Published in The Lewis Legacy, Seventy-fourth Issue, Autumn 1997
The Title and Epigraphs of Surprised by Joy
Authors give their works titles, or, at least, propose titles, which sometimes get accepted and sometimes not.
The proposed titles of C.S. Lewis’s works had a mixed reception. His first book of poems Spirits in Bondage was originally to have been Spirits in Prison but was changed when Albert Lewis pointed out that there was already a novel A Spirit in Prison. The original title had come from Peter’s First Epistle, while the second came from Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost. The Allegory of Love was originally The Allegorical Love Poem, the change courtesy of Charles Williams (although Lewis considered The House of Busirane, and, in private conversation, referred to the book as The Alligator of Love). Till We Have Faces was simply Bareface until the publisher objected, and the universally known Screwtape Letters was first called As One Devil to Another.
The key work to understanding Lewis is Surprised by Joy and, as is well-known, the title is taken from the beginning of a Wordsworth sonnet. Lewis took the whole of the sonnet’s first line as the epigraph to the work and it is worth considering what light, if any, his choice of title and epigraph throws upon Lewis and what he wrote.
The function of an epigraph is different from that of a title. An epigraph is, almost invariably, a quotation from an acknowledged source and, presumably, it epitomizes the ensuing book or indicates a point of view which the reader should have in reading it, or even refers to a more important universal statement of the author’s theme, thereby putting the book in a context of significance. (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, for example, is given an order of value by the epigraph from Dante, even though deep irony may be involved).
In addition to the meaning of the words, the epigraph also comes with authority, the authority of its author. But even this authority is enigmatical, for the question must still be decided about the relative normative value of the epigraph and the book. Does the writer, in choosing the epigraph, do so to invoke his author’s standing to buttress his own work? Or does he say, in effect, that his work is almost a commentary on or an explication of what the epigraph says? It is a long but minor footnote. Or is he saying that this is what the former author could have — or should have — written? Or is it an epitaph?
There is no single answer, and each work that carries an epigraph may need to be considered in isolation and on its own merits. There may also be an element of casualness or accident in the providing of epigraphs, and perhaps, as Lewis is reputed to have once said, their meaning doesn’t matter since nobody reads them, anyway.
Sometimes titles, like epigraphs, come with authority. In these instances, the author takes a quotation from one of his predecessors in the tradition and uses it for the title. A Passage to India comes from Whitman, Cakes and Ale from Shakespeare, (also Brave New World and The Sound and the Fury), Antic Hay from Marlowe, Ulysses from Homer by way of Virgil, The Power and the Glory from the New Testament, Aaron’s Rod and The Song of Solomon from the Old Testament, and so on.
It is assumed here, initially, that Lewis had reasons for what he did, even though from the outset there are some difficulties, for his intentions are not always clear.
For example, not all of Lewis’s books have epigraphs. Why some and not all? And sometimes the source is given, and sometimes not: why? For example, Reflections on the Psalms has no epigraph; The Four Loves has an unidentified quotation from Donne “That our affections kill us not, nor dye”. Till We Have Faces has a line “Love is too young to know what conscience is,” but makes no attribution (although it is from Shakespeare, Sonnet 151). Miracles has an epigraph, but it is an untitled five-stanza poem (now known as The Meteorite) by Lewis himself, published a year earlier in 1946. The Abolition of Man has an epigraph from Confucius, identified for us as Analects n.16:
The Master said, He who sets to work on a different stand destroys the whole fabric.
This is easily understood in the light of the book’s content, its insistence on the continuity of tradition, and the culturally universal Tao.
Is it unreasonable to expect that the meaning of the epigraphic author should fit the occasion? If not, then what are we to make of the unattributed line from Shakespeare, introducing Till We Have Faces, whose thought is not complete in the one quoted line, but needs the paradoxical next line:
Love is too young to know what conscience is,
Yet who knowes not conscience is borne of love.
Isolating the first line of Sonnet 151 certainly limits Shakespeare’s meaning, and arguably changes it radically.
One other possibility — although not, I believe, in Lewis’s case — is that the choice of epigraphs (especially when there are sixteen in one work, as is the case with Surprised by Joy) gives an occasion for academic display, and an author might be more interested in displaying his erudition (or acquaintanceship with Bartlett) than in illuminating what he has to say. It should be noted that none of Lewis’s epigraphs appeared in the Thirteenth Edition of Bartlett, but “Surpised by Joy ~ impatient as the wind” was added to the Fourteenth Edition (1968), presumably because of its use by Lewis in 1954.
Surprised by Joy, like Miracles, not only has an epigraph, but each chapter is provided with its own individual epigraph. The authors from whom Lewis wide-rangingly draws are as follows (roughly in chronological order):
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
‘Sir Aldingar’ poet unknown, date before 1000 A,D.
The Pearl Poet (Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) c.1400
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)
Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599)
John Webster (1580?-? 1625)
George Herbert (1593-1633)
John Milton (1608-1674)
Thomas Traherne (16377-1674)
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)
Earl of Chesterfield, (1694-1773)
Oliver Goldsmith (1731-1774)
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
George MacDonald (1824-1905)
writer for the Times Educational Supplement, Nov. 19, 1954
In what follows, the fifteen individual chapters of Surprised by Joy will be considered in turn. The chapter number, the chapter title, and the epigraph as provided by Lewis, will be displayed in bold type, and these will be followed by an identification, a short account of the author and the quoted work, Lewis’s connection thereto, and the consonance between the epigraph, both in and out of its context, and the contents of the chapter. In conclusion, consideration will be given to Lewis’s choice of the book title and epigraph from Wordsworth’s sonnet.
Chapter I The First Years
Happy, but for so happy ill secured.
Little needs to be said about John Milton (1608-1674). His father was a converted Catholic who sent him to St Paul’s School in London and then to Cambridge (where he was known as “the Lady of Christ’s [College]”). This was followed by five years of independent study and two further years touring Europe. During this time he wrote L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, Comus, and the elegy Lycidas. A supporter of the Puritans, in 1649 he was appointed Latin secretary to the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, and became apologist for the regicide Commonwealth. He lost his sight in 1652 and in 1657 Andrew Marvell became his assistant. After the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 he was arrested and fined, but he avoided both imprisonment and death. Disappointed in his hopes for a god-fearing republican England, Milton carried out his long-cherished plan for a national epic and in 1667 published Paradise Lost. This was followed in 1671 by Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes.
Although Milton was of the Puritan persuasion, he was not always orthodox and he came into conflict with official doctrine (especially over Areopagitica and the freedom of the press, and The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, in which he argued for divorce). He was independent in his thinking, and although he seemed not to have treated his family very considerately, was principled and noble in his writings. One recurring theme throughout his life and writings is man’s struggle with temptation, especially of sensual enjoyment, and pride. Perhaps this explains, in part, Lewis’s high regard and affection for Milton, in 1942, Lewis published A Preface to Paradise Lost. It was not liked by most academics but it radically changed the interpretation of Paradise Lost.
The epigraph is taken from Paradise Lost, Book IV, line 370 where it occurs in:
Ah gentle pair, yee little think how nigh Your change approaches, when all these delights Will vanish and deliver ye to woe, More woe, the more your taste is now of joy; Happie, but for so happie ill secur’d Long to continue, and this high seat your Heav’n 111 fenc’t for Heav’n to keep out such a foe As now is enterd; yet no purpos’d foe To you whom I could pirtie thus forlorne Though I unpittied; League with you I seek, And mutual amitie so streight, so close, That I with you must dwell, or you with me Henceforth;…
The scene is before the Fall, as Satan for the first time beholds Adam and Eve and muses to himself about the situation and what must be done. He changes shape into various “fourfooted kindes” so that he may approach “neerer to view his prey.”
Lewis is obviously identifying his early life at home with the Garden of Eden but draws attention to the fact that the joys of childhood and family were not “long to continue.” Paradise was terminated by the death of his mother, Florence Hamilton Lewis, in 1908, although there is nothing explicit in this first chapter to suggest that she had kept Satan at bay, or that he now entered the lives of the “gentle pair,” Warren and Jack. The boys certainly did “little think how nigh” their “change approaches, when all these delights/will vanish and deliver” them “to woe.”
Chapter II Concentration Camp
Arithmetic with Coloured Rods
– Times Educational Supplement, Nov.19, 1954
The colored rods are Cuisenaire rods, a heuristic device of considerable utility and power, in which natural numbers are designated by rods of corresponding multiples of a unit length, each with its own distinctive color. The rods are one centimeter square in cross section; the unit, its length being of the same dimension as the cross section, is, therefore, a cube. They were a widely used innovation in elementary schools as a way of helping the transition from concrete to abstract numbers.
