July 8, 1923: Virginia Woolf wrote to a friend that she had “just finished setting up the whole of Mr. Eliots [sic] poem with my own hands — you see how my hand trembles.” Though referring to the typesetting of the first English edition of The Waste Land, Woolf’s trembling was due to exhaustion rather than any presage of the moment’s importance. The Woolfs’ Hogarth Press was in its sixth year, and what had begun as an afternoon hobby — therapy for Virginia’s depression, and a vehicle for her and other new writers — had evolved to a full-time job and a semi-commercial business. Not all the Hogarth books were hand-printed by the Woolfs, but their writing time, like their home, was getting crowded: “We printed in the larder, bound books in the dining-room, interviewed printers, binders, and authors in a sitting-room.” Instead of abandoning or selling, they decided to hire and expand. Virginia gradually reduced her involvement, selling her share in the business in 1938, but Leonard had an active role in the Hogarth Press until his death.
Hogarth had published Eliot’s Poems in 1919, but a diary entry by Virginia in April of that year, after a dinner with Eliot, indicates that friendship was still a step or two away: “I amused myself by seeing how sharp, narrow, & much of a stick Eliot has come to be, since he took to disliking me.” Leonard Woolf dates “the beginning of real intimacy” with Eliot to the early 20s, and attributes this progress to their “loosening up the pomposity and priggishness which constricted [Eliot]. . . in an envelope of frozen formality.” He specifically remembers the day when the three were walking in the fields around the Woolfs’ house and Leonard lagged behind to urinate:
. . . when I caught them up again, I felt that Tom was uncomfortable, even shocked. I asked him whether he was and he said yes, and we then had what gradually became a perfectly frank conversation about conventions and formality. Tom said that he not only could not possibly have done what I did, but that he would never dream of shaving in the presence even of his wife.
In a diary entry from June, 1922, Virginia Woolf’ tells us that Eliot showed no inhibitions when he recited The Waste Land at her house after dinner: “He sang it & chanted it & rhymed it. It has great beauty and force of phrase; symmetry; & tensity. What connects it together, I’m not so sure….”