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In 1917 and 1919; both photos courtesy of Marion E. Wade Collection, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL / In December 1919; taken by Lewis' brother, Dr. Warren Lewis
Description of C.S. Lewis the Friend by His Brother, Dr. Warren H. Lewis
"As all his friends will bear witness, he was a man with an outstanding gift for pastime with good company, for laughter and the love of friends - a gift which found full scope in any number of holidays and walking tours, the joyous character of his response to these being well conveyed in his letters. He had, indeed, a remarkable talent for friendship, particularly for friendship of an uproarious kind, masculine and argumentative but never quarrelsome."
(Letters of C.S. Lewis, ed. with a memoir by W. H. Lewis, New York / London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1966, 13)
"Sometimes, though not often [in meetings of the Inklings], it would happen that no one had anything to read to us. On these occasions the fun would be riotous, with Jack at the top of his form and enjoying every minute - 'no sound delights me more', he once said, 'than male laughter'. At the Inklings his talk was an outpouring of wit, nonsense, whimsy, dialectical swordplay, and pungent judgement such as I have rarely heard equalled - no mere show put on for the occasion, either, since it was often quite as brilliant when he and I were alone together . . . In his Preface to Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Jack gave a lively and moving account of what this circle meant to him."
c. 1935 / 1938; both courtesy of Marion E. Wade Collection, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
Was Lewis "Gruff" or "Unapproachable"?
"Lewis was even called vulgar, and he did at times seem to match his own description of Mr. Badger in The Wind and the Willows as an 'extraordinary amalgam of high rank, coarse manners, gruffness, shyness, and goodness.' If at times he was a little hard to approach, it was nevertheless the common testimony of many visitors that once in his presence they found nowhere a more genial, courteous, and thoughtful host. The supposition that he was gruff needs to be put alongside Lewis's conviction that perfect love dispenses with modesty . . . Few people ever faced the delusive nature of selfishness more thoroughly than Lewis, and if he sometimes was franker than the rest of us it was because he had succeeded better in breaking the charm of a deceptive delicacy . . . Lewis had come out on the other side of a door most of us never manage to enter."
(Clyde Kilby, The Christian World of C.S. Lewis, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1964, 12-13)
"Jack Lewis was the greatest man I have ever known. He was never, as Professor Kilby has said, an intellectual snob, and he was willing to talk with anyone on any subject, having the ability to put the other person, or persons, at their ease . . . he was one of the most approachable men I have ever met . . . I have also been with him, sitting in the midst of a crowd of long-distance truck drivers in a transport cafe, while he enthralled them with his wit and conversational powers . . . C.S. Lewis was a Christian gentleman . . . He thought so little of himself and did so much for others - not only by his speech and in his teaching, but also in secret charities and in other unsuspected ways. When I think of him - and it is very often - I remember the face, the voice, the smile, the clear-cut arguments, the calculated precision, the fun and laughter, the persuasive eloquence, the rugged exterior of form, and the vast intellectual power and drive."
(Clifford Morris, in C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table, ed. James T. Como, New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1979, 197-198, 201)
"To the outsider - such as I considered myself - Jack was an essentially kindly man; as a Christian, he had the plenitude of charity. He could, I heard, be trying at council meetings. Dogged in his opinions when he thought he was right. Irritating to the ponderous with his sotto-voce quips. He was kindness itself to the ignoramus and even the fool, but the affected, the poseur, was anathema to him. I took at once to this genial 'gentleman farmer,' for that is what he looked like to me . . . Old, tattered jacket, bulging pockets, rough tweed fisherman's hat, and baggy corduroy trousers. He invariably walked with an ash stick."
(James Dundas-Grant, in Como, ibid., 229-230)
"I met C.S. Lewis only once, in 1953 . . . I found him younger and finer looking than I had expected, with a full face, though not fat, and a rather pronounced double chin. The air of good will and utter friendliness about him made me feel immediately at home. He led me around to an old sofa and he himself sat down at his desk, swiveled his chair in my direction, and gave me his complete attention. He spoke as one man to another and without the slightest professionalism or condescension in word or tone . . . My own brief personal experience with Lewis was that of every other American I have heard of who visited him. That is, I found him a man of great courtesy, candor, outgoingness, deep friendliness, quietness of spirit, and manifesting a genuine interest in affairs other than his own. Billy Graham told me of his lengthy visit and of the manner in which Lewis promptly made him feel completely at home."
