Friday, March 25, 2016

Nostalgic for Evil

So, I have to admit there are some things I just don't get. Case in point: I was in the airport early yesterday morning, getting tea from Dilettante to fill my thermos for the trip ahead. While waiting for them to fill my order, I looked at the the various items they had on the counter, including small take-away bags of various brews of coffee. One was the Habsburg blend, another the Romanov blend.

My puzzlement is why anyone would want to name anything after those two royal (imperial) houses. For their part, the Habsburgs were perhaps the most hapless of the various royal houses of Europe in the last few centuries (just ask Emperor Maximillian): not sure why that would conjure up cozy memories for anyone. As for the Romanovs, anyone who's forgotten just how horrible the czars were just needs to look up the word 'pogrom'. If you're going to go that route, why not call it Stalin's Cup of Joe?

--John R.
--in Little Rock, soaking up the ambiance at the last Barnes & Noble/Starbucks for many, many miles.

P.S.: I see from checking online that they also offer a Bohemian blend, which sounds much more benign.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Birmingham's Folly (Perriot's Tower)

So, thanks to Brad Eden for the forwarded link, and Nancy Martsch for the recent article in BEYOND BREE (Feb. issue, p. 5), both about Perrott's Folly. An interesting building in its own right, this is a brick tower in the Edgbaston part of Birmingham, near where Tolkien grew up. In recent years this has been claimed to be the inspiration for one of JRRT's 'Two Towers' from the book of the same name. The only problem is that there's no evidence whatsoever that this is the case. It's testimony to Tolkien's popularity that folks try to attach things to his name, whether it's a golden ring (the so-called 'Ring of Silvianus') or an old tower.

I must confess that when I heard the local authorities were holding meetings to decide what to be done with the tower, I had fantasies of Tolk. folk. running a Kickstarter to rent the tower for a set period (a week, a month, whatever), and hang from it a great big banner that read

This Neat Old Tower
Has Nothing Whatsoever
 To Do With J. R. R. Tolkien

--Ah well. A scholar can dream, can't he?

Here's the link: the link-within-the-link shows some interesting detail about the tower's interior -- though my acrophobia's bad enough that I know I cdn't ever climb the interior stair and these pictures are the closest I'll ever come to see it.$sitewide%20p$4

--John R.

The Unopened Book

So, the Nodens paper proceeds, having finally arrived at Arthur Machen -- the point at which Nodens transitions over from being a forgotten god once worshipped in the real world to being a fictional character used by authors like Machen, Ellis, and Lovecraft.

The next stage is to look at the plays (operas) by Thomas Evelyn Ellis, based on the MABINOGION (making him one of the first authors in English to adapt the medieval Welsh stories from the Four Branches into modern English -- earlier even than Kenneth Morris). The plays were originally published separately, but I have the omnibus edition of all three in one volume, called THE CAULDRON OF ANNWN, a privately printed limited edition signed by the author (mine is copy #72 out of a total of 250.

The dilemma is that I need to read the book and it's never been opened. By this I mean that each gathering of the pages are still attached together at the top and sometimes side of pages. Books used to come like this, and you cut the pages apart as you read.*  Nowadays books are trimmed (so the margins are all smooth and the same size) and opened (so each page is only attached on the side of the binding). Some previous owner of my copy seems to have read the first play but abandoned the book without ever making his or her way through the second and third plays. So in order to read them I'll have to cut apart what's remained in its original condition for the better part of a century. Once done, it can never be undone. But books are meant to be read, and I bought this one because I wanted to read what Ellis had to say, not to decorate a shelf.

I wonder how many other copies of this old book survive (most of them, I shd think) and how many remain unopened and unread to this day (an unknown quantity).

--John R.
current reading: various bits by and about Arthur Machen
current audiobook: still DODGER by Terry Pratchett, getting near the end.
the new arrivals: the vellum edition of TIME AND THE GODS, signed by both Dunsany and Sime (not the best of Dunsany's eight early collections, but the reproduction of the artwork here is incredible), and the third of Kel Richards' C. S. Lewis, Detective' series.

