'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.
the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper
SanFrancisco, 2007, Part 3
Jonal entry 1043 | March 19 2008
had such a bad cold for the past six weeks that, atop the other things already
mentioned here, it is also cutting into my writing time, as most of last weekend
I just didn't have the energy to start entering these notes. Ironically, much
of Lewis's attention in these same months of the years these letters were being
written was on colds, sinusitis, and, especially, the flu. One
year he told a correspondent he'd had three bouts with the flu in one term. But
items like those in his letters seldom rate any mention here, as his physical
stamina is not one of the topics I'm ever likely to be writing about. Ever again,
To Genia Goelz,
June 13, p 126: "The Virgin Birth is a doctrine plainly stated in the Apostles
Creed that Jesus had no physical father, and was not conceived as a result of
sexual intercourse. It is not a doctrine on which there is any dispute between
Presbyterians as such and Episcopalians as such. A few individual Modernists in
both these churches have abandoned it; but Presbyterianism or Episcopalianism
in general, and in actual historical instances, throughout the centuries both
affirm it. The exact details of such a miracle an exact point at which
a supernatural force enters this world (whether by the creation of a new spermatozoon,
or the fertilisation of an ovum without a spermatozoon, or the development of
a foetus without an ovum) are not part of the doctrine. These are matters in which
no one is obliged and everyone is free, to speculate."
Same, p 127:
"Don't bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave,
give thanks for them: when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have
them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens
to you. What matters is your intentions and your behaviour."
"Unless He wanted you, you would not be wanting Him." This is a reiteration
of an oft-repeated theme in Lewis's writing.
To Mary Van Deusen, July 14,
p 129: "Yes: Christ is the eternal, unique second Person of the Trinity:
sharing His Sonship we can become sons of God in a real, but derived, manner."
Another evidence of Lewis's "anonymous Orthodoxy."
To Ruth Pitter,
July 17, p 130: "I have been sailing for the first time. I think it is a
way in which people who can't dance can get some of what dancing was made to give."
William L. Kinter, July 17, p 131: "We are all very thankful and you
are no doubt more so to see that at last there is some prospect of an end
to this ghastly Korean war. Our only fear now is that it may be replaced by a
Persian one; but it will be time enough to cross that river when we come to it."
To George Sayer, August 15, p 133: "I've just been having
Mumps. Humphrey [the nickname Lewis used for his physician] kept on quoting me
bits out of The Problem of Pain, which I call a bit thick."
Mary Van Deusen, September 12, p 135: "I wish I had known more when I wrote
the Problem of Pain."
To Mrs. D. Jessup, Septebmer 12, p 135:
"Yes, I shd. jolly well think I have met that problem of the division
between loving hearts when one comes to believe and have known something
of it in my own life." Possibly a reference to his relationship with Mrs.
Moore at the time of his conversion, and afterward.
To Bernard Acworth,
September 13, p 138: "I have read nearly the whole of Evolution and
am glad you sent it. I must confess it has shaken me: not in my belief in evolution,
which was of the vaguest and most intermittent kind, but in my belief that the
question was wholly unimportant. I wish I was younger. That inclines me now to
think that you may be right in regarding it as the central and radical
lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives, is not so much your
arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders."
Opponents of evolution as worldview are still making the latter point.
Vera Mathews, September 15, p 138: "I have been really in quiet and almost
unearthly spots in my native Ireland. I stayed for a fortnight in a bungalow which
none of the peasants will approach at night because the desolate coast on which
it stands is haunted by 'the Good People.' There is also a ghost but (and this
is interesting) they don't seem to mind him: the faerie are a more serious
To Bernard Acworth, October 4, p 141: "When a man has
become a popular Apologist he must watch his step. Everyone is on the look out
for things that might discredit him."
To Mis. Jessup, October 15, p
141: "Our regeneration is a slow process. As Charles Williams says there
are three stages: (1.) The Old self on the Old Way. (2.) The Old Self on the new
Way. (3.) The New Self on the New Way."
