Featured Artifact: Owen Barfield’s Chess Set, by Owen A. Barfield

Owen A. Barfield, the grandson of Owen Barfield, joins “Off the Shelf” for this post featuring his grandfather’s chess set, currently displayed in the Wade Center’s Museum. The Wade Center is grateful to Mr. Barfield for sharing his memories with us and our readers.

Owen Barfield's chess set and pipe, displayed in the Wade Center's Museum area.

Owen Barfield’s chess set and pipe in the Wade Center’s Museum.

Chess was a much loved game in Grandfather’s family, played at home and in tea shops in the City of London, where the family firm was located. In fact, my great-grandfather, Arthur Edward Barfield (Owen’s father), preferred a more complex variant of the game played over two boards. This enthusiasm was fostered by his own father, John, creator of the first Congolese-English dictionary in 1883.

Owen Barfield as a young man playing chess, ca. 1914. Photo courtesy of Owen A. Barfield.

I’m not entirely sure how Grandfather came by this set, but I’ve always been under the impression that it was given to him by his father. In any case, the set remained with Grandfather all his life; and he was always glad to have the opportunity of a game.

Unusually, the pieces are coloured red and white. There is evidence to suggest that some of the very earliest chess pieces were coloured so, as opposed to the modern black and white. I’m thinking here of the Lewis Chessmen, of which Grandfather had two large museum reproduction pieces. These fascinating medieval chess pieces, discovered on a remote Hebridean island in 1831, were carved from walrus ivory or whale teeth. Some were stained red, suggesting that the original colour combination of the pieces was red and white.

"Polarity" oil painting by Owen A. Barfield.

“Polarity” oil painting by Owen A. Barfield, 2014. See http://www.owenbarfield.org/oil-paintings/ for more details.

I can see why this appealed to Grandfather: Red and white are the polarity colours in nature – as seen in the white spring blossom and red autumnal berries of the hawthorn tree. And polarity is the theme that so fully occupied much of Grandfather’s thought and that of his guide, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I enjoyed playing many games with Grandfather on this very chess set over the years. Our conversations on such occasions were limited (on my side, anyway, and mainly by the need to concentrate on the game), but wide-ranging. For instance, we might cover questions about the Eucharist (is the sacramental bread “really” the body of Christ?), before veering off to discuss the benefits of computer chess – I think Jeffrey [Jeffrey Barfield, son of Owen Barfield] had recently set up a programme for him, hooked up to his old portable, black and white, television screen.

Unsurprisingly, Grandfather never really took to computer games, and I assumed that the technology was simply too alien and too great a barrier. However, I’ve recently wondered if that was, in fact, the reason behind his lack of interest. After all, Grandfather was never one to be put off by intellectual challenges – he relished them, and would interrogate me on the workings of computers to a degree far beyond my level of competence!

Detail of the pieces from the chess set belonging to Owen Barfield.

Detail of the pieces from the chess set belonging to Owen Barfield.

No, perhaps the reason why Grandfather stuck to his old chess set lies in his response to my other question that day regarding communion bread. Typically, his answer was both simple and complex, and I should confess that I didn’t fully understand it at the time. Fortunately for me, he expanded on his reply in a letter, dated 29 November 1983 (a copy of which is in the Wade). In it, he relates the subject matter to words and meanings (which he described as the ‘insides’ of words). Like words, everything in nature has an inside and an outside: trees, flowers, bread, human beings – and the incarnated body of Christ:

“… the body of Christ also had an inside and the first few verses of St John’s Gospel point out that that Inside was not just like yours or mine. It was at the same time the Inside of the whole world, or the whole of Nature.”

As mere humans, we don’t contain the whole world or all of Nature within ourselves, but when we come together over a chess board to share something of the insides of ourselves with each other, we more closely approximate the divine. It is that sharing or communion that I think Grandfather missed when playing against a computer. And this is essentially why this particular set is special to me: Having been the physical conduit through and over which so much creative and imaginative play took place between connected souls, I believe it retains something of Grandfather, of myself, and of all the many friends with whom Grandfather ever shared a game.

Owen A. Barfield, Virginia coast, August 2014

Owen A. Barfield, August 2014

Owen A. Barfield is the Trustee of the Owen Barfield Literary Estate, and grandson of author and philosopher Owen Barfield. He is also an artist, and has overseen the publication of many of his grandfather’s books in a series of modern editions.

