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C S Lewis and T S Eliot

C. S. Lewis on the very great evil of T. S. Eliots’ work This lecture is about two heroes of the intellectual conservative movement: C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot. Many of you will be familiar with their works and thought, and rightly assume that they both were influential spokesmen of the same tradition. Russell Kirk in his essay on the history of conservative thought which is at the centre of this conference, discusses Lewis as well as Eliot, and states that the two of them hold common ground against the advocates of what C. S. Lewis called ‘the abolition of man’ (The Conservative Mind , p. 495).

Lewis and Eliot were contemporaries. Lewis lived from 1898-1963, Eliot from 1888-1965. They had at least four things in common: both came from outside (Lewis from Ireland and Eliot from the United States), both were converts (Eliot since 1927, Lewis since 1929), both had a second wife who played an important role in their lives, and both were laymen who acquired a reputation in England as conservative defenders of an orthodox religion.

‘I agree with Eliot on matters of such great importance that all literary questions are trivial in comparison,’ wrote Lewis in A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942).

These facts may make us think that Lewis and Eliot must have been close friends. But their relationship was a highly uneasy one, as I wish to demonstrate in this lecture. Their basic agreements were not enough to form the basis for a smooth, lifelong friendship and cooperation. I intend to describe their differences of opinion, and look for an answer as to what exactly the cause of their disagreements and controversies was. As I will have to go into a rather detailed examination of their utterances, I thought it might be useful to provide you with a hand-out, which may make it more easier to follow the line of my argument.

Please suffer a final introductory remark on my sources. Lewis and Eliot regularly referred to one another in their books and articles. These open sources show on what points they disagreed, but they do not provide an answer to the question how they really thought about each other. The answer to that important question is provided by sources hitherto unpublished: their correspondence with each other (which I found in the Bodleian Library here in Oxford and in Princeton University Library). Most revealing, however, is their correspondence with Paul Elmer More, a mutual friend of Lewis and Eliot. This correspondence, as yet unpublished, is also kept in Princeton University Library.

The reason why Lewis and Eliot decided not to fight out their controversies too openly can easily be found. They had a similar reputation, and their common enemies treated them as soldiers in the same camp. Lewis’ portrait adorned the cover of Time on September the 8th, 1947: the cover’s title was ‘Oxford’s C.S. Lewis, His Heresy: Christianity’. The issue contained an article titled ‘Don V. Devil’, wherein Lewis was classified as member of a growing club of ‘heretic’ intellectuals, the members of which included T.S. Eliot, in addition to W.H. Auden, Dorothy L. Sayers and Graham Greene. This same list of names was the subject of the book The Emperor’s Clothes which Kathleen Nott published in 1953.

Both Lewis and Eliot were celebrated men of letters and defenders of the Anglican faith, but Lewis and Eliot differed greatly in their temperament, so much so that they never truly felt drawn to each other. The sparse mutual encounters took place in an icy atmosphere. A mutual friend, author and publisher Charles Williams, arranged a meeting between the two gentlemen in 1945, in the Mitre Hotel in Oxford. When they were introduced to each other, Eliot proclaimed: ‘Mr. Lewis, you are a much older man than you appear in photographs!’ Although Lewis was not a vain man-he once told Walter Hooper that he would find life much easier if all his hair had fallen off-he was anything but amused after Eliot’s remark. Eliot’s attitude towards him became entirely clear when Eliot added to his opening remark that he found Lewis’ A Preface to Paradise Lost his best book. Whoever recalls the sharp criticism Lewis offered Eliot in this piece of literature will realize that this comment was certainly not intended as a friendly compliment.

What happened in 1945 in the Mitre Hotel, was a repeat-albeit a less direct one-of an event that took place in the summer of 1933 during a lunch in Lewis’ college (Magdalen) in Oxford. That summer, the American academic Paul Elmer More was a guest in Oxford. More once had dinner with Lewis, ‘who interested me more than any other Oxonian.’ That interest was mostly due to a ‘deep and today unusual religious experience’ which Lewis had lived through shortly before, an experience which he allegorically described in his book The Pilgrim’s Regress. At a later lunch where Lewis was not present but where Eliot was, More asked John Frederick Wolfenden-a teacher of philosophy at Magdalen-whether Lewis had become a Roman-Catholic and what he had meant with the phrase ‘Mother Kirk’ in his book about the return of the pilgrim. Wolfenden answered that he did not know much about that, but did recall that he and several other fellows had been talking amongst themselves several years back when a friend had come in, very excited, and had asked them whether they happened to know what was the matter with Lewis. Someone had told this friend that Lewis had been seen in the chapel of the College and after some inquiry had learned that Lewis had spent a substantial amount of time there for weeks on end, without anyone knowing about it. Eliot, said More, responded to this story about Lewis’ behaviour during this deep crisis, with ‘that sly smile of his’. ‘Why, it’s quite evident’, said Eliot, ‘that if a man wishes to escape detection of Oxford, the one place for him to go is the college chapel!’

