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All My Road Before Me

C. S. Lewis




  THE DIARY 1922
















  Lewis himself has answered the first question: why devote the substantial tale of hours it must consume to perusing this meticulous record of a few years when he was still on the threshold of his career? Though admittedly interspersed with occasional shrewd comments on life and literature, by far the greater part of it is a factual, often repetitive, catalogue of endless household and domestic chores, academic studies and job-hunting. Well, in the entry dated 20 June 1923, he observed:

  I think the day to day continuity helps one to see the larger movement and pay less attention to each damned day in itself.

  Such, I believe, will be the experience of those readers, and they are likely to be the majority, who feel a special interest not only in the whole or some part of his literary legacy but also in the personal being of C. S. Lewis. They will have got inside the skin, so to speak, of the young man he was between 1922 and 1927 to an extent that no other information or reflection could have enabled.

  The second question is more difficult: why, since he himself was already inside that skin, did he find time to keep it up throughout (with only a few gaps) the exceptionally numerous and heavy other burdens he was carrying? Did he have it in mind that at some later stage in this life he would read it in order to ‘see the larger movement’? I doubt it very much. Entries here and there record his having read the diary to Mrs Moore, and on at least one occasion she rebuked him for having let it drop for some days. My guess therefore, and it is no more, is that these contemporary readings aloud were his main motive in sustaining it.

  I find it strange to recall that during those early years I was given no hint of all of that household background. He was simply a fellow undergraduate and later a literary and philosophical friend. I remember his telling me on one occasion that he had to get back in order to clean out the oven in the gas cooker, and I took it to be something that would happen once in a blue moon. It is only from the Diary that I have learnt what a substantial part of his time and energy was being consumed in helping to run Mrs Moore’s household, and also how much of that was due to the shadow of sheer poverty that remained hanging over them both until at last he obtained his fellowship. Perhaps it is relevant here to recall that it was not until some time in the ’forties that we used Christian names. Before that it was Lewis and Barfield. When he did suggest the change, I was able to remind him that I myself had done so some years previously and he had judiciously demurred on the ground that our friendship was intellectual rather than domestic!

  It is of course not only in connection with domestic work and financial worries that Mrs. Moore’s name—‘D’, as he called her and in the Diary names her—occurs so frequently. One of the things that make me welcome its appearance in print is that it will do much to rectify the false picture that has been painted of her as a kind of baneful stepmother and inexorable taskmistress. It is a picture that first appeared as early as 1966 in the introductory Memoir to W. H. Lewis’s Letters to C. S. Lewis, and it has frequently reappeared in the prolific literature on C. S. Lewis which has since been published here and there. If she imposed some burdens on him, she saved him from others by taking them on herself even against his protestations. Moreover she was deeply concerned to further his career. Such was the case at all events during the five or six years the Diary covers. They were followed by more years of what, at all events to friends and visitors, looked like a normal and reasonably happy family life. I recall more than one quite jolly social evening at Hillsboro with the three of them, Lewis, Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen; and here I can perhaps be of some technical help to the reader. There is more than one mysterious reference to a parlour game called ‘Boys’ Names’, which was sometimes played on these occasions. It was a pencil-and-paper game. Someone chose a letter from the alphabet and everyone was given a minute or two to write down as many boys’ names as he or she could think of, beginning with that letter. At least that had presumably been the programme the first time the game was played. Boys’ names, however, were soon exhausted and the practice was to select some other category: famous writers, capital cities, rivers, artists, patent foods or whatever. I once suggested that a more satisfactory name for the pastime would be ‘Categories’, but tradition was too strong and the old label stuck.

