Tidbits from C.S. Lewis

As my earlier post may have suggested, I’ve been dipping into C.S. Lewis’s letters. Here are a few quotes that struck me:

“I quite agree with what you say about buying books, and love the planning and scheming beforehand, and if they come by post, finding the neat little parcel waiting for you on the hall table and rushing upstairs to open it in the privacy of your own room… (to Arthur Greeves, Mar. 7, 1916)

“I have come to think that if I had the mind, I have not the brain and nerves for a life of pure philosophy. A continued search among the abstract roots of things, a perpetual questioning of all that plain men take for granted, a chewing the cud for fifty years over inevitable ignorance and a constant frontier watch on the little tidy lighted conventional world of science and daily life–is this the best life for temperaments such as ours? Is it the way of health or even of sanity?” (to his father, Aug. 14, 1925)

“What I couldn’t see was how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) two thousand years ago could help us here and now–except in so far as his example helped us. And the example business, tho’ true and important, is not Christianity: right in the centre of Christianity, in the Gospels and St Paul, you keep on getting something quite different and very mysterious expressed in those phrases I have so often ridiculed (‘propitiation’ — ‘sacrifice’ — ‘the blood of the Lamb’)–expressions wh. I cd only interpret in senses that seemed to me either silly or shocking.” (to Arthur Greeves, Oct. 18, 1931)

“I have played with the idea that Christianity was never intended for Asia–even that Buddha is the form in which Christ appears to the Eastern mind. But I don’t think this will really work.” (to his brother, Apr. 8, 1932)

“My own secret is–let rude ears be absent–that to tell you the truth, brother, I don’t like genius. I like enourmously some things that only genius can do: such as Paradise Lost and the Divine Comedy. But it is the results I like. What I don’t care twopence about is the sense (apparently dear to so many) of being in the hands of “a great man”–you know: his dazzling personality, his lightening energy, the strange force of his mind–and all that.” (to his brother, June 14, 1932)

“The Tableland [in The Pilgrim’s Regress] represents all high and dry states of mind, of which High Anglicanism then seemed to me to be one–most of the representatives of it whom I had then met being v. harsh people who called themselves scholastics and appeared to be inspired more by hatred of their fathers’ religion than anything else. I wd modify that view now: but I’m still not what you’d call high. To me the real distinction is not between high and low but between religion with real supernaturalism & salvationism on one hand and all watered-down and modernist versions on the other.” (to Sister Penelope, C.S.M.V., Nov. 8, 1939)

“Fascism and Communism, like all other evils, are potent because of the good they contain or imitate.” (to Dom Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., Jan. 17, 1940)

“The best Dickens always seems to be the one I have read last! But in a cool hour I put Bleak House top for its sheer prodigality of invention.” (to Dom Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., Nov. 5, 1954)

“One often wonders how different the content of our faith will look when we see it in the total context. Might it be as if one were living on an infinite earth? Further knowledge wd leave our map of, say, the Atlantic quite correct, but if it turned out to be the estuary of a great river–and the continent thro’ wh. that river flowed turned out to be itself an island–off the shores of a still greater continent–and so on! You see what I mean? Not one jot of Revelation will be proved false: but so many new truths might be added.” (to Dom Bede Griffiths, Feb. 8, 1956)

“Birth control I won’t give a view on: I’m certainly not prepared to say that it is always wrong.” (to “Mrs. Ashton,” Mar. 13, 1956)

“That the over-all operation of Scripture is to convey God’s Word to the reader (he also needs his inspiration) who reads it in the right spirit, I fully believe. That it also gives true answers to all the questions (often religiously irrelevant) which he might ask, I don’t.” (to Clyde Kilby, May 7, 1959)

“No one ever influenced Tolkien–you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.” (to Charles Moorman, May 15, 1959)

“We must have a talk–I wish you’d write an essay on it–about Punishment. The modern view, by excluding the retributive element and concentrating solely on deterrence and cure, is hideously immoral. It is vile tyranny to submit a man to compulsory “cure” or sacrifice him to the deterrence of others, unless he deserves it.” (to T.S. Eliot, May 25, 1962)

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