Monday, November 25, 2013

Five Notes on C.S. Lewis

I.  With the fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death, there has been a lot of media coverage about Lewis, and in the midst of which there has appeared one new book collecting writings by Lewis that I’d like to call attention to, lest its publication be drowned out by other coverage.  This is Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews, a trade paperback original and a Kindle ebook, edited by Walter Hooper, published by Cambridge University Press as a kind of companion to the volume of Lewis’s Selected Literary Essays that they published over forty years ago. Image and Imagination contains six essays (two of which, including the title essay, are published for the first time), some forty-two book reviews, as well as some obituaries and prefaces to other books. It is pleasing to see Lewis’s reviews of Tolkien’s books collected for the first time, as well as his reviews of a few books by Owen Barfield and his writings on Charles Williams. And there is much more.  Recommended.

II. I’d also like to call attention to what is (I think) a previously unrecorded Lewis publication.  This is a short piece of just under two hundred words (probably taken out of a letter, sent in reply to a solicitation for comment), headed “Comedian of Highest Order”, published in The Mark Twain Journal, volume 9 no. 4 (Summer 1954), page 10.  It concerns not (as one might think) Mark Twain, but George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950):  
“Shaw was a very great man indeed. The danger is that when all the froth and nonsense about his being a philosopher has died down (as it must) a reaction should set in and lead people to forget  his real genius. He was a comedian, in his own time, of the very highest order. . . .  He was a humorist of the more intellectual kind, a master of satire, art and fantasy like Gilbert, Wilde and Aristophanes. In that class no one had more continuous vitality. He is also, in his prefaces, one of the great masters of plain prose. I have often, in that capacity, held him up as a model to my pupils and have learned much from him myself. Peace to his ashes!”

III. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Lewis contributed to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the title is often given merely as F&SF) four items, comprising two short stories and two poems (one published posthumously).  Through the courtesy of Gordon Van Gelder, editor of the magazine since 1997 and owner since 2000, I can give some new details about Lewis’s submissions. 

“The Shoddy Lands” (short story). The contract is dated 30 June 1955, and was signed by Lewis, which suggests that he made the submission himself. The story was published in the February 1956 issue. “Jap ed.” is noted on the contract suggesting that the story also appeared in the Japanese edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

“An Expostulation” (verse). The contract is dated 25 June 1957, and was again signed by Lewis. The poem was published in the June 1959 issue, and thus sat in inventory for nearly two years. Lewis’s Oxford address, “The Kilns, Headington Quarry”, is penciled at the bottom along with the notes “Fr. edition #70” and F&SF 9th, suggesting that the poem also appeared in the French edition and the book The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: 9th Series (1960), edited by Robert M. Mills.

“Ministering Angels” (short story). The contract is dated 8 August 1957, again signed by Lewis. The story was published in the January 1958 issue. An appearance in the “Jap. ed” is also noted on the contract. Interestingly, in the editorial headnote to the first publication in F&SF, Anthony Boucher describes Lewis's story as a repercussion of Dr. R.S. Richardson's controversial article "The Day After We Land on Mars" published in the December 1955 issue of F&SF

“The End of the Wine”  (verse). The contract dates from February 1964, three months after Lewis’s death. The poem appeared in the July 1964 issue. It had originally appeared in Punch for 3 December 1947, and rights for reprinting were arranged through the Ben Roth Agency, who handled North American rights for Punch.  

I had also inquired whether the story “Forms of Things Unknown” (published posthumously in 1966 in Of Other Worlds) might have been submitted, but Gordon Van Gelder could find no information as to whether or not that had happened. 

IV. Here is a quotation that A.N. Wilson gives in his C.S. Lewis: A Biography (1990):

“William Empson (no ally) believed, Lewis was ‘the best read man of his generation, and one who read everything and remembered everything he read’ …” (p. 160)
This statement attributed to Empson has resurfaced in various places (in fact, I used it in the introduction to my anthology Tales Before Narnia), but I’ve been unable to find the original source where Empson said or wrote it. Wilson, though he quotes it, does not cite the source, and his book is the earliest appearance of the quote that I can find  Can anyone supply an earlier source?   