Lewis himself was most open about his opinion of Eliot in letters to More, whom he called ‘my spiritual uncle’ because he had spoken as a ‘mature’ man to an ‘immature man’ during those days at Oxford. Those remarks will keep us occupied later and suggest an answer to the question of just why Lewis disliked Eliot so.

We must begin by noting that the feud was old. Lewis became famous as the author of children’s books (Narnia stories) and a science-fiction trilogy, as a literary historian, essay-writer and defender of the Christian faith. But he had actually wanted to be a poet. He never ‘made it’ as such, because his poetry was hopelessly old-fashioned in a literary climate that was dominated by the rise of the ‘modernists’.

In 1919 Lewis published a ‘cycle of lyrics’ under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton, titled Spirits in Bondage. The idea that ‘nature is completely diabolic and evil, and that God, if He exists, stands outside and opposed to the cosmic order’ occupied a central position. Lewis also wrote narrative poems, in the classical tradition that stayed in existence through Malory until the Victorian Era. In 1926 the nine cantos of Dymer appeared: nine years after Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations and four years after the publication of Eliot’s The Waste Land, poetry that did not breathe the classical and the Victorian but disillusion, chaos and decay, as well as the large change which took place in the human consciousness, Western art and literature. Prufrock was not arbitrarily dedicated to ‘Jean Verdenal, 1889-1915, mort aux Dardanelles.’ In 1922 Eliot had founded the quarterly magazine Criterion which would develop into one of the most important centers of the influential modern movement.

Eliot’s poetry profoundly dismayed Lewis, even then. This would never change. There was no question of jealousy, Tolkien would say, but there was certainly a clash between two worlds: the classical and the traditional versus the free and the modern, ‘stock responses'(solid forms and shapes, conventional symbols) versus new images and subjective thought associations, that according to Lewis testified only to ‘sensibility in decay’. Eliot’s modernity was inaccessible to Lewis, as he wrote himself in the poem ‘A Confession’ (1954), wherein he explicitly referred to the rule in Eliot’s poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ wherein the manner in which an evening is spread to the sky is compared to ‘a patient etherised upon a table’.

I am so coarse, the things the poets see Are obstinately invisible to me. For twenty years I’ve stared my level best To see if evening-any evening-would suggest A patient etherised upon a table; In vain. I simply wasn’t able.

At first, Lewis could not even imagine that the verses of Eliot and his kin were serious. Together with a few friends and colleagues he decided to embark upon an anti-Eliot campaign by offering parodies on poems of Eliot to Criterion for publication. Lewis borrowed the poems of Eliot from one of his students, John Betjeman, and wrote the poems ‘Nidhogg’ and ‘Cross-Channel Boat’, ‘very nonsensical, but with a flavour of dirt all through.’ Lewis discussed the relation between modernism and ‘dirt’ in his 1939 book The Personal Heresy:

The ‘Dirty Twenties’ of our own century produced poems which succeeded in communicating moods of boredom and nausea that have only an infinitesimal place in the life of a corrected and full-grown man. That they were poems, the fact of communication and the means by which it was effected, are, I take, sufficient proof… If it [the experience communicated] truly reflected the personality of the poets, then the poets differed from the mass, if at all, only by defect.

Lewis and his like-minded brethren got the idea of sending the poems to Eliot under a pseudonym, that of Rollo and Bridget Considine, from Vienna ‘and.united by an affection so tender as to be almost incestuous.’ One of the members of the ‘anti-Eliot group’ was William Force Stead, who would later baptize Eliot and disappointingly enough to his friends encountered ‘a robust and rollicking flavour’ in one of his parodies.The plans died a quiet death and none of the poems ever reached Faber & Gwyer.

