'C. S. Lewis Overflow'
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.
from the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 1
Edited by Walter Hooper,
Harper SanFrancisco, 2004, Part 2
entry 1028 | November 28 2007
Last week I introduced this series
of notes on C.S. Lewis's letters (which
see, if you missed it). To anyone fascinated by Lewis, these notes provide
a quick synopsis of what may be his most important body of written work. I am,
of course, putting together these notes to have them at hand when I take up my
next book project, but as in any major endeavor, I want to share it with others
I feel will benefit while doing double duty. This week's lengthy collection of
notes takes us through the second one-third of Volume 1. (The question marks on
some letter dates indicate that they were undated and the date is the editor's
guess, based on postmarks or other evidence.)
Note: Thanks to a friend and
fellow parishioner at St. Stephen's, Val Craig Murray, who painted the portrait
of Jack that has been added to the Overflow pages this week.
Arthur, October 28? 1917, p 339: "Since coming back and meeting a certain
person [Mrs. Moore, a footnote explains] I have begun to realize that it was not
at all the right thing for me to tell you so much as I did. I must therefore try
to undo my actions as far as possible by asking you to try and forget my various
statements and not to refer to the subject. Of course I have perfect trust in
you, mon vieux, [literally, French for "my old"] but still I
have no business to go discussing those sort of things with you. So in future
that topic must be taboo between us." Did Mrs. Moore put Jack straight about
"kissing and telling"? Or about saying things that may have sounded
too prurient to Arthur, as homosexual? Or did he say too much about his interest
in or relations with Mrs. Moore? Or his interest in masochistic behavior? Unless
some letter or letters have been lost, there is no clue in his previous letter
To Arthur November 4? 1917, p 342: "I am often surprised
to find how utterly ignored [William Butler] Yeats [Irish poet and chronicler
of Irish myths, still living at the time Jack was writing] is among the men I
have met: perhaps his appeal is purely Irishif so, then thank the gods that
I am Irish."
Same letter, p 343: "The references to <'That'>
were slightly involved and may easily have escaped you: I could scarcely find
them again." <That> in this section of the correspondence is masturbation.
Arthur, February 2, 1918, p 353: Affirming that he wishes he and Arthur could
take walks and share long talks like they used to, he concludes, "after all
there is room in other things besides love in a man's life. As well, you should
trust in me after I have given you so much confidence." Perhaps Arthur had
expressed misgivings that Mrs. Moore had taken his place in Jack's life.
Arthur, February 12, 1918: "I am sorry 'Tommy' has gone as he must have brightened
up your 'circle' a good deal. <Are you still bound to him by the chains of
desire as well as by 'pure' friendship?>"
Later on the same page:
"we may have good times yet, although I have been at a war and although I
To Papy, February 16, 1918, p 357, Jack says that the
captain of his Company in the infantry in France was an acquaintance from his
days at the Cherbourg boarding school, nicknamed "Pogo," an older adolescent
who Jack and many other younger boys "idolized" for his worldliness,
as told in Surprised by Joy and George Sayer's biography, Jack.
Now, he writes: "He impressed me in those days, but I find him very disappointing....I
suppose these things are to be expected."
To Arthur, February 21,
1918, p 359, describing the area around the military hospital he was in at the
time in England: "The roofs are all of old old tiles and there are lots of
stone crucifixes, with their little offereings of grass and beads and things on
them. Catholic Christianity is certainly more picturesque than puritanism."
the same letter, p 359-360, he recommends that Arthur read the "Autobigraphy"
of Benvenuto Cellini, and later: "<It touches in one place tho' very briefly
on your penchant, and is from time to time interesting in 'that way.'> I expect
you are now heartily sick of the subject!"
