arroba Email

Portrait of C. S. Lewis

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 86, Autumn 2000 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

by Clifford Morris

(An address delivered on BBC Radio Oxford in 1971. First published in the Portland C. S. Lewis Chronicle.)

As an ordinary person with no special qualifications, save that he called himself my friend, I want to share with you some of my memories of the late Clive Staples Lewis, Master of Arts, Doctor of Literature, Doctor of Divinity, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Fellow of the British Academy, holder of a Gollancz Memorial Prize, and a Carnegie Medal for Literary Achievements, Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and sometime Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at the University of Cambridge. And I must begin with a confession: I find it difficult to do, adequately, what I have set out to do-not because there is little to say, but because there is far too much! He was my friend, my very dear friend, and I loved him greatly.

That is not said in any sickly sentimental spirit-which he would have hated anyway-but as a simple statement of fact. C. S. Lewis was very similar in many ways to the late William Edwin Sangster, the famous Methodist minister of the London Westminster Central Hall. They both included me in their circle of friendship; they both treated me with affectionate comradeship; they both talked with me freely on a great variety of subjects; they were both dedicated and devoted disciples of Jesus Christ; and they both desired passionately to let others see and know what it means to be a Christian. But I had a somewhat closer relationship with C. S. Lewis, and when he was taken from us, I suffered (as did so many others) an irreparable loss.

Like Dr. Sangster, Dr. Lewis was a man to whom one would go in any sort of trouble and be sure that one would receive all that could possibly be given of Christian love, understanding, and helpfulness. Lewis, like Sangster, was a dear man, a lovable man, a true friend, and a splendid companion. Clive Staples Lewis, like William Edwin Sangster, was a Christian warrior of the highest order. There have been many, many occasions since his passing when I would have consulted him, when I wanted, above all else, to hear his voice and see his smile, when I have wished for his wise and loving counsel. But he has gone from us, and we can-indeed, we must-thank God for every remembrance of him.

His influence upon me has not come from his early days nor, indeed, chiefly from his many writings, but from the days when I knew him personally. “Jack” Lewis-and all his friends were invited to call him Jack- is a difficult man to describe, and although Chad Walsh in his book C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics, and Clyde Kilby in his volume The Christian World of C. S. Lewis, have both attempted it, the results fall far short of the reality. Both Walsh and Kilby feel this and admit their difficulties. Their words form small snapshots of the man, taken from slightly different angles, both good, but neither the complete picture. I suppose that is not possible-witness the essays in a book called Light on C. S. Lewis-and I will not be so foolish as to pretend that I can be any more successful. But I do want to add my own personal touches to the snapshots, if I can.

When I was first asked, by my private car-hire business predecessors, to take a car and meet Professor Lewis, it was to be at Oxford station. I was told to look for a portly gentleman who would be wearing a thick overcoat and a trilby hat turned down all around; he would also be carrying a walking stick, have a grey haversack on his back, would be wearing horn-rimmed glasses, and would look like a prosperous farmer! Well, that was a good few years ago, and after becoming the proprietor of the car-hire business, I was privileged to drive the “prosperous farmer” some hundreds of miles, enjoy with him some hundreds of conversations on all sorts of subjects, and share with him scores of times of fellowship over meals.

When I first knew Dr. Lewis, he was a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and the journeys he required me to do for him were mostly local ones. Then he occupied the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge, and his journeys were to and from that university town at the beginning and ending of terms, and to and from Oxford station when he came home at weekends. So I saw him and enjoyed his company every week. There were also, of course, the other odd occasions when he and Mrs. Lewis went out to dinner or to see friends or for drives in the country. Unfortunately ill-health forced his premature retirement, and then I did not see him quite so frequently.

Naturally you will find some of his books on my shelves, several of which he gave me, and which bear his cordial regards and signature therein. I remember one of my friends, seeing one of these books one day, said, “Oh, so you know C. S. Lewis! Do tell me what he’s really like!” That, as I have already indicated, is no simple task. Dr. Lewis has been described as one of the greatest Christian apologists of the last hundred years and, again, as one of the wittiest and most penetrating thinkers of this present century. The Screwtape Letters is probably the most popular of his books, and I think that Mere Christianity would come a close second. Here are a few sentences of the kind you will find in his work:

Until you have given yourself up to Christ, you will not have a real self. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find that in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay will be yours. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. All that is not eternal is eternally out of date. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I can see it, but because by it I see everything else. Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intention and your behaviour.

Yes, I am impressed by his writing. I am impressed by his concise and logical reasoning, I am impressed by his cogent arguments; but I am more impressed-because I have been in a position to be more impressed-by the man himself.

