Published in Light in the Shadowlands by Kanthryn Lindskoog, pp.269-278, 1984 and re-printed in Sleuthing C.S. Lewis by the same author, pp. 293-301, 2001
by John Bremer
Reading the preceding chapters is a disturbing, if exciting, experience, for it is hard to forget the fundamental purpose of scholarship, the discovery of the truth. I have never met Kathryn Lindskoog (although we have talked on the phone and exchanged letters many times) but I have come to have unflinching trust in her desire for the truth. In this book, she may have made a mistake of fact or judgment, but I know that if such could be shown she would at once correct what seemed to be wrong. Her desire for truth is matched by the scrupulous procedures she uses to find it.
I wish the same could be said of some of the commentators on C.S. Lewis. Confusion among them abounds, witness the account of C. S. “Jack” Lewis’s first book, Spirits in Bondage.
George Sayer (in his 1988 biography) reports that in the publisher’s advertisement at the back of Heinemann’s 1919 edition of Spirits in Bondage the author was incorrectly named George Lewis and identified as Lieut. G. S. Lewis. According to A N. Wilson, however, Jack “appeared in the Heinemann catalogue as George S. Lewis.” The title page of the book actually attributes the poems to Clive Hamilton—the pen name that Lewis, who did not wish to be known in the army as a poet, took; it was made up of his own proper first name and his mother’s family name, Hamilton. But according to William Griffin’s 1985 biography, Jack had first wanted the pen name of Clive Staples (as he told Arthur Greeves on 12 September 1918) but had changed his mind and preferred Clive Hamilton; Griffin also reports that the publisher’s promotional material slipped into the book gives the name of the poet as George Hamilton. Furthermore, Griffin says that the author’s name was misspelled on the tide page as Glive Hamilton, but this is not borne out by a simple inspection of the book.
There is even more confusion since Sayer reports that one of the poems, “Death in Battle,” was selected by John Drinkwater (“the well-known poet, playwright, and literary critic”) and published in a literary magazine, Reveille,
According to Griffin and Wilson, it was not Drinkwater but John Galsworthy who wanted to publish one of Lewis’s poems in Reveille. But, says Wilson, Galsworthy first rejected the poem, much to Lewis’s chagrin, and “later” (in February 1919, which is not much later, the book being published in March) relented, and it was published in the February 1919 issue. It was supposed to accompany poems by “Robert Bridges, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves” according to Wilson, but George Sayer reports that it appears with “poems by Robert Bridges (the poet laureate), Hilaire Belloc, and Siegfried Sassoon.” It would be interesting to know if both are right.
Another commentator, Walter Hooper, tells us there was no rejection or hesitation by Galsworthy, for Jack “was told that John Galsworthy had read his manuscript and wished to publish ‘Death in Battle’ in his newly formed magazine Reveille. Jack agreed and his first published poem was to appear in the third (February 1919) number of Reveille.” (An odd claim because ever since 1965 Hooper has been listing in his bibliographies “Quam Bene Saturno” as Lewis’s first published poem.)
Jack’s brother Warren, in his Letters of C.S, Lewis, quotes Jack’s letter of 27 October 1918 to his father as saying that, indeed, John Galsworthy was the admirer. Unfortunately Warren cannot always be trusted (witness his dating of Jack’s letter of 19 September 1918 as 9 September), but in this case he was probably right.
Griffin also made a little joke about Jack’s finding a review stuck between the front endpapers of his copy from Heinemann; it complimented him for “a scholarly elucidation of a difficult subject.” Griffin explains “the press-cutting agency had sent him a review of The Principles of Symbolic Logic by C. S. Lewis of the University of California.” Without wishing to appear too picky, the famous philosopher and logician was C. I. (Clarence Irving) Lewis—that is fact—and I believe his 1918 book was titled A Survey of Symbolic Logic. The story seems to have been copied, almost verbatim, from Jack’s letter to his father on 25 May 1919. And, moreover, Jack’s letter indicates what Griffin obscures, namely, that Jack (not Heinemann) had sent ten shillings to a press-cutting agency and they had sent him only one review—that of C.I. Lewis’s not Jack’s book. Why Griffin says Jack “found” the review is unclear for he himself must have put it there.
