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Where does this T.S. Eliot quote come from?

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"It is impossible to design a system so perfect that no one needs to be good."

--T. S. Eliot

Start up your Google, or search the archives of your memory. I need to find the source of this quote....

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Interesting. This quote is widely attributed to Eliot, but it may be that he didn't say it quite like that.

I did find one essay with an attribution for something close. Here's that attribution:

See "Choruses from The Rock," in T. S. Eliot (1970), T. S. Eliot: Collected Poems 1909-1962 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World), 160. Eliot writes, They [people] constantly try to escape/ From the darkside and within/ By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.

I have an Eliot anthology at home if you need me to look this up.

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"Humanism of Irving Babbit" published in Selected Essays

I think.  The attributions on this page are a bit wonky:

http://www.conservativeforum.org/authquot.asp?ID=752

I don't think so. Some of the quotes on that page are sourced and some aren't. This one isn't. To read it the way you're reading it, you'd also have to infer that

We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time
is from his essay on Fascism, which most assuredly is not the case (it's from "Little Gidding," the last of the Four Quartets). Furthermore, there are two consecutive quotes sourced from "The Literature of Politics," which would tend to belie the notion that any of the source statements are meant to refer to more than one quotation.

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Here is the relevant portion of "Choruses from The Rock" quoted at greater length, although I was unable to find the entire thing online.

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I don't think so. Some of the quotes on that page are sourced and some aren't. This one isn't. To read it the way you're reading it, you'd also have to infer that

Like I said, the attributions were wonky.

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Thanks! My pastor wants to reference this passage on Sunday, but couldn't figure out where it had come from.

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Thanks!  My pastor wants to reference this passage on Sunday, but couldn't figure out where it had come from.

Your pastor should check out this sermon paralleling Eliot and John the Baptist...

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Is this the closest thing to an Eliot thread we have? Then I'll just drop this here. There's a new definitive edition of his collected poetry coming out, including a number of previously-unpublished erotic poems intended for his second wife. 

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Nick Olson just retweeted this review of a new[ish] Eliot biography. I think it's worth putting here.

Mr Crawford does not flinch from showing Eliot’s flaws: he made anti-Semitic remarks, in his letters as well as in several poems, despite having one or two Jewish friends. On occasion he could be casually misogynistic, too. Rather, Mr Crawford presents Eliot as he finds him: a nervous, unhappy individual who was also, for most of the time, a brilliant poet. Few writers offer such a richly complex subject matter. Even fewer biographies offer such a fair assessment of the man.

Incidentally, over Fall Break I was able to pick up volume one of Eliot's collected correspondence for $0.50--a price so low it would have been irresponsible not to buy it. I've skimmed over it--mostly looking at the letters to and from Ezra Pound, which are lively and confirm my suspicions that both men were essentially pretentious jerks, at least at that age. Loads of fun, some smutty humor, and this line which, try as I might, I can't quite parse (from Pound):

The ante-lynch law (postlude of mediaeval right right to scortum ante mortem) has I see been passed to the great glee of the negro spectators in the congressional art gallery.

Dere z also de stoory ob the poker game, if you hab forgotten it.

...On the whole, Pound has a more jokey style about him, misspelling words deliberately (sometimes, though at others I suspect he was just bad at spelling) and launching into dialect at the slightest opportunity. Eliot is, on the other hand, more likely to use random Italian to spice up his prose.

EDIT: And I suppose I should clarify that by calling Pound and Eliot "pretentious jerks" I'm not saying they didn't have anything to be pretentious about. But, honestly: no one writes "Tradition and the Individual Talent" from an excess of humility.

 

 

Edited by NBooth

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Posted (edited)

BBC Radio 4 has done a series of conversations about Eliot, accompanied by Jeremy Irons reading Eliot's poetry. They'll be up for 27 days.

Edited by NBooth

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