This was not, however, the reason for Lewis’s choice of the quotation from the headline of the august Times Educational Supplement. Nor was it his notorious incompetence at mathematics. It was, surely, his grim humor embodied in the play on the word “rod,” which thing Oldie, the master at Wynyard School (aka Belsen), wielded so brutally and so frequently. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis records “The only stimulating element in the teaching consisted of a few well-used canes which hung on the green iron chimney piece of the single schoolroom.” For “cane” read “rod” throughout.
The typescript for Surprised by Joy was sent to the publishers in March 1955 and it was published that September. Thus, the quotation from the Times Educational Supplement of the previous November would have come to Lewis’s attention at a time when his manuscript was nearing completion and he was presumably thinking about such things as titles and epigraphs. While Lewis would have read the Times Literary Supplement regularly as part of his professional preparation, it is more puzzling to consider why he would have read the Times Educational Supplement. Lewis would have obtained little comfort from the concluding paragraph of the over-enthusiastic reviewer:
Since we must teach arithmetic to all children, it is a satisfying thought that it can now be done pleasurably and efficiently, and that we can eliminate frustration in a subject which has for generations challenged the minds of teachers.
Chapter III Mountbracken and Campbell
For all these fair people in hall were in their first age; none happier under the heaven; their king,
the man of noblest temper. It would be a hard task today to find so grave a fellowship in any castle.
– Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is an anonymous Middle English poem in alliterative verse and ascribed to ‘The Pearl Poet’ (see Chapter VIII below). Part of the Arthurian legend, the poem tells of the ordeals of the ideal knight Sir Gawain (or Gawayne) who accepts the challenge of the Green Knight to behead him, on condition that he present himself a year and a day later at the Green Chapel to be beheaded in return. After a long and arduous journey Sir Gawain reaches a wonderful castle where Lord Bercilak, his wife, and an old hag entertain him. He is tempted to adultery, resists twice, but cheats in a game with his host over the gift of a green sash which he thinks will protect him from the Green Knight. They meet and Sir Gawain avoids the first two axe strokes, but the third nicks him to mark his moral failure with the green sash. The hag then emerges as the enchantress Morgan Le Fay (who has planned the whole affair, presumably to embarrass Arthur) and the Green Knight is Bercilak; Sir Gawain returns to King Arthur’s court, swearing always to wear the green sash.
The epigraph seems to have been taken from Part One, lines 55-59, although one recent translation (that by Burton Raffel) renders the passage as follows:
.. . and Arthur, The noblest of rulers, reigning in his court. . . In that castle Most blessed on earth, With the
best of vassals And a king of such worth That no time will surpass him.
It is not known whether Lewis quoted from a translation he knew, or whether he quoted only from memory (perhaps even remembering the Middle English and translating it for himself and his own purposes.) The similarity between the epigraph and the Raffel version is not striking, but this says more about Raffel than about Lewis.
There is a students’ edition by E.V. Gordon and J.R.R. Tolkien (Oxford, 1925), and Lewis had acquired a copy prior to June 1927; it contained the original Middle English text, together with introduction, notes, appendices on metre, rhyme and alliteration, and language, and an extensive glossary. The text from which the epigraph is translated is identical to that of Anderson, quoted below. Lewis’s original reading, which seems to have been in May 1916, was in the translation by EJ.B. Kirtlan (1912). Another rendering of the same passage (lines 53-9) in Middle English but with modernized spelling, is from the Everyman edition edited by J.J. Anderson:
And he the comlokest kyng that the court haldes; For al was this fayre folk in her first age, on sille,
The hapnest under heven, Kyng hyghest mon of wylle. Hit were now gret nye to neven So hardy a
here on hille.
This is rendered in modern English:
And he who holds court (is) the handsomest king; for this fair company in the hall were all in their first
youth, the most favored (people) in the world, the king a man of the noblest temperament. It would now
be very difficult to identify so brave a company in a castle (lit. on a castle-mound).
The epigraph refers to the Arthurian legends; “that castle” is Camelot and the “king of such worth” is, naturally, Arthur.
A version by J.R.R. Tolkien (finished before 1950 but not published until 1975) reads:
. . .king most courteous, who that court possessed.
For all that folk so fair did in their first estate abide,
Under heaven the first in fame,
their king most high hi pride;
it would now be hard to name
a troop in war so tried.
A recent version (William Vantuono,1991) provides the following translation, together with the Middle English text:
With all the wealth in the world they dwelled there together,
The noblest knights beneath Christ himself,
And the loveliest ladies living on earth,
And he, the most gracious king, who commands the court;
For all these fair folks were favored by youth, and skill,
The luckiest on land,
With the proudest king of will.
Never, before now, in a band,
Were such hardy ones housed on a hill.
In footnotes, the editor points out that line 56 is literally, “The most blessed under heaven,” and line 58 is “It would be, until now, great trouble to name.” And in the final line 59 the ME word here, meaning group, is used.
The closest to the version that Lewis gives is to be found in Old English and Medieval Literature, edited by Gordon Hall Gerould, published in 1929. It reads as follows:
For all these fair folk in the hall were in the prime of their age, the most fortunate people under
heaven, with a king whose spirits were highest of all. It would be hard in our time to name so brave
a company on any castle hill.
The epigraph was chosen, presumably, because it reflected Lewis’s view of the Ewart family and their home Glenmachan House. The head of that family was Sir William Quartus Ewart (“Cousin Quartus”) who was married to Lady Mary Ewart (“Cousin Mary”), the first cousin of Florence Hamilton Lewis, Lewis’s mother. It was in Glenmachen (or Mountbracken, as it is called in Surprised by Joy) that Lewis learned whatever he knew “of courtesy and savoir faire …” He admits “it is not much.” The comparison of Glenmachen to Camelot, of Sir William to King Arthur, may be flattering but it has the hallmark of sincerity.
The chapter title refers to Campbell – the College to which Lewis was sent after the closing of Wynyard. The most important event there was his discovery of Arnold’s poem Sohrab and Rustum, but his stay was short and, after an illness, he soon left for Cherbourg School in Malvern. There seems to be no connection between Campbell and the epigraph; it must properly belong to only the first half of the chapter.
Chapter IV I Broaden My Mind
I struck the board, and cry’d ‘No more; I will abroad.1
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
George Herbert (1593-1633) came from a long line of soldiers and statesmen, but a growing sense of a religious vocation led him to become an Anglican priest in 1630. All of his poetry is religious and often reveals his inner conflicts, particularly the struggle between his growing sense of vocation and his worldly ambitions (stemming in large part from the traditions of his family). His great themes, he says, are those “two vast, spacious things . . . Sinne and Love.” His brother, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648), was a soldier, a statesman, and a philosopher, as well as a poet. The two brothers are usually classified as “Metaphysical Poets.”
Lewis quotes from a poem, The Collar, although the lineation and punctuation differ from the usual printed pattern. One scholar, Joseph H. Summers, calls The Collar one of Herbert’s most deliberate ventures in ‘hieroglyphic form.’ The object of imitation is the disordered life of self-will . . . Herbert has given a formalized picture of chaos . . . (especially) in the elaborate anarchy of the patterns of measures and rhyme. The poem contains all the elements of order in violent disorder. No line is unrhymed . . . and each line contains two, three, four, or five poetic feet . . . The stanzaic norm which is the measure for that disorder . . is established, simultaneously with the submission of the rebel, (only) in the final quatrain . . .The pattern of the line lengths and rhyme does not occur until the final four lines; before those lines the elements of the pattern are arranged so as to form almost the mathematical ultimate in lack of periodicity . . . The poem dramatizes expertly and convincingly the revolt of the heart, and its imitation of colloquial speech almost convinces us of the justice of the cause. But the disorder . . . provides a constant implicit criticism.
In the light of these comments, Lewis’s ignoring the ‘hieroglyphic form’ is somewhat surprising. Was Lewis quoting from memory? And without much knowledge of or respect for the hieroglyphic form?
I struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it: ther was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
Not so, my heart: but ther is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasure: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thought I heard one calling, Child!
And I reply’d My Lord.
This poem reveals very clearly Herbert’s inner conflict between his calling and his ambition. Lewis, in the chapter of which this is the epigraph, tells of his journey to Malvern with his brother to attend Cherbourg School and of how, in the course of that year, he ceased to be a Christian. He refers to Herbert’s “prattler” — the false conscience –as one reason for his disillusionment with prayer. It would be hard to say that Lewis had any definable worldly ambition (although he was increasingly aware of the superiority of his gifts) and so he is scarcely like Herbert, but he certainly became more worldly – and, as he says, a new element entered his life: Vulgarity.
The title — and The Caller would be as apt as The Collar — is the restraint that the poet feels, the connection that he always has with “My Lord.” The title also suggest choler, that is, the anger felt by fallen man at all discipline and the burden of Christ’s yoke. The epigraph has echoes of the Wordsworth sonnet Surprised by Joy – notably, “Loose as the winde,” but also the rhyme with “as large as store.” But being “loose as the winde” is to be blown hither and thither, and to just go “abroad” has no sense of destination, no purpose, and the journey is aimless wandering – guided only by a desire to escape. That fits Lewis at this stage of his life, as he clearly recognizes.
