There Will Be No More Pints with Charles: An Astonishing Eulogy by Warren Lewis

Charles Williams writingOn Friday, the 70th anniversary of Charles Williams’ death, I will explore C.S. Lewis’ tribute in poetry. Williams was powerfully influential to C.S. Lewis, but he was also an important member of the Inklings.

This ad hoc literary club—really a chance for bright, bookish friends to gather around pipes and beer with manuscripts in lap—met twice a week for about two decades. The Inklings included literary greats like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but it was also filled with less well known public intellectuals, like Prof. Hugo Dyson, literary historian Owen Barfield, children’s author Roger Lancelyn Green, historian Lord David Cecil, Chaucer translator Nevill Coghill, and the editor of the Middle Earth legendarium, Christopher Tolkien. It was an unusual collection of great minds who achieved great things.

One of the most faithful members of the Inklings was Major Warren Lewis. Brother of the Narnian himself, we can imagine he was a member of the Inklings because of his connections rather than his own skill. While Warren may have been invited to the Inklings by his brother, he was a critical reader and added to the discussion. And when the Inklings began, they were just a gaggle of obscure Oxford dons. It was their mutual encouragement, the careful criticism and support of true friends over many years, that made these men notable.

inklingsOver those years, Warren found his own literary voice as a historian. He wrote seven books about 17th century France, works that are noted for their careful research, their rich understanding of the military context, and their sheer readability. Warren also edited the Lewis Papers and the first collection of C.S. Lewis’ letters, which includes a unique memoir.

Throughout his adult life, Warren Lewis was also a prolific diarist. Rather than the mundane and, honestly, boring diaries of C.S. Lewis, Warren’s diary writing is quick, easy, and full of life. Although most of it is unpublished, Clyde Kilby and Marjorie Lamp Mead collected some of the more notable entries in Brothers & Friends. It gives us a look at Warren’s life, but is also one of the more important sources for Inklings activities.

On the day of Charles Williams‘ death, we have a rather remarkable entry. Still fresh from the news, and having just completed the last bits of his first book, Warren pours out his heart. The journal note shows the reader a bit of his literary relationship with Tolkien (Tollers) and C.S. Lewis (J). But it especially shows how intimately connected Warren Lewis was with Charles Williams—a person who to us today can seem so hard to get.


warren and cs lewisTuesday 15th May.

At 12.50 this morning I had just stopped work on the details of the Boisleve family, when the telephone rang, and a woman’s voice asked if I would take a message for J—“Mr. Charles Williams died in the Acland 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 came down on my head on the pavement. J had told me when I came into College that Charles was ill, and it would mean a serious operation: and then went off to see him: I haven’t seen him since. 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 at the Mitre, with much glee at “clearing one 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. I hear his voice as I write, and can see his thin form in his blue suit, opening his cigarette box with trembling hands. These rooms will always hold his ghost for me. There is something horrible, something unfair about death, which no religious conviction can overcome. “Well, goodbye, see you on Tuesday Charles” one says—and you have in fact though you don’t know it, said goodbye for ever. He passes up the lamplit street, and passes out of your life for ever. There is a good deal of stuff talked about the horrors of a lonely old age; I’m not sure that the wise man—the wise materialist at any rate—isn’t the man who has no friends. And so vanishes one of the best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet. May God receive him into His everlasting happiness.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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17 Responses to There Will Be No More Pints with Charles: An Astonishing Eulogy by Warren Lewis

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Fascinating and affecting. Regards Thom.

    Like

  2. tom hillman says:

    Very touching. And quite refreshing about them both. Williams was such a peculiar man, whose manner of thought and expression was often so subtle and multifarious that it can be difficult to penetrate; and Warnie Lewis, the more bluff, straightforward retired soldier and gentleman historian (but a good one, evidently), was always there in the background behind his more glittering and talkative brother. The idea of them stopping for a pint together really brings them to fore and allows us to see them as more than “supporting cast.”

