T.S. Eliot on the Inner Voice

Source: Denis Donoghue in Criterion, April 2017

…Eliot is at his angriest in the second section of “The Function of Criticism,” where he is provoked by this sentence of John Middleton Murry’s: “The English writer, the English divine, the English statesman, inherit no rules from their forebears; they inherit only this: a sense that in the last resort they must depend upon the inner voice.”

Eliot’s reply, which I quote only in part, is a telling example of his polemical irony: “This statement does, I admit, appear to cover certain cases: it throws a flood of light upon Mr. Lloyd George. But why ‘in the last resort’? Do they, then, avoid the dictates of the inner voice up to the last extremity? My belief is that those who possess this inner voice are ready enough to hearken to it, and will hear no other. The inner voice, in fact, sounds remarkably like an old principle which has been formulated by an elder critic in the now familiar phrase of ‘doing as one likes.’ The possessors of the inner voice ride ten in a compartment to a football match at Swansea, listening to the inner voice, which breathes the eternal message of vanity, fear, and lust….”

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5 responses to “T.S. Eliot on the Inner Voice

  1. David Schatzky

    Samuel Beckett (the quintessential purveyor of inner voices – albeit “hollow-men” voices) disliked Eliot.

    He once wrote to a friend: You know what T. Eliot is backwards: toilet.

    Trump wouldn’t like Eliot either, if he understood him…

  2. If I had no inner voice, all I’d have is my car.

  3. curmudgeon

    Who is the “elder critic” Eliot refers to in connection with the phrase ‘doing as one likes’?

  4. Sorry. I wish I knew.

  5. David Schatzky

    I sense that Eliot is referring to a metaphorical interior elder critic, a judgemental super ego, which is in conflict with that inner voice which gives permission or encourages “doing what one likes”, no matter the consequences.