Same: "the Faith itself
may have at first all the characteristics of a Fad and we may be as ill to live
with as if we had taken up Nudism or Psychoanalysis or Pure Wool Clothing."
I'm not sure what's most fascinating in this juxtaposition, but perhaps it's the
insight into his views on psychoanalysis.
Same, p 142: "MacDonald says
'the time for speaking seldom arrives, the time for being never
Footnote 148, p 143, quotes Lewis: "I have heard some
people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and
death lose all value in their eyes, 'because it must have been so easy for him.'
If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may
give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) 'No,
it's not fair! You have an advantage! You're keeping one foot on the bank'? That
advantage call it 'unfair' if you like is the only reason why he
can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to
that which is stronger than yourself?"
To Miss Tunnicliff, December
1, p 146: "No, I don't think I can frame every sentence for reading aloud
in mixed company. I think books on such subjects are best read in solitude."
the Prime Minister [Churchill]'s Secretary, December 4, p 147: "I feel greatly
obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned
this honour would be highly agreeable. There are always however knaves who say,
and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist
propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their
hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there."
A. Allen, December 6, p 148: "I take it that if peace is made in Korea
which doesn't look very likely it will merely be the prelude to an attack
on France in Indo-China [later known as Vietnam] or ourselves in Malaya."
"as King Louis XV used to say, 'things as they are will last out my time.'"
Vera Mathews, December 12, p 149: "the short story is a genre I'm particularly
Same: "My brother asks me to add that he too looks forward
to seeing the story, and that unfortunately he doesn't know India at all; he was
once under orders to go there for five years, but with his usual ingenuity, managed
to persuade the War Office to send him to West Africa for twelve months instead."
This surprises because Warnie's youthful fascination was "India," though
perhaps his fantasy India had little consonance with the real thing. And it's
also amusing because, as the typist of this letter, Warnie probably appended this
P.S. at his own initiative. By the same token, the reference to King Louis in
the previous letter was probably Warnie's, as he was an expert on French monarchs.
Warfield M. Firor, December 20, p 150: "a mistake in a history of literature
walks in silence till the day it turns irrevocable in a printed book and the book
goes for review to the only man in England who wd. have known it was a mistake.
This, I supppose, is good for one's soul; and the kind of good I must learn to
digest. I am going to be (if I live long enough) one of those men who was a famous
writer in his forties and dies unknown like Christian going down into the
green valley of humiliation." The allusion is to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.
Don Giovanni Calabria, December 26, p 151, is one of the most important letters
in Lewis's collection on sanctification, and the quest toward holiness.
Edward A. Allen, January 8, p 155: "I doubt if there is a man in America
besides yourself who would have seriously contemplated sending a private gift
of coal to this country."
To Sister Penelope CSMV, January 10, p 157:
"I have, if not thought, yet imagined, a good deal about the other kinds
of Men. My own idea was based on the old problem 'Who was Cain's wife?' If we
follow Scripture it wd. seem that she must have been no daughter of Adam's. I
pictured the True Men descending from Seth, then meeting Cain's not perfectly
human descendants (in Genesis vi. 1-4, where I agree with you), interbreeding
and thus producing the wicked Antediluvians." "Antediluvians" are
those who were around before the Great Flood.
Same, p 158: "No doubt
these rudimentary organs have a spiritual significance: there ought spiritually
to be a man in every woman and a woman in every man. And how horrid the ones who
haven't got it are: I can't bear a 'man's man' or a 'woman's woman.'"
I.O. Evans, January 10, p 159, referring to Evans's Christmas play: "You
made the astrology of the Magi v. convincing and Simeon was quite a character."
Carol Jenkins, January 22, p 160: "I found the name [Aslan] in the notes
to Lane's Arabian Nights: it is the Turkish for Lion. I pronounced it Ass-lan
myself. And of course I meant the Lion of Judah."
To Wayland Hilton
Young, January 31, p 162, "When I've said that there is no allegory in it,
and that there's nothing at all about the Second Coming in T.H.S., you may reply
'Well, that is what the books mean to an intelligent reader and what does it matter
what you meant them to mean?' a point of view I wholly agree with."
