Monday, October 14, 2013

what I'm reading: CS Lewis' letters to Arthur Greeves

I recently read - with great enjoyment! - They Stand Together, CS Lewis' letters to his friend Arthur Greeves.

I spent many a happy hour lying on the couch, cup of tea in hand, browsing the pages, drinking in the descriptions of books and weather and ideas and countryside.

It whetted my appetite to read more collections of letters: such a lovely, meandering, reflective kind of reading.

CS Lewis was 16 when he met Arthur. They lived nearby, and Lewis visited Arthur when he was sick in bed. He saw a copy of Myths of the Norsemen in Arthur's bedroom, and so their life-long friendship began:
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.' (The Four Loves)
The First [Friend] is the alter ego, the man who first reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights. (Surprised by Joy)
When Lewis was 33 he re-read his earlier letters to Arthur. His unfavourable impression of those first letters is similar to my own. The letters get better and better, and deeper and deeper, as Lewis matures and comes to believe, first in God, and finally in Christ. He writes about that moment here:
Thanks for all you say about the letters in general. You see mine with too friendly eyes. To me, as I re-read them, the most striking thing is their egotism: sometimes in the form of priggery, intellectual and even social: often in the form of downright affectation (I seem to be posturing and showing off in every letter): and always in the form of complete absorption in ourselves. I have you to thank that it was at least 'ourselves' and not wholly 'myself'.

I can now honestly say that I envy you the much more artless letters you were writing me in those days: they all had at least the grace of humility and of affection. How ironical that the very things which I was proud of in my letters then should make the reading of them a humiliation to me now!

Don't suppose from this that I have not enjoyed the other aspect of them - the glorious memories they call up.

I think I have got over wishing for the past back again. I look at it this way. The delights of those days were given to lure us into the world of the Spirit, as sexual rapture is there to lead to offspring and family life. They were nuptial ardours. To ask that they should return, or should remain, is like wishing to prolong the honeymoon at an age when a man should rather be interested in the careers of his growing sons.

They have done their work, those days and led on to better things. All the 'homeliness' (which was your chief lesson to me) was the introduction to the Christian virtue of charity or love. ... On the other hand, all the 'strangeness' (which was my lesson to you) has turned out to be only the first step in far deeper mysteries.

How deep I am just now beginning to see: for I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ - in Christianity. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it. (1/10/31 pp.424-5)
It's not easy to get your hands on a copy of They Stand Together, but if you manage it, and you're a CS Lewis fan, you'll enjoy their insights into his life and thought.

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