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, now in stores, 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 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2007, Part 17

The Supplement section of Hooper's collection of Lewis letters seems to be made up of letters Hooper had once set aside as having little consequence for later Lewis scholars. But when the letters' publisher decided to make the collection as exhaustive as possible, an additional section was added to Volume 3 to make room for them. But this means that even though it is one of the longest sections in the book, the portions of those pages worth noting are relatively few.

And the final section of letters, comprised of those from Lewis that Owen Barfield had kept and that addressed the philosophical controversies between the two of them in the years before Lewis's becoming a Christian, is likewise sparse in insights into either his worldview or his lifestyle. The philosophical discussion is at such a high level that only philosophers on their same wavelength are likely to get much from it, and as Barfield's side of the discussion has not been preserved (Lewis having always destroyed letters he'd received after answering them), it is rather arcane. This, then, is the notes on those two final sections of the third and, thus far, final volume of Lewis letters.

The mission of these extensive notes is set out in the introduction of Part 1 of the notes for Volume 1, here.

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig MurraySupplement

To his father, October 5, 1913, when Lewis was attending Malvern College (i.e., "high school"), p 1490, reveals that Lewis was at the time a sports reporter for his school paper, the Malvernian. But the reports were signed as though written by the upperclassman for which Lewis was "fagging" at the time.

To his father, postmarked July 20, 1914, p 1496: "For as you yourself have often said, we shall always have enough to keep the wolf from the door: 'and after friends have done with hunger' as the shepherd says in Euripides, 'if they have but each other and the good green earth, who is happier than they?'"

Footnote on p 1499 reports that Lewis's "long narrative poem, Dymer," originally published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton, was "reprinted under his own name in 1950."

A footnote on p 1503 to a letter written in 1926 says that "in an effort to 'expose' [T.S.] Eliot and his like-minded poets, Lewis devised some nonsense 'Eliotic' poems which he and others sent to The Criterion, hoping they would be published."

To Owen Barfield, October 1926, p 1507: "I shall be . . . of course delighted to see you. I can put you up for a night but I am afraid our monastic system will not allow your lady wife. Let me know what day you think of coming. Dymer is out about three weeks. I have had no good reviews yet, but a letter from l'Anton Fausset saying that he has reviewed it for the T.L.S. and as the review may not be printed for some weeks he thought he would write and tell me etc. He is v. eulogistic. So is Quiller Couch (whose opinion, between ourselves, is valueless) in a letter to Dents. I suppose you are too much out of the journalistic world to help me now?"

To Owen Barfield, simply dated 1929, p 1510: "you do really succeed in producing the atmosphere of real conversation among young men of the thoughtful type."

Same, p 1511: "Surely the sort of character whose heart is always bleeding for Europe and who can't reach even the forbearance of common civility towards his wife is more proper for bitter comedy (like Tartuffe) than for your novel?"

To Owen Barfield, October 21, 1929, p 1511, speaks of a genre of books as "commercial shockers."

To Joseph Tegart Lewis (a first cousin), January 1930, p 1517: "I should be glad if you would let me know, as the Americans say, your 'reactions' to this idea."

To Owen Barfield, June 18, 1930, p 1519, reference to "the race of Calverts" is probably alluding to a line of Irish peers who possessed the title "Lord Baltimore" but which line became extinct in the 18th century.

To Owen Barfield, 1930, p 1521, "But I often feel that having a talk with you is not like going up in a balloon but like trying to hold a captive balloon."

To Elizabeth Holmes, November 6, 1936, p 1531: "an inability to read the Lit. Sup (once my delight) which — with increasing baldness and a double chin — is the most distressing symptom of vanished youth."

To Elizabeth Holmes, November 10, 1936, p 1534: "Your short lines are a danger: it needs almost superhuman skill to give them real metrical vitality (that is the one really good thing in Eliot)."

To Arthur Greeves, December 27, 1940, p 1539: "Oh Arthur, why didn't we live a century earlier? Still, we must console ourselves by being glad that we didn't live any later, that we had at least acquired our habits of mind before everything went bust."

To Derek Brewer, April 8, 1941, p 1540: "Congratulations on your Demyship." Demyship = a scholarship peculiar to Magdalen College, Oxford. Oscar Wilde and T. E. Lawrence had been among its winners.

Same, p 1541: "scan hexameters," refers to being able to read the six-beat-per-line poetic form that had been the standard in Ancient Greek poetry including the Iliad.

Same: "A fairly sound biblical background is assumed by most of the older Eng. writers: if you lack this, acquire it. The most relevant books are the historical books of the O.T., the Psalms, & the Gospel of (say) St. Luke. (The Vulgate is very easy Lat. & reading it is a good way of keeping up the language & getting knowledge at the same time.)"

