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Scrabo the Ulsterman

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 82, Autumn 1999 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

C. S. Lewis wrote his excellent fragment “The Most Substantial People” in1927, 18 years before he wrote about MacPhee in That Hideous Strength. It is about the Easley family of Belfast. Warren Lewis willed the story to the Wade Center, but Walter Hooper and C S Lewis Pte have blocked its publication.

On every side of me were thickset men in very round bowler hats conversing with a liveliness hardly known in England in a dialect which I could have easily mistaken for low Scotch…

I feel I cannot describe these Ulstermen better than by saying that they realized perfectly a child’s dream of what a “grown up” ought to be. Their hands were hairy and massive: their movements and voices were sudden, confident and practical: they moved to an incessant jingling of money, flapping of watch chains and rattling of cuffs. They wore the strictest uniform of respectability. I had a vision of thoroughly good blue serge suits that were rather tight about the arm pits, of the highest of stiff collars and heavy, well polished boots. I felt instinctively that I was among good sleepers and hearty eaters. Their manners were rough but not without a certain geniality…

“Aye” said the man in a tone which showed me that the Ulster “Aye” was here the equivalent of the French “tiens”….

With all his vulgarity, there was a certain heartiness in the red twinkling face and the stubby chins pressing over the high collar, which reminded me of some of Scrabo’s letters…. At all the surrounding tables men not unlike McClinnichan were leaning forward telling each other stories, puffing at cigars, stamping down empty glasses with a fine confident gesture, on tables covered with cigarette ends and the foam of bottled stout.

Lewis portrays his Scrabo Easley Ulstermen as greedy materialists obsessed with business, politics, and respectability. They feared southern Ireland, resented England, and felt entitled to avoid inconveniences like paying taxes, helping relatives or serving in World War One. Lewis’s caricature is like his Ulstermen, “rough but not without a certain geniality.”