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 2
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2004, Part 1

As he matured, as I expected, Lewis's letters became even more quotable and worth remarking and remembering, so on the assumption that this second volume will have considerably more material to note than the first, I am shortening the length of each "Part" of the notes to one-fifth of the volume rather than one-third, as I did with Volume 1. I am changing the approach this time by citing the year of the letters only at the beginning of the year, in bold, to make the citations more concise. This is the first collection of notes on The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2.

C. S. Lewis portriat by Val Craig MurrayFrom the preface by editor Walter Hooper, page viii: Hooper says that Lewis's very close friend Owen Barfield (not himself an orthodox Christian) considered Lewis to have been two separate friends, "the one before and the other after his conversion." Even more, there were three additional Lewises: the literary critic who hardly knew the "Christian apologist" and the Lewis the fiction author.

Same source, p ix, quoting Barfield: "what he thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything."

Same page: "A believed idea," he said, "feels different from an idea that is not believed."


Page 1 notes that at this time he was lecturing on Textual Criticism. This is of interest because Textual Criticism had been the backbone of the liberal approach of 19th Century European theology. Lewis was an expert in the field and discounted most of its "findings" as spurious, decades before the evangelical educational establishments were able to refute them by archaeological research.

To Warnie, October 24, p 4: "vedettes" = English: sentinels, usually on horseback, stationed on the outpost of an army; French (both Jack and Warnie were fluent in French), a star as in the sense of a rockstar, or a flagship in a fleet of vessels.

Same letter, p 8: refers to Warnie and him sharing life together after Warnie's retirement from the military, suggesting that he had no plans to marry.

To Warnie, November 22, p 15, refers to himself as "a gramaphone" to some of his classes at Oxford.

Same letter, p 16: hebdomadal = weekly

Same letter, p 20: "To read histories of literature one would suppose that the great authors of the past were a sort of chorus of melodious idiots who said, in beautifully cadenced language that black was white and that two and two made five. When one turns to the books themselves—well I, at any rate, find nothing obsolete."

To Arthur, December 6, p 23, refers to the kind of Puritanism that lacks peace, love, wisdom and humility as "simply the form which the memory of Christianity takes just before it finally dies away altogether."

Same letter, p 24: "real paganism at its best, which is the next best thing to Christianity..." Later Jack would turn this idea into a major thesis, holding that paganism prepares the way and prefigures Christianity.

Same letter, p 25: "I am glad to find that people become more and more one of the sources of pleasure as I grow older."

To Warnie, Christmas day, p 25: gravelled = irritated or perplexed

Same letter, p 30: the early Christians "were merely making provisional arrangements for a year or so, [so] they left it [the church] free to live." If they'd known it would go on for eons, he says, they would have "organized it to death."

Same page, a footnote defines the initials D.V. as Deo Volente, "God willing." I first encountered this use when editing in Collingswood and have used it frequently ever since (and though knowing it meant "God willing" was not always sure what the Latin rendering was).

Same letter, p 32: Jack refers to reading The Brothers Karamazov in "detachable pieces (of which there are many)" and saying that "thus read, it is certainly a great religious and poetical work."


To Arthur, January 10, p 33: "A little sense of labour is necessary to all perfect pleasures I think."

Same, p 34: "I don't think you re-read enough—I know I do it too much."

Same page refers to "inferior aesthetes like Oscar Wilde and George Moore."

P 35: defining aestheticism: "for perfect beauty you need to include things which will at once show that mere beauty is not the sole end of life."

Same: Q.E.D. = "(sometimes written "QED") is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase "quod erat demonstrandum" ("that which was to be demonstrated").

Same: "The accounts of a thing don't usually get more and more accurate as time goes on. ...if you take the sacrificial idea out of Christianity you deprive both Judaism and Paganism of all significance."

To Warnie, January 17, p 36: refers to the charms and mementoes of their boyhood home in Belfast, Little Lea, as Leeburiana (a coined word in their "private language").

Same, describing the Chinese language and its simplicity (using many single-syllable words) as a fossil, not a seed, an indication of "second childhood," culturally. {Warnie was stationed in Shanghai at this time.]

Same, p 39: "topsy-turvey—or 'arsie-versie'" = upside down or, as often said in American English, bass-ackwards

P 41: vet, vetted = To subject to thorough examination or evaluation: vet a manuscript.

