The Third Inkling - Video (Click here)

Charles Williams: Oxford’s lost poetry professor
It was strikingly appropriate that Sir Geoffrey Hill should have focused his final lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry on a quotation from Charles Williams. Not only was the lecture, in May 2015, delivered almost exactly seventy years after Williams’s death; but Williams himself had once hoped to become Professor of Poetry. And with supporters of the calibre of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot – admittedly not all of them Oxford M.A.s – Williams might well have succeeded, but for his sudden death, aged 58, in the final weeks of World War Two.
Charles Williams had come to Oxford with other staff from OUP’s London office when war broke out in September 1939. OUP then had its London headquarters (specialising in textbooks and mass market books) at Amen House near St Paul’s cathedral – too vulnerable to bombing. So when war began, the London business was moved to Southfield House, a mansion on the north-east edge of Oxford.
Williams was a central figure at the Press, running the World’s Classics and the Oxford Standard Authors, both highly successful series. But he was also a notable popular novelist, with a string of fantasy-thrillers to his credit – Buchan-style adventure tales which dealt with eruptions of the supernatural into ordinary life. Their themes now seem oddly prophetic: War in Heaven concerned the theft of the Holy Grail by a gang of black magicians; Many Dimensions was about the Philosophers’ Stone.
But Williams was also an experienced and entrancing lecturer on literature. Forged in the tough environment of London County Council evening classes, his lecturing skills included an encyclopaedic knowledge of poetry (he would quote tracts of Milton, Tennyson or Shakespeare from memory at the drop of a hat), fervent and engaging enthusiasm, and a strikingly odd accent (North London mixed with Hertfordshire, with quirks all his own) which you either loved or hated. Most listeners – used to lectures delivered in a languid ‘upper class’ accent – were shocked and then fascinated by his harsh tones.
Moving to Oxford in 1939, Williams already knew Lewis and Tolkien. In fact he had edited Lewis’s scholarly masterpiece The Allegory of Love for OUP. (It was Williams who devised the book’s snappy title; Lewis’s own title had been The House of Busirane: An Essay on the Erotic Allegory of the Middle Ages – which would have killed the book!) Lewis and Tolikien were both avid readers of Williams’s fantasy thrillers, and they immediately invited him to join the Inklings. He remained a central member of the Oxford Christian writers’ group throughout the war.
Wartime Oxford was short of lecturers, and Lewis immediately set about pulling strings to get Williams to lecture for the English Faculty. He began in February 1940, speaking on Milton, and the results exceeded all expectations.
Fifty years later, former students still remembered his performances vividly – ‘Mounting the steps at a bound and launching straight into a flood of quotation’; ‘telling students “Never mind what Mr. so-and-so says about it, read the text and think for yourself!”’; ‘declaiming like an Old Testament prophet or an enthusiastic evangelical preacher’; ‘Leaping from one side of the stage to the other, and acting in turn the part of each character he was talking about’; ‘clutch[ing] his copy of Wordsworth, once almost throwing it into the air, but luckily catching it again… totally absorbed in his fascination with the subject’; ‘Pacing up and down the platform… return[ing] to its centre table three times to bang on it three times with his fist to impress on his audience that “Eternity — forbids thee – to forget”’. In short, ‘Electrifying!’ Some of those students went on to become teachers of English and throughout their careers returned to their notes on those lectures for inspiration.
Lewis was so impressed with Williams’s lecture on the theme of chastity in Milton’s Comus that he declared, ‘That beautiful carved room had probably not witnessed anything so important since some of the great medieval or Renaissance lectures. I have at last, if only for once, seen a university doing what it was founded to do: teaching Wisdom.’
But Williams was also a notable poet. In 1930 he had edited the first mass-market edition of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and it had galvanised his own writing. In 1936 he had published Taliessin Through Logres, the first of a two-volume sequence on the Arthurian legends.
The poems, together with his powerfully inspiring lectures, had brought him admiration not only from his contemporaries (Auden in New York writing to say that he couldn’t wait to buy Taliessin, though ‘it would take courage’ because he didn’t know how to pronounce it!) but from aspiring undergraduate poets, many of whom were taking short courses whilst awaiting mobilisation. Drummond Allison, Sidney Keyes and John Heath-Stubbs, all at Queen’s College, read his work avidly, attended his readings at the Celtic Society and the Poetry Society, and wrote on Arthurian themes in emulation of his work. Both Allison and Keyes, after an early poetic flowering, would die, tragically, in the war; Heath-Stubbs remained a lifelong enthusiast for Williams’s poetry.
And on days when he wasn’t enjoying a lunchtime drink with the Inklings at the Eagle and Child, Charles Williams could often be found in the King’s Arms with Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin. Less enthusiastic about his poems, both keenly attended his lectures and it was to Williams that Larkin sent the manuscript of his first novel, Jill, hoping that Williams could gain the attention of Eliot at Faber and Faber.
With retirement approaching, Williams began to consider the future; there were murmurs that the Chair of Poetry would suit him ideally; he could continue at the Press whilst lecturing, and perhaps take a college Fellowship afterwards. Not only were the Inklings keen; scholars of the calibre of Helen Gardner and Maurice Bowra were likely to back him.
Then, on 15 May 1945, it all fell apart. An old abdominal complaint suddenly recurred; Williams was rushed into hospital, and died after an emergency operation. In the turmoil of the war’s last weeks, his death passed largely unnoticed by the outside world. But literary Oxford was bereft. Hearing the news, C.S. Lewis’s brother Warnie wrote, ‘The Inklings can never be the same again.’ Another undergraduate poet and future Professor of Poetry, John Wain, heard from a fellow-student (‘she was only just not crying’) as he walked into college. Wain sensed that it was the end of an era: ‘This was a general disaster, like an air-raid… The war with Germany was over. Charles Williams was dead. And suddenly Oxford was a different place.’
Grevel Lindop was formerly Professor of Romantic and Early Victorian Studies at the University of Manchester. His previous books include The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey; A Literary Guide to the Lake District; Travels on the Dance Floor, which was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week; and a twenty-one volume edition of The Works of Thomas De Quincey. He has published six collections of poems, and his Selected Poems appeared in 2000. His latest book is Charles Williams: The Third Inkling (OUP, 2015).

