Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy


Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
'
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

Notes from the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 1
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2004, Part 3

This is the fhird of three collections of notes on The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 1, which began on November 21.

C. S. Lewis portriat by Val Craig MurrayTo Papy, June 5, 1926, p 667: "as a general rule women marry their tutors. I suppose if a girl is determined to marry and has a man alone once a week to whom she can play the rapt disciple (most fatal of all poses to male vanity) her task is done."

To A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, September 8, 1926, p 669: "Authors ought to marry author's [I think he means authors'] daughters (a notable tongue twister) as they may be supposed to be already inured to living with genius." Jenkin was married to Luned Jacob, daughter of the writer, W.W. Jacob.

 

To Mrs. Lily Suffern (one of his aunts), November ? 1926, p 673: "I saw the following dedication in a book the other day, and it made me think of you 'To —, —, and —, who had nothing in common except that they were not governed by fear and desire and you could believe what they said.'"

To Papy, March 30, 1927, p 680: "can you tell me who said 'Before you begin these studies, I should warn you that you need much more faith in science than in theology.' It was Huxley or Clifford or one of the nineteenth century scientists, I think. Another good remark I read long ago in one of E. Nesbitt's fairy tales—'Grown ups know that children can believe almost anything: that's why they tell you the earth is round and smooth like an orange when you can see perfectly well for yourself that it's flat and lumpy.'"

Both in the thoughts above and the one below, Lewis seem to be tottering in his resolve as an atheist.

To Warnie, July 9, 1927, referring to poet Thomas Carlyle, p 704: "He is thus in the remarkable position of suspending everything on a peg which (he believes) isn't there, and preaching the uselessness of human endeavor because we are helpless in the hands of — Nobody. However, the subject seems to be carrying me further than I foresaw." It almost sounds like the buildup of some of his latest arguments for belief in God and Christianity.

To Papy, July 29, 1927, p 713: "like all us Celts, I am a born rhetorician, one who finds pleasure in the forcible emotions independently of their grounds and even to the extent to which they are felt at any time save the moment of speaking. Like the obscure poet whom I saw mentioned in the local newspaper at Caerleon, I love to 'ride like a cork on the ocean of eloquence....'"

Same letter, p 714: "I managed in spite of it to sleep pretty well by dint of soaking my feet in water as hot as I could stand, immediately before going to bed. This is an excellent plan if you have to work right up to bedtime and your head is in a whirl, as it draws the blood away to the extremities and makes you stop thinking."

Same letter, p 716: "I am going bald at a prodigious rate and in a few years time you will have a better head of hair than either of your sons. What sort of wig would you recommend?"

In a letter to his father on August 12, 1927, p 717, he says the common banter of English schoolboys is quite unintellectual.

To Warnie, December 12, 1927, p 742: "batata" = a type of sweet potato (in a reference to their father).

Later on the same page: "I never can see why a fat middle aged American whose ancestry (in the purely biological sense of course) must stretch back as far as any one else's, and whose nation started with all the history of European culture as a jumping off point, should be excused any of his vulgarity on the score of youth."

Same letter, p 743: "Are you often struck, when you become sufficiently intimate with the other people to know something of their development, how late their lives begin so to speak? I mean these men you meet who seem to have read everything, done everything, and yet they were pure barbarians until they left school, and had turned twenty perhaps before they began to be interested in the things that interest them now?" (I find this fascinating as this is something I once thought only I had thought about in my younger years, having pretty much chosen my life's work by age 14.)

To Papy, February 25, 1928, some thoughts about letter writing and writers, p 748: "Some authors . . . are far below themselves in their letters. Notably Charlotte Bronte and Mrs. Gaskell whose life I re-read again while I was laid up. I had forgotten one of the best unintentionally funny things in literature until I saw it again. It comes where a letter written by Charlotte immediately after her profligate brother's death has been quoted. The situation is genuine tragedy. After giving the letter, Mrs. Gaskell proceeds 'The dear friend to whom these affecting lines were written was unfailing in her sympathy for the poor worn mind and harassed frame and shortly afterwards sent her a present of a shower bath.' (I cannot resist thinking of the idea of giving presents of this sort instead of letters of condolence. 'Poor so and so, I must send his wife a vacuum cleaner tomorrow.'"

