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Letters of C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis



  All Those Overseas Friends Who

  Helped Him in the Lean Years





  THE LETTERS 1916–1919














  This revision of the Letters of C. S. Lewis differs in many small ways from the first edition of 1966. And, paradoxically, it is as close to being a restoration of W. H. Lewis’s original book as I am able to make it. The small differences and the attempt at restoration came about in this way.

  For years the Estate of C. S. Lewis have been gathering Lewis’s letters together for publication as his Collected Letters. As he corresponded with so many people the letters could run to, perhaps, half a dozen volumes. Such an undertaking as that cannot be hurried, because the Estate want to be sure they have found as many as they can before publication begins.

  Meanwhile, such is the interest in Lewis’s letters that Collins Publishers decided to observe the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death by reprinting the most interesting and diverse selection of his letters there is. The Estate were pleased with this way of celebrating the anniversary and, remembering that I had given ‘Warnie’ Lewis some assistance with the book, they instructed me to correct whatever errors it might contain. None of us had any idea what a surprise we were in for.

  But at this point a story connected with the book is called for. Shortly after it was published, a good many of those who had lent their letters to Warnie Lewis felt that there should be a collection of C. S. Lewis’s letters in his own city and university—The Bodleian Library in Oxford. I did not, however, move fast enough for the nun Jack Lewis referred to in one of these letters as ‘his elder sister in the Faith’. This was Sister Penelope of the Community of St Mary the Virgin, in Wantage. When Professor Clyde S. Kilby asked if she would give her letters from C. S. Lewis to a collection he was making for Wheaton College in the United States she responded by telling me that I was dragging my feet over a British collection of C. S. Lewis’s letters and papers. She propelled me into action by giving the fifty-six letters she had from Lewis to the Bodleian. That was in September 1967, and Sister Penelope’s generous gift was followed by so many others that in February 1968 I published an announcement of the Bodleian collection of Lewis manuscripts in The Times Literary Supplement. Other notices about the collection have appeared since then, and Sister Penelope’s gift is now one of a great many literary treasures which may be read in the Bodleian’s magnificent ‘Duke Humfrey Library’, a description of which is found in Lewis’s letter to his father of 25th February 1928. The collection in Wheaton College has flourished as well and, happily, in 1968 an arrangement was agreed upon which has resulted in the two libraries sending one another copies of the letters each collects.

  One result of this is that many of those writing about C. S. Lewis are able to see either the originals or copies of the letters. And those who have glanced through this book will have noticed what a large number of the ones published here were written to Jack’s father and brother. Most of these come from a single source. Mr Albert Lewis, Warnie and Jack’s father, preserved nearly every letter he received. When he died the family papers were brought to Oxford. Over a period of years Warnie typed the whole lot, including other documents such as his brother’s diary. The pages were bound into eleven volumes and given the title Lewis Papers: Memoirs of the Lewis Family 1850–1930. The original of this typed work is in Wheaton College and there is a copy in the Bodleian. Once when I borrowed them from Warnie he said, in a letter of 1 April 1967, that he hoped I would take the greatest care of them ‘for there is only this one copy in existence, and the originals from which all material was drawn were burnt by Jack in 1936’. Without the originals, it was the Lewis Papers which Warnie himself had to turn to for many of the letters contained in this volume.

  It was the Lewis Papers which the Lewis brothers’ friend, George Sayer, had to turn to while writing his notable and delightful biography Jack: C. S. Lewis and His Times (1988). Much careful research went into that book, and when reading it in proof I was struck by his discovery that Warnie’s transcription of a passage from Jack’s diary was quite different from what is found in the Lewis Papers. Later, when instructed to correct whatever errors there might be in this book, I remembered Mr Sayer’s discovery. It was this which caused me to suspect that preparing this book for Collins might require as long as a week. If Warnie had made a mistake in transcribing one passage, might there be others?

  I began this work by comparing the published letters with the originals and I was very surprised to discover what a free hand Warnie had taken in editing them. There were several hundred minor alterations in the first dozen pages—so many that I sent a xerox of the corrected pages to Collins and the Estate. Both felt that it would be dishonest to advertise as Lewis’s letters anything other that what he actually wrote, and that this ‘Anniversary Edition’ must not contain anything which would have to be contradicted in the Collected Letters. Collins decided that it was worth while resetting the whole book.

  I had been working on these letters for four months when I reached the inauspicious day of Friday, 13 November 1987. The realization of just how many changes I was having to make caused me to imagine Warnie looming behind me, much annoyed. I felt so uncomfortable about what I was doing that I wrote to George Sayer, asking for advice. What helped as much as anything was a conversation I had that evening with Father John Tolkien. He, too, had known Jack and Warnie well, and over dinner I explained what was causing me such uneasiness. ‘Oh, I’m not surprised about the errors,’ he said. ‘Warnie was very Victorian. They didn’t think the way a modern editor would.’ On another occasion, when he saw I still felt as if I were betraying Warnie, he said, ‘Remember that the same thing happened with Queen Victoria’s diary. Of course the Queen put down what she wanted to say, but after her death her daughter changed it to what she thought her mother should have said. So it was practised in the highest circles!’