Eliot’s verses mostly remained the object of hilarious entertainment. During a meeting of the Inklings (the club of Lewis and his literary friends) Lewis cheered up the group by reading a poem of Eliot, and stopping halfway, ‘declaring it to be bilge’ (as Warnie Lewis noted in his diary on September 27, 1947). During the ensuing discussion, Lewis said there was little to be said that was worth mentioning. It seems as if Lewis was bent on using every possible opportunity in order to criticize Eliot’s poetry. [There is only one exception: writing about the ‘joy or exhilaration’ a poem can produce, Lewis refers to the line ‘music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all’, a line from Eliot’s The Four Quartets}. In his scientific study concerning The Allegory of Love (1936), for example, Lewis explored the fourteenth-century poem Pelerinage de la vie humaine by Deguileville in depth. He was critical about Deguileville’s portrayal of evil as ‘ultimate deformity’. He continues: ‘From this point of view (though of course from no other), if I had to mention a modern poet who affects us in something the same way as the blackest parts of Deguileville, I think I should choose Mr. Eliot.’ Interestingly, Eliot is referred to as ‘a modern American critic’ in this book–although he had been a British citizen since 1927. When a student praised a verse from Eliot’s The Waste Land, Lewis could not refrain from mentioning that that verse had been borrowed from Dante. Elsewhere, Lewis talked about ‘the penitential qualities’ of Eliot’s poetry. And when Lewis became a Professor at Cambridge in 1954 and claimed in his oration that the great dividing line in history lies around 1800, he offered as evidence ‘the unprecedented novelty of modern poetry’. Past poetry could be difficult too, it was true; but at least there had existed a consensus regarding the meaning. That had all changed.

I do not see in any of these the slightest parallel to the state of affairs disclosed by a recent symposium on Mr. Eliot’s ‘Cooking Egg’. Here we find seven adults (two of them Cambridge men)whose lives had been specially devoted to the study of poetry discussing a very short poem which has been before the world for thirty-odd years; and there is not the slightest agreement among them as to what, in any sense of the word, it means.

Criticism on the poet was accompanied by criticism on the critic. Lewis associated Eliot with the ‘Cambridge School of Literary Criticism’, and as such Eliot, together with I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis, formed a triumvirate that we can call Lewis’ bête noire. For Lewis, literary criticism was mostly literary history. Together with Tolkien, Lewis passionately defended the curriculum of the ‘English School’ in Oxford, which began with Anglo-Saxon and ended with Romanticism. It was the task of the critic to clarify the ‘strange’ background and context of old books and in so doing bring the original message of the author to light. This way, the modern reader was granted access to old texts and could have his opinions and assumptions be criticized by these old texts. Lewis therefore propagated a manner of reading that made ‘the clean sea breeze of the centuries’ blow through our heads and therefore leads to ‘an inner enlargement’. This ‘going out of the self’ corrects our provincialism and heals our loneliness. By reading ‘great literature’ I will become a thousand people and still stay myself. It’s just as in love: I rise above myself and am never more myself than at that moment. It’s an old paradox, between ‘inner enlargement’ and ‘annihilation’ of the ‘I’: ‘he that loseth his life shall save it’.

Lewis discovered an opposite attitude amongst the ‘Cambridge People’. Their attitude towards literature was not determined by humble receptiveness but by judgment, and a lack of respect for tradition led to the proclamation of a new tradition and the formulation of a canon which excluded many authors and texts that Lewis cherished. In addition, this school assigned the role to poetry which had in the past belonged to religion-a thought which filled Lewis with ‘burning indignation’. And the school represented the thought that literature was something elitist: Eliot for example was convinced that only poets could form a ‘jury of judgment’, that only they had a right to speak about poetry.

Lewis and Eliot therefore agreed on very little. Eliot called Shakespeare’s Hamlet ‘most certainly an artistic failure.’ The reaction of Lewis was that you only have to re-read the play once to come to the conclusion that ‘if this is failure, then failure is better than success.’ Eliot had criticized Milton as ‘a bad man’ and ‘a bad influence’ on the generation of poets that rose to prominence in the 1920s and had proclaimed that only ‘the ablest poets’ could and were allowed to have this judgment. Lewis attacked that notion, and probably obtained at least some satisfaction from the fact that Eliot referred with agreement to Lewis in a later article in which Eliot praised Milton as ‘the greatest master in our language of freedom within form.’ Eliot was mainly responsible for the re-appraisal and enormous popularity of John Donne in the period 1920-1950. Lewis called Donne a ‘minor poet’ and declared that the prestige that the work of Donne had come to enjoy flowed forth from the agreement between Donne’s tortured intellectualism, his shocking imagery and irony and the sensitivities of the modernism which was developing. Donne wrote poetry which turned off the ‘humble reader’ and attracted ‘some prigs’-and priggery was one of things which Lewis abhorred. Lewis, in turn, defended Percy Shelley against the attacks of Eliot by showing that Shelley was much more of a classic poet than a John Dryden, whom Eliot much admired.

