Thursday, 31 July 2008

King's College, Cambridge

I found out about the Hayward Bequest while perusing another bibliography. Eliot set J. D. Hayward to the task of collecting his correspondence and organizing it, and the personal correspondence between these two friends was made available in the archives in 2000. I thought that there could be no better way to get to know Eliot and the subjects closest to him than to review the materials in this archive. There was, and still is, a catch. One must obtain permission from Mrs. Eliot, via a contact at Faber and Faber, to make copies of any materials that were penned by Mr. Eliot himself. I set about to obtain this permission, but I also went ahead and planned my trip to Cambridge, when, after talking with one of the archivists there, I found that copies could not be made on-site immediately anyway, and would have to be shipped later.
My trip to King’s was an incredibly pleasant adventure. The staff there arranged for me to stay at the King’s Porter Hostel directly across the street from the entrance to the college in the guest graduate quarters, which were very, very nice. They also provided internet access via a password in my room. A staff member even walked with me to the entrance to the library, which I never would have found myself, to make sure than everything was in line for my visit to the archives the next day.
I spent two days at the archives, which opened at 9am and closed at 5:15pm, with a one-hour break for lunch at one o’clock. The archives provided me with a finding aid for the Bequest, which was a much more user-friendly guide than the online finding aid. I was allowed to pull out six items at a time, and I took liberal advantage of this. The Hayward Bequest is divided into eight sections of books, writings, photographs, and miscellaneous paraphernalia that had belonged to Eliot. I was able to look at Eliot's copy of The Odyssey (in Greek, of course), his cancelled passport, and the guidebook that he brought from the States on his first visit to London, when he was still at Harvard. They even have an envelope containing two onionskin sheets with his handprints on them! To be able to place my hands in his handprints was incredible.
I also had the privilege of meeting another Eliot scholar while I was there, one who was also utilizing the Hayward Bequest in order to re-punctuate Eliot’s poems for an upcoming volume. Mr. M and I were able to talk about Eliot over tea, and he, being a fellow of Magdalene college and a very nice man, showed me parts of campus that were off limits to all but fellows of the university, including the Trinity College green. He took me to the old library at Magdalene College, where they have another collection of incredible Eliot documents, including the scratch-pads upon which he first wrote what would be “Little Gidding” and the certificate that he received when he won the Nobel Prize. Thanks are not enough praise for the amazing experience that this kind scholar was able to provide for me while I was visiting.
The visit was quite fruitful, as I was able to better pinpoint my focus of research to the extensive work that Eliot did with libraries. In addition to eventually being a fellow of the Library of Congress, invited by Archibald MacLeish himself, Eliot worked extensively as the president of an organization called Books Across the Sea, which I had never heard of, until I read a speech that was included in the collection, which was given by Eliot upon the occasion of the opening of the Walter Hines Page Memorial Library. I set out, from there, to find this library, and to find out more about Eliot and his involvement with Books Across the Sea.

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