First and foremost, Clive Staples Lewis was a Christian gentleman. Having been converted from a very real atheism to a very real Christianity, he was a man who knew what he believed and was ever ready to give a reason for the hope that was in him. If he were discussing religious matters, it would be in the same manner as he wrote about these things: there would be no platitudes, no shallow optimism about the world getting better and better, there would be nothing stereotyped; whatever he said would have a welcome freshness, a new viewpoint, an attractive difference of approach. And if he were speaking of ordinary, humdrum, everyday matters, you would find that, as in all his conversations, there would be an exactness and a precision in all he said. In fact, if he knew you well enough, he might suddenly pull you up for some looseness of expression! I remember one occasion when I was driving him through Oxford, and somebody unexpectedly dashed into the roadway immediately in front of the car, so that we had to stop sharply. I muttered something about “blessed pedestrians,” and the professor right away took me to task on the expression; he began to enquire the exact meaning of the word blessed and, further, what the word meant as used by me in those particular circumstances! He looked at me, with that well-known twinkle in his eye, and said, “I suspect that what you really meant was damned pedestrians-just the opposite to what you said! You certainly didn’t hope that they were exceedingly happy now, and that presently they will enjoy the bliss of the celestial realms!” Oh yes, he could be very academic, very professorish; but, on the other hand-and I hasten to adjust the balance-he could be, and usually was, the truest of friends, the finest of companions, and the most excellent of conversationalists. He never “talked religion,” except in the sense that a real Christian never talks anything else.

I very much enjoyed our drives to and from Cambridge. After Dr. Lewis died, I wrote to his brother (also a personal friend), and in the letter sent to me in return Warren Lewis said that Jack often spoke of me with affection, and that those journeys to and from Cambridge were among the greatest pleasures of his latter years. I am so glad to know that. If it were in wintertime, we generally found a snug little inn, somewhere on the way, and had a meal there; if it were in the summer, we generally took sandwiches and picnicked where we fancied. I made a little personal pilgrimage not long ago to a certain tree and the patch of grass surrounding it, not far from a certain Bedfordshire village; Jack and I sat under that tree a good many tims and ate our food and talked; and I felt a strange desire to go and see the place once more. So I went and stood under the tree and looked at the grass and the thicket and saw the same old cottage in thedistance-and I felt very near to my friend as I stood under the tree that day.

It was on one of those picnics that the Cambridge professor lost his hat! Now there are many stories about this famous hat, and Major Lewis recalls one of them in his Memoir prefacing the Letters. He writes: Jack’s clothes were a matter of complete indifference to him: he had an extraordinary knack of making a new suit look shabby the second time he wore it. One of his garments has passed into legend. It is said that Jack once took a guest for an early morning walk on the Magdalen College grounds, in Oxford, after a very wet night. Presently the guest brought his attention to a curious lump of cloth hanging on a bush. “That looks like my hat,” said Jack; then, joyfully, “It is my hat.” And, clapping the sodden mass on his head, he continued his walk.

That same hat was lost on one of our picnics, coming back from Cambridge at the end of a term. On the way to Cambridge, at the beginning of the next term, we looked inside the field gate where we had picnicked, and there was the hat, under the hedge, being used as a home for field mice. Jack retrieved it, of course, and later on continued to wear it. Sometime after that, that same hat spent a week under the front seat of my car; and the very last time I drove the professor, the same hat sat squarely on his head.

Dr. Lewis was a great lover of the natural scene, and he was always delighted to be taken through Woburn Park, where the herds of deer and other animals come wandering down to the public highway; and where, in its season, the magnificent rhododendron drive is a sight to behold. It was on one of these country journeys that an amusing incident took place. We had called at a little wayside inn for a midday drink and some bread and cheese, and the landlord’s wife (a very highly made-up and peroxided female of uncertain age) addressed Jack several times using the endearing word “ducks”! After we came out, I noticed that he was smiling, and then, digging me in the ribs, he said, “You know, old Morris, there must still be something about me! Did you notice that that good lady called me ‘ducks’ three times in as many minutes?” I often found myself envying his students, for it must have been an inestimable privilege to have had such a lecturer: every point made with careful accuracy so that there could never be any possibility of mistaking the meaning; the voice always clear, the pronunciation distinct. I once had to take him to Cambridge for just one lecture and then bring him home again, and he invited me to “sit in,” which I did with great interest and pleasure. He began by going briefly over all the ground already previously covered for, as he put it, “the weaker brethren,” but the point was put in such a way that the “weaker brethren” would have been eternally grateful to him for his kindness and consideration. This clarity and distinction were also manifest whenever he spoke on the radio or appeared on television.

