After digging into Time’s 1947 cover article on C.S. Lewis, I thought it might be fun to reprint a couple of Time articles from the 40s. This week it is interesting to note that C.S. Lewis’ relatively unpopular anthology of George MacDonald quotations at least warranted a review. Next week I’ll share a review of The Great Divorce.
Time, 6/2/1947, Vol. 49, Issue 22
“Where are ye going?” said a voice with a strong Scotch accent. I stopped and looked…. On one of the rocks sat a very tall man, almost a giant, with a flowing beard…. Here was an enthroned and shining god, whose ageless spirit weighed upon mine like a burden of solid gold: and yet, at the very same moment, here was an old, weather-beaten man, one who might have been a shepherd….
“I don’t know you, Sir,” said I, taking my seat beside him.
“My name is George,” he answered. “George Macdonald.”
In The Great Divorce (Time, March 11, 1946), Oxford’s witty Christian Apologist C.S. Lewis (The Screwtape Letters) imagines this celestial meeting with the man he acknowledges as the greatest influence in his life. Just published in the U.S. is Lewis’ full-dress tribute to his master—George Macdonald: an Anthology (Macmillan; $1.50).
Fantasy & Insight. Handsome, bush-bearded Scot Macdonald was born in 1824 of a line of Aberdeenshire Calvinists. His father, a hard-tender, humorous man, reared his son with Presbyterian rigor—forbidding him to use a saddle until he had mastered riding bareback, advising him “to give over the fruitless game of poetry,” exacting his promise to renounce tobacco at the age of 23. After graduating from King’s College at Aberdeen, George was “called” in 1850 to become minister of a dissenting chapel. But within two years, his deacons were grumbling that he had expressed belief in a future state of probation for heathens, and that he was tainted with German theology. Macdonald finally resigned to take up the poverty-stricken lecturing, preaching and writing at which he spent the rest of his 81 years.
It was as a writer that George Macdonald was best known. His At the Back of the North Wind, and “Curdie” books for children, and such mythopoeic fantasies as The Wise Woman, Lilith and The Phantasies [sic] are still reread and remembered by those with a nostalgia for the turn-of-the-century world of nannies, nurseries and button boots. But it was Macdonald’s Christian insight that made him great. Says Lewis:
“Necessity made Macdonald a novelist, but few of his novels are good and none is very good.”
Terror & Comfort. Lewis throws British understatement to the winds in praise of Macdonald’s religious wisdom: “I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself…. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined.”
The anthology consists almost entirely of aphorisms and paragraphs culled from the three volumes of Unspoken Sermons. The items add up neatly to 365. Readers would do well to take the hint: like most such gem-collections, this little book would make a better year’s than an evening’s reading. Samples:
“Dangerous Moment—Am I going to do a good deed? Then, of all times,—Father, into thy hands: lest the enemy should have me now.”
“Spiritual Murder—It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice….”
“Hell—The one principle of hell is—’I am my own!’ ”
“Holy Laughter—It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence.”
“Not the Rich Only—If it be things that slay you, what matter whether things you have, or things you have not?”