Sheldon Vanauken: His Story & Legacy, a post by Elaine Hooker

The Wade Center’s collection focuses exclusively on seven British authors; however, the depth of our collections is extensive and can include some remarkable related and contextual materials.

The Wade Center’s Sheldon Vanauken collection, although indirectly related to C.S. Lewis, preserves an important example of the personal influence of Lewis’s life and his writings. Sheldon Vanauken, one of C.S. Lewis’s many regular correspondents, exchanged approximately 24 letters with Lewis over a ten-year period between 1950 and 1960. Unbeknownst to the two men at the time, they would not only share a religious journey from nominal faith to atheism and back again to Christianity, but also the experience of caring for a spouse through illness and death and then grieving the loss as a widower.

VausbookAs historical resources, archives offer a unique “sneak peek” into various aspects of a person’s life. The Vanauken Collection contains typescripts and proofs of several works by Sheldon Vanauken (A Severe Mercy, Gateway to Heaven, and Under the Mercy) along with photographs of awards, photocopies of articles, reviews, and Vanauken’s review briefs and letter logs related to his literary work. Also included are biographical research materials on Vanauken from Will Vaus, author of Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received “A Severe Mercy” (Hamden, CT: Winged Lion Press, 2012), which were incorporated into the Vanauken collection in Spring 2015 by Wade Center archival intern Lisa Krajecki. Two particularly unique items are a created facsimile of his wife Jean “Davy” Vanauken’s personal annotated King James Bible and one of her own watercolor paintings. Davy’s Bible is our “featured artifact” in this blog post, and its importance becomes evident once the story behind it is told.

Vanauken first wrote to Lewis in December 1950, during his “second look” at Christianity, having abandoned the faith of his childhood in the name of truth. Like Lewis, Vanauken had discarded the faith of his youth and become a “small, fierce atheist” (Encounter with Light, p.1). However, while a student at Oxford University, Vanauken decided he should revisit Christianity once more. During this time of questioning, he read Lewis’s books (among others), and wrote to Lewis with some of the theological questions that surfaced as a result of his reading:

  • Is faith a childish thing to be discarded when one matures intellectually?
  • Was the universe created by God, or did it just happen?
  • If God exists, can He be known intimately?
  • Is there proof that Christ was the Son of God?

Lewis recognized the deep questions of a serious searcher on a spiritual journey. He had, after all, been on such a journey himself. On December 23, 1950, at the close of only his second letter to Vanauken, Lewis writes:

“…I think you are already in the meshes of the net! The Holy Spirit is after you. I doubt if you’ll get away.”

Vanauken did eventually embrace Christianity as a result of a variety of factors including the influence of C.S. Lewis, and in particular the strong connection he shared with his wife Davy.

EncounterIt is interesting to note that the exchange of letters between Vanauken and Lewis were not unusual. C.S. Lewis conscientiously answered every letter he received. He viewed his correspondence as a devotional act and a Christian duty, and it grew into a task that occupied a great deal of his time and energy. The letters between the two and Vanauken’s own conversion story were first published in a booklet titled Encounter with Light by the Church of the Covenant, Vanauken’s church, in 1961. The story also appeared in a 1968 issue of His magazine (v.29, n.3, p.6-11), and two years later was published by the Wade Center; it is still available for purchase today. Vanauken later expanded the story of his journey to faith into chapter 4 of his autobiography A Severe Mercy, published in 1977 and winner of the National Book Award in 1980 in the religion/inspiration category.

A_SEVERE_MERCYA Severe Mercy expands the story begun in Encounter with Light, to include Vanauken’s relationship with his wife Davy, chronicling their intense love affair through their meeting, marriage, subsequent individual conversions to Christianity, and her eventual illness and death.

The love story of Davy and Van, as he was known to his friends, is an intense one. He describes them as being in love almost from their first meeting. After knowing each other ten months, they were secretly married and hoped to maintain their love in a perpetual springtime. They had intentions to share everything, keeping no secrets from each other. When they began to reexamine Christianity in Oxford, they both read the same books and discussed them with each other. However, Davy came to faith first. As Van describes it, she had a visceral experience of her own sin and guilt, and an emotional need for the absolution Christianity offered.