The title of Jack’s poems did not fare much better. It started out as Spirits in Prison, a title taken from 1 Peter 3:19. It modestly cast Jack in the role of Christ who “went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”
For reasons unstated Wilson comments that “the lyric cycle is not markedly religious in tone, but it is striking that, even in his ‘atheistical’ phase, the young poet should have looked to the New Testament for his title.” How naive can he be? Jack’s choice was pure arrogance— as his poems and comments about them testify. Jack was the savior, telling those in prison of the outworn creed that controlled them.
It was the voracious reader Albert Lewis who pointed out that there was already a novel called Spirit in Prison (at least according to Hooper; the name is given elsewhere as A Spirit in Prison) published in 1908. But the author is named Robert Hitchens by Hooper in They Stand Together and again in the Preface to the 1984 reprint of Jack’s poems. Robert Hichens is the (correct) spelling to be found in Wilson’s pseudo-biography.
So the title of the cycle of lyrics had to be changed, and the Wilson-imagined piety notwithstanding, Jack used Milton, Paradise Lost, and assumed the voice of Satan who tells his followers:
For this Infernal Pit shall never hold
Caelestial Spirits in Bondage, nor th’Abysse
Long under darkness covet. But these thoughts
Full Counsel must mature: Peace is despaird,
For who can think Submission! Warre then, Warre
Open or understood must be resolv’d.
If Jack cannot be Jesus preaching his gospel to the spirits in prison, then he will be the great rebel, exhorting his troops to war against heaven. Wilson’s fantasy about Jack’s piety is pie-in-the-sky.
The choice of using a nom de plume, and of changing it, together with the change of title for the poems, and the publisher’s printing errors, can, perhaps, excuse some confusion but it would not be unreasonable to expect these things to be reported accurately.
It might be argued that these are details of no significance whatsoever, but it is hard to know if they are significant if we do not know what they are. Scholars should be exact. And, as in the case of Wilson, if they are not trustworthy in small things why would we trust them in larger?
The example of Jack’s poems requires no special knowledge—only the courage and persistence to track down every piece of information and to get it right. There is another kind of error that depends upon cultural background. American scholars, not well-steeped in English ways, can easily make forgivable errors.
Walter Hooper, an American, tells us that “Albert [Lewis] had reason to be worried about the safety of his sons. Warren had his training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst cut short by Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in August (1914). The next month he was posted to Aldershot in preparation for his being sent to France as a second lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps.”
Warren was able to visit the wounded Jack in April 1918 and he reports that he was greeted with “a cheerful ‘Hullo, I didn’t know you A.S.C. people got as far up the line as this!'” It was, in accordance with infantry regiments’ prejudice, unusual for any member of the Army Service Corps (the AS.C, that had been formed only in 1869) to be so close to the actual fighting. But it happened increasingly (and for more important reasons than visiting a wounded brother), and as a result the King conferred the prefix Royal on the AS.C. in November 1918. But in 1914 the Royal Army Service Corps did not exist.
Perhaps not important, but it is the fact and Hooper does not know it. Nor do Kilby and Mead (see pp. 2-3 of Brothers and Friends). Another source of confusion among the Lewis commentators is the difference between being commissioned and being gazetted. Commissions and postings are printed and announced in The London Gazette. Being commissioned is one thing; being posted to a regiment or other army unit is another. But apart from the confusion of terminology (again, more excusable in Americans than in British writers or scholars), there is a strange variety of opinions about Jack Lewis and the end of his training course.
Warren Lewis—who was an army man and should have been exact in these matters—tells us that Jack was in Belfast on leave “for a couple of days” in August 1917 (although he missed seeing his brother by a few days), that he was commissioned on 25 September in the Third Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry and given a month’s leave. He went to Janie Moore in Bristol and arrived in Belfast on 12 October.
According to Griffin, it was on “September 18th the newly commissioned young men got four weeks’ leave. Instead of hurrying to Belfast to visit his father, Lewis decided to accept Moore’s invitation to go to Bristol. He brought a cold and a severe sore throat, . . , Lewis arrived home in Belfast on October 12th.”
