The Problem With Lewis

Self-Isolation is only a touch different for me. I go to work at the hospital eight days a month, but now have sharply curtailed which units I will go to (I was covering on the phone, keyboard, doorknob, and desk surface of everyone in a department of 30) and do not circulate throughout the building at all. While at home, I pretty much sit at the computer, the reading desk, or stand at some appliance anyway, then go out for a five-mile walk every day. However, there is a slight restriction, and being an irritable sort the boredom annoys me. Thus I have gone looking for AVI posts which I might repost over here. You’ll just have to bear up under the strain. A few more to come.


I found that They Asked For A Paper is in the public domain.  It contains a few essays of CS Lewis I had never read, so I was glad to find it.  In particular, I had wanted to read “The Literary Impact of the Authorised Version,” having seen a rare early copy under glass at the Lanier Theological Library outside Houston. I had never heard of it, and it is a subject I am interested in even with a lesser author.

Yet I quickly find I dare not come up with an opinion in the least contradiction to him. He has read everything, and is clearly operating a level I cannot even imagine.

“With the first Protestant translators we get some signs of a changed approach. I would wish to take every precaution against exaggerating it. The history of the English Bible from Tyndale to the Authorised Version should never for long be separated from that European, and by no means exclusively Protestant, movement of which it made part. No one can write that history without skipping to and fro across national and religious boundaries at every moment. He will have to go from the Soncino Hebrew Bible (1488) to Reuchlin’s Hebrew Grammar (1506), then to Alcala for Cardinal Ximenes’ great Polyglot (1514) and north for Erasmus’ New Testament in the same year, and then to Luther for the German New Testament in 1522, and pick up Hebrew again with Munster’s Grammar in 1525, and see Luther worked over by Zwinglius and others for the Zurich Bible of 1529, and glance at the two French versions of ’34 and ’35, and by no means neglect the new Latin translations of Pagninus (’28) and Munster (’34-’35). That is the sort of background against which Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva, and Rheims must be set. For when we come to compare the versions we shall find that only a very small percentage of variants are made for stylistic or even doctrinal reasons. When men depart from their predecessors it is usually because they claim to be better Hebraists or better Grecians. The international advance of philology carries them on, and those who are divided by the bitterest theological hatreds gladly learn from one another. Tyndale accepts corrections from More: Rheims learns from Geneva: phrases travel through Rheims on their way from Geneva to Authorised. Willy-nilly all Christendom collaborates. The English Bible is the English branch of a European tree.

Yet in spite of this there is something new about Tyndale; for good or ill a great simplification of approach.”(Italics mine)

I have heard of the translations in italics, though I doubt I could tell you the differences between them.  Older spellings and word-order for the first two, making them fatiguing to read now.  I have not even heard of the rest, except for that I knew Luther and Erasmus had made NT translations.  I am not surprised that Zwingli did, but I hadn’t known it.

He is not showing off.  This was a paper for academics who would not be impressed by mere quantity of sources.  Nor was this his habit in any event.  Kenneth Tynan claimed that he would sometimes hide his knowledge in order to encourage others to participate. Lewis took a rare Double First as an undergraduate, and started lecturing in philosophy before he obtained his post in literature, but in neither case is the above reading a necessary part of his specialty.  Such things as translations and language overlap with both literature and philosophy, but they are a bit extra.

I think I’ll just take his word on all this. I found his conclusions convincing.  How could I not?

Something similar is present in his essay on Rudyard Kipling, which I had only recently learned existed.  I have read that people were surprised at how many positive things he had to say about a modern writer (Spoiler alert:  Yes, very positive, but he closes with a large negative), yet what first knocked me back was his easy familiarity with the entire Kipling corpus.  He must refer to fifty different works in the essay, and when he makes a point it is as if they are all spread out on a table before him.  This is also not in the least required for his specialty.  No matter.  He has read everything. I expect to have something to say about that essay soon. If you Kipling fans want to get up on that, it is also at the link.

3 thoughts on “The Problem With Lewis”

  1. Thank you for the link, and especially for the lead to the Kipling essay. I am a fan of both Lewis and Kipling. The essay refers to several stories I had not previously known of.

  2. “It is a brutal truth about the world that the whole everlasting business of keeping the human race protected and clothed and fed could not go on for twenty-four hours without the vast legion of hard-bitten, technically efficient, not-over-sympathetic men, and without the harsh processes of discipline by which this legion is made.”

    The Kipling essay is great. Thanks for the link.

  3. @ LG: I copied that exact quote and nearly did an entire post on it. Lewis does undercut that message somewhat as he goes on, but he clearly believes that is the central fact, with subsequent modifications only a counterbalance. It is a “brutal truth” that our age is even less able to hear than his. It is not only liberals who can no longer hear this, but most conservatives as well. Conservatives have their own versions of standing on their rights. Part of that is an American insistence on justice and individual rights. While those are clearly important, and in the long run perhaps more important than the embrace of suffering and oppression we must each perform in order that children may be fed, in the short run there is no real choice.

    As an example, there is anger and controversy in the black community over black performers of a previous era, the Steppin Fetchits and Rochesters who made their living by embracing and perpetuating ugly stereotypes. I think the old guys had it right. When you have kids to feed, that value goes to the top of the list.

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