The Brobdingnagianly tactless thing

[The High in Oxford, 50 years ago]

It came over me like a thunderclap about 30 seconds after I had left you in the Lodge this afternoon that I must seem to you to have committed, in one very short conversation, all the most unprovoked and indeed inexplicable kinds of rudeness there are.* I implore you to try to understand - and believe - how it came about with no such intention.

The starting point was the fact that I have never noticed the slightest inequality in your gait. Seeing it for the first time when I was waiting behind you to cross the street I therefore immediately assumed some temporary mishap to be the cause: no alternative explanation entered my head. My evil genius then led me to ask you about it - largely because two people who see each other once a week can't very well meet on an 'island' and say just nothing. After your answer I ought of course to have apologized and dropped the subject at once: but by that time I had completely lost my head.

You are not the first to suffer this kind of thing from me: I am subject to a kind of black-out in conversation which now and then leads to ask and say the utterly wrong thing - the Brobdingnagianly tactless thing. I have (quite against my will) made many enemies this way. I hope very much you will not become one of them: give me a fool's pardon.

C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letter of C.S. Lewis: Volume III,
Letter to Robin Oakley-Hill Feb 16, 1953


*The recipient of this letter said:

"I was walking from the boathouse back to college on an unpleasantly raw winter afternoon after an unsatisfactory session of coxing when I was joined by C.S. Lewis waiting to cross the High. He said something like: "You're limping - did you hurt yourself?" I said no, I'd had polio, in a fairly unfriendly manner, because I was fed up with the weather, the unsatisfactory rowing and the tedious unfinished work I was going back to. He looked embarrassed and said "Oh, poor chap," and we went our separate ways. I was astounded to get the letter next day, and was inclined to reply that it didn't signify, but a confidant warned me to take the apology in a serious manner because otherwise it would seem that I did not appreciate the trouble he had taken in writing the letter, and I did so."

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