Showing posts with label C.S Lewis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label C.S Lewis. Show all posts

Thursday, August 08, 2013

C.S Lewis or Winnie the Pooh?

The following quotations are widely disseminated on the interwebs.

Some of them are attributed to the Cambridge Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, where some of them are attributed to a Bear of Very Little Brain.
Can you spot which are which?

And for extra points, can you work out their actual sources?

"You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream."

"You're braver than you believe, and stronger then you seem, and smarter than you think."

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."

"Life is too deep for words, so don't try to describe it, just live it."

"The trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed."

"Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem."

"Resolutions are real things. They are things that, when you make them, you hope they will make you a better person in the future"

"Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different."

"Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?"

"We are what we believe we are."

"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard!"

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That's why we call it the present."

"Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours."

I wrote a book about C.S Lewis, you know, although admittedly, so did everybody else. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do Not Let Your Happiness Depend On Something You Have Quoted Out of Context

What the internet says C.S Lewis said

"Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose."
C.S Lewis

"Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away."
C.S Lewis

What C.S Lewis actually said.

In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him. Then he draws a moral. This is what comes, he says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.

Of course this is excellent sense. Do not put your goods in a leaky vessel. Don't spend too much on a house you may be turned out of. And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I to such canny maxims. I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love, none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as "Careful! This might lead you to suffering."

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to this appeal, I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less. And who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground -- because, so to speak, the security is better? Who could even include it among the grounds for loving? Would you choose a wife or a friend -- if it comes to it, would you choose a dog -- in that spirit? One must be outside the world of love, of all loves,  before one calculates. Eros, lawless Eros, preferring the Beloved to happiness, is more like Love Himself than this.

I think that this passage in the Confessions is less a part of St Augustine's Christianity than a hangover from the high-minded Pagan philosophies in which he grew up. It is closer to Stoic "apathy" or neo-Platonic mysticism than to Charity. We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and who, loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he "loved". St Paul has a higher authority with us than St Augustine -- St Paul who shows no sign that he would not have suffered like a man, and no feeling that ought not so to have suffered, if Epaphroditus had died. 

The Four Loves (p110 - 112)

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" by C.S Lewis a critique of American education?

1: Summary

2: Chronology

3: Education in the 1950s

4: English Education or American Education?

5: The Provenance of the Preface

6: English English or American English?

7: Lewis on English Education

8: All Must Have Prizes

9: Conclusion: Lack Thereof

1: Summary


2: Chronology

1941, May-Nov: 'The Screwtape Letters' published as a column in The Guardian (UK religious weekly)

1942: Collected edition of The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis published.

1943, Jun: The Norwood Report recommends the introduction of Grammar Schools and the 'eleven plus' exam.

1943, Aug: 'Equality' by C.S Lewis published in The Spectator (UK)

1944, Feb: 'Is English Doomed' by C.S Lewis published in The Spectator (UK)

1944, Mar: 'The Parthenon and the Optative' by C.S Lewis published in Time and Tide (UK)

1944, Apr: 'Democratic Education' by C.S Lewis published in in Time and Tide (UK)

1944, Aug: Butler education act, reforming English education in line with the Norwood Report, becomes law

1959, Dec: Publication of 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' by C.S Lewis in the Saturday Evening Post (US)

1960: Toast reprinted in 'The World's Last Night' and Other Essays' (US)

1961: Toast reprinted in 'The Screwtape Letters' and 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (UK)

1963: Death of C.S Lewis

1964: Incoming Labour government states intention to abolish the eleven plus and introduce Comprehensive schools

1965: Toast reprinted in 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' and Other Pieces (UK)

1982: Toast reprinted in 'The Screwtape Letters' With 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (US)

3: Education in the 1950s

In 1944, English education experienced one of its periodic shake-ups. The school leaving age was raised to 15 (astonishingly, it was not officially raised to 16 until 1972) and secondary schools were restructured in accordance with the recommendations of the Norwood Report. Sir Cyril Norwood, former headmaster of Harrow, believed that there were three different types of mind: those which could deal with pure ideas; those which wanted to apply those ideas; and those which worked more slowly and preferred to deal in facts and the concrete. Owners of these three types of mind obviously required different kinds of education, so the Norwood Report proposed the creation of three new kinds of schools. Grammar Schools would teach traditional academic subjects; Technical Schools would teach arts and applied sciences; Secondary Moderns would teach a more practical syllabus. In the absence of a magic hat, children were to be sorted into the three groups on the basis of an objective intelligence test administered in their final year of primary school: the Eleven Plus.

Astonishingly, this system didn't work terribly well. For one thing, the Eleven Plus exam was based on the probably debunked and possibly fraudulent theories of Cyril Burt. In the second place, very few Technical Schools were ever opened: the system ended up simply splitting eleven-year-olds into the 'clever' and the 'not so clever'. Thirdly, one's chance of getting into a Grammar school depended entirely on how many places were available in a given town: if the school took 200 kids, then the kid with the 201st best mark had blown his chance of having an academic education. Fourthly, and contrary to Sir Cyril's ideals, the Moderns were never as well resourced as the Grammars: the less clever children did not get a different kind of education, but a worse education, in worse schools, with worse teachers. Fifthly, the whole thing ran aground on the rocks of the British class system: when an entirely objective exam was set by middle class psychologists, marked by middle class teachers and administered by middle class civil servants, the children of middle class parents astonishingly and inexplicably turned out to be the ones with the right kinds of minds for the Grammar Schools. Sixthly – and again, contrary to the original idealistic plans the system failed to take into account the possibility that someone could develop intellectually after the age off 11, or indeed, that one might be rather good at French but terrible at Maths. And seventhly, although Norwood believed that his three types of children were equal but different; and that his three kinds of schools should have 'parity of esteem', parents, children and especially primary school teachers came to regard the Eleven Plus as a 'scholarship' which you won a book or a bicycle for 'passing'. Students who, by hypothesis, had the kinds of minds which were better at dealing with concrete facts than with abstract ideas found themselves labelled as 'failures' before their twelfth birthday.

In 1964 the incoming Labour government declared that the Eleven Plus system had failed and that it should be replaced by a Comprehensive system, whereby every child in a particular area, regardless of ability, went to the same school. But due to the complicated balkanization of English education, the old system lingers on in a few parts of the country, where it is allegedly very popular. Whenever anyone suggests that the Comprehensive system be made universal, the cry goes up from Middle England: 'Save Our Secondary Moderns!'

4: Education in 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast'

In 1959, an addition to C.S Lewis's famous Screwtape Letters was published in the U.S magazine The Saturday Evening Post. Where the original letters are about individual morality, the Toast is a social satire. The Devils (who are imagined to feast on the souls of the damned) are disappointed by the low quality of the souls they are getting; but Screwtape points out that they are getting them in great numbers. This glut of low quality souls has, he says, come about through confusing the humans about the term 'democracy'. Although it really only refers to a system of government, it has become bound up with the obvious falsity that everyone is equal, with the happy result that inferior humans say to superior ones 'I'm as good as you!' (which they don't believe) and superior ones actually try to disguise their cleverness – or else become prigs and fanatics. Screwtape points out several methods which the devils have used to bring this about: education, philosophy, the worship of celebrities. He foresees a time when that this love of egalitarianism will have made the 'democracies' so mediocre that they'll be swept aside by Communism. However, mediocre as all these damned souls may be, there is still one source of truly first class sinners – namely, the hypocrites in the Christian Church!

