Yesterday I ran Part 1 of these reflections by Jared Lobdell. Please go read Part 1, then come back and read this part.
Several – not quite so – random reflections. It was from Williams I learned the full glory of the “fool for Christ” from The Greater Trumps, from which I remember also the great interchange between Lothair and Sybil Coningsby – “And is Nancy Messias?” “Near enough. There will be pain and suffering yet, but near enough.” It was from Williams, of course, I learned of Co-inherence and Substitution – and how God’s time does not run the same way ours does (and not always in quite the same direction). It was from Williams even that I learned something of the British view of and friendship for Islam – as much as from his contemporary Aircraftman Shaw or from the Henty books of my youth.
Talaat ibn Kula of Ispahan
taught me the measurement of man
that Euclid and Archimedes showed,
ere I took the Western road
across the strait of the Spanish seas.
Through the green-pennon-skirted Pyrenees,
from the sharp curved line of the Prophet’s blade
that cuts the Obedience from the Obeyed,
I came to the cross-littered land of Gaul.
measured the height of God-in-man
by the swinging hazels of Lateran …
That is what I think of, initially, when I think of Charles Williams as poet (and someday I’ll figure out who Talaat ibn Kula was) – and of Williams as theologian I think of “Hell is inexact” and “This also is Thou” and “Neither is this Thou” – and I remember that it was Williams who tried to interest Lewis in Kierkegaard – but curiously, Lewis would rather read Sartre (in French, as it happens). I recall the passage in The Descent of the Dove, speaking of the Church and Voltaire (I hear echoes of Chesterton); “For thirteen hundred years she had not been in a position to be attacked from outside; there had, in fact, been no outside. She had been denounced only by her members, even if they were heretical members, except where the alien cymbals of Islam had challenged her. But the clash of these new cymbals refused membership – in favor of a God not so unlike the God of Islam. Intellectually the cymbals were a little brassy. Voltaire seems actually to have thought on a low level; he did suppose that the fact that there were a thousand reputed Saviors of the world proved that there was no Savior of the world, and that the different circumstances and natures of many mothers of many gods disproved the Virginity of the Mother of God. We know that neither affirmation nor denial are as simple as that. But in matters of public morals Voltaire shocked and justly shook the Church.”
Major Warren Lewis said CW’s death effectively brought an end to the Inklings. Tolkien, who did not trust his theology, wrote of him (in verse):
When your fag [i.e., cigarette] is wagging and spectacles are twinkling
when tea is brewing or the glasses tinkling,
then of your meaning often I’ve an inkling,
your virtues and your wisdom glimpse. Your laugh
in my heart echoes, when with you I quaff
the pint that goes down quicker than a half
because you’re near. So heed me not, I swear
when you with tattered paper take the chair
and read (for hours maybe) I would be there,
And ever when in state you sit again
and to your car imperial give rein,
I’ll trundle, grumbling, squeaking, in the train
of the great rolling wheels of Charles’s Wain.
It is the best picture of CW from one of the Inklings – at least the best I know. And Lewis wrote (and meant at the time) “When the idea of death and the idea of Williams met in my mind, it was the idea of death that was changed.” T. S. Eliot wrote of Williams that he more closely approximated the saint than any other man he had ever known.
That brings me to my last reflection: Williams, like Coghill (who prepared an actor’s edition of Murder in the Cathedral), and Dyson (who was a Bloomsbury habitué or at least frequent visitor in the ‘20s), and Barfield (Valerie Eliot and Michael Ivens and I worked together in a failed attempt to get Owen on the Honors List), was a friend of T.S. Eliot, as against Lewis and Tolkien in the ‘30s, who were not friends of TSE. But it was Eliot who published A Grief Observed – and I wonder if his friendship for Williams played any part in that? A last gift from Charles Williams?
- Jared Lobdell