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.

Diploma_watermarked

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_.

LatinSpeeches2_watermarked

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.

LatinSpeeches1_watermarked

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.

9 thoughts on “May Artifact of the Month: Charles Williams’s Honorary Master’s Degree

  1. Reblogged this on A Pilgrim in Narnia and commented:
    Today is the 70th anniversary of VE Day. People throughout the allied territories were celebrating Victory in Europe, including huge crowds in London and Oxford. While England was celebrating, Charles Williams was taken to hospital. He died there 5 days later.
    Over the next week we are celebrating Charles Williams’ legacy–both his literary impact and his friendship with the Inklings. I thought it would be nice to begin with this great article by the Marion E. Wade Center. It shows a picture of the honourary degree Williams received from Oxford, as well as some of the story. If you don’t subscribe to the Wade Artifact of the Month, make sure you sign up now.

  2. Thank you for this fine post – what a delight!

    In his diary entry for 21 August 1924, Williams’s friend and fellow poet, J.D.C. [John] Pellow wrote that Williams “has been awarded a Diploma and Bronze Medal by the Olympic Games but is uneasy as to what it means, how many others received awards, so is not boasting at present.”

    On page 607 here we find “Ch. WILLIAMS” in the “LISTE DES CONCURRENTS” in the first column, but not in the second column among those with ” MEDAILLES DE BRONZE”:

    http://library.la84.org/6oic/OfficialReports/1924/1924part4.pdf

    Might what he received have been the participation medal and diploma such as can be viewed vis this?:

    http://olympic-museum.de/art/1924.htm

    (I found the above thanks to the ” References” of the English Wikipedia article, “Art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics”, but have not managed to follow it up further – yet.)

    • If you ever follow up on this David, the Wade would love a little informal write-up of your findings along with copies of original documents that tell the story to add to our holdings.

      • Thank you, I will! It is fun to see who else was competing – also in other categories, such as W.B. Yeats’ younger brother, who won a Silver Medal in Painting (see pp. 607-09), and also who the judges were (p. 604: some world-famous authors, there!). I suppose if what Williams got was the participation medal and diploma, he would have been one of 32 in Literature, of whom six were from the United Kingdom (pp. 604, 607). The one curiously listed as only “GRAVES” seems indeed to be Robert Graves and his entry, “At the Games”, was included in Welchman’s Hose (London; The Fleuron, 1925) and variously reprinted.

        This site, useful for Robert Graves, has unfortunately confused Charles W.S. Williams with the American painter, Charles Sneed Williams (who did, after studying in Scotland, keep a residence in England, serving as an air-raid warden during the war):

        http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/wi/charles-williams-2.html

        I have not yet tried to identify Williams’s entry – listed as ‘Cérémonial Ode’ – I should probably comb through your online catalogue listings, for one thing! I have no idea how he came to be entered; perhaps an Oxford University Press initiative?

        This is a feature of the early Olympics which I – and probably a lot of us – have too little sense of. If I hear ‘1924 Olympics’ my first thought is “Chariots of Fire” – it is pleasant to think that a Charles Williams Ode was there, too, competing in its own little way.

  3. Grevel Lindop has now included the Olympic poem and medal in his daily countdown tweets leading up to the appearance of his biography.

    He does not think much of the poem, himself, and I cannot remember reading it, but I now see that you do have it in the collection there, as

    CW / MS-30

    described as “Ode for Olympic Games” (1924)

    I still do not know if he ever published it anywhere in any form. (It is not in Lois Glenn’s Checklist (Kent SUP, 1975) among poems published separately, but of course that Checklist, while invaluable, does not pretend to be complete.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s