"Callers are the devil--I mean, the devil of a nuisance," the inspector remarked.

"You see, you can get rid of them," the clergyman said.  "But we have to be patient.  'Offend not one of these little ones, lest a millstone is hanged about his neck.'  Patience, sympathy, help.  A word in season bringeth forth his fruit gladly."

The air stirred about him to the question.  "And do these cause you fear?"

"Oh, not fear! by no means fear!"  Mr.  Batesby said.  "Though, of course, sometimes one has to be firm.  To pull them together.  To try and give them a backbone.  I have known some poor specimens.  I remember meeting one not far from here.  He looked almost sick and yellow, and I did what I could to hearten him up."

"Why was he looking so bad?" the inspector asked.

"Well, it was a funny story," Mr.  Batesby said, looking meditatively through the stranger, who was leaning against the inn wall, "and I didn't quite understand it all.  Of course, I saw what was wrong with him at once.  Hysteria.  I was very firm with him.  I said, 'Get a hold on yourself.'  He'd been talking to a Wesleyan."

Mr.  Batesby paused long enough for the inspector to say, with a slight frown, "I'm almost a Wesleyan myself," gave him a pleasant smile as if he had been waiting for this, and went on: "Quite, quite, and very fine preachers many of them are.  But a little unbalanced sometimes -- emotional, you know.  Too much emotion doesn't do, does it?  Like poetry and all that, not stern enough.  Thought, intelligence, brain -- that's what helps.  Well, this man had been saved -- he called it saved, and there he was as nervous as could be."

"What was he nervous about if he'd been saved?" the inspector asked idly.

Mr. Batesby smiled again.  "It seems funny to say it in cold blood," he said, "but, do you know, he was quite sure he was going to be killed?  He didn't know how, he didn't know who, he didn't know when.  He'd just been saved at a Wesleyan mission hall and he was going to be killed by the devil.  So I heartened him up."

The inspector had come together with a jerk; the young stranger was less energetic and less observable than the flowers in the inn garden behind him.

Charles Williams
War in Heaven (1930)
Chapter Thirteen “Conversations of the Youngman in grey”

On Ethics

Let us very clearly understand that, in a certain sense, it is no more possible to invent a new ethics than to place a new sun in the sky.  Some precept from traditional morality always has to be assumed.  We never start from a tabula rasa*; if we did, we should end, ethically speaking, with a tabula rasa.

C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, "On Ethics" (1943)

Aristotle said that only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics: to the corrupted man, the man who stands outside the Tao, the very starting point of this science is invisible.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (1943)

*"blank slate" or "blank page"

Forward to "Essays presented to Charles Williams"

In this book the reader is offered the work of one professional author, two dons, a solicitor, a friar, and a retired army officer; if he feels disposed to complain of hotchpotch (which incidentally is an excellent dish; consult the NOCTES AMBROSIANAE) I must reply that the variety displayed by this little group is far too small to represent the width of Charles William's friendships. Nor are we claiming to represent it. Voices from many parts of England -- voices of people often very different from ourselves -- would justly rebuke our presumption if we did. We know that he was as much theirs as ours: not only, nor even chiefly, because of his range and versatility, great though these were, but because, in every circle that he entered, he gave the whole man. I had almost said that he was at everyone's disposal, but those words would imply a passivity on his part, and all who knew him would find the implication ludicrous. You might as well say that an Atlantic breaker on a Cornish beach is 'at the disposal' of all whom it sweeps off their feet.

If the authors of this book were to put forward any claim, it would be, and that shyly, that they were for the last few years of his life a fairly permanent nucleus among his literary friends. He read us his manuscripts and we read him ours: we smoked, talked, argued, and drank together (I must confess that with Miss Dorothy Sayers I have seen him drink only tea: but that was neither his fault nor hers). "Of many such talks this collection is not unrepresentative.

C.S. Lewis


[Image : Anke Katrin Eissmann]

30 November 1955

[The Lord of the Rings was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme during 1955 and 1956. Among the large cast, the pans of Gandalf and Tom Bombadil were played by the actor Norman Shelley.]

I think the book quite unsuitable for 'dramatization', and have not enjoyed the broadcasts – though they have improved. I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful — but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).  Cannot people imagine things hostile to men and hobbits who prey on them without being in league with the Devil!

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
#175 to Mrs Molly Waldron

Eden's Courtesy

Such natural love twixt beast and man we find
That children all desire an animal book,
And all brutes, not perverted from their kind,
Woo us with whinny, tongue, tail, song, or look;
So much of Eden's courtesy yet remains.
But when a creature's dread, or mine, has built
A wall between, I think I feel the pains
That Adam earned and do confess my guilt.
For till I tame sly fox and timorous hare
And lording lion in my self, no peace
Can be without; but after, I shall dare
Uncage the shadowy zoo and war will cease;
Because the brutes within, I do not doubt,
Are archetypal of the brutes without.