The section on education takes up just less than two pages of a 17 page essay. Screwtape says that the spirit of 'I'm as good as you' makes humans reluctant to allow weak students to feel inferior to able ones. This may have the following results:

1: Everyone will be allowed to go to university, whether they are clever enough or not.

2: Everyone who goes to university will be allowed to pass their exams.

3: Special subjects will be invented so that stupid school children have something to excel at and the pretence will be maintained that these made up subjects are just as good as the real ones.

4: Perhaps children may even be grouped by age rather than ability, so that those fluent in ancient Greek and classical Italian will be held back by the ones who can't read simple English.

5: This will result in 'the abolition of education' – because they'll be no incentive to learn and no disincentive to ignorance. (Humans may even actively prevent the clever ones from learning, the better to maintain the illusion of 'democracy'.)

6: This will apply to everyone, since a socialistic state will monopolize education, and will in any case tax people so hard that they couldn't afford to send their children to private schools even if they want to.

Clearly, this is a social satire: a massively, and comically exaggerated picture of what could happen if certain trends were carried to their logical conclusion.

4: English Education or American Education?

Screwtape prefaces his remarks with the following words:

'My own experience was mainly on the English sector and I still get more news from it than from any other. It may be that what I am now going to say will not apply so fully to the sectors in which some of you may be operating. But you can make the necessary adjustments when you get there. Some application it will almost certainly have. If it is has too little, you must labour to make the country you are dealing with more like what England already is.'

On the surface, this seems pretty clear. Lewis is a British writer, writing for an American audience. So he adds, in Screwtape's persona: 'I only know about England: it's for you to judge whether what I'm saying also holds true in your country. If not, be careful that it doesn't ever become so.'

However, in a preface to the Toast first published in 1982, Lewis says that the opposite is the case. He is really talking about American education; but since he felt it would be bad manners for an Englishman to criticize America in an American paper, he pretends he's talking about England:

'I resorted to a further level of irony. Screwtape is in fact describing American education; he affects to be holding English education up as the awful example. The most intelligent of my American readers would, I hoped, see the game I was playing and enjoy the joke....'

This is surely a rather peculiar approach. An Englishman, fearing that America was going to be overrun by Communism as a result of its terrible obsession with baseball might, I suppose, write a comical piece describing the terrible English obsession with cricket, and adding: 'I don't know if anything similar is happening in your country. You'll have to tell me.' But it would be rather odd to come along three years later and say 'Oh, and by the way, I was really talking about baseball all the time': particularly if the majority of what you had to say about 'cricket' (meaning baseball) turned out to be things which were, in fact, perfectly fair comments about cricket itself. It would be even odder to reveal that cricket means baseball in the preface to an English edition of the satire.

5: The Provenance of the Preface

At the last count, there were four different Screwtape prefaces:

1941: The original preface to the Screwtape Letters ('I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.') (Hereafter 'P1'.)

1961: The preface to the combined UK edition of the letters and the Toast ('It was during the second German war that the letters of Screwtape first appeared in (now extinct) The Guardian.') (P2.)

1965: Brief preface to the Toast in the UK collection Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces. This is in fact an excerpt from P2 ('I was often asked or advised to add to the original Screwtape Letters'). Nothing in the text indicates that this is an excerpt from a longer piece, although it is in no sense taken out of context or misrepresented. (P2a )

1982: New preface to the Toast, in the US combined Screwtape Letters With Screwtape Proposes a Toast. (P3)

In a brief note to the 1982 edition someone – presumably Lewis's editor and acolyte Walter Hooper states that:

'This critique of American education was written in 1962 as a preface to a collection of which the Toast was to be the title essay. After Lewis died, his publisher gave the book a new form, one result of which was that Lewis's preface was lost. Now recovered, it is published here for the first time.'

However, in his 1974 biography of Lewis, Hooper had stated that in 1962:

'Lewis was putting together another volume which was to be called A Slip of The Tongue and Other Pieces. which did not appear until 2 years after his death, shorn of his Preface and of two essays – "Historicism" and "The Vision of John Bunyan"– and renamed Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces.'

And Hooper's 1991 bibliography contains the following rather cryptic and carefully worded paragraph. The 1982 combined edition:

'contains a hitherto unpublished piece by C.S Lewis, which here serves as a Preface to "Screwtape Proposes A Toast".'

In summary, Hooper has at different times made the following statements:

1974: In 1962 Lewis wrote a preface to a book that would have been called A Slip of the Tongue, but it was renamed Screwtape Proposes a Toast and the preface was dropped.

1982: In 1962 Lewis wrote a preface to a book which would have been called Screwtape Proposes a Toast but the preface was dropped when the 'form' of the book change.

1991: A 'piece' from 1962 'serves as' the preface to the Toast in the 1982 combined volume.

It's stuff like this that makes studying Lewis's minor works such fun, and by 'fun' I mean 'like hitting your head repeatedly against a brick wall'.

P2a (the excerpt) and P3 (the diatribe against American schools) both run to around 500 words - a page and a half. P3 would have fitted neatly into the 1965 Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces without any changes to the typesetting of the rest of the book. Therefore a change to the form of the book cannot possibly explain the absence of P3. If Hooper is correct when he says that Lewis wrote P3 for what became the 1965 UK collection, it follows that the editor rejected the new piece, and replaced it with a previously published excerpt of exactly the same length. Why was P3 rejected? How did this result in its being lost? And how and when was it recovered?

Answer: we don't know.

One possible explanation is that it was rejected because it had never existed in the first place. According to Kathryn Lindskoog, whose facts are generally accurate even if her conclusions tend towards the lunatick, says that while P3 is dated to 1962, the publishers did not have sight of it until 1965 (three years after Lewis died). She further claims that three versions of the piece – two typescripts and one handwritten were deposited in the Bodlien by Hooper between 1974 and 1980. That is: we have only Hooper's word that it was intended for what became the 1965 edition; and indeed, only Hooper's word for the provenance of the three MSS. If you give any credence at all to Lindskoog's conspiracy theory about Hooper having forged some of Lewis's posthumous work, this information would be very worrying.

Lindskoog points to the style and quality of the preface, suggesting that some of the phrases 'don't sound like Lewis.' I agree: I doubt that Lewis would have written 'without distinction of race, colour, class and religion'. Since I also think that writers often produce inferior work, particularly when they are seriously ill and, as it turns out, have less than 18 months to live, I don't attach much significance to this doubt. I'm much more worried that the preface seems to be written by someone who has either not read, or not understood, the essay it's attached to.