Jack Lewis loved a joke-either to tell one or to hear one. He often related humorous stories to me during our drives together, and I have seen him roar with laughter many times over something I thought would amuse him. He often laughed at my own propensity for suddenly delivering little bits of out-of-the-way information. One day I noticed on the side of a Harris Sausage delivery van the words, “Established 177C”; I remarked on this and then said, “So Mr. Harris began making his sausages in the year that George Whitefield died!” My companion burst into laughter, and then he said, “You know, Morris, if I met you on top of the Alps I should expect you to tell me that John Wesley or somebody preached a sermon there!” He was never dull. The only time I have known him morose was when he was not feeling up to the mark, and which of us is not a bit edgy at such times? It was then best to keep quiet and not attempt to engage him in conversation. I might also add that I have known Jack Lewis to be very wide awake indeed when he appeared to be fast asleep!

I shall always consider myself fortunate to have been included in his circle of friendship. This I valued tremendously. It has meant a very great deal to me-more than I can ever put into words. I want to say this deliberately: Jack Lewis was the greatest man I have ever known. He was never, as Professor Kilby said, an intellectual snob, and he was willing to talk with anyone on any subject, having the ability to put the other person, or persons, at their ease.

In the book to which I have already referred-Light on C. S. Lewis– one of the essayists said that Lewis always took good care that he performed, or contested, on ground of his own choosing; and another said that he was a formidable character. I would most strongly disagree with both these statements. His learning may have been formidable, but not the man himself; he was one of the most approachable men I have ever met; and he was, as I have said, always and ever ready and willing to talk with anybody on any subject. I have been with him in the company of Oxford and Cambridge professors, intellectual and learned men, and I have overheard some of their conversation- conversation that I, personally, was totally unable to share; but I have also been with him, sitting in the midst of a crowd of long-distance truck drivers in a transport cafe, while he enthralled them with his wit and conversational powers. After one of these occasions one of the men came to me and said, “Hy, mate, who’s the guv’nor?” And when I told him, he expressed surprise, and then he said, “Blimey, he’s a toff, he is! A real nice bloke!” When I told Jack about this later, he took it as a compliment, and I was glad because I think it is the greatest compliment I ever heard paid him. C. S. Lewis was indeed “a toff” and “a real nice bloke.” I have never known his like, anywhere, or at any time. I remember that I once wanted to speak to him about something that was in the nature of a very personal and delicate matter, and he must have sensed my diffidence. I shall never forget-never-how he turned to me, how he smiled at me, and how he then said with tremendous affection, “My dear old Morris, friends can say anything to one another, and be quite sure that no confidence will be broken.” His written words-so deservedly popular-and his spoken words to private individuals-so remembered and cherished-were freely given, but not without care.

Some of his books I was acquainted with from the time of their writing, and one or two of his manuscripts I had the honour of putting into typescript for him. I was also instrumental in introducing him to the works of the great Alexander Whyte, the famous Puritan preacher of Free St. George’s, Edinburgh, and this fact I see he has graciously acknowledged in his posthumously published volume, Letters to Malcolm. There were occasions when Jack used me as a kind of sounding board when he was trying out some new ideas or some new way of putting an old idea or some fresh outline or even, now and again, some striking phrase. As we might be sitting over a glass of beer, or as we were quietly driving along, he would suddenly say, “Friend Morris, listen to this, and tell me if it means anything to you,” or, “How does this strike you?” And if I didn’t “catch on” at once, I have known him to scrap the whole idea, phrase, sentence, or whatever it was, and then begin all over again from another angle or in another way. He took tremendous trouble to say, in plain words, just what he meant, and it was always an imperative duty with him to write good English, as concisely as possible, coherently, forthrightly,leaving no loose ends, evading no difficulties, dodging no awkward questions.

There are many memories of him that come to me as I think of him now, some of which may be told, some of which will never be told. On one occasion I went to fetch him back from the Acland Nursing Home, in Oxford, where Mrs. Lewis was at that time a patient. When I arrived in the driveway I saw him pacing up and down, up and down, up and down, slowly and deliberately, his eyes upon the ground, utterly oblivious to anything that was going on around him. I sat in the car and waited for a moment or two, and then he looked up and saw me. He came straight to the car and, as he got in, he apologized for keeping me waiting, and then said, very simply, “I was just saying my prayers.” He told me afterward that he often prayed in this fashion, while walking or waiting anywhere; and once, at the beginning of a journey to Cambridge, he asked me not to speak to him for a while because he wanted to say his prayers. I shall always remember, too, the night that Mrs. Lewis died. I have not said much about Jack’s wife, because this is chiefly about him, and I did not know her until after they were married. He himself has said that, marrying late in life as he did, he was fortunate to find in his latter years what he had missed in his younger days. Joy Davidman was a very charming lady, with a brain that matched his own, and a great sense of humour and fun. As Major Lewis has said, “She was a woman of great charity, with unbounded contempt for the sentimental. Setting herself high standards, she could laugh at the seeming absurdities to which they sometimes carried her. With all this, she was intensely feminine.” She suffered from cancer, and they were married at the bride’s bedside in the Wingfield Hospital, at Headington, the civil ceremony having taken place earlier. They both knew that she had not long to live, but they were allowed three years of what I can only call unbounded happiness together.