P 43: describing the change in his views toward the sacraments after his conversion, says he has none of the problem some do with the "materialistic difficulties: but I feel strongly just the opposite ones—i.e. I see (or think I see) so well a sense in which all wine is the blood of God—or all matter, even, the body of God, that I stumble at the apprently special sense in which this is claimed for the Host when consecrated. George Macdonald observes that the good man should aim at reaching the state of mind in which all meals are sacraments. Now that is the sort of thing I can understand: but I find no connection between it and the explicit 'sacrament' proprement dit."
proprement dit
= French, actual as such

P 44: a bagatelle = a simple piece of music, a trifle

To Warnie February 15, p 46: "As for the printed news, it is plainly nonsense." He's referring to coverage of fighting in China in the British press, but this is reflective of his general attitude toward daily news coverage.

To Warnie, February 21, p. 48: va-et-vient = "toing and froing"

To Arthur, February (no date), p 53: "To enjoy a book like [Faerie Queene] thoroughly I find I have to treat it as a sort of hobby and set about it seriously. I begin by making a map on one of the end leafs: then I put in a genealogical tree or two. Then I put a running headline at the top of each page: finally I index at the end all the passages I have for any reason underlined. I often wonder—considering how people enjoy themselves developing photos or making scrapbooks—why so few people make a hobby of their reading in this way."

Same: "By the way, when you ask me to 'pray for you'...I don't know if you are serious, but, the answer is, I do. It may not do you any good, but it does me a lot, for I cannot ask for any change to be made in you without finding that the very same needs to be made in me; which pulls me up and also by putting us all in the same boat checks any tendency to priggishness."

Same, p 54: "When there is something like {the skirmishes in China affecting Warnie] which forces one to read the papers, how one loathes their flippancy and their sensational exploitation of things that mean life and death."

To Barfield, March 19, p 56: yaffles = green European woodpeckers

To Arthur, March 27 (Easter), p 66: describing his feelings occasioned by observing one of his students: "It is difficult, without being sentimental, to say how extraordinarily beautiful—ravishing—I found the sight of some one just at that point which you and I remember so well. I suppose it is this pleasure which fathers always are hoping to get, and very seldom do get, from their sons."

Same: "the fact remains that I personally enjoy a novel only in so far as it fails to be a novel pure and simple and escapes from the eternal love business into some philosophical, religious, fantastic, or farcical region."

To Warnie, April 8, p 67: describing the frequent disappointment he experiences in "trying to get unwilling hobble-de-hoys to read poetry...." "One begins to wonder whether literature is not, after all, a failure."
hobbledehoys = gawky adolescent boys

Same, p 69: "To the statement that only the riff-raff are converted, I suppose the enthusiastic missionary would reply that if you had lived under the Roman empire, at the period of the first conversions at all, you would have said exactly the same. (He could quote St. Paul, [1] Cor. 1:26 'Not many clever people in the ordinary sense, nor many in important positions, nor many people of quality')."

This letter strikes me as being the first in which Jack writes "apologetically" for the faith.

Same, p 70: "one sees, from all history and from ones own circle, that the people who already have a high intellectual and moral tradition of their own, are, of all people, the least likely to embrace Christianity. ...the really good Stoic emperors of Rome were the most anti-Christian."

Same: "I still can't help thinking that the Christian world is (partially) 'saved' in a sense in which the East is not. We may be hypocrites, but there is a sort of unashamed and reigning iniquity of temple prostitution and infanticide and torture and political corruption and obscene imagination in the East, which really does suggest that they are off the rails—that some necessary part of the human machine, restored to us, is still missing with them. (My friend's story about the [Indian Civil Service] regulation 'No pornographic books or pictures shall be imported except for bona fide religious purposes' is relevant here)."

Same, p 73: describing the behavior of his friend and fellow traveler from scepticism to faith, Griffiths, on one day of a hike they were on together: "To expound his position would carry us too far: but you would be getting near it if you imagined a Calvinist Jesuit with strong leanings to the doctrine that the elect cannot sin, who had borrowed from metaphysics the view that 'love' cannot be predicated of God, and from economics the doctrine that it is no real charity to give anything to the poor. In fact if you mix together all the harshest aspects of every form of religion and irreligion which you know and imagine them delivered with the dryness of a scientist and the intolerance of a verminous monk of the fourth century, you have the recipe.

"The next day [he] made amends. ...In fact we have all forgiven him, and shall ask him again. His exhibition of the previous day was really, I believe, only the reaction of a solitary on finding himself suddenly at bay among people all older than himself and all disagreeing with him. We refused to let conversation become serious. We laughed away his monstrous positions. Before lunchtime we had him laughing himself and making jokes, even bawdy jokes."

P 74: "(Memo: to read all collections of letters in the light of the fact that a letter writer tends to pick out what is piquant, or unsual. He may tell no lies: but his life is never as odd, either for good or ill, as it sounds in the letters.)"