*(Samuel Johnson was notorious for using a butter knife alternately to butter bread and cut the pages of books his friends had loaned him)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Voice of Gilgamesh

So, thanks to Wolf Baur and the good folks over at Kobold Press for this one: last week they posted a link to a bit of audio in which someone reads a passage from THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH in the original Akkadian.* The effect is quite interesting. Here's the link. Recommended.

--John R.
current audiobook: DODGER by Terry Pratchett
current reading: bits and pieces, including The Welsh Triads (ed/tr Rachel Bromwich)

*Although the original original would of course be Sumerian.** I'm not sure if they know how Sumerian was pronounced, but I love to hear their best guess. For one thing, Sumerian isn't related to any known language. Unlike, say, Akkadian, which is one of the Afro-Asiatic language groups (like the Indo-European group), and thus related in varying degrees to  Egyptian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Coptic, Aramaic, and Arabic. So while foreign to an English-speaker's ear, it nevertheless fits in with some familiar-if-exotic category. Being outside that frame of reference, Sumerian, I suspect, would sound very odd indeed.

**And, of course, the 'epic of Gilgamesh', while v. old, is centuries later than the Sumerian poems, in which the hero's name is Bilgames. It took me years to find out that the EPIC OF GILGAMESH I sought out and read in high school and again in college and once or twice since was not a translation but a modern re-telling presented as translation. For the real thing (complete with ellipses where there's damage to the original tablets), see Andrew George's 1999 translation (available since 2000 thr. Penguin Classics.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Last Survivor

So, I saw a news item this week that the last survivor of the Abe Lincoln Brigade has died at the advanced age of a hundred. The Spanish Civil War is remembered as a nasty one, which is saying something in the context of a century filled with horrific wars, but it's good to remember that it inspired a good deal of idealism too, albeit idealism that for the most part came to a nasty end.*

The war itself has largely slipped out of public memory -- there was nothing at all about it in the high school history books I was taught from back in the 70s, and precious little in college.**  My own knowledge of it is piecemeal, from its effects on various twentieth century figures: from reading Orwell's HOMAGE TO CATALONIA (the classic account of what it was like to fight in defense of the Spanish Republic), Quentin Bell's biography of his aunt Virginia Woolf (whose nephew, Quentin's own brother, died there), Auden (who was briefly there as an observer),  Norman Bethune (who invented the battlefield blood transfusion there), Evelyn Waugh (who sympathized with Franco but advocated a hands off approach), and most notably the despicable Roy Campbell, who enthusiastically supported Franco's coup and the fascist state Franco succeeded in installing in power. The war fits in memorably in the final scene of Sir Peter Jackson's  FORGOTTEN SILVER: the subject of his documentary ends his life on a Spanish battlefield while filming the war.

It even briefly intrudes into Inklings studies in the exchange between CSL and Campbell, with Tolkien's sympathies very much with Campbell: the one case I can think of where I think Lewis was right and Tolkien was wrong.

Here's the link:


current reading: just finished HOMER'S ODYSSEY by Gwen Cooper (the story of a blind cat); just begun TESSA VERNEY WHEELER biography by L. C. Carr (2012)
current audiobook: DODGER by Sir Terry Pratchett.

*Oddly enough, I found out years ago while doing some reading up on South Africa that something similar had happened several decades earlier. It's forgotten today that volunteers from America and elsewhere (including czarist Russia!) came and fought for the Boers, so unpopular was the British land-grab officially known as the Second Boer War. A truly forgotten piece of history, like our invasion of Russia in 1919 or our having lost the War of 1812.

**for example, how many people hearing Billy Joel's "Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway" (from his collection of early pieces, SONGS IN THE ATTIC) understood what he was talking about when he sang

"They burned the churches up in Harlem
Like in the Spanish civil war"

Friday, March 11, 2016

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

This is sad news: Keith Emerson, keyboardist extraordinaire, has died at the age of 71.

