That unjustly neglected philosopher Sam Weller knew the secret of correspondence. “That’s rather a sudden pull up, ain’t it, Sammy?” inquired his father on one memorable occasion. “Not a bit on it,” answered Sam; “she’ll vish there was more, and that’s the great art o’ letter writin’.” Our affluent age has seen the letter demoted to a utilitarian device or a tiresome Sunday afternoon chore (lovers excluded, of course). The situation has never been more devastatingly put than by an Oxford don: “Perhaps one of the reasons why letters are so hard to write and so much harder to read is that people … think nothing worth writing except what would not be worth saying.”
The don was C. S. Lewis, the occasion ironically a letter to his brother in 1921. That same brother, W. H. Lewis, has now edited a selection of the Letters of C. S. Lewis (London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd., 30s.) and appended a memoir. The period covered is 1915–1963, during the first part of which time Lewis had not surprisingly wandered away from what his brother calls “the dry husks of religion offered by the semi-political church-going of Ulster.”
Most one-sided correspondences tend to exasperate, but what C. S. himself had done so well in Screwtape and Letters to Malcolm has been creditably emulated in this volume; we echo the Wellerian wishing for more. The man who held that his friends, books, and brains were “not given me to keep” shared his joys and sorrows, his wisdom and his caring, with people of all kinds, and did it with a unique combination of logic, imagination—and tact.
He was eminently sensible. With crushing simplicity he points out that psychoanalysis, like every young science, is prone to error, “but so long as it remains a science and doesn’t set up to ...1
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