A few months later, on March 29, 1951, Vanauken declares that he wrote in his notebook:

“I choose to believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—in Christ, my lord and my God. Christianity has the ring, the feel, of unique truth. Of essential truth. By it, life is made full instead of empty, meaningful instead of meaningless…A choice was necessary: and there is no certainty. One can only choose a side. So I—I now choose my side: I choose beauty; I choose what I love. But choosing to believe is believing. It’s all I can do: choose.” (Encounter with Light, p. 23-24)

Three years later, Jean “Davy” Vanauken was diagnosed with terminal liver disease. She died six months after her diagnosis. Vanauken was left alone to reconcile his grief and his Christian faith. Vanauken’s correspondence with Lewis is part of how he processed this loss, very much like Lewis would later do in A Grief Observed.

Perhaps as Vanauken grieved, he also created the artifact now retained in this archive, the annotated King James Bible fashioned after the one belonging to Jean “Davy” Vanauken. Notes inside the Bible explain that Davy’s Bible was threadbare and falling apart, so this one was remade by transcribing her marks and notes from that volume to this. This Bible also contains a loose insert near the title page with passages from Matthew written on it, as well as several glued inserts. Click on the images below to enlarge them.


The Bible Vanauken used to transcribe Davy’s annotations following her death.


Title page of the Bible.


Inscriptions in the Bible.


Sample page showing the careful annotations in the Bible.

To learn more about Sheldon Vanauken and his life see the following materials in the Wade Center’s collections:

Books by Sheldon Vanauken:

  • Vanauken, Sheldon. Encounter With Light. Wheaton, Ill. : [s.n.], [1970; reprinted ca. 1978].
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. A Severe Mercy. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1977.
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. Gateway To Heaven. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1980.
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. The Glittering Illusion: English Sympathy For The Southern Confederacy. Columbia, S.C. : Southron Press, 1985.
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. Mercies: Collected Poems. Front Royal, Va. : Christendom College Press, 1988.
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. Under The Mercy. Nashville : T. Nelson, 1985.

Books about Sheldon Vanauken:

  • Vaus, Will. Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received “a Severe Mercy.” Hamden, CT : Winged Lion Press, 2012.

The Seven Literary Sages Christian History Issue: A closer look with Jennifer Woodruff Tait

ChristianHistory_2015The “Seven Literary Sages” Christian History issue 113 was released early in 2015 in honor of the Wade Center’s 50th anniversary, features the seven authors of the Wade Center, and highlights their continuing relevance to significant issues facing our world today. We have heard from many readers how much they enjoyed the issue, including  Dr. Leland Ryken, Professor of English Emeritus at Wheaton College, who comments: “This issue of Christian History is the best brief introduction to the Wade authors that exists. Its photographs are a feast to the eyes.  The accumulated information and insights are a treasure trove.”

Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History and Wade author enthusiast, graciously offers “Off the Shelf” readers some of her reflections on the “Seven Literary Sages” issue and its significance in her own life. Our thanks also go to Jennifer for the editorial expertise and creative work she contributed to make this issue such a success.

On November 22, 2013, C.S. Lewis was formally “installed” into Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, gaining a memorial stone there along with such luminaries of British literature as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron, Dickens, Austen, the Brontë sisters, T.S. Eliot, and W.H. Auden. The service was dignified; the organ thundered; the choir sang. I was there. My husband, kids, and I spent the days before the service joining fellow Lewis enthusiasts at a meeting of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, a tour of the Kilns (Lewis’s home, now a museum), and a symposium on Lewis’s works and worth.

On the way home, we visited Dublin, Ireland and attended the Sunday morning worship service at Trinity College. There I met a woman who became interested in our trip to the Lewis memorial. She obviously knew of Lewis’s status as a British author and had seen the movie Shadowlands. But she was puzzled by my being there on behalf of a Christian magazine. “Was Lewis particularly religious?” she asked.

And I wondered: Though Christians have valued his work for decades, how much did Lewis and his friends and mentors change the society around them? What legacy did they leave to the modern secular world?

That question was part of the reason I was in Oxford and London. I was covering the memorial celebration for issue 113 of Christian History magazine, which was dedicated to the seven authors whom the Wade Center collects. Released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Wade Center, we called the magazine “Seven Literary Sages: Why We Still Need Their Wisdom Today.” It told the story of how those “Seven Sages” took on secularists, materialists, and modernizers with their weapon of choice: the pen.