EMERSON, LAKE, & PALMER's work was uneven: like many other experimental musicians. At their worst they slipped over into the self-indulgent. But at their best they were unmatched: no one's ever done this kind of music better.

Especially Emerson, who explored the range of what you cd do with a Moog synthesizer (the answer is: quite a lot, creating all kinds of interesting musical soundscapes).

TARKUS, their second record, remains my favorite album.* Bar none. I have no idea how many thousands of times I've listened to it, and I still love it. I still have the somewhat-worse-for-wear record I bought from my cousin Sam decades ago, though these days I listen to it on cd or via iTune; just a few days ago I pulled the cd out to listen to it yet again.

Emerson was also responsible for my second-favorite piece from the group: Emerson's Piano Concerto #1, which remains my favorite piece of modern classical music (that is, new music written in the classical orchestral  idiom).

It was a long time ago, and his triumphs were in the past, but I remain grateful and am sorry to see him go.

--John R.

*side A that is, the twenty-plus minute 'Tarkus' itself, as opposed to the grab-bag of unrelated bits that make up side B.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

An Inklings Tee for Tea

So, thanks to friend Steven for sending me the following link via Janice.

What interests me most about this design is that it includes the name of most, but not all, of the Inklings, plus one more who's usually not included in the group (although several Inklings scholars, such as Doug Anderson, have argued for his inclusion):

Tolkien, Lewis, Barfield, Williams, Christopher Tolkien, Warnie Lewis, Roger Lancelyn Green, Adam Fox, Hugo Dyson, Robert Havard,  J. A. W. Bennett, Lord David Cecil, Nevill Coghill

I cd quibble (why 'Hugo' for Dyson but Robert rather than 'Humphrey' for Havard?), but then there's a limit to how pedantic I want to get over a t-shirt. Besides, it's an attractive design (unfortunately didn't see the artist's name anywhere); I'll probably be picking one of these up.

So, thanks to Steven and Janice for the link.

--John R

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why Did Lewis Want to Become Professor of Poetry?

So, lately I've been puzzling over something that I'd never really questioned before: why did CSL want to become Oxford's Professor of Poetry?  At the time I first read about this in Carpenter and Hooper/Green it didn't seem at all odd: CSL was a fellow, roughly the equivalent of an associate professor in terms of the US system, meaning that he had tenure but did not belong to the top-ranking  tier within the faculty. But gradually I came to learn that the Professorship of Poetry is an unusual one at Oxford. For one thing, all the other professorships are lifetime appointments, held until the occupant retires, or resigns (as when Tolkien left the Pembroke chair for the Merton one), or dies. That's not the case with the Professor of Poetry, who's only appointed for a five-year term.*

Among the possibilities:

1. Lewis sought the promotion because he thought the prestige of the position might improve his chance of gaining a permanent professorship, either concurrently with the post (which had only nominal duties of giving three lectures a year) or subsequent to it.

2. Lewis needed the extra money that came with the position, being in financial straits over the cost of dealing with Janie Moore's dementia and declining health, which eventually led to her being institutionalized for the last few months of her life.

3. Lewis who had strong views on poetry, especially modern poetry, wanted the bully pulpit the
 Professor of Poetry provided.

Of these, the first might seem more likely, except that there doesn't seem to be much precedent for it having so benefited previous holders of the chair. The second is complicated by the fact that I'm not at all sure it came with any money at all -- Grevil Lindop in his new biography of Charles Williams says the position was unpaid (THE THIRD INKLING p. 410). But then he's speaking of the mid-forties, and things might have changed by the early fifties, when Lewis ran.**  The third almost certainly played some part, but I think it's impossible to say how large a part. But if so, why did Lewis leave the campaigning in the hands of the irascible Hugo Dyson?

