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 2
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2004, Part 5

Click here for the introductory number of these notes, describing the perennial "cast of characters," etc.

1946, Continued

To Arthur, May 13, p 709. "The Macdonald anthology, as you see, is not of his verse, wh.I still consider greatly inferior to his prose. In the novels the three things I like are (a) The parts that have something of a fairy tale quality, like the terror of the trees and wind at the beginning of W. Cumbermede or the lovely journey 'up Gaunside' in Sir Gibbie. (b) (Like you) the melodrama. The older critics are v. unjust to melodrama. (c) The direct preaching. What I can't stand is the indirect preaching."

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig MurraySame, p 710: "But I wouldn't put the question in the form 'do I believe in an actual Hell.' One's own mind is actual enough. If it doesn't seem fully actual now that is because you can always escape from it a bit into the physical world — look out of the window, smoke a cigarette, go to sleep. But when there is nothing for you but your own mind (no body to go to sleep, no books or landscape, no sounds, no drugs) it will be as actual as — as — well, as a coffin is actual to a man buried alive."

To Owen Barfield, May 25, p 711: "But luckily while the boy writes his poems thro' you, you write yours thro' me: the Birth of Language being pure Barfield."

On p 714 the editor, Walter Hooper, cites a paper Lewis wrote for the Oxford University Socratic Club (which he had founded) "which anticipated some of the ideas in Miracles: A Preliminary Study (1947)." And this lengthy paragraph from the paper follows:

Long before I believed Theology to be true I had already decided that the popular scientific picture at any rate was false. One absolutely central inconsistency ruins it . . . The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears. Unless we can be sure that reality in the remotest nebula or the remotest part obeys the thought-laws of the human scientist here and now in his laboratory — in other words, unless Reason is an absolute — all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended bye-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.

Editor's note, p 716: "Warnie accompanied his brother to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland where, on 28 June 1946, Lewis was made a Doctor of Divinity."

Editor's note, p 717: "One of those who had heard, and been converted by, Lewis's Mere Christianity broadcasts was the poet, Ruth Pitter."

To Herbert Palmer, July 5, p 717: "One can hardly satirise these people — the reality is always more incredible than what one invents." He is referring to scientists working in Oxford laboratories."

Same, p 718: "My duty to Miss Pitter. She can know me the moment she pleases." Mr. Palmer had written to Lewis that Ruth Pitter was hoping to meet him.

On the same page Lewis refers to a book about angels, whose author, he thinks, will "sing softer when he meets a real angel. One doesn't take liberties with 'em."

To Thomas Wilkinson Riddle, July 16, p 718, Lewis declines an invitation to speak at a mass meeting in Royal Albert Hall by the board of World Dominion, an interdenominational missionary magazine. (

To Ruth Pitter, July 19, p 721, sapphics = lines of verse in the style of Sappho, the classical Greek poet of Lesbo

Same: "By the way, I thought there was a deal of waffle in that preface by James Stephens. He hardly says anything at all."

To Ruth Pitter, July 24, p 723: "Thank you for putting Boys (surely the most odious section of the race and standing witness to the Fall) in their proper place" referring to a book of hers she had sent him to read.

Same: "One ghost is always more disquieting than ten: no good fight in a story can have more than a dozen or so combatants: the death of a million men is less tragic than that of one."

Same, p 724: "But are they real poems or do the content and the form remain separable — fitted together only by force?" He seems to be saying that in a real poem content and form are inseparable. And he's asking her opinion of his own poems here.

P 726, one of Lewis's poems sent to Pitter is "To C.W." A footnote says it is a tribute to Charles Williams but is "a slightly revised version of 'To G.M.' which appeared in The Spectator (9 October 1942)." G.M. was no doubt George Macdonald.

P 728, a footnote says that Dorothy Sayers "had told Lewis that her conscience prevented her from writing for the purpose of edifying readers."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, July 29, p 729: "But compared with the sort of things most of our neighbours believe in, Steiner rises almost to the dignity of good Paganism." Steiner is the founder of anthroposophy.

Same, "Yours very sincerely (if I'm anything 'sincerely' wh. I doubt)"

To Dorothy L. Sayers, August 7, p 731: "you're a real writer and I'm only a half-timer."

Same, to Ruth Pitter, August 10, epithet = appositive expresions or impositions; metaphoric substitute names

Same, p 734: "The truth is that there are a great many different kinds of poetry and extreme roughness (or smoothness) evocative epithet (or plain statement), the metaphorical (or literal) the colloquial (or rhetorical) may all, in their place, rise to perfection. Any attempt to fix one of them as the secret is really like answering the sort of questions they ask Film Stars 'What is your favourite colour — or flower — or girl's name?' Once more, read Barfield on Poetic Diction."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, August 19, p 737, mihi = Latin, "to me"

To Ruth Pitter, August 28, p 738, says late summer mornings with cool wind through mild sunlight are "almost my favourite weather." Which is surprising because he has several times in other correspondence called winter weather his favorite.

