Friday, July 17, 2009

Mr. Lewis, Belfast Solicitor

So, as long as I seem to be on a C. S. Lewis kick, now seems to be a good time to share something I dug up while at Marquette last month. While there, I went over into the old (Memorial) library looking for a passage in a book I read almost twenty years ago:* THINE IN STORM AND CALM: AN AMANDA MCKITTRICK ROS READER, edited by Frank Ormsby [1988]. This collection of excerpts from the various books by a writer of legendary awfulness, of the 'It-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night' variety interested me because various accounts of the Inklings mention how the group occasionally, when conversation lagged or no one had brought any work-in-progress to read, would pass around and read aloud from McKittrick Ros's IRENE IDDLESLEIGH, which was to prose fiction what McGonagall's 'Bridge of the Silvery Tay' was to verse. Supposedly the challenge was to see if anyone could read a whole chapter without cracking up -- a feat eventually achieved by young John Wain on Th. Nov. 28th, 1946 [Warnie Lewis, BROTHERS & FRIENDS, p. 197].

What I had not known from such accounts, however, was that Lewis had a personal (if indirect) connection with Ros. However, back when I first read Ormsby's book I came across the following letter by McKittrick Ros, reproduced on page 141, that seems suggestive:

8 December 1905
It has just come to my notice that you have the Tinker-like impertinence to send me the enclosed. Would you be surprised to know that I don't owe Porter one cent? If not, I'm here to inform you. What importation are you, by the bye? I thought Belfast already stuffed with such priggish prey. And you demand my damned 2/6 for writing 'THIS' piece of toilet paper. Well, I wouldn't give you 2/6 for all the WC requisites in Belfast, and solicitors included, mark you -- for I hold that all trash emanating from such 'would be's' fit for no other purpose, therefore I return it, inasmuch as you presumably have as much call for it as I, thanks ARFULLY. If such PUPS as you would mind their own business and not stick your nose into that of a lady's, I consider that you would have quite enough to do, and more than enough. I am quite content to transact my own business without the intervention of such noodles and if I were as near you now as I am to my pen, I'd give your neck a twist you'd probably remember. Whisper -- do YOU owe anything? If so, go and pay it. Just let Mrs Ros alone, she neither regards you nor all the bloodhounds in Britain one diluted damn . . .

The source for this is given as "Quoted by Jack Loudan in O RARE AMANDA!, page 99" -- i.e., from Loudan's 1954 biography of McKittrick Ros.

Now, there were probably a lot of people named Lewis in Belfast in 1905. And there were probably any number of solicitors. But we do know of one specific solicitor named Lewis who was practicing in Belfast in 1905: Albert Lewis, CSL & Warnie's father. If, as I suspect, this letter by Ros was written to Lewis Sr., it might help explain how his sons found out about both the book and Ros's savant-loopiness. And, I might add, that Albert L. found such a blast against him funny and didn't take it personally, which must have been the case for it to have been preserved, reflects well on him.

--John R.
current reading: TALES BEFORE NARNIA
current audio 'book': THE HISTORY OF ANCIENT EGYPT by Bob Brier

*[#II.1423, Sat. Dec 1st thr Mon. Dec 3rd, 1990]

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