To Papy, March 31, 1928, p 751, he describes "a religious revival going on among our undergraduates." This is the only reference found in the letters to such a movement at Oxford. This was the Moral Rearmament movement led by German-American Frank Buchman: "He gets a number of young men together (some reports say women, too, but I believe not) and they confess their sins to one another. Jolly, ain't it? But what can one do? If you try to suppress it (I am assuming that you agree with me that the thing is unhealthy) you only make martyrs."

To Papy, July 10, 1928, p 767: "I am almost ashamed to tell you — I am beginning to be rather disillusioned about my colleagues. There is a good deal more intrigue and mutual back-scratching and even direct lying than I ever supposed possible: and what worries me most of all, I have good reason to believe that it is not the same in other colleges."

To Warnie, August 2, 1928, p 773: "'People more frequently require to be reminded, than to be instructed.' What more is there to say? Or again 'The natural process of the mind is not from enjoyment to enjoyment but from hope to hope.'" Quoting Dr. Johnson's The Rambler.

Same letter, p 776: "There is no merit in lying down when you can't stand up."

To Papy, November 3, 1928, p 778: "When I came I found that any Magdalen undergraduate who had interests beyond rowing, drinking, motoring and fornication, sought his friends outside the College, and indeed kept out of the place as much as he could."

Later on the same page: "I sometimes wonder if this country will kill the public schools before they kill it.

To Warnie, April 13, 1929, p "nothing militates so much against [Sir Walter] Scott as his popularity in Scotland. The Scotch have a curious way of rendering wearisome to the outside world whatever they admire."

In a footnote on page 790 in the same letter, Warnie is quoted as writing to Jack about meeting "a character straight out of Kipling—such a man as I had always believed never existed outside novels...It was a severe shock after a discussion on Kipling to arrive at his room and come bolt under a withering collection of philosophy—Spencer, Comte, and similar books. I had to mumble something about having no philosophy, which was met with "When ye say ye haaaaaave no pheelawsophy, Cap'n, ye only mean ye haaave a bad pheelawsophy." Is this remark a philosophical cliché or is it pure coincidence that you should have made exactly the same remark to me some years ago."

Same letter, p 792, "I often wonder, specially lately, whether you are right (if you still hold the opinion) in thinking Ireland the right country to live in, with all its drawbacks."

To Arthur, April 22, 1929, "I am...seriously sorry that I wrote you rather a snarky letter." A footnote attributes "snarky" to Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark, "For a Snark's a peculiar creature, that won't / Be caught in a commonplace way."

Editor Walter Hooper describes Jack's letter to his father of May 19, 1929, p 797, as "perhaps the first indication of a huge change in Lewis's spiritual life. For it was about this time—we don't know the exact date—that Lewis came to believe in God, though not yet in Christ." He then quotes a passage about that change in Jack's Surprised By Joy, which ends in these words from Chapter 14 of that book: "The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation."

To Papy, July 7, 1929, p 800: "Can you suggest any spiritual exercises—perhaps our old friend 'Calvinistic exercises' would do—suitable as a prophylactic against loss of temper in trying circumstances?" At age 30, this was a complete reversal of Jack's attitude to and treatment of his father at age 25.

To Warnie, August 30, 1929, writing a serial letter of great length about their father's failing health and impending death, refers to Lord Macaulay, who developed his style of writing by the age of 14 when "He could not at that age have known anything" about his subjects, but nevertheless developed and maintained the same approach to writing as he matured. Page 815: "One can see quite clearly that having so early acquired the talk he found he could go on quite comfortably for the rest of his life without bothering to notice the things. He was from the first clever enough to produce a readable and convincing slab of claptrap on any subject whether he understood it or not, and hence he never to his dying day discovered that there was such a thing as understanding. Don't you think the last word on him is Southey's statement—Macaulay's a clever lad, and a clever lad he'll remain'—?" Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, was a 19th Century poet and essayist (1800-1859). Later in the same letter he refers to Macaulay's style as "Grandfather Hamilton over again, with Liberalism instead of Evangelicalism." So Jack did regard his Church of Ireland pastor-grandfather an evangelical.

