Monday, July 24, 2017

C. S. Lewis at Marquette (a road not taken)

So, I was reminded recently of the role happenstance plays in history. It's no secret but I don't think particularly well known that when Marquette bought the Tolkien Papers in the late 1950s the librarian responsible, Wm Ready, got the idea of buying C. S. Lewis's library as well, and also the late Charles Williams' papers, and asked his English agent, Bertram Rota, to sound out Lewis and the Williams estate.

Obviously, nothing came of these efforts. We don't know the reasons why, though it's interesting to speculate. Both Williams and Lewis were strongly identified with the Anglican Church; did the fact that Marquette was Catholic (in fact Jesuit) influence their decision? In Lewis's case at least he was only sixtyish and had just recently taken up his professorship at Cambridge, where all concerned expected him to stay for a good decade or so to come until his health broke down prematurely a year or two after he turned sixty. That being the case, he'd have wanted to keep his academic library intact for his own use. By the time of his forced retirement due to ill-health in mid-1963 the moment had obviously passed: Marquette had by this time fully stocked its new Memorial Library and Ready had moved on to other projects.

In the end, the Williams papers came to Wheaton many years later, in the '70s. Lewis's correspondence and what survive of his papers form not one but two collections, one at Wheaton and the other in the Bodleian.*  His library was scattered after his death, though a portion of it was later re-assembled and is now at Wheaton.**

Still, it's nice to think of might-have-beens, in which Lewis's library cd have remained intact and come to the same place as Tolkien's manuscripts.

--John R.

*both collections  made the admirable and v. sensible decision to share their holdings, so that photocopies of material at one are available to researchers at the other.

**even Lewis's letter to a Marquette professor, Victor Hamm, back in the '40s, discussing the latter's review of PERELANDRA, is now at Wheaton.

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