With the assistance of the Wade we assembled a lineup of knowledgeable scholars: Suzanne Bray, Matthew Dickerson, Crystal and David Downing, Colin Duriez, Brian Horne, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Alister McGrath, Michael Ward, Ralph Wood, and Edwin Woodruff Tait. They explained to our readers in fresh and entertaining ways how the Seven Sages expressed a vision for society in areas ranging from economics to education to the environment; a vision for Christian literature in their powerfully moving treatments of goodness and self-sacrifice; and a vision for discipleship in their pictures of love in community. They also emphasized how millions read their books and by those books were inspired, by the help of God’s grace, to create art, practice goodness, and seek the truth. (I am one of them: from Prince Caspian to Lord of the Rings to Gaudy Night to The Greater Trumps to Orthodoxy, the logical arguments and poetic visions of the Seven Sages have enriched my Christian discipleship for decades.) And we were able to illustrate the entire issue with a range of gorgeous photographs, many from the Wade’s own collection.

The magazine has turned out to be one of our runaway best-sellers since Christian History returned to publication by Christian History Institute in 2010. It’s by far our most popular issue judging by the number of online readers as well as requests for print copies. I’m personally thrilled to have been part of introducing so many new readers to authors who, in many cases, I have known and loved since childhood. But, not wanting to neglect others who have known and loved these authors for years as well, I commend the issue to you. Read, marvel, and enjoy!

TaitJennifer Woodruff Tait (Ph.D., Duke University) is managing editor of Christian History magazine, managing editor of the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, and author of The Poisoned Chalice and Histories of Us.  From 2004-2013 she was the recording secretary for the New York C.S. Lewis Society. She lives in Richmond, KY on an 8-acre farm with her husband (who proposed to her on the bridge in London where G.K. Chesterton proposed to Frances), her two daughters (both of whom love Narnia and Middle-earth), and her in-laws.

New books for your Summer Reading List


Summer is here! As we did last year with our summer reading ideas, we put together a few suggestions of some exciting new books for your summer reading list. This year there are an exceptional amount of new and innovative titles covering the works and lives of the Wade authors and those who knew them. For each title below, we list a summary of the book, its expected publication date, and several published titles on related subjects. We hope you find these suggestions engaging, and learn something new. Happy summer (and fall and winter) reading!

Inklings-ZaleskiTitle: The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams
Authors: Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski
Release date and Publisher: June 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Summary: A look into the lives and writings of members of the literary discussion and writing group, The Inklings. An impressive research effort with the final product just over 650 pages, this book is a great read for the invested reader who wants to look deeper into the realm of Inklings scholarship.
Other related works:
The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter
The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer

Inklings-DuriezTitle: The Oxford Inklings: Their Lives, Writings, Ideas, and Influence
Author: Colin Duriez
Release date and Publisher: March 2015 by Lion Hudson
Summary: Another contribution this year to Inklings studies, this title by British scholar Colin Duriez. This volume is shorter than the Zaleski work (less than 300 pages), and has less biographical information, focusing on the group itself and accessible for the more casual reader.
Other related works:
The Inklings Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to the Lives, Thought, and Writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and their Friends by Colin Duriez and David Porter
The Inklings of Oxford : C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their Friends by Harry Lee Poe, photography by James Veneman

BedeviledTitle: Bedeviled: Lewis, Tolkien and the Shadow of Evil
Author: Colin Duriez
Release date and Publisher: April 2015 by InterVarsity Press
Summary: Duriez explores how C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other Inklings identified modern warfare as a powerful image of the deeper battle between good and evil. He also considers the ways in which their own experiences in war shaped their writings.
Other related works:
– Author talk of Duriez at the Wade Center from April 30, 2015 (MP3 audio file)
Tolkien and The Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth
A Morning after War: C.S. Lewis and WWI by K.J. Gilchrist

CSL-poemsTitle: The Collected Poems of C. S. Lewis: A Critical Edition
Author: C.S. Lewis, ed. Don W. King
Release date and Publisher: January 2015 by Kent State University Press
Summary: A new collection of Lewis’s poetry, including many previously unpublished poems, together in a single volume. Includes indices of titles and first lines.
Other related works:
C. S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse by Don W. King
– “‘Making the Poor Best of Dull Things’: C.S. Lewis as Poet”
by Don W. King in VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review Volume 12 (see also: volumes 22, 23, 29 for other articles by Don W. King)

a-naked-treeTitle: A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C.S. Lewis and Other Poems
Author: Joy Davidman, ed. Don W. King
Release date and Publisher: May 2015 by Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Summary: A collection of poetry by C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, published for the first time. These poems come from the Joy Davidman Papers archival collection at the Wade Center. The Wade also owns all of the books authored by Davidman.
Other related works:
Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman ed. by Don W. King
– “Fire and Ice: C.S. Lewis and the Love Poetry of Joy Davidman and Ruth Pitter”
by Don W. King in VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review Volume 22 (see also: volumes 12, 23, 29 for other articles by Don W. King)