I'd like to get a better read on this, because the Professor of Poetry-ship actually looms large in the Inklings story. Two Inklings, Adam Fox and John Wain, actually held the position. Lewis ran for it, narrowly losing what seems to have been a bitterly contested election.  Williams thought he had a good chance at gaining it when he retired (I think this unlikely, but in the event he died before ever running so we'll never know). So too did Barfield, who in a few late interviews wistfully mentions having thought it was all set up for him to take up the post upon his retirement, only to have the prospect fade away (did Lewis really think he cd get Barfield elected to the post?)***

So, a puzzle. Presumably over time bits and pieces will fall into place, making it easier to understand this part of Lewis's life. But for now, for me it continues to be an odd episode.

--John R

*so far as I know, there's nothing to prevent someone from being re-elected, but I don't think that's ever actually occurred -- at least, it hasn't in the whole twentieth century (before that most folks held the post for about a decade).

 **Nowadays it brings in around seven thousand pounds a year, according to wikipedia, which is more like a large honorarium than a salary.

***actually I think Barfield wd have been a brilliant choice, but an extraordinarily unlikely one, given his low profile; he only came into his own in his old age, by which point all his Oxford contacts were gone).

If he took the post, what are the chances it'd help him get his own poetry published?

(JDR: I hadn't thought of that, and given how badly Lewis wanted to be a major poet, and how he'd republished his awful early book DYMER the year before (1950), I think this may well have been a major factor)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Charles Williams: The Lost Letter (part eight: Appendix D)

So, here's the final bit of my Williams lecture, which I hope folks have enjoyed. It was an interesting, immersive process to write it, and I was unsure what reception it might get at the MythCon. I was much relieved when it went down well.

For this posting on the blog I've resisted the urge to go back and improve the piece, though there are some addendum I might add. 

In any case, here's the final Appendix plus the bibliography.



When Lewis says that he ranks Williams’s Arthuriad (by which he means both Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars considered together as one work) among the “two or three” best books of poetry of the century, the phrasing implies, to me at any rate, that Lewis had specific works in mind and, if asked, could readily have named them. As it turns out, we can identify one of the other works Lewis rated as highly as he did Williams’s Arthuriad, because he uses almost exactly the same terminology of praise to describe it: Edith Sitwell’s Sleeping Beauty (1924). Lewis wrote in 1955
I must read the Taliessin cycle again. I hope I shall still put it easily top of the only three modern long poems that I admire. The other two are Edith Sitwell’s Sleeping Beauty and W. Penn Warren’s (an American) Brother to Dragons. The Sitwell is v. fantastic and musical, the Warren grim and realistic. [Note 33] (CSL, letter of 27/9/55; Collected Letters III 650)
That would seem to be that, except that Robert Penn Warren’s book was first published in 1953, and thus Lewis could not have been thinking of it when writing his praise of Williams in 1947. Other possible contenders, predating the Penn Warren, might be Robert Frost, whom we know Lewis greatly admired [Note 34] but whose work can hardly be thought of as a ‘modern long poem,’ or perhaps W.B. Yeats, the poet who influenced him the most (Spirits in Bondage, Lewis’s first book, being quite a good imitation of Yeats, in manner if not in message)—but again, someone not known for working in the long poem form.
Reading the Sitwell, however, raises doubts, because far from a hidden masterpiece it turns out to be word-salad: page after page of doggerel worthy of the great William McGonagall himself (he of ‘the bridge of the silvery Tay’).
Like crystal-clear wysteria
After the storm’s hysteria . . .

The farm-pond, fruitish-soft and ripe
Was smooth as a daguerreotype (36)