This war reached its climax at the attack on Eliot by Lewis in his A Preface to Paradise Lost where Lewis took three pages to fight Eliot. This book was published in late 1942. On February 22nd, 1943, Lewis wrote in an apologetic letter to Eliot:

I hope the fact that I find myself often contradicting you in print gives no offence; it is a kind of tribute to you-whenever I fall foul of some wide-spread contemporary view about literature I always seem to find that you have expressed it most clearly. One aims at the officers first in meeting an attack!

The fact that Eliot could only sparingly appreciate these tributes is clear from his attitude during the meeting with Lewis at the Mitre Hotel-specially convened, nota bene, to cool the controversy over Milton. As a result of the meeting, Lewis no longer expressed himself on Eliot in critical terms. ‘Mr. Eliot has asked me not to write about his literary criticism. Very well. I obey’, Lewis wrote in his notebook.

Thus far we have only dealt with Lewis’ public comments about Eliot. Those were sharp, but limited in the sense that they mostly targeted Eliot as a poet and a critic, not his philosophical background. Lewis revealed his deepest motive in an (unpublished) letter to Paul Elmer Moore, dated May 23, 1935. In that letter, Lewis explains his dislike for Eliot, a dislike which had surprised More. Lewis says that he cannot understand that surprise. In an article about James Joyce-which he had sent Lewis-More referred to Eliot as ‘a great genius expending itself on the propagation of irresponsibility.’ Lewis on the other hand did not want to call Eliot a ‘great genius’, but did find him a propagandist of ‘irresponsibility.’ It’s self-explanatory, said Lewis, that I consider the work of Eliot to be ‘a very great evil’. Eliot recognizes no boundary and order, and if he calls himself a ‘humanist’ and a ‘classicist’, he may be sincere, but is entirely wrong. Eliot can say that his ‘poems of disintegration’ are meant satirically and as warnings, but that’s what all the ‘literary traitors of humanity’ say. No one is protected against chaos by reading The Waste Land’; to the contrary , whoever reads this poem is touched by the chaos. There exists a clear difference between poetry which reflects disintegration and disintegrating poetry. That also holds for its literary criticism. Eliot calls himself a classicist, but sympathizes especially with ‘depraved poets’ such as Marlowe, Jonson and Webster, and shows no sign of affection for disciplined and noble writers (Dante excepted). He has nothing to say on Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Milton, and Racine. Eliot is certainly one of the enemies, and he is all the more dangerous because he sometimes disguises himself as a friend. His arrogance only makes things worse. And what makes it worse still-if Lewis may say so-is that Eliot hails from a strange and neutral country and ‘stole upon us’ while we were waging war, got a job at the Bank of England (‘I have my wonders how’) and has since developed himself as the advance guard for an invasion of the ‘Parisian riff-raff’ that may have delivered the fatal stab to Western Europe.

All of this is quite something. The source from which Lewis’ disdain and open criticism rose, was deep. But we have not reached the bottom of the source by taking a look at More’s letter. Lewis also disliked the manner in which Eliot was Christian. In The Pilgrim’s Regress (from 1933) Lewis describes the confrontation between the main character, John, and a certain Mr. Neo-Angular. Here Lewis hinted at the way in which some-especially converts-had become very posh high-Anglicans. In a letter to clergyman Claude Lionel Chavasse (dated February 25th 1934) Lewis put it as such: ‘What I am attacking in Neo-Angular is a set of people who seem to me.to be trying to make of Christianity itself one more high-brow, Chelsea, bourgeois-baiting fad.’ And: ‘T.S. Eliot is the single man who sums up the thing I am fighting against.’ In the judgment of Lewis it was apparently the case that faith and religion for Eliot-and people like him-was not much more than an aesthetically responsible tradition, worthy of respect, which he pushed between him and the chaos and the disintegration of life -like a decision of the will, not from an experience of truth and tradition, comparable with the decision to wear a 3-piece pinstriped suit as though it were a 4-piece suit.