To Arthur, May 23, 1918,
from a hospital in Etaples, France, p 370: "If you think that I look to you
only for abstract interests and no longer yearn for the old intimacy, the teas,
the laughter the walks and the comparing of booksyou are very much mistaken,
Same letter, p 371: "Congratulations old man [this would
be the English equivalent to the French mon vieux, October 28, 1917]. I
am delighted that you have had the moral courage to form your own opinions <independently,>
in defiance of the old taboos. I am not sure that I agree with you: but, as you
hint in your letter, <this penchant is a sort of mystery only to be fully understood
by those who are made that wayand my views on it can be at best but emotion.>
Arthur, May 29, 1918, from a hospital in London, p 375: "I don't really think
[philosophy] will teach me the truth, but I do think it will supply me with thoughts
and feelings that I may be able to turn into poetry. As you turn all kinds of
nourishment into blood."
To Arthur, June 3, 1918, page 379: "I
believe in no God, least of all in one that would punish me for the 'lusts of
the flesh': but I do believe that I have in me a spirit, a chip, shall we say,
of universal spirit; and that, since all good and joyful things are spiritual
and non-material, I must be careful not to let matter (= nature = Satan, remember)
get too great a hold on me, and dull the one spark I have."
June 20, 1918 (still from hospital in London): "You know I have some difficulty
in talking of the greatest things: it is the fault of our generation and of the
English schools. But at least you will believe that I was never before so eager
to cling to every bit of our old home life and to see you."
June 29, 1918, p 387: Here is a reference to "Perrett of the Somersets"
which, as quoted in Sayer's biography sounds suspicious. However, the context
of the correspondence establishes clearly who Perrett is and that he was an actual
friend and comrade-in-arms of Jack in the war.
To Arthur, July 17, 1918,
p 389, the first of his endeavors in book publishing: "I am at present engaged
in copying out the final version of my poems: in a few days the new MS. will be
ready for the typist and when it returns thence it will begin the round of the
publishers. I shall start with the famous houses and go on until I have exhausted
all that I can hear of: even if it is unsuccessful all round, I may pick up some
useful criticisms, and at any rate it will be well to have a typed copy."
Arthur, August 31, 1918, p 394: "Here I must indulge my love of preaching
by warning you not to get too much bound up in a cult. Between your other penchant
.... and the Irish school you might get into a sort of little by-way of the intellectual
world, off the main track and loose [I think he meant lose] yourself there. Remember
that the great minds, Milton, Scott, Mozart and so on, are always sane before
all and keep in the broad highway of thought and feel what can be felt by all
men, not only by a few."
To Arthur, October 15, 1918, p 407: Poet Robert
"Nichols...stands quite apart and seems to me the best of the younger lot
whom I have come acrossmuch better than [Rupert] Brook himself for instance.
I'm afraid I shall never be an orthodox modernI like lines that will scan
and do not care for descriptions of sea-sickness."
Later, same page:
"I am so glad you have got into that school at last: I hope they will do
you good and lead you on to a proper development of your natural bent. After all
interesting and arduous work is about the one thing to save us from melancholyyour
besetting disease (I had almost written 'sin')."
P 417, a footnote
indicates that when the letters were being typed, Jack and Warnie intentionally
removed some words from a letter from Jack to Papy, November 17, 1918.
Arthur, December 2, 1918, p 419: "(as nature produces man only to conquer
her [sic], and man produces a future and higher generation to conquer the ideals
of the last, or again as an individual produces a nobler mood to undo all that
to-days has done)." Sounds like a credo for youthful liberalism.
Arthur, January 26, 1919, p 425, about the owner of the house he and Mrs. Moore
were renting: "She is an elderly maiden lady andI am not jokinga
saint. She gets up early every morning and goes to churchvery high Anglicanthrough
the bitter frost. In spite of protests she brings Mrs Moore a cup of tea in the
morning: she can hardly be persuaded to use her own kitchen, which by the arrangement
should be common to us both. Altogether a most remarkable characterand very
given to good works. At another house we tried we met a Miss Tennyson, niece of
To Arthur, March 2, 1919, p 442: "...the Everyman [edition
of the] Canterbury Tales...is garbled and modernized: by a ridiculous arrangement
whenever they come to an obscene passage they slip back into the real language."
on p 443 is very revealing: "Although Spirits in Bondage was not published
until 20 March 1919, Albert and Warnie Lewis had read it and Jack's atheism was
evident to both." Warnie, himself estranged from the church at this time,
wrote to his father "I am of the opinion that it would have been better if
it had never been published," and, "no useful purpose is served by endeavoring
to advertise oneself as an Atheist." And Albert wrote to Warnie: "but
I do think that if Oxford does not spoil him...he may write something that men
would not willingly let die." Perhaps, at least in part, after his conversion
to Christ Jack wanted to undo the damage his atheisitic profession had done on
any readers and thus became the most eloquent spokesman for the faith in his generation.
