Pen presented by poet's widow will be used by society fellows – replacing quill used by Charles Dickens
Only the tiny letters TSE engraved on the gold band give away the distinguished pedigree of the fountain pen which will be used for the first time at the Royal Society of Literature on Monday night as the critic and novelist James Wood signs the roll book as a fellow.
The pen was last used by TS Eliot, and is believed to have been given to the poet as a schoolboy by his mother. Eliot died in 1965, but the pen has been left to the society by his widow Valerie, who died in November, and will be formally presented to the society at special evening of poetry in his honour, chaired by Wood, who is flying in from the US specially for the event, with readings from the prize-winning authors Alice Oswald and Robin Robertson.
A pen with an even older history, a quill owned by Charles Dickens, which has also traditionally been used by fellows to sign in, is beginning to show signs of wear and tear after almost a century and a half of use, and will now be retired – although the society's relic of another poet, Lord Byron, a pen presented to him by one of his many mistresses, is still in excellent condition.
The Royal Society of Literature, now based at Somerset House in London, was founded in 1820 by a bishop, Thomas Burgess, under the patronage of George IV, and first met in the back room of Hatchard's bookshop on Piccadilly. Fellows have included Thomas Hardy, Henry James, WB Yeats and Rudyard Kipling.