While both converts were known by the public as Christian authors and brave defenders of the faith, and while Lewis publicly stated that he agreed with Eliot on matters of the utmost importance and that their differences of opinion only regarded literary and trivial matters, in reality they were separated by a deep rift. This holds true even for the topics on which they seemed to agree. Lewis began a polemic in 1929 about ‘the personal heresy’, the assumption that a poem deals with what is going on inside the head of the author. This assumption irritated Lewis ‘beyond bearing’. He sent his article to Eliot, to be published in The Criterion. Eliot left it lying a few months without responding, causing Lewis to send him a letter in April of 1931 in order to clarify his intentions: ‘I contended that poetry never was nor could be the ‘expression of personality’ save per accidens, and I advanced a formal proof of this position.’ He added: ‘I believed that you had some sympathy with this contention.’ Eliot, however, returned the manuscript. Lewis published it in 1934 regardless, when he caught a reputable academic from Cambridge, E. M. W. Tillyard, commit ‘personal heresy’ in a book about Milton. In the printed version he however also accuses Eliot of this heresy, because Eliot had attributed the cynicism and disillusionment of several characters of Shakespeare to Shakespeare himself. In his reaction Tillyard expressed his amazement about this attack on Eliot, because Eliot’s essay regarding Tradition and the Individual Talent is also a refute of the ‘personal heresy’. Eliot talks in this essay about ‘honest criticism’, criticism that is not aimed at the poet but at the poem, and wrote also that the advancement of an artist consists of ‘self-sacrifice’ and ‘in a continual extinction of personality.’ Extinction of personality is apparently quite different from the old paradox between annihilation and enlargement of the self that Lewis was talking about.

Much like Lewis, Eliot opposed himself to the influential assumption of Matthew Arnold that literature took the place that had hitherto belonged to religion. In the articles-‘Christianity and Literature’ and ‘Christianity and Culture’-where Lewis combated this assumption explicitly, he proposed a criticism inspired by notions of the New Testament contrasted by a modern literary criticism (from the Cambridge School), that makes a habit of proclaiming literature to be a substitute for religion, also in the respect of ethics. The way in which a man responds to art, would then tell us something about his general suitability for life. Here too, Lewis discussed the danger-as he explained in a letter-to portray Christianity as ‘one more highbrow fad.’ Is the agreement between the choice of words in his description of this danger and his condemnation of the nature of Eliot’s religion a coincidence?

We can try to come one step further in this description and analysis of the controversy between Lewis and Eliot, by asking us whether all the points of criticism of Lewis to Eliot (his ‘disintegrating’ poetry, his literary criticism, his form of being a Christian) have a common source. At the beginning of this lecture a difference in temperament between the two men was mentioned. If we would like to qualify this difference, we arrive at the opposite attitude which Lewis and Eliot had towards Romanticism. (I do realise that this is a problematic understanding, but will go into a text of Lewis where he explains this here below).

Eliot was a counter-romanticist. As a student of Irving Babbitt (in 1909-1910 at Harvard University) Eliot had agreed with Babbitt on the difference between the ‘classicist’ and the ’emotional sentimentalist’, between the ‘tradition’ and the ‘claims of the individual artist’, between ‘order’ and the ‘romantic imagination’. Even then, Eliot was convinced of the importance of ‘impersonality’ (his short flirtation with Buddhism helped in this regard). In the following years he emphasized-assisted by Ezra Pound, the work of Rémy de Gourmont and T.E. Hulme-the importance of formulating a strict if not rigorous ‘new classicism’ to counterbalance a fluffy Romanticism (also formulated as ‘Rousseauism’) .

This classicism got conservative-political and ecclesiastical aspects-in the form of monarchism and Roman-Catholicism-and was marked by one central notion: that of original sin-that ‘inner voice’ of ‘vanity and fear and lust’-and realization which flows forth from there regarding the importance of ‘austere discipline’ and the longing to surrender oneself to ‘something outside oneself’. A non-human object for the expression of his feelings was the only way to heal a personality which threatened to fall apart. A dogmatic belief–wrote Eliot in 1930 (three years after his conversion)-was for those who had descended into ‘the abyss’ a way to train and discipline emotions.

For Lewis Romanticism did have a dark side (namely, as a stream of thought which had led to the poison of subjectivism in moral questions) but apart from that, he associated Romanticism mostly with Joy. Essentially, Romanticism was for him the Sehnsucht, the unfulfilled desire in the heart of each person for mystery of an infinite happiness. That desire is a strange melange of pain, sadness and joy, that can be awakened by the beauty of faraway hills, the past, a lover, music or literature, but cannot be satisfied through it.

He describes it as ‘that unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Kahn, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.’ Joy refers to something that is hidden behind that beauty, to something which cannot be named-an empty chair where ultimately only One can sit (God).