George Sayer manages another date. “After passing a simple exam, he 0ack) was made second lieutenant and attached to the Third Battalion of The Somerset Light Infantry. Before being posted for active service, he was given a month’s leave from September 28. He did not go directly to his father’s house in Belfast, but accepted an invitation from Paddy Moore to stay at his mother’s house . . . in Bristol. On October 12, he traveled to Ireland, spending only half of his leave at home. Albeit was deeply hurt”
Roger Green and Hooper have it as follows. “After a brief leave in Belfast (9-11 August) Lewis was writing to his father. . . .” And later “This was followed by an exam, which seems to have been little more than a formality, and on 25 September 1917 Albert Lewis noted that Clive was ‘gazetted to Third Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry;’ and on Saturday, 29 September 1917, ‘Jacks got one month’s leave from this date from officer cadet corps, Oxford. Went to stay with a chum named Moore and his mother. Came home on 12th October.’
Wilson has fabricated something different. “In August, Warnie got a short spell of leave from the Western Front, and Jack was persuaded to go back to Strandtown (Belfast) to spend the week with him. He had reached the point where he could not bear to see his father a deux, but with his still loved brother it was a different matter. On 21 August, Warnie went back to France and Jack returned to Oxford.”
This seems to contradict Warnie’s statement that he missed Jack and that the latter had only three days leave, returning on 11 August. Furthermore, Warren was never at the Western Front; he was in France but never at the front as Jack’s greeting quoted above makes clear. Perhaps the author was Pudd’nhead Wilson.
On the dates of commissioning, gazetting, and of leave, and of Jack’s arrival in Belfast, Wilson offers us nothing except “at the end of September.”
Hooper does not help much. In They Stand Together, however, Jack’s letter to Arthur Greeves (dated by Hooper as 4 August 1917) contains the statement: “By the way I have forgotten to tell you any news about leave. It was going to be from next Friday till next Teusday [sic], but that has been changed. It is now going to start on Wednesday 9th and go on till that Sunday midnight. A lot depends on whether I can get any extension for traveling.” This is helpful, even though Hooper says in a footnote that Lewis wrote Wednesday in mistake for Thursday.
It would be customary for leave to finish at midnight (23.59 actually) on a Sunday. Three days leave would mean that it consisted of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and probably would have begun after duty on Thursday. But Jack refers to “the promised four days leave” in a letter to his father, postmarked 22 July 1917. Did he have three or four days leave? If he had four days leave, then the error noted by Hooper was not that he wrote Wednesday for Thursday but that he put 9th when he meant 8th.
The locus classicus for all of this is in They Stand Together, where Hooper states that Jack “was on leave in Belfast from 9-11 August . . .He was on leave again from 18 September-18 October, and much to his father’s chagrin he spent the first three weeks with the Moores in Bristol, not arriving home until 12 October . . . . News arrived while he was at home that he had been gazetted into the 3rd Somerset Light Infantry and he joined this regiment in Crown Hill, near Plymouth, on 19 October.”
It is impossible to reconcile the above accounts. Did he spend two weeks or three weeks with Janie Moore? The naiveté of the commentators should be observed. At least two say that Paddy Moore issued the invitation. How do we know that? In other sections of their accounts Jack is described as arriving sick at Janie Moore’s house. Was that true? There is no corroborative evidence, although Griffin knows that “Mrs. Moore took his temperature and when the mercury soared past 100 degrees she swept him under the covers.” How does he know that it was a mercury thermometer, and that it not merely passed but soared past 100 degrees, and what happened under the covers? Griffin subtitles his work A Dramatic Life but this is going too far.
Hooper repeats his earlier account in his 1984 Preface to the re-print of Spirits in Bondage, although it was not “while he was home” that Jack learned of his posting to the Somerset Light Infantry. He learned it when he got home because Albert, his father, recorded it on 25 September.
In his latest version, in the Introduction to All My Road Before Me, Hooper says of Jack’s stay in Bristol, “It is evident that Lewis savoured to the full the hospitality afforded by Mrs. Moore. They all knew it could not be like this again for a long time because Lewis had already been gazetted into the 3rd Somerset Light Infantry and Paddy (Moore) into the Rifle Brigade,” And yet Hooper tells us elsewhere that Jack learned of his gazetting whilst at home, which itself is inaccurate and should be when he reached home.