  While it is necessary for me to account for what I have done, it is, to my mind, just as necessary to point out that Warnie did nothing that a sane man would call wrong in the way he went about his job. In nearly every instance he believed that he was correcting or improving his brother’s letters, doing for Jack what Jack might have done for himself had he been the editor. Most of the corrections I’ve made will be invisible to all except those who sit down with both editions and search for them.

  Even so, there are a good many instances in which words have been changed for what I believe was meant as improvement. In the letter of 20 June 1918 Jack describes how, coming back from the War, he goes down to visit his old tutor, Mr Kirkpatrick: ‘I opened the gate of Kirk’s garden almost with stealth and went on past the house, to the vegetable garden . . . And there among the cabbages, in his shirt and “Sunday” trousers, there sure enough was the old man, still digging and smoking his villainous pipe.’ I am unable to see why Warnie, such a discriminating lover of words, thought he could enhance Jack’s picture of the ‘Great Knock’ by giving him a ‘horrible’ pipe instead of a ‘villainous’ one. Mr Kirkpatrick would have been the first to point out the different meanings.

  Nearly always it was the family letters which got ‘improved’ the most. I laughed out loud when I came to the end of Jac
k’s letter to Warnie of Christmas Day 1931. The brothers were just becoming familiar with Russian literature and, after telling Warnie that he’d started reading The Brothers Karamazov, Jack went on to say that he had not forgotten Warnie’s beginning for a Russian novel: ‘Alexey Poldorovna lived on a hill. He cried a great deal.’ I’m sure Warnie was only trying to make it more entertaining when he substituted for this a different story: ‘Olga Opitubitch lived on a hill. She had two cows and eleven hens and a wart on one finger and cried a great deal.’

  Those who own the edition of 1966 will not find that I have got rid of poor Olga. She was never in the book, having been deleted along with much else by the publishers. And this brings me to the second difference between this book and the first edition. Mr Sayer, in a letter of 18 November 1987, urged me to correct all the errors I found. He suggested as well that the letters ‘be annotated a little’. It was this suggestion which led me to do what I could in restoring some of the features of the original book.

  I suspect that from the time Warnie agreed to write a biography of his brother for Jocelyn (‘Jock’) Gibb of Geoffrey Bles Ltd, each had a different kind of book in mind. Two years later, when the book Warnie called ‘C. S. Lewis: A Biography’ was published as the Letters of C. S. Lewis, he was furious. A list of his grievances can be found in his diary for 16 April 1966. This is reproduced in those selections from it edited by the late Professor Clyde S. Kilby and Mrs Marjorie Lamp Mead and published as Brothers and Friends: Diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis (San Francisco, 1982). In their Introduction to the book the editors say: ‘While the supreme tragedy of his life was certainly the premature loss of Jack, Warren Lewis also struggled mightily with the disease of alcoholism. He was to battle this agony for over forty years. A man of integrity, and of strength even in his weakness, he knew that his occasional though intense fits of depression left him sadly ill-fitted to cope with the attractions of alcohol.’

  Mrs Mead knows much more about how Warnie viewed his own problems with alcohol than I. And there are possibly others who know more about his editing of these letters than I do. Even so, because Warnie’s grievances about this book have been made public, I believe I should do what I can to make things clearer than they are. I saw a great deal of Warnie from being with him most of the time he was working on the book, and I know how all but impossible it was for his publisher to discuss it with him. Besides the alcoholism Professor Kilby and Mrs Mead have written about, Warnie seemed to me to live in constant fear of bankruptcy. When Jack died, he believed that he couldn’t afford to go on living at The Kilns, where they had been since 1930, and he bought a small, semi-detached house nearby in 51 Ringwood Road. When I came to know him in January 1964 he had already advertised for letters from his brother and was copying them on his typewriter at The Kilns. I had my own typewriter there and was helping him. After only three weeks he began drinking, and set off for Ireland and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. He had made a number of visits there since 1947 because, even though he drank during the day, the nuns of the Medical Missionaries of Mary looked after him with wonderful kindness. Prompted by Lady Dunbar of Hempriggs, and my own worries about the biography, I wrote asking if he wanted assistance in getting home. His reply of 8 February 1964 reveals that even then he had in mind something very different from what Jock Gibb expected: ‘I am my old self once again, and hope to get home under my own steam about the 18th. When I get back I intend to see what sort of a hand I make at a “Life and Letters” of dear Jack. Not exactly an L. & L. in the usual sense, for of course I shall not use anything he has himself told us in Surprised by Joy. It will be more what the French 17th Cent. writers used to call Mémoires pour Servir etc . . . ’ That is, Memories in order to help the understanding of a man, or a period. I am told that a good example of this kind of thing is Voltaire’s posthumous Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de M. de Voltaire, ed. Louis Chaudon (1786).