Chapter V Renaissance
So is there in us a world of love to somewhat, though we know not what in the world that should be.
It would not be surprising that Lewis should quote Thomas Traherne (16377-1674), except for the fact that he was – and is – so little known. A contemporary of Jeremy Taylor, Traherne was a Platonist (as Lewis had become in many essential respects) although he was not one of the famous group of Cambridge Platonists which flourished with names such as Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, Benjamin Whichcote, and Nathanael Culverwel. Lewis, when considering reading for a research degree at Oxford, had chosen Henry More as his subject.
In July 1930, Lewis wrote to Arthur Greeves that he had been reading “a little every evening” in Traherne’s Centuries of Meditation and quotes, with obvious delight:
The world … is the beautiful frontispiece to Eternity,
They [i.e., Souls] were made to love and are dark and vain and comfortless
till they do it. Till they love they are idle or misemployed. Till they love
they are desolate.
But at the same time Lewis complained about Traherne’s shirking, as he thought, the problem of evil. But in December 1941, Lewis writes to Arthur:
At present I’m re-reading Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations which I
think almost the most beautiful book (in prose, I mean, excluding poets) in
Traherne’s concept of Felicity, derived from delight in the ordinary things of this world, both natural and social, should be compared with Lewis’s Joy. The strong sense in both of the beauty of nature and the fact that, for both, Felicity/Joy leads towards God suggests this comparison. MacDonald’s sense of the holiness of everyday, commonplace things, a sense that strongly influenced Lewis, is also relevant.
The epigraph is taken from Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations, written about 1672. This book was a series of meditations, numbered in hundreds (hence Centuries), there being four complete centuries and a fifth that has only the first ten meditations. More specifically, the epigraph is taken from the second meditation of the First Century, the complete text of which appears below; the first meditation begins “An empty book is like an Infant’s soul, in which anything may be written,” and Traherne has “a mind to fill this with profitable wonders.” [The image of the Infant’s soul as an empty book seems to foreshadow the famous tabula rasa of John Locke, whose Essay Concerning Human Understanding appeared in 1689, that is, seventeen years after Traherne had written his private meditation. Locke wrote “Let us suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas. How comes it to be furnished?” The similarity, while remarkable, must not be pushed too far, for there is little doubt that while Traherne was a Christian first and a Platonist second, his Platonism required that the soul be innately structured, and so did his Christianity for “the true exemplar of God’s infinity is that of your understanding.”]
It appears that the book — a notebook, in the original — might have been a gift which Traherne wanted to fill with his meditations before returning it. The Centuries were never published in Traherne’s lifetime but miraculously survived in manuscript form until being discovered in a London bookseller’s bin in 1895. They were published in 1908.
Meditation 2: First Century
Do not wonder that I promise to fill it with those Truths you love, but know not; for though it be a maxim in the schools that there is no Love of a thing unknown, yet I have found that things unknown have a secret influence on the soul, and like the centre of the earth unseen violently attracts us. We love we know not what, and therefore everything allures us. As iron at a distance is drawn by the lodestone, there being some invisible communications between them, so is there in us a world of Love to somewhat, though we know not what in the world that should be. There are invisible ways of conveyance by which some great thing doth touch our souls, and by which we tend to do it. Do you not feel yourself drawn with the expectation and desire of some Great Thing?
The epigraph is at the head of the chapter in which Lewis recounts his student days at Cherbourg and how his life had turned round when his eye fell on a magazine headline — “Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods” — and a picture, by Arthur Rackham, of Siegfried discovering Brunnhilde. He had never heard of Wagner, nor of Siegfried, and he thought that the twilight referred to the umbrous quality in which the gods lived. But, understanding nothing, he had a “love to somewhat,” and was engulfed by pure “Northernness.” Similarly, Lewis knew Joy, but as Traherne said, a man must “believe that Felicity is a glorious though an unknown thing.”
Chapter VI Bloodery
Any way for Heaven sake
So I were out of your whispering.
John Webster (1580?-?!625), the English dramatist and a contemporary of Shakespeare, is best known for his highly charged tragedies of revenge, particularly The White Devil (1612) and The Duchess ofMalfi (c.1613). It appears that he wrote little and slowly, for in the Preface to the former play he says, “I do not write with a goose-quill winged with two feathers.” He was also an actor. The plot of The Duchess ofMalfi is set in motion by the secret marriage of a widowed noblewoman and her steward, Antonio, a commoner. She has three children but their father, her husband, is initially unknown. Upon their discovery of this, her brothers, the Duke of Calabria (her twin) and the Cardinal, force them to separate; Antonio flees, and they confine the Duchess and subject her to mental torture. She is eventually strangled, along with two of her children, and Antonio is accidentally murdered. The Duke and Cardinal are both killed, and the play ends with Antonio’s friend, Delio, taking care of his one remaining son with the promise of securing his inheritance.
The epigraph is taken from The Duchess ofMalfi, Act.IV, in the Duchess’s speech immediately before her death, lines 215-227, upon being told that she should be terrified by the strangulation cord:
Not a whit:
What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut
With diamonds? or to be smothered
With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?
I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits; and ’tis found
They go on such strange geometrical hinges,
You may open them both ways: ~ any way, for heaven-sake,
So I were out of your whispering: ~ tell my brothers
That I perceive death, now I am well awake,
Best gift is they can give, or I can take.
I would fain put off my last woman’s fault,
I’d not be tedious to you.
Lewis omits the punctuation (which may be an editor’s). The virtuous Duchess, in the words of the epigraph, is saying that she will die in any way (that is, through any one of the “ten thousand several doors”) so long as it would relieve her of having to listen to the “whisperings” of her murderers. They are not speaking softly nor have they been anything but brutal about their intent; the “whisperings” must be taken to mean the rumors and allusions about death with which the killers have tried to frighten the Duchess. But she is steadfast and courageous, and as to death:
Who would be afraid on’t?
Knowing to meet such excellent company
In th’other world.
The epigraph seems strongly reflected in a passage from Surprised by Joy where Lewis is describing the sentimentalized, homosexual relation at Malvern College between the Bloods and the Tarts:
I was not shocked by these things. For me, at that age, the chief drawback to the whole system was that
it bored me considerably. For you will have missed the atmosphere of our House unless you picture the
whole place from week’s end to week’s end buzzing, tittering, hinting, whispering about this subject.
Lewis, unlike the Duchess of Malfi, did not face death, but he grew tired, “cab-horse tired,” at Malvern:
I must repeat . . .that I was tired. Consciousness itself was becoming the supreme evil; sleep, the prime
good. To lie down, to be out of the sound of voices, to pretend and grimace and evade and slink no more,
that was the object of all desire — if only there were not another morning ahead — if only sleep could last
For the Duchess, it did.
Chapter VII Light and Shade
No situation, however wretched it seems, but has some sort of comfort attending it.
Oliver Goldsmith (1731-1774) was, like Lewis, Irish-born and yet an English writer. He left Ireland in 1752 and never returned. He was a member of Dr Johnson’s circle where he was known as “Goldy.” Given to verbal lapses (more frequently deliberate than his friends suspected), his writings were of no school but reflected his individuality in clear and simple prose. David Garrick said of him, “He wrote like an angel and talked like poor Poll.” His best-known works now are The Vicar of Wakefield (a novel), The Deserted Village (a poem), and She Stoops to Conquer (a comedy).
The epigraph is taken from The Vicar ofWakefield, and forms the heading of Chapter XXV. Since there are thirty-two chapters, this particular chapter is more than three-quarters of the way through the novel, and, in fact, it tells of the final misfortune to which the Vicar, Dr Charles Primrose, is subjected. His being cast into a debtor’s prison, however, leads to the reversal and his final triumph and the restoration of his family’s happiness.
His misfortunes have been calamitous. He had allotted the stipend from his living to the widows and orphans of the clergy, since he enjoyed an independent income, but his investor went bankrupt and he lost all his wealth. He had to move his family (a wife, four sons and two daughters) to a small village church where he was a tenant of the local squire. His oldest son, George, goes off to seek his fortune; the squire has designs on his daughters, and eventually makes off with one of them and goes through what he believes is a bogus marriage ceremony; she is then invited to be at the disposal of his friends; the other daughter is attracted to a mysterious stranger who comes and goes, and is believed by the family to have stood in the way of the daughters going to London (whereas, in fact, he was trying to protect them); the Vicar goes in search of his lost daughter (not knowing of the marriage ceremony), takes fever, and after several weeks begins to make his way homeward, unsuccessful; on the journey he meets, by chance, his son George, who has not made a fortune but is penniless, and together, again by chance, they discover the lost daughter who has fled from London and the man who has seduced and betrayed her, the squire. The Vicar, on meeting the squire, upbraids him for his conduct and is threatened with the law if he does not pay his rent. Father, with his recovered son and daughter, journeys towards home, but as he arrives it bursts into flames, and although no-one is hurt except the Vicar himself (whose arm is badly burned), all their possessions are lost. The next day the officers from the debtor’s prison come to take the Vicar away. This is the point at which the chapter heading provides the epigraph. A few more dreadful things happen – including the sentence of death upon the Vicar’s son for trying to kill the squire, and the reported death of the disgraced daughter – but in the last three chapters all is set right, largely due to the good offices of the mysterious stranger (who turns out to be the squire’s rich uncle) and the devious ways of Providence.