She died in 1960, and that night they telephoned me from the Radcliffe Infirmary, in Oxford, asking me to bring the car to take him home. It was very late-after midnight-but I got there as quickly as possible and so was the first person (apart from the hospital staff) to see him and speak with him after Joy’s death. He did not wish to go straight home, and so we sat in the car and talked-for a long time. We talked about the things that good friends do talk about on such occasions, and I shall always count it a privilege to have seen-and shared, in some measure-his Christian faith and confidence, both of which were so manifest behind and beyond the tears of personal sorrow and loss.

The theologian Kierkegaard, speaking of his own writings on the Christian religion, said, “I firmly resolved to employ all my powers in the defense of Christianity, or at any rate to present it in its true form.” And that is just exactly what C. S. Lewis tried to do, for many years, and in many volumes, and in every possible way. The first time I heard Jack preach was in St. Mary the Virgin Church, in Oxford, and, although at that time I did not know him personally, I have never forgotten it: it was, indeed, a never-to-be-forgotten hour of worship. The great building was packed, with many people sitting and standing in the aisles and on the window ledges. The title of the sermon was, “The Weight of Glory.” I know that this idea of the divine in man-the image of Christ in every man-was an everpresent idea in the last years of Jack Lewis’s life. He spoke about it often, and it goes a long way toward explaining his attitude to other people, especially those who were his inferior in learning and intellectual capabilities.

I don’t think he ever “looked down” on anybody, and he was always willing to learn from anybody. It always seemed to me a great pity he did not preach more often, until I learned the reason for his reluctance to do this; he told me one day that after he had delivered a sermon and had received the kind words and the congratulations of all and sundry-as always happened when he spoke in public-he began to think what a jolly fine and clever fellow Jack Lewis was and, said he, “I had to get to my knees pretty quickly to kill the deadly sin of pride!”

Jack Lewis ministered to all of us, and there was healing in his touch. We shall not look upon his like again. Jack and I talked together, drove together, laughed together, wept together-he was my friend. And when he died I wrote a little memorial poem, in which I tried to express my feeling of utter loss and desolation. My own words I prefaced with four lines from William Watson’s poem, “The Glimpse”:

Just for an hour you crossed my life’s dull track,
Put my ignoble dreams to sudden shame,
Went your bright way, and left me to fall back
On my own world of poorer deed and aim….

So you, my friend, have gone upon your own bright way, and I have never missed a dear friend more: I miss your face, your voice, your smile, the twinkle in your eye, your presence at my side. You never failed me once, nor did you ever let me down. You met my need; but now-ah now-you are, in truth, gone far upon the brightest way of all: a gallant Christian warrior indeed.

I said at the beginning that C. S. Lewis was a Christian gentleman, and that is what I have been saying all through. It must suffice. I have tried to show you something of the man as I knew him. He thought so little of himself and did so much for others-not only by his speech and in this teaching, but also in secret charities and in other unsuspected ways. When I think of him-and it is very often-I remember the face, the voice, the smile, the clear-cut arguments, the calculated precision, the fun and laughter, the persuasive eloquence, the rugged exterior of form, and the vast intellectual power and drive; and I always find in my heart a great and loyal affection for my revered teacher, my invaluable counselor, and my dearly beloved friend.

And we, who knew him well, and loved him much, are poorer, sadder, and so sore bereft by this, so great a loss….

John and Kathryn Lindskoog met Clifford Morris at Rycott Chapel near Oxford on 27 December 1975. He had retired as a driver and was greatly enjoying his post at the historic chapel, where Warren Lewis had sometimes taken visitors. Morris entrusted to Lindskoogs the reel-to-reel recording of his memories of Lewis from BBC Oxford, and back in California John made a copy. Morris was pleased to have the recording included as a cassette in Lindskoog’s Christian education kit Voyage to Narnia. Because of the warmth and authority of Morris’s speaking, listeners cherish the recording. (Kathryn also arranged for the transcript to be published in InterVarsity’s HIS Magazine.) A copy of the cassette tape has now been sent to John West in Seattle, and he will soon distribute copies through the Discovery Institute at The opening of the tape is slightly different from the transcripts.