Notes in Old English...

Neville Coghill habitually took notes at lectures and minutes of meetings in Chaucerian English, just a small sample will suffice from 1923, never mind the context!

“Sir Lewis was ther; a good philosópher
He hadde a noblé paper for to offer.
Well couthe he speken in the Greeké tongue;
And yet, his countenance was swythé yong.”

All My Road Before Me, Page 192

Jack and Joy

Now, the ‘received’ understanding of the relationship between Joy and C.S Lewis is that the secular marriage in 1956 was a purely nominal affair. The renewal of Joy's visa to remain in England had been refused, and Lewis, a bachelor, went through the marriage ceremony simply in order to make her a British citizen. They were at this time only friends; the relationship did not turn into love, and a real marriage, until after Lewis knew that she was terminally ill. The Hooper-Green biography describes Lewis as "doing the only thing that a gentleman could have done". This is, of course, the premise of Shadowlands. However, the situation actually seems to have been a good deal more complicated than that. 

Lyle Dorset, in his biography of Joy, quotes a friend of Joy's as quoting her as saying in 1956 how happy she was to "hold hands with Jack and walk through the heather." This implies that she was in love with him at this time even if he wasn't with her. George Sayer says that he doesn't believe this, since it would have been out of character for Lewis to hold hands with a woman he didn't think he could marry. 

George Sayer knew about the ‘secret’ registry office marriage and reports that Lewis positively stated at this time that he was not in love with Joy. (Indeed, he records a cryptic remark of Lewis's made in 1955 to the effect that he might have considered marrying Ruth Pitter had he not "burned all his bridges behind him".) 

Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves in 1955, that a ‘real’ marriage to Joy would, in his view, be adultery, and that the projected ‘technical’ marriage must not be allowed to turn into a ‘real’ one for this reason "an easy resolution when one doesn't in the least want it." 

However, Lewis's brother Warren evidently believed that Lewis' was not being entirely honest with himself about the situation, writing in his diary that when Jack told him the marriage was purely formal that "I saw the uselessness of disabusing him." 

Douglas Gresham (Joy's son and Lewis's stepson) paints a rather different picture of the events. He reports that Lewis told him in 1956 that the reason he had left Oxford and taken the post in Cambridge was that "when a man is considering getting married...he has to consider things like a better salary with which to support them". This would mean that Lewis had thought of marrying Joy before her English visa had become an issue, indeed (astonishingly) before she was formally divorced from her first husband. He goes on to say that "whatever he may have told his friends and colleagues" Lewis and Joy very rapidly came to regard the registry office wedding as a real marriage; and that they made plans for Joy to move into Lewis's home "long before March 1956." 

Andrew Rilstone

Jack to Phyllida, in 1953

Dear Phyllida,

Thanks for your most interesting cards. How do you get the gold so good? Whenever I tried to use it, however golden it looked on the shell, it always looked only like rough brown on the paper. Is it that you have some trick with the brush that I never learned, or that gold paint is better now than when I was a boy! [...]

I'm not quite sure what you meant about "silly adventure stories without my point". If they are silly, then having a point won't save them. But if they are good in themselves, and if by a "point" you mean some truth about the real world which which one can take out of the story, I'm not sure that I agree. At least, I think that looking for a "point" in that sense may prevent one sometimes from getting the real effect of the story in itself - like listening too hard for the words in singing which isn't meant to be listened to that way (like an anthem in a chorus). I'm not at all sure about all this, mind you: only thinking as I go along.

We have two American boys in the house at present, aged 8 and 6 1/2. Very nice. They seem to use much longer words than English boys of that age would: not showing off, but just because they don't seem to know the short words. But they haven't as good table manners as English boys of the same sort would. [...]

C.S. Lewis

Letters to Children (letter of Dec 18 1953)

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s connection with the Inklings!

Richard Jenkins won a scholarship to Oxford University at just 16; he adopted his teacher's surname (Phillip Burton) and made his first stage performance at Oxford as an extra scrubbing steps. Soon Burton's extraordinary stage presence - another of his famous trademarks - was said to distract the audience from the Shakespearean play! However, his studies at Oxford lasted only six months 1942-3.

Much later in his career, Burton co-directed (along with Inkling Neville Coghill) a labour of love that records a performance given by Burton at Oxford University in 1966 of Christopher Marlowe's 400-year-old verse play. Burton plays Faust, a medieval doctor who sells his soul to Mephistopheles in exchange for mastering all human knowledge. The Devil tempts Faust at every turn by confronting him with the seven deadly sins and Helen of Troy (Elizabeth Taylor), who appears throughout the film in various stages of undress. Doctor Faustus stands firm.