The Third Inkling - 1st Review

Just seen 1st review of Charles Williams ('gripping - I read it cover to cover in 30 hrs - had to eat & sleep')

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100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (30-21)

Number of days to the launch of 
'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling"
Researched and written by Grevel Lindop

You can pre-order (£25) - Click on the title above.

Day 30
In 1919 Charles Williams underwent a Rosicrucian initiation ritual which involved his being tied, standing, to a full-sized wooden cross.

Day 29
In CW's poem [Vision of the Empire] the image of the headless Emperor is from Byzantine historian Procopius [Secret History] XII.

Day 28
Charles Williams wrote his 1943 Dante book [Figure of Beatrice] from lecture notes because he cdn't face reading the whole Commedia again.

Day 27
Charles Williams's magical sword was buried in the garden at 9 South Parks Road Oxford - University's Chemistry Lab now stands on the site.

Day 26
Charles Williams's wife Michal offered him a divorce during his relationship with colleague and sweetheart Phyllis Jones.

Day 25
Charles Williams hoped to write trilogy: Figure Of Beatrice (Dante) - Figure Of Arthur - Figure Of Power (Wordsworth). Only 1st & part of 2nd written.

Day 24
In 1941 verse letter to Anne Renwick, Charles Williams wrote of "laying you on the altar / whole & bound & glorious'' in St Cross Church Oxford.

Day 23
CharlesWilliams drafted 1944 codicil to will: 'I do not wish that anything written before 1939 shall be published ...'