T.H.S. = That Hideous Strength, the third of Lewis's "space trilogy'
Same: "is it possible for any man to write a fantastic story
which another man can't read as an allegory? (The history of medieval criticism
makes it clear that the answer is No.)"
To Mary Van Deusen, January
31, p 162: "In the last year my life also became much 'better' and, just
like you, I often feel a little frightened."
Same, Lewis adds a cryptic
postscript: "Hades, the land of the dead: not Gehenna, the land of the lost."
the Editor of the Church Times, undated, p 164: "To a layman, it seems
obvious that what unites the Evangelical and the Anglo-Catholic against the 'Liberal'
or 'Modernist' is something very clear and momentous, namely, the fact that both
are thoroughgoing supernaturalists, who believe in the Creation, the Fall, the
Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Second Coming, and the Four Last Things. This
unites them not only with one another, but with the Christian religion as understood
ubique et ab omnibus." The Latin closing phrase is an abbreviation
of St. Vincent of Lerins's formula, "Let us hold on to that which has been
believed everywhere, always, by everyone."
To Genia Goelz, February
29, p 169: "people who have never undergone an adult conversion may say,
it is a process not without its distresses. Indeed, they are the very sign that
it is a true initiation."
To Genia Goelz, March 18, p 172: "The
Bible itself gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling
with the beliefs and doctrines. It is: 'Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief.'
Would something of this sort be any good?: Almighty God, who art the father of
lights and who hast promised by thy dear Son that all who do thy will shall know
thy doctrine: give me grace so to live that by daily obedience I daily increase
in faith and in the understanding of thy Holy Word, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
To Mary Van Deusen, April 1, p 177, referring to varied types
of worship service: "The advantage of a fixed form of service is that we
know what is coming. Ex tempore public prayer has this difficulty: we don't
know whether we can mentally join in it until we've heard it it might be
phoney or heretical. We are therefore called upon to carry on a critical
and a devotional activity at the same moment: two things hardly compativle.
In a fixed form we ought to have 'gone through the motions' before in our private
prayers: the rigid form really sets our devotions free."
p 178: "I don't see how the ex tempore method can help becoming provincial
and I think it has a great tendency to direct attention to the minister rather
than to God."
Same: "Quakers . . . well I've been unlucky in
mine. The ones I know are atrocious bigots whose religion seems to consist almost
entirely in attacking other people's religions. But I'm sure there are good ones
as well." With the possible exception of his early impressions of T.S. Eliot,
I cannot think of another instance of Lewis being so intemperate.
A. Allen, April 3, p 179: "I wonder what constellation our Sun forms part
of as seen from the planets (if any) of Sirius?"
An editor's note on
p 179 reports that a woman named Nella Victoria Hooker had been, for some time,
passing herself off as "Mrs. C.S. Lewis" and promising hotels in which
she would check in that her husband would be coming to take care of her bill.
Christian Hardie, April 6, p 180, referring to Graham Greene's The Power and
the Glory: "As far as I am concerned there is no common measure between
it and [Evelyn] Waugh [Brideshead Revisited]. In Waugh's book the supposedly
good end of the old rake had simply to be taken on trust: but one lives through
the whole experience of Green's hunted priest, filled from the first with interest,
soon with compassion, and finally with love. Also Greene seems to know things.
All that about the 'pious woman' in the cell (few laymen perhaps get letters from
her so often as I) is excellent: also the bit about forgiveness of sins being
easier to believe than forgiveness of the 'habit of piety.' Greene loves and understands
his most repulsive characters the lietenant and the half-caste better
than Waugh does his favorites."
Footnote 67 describes the priest in
Greene's novel: "The only preist left in the state who has not either escaped
or died, or conformed to the atheistic government, he returns to the village where
Maria lives with their illegitimate daughter. Despite the fact that he believes
himself to be condemned by God, he knows he can nevertheless bring salvation to
others. In the end he achieves holiness and eventually martyrdom by virtue of,
rather than in spite of, his sins."
