Friday, 22 August 2014

Warnie Lewis on Charles Williams and the Inklings - implications for understanding the Inklings as based on and around Charles Williams

From Warren Hamilton Lewis's diary for Tuesday 15 May 1945 (In "Brothers and Friends", edited by CS Kilby and ML Mead, 1982):

At 12.50 this morning I had just stopped work... when the telephone rang, and a woman's voice asked if I would take a message for J [=Jack = CS Lewis] -

"Mr Charles Williams died in the Acland [hospital] this morning".

One often reads of people being 'stunned' by bad news, and reflects idly on the absurdity of the expression; but there is more than a little truth in it. I felt just as if I had slipped and come down on my head on the pavement...

I felt dazed and restless, and went out to get a drink: choosing unfortunately the King's Arms, where during the winter Charles and I more than once drank a pint after leaving Tollers [Tolkien] at the Mitre, with much glee at 'clearing ones throats of varnish with good honest beer', as Charles used to say.

There will be no more pints with Charles: no more 'Bird and Baby': the blackout has fallen, and the Inklings can never be the same again. 

I knew him better than any of the others, by virtue of his being the most constant attendant...

And so vanishes one of he best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. May God receive him into His everlasting happiness. 



1. Despite that I don't think Charles Williams mentions Warnie Lewis in any of his writings; nor do his biographers mention Warnie - it is clear that they were good friends. (This also emphasizes that C.W's own recorded written accounts of himself and his own doings are extremely partial, hence biased.)

2. As of 1945, Warnie knew Williams better than the others - which means better than Tolkien, or Havard, or Barfield. His evaluation of Charles as "one of he best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet" should be given considerable weight, because Warnie was among the kindest and most empathic of men.

3. Warnie regarded Williams as absolutely central to The Inklings and indeed the most constant attender at the meetings (presumably aside from Jack and Warnie Lewis themselves). Therefore, an evaluation of whatever The Inklings was 'about' must be focused on what C.W brought to the group. 

My current feeling is that Charles Williams was both the trigger of The Inklings, and functioned in its heyday as as the senior figure and arbiter of the Inklings - when considered in its function as a serious intellectual group:

(Note: this present view of CW as leader supersedes my previous idea of Williams as a 'grey eminence' - or power behind the throne.)

This entails that it is NOT CS Lewis, nor JRR Tolkien, who was the primary person or spiritual leader among the Inklings - but instead Charles Williams.

There is very little direct evidence for this claim, but I hope to explore it in future postings.

Therefore, although they continued to meet for a few years after his death, once Williams was gone, so was the core reason for the Inklings Thursday evening meetings at Lewis's rooms - and the group dwindled to become essentially a convivial and casual gathering for drink and conversation at the Bird and Baby (Eagle and Child pub).

Continued at:


Anonymous said...

I remember George Sayer telling me he was working on a biography of Warnie after his biography of 'Jack' had appeared: it would be worth (someone's) while trying to find out what has become of the draft version(s) of this.

Warnie's diaries contain a lot more than the generous selection published, which is already fascinating for its glimpses of Inklings meetings - conceivably, a lot more about Williams.

I am not sure what you mean by "extemely partial" - certainly I do not recall having ever encountered anything aspiring to completeness or even any especially thematic attention to the Inklings among his unpublished papers, but I am not sure how one should approach such 'negative evidence', and do not see how you proceed to "hence biased". It is interesting that Alice Mary Hadfield, in quoting Williams to Thelma Shuttleworth on 20 December 1944 where he contrasts his dependence on his wife with "one's distinguished friend at [ ]" who, "however good and useful, is not that steady, unnoticeable nourishment and repose", has suppressed the word "Magdalen" which allows the identification as C.S. Lewis (Exploration, p. 230), but how much weight should be given Williams's tone here, I am not sure.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

By partial and biased I was referring to the Michal - Serge letters, which I reviewed here

By biased I meant that CW seemed actively to suppress-to-the-point-of-dishonestly-conceal any reference to the Inklings in his letters to his wife (the main source of information concerning his doings in 39-14).

BTW Are you able to throw any light on the nature of Michael's medical/ psychiatric problems, which caused CW and his wife so much anxiety?

I would certainly love to read more about Warnie - I am a great enthusiast for the Book made from his journals and re-read it frequently.

But I don't suppose I shall ever get to read the MS of Warnie's journals for myself at Wheaton - I hope that someday they become available online. I would particularly like to read his record of *all* the walking tours he did with Jack.