  Perhaps I have overstated the diarists’ preoccupation with his personal problems whether academic or familial. There is much else. The love of nature, for instance, that transpired through the numberless descriptions of his daily walk at home and of others on holiday visits. Some of these reminded me of similar detailed accounts of walks in Coleridge’s early Notebooks. It was a landscape painter’s or a poet’s love rather than a naturalist’s, a delight in the prospect, in the impact of nature on his sense, rather than any intimate participation in her secret goings on, such as we find in a Richard Jefferies, a W. H. Hudson or a Konrad Lorenz. But it was none the less a deep love, and one not unconnected with that elusive experience of which he was to write later in Surprised by Joy:

  Beyond the fence was a deep rich brown. I got a very good touch of the right feeling.

  The stone seemed softer everywhere, the birds were singing, the air was deliciously cold and rare. I got a sort of eerie unrest and dropped into the real joy.

  I turned up to the left and so through the bracken to my favourite fir grove where I sat down for a long time and had the ‘joy’—or rather came just within sight of it but didn’t arrive.

  Nor was sight the only one of the five senses through which that love could surface:

  Walked over the fields to Stowe Woods after lunch, to see if any flowers were up there, but found none. It was all I could do on the way back to walk against the wind or keep my eyes open against the sun. How one enjoys nature’s violences up to the very moment at which they become painful or dangerous.

  I confess to some surprise at finding no reference to his long argument with myself, later referred to in Surprised by Joy as ‘the great war’, since he makes it so clear there that he was a good deal preoccupied by it in the latter part of the diary years. The nearest he comes to it is an entry for 18 January 1927:

  Was thinking about imagination and intellect and the unholy muddle I am in about them at present: undigested scraps of anthroposophy and psychoanalysis jostling with orthodox idealism over a background of good old Kirkian rationalism. Lord what a mess! And all the time (with me) there’s the danger of falling back into most childish superstitions, or of running into dogmatic materialism to escape them.

  Perhaps it is no accident that the previous day reports ‘A letter from Barfield to say he is at Air Hill and will come over—always good news.’

  There is indeed plenty of readable metal in the large lump of ore besides its value as personal revelation: pithy comments on friends, colleagues, pupils; his continuing struggle with his narrative poem Dymer and his hopes and fears for its intrinsic quality as well as for its possible success; numerous critical observations both on contemporary writers and on the many books from different periods that he was reading or re-reading for his coming degree in English Language and Literature. For example:

  After this I read Macdonald’s Phantastes over my tea, which I have read many times and which I rea
lly believe fills for me the place of a devotional book. It tuned me up to a higher pitch and delighted me.

  I also read some Dryden in the attempt to find out what he meant by wit. But he means something different each time. He’s a rum case of a man who was just a poet and nothing else—no magnanimity, no knowledge, no power of thought: just rhythm and gusto.

  I re-read some of the best stories in H. G. Wells’s Country of the Blind. One never re-reads an old favourite without finding that it has contributed more than one suspected to one’s habitual stock in trade.

  That day I bought Fielding’s Amelia and began to read it. It is odd how such a monotonous succession of misfortunes—in which the continual assaults on Amelia’s impregnable virtue become ludicrous—ballasted with such shoddy rhetoric in the dialogue can be made palatable by dint of sheer narrative powers. The born story teller can really do what he likes in literature.

  For a certain kind of humour, the prose Milton beats anyone I know. He abuses like an inspired coster—like Falstaff.

  Or, more generally:

  In the pressures of conversation I discovered a new idea of my own which I think true: what we call the ‘philosophy’ of these modern novelists is a habit they have of attaching their characters to what they assume to be big movements of the Zeitgeist—as for example the revolt of youth in [Hugh] Walpole’s novels. But this is really a literary device: parallel to the King and Queen setting of tragedies or the supernatural—a means to avoid the purely private and individual, who we don’t really like.

  These are only a few examples out of a great many that could equally well have been chosen. They suffice, I hope, to show that, interspersed with the humdrum reportage, the reader will find in the ensuing pages plenty of writing where, if it is not yet ‘vintage Lewis’, we can already discern through the abundant foliage the glimmer of ripening clusters.