To Don Giovanni Calabria, April
14, p 182: "While the wished-for unity of doctrine and order is missing,
all the more eagerly let us try to keep the bond of charity: which, alas, your
people in Spain and ours in Northern Ireland do not."
To Mary Van Deusen,
May 5, p 186: "About the highlow quarrels in the Church, whatever the
merits of the dispute are, the 'heat' is simply and solely Sin, and I think parsons
ought to preach on it from the angle."
To Nell Berners-Price, May 9,
p 187: "The actual scene in court was horrid. I never saw Justice at work
before, and it is not a pretty sight. Any creature, even an animal, at bay, surrounded
by its enemies, is a dreadful thing to see: one felt one was committing a sort
of indecency by being present. What did impress me was the absence of any resentment
or vindictiveness on the part of the witnesses: you two victims especially were,
I thought, getting v. high marks." The "defendant" was Nella Victoria
Hooker, the phony "Mrs. C. S. Lewis." Nell Berners-Price and her husband
were owners of a hotel in Canterbury who had been swindled by Hooker.
"Mrs. Lockley," May 13, p 188: "In Bishop Gore's 'Sermon on the
mount' . . . I find the view that Christ forbade 'divorce in such a sense as allowed
remarriage.' The question is whether He made an exception by allowing divorce
in such a sense as allowed remarriage when the divorce was for adultery. In the
Eastern Church remarriage of the innocent party is allowed: not in the Roman.
The Anglican Bishops at Lambeth in 1888 denied remarriage to the guilty party,
and added that 'there has always been a difference of opinion in the Church as
to whether Our Lord meant to forbid remarriage of the innocent party in a divorce."
footnote on the same page reports that the Anglican Church's position at that
time was "That under no circumstances ought the guilty party, in the case
of a divorce for fornication or adultery, to be regarded, during the lifetime
of the innocent party, as a fit recipient of the blessing of the Church on marriage."
To Wayland Hilton Young, May 15, p 190, "I've no car and no wireless."
Genia Goelz, May 15, p 191: "The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit
which can't usually be perhaps not ever experienced as a sensation
Same: "you'll be left to [do] lots of dogged pedalling
later on." Lewis emphasizes the "work" the believer must add to
To Vera Gebbert, May 23, p 194, referring to a writing project he'd
been working on for fifteen years: "When it is actually done I expect my
whole moral character will collapse. I shall go up like a balloon that has chucked
out the last sandbag."
To Dom Bede Griffiths OSB, May 28, p 195: "It
isn't chiefly men I am kept in touch with by my huge mail: it is women."
Same: "Yes, Pascal does directly contradict several passages in Scripture
and must be wrong."
Same: "The stories you tell about two perverts
belong to a terribly familiar pattern: the man of good will, saddled with an abnormal
desire wh. he never chose, fighting hard and time after time defeated. But I question
whether in such a life the successful operation of Grace is so tiny as we think.
Is not this continued avoidance either of presumption or despair, this ever renewed
struggle, itself a great triumph of Grace? Perhaps more so than (to human eyes)
equable virtue of some who are psychologically sound.
"I am glad you
think J. Austen a sound moralist. I agree. And not platitudinous, but subtle as
well as firm."
To Marg-Riette Montgomery, June 10, p 198: "When
I was a student, all my friends and I were ordinary modern Atheists."
"I didn't think what he affirmed was true, but I did think all his denials
Same, p 199: "We are free to take out of Anthroposophy
anything that suits us, provided it does not contradict the Nicene Creed."
Mary Van Deusen, June 10, p 199, describes photos as causing "extreme Sehnsucht."
p 200: "I think psychiatry is like surgery: i.e. the thing is in itself essentially
an infliction of wounds but may, in good hands, be necessary to avoid some greater
evil. But it is more tricky than surgery because the personal philosophy and character
of the operator come more into play."
Same, "Charles Williams's
view [was] that every one can help to paddle every one else's canoe better than
his own. We must bear one another's burdens because that is the only way the burdens
can get borne: and 'He saved others, himself He cannot save' is a fundamental
To William Borst, an editor at Harcourt, Brace & World, New
York, June 11, p 201: "I have picked up none of the technique of a professional
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