Individual lines are likewise remarkable for their inanity:
Wanders a little cold pig-snouted breeze (50)
The crude pink stalactites of rain (91)
stars like empty wooden nuts (93)
If Lewis is putting this forward as the stuff of greatness, and ranking it with Williams’s work, then we are left with two possibilities.
The first is that Lewis was an absolutely hopeless judge of poetry, savoring Sitwell’s gibberish and the “thicket of obscurities” (to again borrow the Zaleskis’s apt phrase; Fellowship 433) that make up the Taliessin poems while querulously denouncing the great poets of his era like Eliot, or Pound, or Dylan Thomas, or Auden. If I may be heretical for a moment, given Lewis’s implacable opposition to Modernism and disdain for most of the great poets of his lifetime, it is perhaps fortunate after all that he never gained the chair of Professor of Poetry. Although it would have raised his prestige within the university and increased his income, it would also have given him a platform from which to denounce modern poetry in favor of writers like Sitwell and Williams, which in turn I believe would have done serious damage to Lewis’s own standing as a critic.
The second possibility is that Lewis is putting us on: that praising Sitwell and Williams is like declaring McGonagall the greatest poet of his time. We know that Lewis savored unreadable authors precisely for their ineptitude (most famously Amanda McKittrick Ros and her Irene Iddesleigh), but I have to say if he anywhere gives any hint that he is ever less than sincere in his admiration for Williams, both as a person and as a writer, I missed it.

33 Robert Penn Warren, whose first name Lewis seems not to have known despite his avowed admiration for his verse, is better known as the author of All the King’s Men (1946) and for his participation in the anti-Civil Rights manifesto I’ll Take My Stand (1930). Brother to Dragons tells the story of a lurid murder of a slave by a cousin of Meriwether Lewis (and nephew of Thomas Jefferson) and its consequences. The work was heavily revised in 1979, but it would have been the original version, published in 1953, which Lewis praises so highly. 
34 Not only do Lewis’s letters make occasional appreciative comments about Frost (e.g., Collected Letters III.462, 469, 1224), but Lewis expressed deep regret when, owing to a slipped disk, he missed a chance to see Frost in person: 
I am most disappointed. He is one of the few living poets for whom I feel something like reverence (855)
Furthermore, as Jason Fisher recently discovered (Lingwe, post of 8 April 2015), when Lewis had the chance to propose two authors for the Nobel Prize, the two he chose were Tolkien and Frost. Given the high regard in which he is known to have held his old friend Tolkien, this confirms his high opinion of Frost as well. 

Carpenter, Humphrey. The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.
Carroll, Lewis. The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits. 1876. Facsimile edition. New York City: Mayflower Books, 1980.
Cavaliero, Glen. ed. "Charles Williams on Taliessin Through Logres." Gnomon. issue number one (Fall 1965). 37–45.
—. Introduction and Notes. Letters to Lalage: The Letters of Charles Williams to Lois Lang-Sims. Kent and London: Kent State University Press, 1989. 1-14, 87-89.
Crispin, Edmund (Bruce Montgomery). Swan Song. 1947 New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2006. [Gervase Fen series]
Dodds, David Llewellyn, ed. Arthurian Poets: Charles Williams. Woodbridge & Cambridge: The Boydell Press, 1991.
—. “Continuity and Change in the Development of Charles Williams’s Poetic Style.” In The Rhetoric of Vision: Essays on Charles Williams. Ed. Charles A. Huttar and Peter J. Schakel. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1996. 192-214.
Donne, John. Meditation XVII. Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. 1623. 9 July 2015.
Dorsett, Lyle W. "The Biographies of Charles Williams: Some Suggestions". Canadian C. S. Lewis Journal (No. 85, Spring 1994). 25–48.
Eliot, T.S. Introduction. 1948. In All Hallows’ Eve. By Charles Williams. 1945. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981. xi–xviii.
Fisher, Jason. “More on Tolkien and the Nobel Prize.” 8 Apr. 2015.
22 Aug. 2015.
Gilbert, R.A. The Golden Dawn: Twilight of the Magicians. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1983.
—. A.E. Waite: Magician of Many Parts. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: Crucible, 1987.
Glyer, Diana Pavlac. The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 2007.
Hadfield, Alice Mary. Charles Williams: An Exploration of His Life and Work. New York & Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983.
Havard, Robert E. (‘Humphrey’). Oral history interview with Dr. Lyle W. Dorsett, July 26th 1984. Totland Bay, Isle of Wight.