  Owen Barfield

  May 1990

  Forest Row, Sussex


  C. S. Lewis made a number of attempts to keep a diary when he was a boy, but all were short lived. Then, at the age of 23, when an undergraduate at Oxford, he began a new diary which runs to over a quarter of a million words and covers the years 1922–27. This was the pre-Christian Lewis, an atheist whose objections to the Faith were ventilated in this attempt. He persevered because it was meant to be not just about his life, but that of his friend Mrs Moore. Several times he records how he fell behind and how Mrs Moore insisted that he pick it up again. Much of its documentary content was dictated by her interest in recording the pleasures and disappointments caused by the many visitors to their house. And, as the diary makes clear, Mrs Moore was its primary audience. Lewis often read it aloud to her, and she could have looked at it at any time. Thus, we do not get an entirely unguarded account of Mrs Moore by Lewis, but we do learn very much about his day to day life.

  When C. S. Lewis came up to Oxford in April 1917 Europe was at war. He could have claimed exemption from military service by being Irish. But Jack Lewis, as his friends called him, believed he should earn his right to be in the University by passing through the Officers’ Training Corps (O.T.C.) into the Army. Lewis, who was eighteen at the time, was a Scholar of University College and, despite the fact that most of the buildings were being used as an army hospital, he greatly enjoyed the company of the twelve men still left there. Though Lewis was at the stage of loving Oxford, he cared very little for England as a whole. It wasn’t, then, surprising that he should be especially attracted to another Irishman in his college, Theobald Butler. One of the effects of being around the colourful Butler, other than getting ‘royally drunk’, was that Lewis became nostalgic.1 Writing to his Belfast friend, Arthur Greeves,2 on 27 May about a conversation with Butler he said, ‘Like all Irish people who meet in England we ended by criticisms on the invincible flippancy and dulness of the Anglo-Saxon race. After all, there is no doubt, ami, that the Irish are the only people: with all their faults I would not gladly live or die among another folk.’3

  In this he was certainly to get what he wanted. After only one term the O.T.C. required Lewis to give up his rooms in University College and join a cadet battalion in Keble College. This was 8 June 1917 and here again he found himself with another of his countrymen. His roommate was Edward Francis Courtenay ‘Paddy’ Moore who was born in Dublin and came to Keble from Clifton College in Bristol. Lewis made a number of good friends in the O.T.C., but from the first he preferred Paddy and his Irish family. Paddy’s mother, Mrs Janie King Moore, who was 45 at this time, had come down from Bristol with her eleven year-old daughter, Maureen, to be with her son for as long as possible before he went overseas. Lewis seems to have met the entire family during his first week in Keble College and his first mention of Mrs Moore comes in a letter to his father, Albert Lewis,4 of 18 June: ‘Moore, my room mate, comes from Clifton and is a very decent sort of man: his mother, an Irish lady, is staying up here and I have met her once or twice.’ Following a week of army manoeuvres in Warwick, he wrote to his father on 27 August saying, ‘We came back on Saturday, and the following week I spent with Moore at the digs of his mother who, as I mentioned, is staying at Oxford. I like her immensely and thoroughly enjoyed myself.’5

  When the course at Keble College was over the men were given a month’s leave (18 September–18 October) before joining their regiments. By this time Lewis and Paddy’s family were so mutually fond of one another that he disappointed his father greatly by spending a disproportionate three weeks of it with the Moores and only the last week at home. Lewis had come down with a feverish cold, and as soon as they were in his friends’ house in 56 Ravenswood Road, Bristol, Mrs Moore insisted that he remain in bed till she could nurse him back to health. ‘It was during this period,’ Warren (‘Warnie’) Lewis6 was to write later, ‘that a relationship first began that had a huge and determining effect upon the pattern of his subsequent life.’7

  Mrs Moore was the eldest child of a Church of Ireland clergyman, The Reverend William James Askins (1842–95), and his wife Jane King Askins (1846–90). She was born on 28 March 1872 in Pomeroy, County Tyrone, where her father was a curate (1869–72). Mr Askins became Vicar of Dunany, County Louth, in 1872 and his daughter was baptised Janie King in the church of Dunany on 21 July 1872. It was in Dunany, a small village on the east coast of Ireland, midway between Belfast and Dublin, that Janie grew up. Her father was the Vicar there until his death in 1895, and he and Mrs Askins had three sons, William, John and Robert, and two more daughters, Edith and Sarah.