The authors of the preface thinks that the main subject of the Toast is education. It isn't: it's democracy and equality. Screwtape thinks that the true meaning of democracy is 'a system of voting'. Lewis agreed. In this true sense, Screwtape dislikes democracy:

'Like all forms of government it often works to our advantage, but on the whole less often than other forms.'

(Surely an echo of Churchill's 'Democracy is the worst system of government, apart from all the others.') But the meaning that he, the Devil, wishes to attach to the word is 'I'm as good as you' artificial egalitarianism. Lewis in the Toast is careful to distinguish between the two usages: Screwtape talks about democracy 'in the incantatory sense' and in the 'diabolical' sense. But the author of the preface uses 'democracy' as if it meant 'equality': it is good for education to be democratic in the sense that it is available to everyone regardless of race or religion. And more bizarrely, he writes that some less clever American readers might take his irony literally and think that 'democratic education (in the true sense) had gone further in England' than it had in America. This only makes sense on the assumption that 'true' is a slip of the pen for 'diabolical'.

6: English English or American English?

The text of 1982 (US) version of 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' differs slightly from the 1965 (UK) version.

UK 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs. Thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox – he must be one of those highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were the right sort of chaps they'd be like me.'

US 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs. Thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox – he must be one of those goddam highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they'd be like me.'

Now, there is nothing particularly surprising about a writer suiting his language to his audience; and nothing particularly surprising about an editor gently changing a writer's words to make them fit in with the house style of their paper. In the essay 'The Seeing Eye', Lewis remarks that Christianity is cheaper than psychoanalysis 'in dollars' (rather than 'pounds'). In 'Rejoinder to Dr Pittinger' he asks the American liberal theologian how he would set about converting the 'storekeepers, realtors and morticians' (rather than 'shopkeepers, estate agents, and undertakers') in his own city.

So, who is editing who? Did Lewis write 'highbrows' and an American editor change it to 'goddam highbrows'? If Lewis himself wrote 'goddam', was it he, or a British editor, who deleted it for the UK edition?

Answer: we don't know.

The editing, in either direction, hasn't been done very consistently. Rather British sounding phrases like 'la-di-dah' and 'municipal authority' are retained in the American edition. And while I realise that people had probably had the idea of putting sausages between pieces of bread even before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, I think that most English people think that 'hot dogs' are a characteristically American food. In the original Letters, when Lewis wanted an example of a rather lower class, unpretentious meal that an honest to god all right Joe might like, he used 'Tripe and Onions'. Is it possible that in the Toast he might have written 'Here is a fellow who says he doesn't like tripe and onions; if he were the right sort of chap he'd be like me'; that a US editor changed it to 'doesn't like hot dogs, if he was an honest-to-god all-right-joe'; and that a subsequent UK editor dropped 'honest to god' but left in the self-consciously American 'hot dog'?

I certainly can't believe that Lewis would ever have written 'the scholar never says it to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum.' That simply isn't what the word 'bum' means in English English. (The thrice sainted Mrs. Mary Whitehouse still, in the 1960s, regarded it as a Very Rude Word.) And it is very hard to believe that Lewis would have allowed Screwtape to use the words 'god' (twice) and 'damn' in this context. Screwtape calls god 'The Enemy'. Damnation is, from his point of view, a good thing. If Lewis had intended the devil to swear, wouldn't he have made up some funny inversion like 'dishonest-to-Satan'?

I do not think that a single one of these changes affects the tone or the meaning of the piece to any significant degree. But it is extremely interesting that someone – Hooper, the 1965 editor, the Saturday Evening Post sub, or Lewis himself has at some time fiddled with the piece to make it sound either more (or less) American.

7: Lewis on English Education

In the year before the Butler Act became law, Lewis wrote four essays which cover substantially the same ground as the Toast.

'The Parthenon and the Optative' and 'Is English Doomed' are explicitly critiques of the Norwood report – which contained the bonkers recommendation that English Literature should be taught but not examined in schools, and that there was no need for specialist English teachers. Lewis gruffly explains that if there were neither examinations nor teachers, then all the university English departments would close and the subject would cease to exist. (It is of passing interest that Lewis felt that a system that was going to divide children into Philosopher Kings, Artisans and Slaves would also result in the banishment of the poets. Truly, it is all in Plato.) 'Equality' makes out the case that legal democracy (a good thing) should not be confused with actual equality (an obvious falsehood). He uses some of the same language that Screwtape is going to use in the Toast: 'Every intrusion of the spirit that says "I'm as good as you" into our spiritual life is to be resisted. '

But the important essay for our purposes is 'Democratic Education', published in 'Time and Tide' in April 1944. The essay begins:

'Democratic education says Aristotle, ought to mean, not the education which democrats like, but the education which can preserve democracy'

Screwtape has also studied Greats:

'Nor, of course, must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether "democratic behaviour" means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy.'

Lewis says that a system in which clever 'boys' were given no advantage over stupid ones, or hard working 'boys' over lazy ones, would in one sense be 'democratic', but that a society organized in that way wouldn't survive for very long. Screwtape also predicted that the 'democracies' which encouraged mediocrity would soon fall to Communism. Lewis admits that 'such total egalitarianism has not yet been openly recommended' but thinks that we, the English, have begun to move in that direction. He affects to believe that the reason that Latin has ceased to be compulsory in most schools is that it's the kind of subject that some 'boys' excel at and some do badly at: he claims (on the basis of 'a letter in one of the papers') that maths may soon cease to be taught for the same reason.

He says that if this approach were to be applied consistently:

'Even the boy who can't or won't learn his alphabet can be praised and petted for something – handicrafts or gymnastics; moral leadership or deportment; citizenship or the care of guinea pigs... Then no boys, and no boys' parents need feel inferior.'

Now: this is not what he thinks is happening. It is a reducto absurdium of what would happen if the logic which has banished Latin were applied consistently. It is, of course, almost word for word what Screwtape says:

'The children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the expression – "parity of esteem." '

Again, Screwtape does not claim that this has happened: only that he hopes that it will.

'How far operations there have gone at the present moment, I should not like to say with certainty. Nor does it matter. Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially, as we ourselves will play our part in the developing. The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers are not to be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils.'

As we've seen, it was the Norwood Report that said that Secondary Modern Schools and Grammar Schools should have 'parity of esteem'. Lewis's supposed attack on the American system of education is based on things which haven't happened yet: his one concrete example of something which has already happened is taken from the English system.

Lewis is very clear about what makes the 'boy' who is making mud pies different from the 'boy' who is reading The Divine Comedy:

'In drawing up the curriculum one should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boys who wants to know and who can known. (With very few exceptions they are the same boy. The stupid boy, nearly always, is the boy who does not want to know.)

Similarly. in 'The Parthenon and the Optative' he argues that it is much better to teach difficult grammar than vague literary appreciation: even if some 'boys' don't understand the grammar:

'When the first [kind of education] fails it has, at the very least, taught the boy what knowledge is like. He may decide that he doesn't care for knowledge, but he knows he doesn't care for it and he knows he hasn't got it.'

