[Christopher Fry: unpublished reminiscences of T. S. Eliot.] Unpublished corrected Autograph Text [of an address delivered at St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road, London], giving his personal recollections of his friend T. S. Eliot.

Christopher Fry (1907-2005), playwright and poet, noted for his verse dramas [born Arthur Hammond Harris] [T. S. Eliot [Thomas Stearns Eliot] (1888-1965), Nobel Prize winning Anglo-American poet]
Publication details: 
No place or date, but from internal evidence written c. 1995, for an event at St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road, London.. 29 Nov. 1995
SKU: 21917

3pp, 12mo. Bifolium. In good condition, lightly aged. Each page numbered by Fry. An Unsigned document from the Christopher Fry archive. Warm personal recollections, entertaining and evocative. Unpublished. The conclusion of the document makes clear that it was written as to be spoken as part of an event celebrating Eliot at St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road, London: 'It's good to be here, in the place where he was churchwarden for so many years, to read and listen to his words, which meant so much to me when I was young, and which stayed with me, unageing, [sic] while I grew old beside them. [Added here: 'It's like coming in to the railway station at the town you were brought up in.'] | Here is Keith Michell to read you “Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer.”' The commencement dates the document to 1995: 'Let me take you back 65 years, when I first turned the pages of T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land – belatedly – it had been published eight years earlier – and as I read I remember feeling like John Keats after reading Chapman's Homer: “like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken.” - Two years before this, in 1928, when I was a prep. School master, I found that the boys, even quite young ones, had listened with evident pleasure, while I read to them The Hollow Men; [in margin: 'Penny for the Old Guy'] [inserted here: 'for the sound of it – Here we go round the prickly pear!'] and in that same year the School Matron had taken me to see Sweeney Agonistes acted in a bare upstairs room somewhere in Soho.' He continues by describing his first meeting with Eliot, eight or nine years later, 'introduced, I think, by E. Martin Browne, who directed all Eliot's plays, and in the summer of 1939 was going to direct a pageant-play I had written for Tewkesbury Abbey.' Eliot having read 'something of the script, a Chorus or two', had 'written very helpfully and hopefully about it', and attended a performance. Fry explains how over time Eliot's 'gentle encouragement' turned to friendship, and recalls 'one difficult transition which came quite early on, when instead of starting his letter “Dear Mr. Fry” he began “Dear Fry.” What was I to do? I felt I couldn't address him as “Dear Eliot” - it would seem as impudent as the modern habit of calling God “you” instead of “Thou.” I think I may have compromised with “Dear T. S. Eliot,” or perhaps “Dear T. S. E.” if I was feeling particularly daring. But in the course of time we came to the mutual trust of Christian names.' Fry next tells an anecdote which only features in his Oxford DNB entry as from 'personal knowledge'. He recounts that, after 'the Hitler War' had broken out, he went to see Eliot in his office at Faber & Faber, and told him that he was 'thinking of volunteering for the London Firebrigade. [sic] “The trouble is,” I told him, “I've a very bad head for heights.” “You must specialise,” he said, “in basements.”' He adds that Eliot had 'a kind of gravity of laughter which was wonderful to be with'. The address ends, before the conclusion quoted above, with an anecdote previously told by the 'artist Clive Bell', regarding a birthday party at which Lady Diana Cooper 'collected all the riddles that had been in the crackers and challenged everyone to see who would be the quickest at solving them'. The two who 'gave the answers almost as fast as she could read' were Eliot and John Maynard Keynes, with Eliot having the advantage as a result of Keynes's stammer.