The Vicar of Wakefield itself has an epigraph “Sperate miseri, cavete felices,” which may be translated “In misery, hope; in good fortune, caution.” No source is given by Goldsmith.
That Lewis was wretched at Malvern is clear. But what was the “some sort of comfort attending it”? But the essential evil of public-school life, as I see it, did not lie either in the sufferings of the fags or in the privileged arrogance of the Bloods. These were symptoms of something more all-pervasive, something which, in the long run, did most harm to the boys who succeeded best at school and were happiest there. Spiritually speaking, the deadly thing was that school life was a life almost wholly dominated by the social struggle: to get on, to arrive, or, having reached the top, to remain there, was the absorbing preoccupation. And, a little later, Lewis makes the remarkable observation that he cannot “give pederasty anything like first place among the evils of the Coll.” On the contrary, however great an evil, it was:
in that time and place, the only foothold or cranny left for certain good things. It was the only counterpoise
to the social struggle; the one oasis (though green only with weeds and moist only with fetid water) in the
burning desert of competitive ambition, hi his unnatural love affairs, and perhaps only there, the Blood
went a little out of himself, forgot for a few hours that he was One of the Most Important People There
Are. It softens the picture. A perversion was the only chink left through which something spontaneous
and uncalculating could creep in. Plato was right after all. Eros, turned upside down, blackened, distorted,
and filthy, still bore the traces of his divinity,
This is an observation about the system and the comfort attending it. For Lewis personally there were two comforts at Malvern. One was his form master—Smugy–and the other was the Grundy, the school library (which was also a sanctuary). But these comforts are not those of the epigraph.
Chapter VIII Release
As Fortune is wont, at her chosen hour, Whether she sends us solace or sore, The wight to whom
she shows her power Will find that he gets still more and more.
The poem Pearl is the first of four anonymous Middle English poems to be found in a small quarto manuscript volume in the British Library, written in a c.1400 hand. The second and third poems are Cleanness (or Purity) and Patience. The fourth poem is Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight. This is the sole source for all four poems, which are almost certainly by the same poet, there being so many similarities (including the comparison of Sir Gawayne to the pearl).
Pearl expresses a father’s grief at the death of an infant daughter, not two years old; in a vision he sees his daughter, his Pearl, transfigured as the queen of heaven who instructs him in faith and acceptance. He is divided from her by a stream which he attempts to cross, but this only awakens him and he discovers that he is stretched out on the child’s grave (lines 1170-76).
Then woke I in that garden fair;
My head upon that mound was laid,
there where my Pearl had strayed below.
I roused me, and felt in great dismay,
and, sighing to myself, I said:-
“Now all be to that Prince’s pleasure.”
This story is reminiscent of Wordsworth and his daughter Catherine, although Lewis makes no mention of the similarity; and the epigraph in isolation has no suggestion of a lost daughter. Although Pearl has been treated as an allegory — and it raises some serious theological problems, especially in the interpretation of the parable of the vineyard — it is, first, but not only, a very personal and intimate lament.
The poet draws heavily from two sources: The Book of Revelations and The Romaunt of the Rose. The image of “the pearl of price” is taken from St Matthew 13.45-6 (“Again, the kingdom of heaven in like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls. Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”)
The original version (in modernized letters, lines 129-132) is as follows:
As fortune fares, ther as ho fraynes,
Whether solace ho sende other elles sore;
The wys to wham her wylle ho waynes
Hyttes to have ay more and more.
This is rendered, in the Everyman edition:
(Just) so Fortune behaves, wherever she puts (men) to the test, whether she sends ‘ pleasure or pain;
the man on whom she bestows her favor comes to have ever more and more.
Tolkien’s version (published in 1975, but dating back thirty years) gives:
As fortune fares where she doth deign,
Whether gladness she gives or grieving sore,
So he who may her graces gain,
His hap is to have ever more and more.
The edition of E.V. Gordon (Oxford, 1953) is of the Middle English text only, with no general translation; but in the notes these lines are translated as follows:
Even as fortune acts wherever she makes trial, whether she allots delight or sorrow, the man to whom
she sends her will chances (in result) to have ever more and more.
The key to this choice of epigraph is to be found almost at the end of the chapter:
It is a curious truth, noticed by many writers, that good fortune is nearly always followed by more
good fortune, and bad, by more bad. About the same time that my father decided to send me to Mr.
Kirkpatrick, another great good came upon me. Many chapters ago I mentioned a boy who lived near
us and who had tried, quite unsuccessfully, to make friends with my brother and myself. His name was
Arthur and he was my brother’s exact contemporary; he and I had been at Campbell together though we
never met. I think it was shortly before the beginning of my last term at Wyvern (i.e. Malvern) that I
received a message saying that Arthur was in bed, convalescent, and would welcome a visit. I can’t
remember what led me to accept this invitation, but for some reason I did. I found Arthur sitting up in
bed. On the table beside him lay a copy of Myths of the Norsemen. “Do you like that?” said I. “Do you
like that?” said he. Next moment the books was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we
were pointing, quoting, talking — soon almost shouting — discovering in a torrent of questions that we
not only liked the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way; that both knew the stab of Joy
and that, for both, the arrow was shot from the North.
It is, perhaps, ironical that the first “solace” (of going to Kirkpatrick) held out the promise of not being with other boys (the chapter title refers to his release from Malvern), and the “more and more” of the second “solace” was another boy, Arthur Greeves. Lewis wrote: Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.
Chapter IX The Great Knock
You will often meet with characters in nature so extravagant that a discreet poet would not
venture to set them upon the stage.
– Lord Chesterfield
Philip Stanhope, fourth earl of Chesterfield, (1694-1773), was not a typical Englishman of his age — for example, he appreciated the French (who reciprocated) — but he was one of the foremost statesmen of his time. While an orator of considerable gifts, a man of letters, and a just and efficient governor, he is best known now for the Letters to his Son and those to his Godson. The former are to his illegitimate son, Philip Stanhope, the latter to his godson, another Philip Stanhope.
The letters to his son, written in English, Latin, and French between 1737 and 1768, are full of historical and geographical information, but are, perhaps, most noteworthy for their advice on conduct. Although never intended for publication, they were published in 1774, the year after Chesterfield’s death. Johnson, who had rejected Chesterfield’s belated offer of patronage for his Dictionary, was particularly critical of the Letters and wrote:
They teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master. But this is too harsh, for the
young man is urged “never to be ashamed of doing what is right,” and to use his own judgment and
not simply follow others.
Some of the Letters to his Godson were published in 1774, but were not completely available until 1890. In one letter, Chesterfield wrote:
I must from time to time remind you of two much more important dutys, which I hope you will
never forget nor neglect. I mean your duty to God and your duty to Man. . .
The epigraph is from Chesterfield’s letter to his son dated, at Bath, October 19, O.S. 1748. This particular letter is devoted to the art of conversation, but not without reference to the pride and vanity “so strong in human nature.” Lewis’s rendering of the passage is inaccurate: the paragraph reads:
Others go more modestly and more slyly still (as they think) to work; but in my mind still more
ridiculously. They confess themselves (not without some degree of shame and confusion) into all
the Cardinal Virtues, by first degrading them into weaknesses and then owning their misfortune in
being made up of those weaknesses. They cannot see people suffer without sympathizing with, and
endeavoring to help them. They cannot see people want, without relieving them, though truly
their own circumstances cannot very well afford it. They cannot help speaking truth, though they
know all the imprudence of it. In short, they know that, with all these weaknesses, they are not fit to
live in the world, much less to thrive in it. But they are now too old to change, and must rub on as well
as they can. This sounds too ridiculous and outre, almost, for the stage; and yet, take my word for it,
you will frequently meet with it upon the common stage of the world. And here I will observe, by the
bye, that you will often meet with characters in nature so extravagant, that a discreet dramatist would
not venture to set them upon the stage in their true and high coloring.
Clearly, William Thompson Kirkpatrick — or The Great Knock ~ was one of those extravagantly natured characters that “a discreet poet (or, more accurately, dramatist)” would not put upon the stage, but he profoundly influenced Lewis, a fact that he never failed to acknowledge.