Similarly, in 'Democratic Education', he thinks that it is positively to the advantage of the dull 'boy' to sit in the back of Latin classes that he doesn't understand, not paying attention and sometimes getting into trouble:

'This priceless benefit he will enjoy: he will know he's not clever.'

It is also to the advantage of society, because boys who know they are not clever are pillars of democracy in the true, elective sense, but don't run away with any ideas about democracy in the bad, egalitarian sense.

'A mild pleasure in ragging [=fooling around in class]; a determination not to be much interfered with is...a valuable curb on the meddlesome of minor officials: envy, bleating "I'm as good as you" is the hotbed of fascism.'

'Democratic Education' (definitely about England) and 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast' (allegedly about America) both present grotesquely exaggerated pictures of what would happen if a particular tendency which Lewis has observed were extended to it's logical conclusion. They resemble the technique used in The Abolition of Man in which it is shown that if we applied the teachings of a particular English text book consistently, it would result in the destruction of the human race. ('The Abolition of Education' would be a good sub-title for the Toast. So, come to think of it, would 'Democratic Education'.) In case we miss the point, there is one reform which even Screwtape admits is far-fetched:

'An even more drastic scheme is not impossible: children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back because the others would get a trauma – Beelzebub, what a useful word! - by being left behind.'

This 'even more drastic scheme' which Screwtape thinks may possibly happen one day is, of course, the one in force in Lewis's time: English schools have always been organized by age, rather than ability. (Am I right in thinking that the American system is more likely to advance a clever child into a higher 'Grade' or keep back a less able one?)

8: All Must Have Prizes

I think it is fairly clear what Lewis's ire, in both the earlier 'Democratic Education' and the later Toast is directed at – and, I have to say, it isn't particularly pretty.

To this day, Grammar Schools and Comprehensive Schools remain a totemic issue for both the political left and the political right. For Old Labour, the Grammar schools represent an elitist system that reproduced and legitimized a previously existing class structure and which effectively wrote-off two-thirds of the population before their twelfth birthday. Plus, they were posh. To the Tories, Comprehensive Schools represent a near Stalinist experiment in social engineering in which all notions of excellence was sacrificed on the alter of spurious inclusivity. Plus, they were common.

However, when the tripartite system was introduced, it was widely regarded as progressive by the Labour Party; and as too progressive by the Tory Party. Labour liked the idea that a poor child who could never afford to go to private school might earn the right to a Grammar school place; Tories were horrified at the idea that their voters' children might have to be educated alongside ghastly people with common accents simply because they weren't very clever. But today, pratically everyone would agree that Grammar schools were part of an 'elitist' system: any debate is between those who think that elitism is a good thing and those who think that it is a bad thing.

So it is disconcerting to realise that Lewis was objecting to the Norwood reforms on the grounds that they were too egalitarian. Norwood seems to have believed in Platonic essentialism; in psychological determinism. People have different kinds of minds; they are born that way; there is nothing you can do about it. The job of education is to find out what kinds of minds people have, and then train them appropriately. You can't be proud of having a Gold, Silver or Bronze mind, any more than you can be proud of being tall or having blonde hair. The three groups have parity of esteem.

Lewis, on the other hand, believes that academic ability is an act of will; almost a moral choice. 'Boys' who want to learn, learn; 'boys' who don't want to learn, don't. 'Boys' are clever if they work hard and stupid if they are lazy. A lazy 'boy' may be a pillar of society and the salt of the earth in other respects but there's no point in pretending that he's the academic equal of the clever one; and there's certainly no point in inventing some new kind of school for his benefit.

Lewis's satirical exaggeration ends up with a future where children are given 'A' levels in playing with plasticine and we are all overrun by the Communists. But the starting point is the idea that Secondary Modern kids should have Parity of Esteem with those at the Grammar School. A British phenomenon.

9: Conclusion, lack thereof

I like conspiracy theories. They are neat, simple and plausible, where real life is messy and unlikely. I do not know why Lewis, having re-cast a fifteen year old essay on English education into a diabolical after dinner speech, then wrote a preface claiming that he was talking about the America all the time, when he plainly wasn't. I don't know why his publishers posthumously rejected this new piece and replaced it with a previously published excerpt of the same length. I don't why he would, in Lindskoog's words, write a muddle headed preface to explain a clear essay. The conspiracy theory, in which a well-meaning acolyte, wanting to make Lewis seem more interested in and relevant to America, and possibly wanting to drum up sales for a new edition of his work, whips up an essay in handwriting that looks quite similar to his master's and then claims to have discovered a long-lost work removes all the difficulties, and is really very attractive.

But that's all it is: a conspiracy theory.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thought For The Day

Here lies a whole world after one
Peculiar mode; a buried sun,
Stars and immensities of sky
And cities here discarded lie.
The prince who owned them, having gone,
Left them as things not needed on
His journey; yet with hope that he,
Purged by aeonian poverty
In lenten lands, hereafter can
Resume the robes he wore as man.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

'The Collected Letters of C.S Lewis Volume 3 (1950 – 1963)'

A few brief comments

So. The final volume of C.S Lewis's unpublished writings. 2,000 pages; an awful lot of letters. And that's only the tip of the iceberg: Lewis is always apologising for being so brief, explaining that this is the eighth or tenth letter he has had to answer this morning.

'Had to answer.' Lewis hates Christmas because he 'has to' reply to the hundreds of letters he gets during the season. He 'has to' send detailed hand-written thank-you letters to all the Americans who send him parcels during the post-war shortages (even when they send him things that no civilised man could want, like headed note-paper.) Some people might think that the only duty a writer has to his readers is to write; that what the people who sent him fan letters and even the ones who send generous gifts really deserve in return is a new novel; a new radio-broadcast, a new volume of pithy religious essays. Instead yet he spends his time trying to act as an agony aunt to the Mary van Deusen's and Vera Gebbert's of this world. It isn't always clear exactly what personal problems they are actually experiencing; but clearly, Lewis is the only person on earth who can help with them. Lewis seems to find it a chore to write these pastoral letters, and he isn't always very good at it; so he assumes that it must be his duty.

This is a sad book. Sad, because it is the last time we will be able to read a 'new' book by C.S Lewis. Sad, because the first time he mentions that he's met up with a nice American poet called Joy Gresham, we know how the story is going to end. Sad, because, by the age of 60 Lewis already regards his life work as finished and is quite looking forward to dying. (If he had lived to be 80, then he might have told us what he thought of the hippy movement, Mrs. Thatcher, Star Wars; there might be TV footage of him speaking; he might have appeared on 'Question Time.') The world weariness of these letters seems almost paranoid. It was a good joke to say that he was a caveman or a dinosaur; maybe there really was some kind of historical continuity with classical world that was only broken by the Great War; maybe he really did feel like a man out of his time. But it isn't funny to hear him telling Tolkien that a recommendation by C.S Lewis will damage his new book; or telling Dorothy Sayers that he doesn't know enough about Dante to write a preface to her translation, and anyway, such a preface would make her look ridiculous; turning down a CBE because it would give ammunition to people who think he is turning out Tory propaganda; and over and over again, warning people that he has so many enemies that his name on a book will probably only harm it. Tolkien accepted his MBE, and was very moved by his meeting with the Queen. Lewis would have been too, but he somehow preferred the persona of the fossilised dinosaur churning out homely wisdom from a badly heated cottage.