Day 22
Charles Williams used to tell his students: "You must get poetry into your blood & your bones! Yes into your BLOOD & your BONES!' ‪#‎NationalPoetryDay‬


100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (40-31)

Number of days to the launch of 
'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling"
Researched and written by Grevel Lindop

You can pre-order (£25) - Click on the title above.

Day 40
After reading DH Lawrence's 'Kangaroo', Charles Williams planned to write a 'White Column novel' to 'pull DHL & other things all together.'

Day 39
Charles Williams hoped a Royal Chaplain, whom he knew, might persuade King George VI to join the Companions of the Coinherence.

Day 38
Charles Williams first met TS Eliot at a tea party of Lady Ottoline Morrell's - meeting set up by TSE's friend Montgomery Belgion.

Day 37
P'o L'u, centre of evil in Charles Williams's Arthurian poems, is the medieval Chinese name for the seaport of Barus in Sumatra.

Day 36
Charles Williams always 'looked surprised at the Eucharist; would mutter 'Well Well Well!' in evident astonishment at what had taken place.'

Day 35
Charles Williams's Tarot pack still exists, in private hands - but certain cards are missing! 

Day 34
A 1918 articlae in GK Chesterton's [New Witness] attacked Charles Williams as 'The Satanist, but its author soon became CW's keenest fan.

Day 33
Charles Williams used to speak of his 1930 near-fatal intussusception as a death: 'my expereince of death'; 'having died once...'

Day 32
CW's [Judgement at Chelmsford] name checks Thaxted whose 'Red' vicar hung the Red Flag in church - "people must be saved in earth as in heaven."

Day 31
Charles Williams asked Phyllis Potter to take on by 'substitution' his anxiety over getting his book on [Witchcraft] written.


100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (50-41)

Number of days to the launch of 
'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling"
Researched and written by Grevel Lindop

You can pre-order (£25) - Click on the title above.

Day 50
Chloe in novel [Many Dimensions] is portrait of CWs colleague 
& sweetheart Phyllis Jones - he apologised for the name (she disliked 'Chloe'!)

Day 49

In novel [Many Dimensions] Charles Williams killed off his archvillain Sir Giles Tumulty at the special request of girlfriend Phyllis Jones.

Day 48
In [Many Dimensions] Arglay considers ‘wishing himself into the heart of Vesuvius’ with the Stone, to destroy it: anticipates Tolkien's LOTR.

Day 47
Charles Williams wrote his play Judgment at Chelmsford, & visited rehearsals, as 'Peter Stanhope': the actors didn't know who he really was.

Day 46
With girlfriend Phyllis in hospital after riding accident, Charles Williams circled building sunwise to provide magical energy for recovery!

Day 45
Charles Williams gave Phyllis in hospital Wallis Budge’s ‘Amulets & Superstitions’ because it had diagram of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

Day 44
The whole correspondence between Charles Williams and Phyllis Jones is in Bodleian Library, closed since 1958 & unseen til very recently.

Day 43
Charles Williams’s father was brought up an atheist and was baptised age 36, only a month before his church wedding in 1884.

Day 42
In 1933 OUP asked Charles Williams to check [The Romantic Agony] by Mario Praz before publication to see if it contained anything indecent.

Day 41
Charles Williams considered writing novel about the Moon & lunar influence - 'Artemis perhaps - cold terrible inhuman influence thrilling us!'


100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (60-51)

Number of days to the launch of 
'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling"
Researched and written by Grevel Lindop

You can pre-order (£25) - Click on the title above.

Day 60
Charles Williams's 1st publication was a story, 'My Cousin Dick', in [Temperance Record] Dec 1899: he was 15 years old.

Day 59
WH Auden cherished the dream that Charles Williams would move to OUP's New York office to act as his guru.

Day 58
In August 1935 Charles Williams nursed Catholic poet Eugene Mason on his deathbed, reading poetry to him & fetching heroin as a painkiller.

Day 57
In 1934 Charles Williams got a publisher's questionnaire asking if he'd ever had an 'experience that you consider supernatural?' He said 'No'.