Warnie, June 9, 1919, p 455, Jack describes their father's health problems and
"that he is fast becoming unbearable." He goes on to report that Arthur
had visited their father and found him "sprawling in an arm chair" and
asking him to leave because "I'm in great trouble." Jack goes on: "No
evidence as to what this 'great trouble' was has ever been forthcoming, so I think
we may with probability, if not quite certainty, breathe the magic word of al-cohol....Of
course no one objects to a man getting blind occasionally."
June 29, 1919, p 456, Jack says he waited for a visit from Arthur to end before
writing, and that Arthur "departed with much reluctance yesterday."
P 479, the editor says in a footnote that a remark by Jack in a letter
to Papy, April 4, 1920, "I thought it a good opportunity of paying off an
engagement with a man who has been asking me for some time to go and 'walk' with
him," is "a fabrication as Lewis was here with Mrs. Moore and Maureen."
Arthur, April 11, 1920, p 480-81: "Ireland itselfmuch as I love and
'desire it all my days' as Homer says, if other things were equalI think
there is some truth in my own 'Irish Nocturne.' Look it up, not as a poem but
as a theory and tell me if you agree." In a footnote, Walter Hooper ventures
that the theory is expressed in these lines from the poem (from Spirits in Bondage):
"...I know that the colourless skies / And the blurred horizons breed / Lonely
desire and many words and brooding and never a deed."
To Papy, April
11, 1920, speaking of a cousin, "Daisy," p 484: "She struck me
as being ecclesiastical in a high degree: for instance from her point of view
the chief argument in favour of expelling the Turks from Europe was 'that it would
re-establish the Patriarch at Constantinople and thus create a balance to the
Papacy." The Patriarch at Constantinople is the ecumenical officer of the
Orthodox Churches. Though doctrinally Anglicanism was probably closer to Catholicism,
it must be remembered that when the Church of England was generally orthodox,
it was socio-politically much closer to Orthodoxy, even studying possible union
at this time.
To Arthur, May 3?, 1920, p. 487, he encourages Arthur to look
into coming to Oxford as a student, and says, "I do not think that anyone
can fail in 'Smalls' [entrance exams] after the removal of Greek, unless, like
myself, he is incapable of elementary mathematics!"
To Arthur, June
19, 1920, p 495, Jack uses the expression "white with may." The closest
definition I can find is a use of "may" to mean Hawthorne blossoms,
especially in England.
To Papy, July 25, 1920, p 500, Jack makes a rare
allusion to the "troubles" in Ireland during this general timeframe.
After decades of ferment, most of Ireland was nearing independence from Great
Britain by 1920, though the Protestant majority in what is now Northern Ireland
rejected being ruled from Dublin in favor of continued rule from London as part
of the United Kingdom.
In the same letter, p 501, Jack refers to an uncle:
"One cannot help admiring the skill with which he knows exactly how far selfishness
can go without rebounding on himself: he has learned to a nicety how much every
plank will bear." A strong indication of Jack's character or "values,"
despite his profession of atheism at the time.
To Leo Baker (an Oxford colleague
whom he collaborated with on an anthology of poetry they were hoping to publish),
September 25, 1920, p 507: "...my imagination seems to have died: where there
used to be pictures that were bright, at least to me, there is now nothing but
a repetition of the trivialities and worries of the outer lifeI go round
and round on the same subjects which are always those I least want to think about."
the same letter, speaking of the "theory of poetry," p 508: "...Coleridge's
definition 'the best words in the best order' has always seemed to me bad: for
it would apply to good prose: or it would apply even to any piece of writing that
fulfilled its purpose."