In the same letter, p 818, he tells Warnie that their father has been warned about the danger of continued drinking of whiskey, to which Albert replies "that there's no good trying to stop it as the good which could now be done by cessation would be less than the psychological irritation." Jack would give an almost identical reason for continuing to smoke cigarettes when he was dying of heart and other problems, 34 years later.

To Arthur, October 3, 1929, p 832: "I saw both a squirrel and a fat old rat in Addison's walk, and had glimpses of 'it.'" Here, "it" has morphed from being code for masturbation and kinky sex fantasies to "joy" of the kind he at one time virtually lived for. A paragraph later: "Does one thing never sleep except to let something else wake. Milton found that his genius was never in full tide except in autumn and winter."

To Arthur, October 17, 1929, p 834, the first mention of Alan Richard Griffiths (1906-93) is found. The editor supplies a footnote on this page: "In [Surprised By Joy], Lewis speaks of him as his 'chief companion' on the road to Christianity. In 1931 Griffiths was received into the Catholic Church and in 1936 he took his solemn vows as a Benedictine monk, at which time he took the name Dom Bede Griffiths. In 1955 he was sent to India, and he remained there for the rest of his life. The story of his joint pilgrimage to the Faith with Lewis is found in The Golden String (1954)."

In the same letter, p 837: "Very tired and—the old phrase—very much 'entangled in the world' and very far in spirit from where I would be."

To Warnie, December 21, 1929, p 839: "When you say that we have lived long on a communal basis, I am afraid I cannot help reflecting that it has largely been a communism in which I have played the receiving proletarian to your bleeding capitalist: that however is a form justified by the best models."

To Arthur, December 27, 1929, p 850, in discussing John Bunyan's Grace Abounding and the Life and Death of Mr. Badman, after describing Bunyan's fear of committing the "unpardonable sin": "I suppose this is the same mental disease of which you and I have felt a trace in the impulse to throw ones new book in the fire—some strange twist that impels you to do a thing because it is precisely the one thing of all others that you don't want to do."

Later in the letter, a kind of diary in letter form, describing his Christmas eve: "Taking it all in all, with the walk and the evening, and the blessed sense of charity, so rare in me,—the feeling, natural at such a moment that even my worst enemies in college were really funny and odd rather than detestable, while my friends were 'the many men so beautiful' — this was as good a day as I could wish to have. If only it wasn't for those damned keys!" He had left a set of keys back in Belfast on a recent visit. The quotation applied to his friends is from Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Same letter, p 854: "You can't have elbow room for things like men except in endless time and space and staggering multiplicity." In a footnote, editor Walter Hooper quotes a similar point Jack made in a lecture given some years later: "What sort of universe do we demand? If it is small enough to be cozy, it would not be big enough to be sublime. If it is large enough for us to stretch our spiritual limbs in, it must be large enough to baffle us. . . It is to be expected that His creation should be, in the main, unintelligible to us."

To Warnie, January 12, 1930, p 870, he is trying to persuade Warnie to come live with him and Mrs. Moore and Maureen when he retires from his military career. After describing the downside of his lifestyle: "I have definitely chosen and don't regret the choice. What I hope—very much hope—is that you, after consideration, may make the same choice, and not regret it...." Later in the same paragraph: "domestic life denies me a great many pleasures and saves me a great many pains."

Next page: Sinecure = an office that requires or involves little or no responsibility, work, or active service

To Arthur, January 26, 1930: "This...letter...will look very well to posterity! (As a matter of fact, to write private letters with an eye on posterity is a lovable fault, springing from honest vanity....)"