This desire motivated the spiritual pilgrimage that eventually led to Lewis’ conversion, after arguments had convinced his brain of the reasonability of the desire of his heart. In his autobiography Surprised by Joy (1955) he wrote about this, after earlier reporting it in the allegory of The Pilgrim’s Regress which contains the much-telling subtitle: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism. In that book a boy, John, is encouraged to undertake his journey by a stab in his heart when he sees flowers behind a stone wall that remind him of a forest where he, so long ago that he can barely remember, plucked those same flowers. A vision of an Island accompanies John throughout the journey. During his travels he meets History, who tells him that God offered through all of history a series of images to the human race that create a desire for something that cannot be found in this world.

Mr. Neo-Angular (‘Eliot’) tries to talk John out of this vision. The image of this island is only subjective, ‘romantic trash’ which John needs to exterminate in his mind. He needs to become more cynical, and limit himself to obeying what Church superiors teach him about dogmas ‘in which her deliverances have been codified for general use.’ John walks away from him, angry: how can a eunuch be the confessional priest of someone whose problems lie in the domain of chastity, or how can a blind person help someone who is caught by ‘the lust of the eye’?

In the preface of the third edition of The Pilgrim’s Recess (1943) Lewis explores the problematic aspect of the word ‘Romanticism’ (he discerns seven meanings) and explains what he understood under Romanticism when he added it to the subtitle. Joy, that is, in the meaning described here above, or call it Eroos, because the hunger (of this desire) is better than all fullness, the poverty better than all wealth. Lewis recognizes that the book includes bitter segments. Someone for whom this interpretation of Romanticism was so important, could only face unpleasant encounters with the hostilities against immortal longings in the post-war cultural climate. The hostilities came from two sides: from below (the sub-Romantics) and from above (the counter-Romantics).The first group consisted of followers of Freud and D.H. Lawrence, and Lewis could have tolerated them. But he lost his patience at the contempt which came from above, from the side of American ‘humanists’ (Babbitt and his cohorts), the neo-scholastics, and authors of The Criterion. They condemned what they did not know, thought Lewis. ‘When they called Romanticism ‘nostalgia, I-who had long ago rejected the illusion that the object of desire was located in the past-thought that they had not even crossed the Pons Asinorum.’ In the End I lost my temper. In this preface Lewis describes the counter-Romantics as people of rigid systems, sceptical or dogmatic, aristocrats, stoics, Pharisees and rigorists: men with high noses, pursed lips, pale faces, dry and silent. They exaggerate the distinction between grace and nature to a complete contradiction and by blaspheming higher levels of nature and thus denying the praeparatio evangelica, they complicate the way of those who are about to enter. In his autobiography of 1955 he would still highlight the contradiction between my Romanticism and the cynicism of the ‘orthodox intellectuals’.

For Lewis, Romanticism was a guide to faith; for Eliot faith was not the result of Romanticism, but a matter which had to destroy all Romanticism. Joy inspired Lewis to a surrender to the quality of that which is objectively outside of us-to God, to our fellow man, to tradition, to the moral order, to literature-and that surrender was accompanied by a detachment and the absence of preoccupations with ourselves that for Lewis was the core of Heavenly life. That attitude brought preferences and givens with it that Eliot did not share.

But it all turned out well in the end, though all disagreements continued to exist between them. In 1958 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, appointed both Eliot and Lewis to a commission charged with reviewing the Psalter. In the following years Eliot and Lewis met each other regularly during the meetings at Lambeth Palace which resulted in The Revised Psalter (1963). Now that they had gotten to know each other personally, a friendship came into being. ‘You know I never liked Eliot’s poetry, or even his prose. But when we met this time I loved him, Lewis told his private secretary Walter Hooper in the last summer of his life. The greetings in his letters to Eliot changed from ‘Dear Sir’ to ‘Dear Mr. Eliot’ to ‘My dear Eliot.’ After a conference in Cambridge of the Psalter-commission, Lewis and Eliot even had lunch together, with their wives, Helen Joy Davidman and Valerie Fletcher. According to Hooper, Lewis could have been talking about Eliot and himself when he wrote in the fourth chapter of The Four Loves:

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).

In addition: in the booklet which Lewis wrote in 1961 after his wife Joy had died of cancer and which he offered to Faber for publication under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk, Eliot (the director of Faber) immediately recognized the hand of Lewis and published it under the title A Grief Observed. This booklet, not as much a description as a manifestation of the grief which the title mentions, is Lewis’ most personal piece of writing.



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