This may be the simplest, clearest and most apposite combination of chapter title, epigraph, and chapter content in the whole of Surprised by Joy, although this is only true if its words are taken completely out of context and without reference to their author, in context, they are embedded in a discussion of a particular kind of vanity, although Chesterfield does not say or imply that the “extravagantly natured characters” are all full of pride; his statement is general. While Kirkpatrick seems to have been a prideful and domineering man, there is no sense that Lewis was indirectly alluding to those attributes “in their true and high coloring.”
Lewis’s choice of Chesterfield as an author (or as an authority) is a little more puzzling, although the judgment upon the noble Lord’s character has been perhaps too negative. And yet, John Wesley wrote in his diary on October 11, 1775 the following:
I borrowed here a volume of Lord Chesterfield’s letters, which I had heard very strongly recommended.
And what did I learn? — That he was a man of much wit, middling sense, and some learning; but as
absolutely void of virtue as any Jew, Turk, or heathen that ever lived.
By “virtue,” Wesley obviously means “Christian virtue,” there being no other for him.
The actual words of the epigraph are well-suited to the chapter that it introduces, and Lewis seems to have quoted them inaccurately from memory without any regard to their context or source. The words stand in isolation.
Chapter X Fortune’s Smile
The fields, the floods, the heavens, with one consent
Did seeme to laugh on me, and favour mine intent.
Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599), was born in London and attended the newly-founded Merchant Taylors School. Entering Pembroke Hall, Cambridge as a sizar in 1569, in addition to Hebrew, Latin and Greek, he was fluent in both French and Italian. He was an enthusiastic student of both Plato and Aristotle, and seems to have preferred Virgil to Ovid. He took his M.A. in 1576 and left Cambridge. By 1578 he had become involved in Irish affairs and had made a close friend of Sir Philip Sidney. In 1579 Spenser published his first important poetic work, The Shepheardes Calendar. He was on government service for Queen Elizabeth in Ireland from 1580 to 1590 and, after a brief visit to London, was back in Ireland. In 1597, he was caught up in the Tyrone rebellion, had his home, Castle Kilcolman, sacked, he and his family narrowly escaping with their lives. He returned to London in December 1598, where he died a month later. He was buried, near Chaucer, in Westminster Abbey.
His greatest work was The Faerie Queene, begun probably by 1579 and remaining unfinished at his death. He completed six books of this “continued allegory or darke conceit” and had begun the seventh (the Mutabilitie cantos) of the projected twelve books, each of which was to be dedicated to one of “the twelve moral vertues of Aristotle,” when he died. It was written mostly in Ireland, where Spenser (an exile) loved the countryside and the desolation of the mountains, lived through political and military alarms and excursions, and combined the realism of those experiences with an idealism to fashion “a gentleman or noble person in vertuous or gentle discipline.” The first three books of The Faerie Queene were published in 1590, and the second three in 1596. He envisaged a vast heroic poem, an English national poem, based on English legend and in the national poetic tradition of Chaucer (“the well of English undefiled”).
Lewis first met Spenser during his Kirkpatrick days, when he read The Faerie Queene, not “at one sitting” as has been alleged, but mostly at weekends from October 1915 to March 1916. He regretted the work was not longer. It remained a great favorite and Lewis was primarily responsible for Spenser’s recovery of his position as one of the foremost English poets – sharing the honors with Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. Spenser, while not having much regard for the Irish people (which would have been politically difficult), was deeply affected by the natural beauty of the landscapes of Ireland, a feeling that was shared by Lewis and his brother and originating in the “dim high line of the Castlereagh Hills,” the “Green Hills.”
The epigraph is taken from The Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto IX, verse xii. The Canto is introduced by the usual four line summary:
His loves and lignage Arthur tells:
The knights knit friendly bands:
Sir Trevisan flies from Despayre,
Whom Redcrosse knight withstands.
Prince Arthur releases the Redcrosse knight, but before they depart the fair Una asks him “his name and nation.” Arthur does not know but reports that he was brought up by Timon and tutored by Merlin, In his youth he had “ever scornd”
That idle name of love, and lovers life,
As losse of time, and vertues enimy,
but “God himselfe, griev’d at my libertie,” and he was overthrown:
Ensample make of him your haplesse joy,
And of my selfe now mated, as ye see;
Whose prouder vaunt that proud avenging boy
Did soone pluck downe, and curbed my libertie.
For on a day prickt forth with jollitie
Of looser life, and heat of hardiment,
Raunging the forest wide on courser free,
The fields, the floods, the heavens with one consent
Did seeme to laugh on me, and favour mine intent.
Arthur rests and,
Me seemed, by my side a royall Mayd
Her daintie limbes full softly down did lay:
Whether this was a dream or not he could not tell, but she “bad me love her deare,” and “at her parting said, She Queene of Faeries hight.” When Arthur awoke “and found her place devoyd” he “sorrowed all so much” and, since then, has spent his time seeking her. The words “my selfe now mated, as ye see” are unclear; they may mean that Arthur has met his match, or that he and the Redcrosse knight are equally “haplesse,” being both in a sad plight, although for different reasons.
Although the Great War had broken out in August 1914, Lewis’s life was becoming much happier. His brother, Warnie, visited and took him off to Belfast when he was on leave from France (where he was serving in the regular army); they renewed their friendship which had been severely strained by Lewis’s complaint against Malvern, where Warnie had been very happy. Life and study with Kirkpatrick was intellectually satisfying and stimulating; and he had time to read. He had established a friendship with Arthur Greeves, with whom he kept up a vigorous and continuing correspondence. And he read William Morris. Lewis writes:
I was now happier than I had ever been.
Chapter XI Check
When bale is at highest, boote is at next.
– Sir Aldingar
“Sir Aldingar” is an old ballad dating from at least medieval times since it was a favorite of the historian, William of Malmesbury (c. 1090-1143). The story is of a treacherous knight, Sir Aldingar, who, because his Lady will not yield to him, falsely denounces her to his Lord, her husband. She is unable to clear her name and asks for a trial by combat to decide her fate; unfortunately no knight can be found to be her champion. The lord and lady are usually taken to be King Henry II and Queen Eleanor, but it is not necessary for the ballad to be historical. (Another name for the Lady is Gunhilda.) In desperation, since no knight will defend the Lady’s honor, one of her maids sets out to scour the country for a champion. She has no success but does meet a child — “a tinye boye” — who orders her to return to her Lady and tell her that, in accordance with a dream she had had, “heaven will fende her cause.” The appointed combat day comes and no champion stands forth, the fire for burning her is lit, and then “the tinye boy” is seen, riding a “little white steed.”
He challenges Sir Aldingar who “laughed, and scoffed, and turned his backe,” disdaining to fight with the boy, who took out
“a well good sworde,
So gilt it dazzled the ee;
The first stroke stricken at Aldingar
Smote off his leggs by the knee.”
Taunted by the boy as being now of equal size, Sir Aldingar calls for a priest, confesses his treachery, and dies. The Lady is reconciled to her Lord, but “The boye was vanisht and gone.”
One version of “Sir Aldingar,” with fifty-five verses, can be found in Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. The thirty-third verse contains the response of the “tiny boye” to the Lady’s maid’s request for a champion; it reads:
Yet turne againe, thou faire damselle,
And greete thy queene from mee;
When bale is att hyest, boote is nyest;
Nowe helpe enoughe may bee.
It seems that “bale” is derived from the Saxon balu, meaning Evil, as a destructive force; it is possible that a pun is involved for the Saxon bael means a great consuming fire or a funeral pyre and the Lady’s fate is to be burnt. The word “boote” is derived from the Saxon betan, meaning to mend or better something. Thus the epigraph quotation roughly means “When the Evil (and the fire) are greatest, repair, rescue, succor is nearest to hand and will follow.” The version that Lewis quotes differs from that commonly known, for he gives “next” for “nyest”. Presumably, it was written from a slightly faulty memory.
This eleventh chapter, Check, recounts how close Lewis came to being a materialist and “to care for nothing but the gods and heroes, the gardens of the Hesperides, Launcelot and the Grail, and to believe in nothing but atoms and evolution and military service.” He was saved from this “bale” by the “boote” provided by George MacDonald’s Phantasies, a faerie Romance, found, in a dirty dust-jacket, on a railway station bookstall one March evening in 1916.
Chapter XII Guns and Good Company
La compagnie, de tant d’hommes vous plaist, nobles, jeunes, actifs; la liberte de cette
conversation sans art, et une facon de vie masle et sans ceremonie.