P 75: "a child surely wants to be as grown up and sophisticated as it can manage: the enjoyment of naivete for its own sake is the most hopelessly adult enjoyment there is." So it was, but is it now? Possibly now it's just the opposite: "the adult surely wants to be as childish and naive as it can be."

Same: "Butler's remark that a pirest is a man who disseminates little lies in defence of a great truth, and a scientist is a man who disseminates little truths in defence of a great lie...."

To Warnie, June 14, p 82: "if you are the kind of reader who values genius you rate Thackeray highly."

Same, p 84, describing to Warnie a visit to Whipsnade Zoo: "came nearer to ones idea of the world before the Fall than anything I ever hoped to see."

To Arthur, December 4, p 89, on his writing: "I aim chiefly at being idiomatic and racy, basing myself on Malory, Bunyan, and Morris, though without archaisms: and would usually prefer to use ten words, provided they are honest native words and idiomatically ordered, than one 'literary word.' To put the thing in a nutshell you want 'The man of whom I told you' and I want "The man I told you of.'" To which I wrote in as large a hand as would fit in the margin: YES!

To Arthur, December 17, p 93: "one of the contentions of the book [Pilgrim's Regress] is that the decay of our old classical learning is a contributary cause of atheism (see the chapter on Ignorantia)."


To Guy Pocock, publisher of his book Pilgrim's Regress, January 17, p 94, describing his targets in the book: "the things chiefly ridiculed are Anglo Catholicism, Materialism, Sitwellism, Psycho-analysis, and T.S. Elliot."

To Guy Pocock, February 27, p 99: "what about headings in the margin as in Temple Classics?" This addition was made to the book's second edition.

To J.M. Dent Publishers, March 24, p 100, he suggests that a map of the world described as to be included in Pilgrim's Regress be titled Middle Earth (or its Latin equivalent). The same name was used for J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional world in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Whether both had used it in their discussions of their works together is likely but not verified.

To Arthur, March 25, p 101, about the days of their correspondence in their teen years: "neither of us had any other outlet: we still thought that we were the only two people in the world who were interested in the right kind of things in the right kind of way."

Same, p 102, referring to a mutual acquaintance he recently saw: "There must be some real good in him; for though many laugh at his foppery and grumble at his laziness, I have never met any one, even in this hotbed of squabbles, who seriously dislikes him."

On page 103 he mentions Tolkien and says, "We agreed that for what we meant by romance there must be at least the hint of another world—one must hear 'the horns of elfland.'" The inner quote is from Tennyson's The Princess.

P 104, still referring to Pilgrim's Regress, he says it celebrates "an experience which I have more in common with you than anyone else." The book was an allegorical retracing of Lewis's journey to Christian faith so the apparent allusion is to his and Arthur's shared spiritual journeys..

To Barfield, March 28, p 105: martinettery = strict discipline

To Guy Pocock, March 31, p 109, Lewis gives out a telephone number at which to reach him for the first time in these letters.

To Arthur, June 13, p 111: Discussing a recently read novel, Tom's A-Cold: A Tale: "The theme is one not uncommon now-a-days: that of a barbaric 'heroic' society growing up on the ruins of the present civilisation."

Same letter, discussing Pilgrim's Regress: "I think it is going to be at least as big a failure as Dymer, and am consequently trying to take to heart all the things I wrote you when you were bowled over by Reid's decision on your first novel—not entirely without success."

To Arthur, August 17, p 116, he refers in a description of a tour he took in Ireland to "Ireland as the 'isle of saints."

Same, p 117: "one must read every good book at least once every ten years."

To Arthur, September 1, p 120, refers to a book he was reading, in French, about political science, as "surprisingly interesting. Almost everything is, I find, as one goes on."

To Arthur, September 12, p 121, reference to "the idea which someone had in the Middle Ages who defined God as 'That which has no opposite.'"

Same, p 124, "there is no hope in the end of getting where you want to go except by going God's way."

Same, "Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us—a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing."

Same, "evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled."

Same, p 125, "a hardened bigot shouting every one down till he had no friends left is what I am in danger of becoming."

To Arthur, November 5, p 128: "nothing can fully excuse the iniquity of Hitler's persecution of the Jews, or the absurdity of his theoretical position. Did you see that he said 'The Jews have made no contribution to human culture and in crushing them I am doing the will of the Lord.' Now as the whole idea of the 'Will of the Lord' is precisely what the world owes to the Jews, the blaspheming tyrant has just fixed his absurdity for all to see in a single sentence, and shown that he is as contemptible for his stupidity as he is detestable for his cruelty."