The production was filmed in Rome, with the majority of the cast Oxford University amateur actors. (The video can still be obtained).

Very interesting man Coghill...

Williams on Wodehouse

Barbara stretched out her hands, and Lionel pulled her to her feet. "I just want to shimmer up, like Jeeves, not walk," she said. "Do you like Jeeves, Mr. Persimmons?" 

Jeeves?" Gregory asked. "I don't think I know it or him or them." 

"Oh, you must," Barbara cried. "When I get back to London I'll send you a set." 

"It's a book, or a man in a book," Lionel interrupted. "Barbara adores it." 

"Well, so do you," Barbara said. "You always snigger when you read him." 

"That is the weakness of the flesh," Lionel said. "One whouldn't snigger over Jeeves any more than one should snivel over Othello. Perfect art is beyond these easy emotions. I think Jeeves -- the whole book, preferably with the illustrations -- one of the final classic perfections of our time. It attains absolute being. Jeeves and his employer are one and yet diverse. It is the Don Quixote of the twentieth century." 

"I must certainly read it," Gregory said, laughing. "Tell me more about it while we have tea." 

Charles Williams
War In Heaven (Eerdmans 1978), page 157-8

Charles Williams to his wife...

Shall I fall in love with you all over again?
Twice - with you then as with you now,
Either co-inherent in either, that brow
In this and this in that, but both now
Known in the one, and a double glory so.

Charles Williams to his wife after looking at her photograph
Letter of 29 November 1944.

The Oxford Crematorium

In the Oxford Crematorium... off the ring-road at Headington, and just outside the furthest chapel from the entrance... there is a small plaque on the wall. It was placed there at the behest of C.S. Lewis following the death of his beloved wife Joy Davidman.

Smoke on the Mountain (III) Review by C.S. Lewis

Secondly, there is the very theme of the book. What should a Jewish Christian write on if not the Law? But notice that the choice of subject means no relapse into the mere Judaism, nothing that need alarm the most Pauline of us. The author knows quite as well as any of us that Mr. Legality will never bring us to the Celestial City and has got over the fallacies of Moralism fairly early in life. She had good opportunities for studying it at close quarters. She knows that only love can fulfil the Law. That, I think, is the answer to a criticism which someone is sure to make of this book; that in most of its chapters we have much more about diagnosis than about cure. In reality, of course, a "cure" in the sense of some recipe added at the end of each chapter-some "law to be a fence about the Law" and inevitably breeding more Law-is not really being offered at all. The author is not a quack with a nostrum. She can only point, as in her concluding chapter she does point, to the true Cure; a Person, not a set of instructions. Pending that, she is no more inhibited than her ancestors about diagnosis; one might frankly say, about denunciation. A Jeremiad? But should we never read Jeremiads? If it comes to that, should we never read Jeremiah himself? The Canon judges otherwise.

The sins of the Americans (for whom, in the first instance, the book was written) are doubtless not exactly the same as our own. Many of their sins, indeed, we are now hardly in a position to commit. Hence, inevitably, there are passages in this book which English readers may make a bad use of, reading them with complacent self-congratulation. But in the main it is a true bill against all Western civilization. The flaw in us which Joy Davidman seems to me to expose with most certainty will be to some perhaps an unexpected one : the sin of fear, not in Donne's sense but, quite simply, cowardice. Hence she can speak of one minority as being "protected by a fortunate illiteracy from the bombardment of fear propaganda." I am doubtful whether many readers, after reflection, will be prepared to give her the lie. It may be true that great nations have never before faced a greater danger; but have great nations ever met danger with such an appearance of poltroonery? Perhaps it is only appearance. Perhaps, if the moment comes, our bite will prove better than our howls. If not, we shall have to confess that two millennia of Christianity have not yet brought us up to the level of the Stoics and Vikings. For the worst (according to the flesh) that a Christian need face is to die in Christ and rise in Christ; some were content to die, and not to rise, with Father Odin.