    And of course nothing is more human in the course of a life than sudden dawning realizations like “There will be no more pints with Charles.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    The Splendid Century, the first of W.H.L.’s books on 17th-c. French history, was already a favorite book of one of my high school history teachers (and life-long friends) before he twigged to the fact that Warnie was the brother of the more famous Jack. (I think he told me, anyway, somebody did, that it has quite a life as a university textbook as well.) And as far as I remember, anyone who read Brothers and Friends without being especially interested in, or knowledgable about, any of the other Inklings, thoroughly enjoyed it: my patrents certainly did, and I gave away various copies as presents when it first came out to delighted responses. It would be great to have a volume two of additional selections, or an expanded volume (like the 1988 C.S.L. Letters), or (I can’t help feeling confident) a (fairly?) complete edition, like the C.S.L. Collected Letters.

    Meanwhile, there’s a note in the lastest issue of the Journal of Inklings Studies that they are working on an edition of what Warnie submitted to the publisher about his brother (which sounds quite distinct from what was made of it in terms of the selection of letters plus memoir).

    As I may have mentioned somewhere here before, George Sayer was working on a sort of sequel and complement to his C.S. Lewis biography, about Warnie (with, of course, more about Jack, too). As far as I can see, it was never published, and my initial (pretty limited!) inquiries have not turned up any news about its fate or the whereabouts of any draft version. (The online Wade list about his manuscripts there does not obviously include any such, and says, “This archive is a gift of George Sayer, and no further additions are expected.”) I suspect it is none too rash to say that a lot of us would be happy to have a published version of however much of it there is and in whatever state of polish!

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    • It would be lovely to know what else George Sayer wanted to say(er). Perhaps so much of my disappointment with the Green-Hooper CSL bio is that I just finished reading “JacK’ with great pleasure.
      I honestly didn’t know what the impact of Warren’s work was, beyond the pleasure of specialists. It makes me sad, hearing of what you studied in high school. We got nothing more than double columned, stale textbooks. And then we didn’t have to read much, honestly. The teacher retaught it all. Perhaps the only good one was grade 6 (age 11): “Abegweit: Land of the Red Soil,” a history of Prince Edward Island. There was also a good section on “Les Amerindiens” in my grade 7 French History of Canada. Otherwise, we were left to melt intellectually. No wonder I stopped going to high school!
      The Journal of Inkling Studies supplement series could be intriguing–a supplement to Warren’s “Letter” would be welcome.
      But I would like the digital publication of the Lewis Papers, including Warren’s journals. It’s a lot of work, with no payoff–someone needs good eyes, a patient hand, and a large grant.

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    • Kirk Hall says:

      It is so nice to find other fans of George Sayer and Warren Lewis in this world…I would love to see more of Warnie’s diaries in print. Ever since 1982 “Brothers and Friends” has been a favorite bedside book, and I frequently give them out as gifts. Major Lewis has always deserved his own fan club (though he was always too shy a man for such a thing) And of course nobody can beat George Sayer’s superb biography about his more famous brother. It is strange though that so illustrious a writer as C.S. Lewis can produce such mediocre biographies. Needless to say I would love any additional material written by Sayers. But we will always have Warnie’s words too thank God. . And I can heartily recommend Douglas Gresham’s books as well.

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      • “Brothers & Friends” is a good discovery for me. “Splendid Century” is my next-to-read nonfiction book (on the bedside list). I have to admit I’m pretty new to Warren Lewis, but I thought Sayer’s bio among the best–up there with Jacobs’ “The Narnian.”
        I just wrote something very close to this line on a writing retreat last week:
        “It is strange though that so illustrious a writer as C.S. Lewis can produce such mediocre biographies”.

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        • Kirk Hall says:

          “The Splendid Century” is another book that finds it way to my bedside as well! I re-read
          Sayers excellent Lewis biography with Douglas Gresham’s fine books following in his wake.
          Otherwise average or less is my verdict on most C.S. Lewis biographies. Sad. And odd. I received an email from the Wade Center in reply to my request for an extended edition of Warnie’s diaries…they said others have said the same thing and hopefully perhaps maybe there’s hope in the future…

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  4. Pingback: The “Eminently Combustible” Mr. Williams | Book Geeks Anonymous

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  6. mitchteemley says:

    Heroes of the highest order.

    Liked by 1 person

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