To Arthur Hazard Dakin, August 3, 1941, p 1541: "I have sent under a separate cover copies of the three letters I had from Paul E. More." Paul Elmer More was an American scholar who taught at Harvard, Bryn Mawr, and Princeton, and an associate of the founder of the modern humanist movement.

Same, p 1543: "He was very fair and patient in discussion and talked for truth not victory."

To Sister Penelope, CSMV, December 22, 1942, p 1546: "I have been very busy with one thing and another: there aren't the days and hours there used to be, are there? The minute hand used to go as the hour hand goes now!

"How does one feel thankful?...

"A funny thing how merely formulating a question awakes the conscience! I hadn't a notion of the answer at the bottom of the last sheet, but now I know exactly what you are going to say: 'Act your gratitude and let feelings look after themselves.' Thank you."

To Arthur Greeves, January 30, 1944, p 1549, referring to Charles Williams: "As for the man, he is about 52, of humble origin (there are still traces of cockney in his voice), ugly as a chimpansee but so radiant (he emanates more love than any man I have ever known) that as soon as he begins talking whether in private or in a lecture he is transfigured and looks like an angel. He sweeps some people quite off their feet and has many disciples. Women find him so attractive that if he were a bad man he cd. do what he liked either as a Don Juan or a charlatan. He is also quite an earthy person and when Warnie, Tolkien, he and I meet for our pint in a pub in Broad Street, the fun is often so fast and furious that the company probably thinks we're talking bawdy when in fact we're v. likely talking Thology. He is married and, I think, youthfully in love with his wife still. That's about all I can think of.

"You needn't ask me to pray for you, Arthur — I have done so daily ever since I began to pray, and am sure you do for me."

To Margaret Deneke, October 3, 1944, p 1553, referring to her brother, Paul Victor Medenssohn Benecke, who had recently passed away: "I count it among my great good fortunes to have known him. As far as human eyes can judge he was — is — a saint: but oh!, we still need him here so very badly."

To Arthur Greeves, December 11, 1944, p 1555: "What man can announce that simply because he is present acts of penitence, such as fasting, are 'off'? Who can give the school a half holiday except the Headmaster?"

Same: "if you take away the Godhead of Christ, what is Xtianity all about? . . . Where are the shining examples of human holiness wh. ought to come from Unitarianism if it is true? Where are the Unitarian 'opposite numbers' to St. Francis, George Herbert, Bunyan, Geo. Macdonald, and even burly old Dr. Johnson? Where are the great Unitarian books of devotion? Where among them shall I find 'the words of life'? Where have they helped, comforted, and strengthened us?"

To Miss Walker, February 1, 1945, p 1556, refers to his book, The Great Divorce, as The Grand Divorce.'" (It was still being written at the time.)

To the Editor of the Times Literary Supplement, published July 14, 1945, he writes "connection" as "connexion."

To Margaret "Peggy" Pollard, October 4, 1945, p 1562: "I love both goats and Camembert."

To Margaret "Peggy" Pollard, October 11, 1945, p 1562: "Its really too bad about the 73 bus: I just gave any number that came into my head, never reflecting that there are Londoners who carried the whole bus service in their heads. N.B. Higher Critics will use this a thousand years hence to prove that the book is a forgery written far later than the 20th Century, because any real 20th Century author would be bound to have known."

P 1565 has a reference to a "drawing room" which, though having heard all my life, I had never had defined. It was originally the "withdrawing" room, the room at which one entertained guests in the 16th century usage.

To Joseph Lewis Coppack, a cousin, August 19, 1947, p 1573: "I always regret that our branch of the family had drifted so far away from Wales for I love the country and always feel at home when I go there." Coppack was from Sandycroft Flint, near Chester, England, which is near the border of Wales.

Same: "I was for many years a total unbeliever and was not reclaimed till my late thirties." Lewis's conversion is dated in 1931, the year in which, on November 29, he turned 33. Perhaps like his referring to himself as "elderly" at age 55, he was always a man before his time. On p 1599 of this same volume, Hooper says "Lewis was converted to Christianity on 19 September 1931."

To the Editor of Time and Tide, published September 6, 1947, an apology and explanation to an unnamed Oxford student who may have been embarrassed by an earlier reference to him: "I would not like him to think that I intended to mortify him."

A footnote on p 1584 refers to Lewis's regard for developmental evolution as a myth: "The finest expression of the Myth in English . . . is . . . Keats's Hyperion, nearly forty years before the Origin of Species."

Another footnote refers to "saints and sages" of religion as being of a common type, "the men of religious experience."

