The Letters of T.S. Eliot:nVolume I, 1898-1922nedited by Valerie EliotnSan Diego, New York, London:nHarcourt Brace Jovanovich;n639 pp., $29.95n^ ^ T think one’s letters ought to benX about oneself (I live up to thisntheory!) — what else is there to talknabout? Letters should be indiscretionsn— otherwise they are simply ofEcialnbulletins.” So T.S. Eliot remarked tonhis Harvard classmate, the poet ConradnAiken, in 1914. Most readers of Eliot’snwork have expected ofEcial bulletins,nbut others have long awaited the lettersnas proof of his indiscretions. The publicationnof Eliot’s correspondence by hisnwidow Valerie, an edition so long awaitednby the poet’s friends and detractors,nis therefore a literary event of the greatestnbiographical importance. The first ofnseveral such volumes to follow, thisnbook takes the poet from his boyhoodnup to 1922, the year of the publicationnJames W. Tuttleton is an associatendean at New York University.n32/CHRONICLESnOld Possum in his Lettersnby James W. Tuttletonn’Talent is an adornment; an adornment is also a concealment.”n—Nietzschenof The Waste Land. Hence, it is nownpossible to begin to answer whethernEliot indeed lived up to his theory. Innthese 618 pages of early correspondence—nincluding some letters to ornabout Eliot by friends and family — wenhave a rich compendium of materials,nindiscreet and official, touching thenpoet’s life and work.nSurprises of a sort do pepper thesenpages, as when young Eliot tells Aikennthat “I should find it very stimulatingnto have several women fall in love withnme,” and “I should be very sorry fornthem, too.” “Come,” he adjures Aikenn(though neither was married), “let usndesert our wives and fly to a land wherenthere are no Medici prints, nothing butnconcubinage and conversation.” Henconfesses to recurrent “nervous sexualnattacks which I suffer from when alonenin a city” and opines that he wouldnhave been better off “if I had disposednof my virginity and shyness severalnyears ago.” Ford Madox Ford he dismissesnas “an unpleasant parasite ofnletters.” But was this young Eliot cockynor prescient when he remarked ofnBertrand Russell, his philosophy tutornat Harvard, that “he has a sensitive, butnnnhardly a cultivated mind, and I begin tonrealise how unbalanced he is,” or whennhe called Ezra Pound’s early versen”well-meaning but touchingly incompetent”?nHowever one may answer, itnis worth remarking that he often revisednhis judgment of himself andnothers.nBut on the whole these eady lettersnare models of circumspection befittingna young man of a proper NewnEngland sensibility. With his mother wenfind young Tom exceptionally tender;nwith his father he is respectfully defensivenabout his vocation; with his Harvardnphilosophy professors he is exacting andnserious; while with classmates andnCambridge women friends he is jauntynand comedic. Eliot before 1914 seems anconfident and happy young man. Butnwith the onset of the war, with hisndisastrous marriage to the chronically illnVivienne Haigh-Wood in 1915, andnwith his desperate effort to make endsnmeet, Eliot’s spirits manifestly decline,nyear by year, toward the nervous breakdownnthat felled him in 1922.nIt is during this period that Eliotnmounted what can only be called, aftern