  When he returned to The Kilns I spent a good many hours every day copying letters while Warnie wrote the early chapters of his ‘Life and Letters’, combining reminiscences about Jack’s childhood with a good many family letters. Unlike Jack, he composed all his books on a typewriter, including this one, which he worked on at breakneck speed. Although I kept the names and addresses of those whose letters I copied and returned, I regret terribly that Warnie did not preserve any information about most of the people he corresponded with. I still do not know who some of them were. Everything went well until 19 May when, with most of the furniture and books still at The Kilns, he spent his first night at Ringwood Road. After a short while he began drinking and returned to Drogheda. He’d been there six weeks when I went over on 21 July, hoping I could persuade him to come home. He made it clear that his only reason for returning to Oxford was to ‘finish the biography of Jack’.

  When we got back on 27 July I moved into 51 Ringwood Road with him. He disliked the house so much that, while we slept there at night, he spent his days at The Kilns. The book was finished to his satisfaction the second week in October and, leaving me to get a copy typed for the publisher and help his housekeeper move everything out of The Kilns, he slipped off to Ireland where he remained until 29 October. This was the time when Jock Gibb most needed to talk with him about the book. However, I see from my diary that Warnie and I set off for yet another trip to Ireland on 14 November. It was during this visit to Drogheda that Warnie dictated a letter to his literary agent giving his publisher ‘rights carte blanche to do whatever he wants’ with the book. This may have been just as well because his problems with alcohol were worse in 1965 than in 1964. In May of 1965 I had to move into Oxford upon being appointed Chaplain of Wadham College, and this meant I could not see him every day.

  I mention these peregrinations to illustrate how difficult it was for Warnie to settle to the book. But even if we had stayed put at The Kilns I’m not convinced that this would have made any great difference. Warnie was not interested in writing what most of us would think a standard kind of biography. As he said, his was meant to be of the sort the French called Mémoires pour servir etc. In fact, a work very like the Lewis Papers in which letters and diary entries are broken here and there with helpful notes and recollections by the editor. This explains, too, why he included entries from his brother’s diary in this book. Of the approximately 230,000 words which made up the original ‘Biography’ only about 23,300 words were narration, and most of that came in the early chapters. It was a book which I liked very much in its original form, but he would probably have just as much trouble getting a publisher interested in it today as he did nearly twenty-five years ago.

  I suspect that a suggestion made by Jack in 1962 could have played some part in the kind of letters he chose for this book. On his desk Warnie kept a letter written by his brother during that summer, when Jack was in the Acland Nursing Home and Warnie was in Drogheda. Jack was afraid that his death might leave his brother penniless, and in the letter he urged Warnie to try to keep the wolf from the door by collecting his lettres spirituelles and ‘making a book of them’. The pastoral letters are the ones which Warnie cared for most anyway.

  When the book was published Warnie learned that Jock Gibb had hired Christopher Derrick, a writer and former pupil of Jack’s, to turn the ‘Biography’ into a volume of letters. In his diary entry of 16 April 1966 he says that Mr Derrick’s ‘worst outrage’ was including Jack’s philosophical letters to Owen Barfield about ‘some withering discourse on the nothingness of the utterness or some similar topic!’ It was Jock Gibb who chose to include the letters to Mr Barfield. Sometimes, however, Warnie failed to include letters to other close friends because he never bothered to ask them. For instance, when I suggested that he ask Professor Tolkien for his letters from Jack he said, ‘Oh, he wouldn’t have any. They talked to one another all the time!’ I mentioned this to Professor Tolkien when I was at his house one day. ‘Of course I’ve got some letters from Jack!’ he said. ‘But Warnie will have to ask me for them.’
When I mentioned this to Warnie, he said, ‘You must have misunderstood him. Tollers couldn’t have any letters from Jack!’ As with some other letters Warnie didn’t believe in, those to Professor Tolkien will appear in the Collected Letters.

  Warnie and I did not know that the ‘Biography’ was being transformed into a volume of letters until I heard from Jock Gibb on 11 January 1966. He sent me a list of people to whom Jack had written, asking if I could persuade Warnie to supply their full names. I could certainly sympathize with him as he had no way of knowing who the recipient of a letter beginning, say, ‘Dear Joan’ might be. I sent the list to Warnie, suggesting that I try to stop Jock changing his book. Warnie wrote on 12 January saying: ‘Here is such information as I have been able to collect . . . . It has been a very tiresome job for an old sick man, and if only I’d known when I thought I was writing a straightforward account of Jack what I was letting myself in for, I’d never have tackled it. In fact I’m turning over in my mind consulting Barfield to see if I can withdraw and burn the MS and be rid of the torment which it is putting me to. Naturally I cannot at this length of time remember who all these correspondents were, but I’ve done my best—and I’m doing no more. I never want to see or hear of that book again, and in fact have long since ceased to regard it as my book at all. I wouldn’t write that “sharp letter” to Jock if I were you; it will lay you open to the retort that it is none of your business—and anyway I don’t give a d**n when the thing appears. It has by now assumed the aspect of one of those films which, from the titles, seem to have about twenty-five authors!’

  There are two main differences between the ‘Biography’ and the Letters. Jock Gibb was afraid to publish such a large book, and the number of letters was cut by about half. The other difference is that only about one half of Warnie’s excellent narrative was brought together into the ‘Memoir’. That I regret more than anything because Warnie was a very good writer. However, having decided what cuts must be made, Jock Gibb hired Christopher Derrick as editor.