  On 1 August 1897 Janie married Courtenay Edward Moore, who, like herself, came from an Irish ecclesiastical family. He was the son of Canon Courtenay Moore (1840–1922), Rector of Mitchelstown in County Cork, and Jessie Mona Duff (1843–1936). Courtenay was born in Dublin on 26 June 1870 and, after four years (1884–88) at Haileybury College in Hertford, he took a B.A. from Trinity College Dublin in 1893. After he and Janie married they lived in Dublin where he was a Civil Engineer. Paddy was born on 17 November 1898 and Maureen on 19 August 1906. Not long after this they separated, under circumstances and causes entirely unknown to us. At this time divorce was granted in Ireland for only the gravest of causes, and it is unlikely that the Moores ever applied for one. What happened was that Mrs Moore went to live in Bristol where her brother Dr Robert Askins was a government medical officer, and where Paddy was admitted to Clifton College in May 1908. Mrs Moore thereafter usually referred to her husband as ‘The Beast’, but for all her ill words for him, he came from two good families. It was through his mother that Maureen inherited a baronetcy and became Lady Dunbar of Hempriggs with a castle and an estate in Caithness, Scotland.

  Of that three-week stay in 56 Ravenswood Road it is evident that Lewis savoured to the full the hospitality afforded by Mrs Moore. They all knew it could not be like this again for a long time because Lewis had already been gazetted into the 3rd Somerset Light Infantry and Paddy into the Rifle Brigade. And if the young men didn’t come back from the w
ar? Maureen was twelve at the time, and she told me some years ago that she remembered hearing Lewis and her brother promise one another that if only one survived the war he would look after Paddy’s mother and Lewis’s father.

  Lewis joined his regiment at Crownhill in South Devon on 19 October 1917. It was rumoured that they would be sent to Ireland to fight the Sinn Féin and they were very surprised when, on 15 November, they were ordered to the front following a 48-hour leave. It would have taken every one of those hours to make a round trip to Ireland, so on 15 November Lewis rushed to Mrs Moore’s home in Bristol.

  From here he sent the following telegram to his father: ‘Have arrived Bristol on 48 hours leave. Report Southampton Saturday. Can you come Bristol. If so meet at Station. Reply Mrs Moore’s address 56 Ravenswood Road, Redlands, Bristol. Jack.’ To anyone in this country a soldier reporting to Southampton in 1917 could only mean that he was being sent overseas. But Albert Lewis wired back: ‘Don’t understand telegram. Please write.’ In desperation, Jack wired back the following morning: ‘Orders France. Reporting Southampton 4 p.m. Saturday. If coming wire immediately.’8 Mr Lewis did not come. And Jack, after being transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, crossed to France on 17 November.

  Lewis arrived at the front line trenches on 29 November, his nineteenth birthday. In February 1918 he ‘had the good luck’, as he said, ‘to fall sick with what the troops call “trench fever” and the doctors P.U.O. (Pyrexia, unknown origin)’.9 This meant a delightful three weeks in a hospital at Le Tréport, during which he wrote some of the poems which appeared in Spirits in Bondage (1919). From the letters he wrote to Arthur while in hospital it is clear that he believed his old friend needed to know that he had not been replaced in his affections by Mrs Moore. ‘I must admit fate has played strange with me since last winter,’ Lewis wrote on 2 February. ‘I feel that I have definitely got into a new epoch of life and one feels extraordinarily helpless over it . . . As for the older days of real walks far away in the hills . . . Perhaps you don’t believe that I want all that again, because other things more important have come in: but after all there is room for other things besides love in a man’s life.’10