And later in the same, p 509: "I have
stopped defying heaven...."
To Papy, February 16, 1921, p 518: "Correspondence
is unhappily no true parallel to conversation: and it is just when one would be
most ready for a talk in the odd hour of the day when one shoves ones work from
one...that one is least ready to sit down and write a letter. I often wonder how
the born letter writers whose 'works' fill volumes, overcame this difficulty."
a letter to Leo Baker, February 25, 1921, p 520, he refers to himself as "a
respectable middle-aged suburbanite." Jack was 21 at the time.
same letter, p 521, he refers to characters from Irish mythology.
Baker, March 4, 1921, p 522, Jack refers to himself as "an arrant coward."
Arrant = thoroughgoing.
In the same letter, p 523, he mentions a project
by their mutual friend, Owen Barfield: "The recurring motive of the tower,
I'm afraid, will give the psychoanalysts something to talk about in their usual
In 1921 Jack wrote some "serial letters," written
in diary form, to his brother Warnie, who was then with the army in China. Referring
to his village of residence a few miles from Oxford, Headington Quarry, he suggests
he might write up the scandals pertaining to Headington and become "known
as 'Headington Hamilton'..." (Hamilton was his mother's maiden name and one
he used several times as a pseudonym.)
Later in the same serial letter,
p 533, he writes that when walking, "I usually take a little note book and
write down whatever occures to me."
His letter to Papy, March 28, 1921,
p 534-535, discusses the death of his tutor (and his father's teacher a generation
earlier), William Kirkpatrick.
To Warnie, May 10, 1921, he alludes to their
father's membership in the Freemasons as dabbling in wizardry (p 543). In the
same letter, p 546, he says that an acquaintance now "incarcerated at a High
Church Theological seminary" and who would have wanted to invite him to tea
but could not, "because they were having a QUIET DAY. Ye gods, a lot of young
men shut up together, all thinking about their souls! Isn't it awful?"
553: "troglodytic" = "cave dweller" or a reclusive, out of
date, or brutish person.
To Warnie, July 1, 1921, p 555: "I once said
to Bakermy mystical friend with the crowded poetrythe trouble about
God is that he is like a person who never achknowledges one's letters and so,
in time, one comes to the conclusion either that he does not exist or that you
have got the address wrong."
Same letter, p 562: "Puritanism was
after all (in some of its exponents) a very different thing from modern 'dissent.'
One cannot imagine [John] Milton going about and asking people if they were saved:
that intolerable pride is the direct opposite to sentimentalism. ...However, old
Kirk really summed up Milton when he said 'I would venture to assert that no human
being ever called him Johnnie.'"
To Arthur, June ? 1921, p 564. Jack
describes winning an essay contest at Oxford. "The subject this year was
'Optimism.' Suitable for my family, as you probably guess! [This is apparently
a sarcastic reference his father's constant warnings of doom.] The actual prize
is £20 in money (that is in strict secrecyI don't want the fact disclosed
at home until it has to be) but of course it is much more valuable as a means
of self advertisement and may help me towards a job one of these days; it serves
a little to mark you out from the crowd."
Same letter, p 565: "The
last two or three years have taught me that all the things we used to like as
mere fantasy are held as facts at this moment by lots of people in Europe...."
Leo Baker, July 1921, p 567: Referring to the Gospel of Buddha (Paul Carus,
1895), he says, "One sees, of course, its inferiority to Christianityat
any rate as a creed for ordinary men: and though I sometimes feel that complete
abnegation is the only real refuge, in my healthier moments I hope that there
is something better. This minute I can pine for Nirvana, but when the sky clears,
I shall prefer something with more positive joy."
Later on the same
page: "They would probably say that greed etc. are themselves 'inexpressive'
of the idea of the individualthe thing he is tending to be, his potential
completeness. To me it seems that a great many different emotions are united in
the perception of beauty: it may turn out to be not a simple thing but a result
of unions. For one thing nearly all beautiful sights are to me chiefly important
as reminders of other beautiful sights: without memory twould be a poor affair.