JoyTitle: Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis
Author: Abigail Santamaria
Release date and Publisher: August 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Summary: An in-depth, critical biography of the life of Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis. Santamaria has spent over a decade conducting comprehensive research on Joy, and this book will be a sizable contribution to the realms of both Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis scholarship.
Other related works:
A Love Observed: Joy Davidman’s Life & Marriage to C.S. Lewis by Lyle W. Dorsett

Lindop-editedTitle: Charles Williams: The Third Inkling
Author: Grevel Lindop
Release date and Publisher: December 2015 by Oxford University Press
Summary: Another in-depth biography, this one on the life of Charles Williams. Lindop has spent many years tracing biographical sources and this will be an indispensable volume for those wanting to understand the life of Charles Williams.
Other related works:
Charles Williams: An Exploration of His Life and Work by Alice Mary Hadfield
An Introduction to Charles Williams by Alice Mary Hadfield
To Michal from Serge: Letters from Charles Williams to His Wife, Florence, 1939-1945

PilgrimsRegressFinally, for another good summer read, if you haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and enjoy the Wade Annotated Edition of C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress edited by David C. Downing, now is the perfect time!

New Museum Display — Charles Williams and Victor Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing Team

Announcing a new display installed in the Wade Center’s museum in May, featuring correspondence between Charles Williams and his publisher Victor Gollancz: “Charles Williams and Victor Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing Team.” This is the second post this month on Charles Williams, in memory of the 70th anniversary of his death on May 15, 1945.


The letters in the display come from a collection of correspondence deposited at the Wade Center by Brian and Sally Oxley.  The Wade Center is grateful to the Oxleys for these unique materials, and the story they share relating the publication history of Williams’s works. The full letter collection on deposit is listed in the Charles Williams Papers finding aid, folders 492 to 498. Wade Center visitors may view these and other collections in the Reading Room.

Victor Gollancz and his namesake publishing house became one of the most successful publishers in Britain from its founding in 1928 until the sale of the company by Gollancz’s daughter Livia in 1989 to Houghton Mifflin. Charles Williams, who became a friend of Victor Gollancz, published five of his seven novels with the publisher, and also edited the The New Book of English Verse, a collection of poetry, for Gollancz:

  • War in Heaven. London: Victor Gollancz, 1930
  • Many Dimensions. London: Victor Gollancz, 1931
  • The Place of the Lion. London: Mundanus, V. Gollancz, 1931
  • The Greater Trumps. London: Victor Gollancz, 1932
  • Shadows of Ecstasy. London: Victor Gollancz, 1933
  • The New Book of English Verse. ed. Charles Williams. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1935


This collection of letters gives an intriguing look into Williams’s relationship with Gollancz, and offers background into their collaborative efforts to bring Williams’s work to print. In one instance, Gollancz comments that the name for one of Williams’s manuscripts, The Corpse, must be changed: “Anyone … would immediately think it to be a detective story: and this would have the double disadvantage of limiting the market on the one hand and of deceiving the purchaser on the other.” (Gollancz to Williams, March 19, 1930). The novel was later renamed War in Heaven.

In another anecdote, a displeased school master writes to the publisher about a “mass of misprints” in The New Book of English Verse. Yet when pressed, the school master could only produce a list of three typos. Norman Collins, an associate at Gollancz who would go on to become a famous BBC program creator, writes a note to Williams on March 10, 1936 saying: “it seems really contemptible that a man should complain of three misprints … in a book of over 800 pages. I would propose writing back in a more or less abrupt fashion.” Letters and various documents relating to each work Williams published with Gollancz (in the list above) are highlighted in the display, including a publishing contract for Many Dimensions, a letter from Williams’s wife (Florence ‘Michal’ Williams) to Gollancz, and copies of the books themselves.

Our sincere thanks go to Wade Student Worker and Archives Assistant, Basye Peek for her work in organizing the letters to make the collection available for researchers, as well as the letter selection, design, and caption writing for this display. Basye just completed her freshman year as an anthropology major at Wheaton College; she began working at the Wade Center in the fall of 2014. Thank you, Basye!