Perhaps we should be grateful that the place to which Jack was posted after his leave has been corrected from the Crown Hill of They Stand Together to Crownhill.
The spelling of the Lewis family certainly left something to be desired. Both Jack and Warnie could be very careless if not downright erratic, but it is possible for the commentators to be more thorough. Some of them—not all—are scholars and we can expect and demand accuracy from them.
Another complicating factor is that Jack lived in an English culture and some of his comments need more cultural understanding than other people—even those “separated by a common language”—can easily acquire. And to complicate it still further, Jack, Warnie, and their father, were Ulstermen and we need to know, for example, what the word “cod” meant in one proposed title for Spirits in Bondage. This was Metrical Meditations of a Cod, and reportedly, “cod” was equivalent to “an eccentric.”
And English culture is not unified, so that different classes have different cultures—or they have some culture in common, but some in separation.
As a final example consider the discussion of Owen Barfield in the Foreword to All My Road before Me of the parlor game called “Boys’ Names.” I do not know how Jack and the Moores played that game, but I know how it was played in my own family. I do not believe that Barfield (who is a venerable nonagenarian) remembers the game. This is not the place to give what I believe to be the accurate description of it, but it is permissible to wonder about the validity of what has been said and done, even by friends as close as Sayer and Barfield.
This may seem insignificant, but Barfield was one of Lewis’s oldest friends (and also his literary executor) and what he knew and did not know may be important to us. In some ways, Lewis was a very private man, and it is very revealing when Barfield remarks that “I find it strange to recall that during those early years I was given no hint of all that household background.” This is not true, for Barfield goes on to indicate that he was given hints, but did not consider them as such and remained ignorant of how much time and energy went into cleaning out “the oven in the gas cooker.” Barfield—and this is substantively much more important—confesses “to some surprise at finding no reference [in Jack’s diary] to his long argument with myself, later referred to in Surprised by Joy as ‘the great war.'”
Among all the good work that has been done on Lewis, there is much that is not satisfactory. The causes are multiple but corrigible. There is carelessness, complacent repetition from unchecked sources, errors from ignorance, misreadings from unrecognized cultural differences, and so forth, but all these can be corrected by patient work if the sources and resources are freely available.
A second level of unsatisfactory work is produced by people such as A.N. Wilson whose so-called biography is not a portrait of C.S. Lewis but an impressionistic sketch of what Wilson projects from his own unconscious, a projection that images how a mean, petty, narcissistic man views a truly good man, and who then decides to belittle the goodness (presumably because he cannot believe in it since he does not find it within himself). This can only be done by a condescension that is an impertinence. Wilson seems to have wanted a best-selling book about an important thinker (so that he would be enhanced by his subject), who could be shown, by sly innuendo and the ignoring or distorting of facts and downright falsehood, to be less than supposed (thereby establishing the superiority of the author). Egomania is a solitary disease.
A third level of difficulty is that there are those who have interpreted and controlled Jack Lewis and his writings to serve some personal, commercial, or doctrinal agenda, to magnify their own importance, to make money, or to further some cause foreign to Lewis. It appears that Walter Hooper falls into this third category and what Kathryn Lindskoog has revealed is shocking. It is not my business to concern myself with the state of Walter Hooper’s soul—he has to live inwardly with what he has done—but we all have to live outwardly with it. A public cleansing is needed.
The trust in any of Jack Lewis’s books printed or reprinted after his death in November 1963 has been destroyed. I do not feel able to pick up any such book and read it without comparing it with some pre-1963 original to ensure that it has not been contaminated. The moral character of Jack Lewis carries enormous weight—with me, as with countless others—and nobody can be allowed to use that weight to support words that are not Jack’s words.
The world is entitled to know what Jack Lewis wrote in the full, uncompromising, straightforward way in which he wrote it, without the intervention and corruption of a scrivener. Purification of the texts is a major scholarly task, but it should be done, and until it is done, Hooper continues to damage the thought of a singularly good man. Fortunately, the character and opinions of Jack Lewis are too well founded in his goodness to be destroyed, but the interference with the texts diverts attention away from what was of supreme importance to their author, namely, how to live a good life,