C.S. Lewis
Poems (Bles, 1964)

A storm of flash-bulbs

I am neither disturbed (nor surprised) at the limitations of my 'fame'. There are lots of people in Oxford who have never heard of me, let alone of my books. But I can repay many of them with equal ignorance: neither wilful nor contemptuous, simply accidental. An amusing incident occurred in November, when I went as a courtesy to hear the last lecture of this series of his given by the Professor of Poetry: Robert Graves. (A remarkable creature, entertaining, likeable, odd, bonnet full of wild bees, half-German, half-Irish, very tall, must have looked like Siegfried/Sigurd in his youth, but an Ass.) It was the most ludicrously bad lecture I have ever heard. After it he introduced me to a pleasant young woman who had attended it: well but quietly dressed, easy and agreeable, and we got on quite well. But Graves started to laugh; and he said: “it is obvious neither of you has ever heard of the other before”. Quite true. And I had not supposed that the lady would ever have heard of me. Her name was Ava Gardner, but it still meant nothing, till people more aware of the world informed me that she was a film-star of some magnitude, and that the press of pressmen and storm of flash-bulbs on the steps of the Schools were not directed at Graves (and cert. not at me) but at her.

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
#267 : 9-10 January 1965


"It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought... Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier. I had already been waist deep in Romanticism, and likely enough, at any moment, to founder into its darker and more evil forms, slithering down the steep descent that leads from the love of strangeness to that of eccentricity and thence to that of perversity... What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise (that was where the Death came in) my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience... the quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live."

Foreword by C. S. Lewis to Lilith by George MacDonald

Cambridge, and Criticism

[Image: Girton College]

I knew C. S. Lewis only during his last years when he was Professor of English at Cambridge. His arrival there coincided with my own, it so happened; I had been invited to return to my old College (Girton) as a Research Fellow, in order to complete my work on William Blake. This invitation came through Dr Bradbrook, who had herself been a pupil of C. S. Lewis for a time in Oxford, and it was she who invited him out to Girton to the dinner-party at which I met him for the first time. I had not expected to like him so much, for at that time I had read only The Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters which I did not feel to be in any way for me; but to meet him was to know that here was a man of great learning, continuously kindled into life by imagination. He seemed to possess a kind of boyish greatness — an unique combination of qualities, in my experience, for in him neither seemed to vitiate the other. He was not, certainly intellectually boyish (no reader of his works of scholarship could suppose that) but in the freshness and joyousness with which he carried his learning. I think of Stevenson's line as particularly applicable to him, “Glory of youth glowed in his soul.” The sense of glory has become rare, even in youth; was it perhaps an Irish trait in him, never to doubt the worth of the game? — and for him learning was a joyful and inexhaustible game.

Among so many academic figures whose attitude towards literature was one of bored superiority or active hatred, his love of the material itself was life-giving as a spring in a desert. I went to some of his lectures on the 'matter' of Rome, France, and Britain, and remember how he made the dullest Latin text seem enthralling (he would I am sure here have retorted that no one could possibly consider Boethius dull). The element of play was never far away. He came to tea one day I remember, and walking in the Girton grounds began to imagine how Dryden would have written Blake's The Tyger. He produced instantly a fine couplet (I wish I could remember it) then exclaimed, “No, that is much too good for Dryden, it is almost good enough for Pope,” and unhesitatingly set about polishing it up to Pope's standard. He could put together clear well-made sentences even in verse, and I have heard him express astonishment at how badly a certain world-famous professional colleague put together even the simplest sentence — a sign, he thought, of a fundamental insensitivity to language.

He took a poor view of 'literary criticism' and once asked me if I did not think it entirely useless? I said that I did: scholarship can help towards the better understanding of a poem whose difficulty arises from our lack of certain knowledge; but criticism is a kind of mould or cancer. I found in him an enthusiastic ally in my own work on the sources of William Blake, and little more than a week before his death I received a letter from him from which, since its application goes beyond my own work, I quote: “Yes. Once one goes in for Blake (or Milton or Kipling) one meets, disguised as literary critics, a great many dissentients of quite a different sort. But you'll knock 'em all down, like a second Camilla. Plenty of fact, reasoning as brief and clear as English sunshine, and no personal comment at all.” That was the only kind of criticism he was any use for.

Light on C. S. Lewis (Bles 1965)
“From a Poet” by Kathleen Raine