(Clyde Kilby, in C.S. Lewis: Speaker and Teacher, ed. Carolyn Keefe, Grand Rapids, MI: 1971, 15, 17)
1947; by Arthur P. Strong
Lewis's Extraordinary Persona, Kindness, and Conversational Prowess
"How difficult it is for those who knew C.S. Lewis at all well to write about him. Quite apart from the poignancy of loss that returns so strongly when such an attempt is being made, there is at once the feeling of that overwhelmingly vital presence still so near, and at the same time a numbing sense of something too big to grasp and come to terms with . . . My many tete-a-tete evenings with him in his rooms at Oxford or Cambridge stand out as supremely precious memories . . . [from his diary] '10 March 1950. To dinner with C.S. Lewis at Magdalen . . . Then to Lewis's room, and talk till midnight: romance, Arthurian legend, fairy tales, children's books, recollections of childhood, visual memories in stories and in dreams. A wonderful evening, really good talk; how exceptionally kind Lewis is to spare whole evenings to me like this, I wonder if he realizes what they mean to me.'"
(Roger Lancelyn Green, in Como, ibid., 210-211)
"His characteristic attitude to people in general was one of consideration and respect. He did his best for them, and he appreciated them. He paid you the compliment of attending to your words. He did not pretend to read your heart. He was endlessly generous. He gave without stint, to all who seemed to care for them, the riches of his mind and the effort of his wit; and where there was need, he gave his money. I will not say what I know about his charities. When he had entered into any relationship, his patience and his loyalty were inexhaustible. he really was a Christian - by which I mean, he never thought he had the right to stop."
(Austin Farrer, in Como, ibid., 243-244)
". . . thick-set, full-fleshed, deep-voiced, learned, rough, golden-hearted, flattening in dispute, a notable wit, kindly affectioned, with a great circle of friends, some of them men of genius like Tolkien, untidy, virtuous, devoted to a wife untimely lost, liable to give his house over to be occupied, or partly occipied, by people less well endowed than himself, dispenser of secret charities, a Tory and a High Churchman. Could anyone since Dr. Johnson be so described except Jack Lewis? And every word true in its fullest sense. When I say 'learned,' when I say 'virtuous,' I do not mean them in the tomb-stoned sense, where the marble fossilises flattery, but in their most rigorous meanings."
(Nevill Coghill, in Keefe, ibid., 17; personal letter to Clyde Kilby, dated 7 July 1967)
"Lewis was a formidable controversialist. He had a kind of Johnsonian pugnacity, but, though aggressive, he was not offensive. He expressed himself vigorously and emphatically, but always in the context of great good humor. He was, in Austin Farrer's apt phrase, 'a bonny fighter.' His dogmatism was the product of a burning honesty; he was incapable, intellectually or morally, of evasion or equivocation."
(Stuart Barton Babbage, in Keefe, ibid., 68)
" 'What most eludes description is not the excellence of his gifts but the singularity of his essential being.' So Housman wrote of his colleague Arthur Platt; and the words are wholly applicable to Lewis . . . robust, no-nonsense, unmistakably strident man, clumsy in movement and in dress . . . determined to cut his way to the heart of any matter . . . One quickly felt that for him dialectic supplied the place of conversation. Any general remarks were of an obvious and even platitudinous kind; talk was dead timber until the spark of argument flashed. Then in a trice you were whisked from the particular to fundamental principles; thence (if you wanted) to eternal verities; and Lewis was alert for any riposte you could muster. It was comic as well as breathtaking; and Lewis would see the comedy as readily as the next man."
(John Lawlor, in Light On C.S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb, NewYork/London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1965, 67)
"Whoever thinks justly of him will find him impressive, and he was always impressive to meet; I prefer my first word, 'formidable'. But this was softened by joviality in youth and kindliness in maturity. Genius is formidable and so is goodness; he had both."
(Nevill Coghill, in Gibb, ibid., 66)
1947; by Arthur P. Strong; chosen for the National Portrait Gallery
Academic Persecution and "Blind Spot" With Regard to Catholicism
"He was unhappy at his Oxford college. At dinner there I sensed the occasional whiff of hostility from some of his colleagues. The academic mind is a master of the politely barbed shaft. The college was pervaded by an abrasive anti-Christian humanism at that time, which gave Lewis a good deal of painful opposition. His religious outlook is well known. We had many discussions, nearly all of them very amicable. He had many Roman Catholic friends and admired Catholic writers such as St. Thomas and St. Francis de Sales. But there were certain areas of Catholic teaching and practice that he would never discuss or indeed understand. In a man of such wide reading and sympathies, these 'blind spots,' as they appeared to be, were surprising. One was reminded of his Ulster Protestant upbringing. He had travelled far from those days, but there were times when traces of their influence seemed to survive . . . The membership [of the Inklings] was indifferently distributed between Church of England and Roman Catholic."
