Tuesday, April 13, 2004

More Lewis Letters

A couple of hilarious stories from C.S. Lewis's letters:
  • To his Father. 22. Nov. 1923. I have got quite recently one pupil, a youth of eighteen who is trying to get a Classical Scholarship. . . . I fear we shall win no laurels by him. I questioned him about his classical reading, and our dialogue went something like this ---

    SELF 'Well, S., what Greek authors have you been reading?'

    S. (cheerfully) 'I can never remember. Try a few names and I'll see if I get on to any.'

    SELF (a little damped) 'Have you read any Euripides?'

    S. 'No.'

    SELF 'Any Sophocles?'

    S. 'Oh yes'.

    SELF 'What plays of his have you read?'

    S. (after a pause) 'Well -- the Alcestis.'

    SELF (apologetically) 'But isn't that by Euripides?'

    S. (with the genial surprise of a man who find £1 where he thought there was only a 10/- note) 'Really. Is it now? Then by Jove I have read some Euripides.'

  • To his brother. 13 April 1929.

    I am moved to write at this moment by the selfish consideration that I heard last night a thing which you of all people ought to hear -- you know how one classifies jokes according to the people one wants to tell them to -- and am therefore uneasy until I have unloaded. The other night an undergraduate, presumable drunk, at dinner in the George covered the face of his neighbour with potatoes, his neighbour being a total stranger. Whether this means simply that he flung the contents of the potato dish at him or (as I prefer to think) that he seized him firmly by the short hairs and systematically lathered him with warm mash, my informant could not say.

    But that is not the point of the story. The point is that, being haled before the Proctors and asked why he had done so, the culprit very gravely and with many expression of regret, pleaded in so many words, 'I couldn't think of anything else to do'. I am sure you will share my delight at this transference of the outrage from the class of positive to that of negative faults; as though it proceeds entirely from a failure of the inventive faculty or a mere povery of the imagination. One ought to be careful of sitting near one of these unimaginative men. The novel idea can be worked equally well from either end; whether one thinks of the mohawk bashing your hat over your eyes with the words, 'Sorry old chap, I know it's a bit hackneyed, but I can't think of anything better' --- or of some elderly gentleman exclaiming testily, 'Ah what all these young men lack now-a-days is initiative' as he springs into the air from the hindward pressure of a pin.'


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