TS Eliot fragment shored against his ruins
A rare UK first edition of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land is the latest addition to the University of St Andrews’ world renowned Special Collections.
The book had been donated to an Oxfam bookshop and was bought at a charity auction for £4,500; in order that it could become part of the University’s accessible resource.
The modernist poem, dating from 1923, was published by Hogarth Press, founded by Eliot’s friends Leonard and Virginia Woolf. The book is thought to have been hand-set by Woolf herself. It is part of an edition of only around 460 copies.
It is hoped that the acquisition will help keep Eliot’s vision alive by stimulating interest and re-examination. Poet and scholar Professor Robert Crawford of the University of St Andrews’ School of English, who is currently writing a biography of TS Eliot, has welcomed this addition to the University’s collections.
Professor Crawford said:
“I’m delighted St Andrews University Library has purchased a copy of the first book-length British edition of ‘The Waste Land’, which will be a treasure for generations of students. Typeset by Leonard and Virginia Woolf (who introduced several mistakes into the text) and with elements of its design supplied by Vanessa Bell, this little volume is a piece of British book history. The last time TS Eliot was in St Andrews he was photographed walking in the gutter. This time, he is arriving in style.”
The book will be in good company. The University’s collections, amassed over 600 years, include treasures of international importance which are accessed by researchers from around the world. They include unique Greek papyri, mediaeval illuminated manuscripts, examples of the earliest photography, the papers of many individuals including celebrated scientists, literary and academic figures, as well as on outstanding collection of rare and early printed books and the rich institutional archive of the University itself. This copy of The Waste Land takes its place on the shelves next to the very first books written and printed by the Woolfs, including Two Stories and Kew Gardens.
The acquisition is part of the on-going effort to build and strengthen the University’s intellectual heritage. The University’s special collections are among the finest in the UK, and as the University celebrates its 600th Anniversary, one of its campaign priorities is to ensure it maintains its place as one of the world’s leading academic archives. That is why it is pursuing a multi-million pound programme of investment to provide enhanced facilities and dedicated reading space for handling delicate materials.
John MacColl, University Librarian and Director of Library Services, said:
“I first encountered The Waste Land as a student of English here in St Andrews in the early 1980s. I probably purchased my edition of Eliot from the Quarto bookshop in Golf Place (which closed some years ago). It would not have sent a shiver up my spine this way this edition does. Handling a rare first edition, particularly one with such strong literary associations of the time, takes the reader back into the world in which the poem was written. The Waste Land represented a new moment in English poetry, which this wonderful purchase helps to recreate for the reader.”
Dr Norman Reid, Keeper of Manuscripts at the University of St Andrews, said:
“I am delighted that we have been able to secure this important book. It enhances the collections in its own right – it is a fascinating object, with an interesting story to tell. It also helps to embed the collections even more closely in the research life of the University.”
Eliot, whose work also includes Four Quartets, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats received an honorary degree from the University of St Andrews in 1953.
Notes to News Editors
Background on the University’s Special Collections.
The money raised by the auction is expected to help to provide water supplies to people who are in refugee camps from the conflict in Syria.
Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
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