V: The following is a letter I wrote that was published in Mythlore #111/112 (2010), pages 161-162, which is worth reprinting here: 

A Footnote to Tales Before Narnia

I recently learned of an uncollected C. S. Lewis letter. Had I known of it when I was compiling my anthology Tales Before Narnia (2008), I would have included an additional author in my list of recommended reading at the rear of the book. While the content of the Lewis letter is of minor significance, it is worth some attention.
            The letter appears in Ferguson on Shiel, an unpaginated micro-published documentary volume edited and produced in 1998 by John D. Squires from his Vainglory Press in Kettering, Ohio. Ferguson on Shiel collects various documents—articles and correspondence—that pertain to the writer M.P. Shiel (1865-1947) as written by (or to) the American bookseller and librarian, Malcolm M. Ferguson (b. 1919), who met the elderly Shiel in 1944 when stationed in England as an American serviceman. Ferguson, who later published a handful of short stories in Weird Tales in the late 1940s, wrote to Lewis on 2 February 1953 (the ellipses are in the original):

            I would like to have read a book which your late friend Mr. Charles Williams did not write, nor did my late, elderly friend M. P. Shiel . . .
            I would like, then, to read a book which I would like you to write. (Like Andrew Lang, I’ve been thinking up books which ought to be) . . .  
            The book which I fancy would concern itself with the discovery of THE BOOK OF JUDAS.  Men of good will would welcome the revelation of such a book’s contents, after confirming its authenticity. Many Churchmen and the Communists would see in such a discovery an opportunity for furthering their own doctrines by seizing this volume and seeing to it that it was distorted according to their ideas. 

Ferguson concluded, “Now I’ve given you my idea, and you are welcome to it. It doesn’t fit in with my other literary luggage.”
            Lewis’s brief response is dated 20th February 1953, and reads in full:  “What a good idea!  It would have suited Shiel (whose books I like) better than me. Like you, I want someone else to write it, you see.  But very many thanks.” 
            The only significant content of Lewis’s letter is the parenthetical mention of his liking Shiel’s books, a fact which I believe is recorded nowhere else.  Shiel was a prolific writer of novels and stories, so from this general statement it would be pure speculation to suggest any particular works by Shiel that Lewis might have read. However, after Lewis’s death in 1963, the Wroxton College Library in Oxfordshire acquired a significant portion of his personal library (the majority of these books are now held in the Wade Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois), and from the listing “C. S. Lewis: A Living Library” made by Margaret Anne Rogers in 1969, we know that Lewis owned at the time of his death two editions of Shiel’s most famous novel, The Purple Cloud (1901), one dated 1946, the other 1963.  The edition from 1946 is likely an American one, published by The World Publishing Company of Cleveland; it may possibly have originally been owned by Joy Davidman, the American woman whom he married in 1956 and who predeceased him in 1960, for some of the books found in his library after his death are known to have been hers. The 1963 edition was apparently that from the nine volume series of “Rare Works of Imaginative Fiction” published by Victor Gollancz in 1963-64.  The Purple Cloud was the first in the series, which also reprinted two other Shiel titles, no. 6 The Lord of the Sea (originally published in 1901) and no. 8 The Isle of Lies (originally 1909). Still, unless the 1946 edition of The Purple Cloud was Lewis’s, we cannot single out which Shiel books Lewis might have read before writing his letter to Malcolm M. Ferguson in 1953.
            The entry I would add to the recommended reading at the rear of Tales Before Narnia follows: 

Shiel, M[atthew]. P[hipps]. (1865-1947)

British writer, born in the West Indies.  In a single letter, Lewis mentioned that he liked Shiel’s books, but gave no specific titles.  From a listing of books from his library made after his death, we know Lewis owned two editions (1946 and 1963) of The Purple Cloud (1901), a scientific romance of a post-apocalyptic world. It is probably Shiel’s most lasting work. His other writings include a collection of lyrical and luxurious short stories Shapes in the Fire (1896), and the stories of the decadent armchair detective, Prince Zaleski (1895).