And sad because of a sense of, well, waste. Oscar Wilde put his genius into his life, and his talent into his books. Lewis's life's work was to mark essays by bored public school boys; his spare time he devoted to answering letters from total strangers. He slogged away for 20 years at 'The Oxford History of English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama': has anyone read it? Is it even in print? Did he successfully prove that the renaissance never happened in England (or if it did, it had no importance?) The 'excluding drama' part is particularly pathetic. The one really interesting thing about sixteenth century literature is the drama; but someone other than Lewis was commissioned to do the Shakespeare volume.

And yet. Lewis's blurb for 'Till We Have Faces' says that he first thought of a novel based on Cupid and Psyche while he was an undergraduate, so he had in a way been working on it for his whole life. That's probably true of most of his work: he dashed off the 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' in a few weeks, but only because he had been thinking about fairy tales and medieval allegory for decades. (He first read 'The Fairy Queen' as a schoolboy. He is probably unique in the whole history of literary criticism in that he wished that it had been twice as long.) So perhaps the fact that he spent every morning reading and answering letters from ordinary, and sometimes rather silly, members of the public was what enabled him to write so cleverly, and often cruelly, about ordinary human stupidities in 'The Four Loves' and 'The Great Divorce'.

Several times in the 50s, Lewis says that he wants to write a book about praying; but each time he gives up: he knows what he wants to say, but he can't find a form in which to say it. Right at the end of his life, he works out how to overcome the problem. He composes a series of letters to an imaginary correspondent.

In Letters Vol 3, Lewis mentions or alludes to a number of interesting subjects, including:

A correspondent asks Lewis if social planning by governments (rationing in time of war, free health care, and so on) is a bad idea because it 'removes the natural consequences of sin'. Lewis says that removing the natural consequences of sin is a perfectly Christian thing to do, provided 'the means by which you remove them are not in themselves another sin'.

'It is merciful and Christian to remove the natural consequences of fornication by giving the girl a bed in a maternity ward and providing for the child's upkeep and education, but wrong to remove them by abortion and infanticide.'

Since Lewis was certainly a Christian and arguably a conservative, it is curious that this is the only reference to abortion in his letters. One might almost think that he didn't regard it as the single most important issue facing Christians today.

Fifty pages of Lewis's side of a debate with Owen Barfield about 'anthroposophy' were omitted from volume 1 but are added as an appendix to volume 3. I couldn't make head nor tale of them.

In volume 1 and 2 Lewis went to see 'Snow White' (liked the animals, hated the dwarves) and 'King Kong' (liked the island, hated New York). According to Douglas Gresham, he also saw 'Fantasia' (hated the cherubs.)

In this volume, he goes to see 'Forbidden Planet' but is unimpressed:

'A post-civilisation version of 'The Tempest' with a Robot for Caliban, a bitch for Miranda, all sympathy for Alonso against Prospero. The contrast between the magnificent technical power and the deplorable level of ethics and imagination in the story was what struck me most. But the modern 'serious fiction' -- E Waugh and all that – seems to me equally deplorable.'

I think that would look pretty good on the cover of any DVD version of the movie: 'As deplorable as Evelyn Waugh' – C.S Lewis

Incidentally, the introduction to the current Penguin edition of the 'The Tempest' mentions that Hollywood produced a science fiction version of the play called 'The Silent Planet.' Lewis might have been amused.

In 1956 'The Last Battle' won an award for children's book of the year. Illustrator Pauline Baynes wrote to congratulate Lewis on his medal.

Lewis replied:

'Is it not rather 'our' medal? I'm sure the illustrations were taken into account as well as the text.'

However, when Lewis's publisher asked him how he would feel about an omnibus edition of Narnia without any pictures at all, Lewis replied:

'I am not greatly enamoured of the illustrations. (Faith, 'twould be easier to be enamoured of her that made them.)'

He tells George Sayer that Baynes is 'completely ignorant of animal anatomy' and tells his publisher 'I wish you would take an afternoon off and conduct Miss Baynes around the zoo.' But he is extremely tactful to Baynes herself about her shortcomings. He says things like 'You do each book a little better than the last' and 'If only you could take six months off and devote them to anatomy, there's no limit to your possibilities' and 'I say, you have learned something about animals in the last few months, where did you do it?'

The reason Lewis can't bring himself to criticise Baynes is that she is a 'timid, shrinking young woman' – only 27 when he first meets her.

'When criticised (she) looks as if you'd pulled (her) hair and given (her) a black eye. My resolution was exhausted by the time I'd convinced her that rowers face aft and not, as she thinks, forward.'

'Criticism could only be hinted at, and approval had, on a second shot, to be feigned. At any real reprimand she'd have thrown up the job: not in a huff but in sheer, downright, un-resenting, pusillanimous dejection.'

And anyway, he has heard that she badly needed the job because she had an ageing mother to support.

Lewis is similarly tactful to a girl named Jane Gaskell whose fantasy novel ('Strange Evil') was published when she was only fourteen years old. Lewis says that the book is 'a quite amazing achievement'; but adds 'On the other hand there is no reason why your next book should not be at least twice as good,' before gently tearing it to shreds.


A regular correspondent is sad over the death of her cat. Lewis says it's okay to love an animal.

'No person, animal, flower or even pebble has ever been loved too much – i.e more than every one of God's works deserves.'

And she shouldn't feel guilty about having had the cat put to sleep:

'Rather rejoice that God's law allows you to extend to Fanda that last mercy which (no doubt quite rightly) we are forbidden to extend to suffering humans.'

Which is an interesting take: euthanasia may be a good thing in itself, which God for some reason prohibits. In July 1963, Lewis nearly died, and said several times over the next few months that he regretted having been brought back from the point of death since he would presumably have to go through it again before too long.

If you can both kill a beloved pet and regret your own survival, would Lewis have been open to persuasion on the subject of, say, assisted suicide for the desperately ill? (Lewis is capable of surprising us on these kinds of issues: he once wrote an essay in which he argued that vivisection was only probably wrong.)


In 1948, G.E.M Anscombe and C.S Lewis had a public debate about Lewis's book 'Miracles' at the Oxford Socratic Club. Anscombe, who herself believed in God, famously tore Lewis's arguments to pieces.

A.N Wilson thinks that this encounter caused Lewis to abandon the whole idea of a rational defence of Christianity. Certainly his post-1948 religious essays are much more inclined to be devotional and even mystical than his pre-1948 writings. In this volume, he is always being asked to give religious talks, and always replies that 'the well is dry'. He does have rather an odd idea that you can't speak twice on the same subject: he even declines to re-record the 'Mere Christianity' broadcasts – which were transmitted live and never committed to vinyl -- because it would be too obvious that he was repeating himself. But even taking this into account, it is clear that he thinks that Lewis-the-apologist represented a brief period in his life, which is now over.