Same letter, he refers to all private reading having ceased, "except for 20 minutes before bed (if alone)"!

To Arthur, January 30, 1930, p 877: "one knows from bitter experience that he who standeth should take heed lest he fall, and that anything remotely like pride is certain to bring an awful crash. The old doctrine is quite true you know—that one must attribute everything to the grace of God."

Later in the same long, long paragraph: "today I got such a sudden intense feeling of delight that it sort of stopped me in my walk and spun me round. Indeed the sweetness was so great, and seemed so to affect the whole body as well as the mind, that it gave me pause—it was so very like sex."

Next paragraph: "One knows what a psychoanalyst would say—it is subliminated lust.... And if as Plato thought, the material world is a copy or mirror of the spiritual, then the central feature of the material life (=sex), must be a copy of something in the Spirit: and when you get a glimpse of the latter, of course you find it like the former: an Original is like its copy: a man is like his portrait."

Same letter, p 881: "I also had Griffiths to stay with me for a night last week. Griffiths was a pupil of mine. He was all mucked up with naturalism, D. H. Lawrence, and so on, but has come right and is I do believe really one of 'us' now: and is even tending on the rebound to a high degree of asceticism."

Same letter, a post script, p 882: "When I said that your besetting sin was Indolence and mine Pride I was thinking of the old classification of the seven deadly sins: They are Gula (Gluttony), Luxuria (Unchastity), Accidia (Indolence), Ira (Anger), Superbia (Pride), Invidia (Envy), Avaricia (Avarice). Accidia, which is sometimes called Tristicia (despondence) is the kind of indolence which comes from indifference to the good—the mood in which though it tries to play on us we have no string to respond. Pride, on the other hand, is the mother of all sins, and the original sin of Lucifer—so you are rather better off than I am. You at your worst are an instrument unstrung: I am an instrument strung but preferring to play itself because it thinks it knows the tune better than the Musician."

To Owen Barfield, February 3, 1930, p 883: "Terrible things are happening to me. The 'Spirit' or 'Real I' is showing an alarming tendency to become much more personal and is taking the offensive, and behaving just like God. You'd better come on Monday at the latest or I may have entered a monastery."

To A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, March 21, 1930, p 887: "you will be surprised to hear that my outlook is now definitely religious."

To Arthur, April 3, 1930, p 888: the editor notes in the middle of the text: "Greeves, in a pencilled note at the top of this letter, states that it is 'very private' and 'to be burnt.' What he did, however, before passing the letters on was to destroy half the first page and the whole of pages 2 and 3...."

Same letter, the closing: "You are my only real Father Confessor so you owe me a line."

To Arthur, April 13? 1930, p 889: He refers to a visit he plans with Arthur as being "at home. ('At home' —an awful feeling comes over me at those words. It is impossible to get accustomed to change.)" This was probably his first visit back to Ireland after his father's funeral.

Editor's note on p 890: "Warnie arrived in Liverpool on 16 April after being away, as he recorded in his diary, 'three years and five days, and after a journey of fifty days from Shanghai."

To Arthur, April 29, 1930, p 891: "I found that even with Warnie there the memory of our Ireland was stronger than the memory of his and mine. At least I don't know that 'stronger' is the right word: 'larger' would be better. The Ireland I shared with him seemed to be a strictly limited and rather thirsty land: yours was like dewy hills and woods fading into a mist where I felt that one could wander forever. This is not flattery, nor contempt of him."

Same letter, on p 893 he refers to "the tiny hamlet of Stoke Pero where there is a little grey church..." which I find interesting because a hamlet, by definition, is a small village without a church.

A letter quoted from Warnie to Jack and Mrs. Moore, p 897, announced his decision to accept their invitation to live with them: "I came home more than ever convinced that I have made a wise decision and should throw in my fortunes with Hillsboro [as they called their residence in Headington Quarry] as soon as it becomes economically possible."

