Tuesday, November 7, 2017

John Wain (II) -- Lewis's 'Absurd Delusion'

(Wain, continued)

In addition to describing the place and the people who ran it,* Wain devotes most of his piece to talking about the Inklings. I've been wondering for some time why, of all the pubs  in Oxford, did Lewis and Tolkien fix upon the Eagle and Child rather than some place nearer to Tolkien's or CSL's colleges (Pembroke then Merton and Magdalene, respectively). Wain gives as his opinion that Lewis et al chose the Eagle and Child for their weekly meetings for two important reasons. First, that it was an ordinary place, not fancy. In a memorable phrase, Wain writes of Lewis that "He liked ordinary men, and indeed was under the absurd delusion that he was one himself.' I think this might become one of my favorite lines describing Lewis: both insightful and touching.

Second, it was convenient for Havard, whose office was just up the street, and also to the Taylorian, where Wms lectured.

I had known about Dr. Havard's clinic, and for a while now have considered it likely to have been the deciding factor, but not connected the dots about it being so close to where Williams wd be lecturing. Wain is helpful here, as after speculating on why they chose where to meet, he reveals discovering, when still an undergraduate, why the when as well:

Only gradually did I come to realize that there was a regular pattern to these Lewisian visits in that they always took place on a Tuesday at noon. What focused this fact for me was a sense of annoyance that I could not attend Tolkien's weekly lecture on Beowulf without missing Charles Williams on Milton, or Wordsworth's Prelude, or Shakespeare -- these were his three usual subjects. I wanted to attend Williams's lectures because I found them torrentially stimulating; I wanted to attend Tolkien's because I thought they might provide me with something to write down in my Schools paper on Anglo-Saxon literature, a hope that in the end was disappointed, for he was largely inaudible beyond the first row and, if one did manage to catch a few words, almost dementedly solipsistic.

'It's a nuisance', I remarked to Lewis at one tutorial, 'that Tolkien and Charles Williams always seem to lecture at the same time.'

'Yes, Tuesday at eleven,' he replied composedly. 'It's so they can meet at the Bird and Baby at twelve.'

I was evidently meant to gather from this that the requirements of civilized conversation among men of letters had legitimate priority over the requirements of pedagogy, a lesson that was not lost to me. All the same, I noticed that Lewis himself did not lecture on Tuesday at eleven. He took a lot of trouble with his lectures and I believe the capacity audiences he drew were a gratification to him, surely a legitimate one. He had no wish to clash with a crowd-puller like Williams.

Leaving aside Wain's dismissal of Tolkien as a teacher, which I think unfair, this does give some idea of Williams at his peak at Oxford,** and an interesting juxtaposition of Wms vs. Lewis as lecturers, a subject I'd like to know more about.

(to be continued)

--John R.
--current reading: THE PROUD TOWER by Barbara Tuchman (my first time reading one of her books); THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS (re-reading for a project); and A WALK IN WOLF WOOD by Mary Stewart (a gift long ago from Jim Pietrusz).

*One interesting miscellaneous detail: Wain reveals that Blagrove had originally been a horse-cab driver, in the days when such things, now remembered chiefly for their appearance in the Sherlock Holmes stories, still existed.

**Wain was a great admirer of Wms and had little use for Tolkien either as a writer or, it seems, an academic.

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