  1. "Can anyone supply an earlier source?"

    The book is _C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table_ (1979). I don't have the page number because my Lewis books are packed right now, but you can view it via Google Books in the revised edition:

    1. Thanks, Josh. You're right that this is an earlier source for the statement (it appears on p. xxiii, in James T. Como's Introduction, of the 1979 edition), but again this is second hand. Como's comment is almost word-for-word what Wilson quotes (Wilson adds the word "and" before the word "one"---which isn't in Como's original), so Como is probably the source Wilson used. What I'd really like to discover is where Empson might have written or said this.

    2. On the slim chance that you may not have come across the book, I will point out that there are three articles by William Empson in Critical Essays on C.S. Lewis, edited by George Watson, Scolar Press, 1992.

      The three articles are:
      1. "Love and the Middle Ages", a review of The Allegory of Love.
      2. "Milton's God" (an excerpt from Empson's book, I presume), a refutation of Lewis's views on the subject
      3. "Studies in Words", a review of Lewis's book

      The last of these can be found here, in a scanned version which has a number of OCR errors:

      That one at least does not contain comments on the subject of how well-read Lewis was, but perhaps one of the first two does. I do not have access to a copy of Watson's book, but I note that Lionel Adey, on page 43 of C.S. Lewis, Writer, Dreamer, and Mentor (Eerdmans, 1998), describes Empson's review of The Allegory of Love as "highly favorable".

      — Paul Annis

    3. Thanks, Paul. I'll try to have a look at the George Watson book again. I remember I had difficulty accessing a copy a dozen or so years ago, and my notes indicate that I saw it at Indiana University, back when I used to be free to make research day-trips. The review "Love and the Middle Ages" came from The Spectator (Sept. 1936), so it might be easier to find the original. Thanks again for the tips.

  2. UPDATE on the Empson remark

    Since the remark by William Empson on C.S. Lewis first appeared in James Como's introduction to his C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table (1979), from which it was quoted (without attribution) in A.N. Wilson's C.S. Lewis: A Biography (1990), I asked James Como if, after thirty-five years, he might remember its source. I thank him for his reply, and with his permission I copy it below:

    "I don't remember. I've been asked before, and you are absolutely right about Wilson. All I can do is assure you I did not invent it. I have checked Empson, esp. his reviews of Lewis's books, and simply cannot find it. Did I read someone else who attributed it to E? To this day, I can see it on my diss. index card. Alas, those cards are long gone."

  3. Further UPDATE on the Empson remark

    I'm grateful to Richard West for pointing out to me Paul Tankard's short article "William Empson on C.S. Lewis's Reading and Memory" in Notes and Queries, v. 61 issue 4 (December 2014): pp. 614-616, which covers much of the same ground. Tankard comes to the conclusion that "Empson's alleged testimony should no longer be called upon, unless a clear source can be discovered in his own writing, or perhaps a reliable recollection from an oral source, such as a lecture. I invite other scholars to suggest such sources" (p. 616). Which is appropriate, and I hope other scholars might be able to pin this down.

    Tankard also notes some similar statements by others who knew Lewis. Indeed, one of Robert E. Havard's comments on Lewis, in James Como's volume, C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table (1979)---the same volume in which Como's initial use of this remark appears---is nearly identical to that attributed to Empson: "Lewis, who had read everything and who seemed to remember everything he had read ..." (p. 219). Tankard also quotes a similar phrasing of the same sentiment from the anonymous obituary of Lewis in the Cambridge Review: "There seemed to be nothing he had not read---and everything he had read seemed to be within his reach, ready to be recalled and put to use" (30 November 1963). So whether or not we can actually attribute this remark to Empson, it seems that others who knew Lewis believed its sentiment was true.