Here is the first half of a two-part guest post by Jared Lobdell. Jared is the editor of Detective Fiction Reviews of Charles Williams (McFarland, 2003); the Chairman of Papers & Panels for MythCon 1987; author/editor of three books on Tolkien, two on Lewis (one forthcoming 2015: Eight Children in Narnia, Open Court), and a forthcoming chapbook/article on Nevill Coghill.
MY LORD’S RULE:
REFLECTIONS ON CHARLES WILLIAMS
Sometime ago I was asked if I could contribute some reflections on Charles Williams to this blog. I said I could, and then I started thinking – what would I say? What has Charles Williams been to me over the more than sixty years since I picked out The Place of the Lion (Pellegrini & Cudahy edition) off my mother’s library table in our living room in Ho-Ho-Kus New Jersey, where it lived with another Williams novel (I think Descent into Hell) and a number of C. S. Lewis books. That – and the mention of Taliessin through Logres (misprinted as Taliesin through Logres) in That Hideous Strength – made up my introduction to Charles Williams back in 1951. (“Fool! All lies in a passion of patience: my Lord’s rule.”)
Then I bought Taliessin (with The Region of the Summer Stars) and Arthurian Torso (and He Came Down from Heaven and The Forgiveness of Sins and The Figure of Beatrice and The Image of the City and The Descent of the Dove and Witchcraft and the novels my parents didn’t have and Poetry at Present – for $1.70 hardcover new from Oxford University Press down the road in Fairlawn NJ). I did not buy his biography of Rochester, though I read some of it on the shelf at the British Book Centre in New York – which is why I didn’t buy it. Didn’t buy his life of James I either. Charles Williams was a good light-essayist and book reviewer (I eventually edited almost all of his detective fiction reviews into a book that came out from McFarland ten or a dozen years ago), but as a biographer his mannerisms tend to exhaust even more than Chesterton’s unending search for paradox. A matter of manner over matter. (On the other hand, his light essay on the plural of rhinoceros is very like the fine light essays Strix [Peter Fleming] used to do for Punch.)
Tolkien was a wit, Barfield also, Lewis a wit and a satirist (like Dr. Johnson, whom he so much resembled) – all three were humorists of a sort – Dyson too, and even Coghill the mystic (ac rare combination), and Lord David Cecil. But Williams, though sometimes witty (and there is wit perforce in some of his rhymed poetry – viz, “Sir Palomides”), had not the detachment of his friends at Oxford (barring Coghill, often passionately involved). He was a self-taught man, a cockney, too poor to have finished college, unorthodox, epigrammatic, fantastical, and if one reads “The Figure of Arthur” in Arthurian Torso, one begins to see how the real world of scholarship was beginning – or may have been beginning – to tame him (Humphrey Carpenter to the contrary notwithstanding, on how no one influenced Williams). But he died. And we will never know if what came next would have been stronger and better than what went before.
Williams was an editor and proofreader for the Oxford University Press – that’s how he came in contact with The Allegory of Love. One of his longer projects there was his editing (and proofing) the Collected Essays Papers &c. of Robert Bridges (1930-1935), published in ten small books in Italics, using the Poet Laureate’s own “improved” spelling and alphabet – and before that the Laureate’s Testament of Beauty (1929), a poem of 175 pages, improved spelling but at least our own alphabet. One strongly suspects the influence of this proof-reading (I have been an editor and proof-reader) on Williams’s own poetry. Here is the conclusion of the Testament of Beauty.
Truly the Soul returneth the body’s loving
where it hath won it . . . and God so loveth the world . . .
and in the fellowship of the friendship of Christ
God is seen as the very self-essence of love,
Creator and of all as activ Lover of all,
self-express’d in not-self, without which no self were
In thought whereof is neither beginning nor end
nor space nor time; nor any fault nor gap therein
’twixt self and not-self, mind and body, mother and child,
’twixt lover and loved, God and man: but ONE ETERNAL
in the love of Beauty and in the selfhood of Love.
The poem, for those who are unfamiliar with it (certainly the vast majority) is 4371 lines of blank verse, of which the concluding lines above are a fair representation. I much prefer “Sir Palomides” – and the Inklings, if they were to choose among Poets Laureate, were of the Masefield sort (1878-1967 Laureate 1930-67); not so much Bridges (1844-1930 Laureate 1913-30) who was Poet Laureate before him. Coghill and Dyson were in fact friends welcome at Masefield’s house.
. . .
Tune in tomorrow for part 2 of this post.