Basye Peek at work in the Wade Center Reading Room with one of the Charles Williams letters. Basye was the main designer for the display “Charles Williams and Victor Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing Team.”

May Artifact of the Month: Charles Williams’s Honorary Master’s Degree

Museum display at the Wade Center featuring Charles Williams's honorary Masters of Arts degree from Oxford University, and the mortar board he wore during the ceremony.

Museum display at the Wade Center featuring Charles Williams’s honorary Master of Arts degree from Oxford University, and the mortar board he wore during the ceremony.

With graduation season beginning, we thought it appropriate to highlight the honorary Master of Arts degree Charles Williams received from Oxford University on February 27, 1943 as our May “Artifact of the Month.” This post also celebrates a full year of “Artifact of the Month” blogs on “Off the Shelf!” After this point we will continue to highlight materials from the Wade Center as “Featured Artifacts,” but not on a monthly basis. Keep reading “Off the Shelf” for more artifacts to come!

Charles Williams began his college career by being awarded a scholarship to University College, London where he studied mathematics, literature, history, and languages  (Hadfield, Alice Mary. Charles Williams: An Exploration Of His Life And Work. New York : Oxford UP, 1983. p. 11). Despite his promise as a student, the Williams family could not afford Charles’s college tuition and he had to withdraw after two years. He was never able to return and complete his degree, though he went on to become an editor at Oxford University Press in London.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Charles Williams and his colleagues at Oxford University Press relocated their offices from London to Oxford due to bombing by the German Luftwaffe. This move enabled Williams to spend more time with C.S. Lewis and the rest of the Inklings, the group which he had already been attending when he was able to make the journey from London to Oxford. Lewis had first invited Williams to join the Inklings in 1936 after reading his novel The Place of the Lion, and became a fast friend and admirer of his work. Knowing of Williams’s lectures at the City Literary Institute in London, his prodigious intellect, and his passion for literature in general, C.S. Lewis arranged for Williams to give guest lectures at Oxford University. He began with a series of lectures on Milton, which greatly impressed Lewis and captivated his audience.

On Monday C.W. [Charles Williams] lectured nominally on Comus but really on Chastity. Simply as criticism it was superb — because here was a man who really started from the same point of view as Milton and really cared with every fibre of his being about “the sage and serious doctrine of virginity” which it would never occur to the ordinary modern critic to take seriously. But it was more important still as a sermon. It was a beautiful sight to see a whole room full of modern young men and women sitting in that absolute silence which can not be faked, very puzzled, but spell-bound … It was “borne in upon me” that that beautiful carved room had probably not witnessed anything so important since some of the great medieval or Reformation lectures. I have at last, if only for once, seen a university doing what it was founded to do: teaching Wisdom.

–C.S. Lewis in a letter to his brother Warren H. Lewis, February 11, 1940

Williams’s involvement at Oxford evolved to later include tutoring as well as giving additional lecture series on Wordsworth, Shakespeare, 18th Century poetry, the Arthurian tradition, and other literary topics. In 1943, Oxford University acknowledged Williams’s contributions to literature and the University by giving him an honorary Master of Arts degree, shown here.


Honorary Master of Arts degree, written in Latin, for “Carolum” Williams, dated February 27, 1943.

Williams, delighted by the honor, wrote in a letter to his wife:

I broke the news to [Anne Spalding and Gerry Hopkins, nephew of Gerard Manly Hopkins and fellow colleague of Williams at Oxford UP] — about the degree, I mean. … This morning Ursula [Grundy] rang up to congratulate me, having heard from Michael [Williams’s son]. She says M. is very pleased … so I owe him my thanks. I do like him to show well. She wants to come, “if it’s convenient.” (I thought she would!) G.H. thinks anyone can go, but are supposed to be under the convoy of “a member of this University,” but he has put himself at your disposal, & anyone you bring.

–Letter to Florence (“Michal”) Williams, February 12, 1943. The letters between Charles and Michal Williams are located in the Charles Williams Papers collection at the Wade Center, and in the book To Michal From Serge: Letters From Charles Williams To His Wife, Florence, 1939-1945. Kent, OH : Kent State University Press, 2002.

