 and 1910 he received, respectively, the degrees of Bachelor and of Master of Arts at Harvard; subsequently he studied at the Sorbonne, the Harvard Graduate School, and Merton College, Oxford. He has been a lecturer under both the Oxford and the London University Extension Systems, and from 1917 to 1919 he was the assistant editor of The Egoist. We have heard it rumoured that he is still "A Londres, un peu banquier"; those who can persuade themselves that the facts are facts will find much more of importance in the Mélange Adultère de Tout, from which the quotation comes; as that poem was written several years ago it omits the names of Mr Eliot's books: The Sacred Wood, Poems, and The Waste Land (not to speak of the several volumes later incorporated in Poems) and omits also the fact that Mr Eliot is now editor of The Criterion, a quarterly which we (as it were en passant) hereby make welcome. The most active and, we are told, the most influential editor-critic in London found nothing to say of one of the contributions to the first number except that it was "an obscure, but amusing poem" by the editor. We should hate to feel that our readers can judge of the state of criticism in England by turning to the first page of our November issue and reading the same poem there.