He is modest about his evangelistic powers. You or I might think that someone who quotes so much Aquinas and Augustine is something of an expert, but Lewis saw himself as very much an amateur: in his 40s he said that it was 'too late' to become an expert in Biblical studies. (This, from a man whose approach to writing a book on 16th century English Literature was to set down and read 16th century English literature. All of it.) Being relatively ignorant, a perfectly ordinary Anglican helping other perfectly ordinary Anglicans is the role he prefers to play. He thinks that, because he is a teacher, he has the knack of explaining things; and he thinks that there is a need to translate religious ideas into the language of ordinary people.

In 1950 writes to the secretary of the Socratic Club with a list of possible speakers for the next terms meetings. He suggests asking Miss Anscombe to give a paper on 'Why I believe in God'.

'The lady is quite right to refute what she thinks bad theistic arguments, but does this not almost oblige her as a Christian to find good ones in their place: having obliterated me as an Apologist, ought she not to succeed me?'

It is very easy to mock editor Walter Hooper for his obsession with adding footnotes to Lewis's letters. If a schoolgirl writes to Lewis to tell him how much she liked the Narnia stories, Hooper considers it vital for us to know which school she went to, what university she subsequently attended, who she married, where she is living now, and her address at the time of the letter. If Lewis alludes to the Bible or Shakespeare, Hooper is on hand to tell us that the phrase 'one flesh' comes from Genesis 2.24; that 'Miranda is a character in 'The Tempest'.

I am glad to say that he has now learned the difference between the ontological argument and the cogito.

I sometimes wonder if Hooper thinks that we will be reading the Letters of Saint Jack long after we stop reading Shakespeare and Milton. Or does he think that, with the demise of Great Western Man, Shakespeare has already been forgotten?

However, Hooper's pedantry sometimes pays off. In a letter to the Church Times, Lewis draws a donnish distinction between 'invocation' and 'devotion'. Just because the Church of England permits the 'invocation' of saints, it doesn't follow that it permits 'devotion' to them. If it did then it would also follow that you should 'approve devotions to stars, frosts and whales.'

I have always thought that Lewis simply meant that if you can pray to one of God's creations (exceptionally good humans) then what logical objection is there to praying to any other of God's creations: a fish or a snowstorm, for the sake of argument. But Hooper points out that he is in fact making a clever reference to the Book of Common Prayer, which quotes a passage from the Apocrypha: 'Oh ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord...Oh ye Frost and Cold, bless ye the Lord...Oh ye Whales and all that move in the water, bless ye the Lord...'


A correspondent wants to know how we should think about God. Lewis says that the Bible depicts a God who can be compassionate and furious, who can change his mind, and who feels things in his gut. This is clearly a mythological, imaginative picture which cannot literally be true. But the more philosophical version of God, -- absolute being, first cause, that which sustains all things in being by his love -- is an abstract concept, and that can't literally be true either. We can't imagine what God is really like; but we can't conceptualise it either.

Lewis adds, devastatingly, that if we decide that the abstract symbol for God is superior to the mythological symbol then we 'think that the symbol we have made is better than the symbol he has made.' This is a brilliantly Lewisian manoeuvre: to first accept that the Bible-God is 'only' a symbol, and then to assert the primacy of that symbol. It's what makes Lewis worth reading; it sends us back to the Bible with a slightly changed perspective.

Lewis wrote this letter only 10 days after his wife had died. It is worth pondering that in 'Grief Observed' he rejects the idea of God as a sadist because it is 'too anthropomorphic.'

One day, someone will write a short play about William Gresham, the first husband of C.S Lewis's wife. They could call it 'Penumbra' or 'Eclipse' or some other word that doesn't quite mean the same as 'shadow.' He's the almost invisible presence in the story of Lewis's last years, and it is uncomfortable to think of him too much.

William Gresham seems to have wanted his divorce from Joy to be amicable. He suggests that he and Joy should live close together so that both parents could maintain contact with their sons. But Joy takes David and Douglas to a foreign country, while she is still legally his wife, at least partly with a view to meeting a famous author to whom she has been sending fan-mail. Bill can't have been indifferent when he hears that she has cancer; and it isn't completely unreasonable for him to think he might get custody of his sons should she die. The two letters which Lewis writes border on emotional bullying:

'Your letter reached Joy after a day of agony. The effect was devastating. She felt that the only earthly hope she now has had been taken away. You have tortured one who is already on the wrack, heaped extra weights on one who is being pressed to death.'

Bill gives in. He doesn't try to get custody of his children. He hears of his ex-wife's death in a two line letter from Lewis. When he visits his sons in England they are (according to Douglas Gresham) strangers to him. He returns to America. He finds out that he too has cancer. He takes his own life.

By all accounts, he behaved very badly: he openly cheated on his wife while they were married, and was violent towards his sons. But he paid a very heavy price. And when all is said and done, he did introduce the word 'geek' into the English language.

It's very painful to watch Lewis's relationship with Joy as it emerges here in 'real time'. 'Shadowlands' has made the story uplifting: Lewis knows that he will only have a limited time with his wife but accepts that 'the pain then is part of the happiness now.' After a short grey afternoon of the soul, he gets over it, to the extent that he can teach Doug to dive, or revisit heavenly places he visited with Joy, depending on whether you run with Joss Ackland or Anthony Hopkins.

But in these letters, it seems that Lewis believed, or persuaded himself to believe, that the laying-on-of-hands by Rev. Peter Bide had facilitated a genuine miracle; that Joy, although lame, was cured; and that God had given him in later middle-age a kind of happiness that he had missed out on when he'd been younger. When he realises that, despite a three year remission, Joy still has cancer, it doesn't feel at all like Job's Sufferings. It's more like watching a small child having its only toy taken away. Letters to strangers, which always finished 'I will of course have you daily in my prayers,' start to say 'Please pray for Joy'. But we know, and Lewis must have known, that this time it isn't going to make any difference.

Lewis writes to his regular correspondents about his bereavement; and naturally, some of what he says anticipates insights from 'A Grief Observed': grief is a process, not a state; it feels like being afraid; he remembers Joy best when he misses her least. But nowhere in these letters is there any hint of the 'crisis of faith' which the book describes. He doesn't remotely suggest that he is being tempted to think that God is evil. If this was a real crisis, and not just a thought experiment, then it must have been very brief indeed.

Several years before, Lewis had tried to help Sheldon Vanauken after the death of his wife. He suggested that he re-read Dante's 'Paradiso', and directs him to the passage where 'Beatrice turns her eyes away from Dante 'to the eternal Fountain' and Dante is quite content.' This is, of course, the passage Lewis quotes at the end of 'Grief Observed': Poi si torno all eterna fontana.

The editor and provider of footnotes knew Lewis for three months and thirteen days, during most of which time, Lewis was seriously ill.

They first meet on June 7th 1963. On July 12th Lewis was taken to hospital, and on July 16th he was thought to be dying. On July 26th, Hooper moved into a spare room at Lewis's home. There was also a full time nurse in residence, but Lewis's brother Warren was being treated for alcoholism in Ireland. (At no time was there a Walter/Jack/Warnie household: so far as I can tell, Hooper didn't meet Warren until Lewis was dead.)