To Mary Neylan, April 3, 1949, p 1586, in apologizing at having to miss her daughter's (and his god-daughter's) confirmation: "I'm sorry I can't come. But I'd only have behaved like an ass if I had!"

To Sarah Neylan (the god-daughter), April 3, 1949, p 1586: "If I had come and we had met, I am afraid you might have found me very shy and dull. (By the way, always remember that old people can be quite as shy with young people as young people can be with old. This explains what must seem to you the idiotic way in which so many grown-ups talk to you)."

Same, p 1587: "don't expect (I mean, don't count on and don't demand) that when you are confirmed, or when you make your first Communion, you will have all the feelings you would like to have. You may, of course: but also you may not. But don't worry if you don't get them. They aren't what matter. The things that are happening to you are quite real things whether you feel as you wd. wish or not, just as a meal will do a hungry person good even if he had a cold in the head which will rather spoil the taste. Our Lord will give us right feelings if He wishes — and then we must say Thank you. If He doesn't then we must say to ourselves (and Him) that He knows best."

To the Editor of the Church Times, published May 20, 1949, p 1588: "The celebrant who lengthens the service by ten minutes may, for us, throw the whole day into hurry and confusion. It is difficult to keep this out of our minds: it may even be difficult to avoid some feeling of resentment. Such temptations may be good for us but it is not the celebrant's business to supply them: God's permission and Satan's diligence will see to that part of our education without his assistance." A man after my heart.

To the Editor of the Church Times, published July 1, 1949: "If the mind of the Church is, for example, that our fathers erred in abandoning the Romish invocations of saints and angels, by all means let our corporate recantation, together with its grounds in scripture, reason and tradition be published, our solemn act of penitence be performed, the laity re-instructed, and the proper changes in liturgy be introduced."

To the Editor of the Church Times, published July 15, 1949: "We desire to believe as the Church believes."

The 'Great War' Letters

As all of these letters are addressed to Owen Barfield, that will not be mentioned for each letter. The identification of the letters, which are not dated, will be the one assigned to it by the editor of this volume, Walter Hooper.

Series I, Letter 4, p 1619: "Will this do as a definition of Myth?

"A myth is a description or a story introducing supernatural personages or things, determined not, or not only, by motives arising from events within the story, but by the supposedly immutable relations of the personages or things: possessing unity: and not, save accidentally, connected with any given place or time.

"(A Legend is a story attached to a context, in a place and time series accepted as real by the teller, itself believed by the teller to be true, but departing from truth unconscioudly, or without full consciousness, in the interests of greatness, the marvellous, or of edification.?)" The period and question mark are in the original.

Note on p 1621, "nonplussed" = "puzzled," "bewildered"

Series I, Letter 6, p 1623: "poetry [is] something more than decorated prose."

Same, p 1630: "I am always skimping Belfast for Headington and Headington for Belfast, my friends for both, and all for my two distinct works (writing and tutoring). This very difficult adjustment of contending claims (all of wh. I gladly & affectionately accept) cd. hardly be eased by running away abroad for several months. Strange as it sounds, I am rather seriously wanted in more places than one in England whenever I am at liberty."

Series I, Letter 7, p 1633: "When you have found out, let me know which of us is escaping his own notice being an ass — for at least one of us must be."

Series I, Letter 8, p 1637: "I haven't met Clive Hamilton for some time. The air of this country and this house is fatal to him. But from what I remember of him — his mixture of hidden sentimentalism, genuine friendship, common vanity, and downright Yankee love of advertisement — he is just the sort of man who wd. love to have a book dedicated to him." A footnote says "Barfield dedicated Poetic Diction to 'Clive Hamilton.'" That was, of course, a pen name Lewis had used.

Series II, Letter 2, p 1640, "the virtue of tolerance is most easily practised towards strangers. I can't really feel that you have a right to think what you please without removing you mentally to an immeasurable distance."

Same, p 1643: "Catholics are told that the two temptations you must fly from at once are those against chastity and faith."

Same, p 1645: "One of my main objects in writing was to make sure that any disagreeableness of mine shd. not lead you to keep the subject in the background hereafter. We must go on talking about [it]. You must teach me more patience and better manners."

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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When you have found out, let me know which of us is escaping his own notice being an ass — for at least one of us must be.

— C.S. Lewis, in a letter to a close friend

Thought for today

How does one feel thankful?... A funny thing how merely formulating a question awakes the conscience! I hadn't a notion of the answer [when I wrote the question], but now I know exactly what you are going to say: "Act your gratitude and let feelings look after themselves." Thank you.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963), in a letter to Sister Penelope

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