To Eric Routley, September 21, p 741 (referring to being in the church) "The door is low and one must stoop to enter."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, December 20, p 747: "The early loss of my mother, great unhappiness at school, and the shadow of the last war and presently the experience of it, had given me a very pessimistic view of existence. My atheism was based on it."

Same, "I still think the argument from design the weakest possible ground for Theism, and what may be called the argument from un-design the strongest for Atheism."

Same, "And I often, like you, think that all the valuable future may lie with the Christened Chinaman. But one mustn't assume burdens that God does not lay upon us.

"It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning. I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills wh. he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know.)"

Same, p 748: "A great many people (not you) do not seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don't think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we're doing it, I think we're meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds song and the frosty sunrise."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, December 29, p 748: "I get to you at last, escaped from Christmas week: a period which (tho' I hope my spiritual man rejoices) my carnal man regards as the most disagreeable of the whole fifty-two."

Same, p 749: "The idea of my being stern with printers on your behalf is at once comic and alarming, seeing as how everyone knows that butter won't melt in my mouth and you inspire a wholesome terror, I'm told, in all publishers, printers, producers, journalists, etc."

Same, p 750: "the hyphen is all important and the dash fatal." Or as I've always told students, hyphens unite, dashes separate.


To Ruth Pitter, January 4, p 753: "'nostalgic for the non-existent' (how well I know what you mean)." Shades of Lewis's longtime influence by and wrestling with sehnsucht.

Same, p 754: "how much sweeter is this longing than any other having."

"Hodgson is right. The pre-human earth already contained suffering. This is why (like our fathers) we must believe in the fall of the angels long prior to the fall of man. Our fall consisted in joining the wrong side in a battle wh. had already begun. I'm inclined to think that the mutual preying of irrational creatures (at least creatures on more or less the same level) is evil. Cd. it be without pain?"

Same: "I've just had a poem (but then I never was a poet like you) refused by the Spectator for the first time."

To Arthur, January 5, p 755: "Funny to think we're both elderly, isn't it? And what a sham this business of age is."

Same, p 756, referring to the youths he's lately been observing: "they're all talking 'grown-up' as hard as they can."

Same, postscript: "Do you read Punch. The poems signed N.W. wh. sometimes appear there are by me. This is a secret."

To Laurence Whistler, January 9, p 757: "I am pleased to the point of being excited, by your suggestion. I have said again and again that what we very badly need is a new, frankly high-brow, periodical not in the hands of the Left."

Same: "In almost all existing peridicals one knows in advance how a certain book will be reviewed: the personal and political bias is no longer even disguised. That is what must be avoided."

To Ruth Pitter, February 12, p 763: "I wish he was not interested in poets so much and more interested in poetry and more still in the things poetry is about."

Footnote 22 on the same page has this note by Ruth Pitter on this letter: "No one is infallible, but I have a strong feeling that Lewis was not fallible in any way that self-discipline could remedy."

To Mrs. Frank L. Jones, February 23, p 764-5: "God cd., had he pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who lets no sigh escape Him. Of His great humility He chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane. Otherwise we should have missed the great lesson that it is by his will alone that a man is good or bad, and that feelings are not, in themselves, of any importance. We should also have missed the all important help of knowing that He has faced all that the weakest of us face, has shared not only the strength of our nature but every weakness of it except sin. If He had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that wd. have been for many of us almost the same as His not being incarnate at all."

Same, p 765: "Keep clear of psychiatrists unless you know that they are also Christians. Otherwise they start with the assumption that your religion is an illusion and try to 'cure' it: and this assumption they make not as professional psychologists but as amateur philosophers. Often they have never given the question any serious thought."

To Lord Salisbury, March 9, p 766: "I am an apologist and a 'rhetor' not a man of affairs nor ever (I suspect) of much practical prudence."

To Ruth Pitter, March 21, p 769: "I hope you are well over the measles — it used to be a trifling ailment when I was a boy, but they've improved it since then."

The same page, footnote 35, mentions a common acquaintance of Lewis and Evelyn Waugh. (This mention may be more remarkable by its rarity, as Lewis and Waugh had many overlaps in interests and backgrounds.)

To Dom Bede Griffiths, April 15, p 771 is a significant reflection on comparative religion.

P. 772, an editor's note describes the failure of the plans discussed between Lewis and Laurence Whistler and others to launch a secular periodical with a Christian point of view. Whistler is quoted: "Good ideas (I think this was one) have to occur to the right minds."

To Laurence Whistler, April 1947, Memorandum, pp 772-74, Lewis sets out his philosophy for publishing a Christian magazine.

P 773: "tied house" = a pub (and by extension in Lewis's context a publication) that is tied to a specific supplier. In the case of pubs, the tie was to certain brewers; perhaps in magazines the tie was to certain book publishing houses.

To Ruth Pitter, May 8, p 777: "If Sir Thingummy doesn't agree to the first suggestion you make, come without him. We have not yet explored each other's minds so fully that we need a third to keep us going!" I detect a smidgeon of jealousy. Biography George Sayer says that Lewis had intimated to him that he had considered marrying Roth Pitter and might have done so if Joy Gresham had not entered the picture when and under the circumstances she did.