—. “Philia: Jack at Ease.” In C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences. Ed. James T. Como. New York: Macmillan, 1979. 215-228.
Hunt, Raymond. Letter to Margaret Douglas, 2nd March 1942. Wade Center Charles Williams collection, folder CW 299.
Lang-Sims, Lois. Letters to Lalage: The Letters of Charles Williams to Lois Lang-Sims. Kent and London: Kent State UP, 1989.
Larkin, Phillip, ed. The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973.
—. Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1940–1985. Ed. Anthony Thwaite. London: Faber & Faber, 1992.
Lewis. C. S. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. Ed. Walter Hooper. Volume II: Books, Broadcasts, and the War: 1931–1949. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.
—. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. Ed. Walter Hooper. Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy: 1950–1963. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.
—. Preface. Essays Presented to Charles Williams. Ed. C. S. Lewis. London: Oxford UP, 1947. v-xiv.
—. Williams and the Arthuriad. In Arthurian Torso. Ed. C. S. Lewis. London: Oxford UP, 1948. 93-200.
Mascall, Eric L. “Charles Williams as I Knew Him.” In Charles Williams: A Celebration. Ed. Brian Horne. Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing, 1995. 1-5.
Rateliff, John D. “‘And Something Yet Remains to be Said’: Tolkien and Williams.” Mythlore 12.3 (#45) (1986) 48–54. Previously appeared in Proceedings of Mythcon XVI, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, 1985. Ed. Diana Pavlac (The Mythopoeic Society: 1985). 271–86.
Ridler, Anne. Editorial comments on “Notes on the Arthurian Myth.” In The Image of the City and Other Essays. By Charles Williams. Ed. Anne Ridler. London: Oxford UP, 1958. 175-179.
Sitwell, Edith. The Sleeping Beauty. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1924.
The Taliessin Poems of Charles Williams, by Various Hands. Ed. Anne Ridler. Oxford: The Charles Williams Society, 1991. [Annotations and glosses of Williams’s poems; includes excerpts from Answers for C. S. Lewis].
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. Rev. ed. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
—. “Our Dear Charles Williams.” In The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends. By Humphrey Carpenter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979. 123-126.
Warren, Robert Penn. Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices. New York: Random House, 1953.
Williams, Charles. The Advent of Galahad. Ed. David Llewellyn Dodds. In Arthurian Poets: Charles Williams. Woodbridge & Cambridge: The Boydell Press, 1991. 163-251.
—. Answers for C.S. Lewis. Unpublished. Wade Center, Charles Williams manuscript collection, CW MS-2.
—. The Figure of Arthur. In Arthurian Torso. Ed. C.S. Lewis. London: Oxford UP, 1948. 5-90.
—. Heroes and Kings. Illustrated by Norman Janes. London: The Sylvan Press, 1930. [Privately printed limited edition (300 copies).]
—. “Notes on the Arthurian Myth.” In The Image of the City and Other Essays. By Charles Williams. Ed. Anne Ridler. London: Oxford UP, 1958. 175-179.
—. Poetry at Present. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1930.
—. The Region of the Summer Stars. London: Nicholson & Watson, 1944. [PL: Editions Poetry London series]
—. Taliessin through Logres. London: Oxford UP, 1938.
—. To Michal from Serge: Letters from Charles Williams to His Wife, Florence, 1939–1945Ed. Roma A. King, Jr. Kent & London: Kent State UP, 2002.
Williams, Oscar, ed. A Pocket Book of Modern Verse: English and American Poetry of the Last Hundred Years from Walt Whitman to Dylan Thomas. New York: Washington Square Press, 1954.
Zaleski, Philip and Zaleski, Carol. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Charles Williams: The Lost Letter (part seven: Appendix C)

So, getting near the end now, here's the third of the appendices. Again I've given it a post of its own since I consider it a major point. 

This section might well have been called "Williams and Larkin" and provides a glimpse into the way Wms came across to those who were not won over by this eccentric charisma. After all, not everybody who goes to a literary lecture is pleased to find himself or herself to captive audience of a sermon instead.



