Tuesday, June 16, 2015

So That's Where That Is! (a book from CSL's library)

So, it's well known that when C. S. Lewis was dying, he let some of his closest friends take a book or two from his library to remember him by. So far as I know no one made a list of who took which books, though the remainder of his collection (those his brother Warnie didn't want) were sold as a lot to a school and some of these were identified years later and are now in the Wade.

I therefore took note when I came across what seems to be a reference to one of those books Lewis gave away, which I thought I'd share here for those interested in such things.

The book in question is by Charles Williams, the first of his theological books (the first to be published, anyway):  HE CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN (1938). Alice Mary Hadfield, in her biography of Williams, notes that

On the flyleaf of C. S. Lewis's copy of He Came Down 
From Heaven, in Charles's hand, is written 'At Shirreffs, 
2.10, 4th July 1938'. He must have been spending a lunch
-hour with Lewis at his favourite restaurant-bar,* Shirreffs,
 at the bottom of Ludgate Hill, under the railway bridge
 across the road from the King Lud pub, and have given
 him a copy of this new book to read in the train home. 
At the end of his copy Lewis wrote 'July 26 1938', 
probably the date when he finished his reading and 
making notes. Sadly, Shirreffs has gone, and the site 
no longer holds a restaurant 
[Hadfield p. 164-165]

Hadfield's source for this is identified in a note on p. 245: 'By courtesy of Mr. George Sayer.'

If follows, then, that Sayer must have Lewis's copy of this book, and it seems likely that he was given it by Lewis himself.

As it happens, we have Sayer's own account of that event, in his biography of Lewis (JACK: C. S. LEWIS AND HIS TIMES), in which Sayer describes making as his initial pick George MacDonald's UNSPOKEN SERMONS, which Lewis was apparently too attached to to be able to let go, hence Sayer "hastily withdrew my choice and asked to be allowed to have something else" (JACK p. 249). That 'something else' now looks likely to have been the Charles Williams book -- an odd choice, I shd have thought, for Sayer. As Chuck Berry says, it just goes to show you just can't tell.

--John R.

P.S.: By the way, Lewis himself left an account of this lunch-meeting in his Preface to ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS (p. viii):

[During the period 1936-1939] There were many meetings
 both in my rooms at Magdalen and in Williams's tiny office
 at Amen House. Neither Mr. Dyson nor my brother, Major 
W. H. Lewis, will forget a certain immortal lunch at Shirreff's
 in 1938 (he gave me a copy of He Came Down From Heaven
 and we ate kidneys 'enclosed', like the wicked man, 'in their
 own fat') nor the almost Platonic discussion which followed
 for about two hours in St. Paul's churchyard.

--thus we know not only that two more Inklings were in attendance (Hugo Dyson and Warnie) but even what they ate! Happenstance rarely preserves so much; a pity that in documentaries on the Inklings we see so many re-creations of CSL's midnight walk with Tolkien and Dyson and none, so far as I am aware, of this lunchtime meeting.



David Bratman said...

It's delightful, isn't it, to notice this connection? Lewis's reference to the book makes the link to the book itself, the inscription in which gives us the exact date of the lunch, something we'd otherwise never have known. And proof that Lewis did, in the 1936-39 period, go to London to see Williams at least occasionally. I noted this connection in my article on Dyson in Mythlore 82 (1997), p. 25-26.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear David

Yes, it was a wonderful feeling to see how the information in Hadfield synced up with the oblique account in Sayer, then how both fit into what Lewis had to say. And how fortuitous that it was this particular lunch meeting Lewis happened to mention out of what were apparently several over that three-year period. From one account we learn the exact date; from another who all was present* and even what they had to eat; from a third how the book came to be in Sayer's possession.

It's rare, and gratifying, when things from different sources fit together so well.

I wonder where that particular book is now -- I hadn't heard of Sayer's collection being dispersed, nor of its being acquired.

--John R.

*though that may be making an assumption; I find myself wondering if we can be certain that Hopkins wasn't at that little gathering as well.