I have ventured to use the word "denunciations." This must not be taken to mean anything wild or indiscriminate. On the contrary the quality in this book which, I anticipate, will stand out more clearly the better it is known, is precisely the union of passionate heat with an intelligence which, in that passion, still modifies and distinguishes and tempers. Notice (what I especially value, because it supplies a corrective which I especially needed) how after exposing what is banal, meretricious, and greedy in the popular idea of "Progress," our author unexpectedly, and truly, points out what pure and noble elements originally contributed to that idea. Notice, again, how while admitting the sins worse than murder she shows how disastrously the concept "worse than murder" can be used to confuse and etiolate the reality of murder itself.

I do not of course agree with Miss Davidman at every point. In such a book every reader will have his own crow to pluck with the author. For my own part, what I would most gladly see altered are certain passages where she quotes myself for thoughts which she needed no sense save her own to reach and no pen save her own to express. But every old tutor (and I was not even that to Miss Davidman) knows that those pupils who needed our assistance least are generally also those who acknowledge it most largely.

C. S. LEWIS (1955)

Smoke on the Mountain (II)

Another point of interest in Joy Davidman's work comes from her race. In a sense the converted Jew is the only normal human being in the world. To him, in the first instance, the promises were made, and he has availed himself of them. He calls Abraham his father by hereditary right as well as by divine courtesy. He has taken the whole syllabus in order, as it was set; eaten the dinner according to the menu. Everyone else is, from one point of view, a special case, dealt with under emergency regulations. To us Christians the unconverted Jew (I mean no offence) must appear as a Christian manqué; someone very carefully prepared for a certain destiny and then missing it. And we ourselves, we christened gentiles, are after all the graft, the wild vine, possessing "joys not promised to our birth"; though perhaps we do not think of this so often as we might. And when the Jew does come in, he brings with him into the fold dispositions different from, and complementary of ours; as St. Paul envisages in Ephesians 2. 14-19. 

Before she became a Christian, even before she had (temporarily) considered the possibility of Judaism as a religion, Joy Davidman was keenly aware of this difference in the blood. In one poem, there is a suggestion that the whole "Aryan" ethos could be regarded as a "clinging fog." I suppose when Elijah on Carmel cried out "How long halt ye between two opinions?" he was dissipating a fog. I suppose we Northerners, pagan, romantic and polytheistic in grain, are a kind of people of the mist when seen from the dreadfully unambiguous standpoint of Israel. If "fog" is too severe a word, at least it is no severer than what she says of her own people; "My root Who evolve viciously in the east." Not perhaps viciously, but without doubt fiercely-I cannot help here remembering the lion's governess. The finer spirit of that fierceness, if one must describe it in an abstract noun, is presumably what our fathers called zeal (a word disquietingly absent from the Christian vocabulary these last hundred years or so). But it is best grasped not in an abstraction but in an image, in that glorious, sustained image from the 19 th Psalm where the Sun and the Law became fused in the poet's mind, both rejoicing, both like a giant, like a bridegroom, both "undefiled," "clean," "right," and "there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." One sees the whole desert landscape-no rock nor hillock large enough to throw a shadow in which one could hide from that tyrannous, disinfectant blaze. 

Something of that old Hebraic quality has gone into the book to which I am writing this preface. First there is the style. I do not of course mean that Joy Davidman's style is derived from her blood. It comes, like all good writing, from an individual talent, from reading, and from discipline. But how well it fits the theme ! Many writers on "religion" (how odious a word, by the way, how seldom used in Scripture, how hard to imagine on the lips of Our Lord!) have a positive love for the smudgy and the polysyllabic. They write as though they believed (in the words of the late George Gordon) "that thought should be clothed in pure wool." There is no wool here. The author, to be sure, is an American and uses her own language, not always lexically or idiomatically the same as ours; but it is none the worse for that. A test comes in chapter nine where she quotes a great rocky piece of sheer sense from Johnson which would have instantly shown up any vagueness or fustian in its neighbourhood if such had existed, and comes off unscathed. She even dares to lay a stone on top of that grim cairn and it is worthy of its place. ("The pay is bigger nowadays-but then, so are the lies.") For the Jewish fierceness, being here also modern and feminine, can be very quiet; the paw looked as if it were velveted, till we felt the scratch. At the opening of chapter nine, where we English may perhaps feel that some withers are more wrung than our own, the apparent innocence which puts us off with Titus Oates is an example. So, in another passage, is that much needed coinage "others-denial." 