To Warnie, April 3, p 132: describes an observation at a recent attendance he made at a church service in Ireland while on a tour with Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen: "the most unpleasant feature of an Irish [Protestant] service—the large number of people present who have obviously no interest in the thing, who are merely 'good prodestants."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, April 4, p 135, discusses the salvation or loss of salvation for persons estranged from the Roman Catholic Church, "heretic positionis causa."

P 136: "I have had a Catholic among my most intimate friends for many years and a great deal of our conversation has been religious. When all is said (and truly said) about the divisions of Christendom, there remains, by God's mercy, an enormous common ground." The editor, Walter Hooper, adds a footnote that the "intimate friend" is J.R.R. Tolkien. The statement may have been one of Lewis's first articulations of what later became the heart of his Mere Christianity thesis.

Same, referring to his work as a fellow of the university: "neither the terms of my appointment nor my own stature allow me to teach the most important things." However, he was in the process of altering his "stature," which changed his "permissions to teach" in significant ways.

To Sister Madeleva, a teacher at a school at Notre Dame University in Indiana, June 6, p 140: "In lecturing to students who know nothing about the middle ages I have had to be clear and brief, therefore dogmatic: and I have probably—tho' I hope this was not my intention—appeared much more learned that I am."

To Sister Madeleva, June 7, p 141, recondite = abstruse, not easily understood, dense

Same, "in fine" = probably means "to go into greater detail"

Footnote on the same page, quoting Lewis from his literary book The Discarded Image: "Adversity has the merit of opening our eyes by showing which of our friends are true and which are feigned."

To Arthur, October 1, p 143, euphism = 1. An affectedly elegant literary style of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, characterized by elaborate alliteration, antitheses, and similes. 2. Affected elegance of language. Lewis points out that it is not be be confused with "euphemism."

Same, p 144: "Lincoln [England] itself is quite the best cathedral city I have ever seen. The center of the town, where the cathedral stands, is on the only hill for miles, and the cathedral consequently dominates the whole countryside. The surroundings of the cathedral are magnificent—a beautiful close, a castle, and a Roman wall. What would specially have appealed to you was that after dinner as we strolled round it, we had the accompaniment of a little summer lightning and very distant gentle thunder. Do you know the kind of thunder which has almost a tinkle in it, like a musical sound?"


To Paul Elmer More (American critic and philosopher). April 5, p 157: "I give two or three [lectures] a year on this kind of subject and get a very good audience—sometimes am even applauded, which is rare here. I mention this, partly no doubt from vanity, but partly because it proves that there is a demand for some literary theory not based, like the prevailing ones, on materialism."

To Arthur, April 23, p 159, in a footnote the editor says that a book by Llewelyn Powys, Damnable Opinions, "did not mention Lewis by name, but he attacked orthodox Christianity, especially as practized and written about at Oxford. On p. 5 he said: 'True religion is simple—it is to worship life, to bow down before life: beating our heads upon the grass in jubilant acquiescence.'"

To Leo Baker (a friend and fellow poet introduced earlier in the notes on Volume 1), April 28, p 161: "I have deep regrets about all my relations with my father (but thank God they were best at the end)."

Same, p 162: "I suppose we have all lived to discover that we are not great men, and not to mind: there are better things than that in the world, and out of it."

To Paul Elmer More, May 23, p 163: "There may be many reasons why you do not share my dislike of [T.S.] Eliot, but I hardly know why you should be surprised at it. On p. 154 of the article on Joyce you yourself refer to him as 'a great genius expending itself on the propagation of irresponsibility.' To me the 'great genius' is not apparent: the other thing is. Surely it is natural that I should regard Eliot's work as a very great evil. He is the very spear head of that attack on [Lewis here uses the Greek word, in the Greek alphabet, for 'limit'] which you deplore. His constant profession of humanism and his claim to be a 'classicist' may not be conscioudly insincere, but they are erroneous." A few lines farther down, Lewis describes such poets as "traitors to humanity. So Juvenal, Wycherley, Byron excuse their pornography: so Eliot himself excuses Joyce." He adds that reading The Waste Land (Eliot's major work) infects men "with chaos."

P 164: "Assuredly [Eliot] is one of the enemy...."

To Arthur Greeves: "Oh Arthur, what a snag it is that the people who are pitiable are not necessarily likeable."