The process presumably has a beginning but once going it grows like a snowball.
Could it be that joy remembered ('Which now is sad because it has been sweet')
is a necessary element in Beauty?" The quotation in parentheses is from Shelley,
P 570, editor's note: Jack's father and an uncle
and aunt and a cousin arrived in Oxford and took Jack with them on a motor trip
through Wales. The editor calls it his father's "last and most enterprising"
vacation trip ever.
To Warnie, August 7, 1921, p 573: plinth = base (as
in the base of a statue)
Same letter, p 575, describing the trip through
Wales: "On the left are the lower moors, known as the Black Hills, and all
between the pleasantest green country with no end of red iron streams, orchards,
thatched villages and buried lanes up the hills in leafy cuttings." Could
be describing sights around Nanty Glo.
Same letter, in a footnote on p 581
referring to a description of a Welsh castle: "Lewis is wrong here."
P 583, footnote quotes Albert Lewis as mentioning a visit to Llangollen, Wales,
in their Welsh tour. My favorite
To Papy, November 30, 1921, p 588: "By next year however
I hope you will be finished at long last with my education and that I shall be
unloading for the benefit of an astonished world the cargo that I have been so
long in taking aboard."
To Papy, May 18, 1922, p 591: "...English
Literature is a 'rising' subject. Thus if I could take a First or even a Second
in Greats, AND a first next year in English Literature, I should be in a very
strong position indeed: and during the extra year I might reasonably hope to strengthen
it further by adding some other University prize to my 'Optimism.'" Optimism
was the subject of the essay for which Jack won £20.
To Papy, October
28, 1922, p 601: "The English may turn out to be my real line, and, in any
case, will be a second string to my bow." Previously, Jack had considered
his strongest subject philsophy ("Greats").
Same letter, later
on the page, "...I know my own limitations and am quite sure that an academic
or literary career is the only one in which I can hope ever to go beyond the meanest
mediocrity." Discouraging his father's ambitions that he look to the legal
profession, he said that being a lawyer and having to run a business would lead
him to ruin and incarceration in jail, so poor were his business aptitudes and
To Arthur, April 22, 1923, p 605: "Arthur, whatever you do
never allow yourself to get a neurosis. You and I are both qualified for it, because
we both were afraid of our fathers as children. The Doctor who came to see the
poor Doc [Mrs. Moore's brother who had had a nervous breakdown] (a psychoanalyst
and neurological specialist) said that every neurotic case went back to the childish
fear of the father. But it can be avoided. Keep clear of introspection, of brooding,
of spiritualism, of everything eccentric. Keep to work and sanity and open air...."
Papy, July 1, 1923, p 609: "I hope some day to repay these long years of
education in the only way in which they can be repaidby success and distinction
in the kind of life which they aim at."
An editor's note on p 612 describes
a joy-filled reunion meeting between Jack and Arthur. But, the editor notes, a
few days later Jack wrote a diary entry expressing disappointment with Arthur,
saying his best friend "is changed...Someone has put into his head the ideal
of 'being himself' and 'following nature.' I tried on one occasion to point out
to him the ambiguity of that kind of maxim: but he seems to attach a very clear
meaning to itnamely that the whole duty of man is to swim with the tide
and obey his desires...He has taken over from psychoanalysis the doctrine that
repression in the technical sense is something quite different from self-control."
Papy, March 6, 1924, p 623: "I [have] started work experimentally on Dr.
Henry Morea 17th Century theologianwith the idea of 'doing' him for
a D.Phil. And I had a great deal of fun out of him before I stopped." The
editor, in a footnote says that Jack was interested in More not because of his
belief in God but his ethics and the importance of morals and ethics. Jack wrote
"a number of papers on ethics" in 1924. Later in the same letter (p
624) Jack tells his father "The D.Phil. would add very little to my Firsts
in the way of qualification."
To Papy, March 9, 1924, p 625, he recounts
a meeting at which he had been invited to read a philosophical paper. The "rather
unpleasant" society that sponsored his presentation "had brought the
Professor of Moral Philosophy there to reply to me without telling me beforehand.