To Arthur, June 1, 1930, p 898, 899: Jack describes listening to music and "turning my mind to the One, the real object of all desire, which (you know my view) is what we are really wanting in all wants." So close, so close!

Same letter: unctuous = affected, exaggerated, or insincere earnestness.

To Arthur, June 7, 1930, p 901: "Put the two [Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley (1863) and Phantastes, by George MacDonald (1858)] side by side and see how imagination differs from mere fancy, and holiness from mere morality." Alongside MacDonald's, Kingsley's book is "tasteless," Jack writes. However, his copy of Water Babies had belonged to his mother, and as he read it he felt "a curious sense of bringing my mother to life—as if she were reading it through me."

Same letter, p 902, he discusses Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House (1863): "The whole poem has raised a lot of difficulties in my mind. Even if it were true that marriage is what he says, what help does this give us regards the sexual problem for the innumerable people who can't marry? Surely for them asceticism remains the only path?" But, he says, Patmore "is extremely down on people who take the ascetic view."

Same letter, p 903, he describes a visit he had with a law professor colleague, he took Jack with him to visit his elderly father..."and then [I] remembered how abominably I had treated my father—and...I was, as I said, humiliated. Yet I wouldn't have missed it for anything. It does one good to see the fine side of people we've always seen the worst of."

To Owen Barfield, June 19, 1930, p 904: "a lascivious man thinks about women's bodies, a lascivious woman thinks about her own. What a world we live in!"

To Arthur, June 15, 1930, p 906: "We read of spiritual efforts, and our imagination makes us believe that, because we enjoy the idea of doing them, we have done them. I am appalled to see how much of the change which I thought I had undergone lately was only imaginary. The real work seems still to be done. It is so fatally easy to confuse an aesthetic appreciation of the spiritual life and the life itself—to dream that you have waked, washed, and dressed, and then to find yourself still in bed."

To Arthur, June 31, 1930, p 911, writing about one of his favorite writers, William Morris, speaks of the sense of "longing" found in Morris's work: "over all the haunting sense of time and change making the world heart breakingly beautiful just because it slips away ('Oh death that makes life so sweet' as he says) all this, I thought, he gave to perfection: but of what this longing really pointed to, of the reason why beauty made us homesick, of the reality behind, I thought he had no inkling. And for that reason his poetry always seemed to me dangerous and apt to lead to sensuality...."

Later, same page: "I have become a dry prig."

To Arthur, July 8, 1930, p 913: "You have I think misunderstood what I said about the return from austerity. I never meant for a moment that I was beginning to doubt whether absolute chastity was the true goal—of that I am certain."

Same letter, p 914, he quotes Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations: "You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars...till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God as misers do in gold."

P 915, referring to the effect of his conversion [to theism, not yet to Christianity] in his enjoyment of life: "I don't remember for many years to have felt so disposed for new reading as I do now, and specially poetry. Everything seems—you know the feeling—to be beginning again and one has the sense of immortality."

To Arthur, July 29, p 916: "Certainly when I come to die I am more likely to remember certain things that you and I have explored or suffered or enjoyed together than anything else."

Same letter, p 918, he describes a meeting with "Hugo" Dyson that lasted until 3 a.m. the night before: "He is a man who really loves truth: a philosopher and a religious man: who makes his critical and literary activities depend on the former—none of your damned dilettante."

To Arthur, August 3, 1930, p 919: "a fool can ask more questions in an hour than a wise man can answer in a life time."

In a letter to Arthur on August 18, 1930, he describes his first published book, a poem in epic style, Dymer, as a "complete failure."

Elaborating on this on the next page: "From the age of sixteen onwards I had one single ambition, from which I never wavered, in the prosecution of which I spent every ounce I could, on which I really and deliberately staked my whole contentment: and I recognize myself as having unmistakably failed in it."

And on the next page, "The side of me which longs, not to write, for no one can stop us doing that, but to be approved as a writer, is not the side of us that is really worth much.

