Sunday, March 6, 2016

Charles Williams: The Lost Letter (part six: Appendix B)

So, this appendix is short enough that I thought of blending it in with Appendix A or perhaps with Appendix C.  But I decided in the end it's best if it's given a post of its own. That's because the point of this Appendix is to focus attention upon someone who tends to get overlooked, time and time again, in biographies of CW and studies of his work: Raymond Hunt. Without Hunt, much of Wms scholarship wd be impossible: he's the one who preserved the text of Wms' letters (including the famous first letter from CSL to CW, where the name "Inkling" first appears) and much else besides. 

So here's my brief tribute to the man who preserved so much of Wms' work, without whom much of present-day Wms scholarship wd be impossible, or at least sorely impoverished.



Hunt’s importance to Williams scholarship is so great that I would argue that to fully understand Charles Williams, you have to know who Raymond Hunt was, and the role he was appointed to play in Williams’s story.
Briefly, Lewis considered Williams one of the two or three greatest poets of the twentieth century, and his Taliessin cycle to be one of the greatest works of literature of the century, and Williams agreed with that assessment. Yet despite a few favorable mentions here and there, in the years leading up to his big breakthrough in 1938–39, Williams’s work had notably failed to attract any significant attention—so much so that at one point R.W. Chapman, the Secretary of Oxford University Press (e.g., the man in charge of its Oxford office) half-jokingly asked Humphrey Milford (the Publisher, or head of the London office, and Williams’s immediate boss) “How CAN we put CW over? Shall we try announcing him as the most unsalable of all Oxford authors?” (Hadfield 79; earlier Hadfield had noted that one of his books of poems sold 198 copies; the next, 126 [Hadfield 31]). Given this lack of appreciation for his work, long before Lewis began championing it Williams had taken steps to remedy matters. Most significantly, he appointed his own biographer, Raymond Hunt, who was to produce an authorized critical biography after Williams’s death that would establish Williams’s importance as a major literary figure of his time. Accordingly, Williams passed along to Hunt any letters he received from literary figures, such as Yeats or Eliot. In fact, it is to Hunt that we owe the preservation of Lewis’s first letter to Williams, which contains the first known mention by name of The Inklings, this being one of the testimonials Williams passed along to Hunt for eventual use in the planned biography. [Note 23]
In the event Hunt compiled all the necessary relevant materials —a massive archive of thousands of pages, including a transcription of virtually  every talk Williams ever gave and extensive notes taken at the many lecture- series he taught in London night schools—but in the end failed to produce the biography, possibly because the skills required to collect and preserve an author’s works are different from those needed to write a biography. [Note 24]  However, with the enthusiastic aid of Margaret Douglas, who turned out to be indefatigable in pursuit of Williams material, he preserved a vast amount of material [Note 25]  that would otherwise have been irretrievably lost—including the eight-page [Note 26] letter Answers to C.S. Lewis that Hunt was able to establish Williams had written on December 3rd and/or 4th, 1938 (described by Hunt as “a week-end job”), which comprises pages 3597 through 3606 of Volume XIX of Hunt’s archive (Raymond Hunt to Margaret Douglas, letter of 2 March 1942; Wade CW folder 299).


23 Cf. Walter Hooper’s note to Lewis’s letter of 11 March 1936 (Collected Letters II 183), although Hooper there identifies the typist (mistakenly, I believe) as Williams himself.

24 An additional complication might lie in the fact that control of Williams’s estate rested in the hands of his widow, Florence† (‘Michal’), for whom any mention of her husband’s infatuation with Phyllis Jones was anathema:
[T]here were certain areas into which it was perilous to trespass. . . . [S]he felt . . .  the guardianship of her husband’s literary reputation had been stolen from her by certain of his friends . . . : she could be both sorrowful and devastatingly caustic on that topic. . . . [W]hen stung into bitter recollections by the publication of some reference, however delicate, to his other love, she . . . was withering. (Cavaliero 6–7)
[I]t could not be said that a great deal of love was lost between her and the group of people whom she regarded as having connived at his love affair with someone else. . . .  Total rage against Phillida burned in her most, but not all, of the time. When it was not burning it was nonexistent. One never knew with Michal, from one moment to the next, which Michal she was deciding to be. I used to say that, with one exception, Charles was the strangest human being I had ever met in my life: the one exception was Michal. (Lang-Sims 19)
This attitude must have placed Hunt in the unenviable position of being committed to write a biography in which he would either be unable to refer to what Williams believed the most important event in his life—his Beatrician moment of falling in love with Phyllis Jones—or, if he did include this side of Williams’s life, be forbidden by the estate from quoting anything Williams had written.
†Williams had named Florence his sole executrix in his will, dated 3 May 1927.
25 Hunt himself estimated his archive to contain “twenty five million recorded words” (Hunt to Douglas, letter of 2nd March 1942; CW folder 299).
26 The surviving typed versions of this letter at Wheaton† range from seven (MS CW-2, MS CW–415) to eight (MS CW–166) pages and bear varying titles, such as “Notes for C.S. Lewis” (CW–166 and CW–415) or “Answers to Questions from C.S. Lewis” (CW-2). Hunt, who had access to the twenty-page handwritten original,†† titles his transcription Answers to C.S. Lewis, which I have accordingly adopted.
†at least one more copy, which I have not consulted, survives in the Bodleian.
††Hunt to Douglas, letter of 2 March 1942. Cf. Lewis’s account of the “extremely small, loose sheets” upon which Williams liked to compose, which Lewis describes as coming from “a twopenny pad” (Torso 2).

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