Death of Lewis Nemesis, Oxford Scholar A. L. Rowse

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 75, Winter 1998 The C. S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

A famous Oxford contemporary of C. S. Lewis, A. L. Rowse, died at age 93 on 3 October 1997 in Cornwall. Like Lewis, Rowse was a “politically incorrect” Oxford professor who said what he thought and acquired fame and popularity through his unusually lively writing. In spite of severe poverty and poor health, he eventually became a distinguished historian, an expert in Tudor and Elizabethan England, a poet, biographer, and author of more than 90 books. (See p. 19.) His energy, memory, and zest were prodigious to the end.

A Cornish Childhood, the first of Rowse’s famous books about Cornwall, was published in 1942; and his love for Cornwall never diminished. (As a boy Rowse fell in love with a local mansion overlooking the sea, and in 1953 he leased it.) He was eventually appointed a Senior Fellow at the Huntington Library; as a result, for 20 years he usually wintered in California. Wherever he went, Rowse was (like Lewis) extremely friendly, generous, and responsive to people. But he could be unusually ascerbic and undiplomatic. Even at his memorial service his abrasive personality was emphasized: “His intense and often prickly pride, combativeness and fierce outspoken resentment of criticism were all aspects of his complex character, of which he was perfectly aware.”

In 1994 Rowse wrote to Lindskoog,

Less surprising that CSL should have married such a woman, for he had no aesthetic taste. Even in literature his taste was wrong-headed — like an Ulsterman. But the Irish have no taste.

I am surprised at any woman wanting to marry Lewis. Fancy getting into bed with that beefy, beery, smelly man! But the charity of women is inexhaustible…

Give my love to dear California.

Rowse was especially proud of discovering the identity of the Dark Lady in Shakespeare’s sonnets, and he treasured a note from Agatha Christie signed “From a Low Brow Detective to a High Brow Detective.”