I did, a few years ago, try to find someone who might know about George Sayer's book on Warnie, but drew a blank.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I had missed your review. I don't have a rounded or detailed sense of Michal or their relationship or her relations and contacts with (so to express it) other people he knew - so, I was grateful for the late Lois Lang-Sims's sketch of Michal in her edition of letters. The Williamses seem to have got along with the Pellows in the 'Twenties as young families together, and Michal certainly corresponded a bit with John Pellow after Williams's death. Yet his son, Dr. Pellow, gave me the impression that John Pellow found Michal difficult (my sense was, even in the 'Twenties, but I am not absolutely sure that is correct: there's nothing of that obvious in the diary selections Dr. Pellow looked up for me and photcopies of which we put in the Bodleian, Wade, and Williams Society collections).

Both Anne Ridler and Dame Helen Gardner kept up with Michal and Michael in a friendly way.

I am afraid I cannot throw light on Michael's problems, either: he was very kind and courteous to me - we discovered we shared a delight in the works of Barbara Pym - but I did not have many contacts with him and never attempted to ask him probing questions. I suspect he was very much in the middle of many tensions between his parents, but don't in fact know anything for certain, there, either. He was certainly interested in the cinema for most of his life - though I can't recall off the top of my head if that explicitly fed into Williams's thoughts about writing a book of film criticism, discussed in correspondence with Joan Wallis in the 'Forties.

But Grevel Lindop's forthcoming Williams biography may be shedding new light with respect to both Michal and Michael.

I certainly have the impression that Williams's correspondence was variously compartmentalized, and assume his conversation was, as well. I cannot recall any Inklings-meeting detail like that in the published selections from Warnie's diary or Tolkien's letters. There may be more in the Margaret Douglas-Raymond Hunt correspondence (of which at least much of both sides are extant) - or , for that matter, in the Williams-Hunt correspondence - than I recall, and even more in Hunt's notes, which I have never perused (it seems the sort of thing Hunt would be interested in, though how much he may have extracted from Williams is another question).

I think your observation that "Williams' fundamental flaw (for which I do blame him) was dishonesty - not by making up lies, but in the more insidious form of incomplete and misleading factuality", is a very true and good one.

I suspect that after the Phyllis Jones revelations in the 'Thirties, Michal must have lived in a constant fear and anxiety about such possible dishonesty, though she seems nonetheless shatteringly surprised by things she learns after his death. I can imagine how agonizing whatever he learned of any of this in the 'Thirties or 'Forties may have been for Michael, but have no evidence on that subject.

I wonder whether there is an aspect of this in the money-attention side of things: wondering if Williams was spending money on, or giving money to, another woman or women, though my basis for this - as for the possibility that that may have indeed been the case - is very slim and vague.

On the basis of the published selection, I would love to read all of Warnie's diaries. I have not yet made any proper effort to find out if more can be learnt about manuscripts or notes for George Sayer's Warnie biography - though it is discouraging to hear you had no success in that direction.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - Thanks very much for this.

I should emphasize that my 'efforts' to find out about George Sayer were purely internet based! I tried to find someone who knew him who I might approach with these queries and drew a blank. It is possible his second wife may still be alive (Margaret Cronin?) but I don't know.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - What do you think of my suggestion that CW was probably the 'leader' of Inklings meetings 1939-45 - Do you find it plausible, given what you know of CW's personality and how he operated in groups?

Anonymous said...

One example of Inklings detail did pop back into my mind: Williams's account of a reaction to what must have been the first chapter of All Hallows' Eve in its published form. In a letter of Thursday, 28 October 1943, he wrote to a friend (and so, not to Michal: but I/we'd need to re-check what-all he was writing to her around then) that C.S. Lewis "says of the opening of the new novel now that I have more in my little finger than all of them in their whole bodies". "New novel now" because the "new novel" up until September 1943, which he had been working on, on and off, in some sense, since around September 1940, is what is represented by the publication in Mythlore in three installments in 1970-72, which appears to be its latest extant draft. In that publication, the erroneous suggestion is made that the whole novel was entitled "The Noises That Weren't There", while a letter of Friday, 23 July 1943, makes it clear that that is the title of the first chapter.

Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, Michal seems, according to the Mythlore introductory material, to have thought of this as the draft of an eighth novel, after All Hallows' Eve. She might, 27 years on, simply have forgotten the change that took place in September-October 1943. She might not have had a very detailed knowledge of the progress of the "new novel" at the time. He had certainly asked her, on Thursday, 21 June 1940, to think of a subject for a new novel. And, he had certainly been dismayed, after the publication of All Hallows' Eve, by her remark that people might connect the name of the character Evelyn with that of the late Evelyn Underhill. (See my contribution to vol. 153 of the Dictionary of Literary Biography for more details about the composition history, and, for details of the Evelyn reference, my review of Dr. Andrea Freud Loewenstein's book in Charles Williams Society Newsletter [subsequently Quarterly], No. 75, Autumn 1994, now available online at the Charles Williams Society site.)

I am brooding over your suggestion, which I only encountered a couple days ago, about 'core Inkling group dynamics' (so to put it), but - with apologies - don't feel confident to comment, yet.

David Llewellyn Dodds