Less shocking, after the publication in 1996 of Eliot's juvenilia as Inventions of the March Hare, are the letters to Bonamy Dobrée about the "Bolovians", an invented primitive negro people. There were two strands to this long-running Eliotic joke. The first consisted of a series of puerile and indecent stanzas of doggerel (which nevertheless have their moments of technical interest related to the virtuoso handling of rhyme or stress). These poems tell of the sexual and scatological misadventures of King Bolo, his queen, and their discoverer Columbo. For the second strand, Eliot indulged his gift and taste for pastiche by writing at length about the complexities of Bolovian theology and the impossibly difficult pronunciation of the Bolovian language, thereby imitating and mocking the modes and postures of early 20th-century anthropology. Certainly, before the publication of Eliot's juvenilia you could have got long odds had you wagered that this future Nobel Laureate had ever promised a correspondent "a Description of the Columbian Sport of: Fucking the Tortoise". More puzzling perhaps is why Eliot in his late thirties thought the Bolovian joke worth reviving, some 12 years after the doggerel was originally composed.
One reason why Eliot may have found comfort in replaying the jokes, poor and crude though some of them may be, of an earlier and less complicated period of his life was that the emotional adversity which confronted him in 1926 and 1927 was so appalling. One of the valuable features of this edition is that it prints not only letters to and from Eliot himself, but also important letters written by those close to him. Vivien Eliot has fewer than two dozen letters here, but virtually each one has something memorable and terrible in it — they read like bulletins from the front line of a collapsing marriage and a disintegrating personality. So it would be folly to take these letters in any straightforward way as reliable evidence of anything apart from Vivien's own over-wroughtness. Yet beneath all the layers of anxiety and delusion, fragments of a credible reality seem somehow to be embedded within them, as for instance in this explanation to John Middleton Murry of the loneliness and terror she felt in her marriage:
...whenever he [Eliot] speaks to me, about himself, & his interests, work, thoughts, desires, I know so frightfully that I simply do not understand him, that sometimes, when I am tired or overwrought, it gives me the sensation that he is mad. Sometimes that he is mad or else that he is most frightfully & subtly wicked and dangerous. That he is a terrible menace. That I must either somehow cut free & run, run, run to somewhere where there is a clear sky & open fields & air. Or else that I shall be stifled, that I must sink down, down into a heavy vapour, & so gradually be stifled to death.