On July 18th, Lewis told his ex-pupil George Sayer that he had 'engaged Hooper as his secretary'. This may have meant no more than 'he is helping me out with my correspondence'. During his illness, Hooper certainly wrote several letters on Lewis's behalf, which would have been Warren's job had he been present and sober. Hooper left the Kilns at some point before September 20th.

Lewis is always very kind to his friends, but he does seem to write an unusually affectionate letter to Hooper. 'Don't ever doubt that the day of your return, whenever and on whatever condition, will be one of rejoicing to me. Your absence makes a cavity like a drawn tooth.' After an exchange of letters, it was agreed that Hooper would come back to England in the new year (1964), work full time as Lewis's secretary and receive a modest salary.

In the event, less than two months after Hooper left the Kilns, C.S Lewis was dead.

My favourite letter in the canon remains the one to the mum who's little boy is worried that he loves Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis reassures them that 'God knows quite well how hard we find it to love Him more than anyone or anything else, and He won't be angry with us as long as we are trying' and that in any case, since Aslan and Jesus are, in a sense, the same, it doesn't make much sense to worry about loving one more than the other.

He concludes:

'If I were Laurence I'd just say in my prayers something like this: 'Dear God, if the things I've been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don't like and aren't good for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love you more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imagination, by doing what you want and growing more like you.' That is the sort of thing that I think Laurence should say for himself; but it would be kind and Christian-like if he then added 'And if Mr Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.'....He must be a corker of a boy: I hope you are prepared for the possibility he might turn out a saint. I dare say the saints mothers have, in some ways, a rough time.'

Never fails to bring a tear to my eye.


C.S Lewis enjoys 'Winy ille Pu'.

'Could anyone but an Englishman have conceived a Latin version of a children's book in such extremely advanced Latin that only an adult could possibly read it? I like that absurdity.'

And he corresponds with an Italian priest, Don Giovanni Calabria, in Latin, even managing a pun:

'Vestri sinistrales (ut ita dicam) athiesmum suum confitentur, immo jacant, lupi sunt et lupi esse videntur.':

('Your leftists/Sinisters (to put it like that) declare their atheism. Even boast of it. Wolves they are an wolves they are seen to be.')

'We got the letter from Las Vegas all right, and thought that between gambling (the most uninteresting of all vices: wine, women and murder I can understand, but roulette – the vapidity of it!) and the glaring hideousness of the decorations and surrounding desert and its neighbouring explosions, L.V was about the nearest thing to a nightmare we'd ever heard of. Did you like it'?

Several letters to Lindskoog, (nee Stilwell) are reproduced in this volume.

Walter Hooper is not completely infallible as an editor and annotator. In the biographical appendix Hooper mentions that Lindskoog wrote two books about Lewis: 'The Lion of Judah in Never-Never Land' and 'C.S Lewis: Mere Christian' as well as 'Creative Writing: For People Who Can't Not Write', and 'A Parent's Guide to Books For Kids.' But for some mysterious reason, he omits 'The C.S Lewis Hoax', 'Light in the Shadowlands', and 'Sleuthing C.S Lewis' from the list.

These books allege that Lewis's biography was falsified, and some of his posthumous papers forged, by, er, Walter Hooper.

In 1956 an American suggested to him that 'masturbation being a very pressing concern for very many young people (if no others) should be dealt with more frankly.' (According to a footnote, the same writer thinks that it has now been dealt with a good deal too frankly.)

Lewis takes the line that what he primly calls 'the act' is not a sin, and certainly not injurious to health, but that sexual fantasies are a bad idea. This isn't simply a case of committing adultery in the heart. The point of sex is that it encourages you to get out and interact with people of the opposite gender – and, in the natural course of events, positively forces you to interact with children and grandchildren! Masturbation, on the other hand, provides 'a harem of imaginary brides' which 'works against (you) ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.' Worse, if you misuse the imagination in this way, you will be encouraged to misuse it in other ways: for example, you'll also end up daydreaming about what you would do if you were rich 'instead of earning and saving.'

This is very good sense on the assumption that masturbation is, (like watching 'Doctor Who') an esoteric hobby practised only by a few pathetic recluses. If, on the other hand, nearly everybody does it, then it can't really cut everybody off from human society. Did Lewis think that he was unusual because he had masturbated as a teenager? Was this what he had in mind when he told Barfield that his boyhood had been unusually depraved?

Lewis is writing in 1956, when he has a close friendship with Ruth Pitter and when his relationship with Joy Gresham is about to turn into a full-blown romance. He's got much more freedom to interact with women, and indeed people, since the death of Mrs. Moore. Is he looking back regretfully on 20 years of life as Mrs. Moore's surrogate son; realising that during this time he turned in on himself sexually and imaginatively, and wishing that he had got a life much earlier?

'After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we were born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be which retard this process. The danger is of coming to love the prison.'

Can anyone read this and not think of the poem, addressed simultaneously to God and Joy Gresham?

' I cannot crawl one inch out of my proper skin:
I talk of love – a scholars parrot may talk Greek –
But self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.'

Lewis's adopted mother: her son, Paddy, was a friend of Lewis who died in World War I.

In the early days, they may have been lovers, but by the time of this volume, Mrs. Moore is old and sick. In 1950 she goes into a nursing home suffering from Alzheimers. Lewis visits her every day, turning down speaking engagements so as not to disappoint her. But in 1951 he reports frankly:

'There has been a great change in my life owing to the death of the old lady I called my mother. She died, without apparent pain after many months of semi-conscious existence, and it would be hypocritical to pretend that it was a grief to us.'

A poet. Lewis once said that she was the kind of woman that he could have imagined marrying, an oddly Gilbertian way of putting it.

Lewis tells Pitter frankly that he didn't get on with a poem of hers in which an earwig conceives a sort of courtly love for a fine lady. He says this is prejudice on his part:

'a: My imagination goes easily to humanised mammals but stops dead at humanised insects. b: I can't bare the least suggestion (however sportive) of love affairs between different species or even between children. It is one of the many things which for me sinks 'Tom Sawyer' so far beneath the divine 'Huckleberry'. But as I can't give you any reason for the second – I think I could for the first -- this doesn't help you very much.'

His reason for not liking anthropomorphic insects is, presumably, the one he gives in 'Surprised by Joy': he has a phobia because as a toddler he was terrified by a picture of a giant spider in a children's book. But what could possibly be the reason for his dislike of stories of child-love; and for him thinking them as unnatural as stories about inter-species romance? Obviously, it couldn't be related to his memories of the combination of paedophilia and bullying at his boarding schools, because that had no long term effect on him whatsoever...

There's an article called 'Delinquents in the Snow' in which Lewis regrets the fact that he isn't allowed to thrash the boys who vandalized his shed, in the course of which rant he remarks that, of course, he has less to complain about than Mr. Pilgrim. In 'Reflections on the Psalms', he tries to mitigate the terrible cursing passages by asking us to imagine what had been done to the Psalmists by their oppressors.