Same, p 170: "Sheed and Ward have bought the Regress from Dent. I didn't much like having a book of mine, and specially a religious book, brought out by a Papist publisher: but as they seemed to think they could sell it, and Dents clearly couldn't, I gave in. I have been well punished: for Sheed, without any authority from me, has put a blurb on the inside of the jacket which says 'This story begins in Puritania (Mr. Lewis was brought up in Ulster)'—thus implying that the book is an attack on my own country and my own religion."
In hindsight, the publishing of his first "religious" book by a Catholic publisher may have contributed as much as anything else to Lewis's ability to cross over denominational lines and become a truly "catholic" spokesperson for Christianity in his generation.

Same: "For reading, lately, I have re-read the Faerie Queene with enormous enjoyment. It must be a really great book because one can read it as a boy in one way, and then re-read it in middle life and get something very different out of it—and that to my mind is one of the best tests."

To Barfield, December 9(?), p 172: proelia veneris = sexual battles

To Arthur, December 27, p 174: "friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life."

Same: rime = frost; incrustation


To Dom Bede Griffiths, January 8, p 176: refers to a current revival of scholasticism "as temporary as any other movement in philosophy."

Same: "I mean, we have no abiding city even in philosophy: all passes, except the Word."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, February 20, p 178: "I think your specifically Catholic beliefs a mass of comparatively harmless human tradition which may be fatal to certain souls under special conditions, but which I think suitable for you."

To Arthur, February 26, p 180: "I have just read what I think a really great book, The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams. It is based on the Platonic theory of the other world in which the archtypes of all earthly qualities exist...."

A few lines later Lewis refers to Williams' book as a "good preparation for Lent" (not usually given attention by Protestants).

And (p 181): "It isn't often now-a-days you get a Christian fantasy."

Same letter, a footnote on p 182 says that Lewis gave his physician and friend Robert Havard the nickname "Humphrey after the doctor in Perelandra."

To Charles Williams (first contact[?]), March 11, p 183: "I have just read your Place of the Lion and it is to me one of the major literary events of my life—comparable to my first discovery of George Macdonald, G. K. Chesterton, or William Morris."

A few lines farther down he mentions recommending the book to "Tolkien (the Professor of Anglo Saxon and a papist) and my brother."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, April 24, p 188: "in the human process of reasoning there is always error and even what is right, in solving one problem, always poses another....In any age, foolish men want that philosophy whose truths they least need and whose errors are most dangerous to them." Emphasis (bold) added.

Same, p 189: "Reason, no doubt, is always on the side of Christianity."

Same, "you and I came to it [Christianity] chiefly by Reason (I don't mean, of course, that any one comes at all but by God's grace...)."

Same, "the very things we thought proofs of our humility while we were philosophers now turn out to be forms of pride."

P 190, first mention in Lewis letters of George Sayer, his former student (like Griffith) and friend who later became his biographer.

On the same page he refers to his book, The Allegory of Love, as "an odd book to find in a monastery" because of its treatment of sexual and romantic love in medieval literature.

The entire letter (above) is illuminating in a study of sanctification/sainthood.

To Dom Bede Griffiths, May 23, p 195: "Rejoice with me—timidly, for it is only the first streak of dawn and may be false dawn—there are faint signs of a movement away from Anthroposophy in Barfield."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, July 28, p 200: "poetry is simply a special kind of speech, a way of saying things, and one can no more talk about poetry in the abstract than about 'saying.' ...Whenever one is talking, if one begins to utilize rhythm, metaphor, association, etc., one is beginning to use poetry."

Same, p 201, "if any one tried to impose mysticism as the norm of Christian life I suspect he would be making the same mistake as one who said we ought all to be fishermen because some of the apostles were."

Same: "I quite agree with you that the change which even the greatest saint must undergo (how much more, we) in being redeemed is beyond all imagination: I take 'saying nothing'* in as serious sense as I am able. But...the new man must still be in some sense the same, or else salvation has no meaning." *Here Lewis uses the Greek words, in the Greek alphabet.

Same, p 202: "what we really love in our friend (in so far as we love him, not the pleasure he gives us) must be the good in him."

Same, referring to his experience of spiritual exercise: "I have found once or twice lately that whenever I succeed in beating down my selfish point of view and make an approach to charity, the motives and feelings of all the other people concerned become transparent: and things about them which one didn't know a moment before, stare one in the face. Is this self deception?"

Same: "I can't go into your questions about prayer. I don't find that thinking about prayer (I mean in that introspective way) helps me to pray. Of course philosophical thought about it with a view to answering the common objections is another matter. On the whole, you know, I feel that self-examination should be confined to examining one's conduct. One's state in general I don't think one knows much about. But this is all very tentative."
I suspect this may be largely based on Lewis's bad experiences in examining his prayers when he was in his early teen years.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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