C.S. Lewis compared Charles Williams to an angel, [Note 27]  while T.S. Eliot said meeting him was like being in the presence of a living saint. [Note 28]  I think, in view of the evidence that has emerged through letters and memoirs in the years since his death, some of which has been highlighted in this paper, that this characterization is, in the words of Lewis Carroll, “a sentiment open to doubt.”
Clearly Williams had some sort of personal magnetism that tremendously impressed some people: Lewis, Sayers, Auden, Wain. But whatever it was, it does not survive him; no trace of it carries over onto the printed page of his works. Perhaps it lay in the fact that Williams was filled with a sense that his life was significant, that what happened to him was terribly important. Thoreau may have thought most of us lead lives of quiet desperation, but such was not the case with Charles Williams, who sincerely believed he was the greatest poet since Dante, as well as a major Christian thinker who had found a way to set right what he saw as an imbalance in Christian thought and practice (between what he called ‘the Way of Affirmation’ and ‘the Way of Negation’) dating back almost two millennium. Then too there was his habit of referring to himself using the royal We (“The restoration of Milton criticism to its proper balance is but a side-accident of Our existence; not Our chief affair”), usually reserved for kings, archbishops, or God Himself. [Note 29]  And something of that enormous inner confidence seems to have greatly impressed some who met him, especially those who got drawn in and became part of his Company, while others remained unswayed and simply thought him pleasant company for an afternoon in a pub.
Perhaps Humphrey Havard put his finger on it when he described Williams as ‘a charming man’ (Havard interview 24) who listened to you with complete attention: “you were . . . attracted to him because he was so receptive to what you had to say” (ibid. 35). And just as clearly some people were immune to the spell: Havard himself, who called Williams’s poetry “of an obscurity beyond belief” (Havard, “Philia” 216); Tolkien (whose opinion of Williams changed greatly over the years); [Note 30]  and Warnie Lewis, all of whom enjoyed Williams’s company without having a high opinion of his work.
Lewis rhapsodizes about how rapt Oxford’s undergrads were at Williams’s lectures and how they hung on his every word (e.g. Collected Letters II.345–346), where what he sees as receptive fascination might just as easily be stunned incredulity. As it happens, we have a contemporary account from one of those students which gives a more plausible portrait of Williams than that projected by Lewis. Philip Larkin, who would eventually emerge as the great poet of his generation but was then an Oxford undergraduate, knew and liked Williams as a pub pal but had a very low opinion of his work. In Larkin’s words,
we [Larkin and his friend Bruce Montgomery, author of the famous quote ‘there goes C.S. Lewis; it must be Tuesday’] [Note 31]  had lunch in the King’s Arms with Charles Williams, who drank and wheezed and talked and beamed and produced proofs of his new poems and handed them round. I admire Charles Williams a good deal as a literary critic, and as a ‘Pillar of the Swiss’, as Dylan Thomas would spoonerise, but I don’t give a [expletive] for his poetry. This I endeavoured to conceal. (letter of 19 October 1943 to Kingsley Amis; Larkin Letters 79)
We can add to this contemporary account another from many years later, when Larkin came to read Carpenter’s The Inklings:
I have just got round to The Inklings, as it has come out in pback. Funny lot they were — Chas Wms crazy as a coot, bit gamey too. His lectures were always full of the wildest misquotations; the one
‘Tis chastity, my brother, chastity,
That fortress build by Nature herself
Against infection, and the hand of war . . . †
may be apocryphal, but I have personally heard him declaim ‘Oh, blind, blind, blind, amid the blaze of noon’.†† (letter of 13th March 1981; Larkin Letters 643)
†as Thwaite, editor of Larkin’s collected letters, points out, the first line here comes from Milton’s Comus, while the second and third lines are from Shakespeare’s Richard II; Williams has run them all together as if a single quote from a single source.
††again, Thwaite gives the correct reading as ‘Oh dark, dark, dark,’ again from Milton (Samson Agonistes).
From this emerges the idea of Williams as a somewhat comic figure: a funny little man who constantly misquotes poetry; good company over a drink but a terrible poet. This portrait is so different from that promulgated by Lewis et al. that the question arises whether any evidence exists to support it. And, as it turns out, the answer is an unqualified yes. For one thing, we also have to remember that Williams was not just an outsider at Oxford, a lover of poetry rather than an academician or scholar, but spoke in a Cockney accent, very much out of keeping with the usual Oxford manner. Carpenter briefly mentions “his curious accent” (Carpenter 102) and Lang-Sims “his odd accent” (Lang-Sims 31) but neither elaborates. Lewis calls it “rather a cockney voice” (Collected Letters II 501). E.L. Mascall is more specific in ‘Charles Williams as I Remember Him,’ in which he says as Williams read them the opening lines of Paradise Lost came out something like this:
Of that forbidden tree, ’ose moral tiste
Brort death into the world and all our wow . . .
Sing, ’eavenly muse, that on the sicred top (Mascall 2, emphasis mine)
while Wordsworth, as filtered through Wms, came out as
my heart leapt up when I be’eld a rinebow in the sky (ibid 3)