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) created the personal essay as a literary form. After an education inspired by Renaissance ideals, he was active in politics and served as a counselor in the Bordeaux Parlement. There he met Etienne de la Boetie, a young judge, who encouraged his interest in philosophy before dying at an early age. From 1571 to1580 Montaigne was in retirement in Dordogne, studying and writing, and in the latter year he published the first two books of his Essays. He served two terms as mayor of Bordeaux and then, to avoid the plague, spent six months traveling through the countryside with his family. His experiences were reported in the third book of Essays.
The following is taken from the Villay edition of Montaigne’s Essays:
II n’est occupation plaisante comme la militaire, occupation et noble en execution (car la plus forte,
genereuse et superbe de toutes les vertues est la vaillance), et noble en sa cause: il n’est point d’utilite
ny plus juste, ny plus universelle que la protection du repos et grandeur de son pays. La compaignie
de tant d’hommes vous plaist, nobles, jeunes, actifs, la veue ordinaire de tant de spectacles tragiques, la
liberte de cette conversation sans art, et d’une facon de de vie masle et sans ceremonie, la variete de mille
actions diverses, cette courageuse harmonic de la de la musique guerriere qui vous entretient et eschauffe
et les oreilles et 1’ame, 1’honneur de cet exercice, son asprete mesme et sa difficulte, que Platon estime
si peu, qu’en sa republique il en faict part aux femmes et aux enfans.
The following is the Cotton translation:
There is no profession more pleasant than the military, a profession both noble in its execution (for valour
is the stoutest, proudest, and most generous of all virtues), and noble in its cause; there is no utility either
more universal or more just, than the protection of the peace and grandeur of one’s country. The company
of so many noble, young, and active men delights you; the ordinary sight of so many tragic spectacles; the
freedom of the conversation, without art; a masculine and unceremonious way of living, please you; the
variety of a thousand several actions, the encouraging harmony of martial music, that ravishes and inflames
both your ears and your souls; the honour of this occupation, nay, even its hardships and difficulties, which
Plato holds so light that, in his Republic, he makes women and children share in them, are delightful to you.
In this chapter, Guns and Good Company, Lewis recounts his entry into male social life. First at Oxford (after being virtually companionless at Kirkpatrick’s), then in the Cadet Corps, and finally in the Army and in the front line in France. It is, perhaps, significant to note what he has omitted from the Montaigne paragraph from which the epigraph is taken (Montaigne’s Essays, Book III, Chapter 13, On Experience).
First, the praise of the profession of arms is not in Lewis’s mind; second, the defense of one’s country is not a motive that he wants to acknowledge; third, the tragic spectacles hold no fascination for him; fourth, the inflaming martial music does not appeal; and, finally, he ignores the view ascribed to Plato (whom he thought “all wrong” a few years later). What is important is the association with men. Lewis does not indicate, by ellipses, the omissions, and he offers no translation.
Chapter XIII The New Look
This wall I was many a weary month in finishing, and yet never thought myself safe till it was done.
– Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was born in London, his father being James Fox; he changed his name to Defoe about 1695. Intended for the Presbyterian ministry, he was educated at Morton’s Academy for Dissenters in Newington Green, but in 1682 he abandoned his studies and became a hosiery merchant in Cornhill, London. After serving briefly as a soldier, he became an important merchant, traveling on the Continent and serving as a government secret agent from 1697 to 1714. He published, single-handedly, a newspaper from 1703 to 1714, and wrote extensively on a wide variety of topics. He began writing fiction late in life, and Robinson Crusoe appeared in 1719; Moll Flanders and A Journal of the Plague Year were published in 1722, followed, two years later, by his last novel Roxana. He died in 1731.
The epigraph has not been located in Robinson Crusoe, and it may not exist exactly as Lewis remembered and wrote it. The sense is clearly in the novel and the following seems to be the closest to what Lewis records:
Jan. 3.1 began my fence or wall; which, being still jealous of being attacked by some body, I \
resolved to make very thick and strong.
N.B. This wall being described before, I purposely omit what was said in the Journal; it is sufficient
to observe that I was no less time than from 3d of January to the 14th of April, working, finishing, and
perfecting this wall, tho’ it was no more than about 24 yards in length, being half a circle from one
place in the rock to another place about eight yards from it, the door of the cave being in the center
All this time I worked very hard, the rains hindering me many days, nay, sometimes weeks together; but
I thought I should never be perfectly secure ’till this wall was finished; and it is scarce credible what
inexpressible labour every thing was done with, especially the bringing piles out of the woods, and driving
them into the ground, for I made them much bigger than I need to have done.
The account of the wall “described before” in the Journal and hence omitted, follows upon Crusoe’s determination of a suitable site for his settlement, which had to have fresh water, shade, security, and a view of the sea. It is as follows:
Before I set up my tent, I drew a half circle before the hollow place which took in about ten yards
in its semi-diameter from the rock, and twenty yards in its diameter, from its beginning and ending.
In this half circle I pitched two rows of strong stakes, driving them into the ground till they stood
very firm like piles, the biggest end being out of the ground about five foot and a half, and sharpened
on the top. The two rows did not stand above six inches from one another.
Then I took the pieces of cable which I had cut in the ship, and I laid them in rows one upon another,
within the circle, between these two rows of stakes, up to the top, placing other stakes in the in-side,
leaning against them, about two foot and a half high, like a spur to a post, and this fence was so strong
that neither man nor beast could get into it or over it. This cost me a great deal of time and labour, especially
to cut the piles in the woods, bring them to the place, and drive them into the earth.
The entrance into this place I made to be not by a door, but by a short ladder to go over the top,
which ladder, when I was in, I lifted over after me, and so I was compleatly fenced in, and fortify’d, as
I thought, from all the world and consequently slept secure in the night, which otherwise I could not
have done, tho’, as it appeared afterward, there was no need of all this caution from the enemies
that I apprehended danger from.
In December 1930, when Lewis was settling into The Kilns (purchased only five months earlier), clearing paths, sawing and chopping wood and the like, he wrote to Arthur Greeves:
It is absurd how remote all simple human activities have been from me all my life: so much so that
when I heave up my axe I still always see myself as an illustration in Robinson Crusoe
In this chapter, The New Look, Lewis describes how he was at great pains to build “a wall” around himself to keep out the two great enemies, religion and romanticism. This wall, which was called “an intellectual New Look,” was deliberately constructed in the halcyon days of Oxford after the war and with his new (and then Pagan) friends, Jenkin, Barfield, and Harwood:
There was to be no more pessimism, no more self-pity, no flirtations with any idea of
the supernatural, no romantic delusions.
Lewis calls it a “sort of Stoical Monism,” and it gave him “a great sense of peace.” But the enemies were present. Harwood and Barfield became Anthroposophists – and subscribed to “all the abominations,” — gods, spirits, after-life and pre-existence, initiates, occult knowledge, meditation. With Barfield, Lewis engaged in their “Great War,” and although Lewis never accepted Anthroposophy he was changed by the argument. First, he gave up “chronological snobbery,” the notion that the newer idea is better, more true. Second, he realized that to be a “realist” meant accepting a behavioristic theory of logic, ethics, and aesthetics — and, quite literally, he could not believe hi that. So he gave up realism.
But the remaining parts of the wall kept Lewis from seeing that his new position was simply Theism. Instead, he spoke of the Absolute, something that was so remote that:
There was nothing to fear; better still nothing to obey.
Chapter XIV Checkmate
The one principle of hell is – “I am my own.”
– George MacDonald
George MacDonald (1824-1905), the Scottish novelist, poet, and minister, is still best known for his children’s fantasy At the Back of the North Wind (1871) but students of C.S. Lewis know him from his book Phantastes which Lewis found, in an unprepossessing dust-jacket, on a bookstall on Leatherhead railway station platform in March 1916. This book appealed to Lewis because it showed how MacDonald saw divinity in ordinary, everyday things. Later, Lewis called this “holiness,” and wrote that the book “had about it a sort of cool morning innocence . . .What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptize . . . my imagination.”
MacDonald had a definite belief in human and divine communion and, after modifying and softening his Calvinism, he held to a mystical interpretation of man and nature and, on the whole, his fairy stories are more successful than his novels, although Phantastes (1858) and Lilith (1895) are obviously impressive. They certainly impressed Lewis, In his writings, MacDonald combined different elements in most of his works ~ Phantastes is both prose and poetry ~ but the union was not always happy and convincing. The natural and the supernatural, allegory and passion, the romantic and the grotesque, sentiment and philosophic religion may unite and combine in the universal order of things, but they do not always do so in MacDonald.
In The Great Divorce, Lewis introduces MacDonald as his guide in the Valley of the Shadow of Life, but the epigraph is not from Lewis’s character (who avers that “Hell is a state of mind.”) but from the Aberdeenshire minister himself. It appears in Unspoken Sermons: Third Series in an essay on “Kingship.”
Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all
verity of relation throughout the universe — first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and
that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life.
He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of hell is — ‘I am my own.