'Take from a man his freedom or his goods and you may have taken his innocence, almost his humanity, as well. Not all the victims go and hang themselves like Mr. Pilgrim; they may live and hate.'

I think I had assumed that 'Mr. Pilgrim' was a character in Bunyan. In fact, in one of his really quite helpful footnotes, Hooper explains that Lewis is talking about one Edward Pilgrim. In 1954 Romford Council slapped a compulsory purchase order on this Mr. Pilgrim's garden, basing the price on its value to a farmer (nil) rather than to a property developer (lots and lots). Mr. Pilgrim didn't know about the plans until the deadline for lodging an appeal against them had already passed. He was so miffed that he hanged himself, and was turned into a symbol of resistance to socialist tyranny by, er, the 'Daily Express'.

When Lewis's publisher said that the reference in 'Psalms' might be a bit obscure, Lewis replied: 'If my book dies soon the memory of Pilgrim will outlive it and no note will be needed: if, on t'other hand, it prove aere perennius , school editions will explain him and we shall have done our bit towards eternising the infamy of his persecutors.'

Today, this text is fulfilled in your hearing.

Lewis was a professional pedant about language, so it is surprising to find him opposing spelling reform, not because it is newfangled, but because there is no particular reason why we should all spell words the same way.

'Who would be a penny the worse if though and tho, existence and existence, sieze, seize and seeze were all equally tolerated....This would save children and teachers thousand of hours' work. It would also force those to whom applications for jobs are made to exercise their critical faculties on the logic and vocabulary of the candidate instead of tossing his letter aside with the words 'can't even spell.'

Lewis calls it scientifiction, which was already very anachronistic by the 50s.

He doesn't like science fiction stories which turn out to simply be spy stories or gangster stories set in space. He is very much a purist on this point. He objects to story by one Kris Neville set in a brothel on Mars because:

'In a work of art all the material must be used; if you write a historical novel, the period must be essential to the effect; what's the excuse for locating one's story on Mars unless Martianity is through and through used?'

He goes so far as to say that 'human interest' is only permissible if it arises from the emotional reaction of the characters to their strange situation: he tells Arthur C Clarke off for introducing a sub-plot about a hoax and a theft into a story about an alien marooned on earth. I guess he has a point: lots of 50s sci-fi was basically just cowboy stories with ray guns instead of six shooters. But Lewis he is surely wrong to say:

'Bigness itself is of no imaginative value: the defence of a 'galactic' empire is less interesting than the defence of a little walled town like Troy.'

E.E Smith is probably not such a good writer as Homer. But don't the Lensmen stories depend on their scale for their dramatic effect? Kim Kinnison's adventures would feel quite different if he chased enemies across America instead of across The Universe.

Still, Lewis is pretty good at spotting a winner. In one of the few extant letters to his wife, he raves about Arthur C Clarke's 'Childhood's End'.

'It is quite out of the range of the common space-and-time writers, away up near Lindsay's 'Voyage to Arcturus' and Wells 'First Men in the Moon'. It is better than any of Stapleton's... It is rather like the effect of the 'Ring' – a self-riching work, harmony piling up on harmony, grandeur on grandeur, pity on pity...'

Which some people might think was overdoing it a bit.

He also likes 'The Silver Locusts', although there is a sense of damning with faint praise:

'Most of the genre is abysmally bad...But Bradbury has real invention and even knows something about prose.'

Lewis declines an invitation from Clarke to speak at the Interplanetary Society.

'Probably the whole thing is only a plan for kidnapping me and marooning me on an asteroid. I know the sort of thing.'

C.S Lewis published the diary he wrote in the weeks after the death of his wife as 'A Grief Observed'. He submitted it to Faber (not his usual publishers) under the pseudonym 'Dimidius'. Anyone at all familiar with Lewis's writing could have spotted the style at 20 paces, and Faber director T.S Eliot deserves some kind of award for his letter to Lewis's agent:

'We are of the opinion that we have guessed the name of the author. If, as you intimate, and as I should expect from the man I think it is, he does sincerely want anonymity, we agree that a plausible English name would hold off enquirers better than Dimidius. The latter is sure to arouse curiosity and there must be plenty of people amongst those who know him, and perhaps even among the readers of his work who do not know him, who may be able to penetrate the disguise once they set their minds working.'

The book was eventually published under the name N.W Clerk (N.W = Nat whilk, 'I know not whom.') Lewis didn't try very hard to keep his identity a secret: when his publishers forward a letter addressed to Mr. Clerk, Lewis signed his reply C.S Clerk before crossing out the C.S and changing it to N.W.

Since I started this last April Fools, I should probably note that Lewis complains that an elvish flying contraption in Jane Gaskell's fantasy book feels too modern because it contains, among other things 'restaurants' and 'lavatories'. Since what Gaskell wrote was 'a sort of stall where food could be purchased' and 'bath-houses' I think this confirms that Lewis used 'lavatory' in a non-euphemistic sense – a place for washing, not a latrine.

In recalling a walking holiday with Barfield, Lewis refers to having used a 'quirinal'; and when Joy is bedridden, they refer to her 'invalid female urinal' and her bedpan as 'Ariel' and 'Caliban' respectively (which is actually quite funny).

It has sometimes been said that Lewis was not interested in politics. ('Jack was about as apolitical as it is possible to be...his politics were Christianity' – Douglas Gresham, on the Lewis usenet group.) In these letters, Lewis takes a consistently party-political stance about the post-war Attlee government and the welfare state. He is inclined to think that the Labour Party kept food rationing going after the war, not because of any actual shortages but because they wanted to control what people ate 'for their own good'. Although he is bored by the '51 election campaign ('everything possible seems to have been said by every possible candidate, and the reiteration becomes wearisome') he takes an unashamedly pro-Tory line:

'There seem to be good prospects of putting Labour out, in spite of the fact that they are promising the earth, whereas Churchill, with his usual good sense, is promising nothing but hard times.'

That Christmas, he thanks an American friend for a food parcel, which is particularly welcome:

'coming as it does at a moment when the new government – very properly, by the way – has refused to woo the electorate by playing Father Christmas with a food bonus.'

When another American tells him that she may come and live in the UK, he warns her that she won't like the weather, and adds:

'And we live under the constant threat of a socialist government, which would finish us off completely.'

However, in 1959 – when both he and his wife have been seriously ill – he comments to an American who has been struggling with medical bills:

'What you have gone through begins to reconcile me to our Welfare State of which I have said so many hard things. 'National Health Service' with free treatment for all has its drawbacks ...but it is better than leaving people to sink or swim on their own resources.'

This is a curious turn-around. Lewis has never disputed that the Welfare State genuinely alleviated poverty. But he thought that the a fear of poverty, and a state solution, had made people too willing to hand over their liberties to the government: if everyone's educated by the state and nearly everyone works for the state, who will dare to criticise the state? And in any case isn't power of that kind always abused? It isn't obvious why these arguments are trumped by the realisation that health care free at the point of need is a really, really good idea.

If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

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