Three others were given M.A. degrees at the same ceremony: Reginald John Shambrook, Alberto Jiménez, and Captain Lord William Romilly. Mr. John G. Barrington-Ward, Public Orator’s deputy, gave brief speeches of presentation for each of the degree recipients, which like the degrees themselves were also written entirely in Latin. A leaflet, with the text from the speeches, is shown below from the Wade Center’s Article File collection. Our thanks to Dr. Leslie S.B. MacCoull of the Society for Coptic Archaeology (North America) for offering the following translation of the speech on Williams:

There follows a most keen critic of literature, yet also a talented poet, in whom indeed we see refuted what has often been customarily said, “those who could not turn out to be poets always settle for critical studies.” But rather this man, our outstanding poet, “who did not turn pale with fear to drink from the Pindaric fountain” [Horace, Epistles 1.3.10], even in that admittedly difficult Pindaric form has already garnered so many outstanding laurel crowns, and has been observed to form such serious judgments about literary works and authors, that, called by our staff members to undertake the function of a sponsor, he filled that role for them so that, if anyone had written anything, he read it all through, carefully weighed it in the balance, and finally made a judgment of it as to whether it would be worthy of the staff members’ smoothing pumice-stone or should rather be consigned to the waste-paper pile. And now in our schools how gladly have we recently listened to him expounding in public on the English poets! With what keenness of mind he spoke, with what fervor of spirit he recited! Therefore, so that this outstanding craftsman and judge of literature may be added to our ranks and may add our laurel crown also to those he has already borne, I present to you the most learned man Charles Walter Stansby Williams,  editor and proofreader of the Oxford Press, to be admitted to the degree of Master of Arts _honoris causa_.


Leaflet containing the Latin speeches of presentation for the degree recipients, by John G. Barrington-Ward. From the Wade Center’s Article File: February 27, 1943, cw-MISC section. Click the image for a larger view.


Page 2 of the Latin speech leaflet. Click the image for a larger view.

Williams sent details about the upcoming ceremony to his wife via a series of letters, and the event took place in Oxford’s famous Sheldonian Theatre. At the official lunch that day, Charles and Florence (“Michal”) Williams sat between the Vice-Chancellor and Mr. L.S. Amery (Secretary for the State of India, and another degree recipient). Several of Williams’s friends got together at a separate lunch to celebrate the occasion, including the Douglases, Ursula Grundy, and Gerry Hopkins. Two articles reporting the ceremony follow below, as well as an image of the procession with participants in full academic dress, and an image of the Oxford M.A. academic gown. Click on the images for a larger view.

Williams remained in high demand at Oxford University, and with other scholarly groups and clubs such as the Dante Society, until the event of his untimely death in May 1945. His style, since he was not formally university educated, was seen as fresh and different from the other academic lecturers of the time, and as Lewis noted above, the quality of his criticism was brilliant. He had a large following and his talks were well-attended. Surely it was gratifying for Williams to be acknowledged by the academy in such an official capacity before the end of his career.

The procession for the awards ceremony, with participants in full academic dress. Williams is thought to be in the middle with his face obscured, making identification difficult.

The procession for the awards ceremony, with participants in full academic dress. Williams is thought to be in the middle with his face obscured, making identification difficult.

This is what the Oxford University Master of Arts robe and hood looks like, along with an illustration of how it is worn and a description below from the book: Venables, D. R. and Clifford, R. E. Academic Dress: Of The University Of Oxford. Oxford : Thomas-Photos, 1985. The Wade Center owns both the robes and hoods of Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis. The robe featured in this display belonged to Lewis.

This is what the Oxford University Master of Arts robe and hood looks like, along with an illustration of how it is worn and a description below from the book: Venables, D. R. and Clifford, R. E. Academic Dress: Of The University Of Oxford. Oxford : Thomas-Photos, 1985. The Wade Center owns both the robes and hoods of Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis. The robe featured in this display belonged to Lewis.

Article on the upcoming ceremony from the Oxford Mail, February 18, 1943.

Article on the upcoming ceremony from the Oxford Mail, February 18, 1943. Click the image for a larger view.

Article on the award ceremony from The [London] Times, March 1, 1943.

Article on the award ceremony from The [London] Times, March 1, 1943. Click the image for a larger view.

April Artifact of the Month: C.S. Lewis’s copy of Phantastes by George MacDonald

The Wade Center owns over 2,400 volumes from the personal library of C.S. Lewis. Most of the books were acquired from Wroxton College in 1986, and others have been added from time to time from other donors or purchases. The books offer a unique look into the reading habits, imagination, and mind of Lewis himself, and many of them contain his handwritten notes and markings. Such annotations are a big research draw for Lewis scholars who are able to discern significant aspects of Lewis’s response to his reading; a valuable step beyond simply knowing which titles were on his shelf. Besides the markings, however, are the books themselves as physical artifacts. Observing the different bindings, seeing which ones are worn or barely touched, adds to the stories the volumes tell. In some cases Lewis mentions specific books in his writings, and it is always a thrill for Wade patrons to then hold that same referenced book in their hands.

