Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

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'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 2

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.

C. S. Lewis portriat by Val Craig MurrayTo 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.

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 Irish—if 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.

To 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.

To 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 love someone."

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."

In 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 books—you are very much mistaken, mon ami."

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 way—and my views on it can be at best but emotion.>

To 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."

To Papy, 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."

To Papy, 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."

To 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 across—much better than [Rupert] Brook himself for instance. I'm afraid I shall never be an orthodox modern—I 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 melancholy—your 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.

To 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.

To Arthur, January 26, 1919, p 425, about the owner of the house he and Mrs. Moore were renting: "She is an elderly maiden lady and—I am not joking—a saint. She gets up early every morning and goes to church—very high Anglican—through 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 character—and very given to good works. At another house we tried we met a Miss Tennyson, niece of the poet."

To Arthur, March 2, 1919, p 442: "...the Everyman [edition of the] Canterbury garbled and modernized: by a ridiculous arrangement whenever they come to an obscene passage they slip back into the real language."

Footnote 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.

To 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."

To Papy, 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."

To Arthur, April 11, 1920, p 480-81: "Ireland itself—much as I love and 'desire it all my days' as Homer says, if other things were equal—I 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: " 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 life—I go round and round on the same subjects which are always those I least want to think about."

In 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."

In 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.

In the same letter, p 521, he refers to characters from Irish mythology.

To Leo 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 vein."

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?"

P 553: "troglodytic" = "cave dweller" or a reclusive, out of date, or brutish person.

To Warnie, July 1, 1921, p 555: "I once said to Baker—my mystical friend with the crowded poetry—the 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 secrecy—I 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...."

To Leo Baker, July 1921, p 567: Referring to the Gospel of Buddha (Paul Carus, 1895), he says, "One sees, of course, its inferiority to Christianity—at 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 individual—the 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, Prometheus Unbound.

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 Welsh town.

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 skills.

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...."

To 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 repaid—by 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 it—namely 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."

To Papy, March 6, 1924, p 623: "I [have] started work experimentally on Dr. Henry More—a 17th Century theologian—with 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 of hopes."

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.

Note 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 again."

A footnote on p 643 reports that George Stuart Gordon, 1881-1942, had been Magdalen College's first Fellow of English, appointed in 1907.

In 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 life—is 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."

Jack tells his father on p 650 that he has spent £90 to furnish his Magdalen College digs.

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."

To Papy, January 25, 1926, p 661: " 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 mind—in 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 Buddhism—to that extent they are merely silly and unenlightened."

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