Wednesday, October 1st, 2014...10:37 am
“Do you wear pants!”: T. S. Eliot’s first magazine
T. S. Eliot’s first magazine was published in an extremely limited edition, with an erratic mixture of upper- and lower-case penciling. Advertised as “A Little Papre” (it is about three inches wide and four inches tall), Fireside first appeared on January 28, 1899, when Eliot was ten. It ran in fourteen installments over the next month. On Valentine’s Day 1899, the magazine records a letter from admiring subscribers: “Dear Sir, We have taken your beautiful magazine for years and think it fine. We are two little sisters, Minney and Smiley! This is our first letter.”
Fireside is as polyphonic as The Waste Land. Eliot alternates serial cliffhangers (“Chap. II. It was all ready. It was a dark night, and everything was ready. To be continued”) with recipes for ice soup, turnip pie, “grisley steak,” “cheeze balls,” and “bilous bread.” Each issue is also punctuated by a theater column, which usually consists of a page empty except for the words “Theatre. Nothing good.” Another regular feature is the dedication, in one of the periodical’s rare attempts at cursive: “This Magazine (all) is dedicated to My Wife.” (A later issue reminds us, “Remember, to my Wife!”) In addition to the promised “fiction, gossip, theatre, jokes,” Fireside published poetry, editorials on world politics, letters, drawings (one cover shows a fireside in which Fireside is burning), and advertisements: “Do you wear pants! If so wear Never Rip, fine for hobos! Bulldogs cannot tear them.”
The ten-year-old Eliot is fascinated with hobos; they turn up repeatedly in these pages. “Higginson’s Hot Hoe-cakes for Husky Hoboes,” for example, features as an advertisement in Number 3.Sweeney (a character in The Waste Land, in Poems 1920, and in Sweeney Agonistes) also appears for the first time here, as a bearded Dr. Sweany, promoting a cure for insomnia.
The major influence on the poetry of Fireside is Lewis Carroll. Fireside 2 reuses Carroll’s “Mad Gardener’s Song” almost word for word: “I thought I saw a banker’s clerk / A-riding on a ‘bus, / I looked again and saw it was a hippopotamus. / ‘If he should stay to tea,’ thought I, ‘What would be left for us?'” In contrast to Eliot’s later pronouncement that “immature poets imitate; mature poets steal,” Fireside 4 shows him moving from theft to imitation, writing his own Carrollian stanzas: “I thought I saw a chimpanzee / A-sitting on a branch; / I looked again and found / Behold! It was a pair of pants!”
Fireside’s miscellany is telling; after the magazine folded, Eliot – who seems to have begun fashioning himself as a “T. S.” early in life – continued to wear the hats of poet, critic, publisher, and dramatist. One of his Panama hats is kept at Houghton in MS Am 2890. Fireside is now housed at Houghton MS Am 1635.5, near a typescript of The Waste Land and some of Pound’s Cantos, according to the catalogue’s new virtual browse feature. It has been digitized (link requires a Harvard password).
Eliot’s playful side also emerges, several decades later, in reports that he liked to put exploding sugar in Virginia Woolf’s tea. Images of Woolf and Eliot can be seen in her Monk’s House albums (MS Thr 559-564); they are available through OASIS, although no photographic record of the exploding sugar has been found.
[Thanks to Calista McRae, stacks assistant, for contributing this post.]