Smoke on the Mountain (I)


JOY DAVIDMAN, who began her career, appropriately enough, as nursery governess to a lion-cub, first came before the public as the poetess of ‘Letter to a Comrade’, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award for 1938. The volume showed, side by side with a delicate precision of imagery (one remembers the crabs "jointed, Japanese, and frail") an occasional orotundity, a deep bell-like note, not very typical of its period; in "The Empress Changes Lovers" and "Absolution" it successfully answered the question we must put to all young poets : "Can you go beyond the pageant of your bleeding heart and the general state of the world, and present a situation?" They all date from her Communist period. 

How she got into the Party and how she got out again she has described in a beautifully balanced little essay, "The Longest Way Round," contributed to Dr. Soper's ‘These Found the Way’ (1951). The adult convert to Christianity is of course a characteristic figure of our age. Joy Davidman is one who comes to us from the second generation of unbelief; her parents, Jewish in blood, "rationalists" by conviction. This makes her approach extremely interesting to the reclaimed apostates of my own generation; the daring paradoxes of our youth were the stale platitudes of hers. "Life is only an electrochemical reaction. Love, art, and altruism are only sex. The universe is only matter. Matter is only energy. I forget what I said energy is only"; thus she describes the philosophy with which she started life. How, from the very first, it failed to accommodate her actual experience, how, as a result of this discrepancy, she was for some years almost "two people," how Communism, too, broke up under the impact of realities more formidable even than itself, must be read in her own words. Re-reading the poems in the light of the essay one is struck by a recurring image; that of the brain within the skull as within a fortress which may, or may not, be held against "the universe." The essay describes exactly how "the universe"-indeed, something much more important than it-broke in. For of course every story of conversion is the story of a blessed defeat. 


A Carol of Amen House

On the anniversary of Charles' death in 1998, I with a friend sought out his grave in the graveyard of St. Cross Church, Oxford. We attached the following of Charles' poems to his grave (changing 'house' in the first line for 'grave') and sat a while in the Spring sunshine thinking of him and his work.

Over this house* a star
Shines in the heavens high,
Beauty remote and afar,
Beauty that shall not die;

Beauty desired and dreamed,
Followed in storm and sun,
Beauty the gods have schemed
And mortals at last have won.

Beauty arose of old
And dreamed of a perfect thing,
Where none shall be angry or cold
Or armed with an evil sting;

Where the world shall be made anew,
For the gods shall breathe its air,
And Phoebus Apollo there-through
Shall move on a golden stair.

The star that all lives shall seek,
That makers of books desire;
All that in anywise speak
Look to this silver fire:

O'er the toil that is giv'n to do,
O'er the search and the grinding pain
Seen by the holy few,
Perfection glimmers again.

O dreamed in an eager youth,
O known between friend and friend,
Seen by the seekers of truth,
Lo, peace and the perfect end!

(Charles Williams)

I might be foolish, but that morning lives in my memory.

The Novels of Charles Williams

The Novels of Charles Williams 
(Thomas Howard, Ignatius Press, 1983) 
Originally published by Oxford University Press 

Beatrice was to Dante Thomas Howard is to readers of Charles Williams, whose novels are not exactly hell to read, but some may yet find them somewhat tough going. It's a pity, because as with the Latin Mass, if we only knew what we were missing we would clamor for more. Thankfully Ignatius Press has reprinted this book by Thomas Howard so that we do have a guide through this marvelous world. In this book, originally published by Oxford University Press, Thomas Howard starts with the party line that Williams is a bad writer, and then shows us why he's a very good one (Thomas Howard can be very sneaky). He explains why CW can't be considered a “major” writer, and maybe not even a good candidate for a minor one, but by the end of the book one is convinced that the label “major” is too small to fit Charles Williams.

Howard is similarly dismissive of his own writing in this book, even though it stands as one of his best (his best to date, in my opinion, is On Being Catholic). He suggests the reader not even read the whole book, but just jump around to the relevant parts for the Williams novel he/she is interested in. Here again I must express a minority opinion: The Novels of Charles Williams reads seamlessly and grippingly start to finish.

Anyone venturing into a Williams novel for the first time might find the water, as it were, initially cold and uninviting, regardless how heartily the swimmers urge him or her to dive in. Howard is like a personal trainer, both preparing the reader and helping them stay in shape when, gripped with the strange madness that afflicts readers of Williams novels, they recklessly swim further and further from shore. Howard is obviously among the initiates, and the more dismissive he is of Williams' standing as a writer, the more you want to read him. ’Nuff said. Dive in. The water's fine.

Gord Wilson (Bellingham, WA USA)

The Blue Wizards

In the first text presented in Unfinished Tales, dated tentatively by Christopher Tolkien to 1954, the arrival of the wizards to the great havens is given. After a description of Saruman's arrival, some information follows about the blue wizards.