I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the
object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return. My
own glory is, and ought to be, my chief care; my ambition, to gather the regards of men to the one centre,
myself. My pleasure is my pleasure. My kingdom is — as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness
over them. My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is ~ what I desire. The more I am all in
all to myself, the greater I am. The less I acknowledge debt or obligation to another; the more I close
my eyes to the fact that I did not make myself; the more self-sufficing I feel or imagine myself— the greater
I am. I will be free with the freedom that consists in doing whatever I am inclined to do, from whatever
quarter may come the inclination. To do my own will so long as I feel anything to be my will, is to be free,
is to live. To all these principles of hell, or of the world — they are the same thing, and it matters nothing
whether they are asserted or defended so long as they are acted upon ~ the Lord, the king, gives the direct
It is worth considering this quotation in relation to Thomas Traherne whose Centuries of Meditations provided the epigraph for Chapter V (above). In the best-known Meditation, the third of the Third Century, that begins “The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown”, Traherne writes:
The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were
mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the
sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it. I knew
no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions: but all proprieties and divisions were mine.
The sense of possession is overwhelming, but it must be tempered by two thoughts. One is in the last sentence of that same Meditation:
Which now I unlearn, and become as it were a little child again, that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.
The other is the following from The Meditations and Devotions on the Life of Christ:
And yet to give me Assurance that all that thou hast, is mine, O inexhausted Bounty! O Excess of Love!
If all be mine, dear Lord, why then thy Grace is mine, thy Gifts are mine, thy Heaven is mine, thy
Son, my Redeemer, is mine, his Righteousness mine, his Merits mine, his Satisfaction mine, his Life mine,
and his Glory mine
This gives a meaning to “mine” which goes far beyond MacDonald’s simple, greedy, and selfish possessiveness. MacDonald also wrote a novel, What’s Mine’s Mine and Lewis recommended it to Arthur Greeves in January 1931.
I have read a new MacDonald since I last wrote, which I think the very best of the novels. I would put
it immediately below Phantastes, Lilith, the Fairy Tales, & the Diary of an Old Soul. It has very little of the bad plot interest, and quite frankly subordinates story to doctrine. But such doctrine. Some of the conversations in
this book I hope to re-read many times.
On February 1, 1931 Lewis writes:
I hope you won’t be disappointed by What’s Mine’s Mine. Of course it has not the fantastic charm of Phantastes,
nor the plot excitement of Wilfrid Cumbermede. It is just the spiritual quality with some beautiful landscape
— nothing more.
In fact, What’s Mine’s Mine presents and explores a wide range of the meaning of “mine.” The over-arching meaning is the duty and responsibility that a leader, under God, has to and for those who are “his” – that is, for those in his charge. The novel tells of a Scottish clan that is forced to give up its homeland and seek a new home in Canada. In the last chapter, as the clan marches to the bay where their ship awaits, the piper stops playing the march and changes to a lament — “Men and women, the chief alone excepted, burst into weeping . . .
But the chief, Alister, stopped the piper:
“My friends,” he cried, in Gaelic of course, “look at me: my eyes are dry! Where Jesus, the Son of God, is —
there is my home! He is here, and he is over the sea, and my home is everywhere! I have lost my land and
my country, but I take with me my people, and make no moan over my exile! Hearts are more than hills.
Farewell Strathruadh of my childhood! Place of my dreams, I shall visit you again in my sleep! And again
I shall see you in happier times, please God, with my friends around me.”
This sense of “mine” is not the “one principle of Hell.” The final paragraph of the Unspoken Sermon begins:
Is every Christian expected to bear witness? A man content to bear no witness to the truth is not in the
kingdom of heaven. One who believes must bear witness. One who sees the truth, must live witnessing it.
Towards the end of this chapter, Checkmate, Lewis wrote:
. . . I had always wanted, above all things, not to be “interfered with.” I had wanted (mad wish) “to call
my soul my own.” I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight. I had always aimed
at limited liabilities. The supernatural itself had been to me, first, an illicit dram, and then as by a drunkard’s reaction, nauseous.
The demand was not even “All or nothing.”. . . Now, the demand was simply “All.”
Later in life than the period of this chapter, Lewis did expect himself to bear witness and was remarkably diligent and honest in doing it. Lewis then belonged to God, not to himself.
Chapter XV The Beginning
Aliud est de silvestri cacumine videre patriam pacis … .at aliud tenere viam illuc ducentem.
– St. Augustine, Confessions, VII, xxi
For it is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge . . . and another to tread the road that leads to it.
The complete section, without ellipses and with Biblical references added, is as follows in
the Pusey translation:
For it is one thing, from the mountain’s shaggy top to see the land of peace [Deut.32.49], and to find no way thither; and in vain to essay through ways unpassable, opposed and beset by fugitives and deserters, under their captain the “lion” [I Pet. 5.8] and the “dragon” [Rev. 12.3]; and another to keep on the way that leads thither, guarded by the host of the heavenly General; where they spoil not who have deserted the heavenly army; for
they avoid it, as very torment. These things did wonderfully sink into my bowels, when I read that “least of
Thy Apostles” [I Cor. 15.9], and had meditated upon Thy works, and trembled exceedingly.
The complete Latin text of the passage is as follows:
et aliud est de silvestri cacumine videre patriam pacis, et iter ad cam non invenire, et frastra conari per
invia, circum obsidentibus et insidiantibus fugitivis desertoribus, cum principe suo leone et dracone; et
aliud tenere viam illuc duocentem, cura caelestis imperatoris munitam, ubi non latrocinantur qui caelestem
lilitiam deseruerunt; vitant enim earn sicut supplicium.
The Loeb translation is:
For it is one thing from the woody top of a mountain to see the land of peace, and not to find the way thither;
and in vain to travel through ways unpassable, round about beset with these fugitive spirits, forsakers of their
God lying in ambush with that ring-leader of theirs, the Lion and the Dragon: and another to heep on the way
that leads thither, which is guarded by the care of our heavenly General: where there are none that forsook
the heavenly army to exercise robberies; which they abhor as much as their very torment.
The Seventh Book of the “Confessions” deals with Augustine’s thirty-first year, in which he struggles to extricate himself from his errors but cannot free himself from materialistic conceptions of God. He does, however, come to realize that the cause of sin lies in freewill, although the origin of sin still perplexed him. His study of the Platonists led him to understand the divinity of the Word, but he could not see Christ as Mediator. Finally, his reading of the Scriptures, especially St Paul, removed his doubts. This clearly parallels the life and conversion of Lewis, who became a Theist in 1929 and a Christian in September, 1931 at the age of thirty-three (less two months). Augustine was baptized in his thirty-third year.
It is obviously appropriate for Lewis to take this quotation from Augustine, marking, as it does, the end of Surprised by Joy and the beginning of his new life as a Christian. There is no sense that Lewis saw himself as a second Augustine, but he did recognize that his own life, religiously and chronologically, followed the same pattern at that of the saint. As for Joy, the main subject of his book, Lewis reports that
the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. I cannot, indeed, complain,
like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away. I believe (if the thing were at all worth
recording) that the old stab, the old bitter-sweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion
as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind,
had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and
And that was his new beginning.
* * * * * * *
Reflection on these notes on the chapter epigraphs in Surprised by Joy suggests a number of tentative conclusions. First, the simple range of sources from which Lewis draws is very impressive, and from a number of languages ~ Middle English, French, Latin, as well as his native English.
Second, it appears that only the epigraphs to chapters II and XV (and possibly XII) were taken directly from a text. All of the others were apparently remembered by Lewis, not always correctly, but more or less accurately; the worst discrepancy is probably Chapter XIII’s epigraph ascribed to Defoe. It is well-known that Lewis had a prodigious memory, but these examples of it at work indicate that the memory was not “photographic.”
Third, Lewis normally takes it for granted that the fitness of words, isolated and taken out of all context and source, is appropriate authority for his adoption of them as an epigraph. The fact that the words of the epigraph were spoken by Satan or the Duchess of Malfi seems irrelevant to him; that they were applied by their original author to a set of circumstances often totally different from his own does not preclude him from using them.
It is now time to consider the title and epigraph of the whole book.
Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life
Surpised by joy — impatient as the wind
Both the title and epigraph of Lewis’s 1956 story of his conversion are taken from a William Wordsworth sonnet, published in 1815. The title has only three words –“Surprized by Joy” ~ while the epigraph has the seven words of the first line — “Surprized by Joy ~ impatient as the Wind”, although the spelling and capitalization have been modernized by Lewis.