To Dorothy L. Sayers, June 5, p 779: "You are a real letter writer. I am not."

To Phyllis Elinor Sandeman, June 31, p 788: "you can keep forever only what you give up: beginning with the thing it is hardest to give up — one's self. What you grab you lose; what you offer freely and patiently to God or your neighbour, you will have."

Same, p 789: "Remember, all this is only my guess. I'm not inspired, v. far from it."

To Ruth Pitter, July 6, p 790, referring to the town that Warnie preferred to visit on his vacation trips in Irelant: "the unearthly city of Drogheda where almost every building is a church or a tavern and what men do but pray and drink or how life is supported in their bodies I can't conceive."

Same: "There are no pigs in Ireland now — the people are intensely ugly."

To Mrs. E. L. Baxter, August 19, p 797 referring to the arguments for and against both "high" and "low" church approaches in Anglicanism: "Nuns seem to me the strong argument on that [the "high"] side. They are in my experience almost invariably so very nice — and so happy: much more so either than the same number of married women picked at random or the same number of monks. I don't know why this should be so."

Same: "I have always had two ways of writing, one for the people (to be used in works of popularised theology) and one that never aimed at simplicity (in scholarly or imaginative works)."

Same, dindle = to tingle or vibrate as from a loud sound

To Don Giovanni Calabria, September 6, p 801, translated from the Latin: "I am a layman, indeed the most lay of laymen, and least skilled in the deeper questions of sacred theology."

Same, "it has always seemed to me that I should maintain as much fraternal intercourse as possible with all those who call themselves Christians."

To Francis Usherwood, September 9, p 802: "Ordinary people regard life as a mixture of 'luck' and free will. It is the part usually called 'luck' by which, on my view, God answers prayers."

To Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Baxter, September 10, p 802: he mentions that he is 49 years of age, and, "About stories for children....Don't the ordinary fairy tales really already contain much of the Spirit, in solution? Does not Cinderella give us exaltavit humiles, and is not Redemption figured in The Sleeping Beauty?" exaltavit humiles = exalting the humble

Same: "I have tried [writing] one myself but it was, by the unanimous verdict of my friends, so bad that I destroyed it."

To Don Giovanni Calabria, September 20, p 804, translated from the Latin: "Common perils, common burdens, an almost universal hatred and contempt for the Flock of Christ can, by God's Grace, contribute much to the healing of our divisions. For those who suffer the same things from the same people for the same Person can scarcely not love each other."

Same, "Hitler, unknowingly and unwillingly, greatly benefitted the Church!"

To Martyn Skinner, October 15, p 808: "It wd be less terrifying if one cd. really attribute the murder of beauty to any particular set of evil men: the trouble is that from man's first and wholly legitimate attempt to win safety and ease from Nature it seems, step by step, to lead on quite logically to universal suburbia."

To Dorothy L. Sayers, November 7, p 810: "I've no idea when Bandersnatch will send us copies of the C.W. book. I've never had a reliable prediction from any of my publishers on that point. It's to be called Essays Presented to C.W."

A footnote on p 811 says correspondent "Miss Vera Mathews was writing from 510 North Alpine Drive, Beverley Hills, California."

To Vera Mathews, November 24, p 812: "Mr. Atlee's Iron Curtain...." Lewis seems dissatisfied with Britain's current Prime Minister.

To Don Giovanni Calabria, November 25, p 804, translated from the Latin: "we disagree about nothing more than the authority of the Pope: on which disagreement almost all the others depend."

An Editor's note on pp 816-17 describes the cool reception the feshschrift to Charles Williams received after its release. "It is by any standards an excellent collection of pieces and several, such as those by Tolkien, Lewis, and Sayers, have been reprinted numerous times. But, for whatever reason, the book went almost unnoticed."

To Owen Barfield, December 16, p 817: "Take care. Where there is no office there may be no leisure at all." (A cautionary note about Barfield's suggestion that he may be thinking about retiring.)

Same, p 818, "soon there will be no mornings..."

Same, "P.S. Of course the real trouble is within. All things wd. be bearable if I were delivered from this internal storm (buffera infernal) of self-pity, rage, envy, terror, horror and general bilge!"

To Owen Barfield, December 22, p 818: "I already regret my last letter exept in so far as it has produced such a valuable one from you....The rage comes from impatientia in the strict theological sense...." A footnote says impatientia as understood here is the sense that life is too much to bear; it was what drove Judas to suicide.

Same, Verb. Sap = Latin, Verbum Sapienti (a word to the wise is enough)

To Rhonda Bodle, December 31, p 823: "As for books, the v. best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton The Everlasting Man. Mascall The God-Man might also help.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Thought for today

You can keep forever only what you give up: beginning with the thing it is hardest to give up — one's self. What you grab you lose; what you offer freely and patiently to God or your neighbour, you will have.

—C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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