"...But there were others, two dressed in sea-blue...of the Blue little was known in the west [of Middle-earth], and they had no names save Ithryn Luin 'the Blue Wizards'; for they traveled to the east with Curun'r, but they never returned; and whether they remaine in the East, pursuing there the purposes for which they sent; or perished; or as some hold were ensnared by Sauron and became his servants it is not now known. But none of these chances were impossible to be."

There is another text appended to this, which Christopher Tolkien claims belongs to the same time. In it, Gandalf is stated to be the only successful Istar, which first hints at the idea that the Blue Wizards failed their mission: "Indeed, of all the Istari, only one remained faithful, and he was the last-comer" (Unfinished Tales). Here, Radagast is said to have strayed from his mission in becoming enamoured with nature. But for the Blue Wizards, there is no mention of their fate. Still, this text indicates that their fates must be one of failure, though the story of the Blue Wizards was still early in its development.

The next source, chronologically in the development of the story, is in one of Tolkien's letters(which were edited by Humphrey Carpenter in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). In Letter 180, a draft dated January 14, 1956, Tolkien writes: "There is hardly any reference in The Lord of the Rings to things that do not actually exist on its own plane (of secondary sub-creational reality): sc. have been written." In a footnote labeled at the word exist, Tolkien adds "The Cats of Queen Ber'thiel and the names and adventurers of the other 2 wizards (5 minus Saruman, Gandalf, and Radagast) are all that I recollect."

Thus, it is clear that at this point, really nothing had been determined, by the author himself, about who the Blue Wizards were (this letter even indicates less knowledge of the two wizards than the first text gives above).

Another letter fills the spot of the next significant source for information on the two wizards. Letter 211, written in October 1958, offers more specific information about their fate:

"I really do not know anything clearly about the other two - since they do not concern the history of the N.W. I think that they went as emissaries to distant regions, East and South, far out of Numenorean range: missionaries to 'enemy-occupied' lands, as it were. What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and 'magic' traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron."

In this text Tolkien does begin to create a little story for the Blue Wizards, or at least an explanation of their fates, somewhat like that given in the first Unfinished Tales text, though here their failure is given as the more likely outcome.

Saruman the White

Most often called Saruman the White, Saruman was the first of the five Wizards to arrive in Middle-earth, at the end of the first millennium of the Third Age. He was said to be the eldest of the order, and Gandalf acknowledged him as the chief of the Istari. 

For a thousand years, and maybe more, he journeyed in the East of Middle-earth, and was little heard of in the West. He had returned, though, by III 2463, for he was present at the foundation of the Council of the Wise, and was made their chief although Elrond and Galadriel would have preferred Gandalf to take this position).  It was at about this time that Saruman began to study the Rings of Power, their history and the means of their making. 

In III 2759 , he was given the keys of Orthanc by Steward Beren of Minas Tirith, and took up his abode there. He continued his researches into ring-lore, and the making of devices, and was accustomed to watch the stars from the pinnacle of the Tower. He visited Minas Tirith to research the history of the Rings, and found among the ancient books and scrolls the story of the death of Isildur and the loss of the Ruling Ring. 

In III 2851, the Council discovered proof that the Necromancer of Dol Guldur was indeed Sauron returned. Many of the Wise wished to attack the fortress and drive Sauron out, but Saruman spoke against this, and dissuaded the Council from mounting an assault. It was only after ninety years had passed that he relented and aided the Council in assailing Dol Guldur, driving Sauron back into Mordor. Saruman's knowledge was vital in this victory, as Gandalf said - 'it was by the devices of Saruman that we drove him from Dol Guldur'. 

When the Council debated the Rings of Power, Saruman claimed that his researches showed that the One Ring had been lost forever. It was later shown that he did not believe this, however, and was searching for it himself, having secretly rebelled against the Council. 

In July III 3018, when he was ready to reveal himself, Saruman set a trap for Gandalf, using the Wizard Radagast to lure him to Orthanc. When Gandalf came, Saruman revealed that he had made a Ring of his own, and that he was no longer Saruman the White, but claimed the title Saruman of Many Colours. When Gandalf refused to join him, he was imprisoned on the pinnacle of the Tower of Orthanc -- Saruman hoped to gain the secret of the One Ring from him, or at least prevent Gandalf from using it himself.

Encyclopedia of Arda