Day 56
Charles Williams put a long quotation from Lenin's [Selected Works] into his 1937 biography of Henry VII.

Day 55
Dylan Thomas attended Charles Williams' lectures: said, "Why, you come into the room and talk about Keats and Blake as if they were alive!”’

Day 54
Charles Williams came to hate his 1930 book [Poetry at Present], calling it 'a horrible book' - 'this pathetic attempt of my immaturity'.

Day 53
Charles Williams couldn't shave himself because of his hand tremor: so he would go to a barber each morning on his way to work.

Day 52
Anne Ridler reported that Charles Wiliams psychically detected site of Dark Age battle at Aisholt Somerset. (But failed at dowsing 4 water)!

Day 51
Charles Williams reckoned he could write 7,000-10,000 words of prose in a weekend, finishing a book in six weeks if necessary.


100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (70-61)

Number of days to the launch of 
'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling"
Researched and written by Grevel Lindop

You can pre-order (£25) - Click on the title above.

Day 70
CW's novel [Place of the Lion] inspired by dream of escaped lion in cornfield in JW Dunne's [Experiment With Time] Chapter 12.

Day 69
In its first draft Charles Williams's novel [All Hallows Eve] was to be called after its heroine, a psychic detective.

Day 68
Whilst denouncing magic in his book [Witchcraft] CW taught a disciple the banishing pentagram ritual, telling her it was 'high magic'.

Day 67
CW's 1940 play [The Devil & the Lady] anticipates [Rosemarys Baby] - plot to conceive a baby Satan so he can become incarnate in the world!

Day 66
War poet Sidney Keyes (1922-43) admired Charles Williams & based his poem 'Gilles de Retz' on material from CW's book [Witchcraft].

Day 65
Nov 1940 Charles Williams reviewed a volume of Carmina Gadelica - Gaelic spells chants invocations - calling it 'a work of high importance'.

Day 64
In 1922 AHE Lee commissioned a horoscope for CW: it predicted financial success but advised against getting married.

Day 63
Charles Williams once joined Oxford friends using a ouija. Formerly 'slow, uninteresting', it 'just went batty...shot around the board!'

Day 62

Charles Williams's poem 'Taliessin in the Rose Garden' was inspired by fine rose garden under his office window at Oxford OUP headquarters.

Day 61
CW's Many Dimensions concerns quest to get rid of powerful transcendent object. The theme would appear later in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.


100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (80-71)

Number of days to the launch of 
'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling"
Researched and written by Grevel Lindop

You can pre-order (£25).  Click on the title above.

Day 80
Charles Williams reviewed Yeats’s [A Vision]: Yeats said he was ‘the only one who has understood the greatness and terror of the diagram’.

Day 79
Charles Williams's wife Michal learned from her poacher father to tickle trout: hence the fish image in poem 'Bors to Elaine'.

Day 78
Phyllis Jones's nickname for Charles Williams was 'Urban' - alluding to the famous pope, his love of the city, and his poem An Urbanity.

Day 77

Christopher Fry took all the character names for [The Lady's Not for Burning] from his friend Charles Williams's book [Witchcraft].

Day 76
Charles Williams [Many Dimensions] is 1st timetravel tale with loop -- wish yourself back in time, get to where you wished, wish again... ad inf!

Day 75
CW's office at OUP's Amen House looked into the judges' retiring room at the Old Bailey, and had good view of prisoners arriving for trial.

Day 74
In 1933 Charles Williams took his colleague & sweetheart Phyllis Jones to see the movie [King Kong].

Day 73
In committee TS Eliot and Charles Williams proposed including 'From the desire of damnation, Good Lord deliver us' in Anglican litany.

Day 72
Charles Williams's salary in 1934, the only year we have figures for, was £50 per annum.

Day 71
In 1940 Charles Williams edited a version of Milton's [Samson Agonistes] for performance and live broadcast on BBC Radio.