(Robert E. "Humphrey" Havard - a Roman Catholic, in Como, ibid., 226, 217)
November 25, 1950: John Chillingworth: BBC Hulton Picture Library / Unknown: Religious News Service of New York
The Simultaneously Imaginative and Analytical Mind of Lewis
"Now the great and I think all but unique essential in C.S. Lewis's makeup was a remarkable combination of two qualities normally supposed to be opposites. I mean on the one hand a deep and vivid imagination and on the other hand a profoundly analytical mind. Even more remarkable, it was not that these qualities lay in him side by side and disconnected but that by some good alchemy they were organically joined."
(Clyde Kilby, in Keefe, ibid., 19)
1955; by Norman Parkinson / c. 1956; by John S. Murray, courtesy of Time magazine
Lewis's Outward Appearance
"He was not naturally impressive: his clothes were rumpled and invariably creased; he was short and stocky and almost pudgy; his face, which was full, was florid; his eyes had the appearance of being puffy and distended. He spoke easily and fluently, without hesitation, and without gestures."
(Stuart Barton Babbage, in Keefe, ibid., 72)
At home with wife Joy Davidman, 1958; by Michael Peto: University of Dundee
"Some of those who have written about Lewis have emphasized his 'reserve.' It is true (though on reflection I have doubted whether it was as peculiar to him as such comments imply) that there were things one would have liked to talk of with him, but could not, because he would not. For casual acquaintances he had a peculiarly, perhaps deliberately, expressionaless stare to show when the limit had been reached. For his friends he gave a comic turn to the whole conversation."
(Owen Barfield, in Keefe, ibid., 97)
1958; by Michael Peto: University of Dundee
Lewis's Fun-Loving Humor and Wit
"I always find myself heavily stressing his irrepressible bent for comedy, simply because without that emphasis one would miss altogether the typical flavor of his company . . . Lewis was not a social buffoon or a professional jester. I do not think I can recall his ever being flippant or merely trivial. Most often it was precisely because his fun was implicitly loaded with (perhaps rueful) experience or with tough thinking in the past that it was funny in the peculiar Lewis way. The almost habitual breeze of irony at his own, and of sarcasm at his friends' expense that rustled through it was never a bitter irony nor a biting sarcasm. It was much more like a 'language game,' particularly so in the case of the sarcasm."
(Owen Barfield, in Keefe, ibid., 99)
1959; by Wolf Suschitzky
1959; by Wolf Suschitzky
Lewis's Intellectual Confidence and Love of Truth
"Professor Coghill, searching for the right word, depicts Lewis as 'formidable'. That is a very good description. Within it I found something else. It was his certainty, his sureness. That is not to say that he was superior or arrogant (though in argument he could sometimes throw you in the dust rather sharply), he had much too much of a sense of fun for that. It was simply that in all he took on he was sure of himself. He would adjust his mind ahead, rapidly and incisively, just as a fencer instinctively puts his feet in the right place, the correct amount of weight on each foot and the foil balanced to precision before he engages his opponent. And Lewis always took very good care that he performed or contested on ground of his own choosing. Of course behind it all he had the advantage of a scholarly mind (nurtured on the classics), a remarkable memory and above all an unshakable, deep sense of truth."
(Jocelyn Gibb, in Light On C.S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb, NewYork/London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1965, vi-vii)
1960; courtesy of Marion E. Wade Collection, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
c. 1960; Magnum Photos; Burt Glinn
"As to his growing reputation and the fact that he was quickly becoming a well-known public figure - let me record for the sheer pleasure of it that throughout the whole of his life I never recall a single remark, a single word or silence, a single look, the lightest flicker of an eyelid or hemi-demi-semitone of alteration in the pitch of his voice, which would go to suggest that he felt his opinion entitled to more respect than that of old friends he was talking with because, unlike theirs, it had won the ear of tens or hundreds of thousands wherever the English language is spoken and in a good many places where it is not. I wonder how many famous men there have been of whom this could truthfully be said."
(Owen Barfield, in Gibb, ibid., xiii)
August 1960 (at home); courtesy of
Marion E. Wade Collection, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL
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Citations compiled and photographs scanned by Dave Armstrong: 20 December 1999.