The accusation of constantly misquoting is curious, given that both Lewis and Eliot lay stress upon Williams’s facility with spontaneous and accurate quotation. In Lewis’s words, “Before he came I had passed for our best conduit of quotations: but he easily outstripped me” (EPCW xi), while Eliot even emphasizes the accuracy of such quotes: “he could declaim long quotations from one or another of his favourite poets, for his memory for poetry was prodigious and accurate” (Eliot, Introduction to All Hallows’ Eve xii; emphasis mine). But support for Larkin’s description of this personality quirk exists as well: in one of his last letters to Lang-Sims Williams quotes Shakespeare but again gets it wrong. [Note 32]

27 “not a feminine angel in the debased tradition of some religious art, but a masculine angel, a spirit burning with intelligence and charity” (EPCW ix).
28 “He seemed to me to approximate, more nearly than any man I have known familiarly, to the saint” (Carpenter 107). That statement was written in 1945 as part of a posthumous tribute (ibid 271) but Eliot had expressed the same opinion during Williams’s lifetime: in a 1940 letter to his wife Williams reports that Eliot had written him saying he thought Williams was “in a direct course towards beatification” (letter of 17 December 1940; Michal 101). 
29 Williams to Raymond Hunt, letter of 29 March 1941, cited in Carpenter (181, 274). Lang-Sims says that Williams used the royal We only when speaking as the head of the Order (Lang-Sims 37), but this is not altogether the case, as any reader of To Michal from Serge will discover. 
30 I have written elsewhere of Tolkien’s and Williams’s friendship, in my essay “‘And Something Yet Remains to be Said’: Tolkien and Williams,” first delivered at Mythcon XVI in Wheaton (July 1985), included in the Proceedings of said conference, and later published in Mythlore #45. 
31 Their reason for seeking out Williams was that each had written a first novel† and each hoped that Williams, who worked for a publisher, might read and recommend it (Larkin Letters 86–87). Montgomery’s The Case of the Gilded Fly was published, under the pseudonym of ‘Edmund Crispin,’ the next year (1944), while Larkin’s Jill was published the year after (1945). It is not known if Williams played any role in their publication, but presumably not, since Larkin makes no mention of any such aid. 
†the famous quote appears in the fourth novel in the series, Swan Song (1947), p. 60 
32 Williams writes, in his letter of 31 August 1944,
Shakespeare defined our proper limits when he wrote ‘no more than with a pure blush thou mayst come off withal’ (Lang-Sims 81)
Glen Cavaliero, in his endnotes to Lang-Sims’s little book (Lang-Sims 89), provides the actual quotation:
Williams is presumably (mis) quoting Shakespeare’s Celia. “. . . love no man in good earnest; nor no further in sport neither, than with safety of a pure blush thou mayst in honour come off again.”(As You Like It, act I, sc. 2, lines 27–29)