Wordsworth (1770-1850) always seems to have liked children and certainly wanted children of his own. As is well-known, Wordsworth fell in love with Annette Vallon in Orleans, France in 1792 and in December of that year a daughter, Caroline, was born to them. Although Wordsworth’s name appeared on the baptismal certificate, he seems to have been in Paris at the time of birth. Since Revolutionary France was not a safe place for an Englishman, he returned to England, unmarried, that same month. No mention of this is to be found in his autobiographical The Prelude. Ten years later, on October 4, 1802, Wordsworth did get married to Mary Hutchinson whom he had known since 1773 when they were both 3 years old. The marriage took place at Brompton Church, near Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast and immediately after the ceremony, Wordsworth, his new bride, and his sister Dorothy took carriage back to Grasmere where they were all to live together.
William and Mary had five children. John was born in June 1803, Dora in August 1804, Tom in June 1806, Catherine in September 1808, and, finally, Willy in May 1810. Catherine was very lively, entertaining, and gifted with a sense of humor, evident to all even as early as the age of 2 years. Dorothy, later, remembered her laughter. Thomas de Quincey, a frequent visitor at Grasmere, was devoted to all of the Wordsworth children but seems to have had a special affection for Catherine, promising to be her “sole Tutor. When she was 2 years old, Catherine suffered from “convulsions” after eating some raw carrots. She was quite ill and was left with a bad limp. It seems that she never regained her health and, in June 1812, she had more “convulsions” and died on June 4, 1812 at the age of 3 years 9 months. Her father was in London and her mother was in Wales (awaiting the arrival of William from London), so it fell to Dorothy to arrange the funeral on June 8, 1812 and to inform the parents, who felt the loss very deeply. De Quincey almost went out of his mind with grief, and every day for two months he would stretch himself out on Catherine’s grave in the Grasmere churchyard, and was sure that he could see her playing games and running races, as she had done when alive.
There is little doubt that Catherine was one of those children who bring joy and happiness to all who meet them, and she was sorely grieved by her parents and aunt. William Wordsworth’s grief continued and he deeply missed the happy companionship that he had shared with Catherine. Some time — probably in late 1814 or early 1815 —he wrote a commemorative sonnet, reporting that it “was in fact suggested by my daughter Catherine long after her death.”
Surprized by joy — impatient as the Wind
I wished to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love recalled thee to my mind —
But how could I forget thee? — Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? — That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
The impatient Wordsworth wants to share the sudden joy — the transport — he has felt, and the obvious sharer is Catherine. But she is long dead — which he well knows — and re-iterating the fact is “the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,” only exceeded by what he had felt when he “stood forlorn.” Dramatically, it would have been best for him to have been standing at her open grave or, at least, at her tomb; the historical fact is that Wordsworth was not present at Catherine’s burial, and it seems that the best that history can offer is that he “stood forlorn” in London when he heard the news of her death. Poetically and emotionally this is not as satisfying. The poem undoubtedly conveys the grief, and the reader is left with a sense of the total isolation of the bereft Wordsworth; the world he is talking about was inhabited by only two people — himself and Catherine — and he is now desperate as he confronts the fact that her “heavenly face” cannot be restored. He is now alone in that world and finds no comfort in his other children, his wife, or his sister. Nor does he allow the possibility of comfort from God, or even of a Resurrection. There is nothing supernatural in the poem. It is an expression of an intense and personal grief, wholly intimate and secular.
If this is so, the question arises why Lewis found it apposite to The Shape of My Early Life.
When Lewis first read the poem is not known, but it may be assumed that he remembered it, as he did much of what he read. Nor do we know if he refreshed his memory, when writing Surprised by Joy, by checking it against a printed text. We only know that he took the first line as the epigraph and the first three words as the title. On the face of it, the words seem to fit well the story that Lewis tells. But it may be that this is only the case if we (and Lewis) wrench them from their context and occasion. The words “Surprised by joy,” in themselves and without reference to Wordsworth, convey the needed sense ~ Lewis was surprised; he was not expecting, did not even know of the existence of joy. And joy itself gets converted into a technical term, “Joy.” The quality of the surprise and the meaning of joy are not the same for Lewis and Wordsworth, not least because they belong in different worlds. Wordsworth’s world, in the poem, is purely domestic and secular; Lewis’s world, while it contains the story of his personal conversion, is cosmic and theological.
In the rest of the epigraph, Lewis omits the words in the second line that Wordsworth indicates go with “impatient as the Wind”, namely, “I wished to share the transport.” By omitting them, Lewis reduces the emphasis on self and suggests that the impatience has nothing to do with sharing “the transport.” What did it have to do with? The obvious answer is that while Lewis was, indeed, surprised by his particular kind of Joy, the impatience that he felt was a result of his “longing,” of Sehnsucht. Certainly, his life up to the time of his conversion was full of longing, of dissatisfaction, which he was impatient to have satisfied.
This has nothing to do with Wordsworth’s words or Wordsworth’s meaning. He was impatient “to share the transport,” but only with his dear, dead daughter, Catherine.
It might be argued that Lewis was “impatient as the Wind” because he wished “to share the transport,” that is, he was impatient to tell others of the good news of his conversion and how it occurred. If this is what Lewis had in mind (although it does seem out of character, given his sense of privacy), it clearly changes Wordsworth’s meaning. for the poet had had no public in mind, but rather only the wish to share with his daughter, alone. The present conclusion must be that while the words are Wordsworth’s, Lewis has quoted them out of context and in such a way that their meaning (as far as he intends) can only be discovered from a reading of his book Surprised by Joy. The meaning does not come from the poet.
There is one other consideration, although it seems distant and far-fetched. Perhaps Lewis understood the poem — or chose to understand the poem — as an allegory, in which what Wordsworth says about Catherine, Lewis understands to be about Christ, in Lewis’s life, until his conversion, Christ has been “long buried in the silent Tomb.” The Love that “recalled thee to my mind” is not the poet’s love for Catherine, but, conversely, Christ’s love for Lewis. It is the remembrance of this love that causes Lewis sorrow ~ how could he have forgotten the Savior? While this can be plausibly argued, the last three lines of the poem, seem to preclude any such interpretation for, given the Last Judgment and the Resurrection, how could Lewis say that “neither present time, nor years unborn, Could to my sight that heavenly face restore” ? We are told that then “we shall see face to face.”
My tentative conclusion is that Lewis does not mean what Wordsworth meant. The borrowed words fit the circumstance, but only if re-interpreted: quite literally, Catherine has nothing to do with Lewis’s conversion and she has everything to do with Wordsworth’s poem. There are three possibilities, it seems: first, that Lewis mis-remembered the poem as a whole, while remembering the opening line; second, that he understood the poem to be about something more than Catherine ~ that he took it to be a theological poem, as well as a memorial to a loved daughter; third, that he knew that the poem’s words, when taken in context, did not fit his meanings but, since they were appropriate when re-interpreted and he was not giving their context, that did not matter. None of these are satisfactory. The first argues against Lewis’s care in scholarship (and is highly unlikely); the second argues for a highly questionable interpretation for which there is no external evidence and only partial internal support; the third, seems almost dishonest. There remains a puzzle.
In some ways, Lewis was well aware of his audience and the down-to-earth and plain style of many of his works (especially the broadcast talks) is one quality that recommends them to us. They are popular because they are straightforward, direct speaking, without pretense or affectation. What did he think he was doing when he chose an epigraph from the Pearl Poet or Montaigne in French (with no translation)? My initial inclination is to suppose that he was not providing the epigraphs for his readers — if he thought he was, he had no realistic idea of who they would be — but, rather, that he was playing a game with himself and took delight in remembering what might be (in a certain sense) apposite quotations.
But this is a dangerous game. As Lewis himself reminds us, in Studies in Words:
One of my aims is to facilitate, as regards certain words, a more accurate reading of old books; and
therefore to encourage everyone to similar exploration of many other words. I am sometimes told
that there are people who want a study of literature wholly free from philology; that is, from
the love and knowledge of words. Perhaps such people do exist. If they do, they are either crying for
the moon or else resolving on a lifetime of persistent and carefully guarded delusion. If we read an
old poem with insufficient regard for change in the overtones, and even the dictionary meanings, of
words since its date — if, in fact, we are content with whatever effect the words accidentally
produce in our modern minds — then of course we do not read the poem the old writer intended.
What we get may still be, in our opinion, a poem; but it will be our poem, not his.
And he fully acknowledges the importance of context:
What seems to me certain is that in ordinary language the sense of a word is governed by the context
and this sense normally excludes all others from the mind.
Perhaps Lewis thought that in using the epigraphs he was giving a new context — namely, the story of his conversion — to them, and that the original authors’ context was to be superseded in the mind of the reader.
And in The Discarded Image, Lewis writes:
There are, I know, those who prefer not to go beyond the impression, however accidental, which
an old work makes on a mind that brings to it a purely modern sensibility and modern conceptions;
just as there are travellers who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent . . .
They have their reward. I have no quarrel with people who approach the past in that spirit. I hope
they will pick none with me. But I was writing for the other sort.
Perhaps the title and epigraphs of Surprised by Joy were written for the other other sort.