And the next: "I shudder to think what I would have given if I had been allowed—to be a successful writer."

To Arthur, August 28, 1930, p 932: "Perhaps in the eyes of the gods the true use of a book lies in its effects upon the author. You remember what Ibsen said, that every play he wrote had been written for the purgation of his own heart. And in my own humbler way I feel quite certain that I could not have certain things now if I had not gone through the writing of Dymer. Or if a book has an audience of one—surely we must not assume that this may not be, from some super-human point of view, as much justification as an audience of thousands. I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development.

P 933: "Unsuccessful writers like us...."

To Arthur, August 31, 1930, p 934: "I have...finished Wilfrid Cumbermede [George MacDonald, 1872] —I took it down with me after tea that same afternoon to Parson's Pleasure and read naked under the willows." Parson's Pleasure was one of Lewis's favorite swimming beaches on the River Cherwell at Oxford.

Same letter, p 936: "I know nothing that gives me such a feeling of spiritual healing, of being washed, as to read G. Macdonald."

To Arthur, October 29, 1930, p 942: "My moral history of late has been deplorable. More and more clearly one sees how much of one's philosophy and religion is mere talk: the boldest hope is that concealed somewhere within it there is some seed however small of the real thing."

To Arthur, December 24, 1930, p 944: "if anything is spiritual, everything is."

In the next paragraph he speaks of having had his faith in George Macdonald restored. We seem to have missed the point at which it had been shaken.

Same letter and page: "What God demands is our solution of the problem set, not of some other problem which we think he ought to have set: and that what we call hindrances are really the raw material of spiritual life. As if the fire should call the coal a hindrance!"

Again: "I think the trouble with me is lack of faith. I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God's existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old skeptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feeling of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. Mind you I don't think so—the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so.

To Arthur, January 10, 1931, p 947: "I am afraid I can never resist a ludicrous piece of logic...."

P 948, speaking of Warnie's also beginning to "think the religious view of things was after all true": "his intellect is beginning to revolt from the semi-scientific assumptions we all grew up in

To Arthur, January 17, 1931, p 950: "The pleasure of anger—the gnawing attraction which makes one return again and again to its theme—lies, I believe, in the fact that one feels entirely righteous oneself only when one is angry."

To Arthur, February 1, 1931, p 954: "to have another of our old rousing evenings at the Hippodrome—once more to dance the Black Bottom at midnight with Sir Robert Ewart and the Witch of Endor...."

To Arthur, February 23, 1931, p 955, speaking of a movie with a sadistic theme: "I felt quite sick but thought it almost a duty <for one afflicted in my way to remain, saying to myself 'Oh you like cruelty do you? Well now stew in it!'> —the same principle on which one trains a puppy to be clean —'rub their noses in it.' It has haunted me ever since."

To Arthur, August 19, 1931, the first reference of his calling him (or anyone) by telephone.

To Arthur, September 22, 1931, p 969, referring to Hugo Dyson: "I meet him I suppose about four or five times a year and am beginning to regard him as one of my friends of the second class — i.e. not in the same rank as yourself or Barfield, but on a level with Tolkien or Macfarlane." Macfarlane?

Same letter, p 970: "I feel more and more that [William] Morris has taught me things he did not understand himself."

And in the same paragraph: "life owes all its charm to mortality."

Same letter, p 971, Jack asks Arthur to allow Warnie to have access to all of the letters from him Arthur has kept over the years in order to add them to the Lewis Papers Warnie is compiling, "and I promise faithfully that he will see nothing which gives you away in any respect, for I will go through them all first by myself."

To Arthur, October 1, 1931, p 974: "How deep I am just now beginning to see: for I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ — in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it."

Same letter, p 975, a surprising post script: "P.S. I have just finished The Epistle to the Romans, the first Pauline epistle I have ever seriously read through. It contains many difficult and some horrible things, but the essential idea of Death (the Macdonald idea) is there alright."

To Arthur, October 18, 1931, p 977: "Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened...."

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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