C.S. Lewis's copy of Phantastes by George MacDonald. (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Everyman edition, undated)

C.S. Lewis’s copy of Phantastes by George MacDonald. (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Everyman edition, undated)

One such example is Lewis’s copy of Phantastes written by another of the Wade’s authors, George MacDonald. Phantastes is a fantasy novel for adults which follows a young man, Anodos, on his journey of self discovery. In his preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology – 365 Readings, Lewis openly states the great influence of MacDonald’s works in his life: “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.” His introduction to MacDonald’s works began in 1916 when he picked up Phantastes at a train station bookstall while studying under the private tutelage of W.T. Kirkpatrick prior to his entrance to Oxford University. Lewis recalls the experience in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy:

“I and one porter had the long, timbered platform of Leatherhead station to ourselves. It was getting just dark enough for the smoke of an engine to glow red on the underside with the reflection of the furnace. The hills beyond the Dorking Valley were of a blue so intense as to be nearly violet and the sky was green with frost. My ears tingled with the cold. The glorious week end of reading was before me. Turning to the bookstall, I picked out an Everyman [edition] in a dirty jacket, Phantastes, a faerie Romance, George MacDonald. Then the train came in. I can still remember the voice of the porter calling out the village names, Saxon and sweet as a nut—‘Bookham, Effingham, Horsley train.’ That evening I began to read my new book.” — C.S. Lewis, chapter XI “Check,” Surprised by Joy

Lewis adds this further note in his MacDonald anthology preface: “I had looked at the volume on that bookstall and rejected it on a dozen previous occasions – the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.”

Spine of Phantastes by George MacDonald.

Spine of Phantastes by George MacDonald.

Throughout Surprised by Joy, Lewis recounts moments during his childhood and young adult years where he has encounters with what he calls “joy” or the German term “sehnsucht,” which includes a quality of longing or desire. Peter Schakel in his book Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis offers the following as a way to better understand Lewis’s concept of joy:

“It is an experience of intense, even painful, but desired, longing, which, after [Lewis’s] conversion, he came to believe was a desire for unity with the divine (though intermediate objects are mistaken for the ultimate object). … [Joy] is imaginative in that it is often set in motion by literature or music, which are the products of the imagination; it involves being transported beyond the physical and emotional to a rapturous state that could take place only in the imagination at an inspired level.” (p. 8) — Schakel, Peter J. Imagination And The Arts In C. S. Lewis: Journeying To Narnia And Other Worlds. Columbia: University Of Missouri Press, 2002.

When he first read Phantastes, Lewis experienced joy or longing as had happened to him often before, but this time he noticed a difference in the quality of the encounter. He goes on to describe it in Surprised by Joy:

“I did not yet know (and I was long in learning) the name of the new quality, the bright shadow, that rested on the travels of Anodos [the main character in Phantastes]. I do now. It was Holiness. … Up till now each visitation of Joy had left the common world momentarily a desert … Even when real clouds or trees had been the material of the vision, they had been so only by reminding me of another world; and I did not like the return to ours. But now I saw the bright shadow coming out of the book into the real world and resting there, transforming all common things and yet itself unchanged. Or, more accurately, I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow. … That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.” — C.S. Lewis, chapter XI “Check,” Surprised by Joy

Although Lewis’s conversion to Christianity would not come until many years later, he cites this episode as a major step along the way, and his future reading of MacDonald’s works continued to delight and inspire him.

The following photos are from the interior of the Phantastes volume described above. Visitors to the Wade Center are welcome to request this, and the other volumes from Lewis’s library, for on-site viewing and personal study.


The endpapers of Phantastes. The Everyman edition series aimed to produce beautiful printings of classic books at modest and affordable prices.

Title page of Phantastes

Title page of Phantastes

Half-title page

The half-title page of Phantastes. An ownership signature in the upper right corner suggests the book was owned by someone before Lewis. If so, it is likely that Lewis purchased this copy at a used bookstall at the Leatherhead train station. The book itself carries no other notes or annotations, but it is worn and obviously has been read numerous times.