C.S. Lewis’ First Letter to his Best Friend

Collected Letters vol 1@EssentialLewis tweeted out that 101 years ago today, a young C.S. Lewis wrote his first letter to his best friend, Arthur Greeves. Lewis was at boarding school, and Greeves sent a letter a couple of weeks earlier. I thought it would be fun to see the teen Lewis in confidence. We get to see how very much he hates school, his early impressions of the “hot, ugly country of England” that would become home, as well as some of his poor spelling and inside jokes. It also seems he is becoming a bit of a snob–or perhaps showing off a bit for a new friend. Or perhaps he just misses home.

For your feature Friday, here’s that whole letter. The letters to Arthur Greeves were published in 1979 as They Stand Together: The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914–1963) and the Collected Letters volume 1.

Dear Arthur,

I really must apologize for having kept such a long and unjustifiable–silence. But the readiest means of mending that fault are those of writing fully and at once–which I now propose to do. To begin at the beginning, you had hardly been outside Little Lea for twenty minutes when a chance of not going back seemed to be held out to me, only, as you may guess, to be snatched away again. When we came to pack up my last few belongings, what should happen but that no key was to be found for my trunk! High and low we searched, but not a sign of it. My father was in despair: how was I to go back? How long would it take to have a new lock fitted? For a few moments I had a wild hope of staying at home. What was my disgust, when, almost at the last moment, Annie11 turned up with the required artical, and off I had to go!

Arthur GreevesSince then, I have lived or existed as one does at School. How dreary it all is! I could make some shift to put up with the work, the discomfort, and the school feeding: such inconveniences are only to be expected. But what irritates me more than anything else is the absolute lack of appreciation of anything like music or books which prevails among the people whom I am forced to call my companions. Can you imagine what it is like to live for twelve weeks among boys whose thoughts never rise above the dull daily round of cricket and work and eating? But I must not complain like this, I suppose. Malvern has its good points. It teaches one to appreciate home, and to despise that sort of lifelessness. If I had never seen the horrible spectacle which these coarse, brainless English schoolboys present, there might be a danger of my sometimes becoming like that myself. But, as it is, I have had warning enough for a lifetime. Another good point about Malvern is the Library, which is one of the best-stocked I have ever been in–not that anyone but myself and two or three others care twopence about it, of course! I have here discovered an author exactly after my own heart, whom I am sure you would delight in, W.B. Yeats. He writes plays and poems of rare spirit and beauty about our old Irish mythology. I must really get my father to buy his books when I come home. His works have all got that strange, eerie feeling about them, of which we are both proffessed admirers. I must get hold of them, certainly.

lewis familyYou can hardly tell how glad I was to hear that you were learning theory. It is a positive shame that you should go about with all those lofty strains running in your head, and yet never set pen to paper to perpetuate them. Of course, take the ‘Loki Bound’ MS. over to Bernagh, anytime you feel inclined to compose a little operatic music. Thank you very much indeed for undertaking the job of the gramaphone. I suppose by this time it is restored to its former condition. It makes me furious to think of your being able to walk about your house and ours and all the beautiful places we know in the country, while I am cooped up in this hot, ugly country of England. Where is your favourite walk? I hope that by this time you are quite recovered and are able to go about freely without fear of injury. County Down must be looking glorious just now: I can just picture the view of the Lough and Cave Hill from beside the Shepard’s Hut. Sometime next holydays, you and I must make a journey up their before breakfast. Have you ever done that? The sunrise over the Holywood Hills, and the fresh stillness of the early morning are well worth the trouble of early rising, I can assure you.

Since I have touched on the subject of health, I must ask a few questions of a disagreeable nature, on a matter which I have very near my heart. I have now had no direct letter from my father for over three weeks, and I hear that he is very ill. I would be very thankful indeed if you would go over and see him sometimes, and try and cheer him up: then you could tell me exactly how he is, and whether what I have heard has been exagerated or not–although I really don’t deserve a reply to this after the shameful way I have treated you with regard to letters. But I feel sure you won’t mind writing just a few lines, to tell me about yourself and family, and the state of various other things, besides my father’s health. As I am sure you are tired by this time of a long and melancholy letter, I will stop.

Yours affectionately
Jack Lewis

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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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7 Responses to C.S. Lewis’ First Letter to his Best Friend

  1. AnnaEstelle says:

    Reblogged this on Between Horizons and commented:
    Letters are wonderful things – the writing of them is cathartic, and the reading of them makes distances seem shorter. I’m currently reading Tolkien’s letters (though have had to put it on hold for the summer since I accidentally left that book at school), and the sheer wonder that comes from reading something by someone so admired, about small things, family life, domesticities and everyday events, is fascinating. I’d love to procure a collection of Lewis’ early letters too. I have spent all of May reading his works – Narnia, the Space Trilogy, Screwtape. I’d love to know more about the man (and the boy) behind the writings that have so enthralled me. I can’t believe I’ve never read much besides Narnia before. I see now what I have been missing.
    I hope very much that real paper letters, written by hand with real pens and pencils, never go out of fashion. I spent the past semester at school writing a letter every week, and have kept that habit up throughout the summer so far. I hope to continue it for the foreseeable future. It has become one of the best things I do, and the most fulfilling. …Even if here at home, in Middle Of Nowhere, Vermont, not much happens to write about besides moving the sheep to new pasture and the odd escaped pig.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. robstroud says:

    Lewis’ letters give so many insights into his fascinating personality… and they are fun to read. They are so thoughtful, and often include a profound idea or two. When I contrast them to my own correspondence, it seems so pedestrian.

    When I purchased the three volumes of his correspondence I anticipated using them merely for reference. However, I’ve found them to be delightful reading in their own right.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. tom hillman says:

    I have been reading my way — I nearly said “working my way” but it isn’t work, it’s pleasure — through the Collected Letters. They are full of moments that make me laugh, that astonish me when I remember how young he is (I am in early 1917 now) to be writing such letters. I love seeing the difference in tone between the letters to Arthur and the letters to his father. And he can be a snob, I suppose, now as well as later. People whose minds were willingly closed to learning and reading, for whatever reason, irked him. They irk me, too. If that makes me a snob, I am in good company.

    Like

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