This worthy Professor said a lot of nice things which I discounted as 'manners':
but what really mattered was that he said my idea was 'quite NEW' to him and 'very
attractive' and advised me to publish it in 'Mind.'"
Quotable: to Papy,
April 27, 1924, p 626: "the best cure for disappointment is the mderation
To Papy, May 11, 1924, p 627: "Carritt it appears is
going for a year to teach philosophy in the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan,
and it was suggested that I should undertake his tutorial duties here during his
absence and also give lectures." Though temporary, this was Jack's first
teaching position in Oxford.
Quotable, to Papy, August 28, 1924, p 633:
"As Johnson says, 'a man can write pretty quickly when he writes from his
own mind: but he will turn over one half a library to make one book.'" Footnote
attributes the "slightly misquoted" citation from Boswell's Life
of Johnson, 1775.
To Papy, April 1925, p 640, Jack affirms belief in
"momentary eruptions" of Something Else such as premonitions of life
in the future. What a comfort such a prescient glimpse of his life at this time
would have been to him seven years earlier while fighting on the Front in France.
on page 642, Jack's father had preserved in his papers the clipping from the London
Times of May 25, 1925, of Jack's election to his Fellowship at Magdalen
College, Oxford. On the same page is Albert's diary entry about his reaction to
the telegram telling him about Jack's appointment: "I went up to his room
and burst into tears of joy. I knelt down and thanked God with a full heart. My
prayers had been heard and answered."
To Papy, May 26, 1925, page 642:
Jack thanks his father for believing in and supporting him: "You have waited,
not only without complaint but full of encouragement, while chance after chance
slipped away and when the goal receded furthest from sight. Thank you again and
A footnote on p 643 reports that George Stuart Gordon, 1881-1942,
had been Magdalen College's first Fellow of English, appointed in 1907.
the same letter, p 645 Jack describes the critical role his First in Philosophy
had played in his appointment to the fellowship in English.
His letter to
his father, August 14, 1925, he describes the ceremony welcoming him to Magdalen's
faculty. In it he also reflects on the appropriateness of the turn of events that
brought him into a career mainly in English rather than philosophy (p 648): "I
have come to think that if I had the mind, I have not the brain and nerves for
a life of pure philosophy. A continued search among the abstract roots of things,
a perpetual questioning of all that plain men take for granted, a chewing the
cud for fifty years over inevitable ignorance and a constant frontier watch on
the little tidy lighted conventional world of science and daily lifeis this
the best life for temperaments such as ours?"
Footnote on page 649:
Herbert Spencer, philosophical and scientific thinker and writer "was the
chief exponent of agnosticism in 19th century England."
his father on p 650 that he has spent £90 to furnish his Magdalen College
A footnote on page 651 describes how Magdalen College's Addison's
Walk got its name and reports, "Lewis would have been surprised to know that
on 13 May 1998 a C.S. Lewis Centenary Stone was erected in Addison's Walk on which
is inscribed his poem about Addison's Walk"What the Bird Said Early
in the Year"....
To A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, November 4, 1925, p 653,
"It is odd that only old friends bring new talk."
January 25, 1926, p 661: "...how my tendency to preach is running away with
me. Better say simply that John [Arthur's brother] is a rotter and leave it at
that. And perhaps I ought to put in a word for Arthur who, after all, is an old
friend of mine. At least he knows what is wrong with him and, I think, makes some
effort to overcome it."
To Papy, June 5, 1926, p 665: "A heavy
responsibility rests on those who forage through a dead man's correspondence and
publish it indiscriminately."
Same letter, p 666, referring to "anti-religious
passages" in the collected letters of Sir Walter Raleigh: "In so far
however as his remarks show a real ignorance of the importance of Christianity
as (at least and on my view) one of the biggest and most venerable things in the
history of the mindin so far as they refuse to allow to it even that reverent
consideration which any educated person must allow, say to Greek Philosophy, or
the Renaissance, or Buddhismto that extent they are merely silly and unenlightened."
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