Autograph Manuscript Notes in Defence of Romanticism

Written in the form of two letters to Nevill Coghill


LEWIS, C.S. Autograph Manuscript Notes in Defence of Romanticism Written in the form of two letters to Nevill Coghill


Two lengthy undated autograph letters, some 2500 words in total, written on two closely written sides of foolscap exam paper and four sides of exercise book paper to close friend and fellow Inkling, Nevill Coghill, both signed C.S.L. The letters are in reality the intellectual bones of an essay in defence of Romanticism in literature, much of which is similar in style and outlook to a number of essays published in Rehabilitations (OUP, 1939), particularly, "Shelley, Dryden, and Mr. Eliot".

A superb example of Lewis at his most bombastic on his favourite subject of defending the the unfashionable Romantics. The forensic nature of Lewis's arguments and his visceral dislike of Dryden is consistent with his early critical writings.
The first letter starts by saying that Coghill and fellow inkling Hugo Dyson are to "dine with me on Tuesday next at 7.15. I was so confused when we last talked that I shd like to prepare for a clearer continuation of the discussion by setting out the position on which I think we really disagree with you."
Lewis lists four numbered points, Urbanity: "...I want people to become "men of the world," so long as the world (mundus) is understood in the proper sense - to mean Reality... and a man has more chance of reaching the semper et unique by getting to the heart of his own village than by running up to Hellenistic Alexandria, to Seventeenth Century Paris, or to the London of Swift...."
Criticism: "A satire of Pope's may be as good in its way as an ode of Keats...It is not always realised how barren this point of view is. If you stick to the "in its way", then... why not a perfect cancer or perfect blockhead!... Sooner or later we must let criticism take account of the thing done as well as of the success in doing it.... this gives objectivity to criticism: for if a man is not more certain of his whole philosophy that he is of his aesthetic thrills... he had better join the ladies while serious discussions are going on."
Romanticism: "The universal form of human experience, being mature, not corrupted, is the contrast between experience and something not experienced, which is nevertheless the object of desire... Thus in Pagan epic (Beowulf, Homer) it appears negatively... In Dante both sides of the contrast are fully expressed... In Romanticism the contrast is expressed in the form of longing (Sehnsuht) [sic.]..."
Neo-Classicism: "I do not say that such literature is not enjoyable, but contend that it is essentially quaint + barbarous... it is always attempting to please not in itself but by its clever resemblance to something else..."
There follows a lengthy p.s., "As to your pioneer position with regard to a revival of interest in the Neo Classicists + a movement against Romanticism... I think you are wrong in matter of fact...". Lewis suggests that there is "in all contemporary writing a kind of conspiracy to condemn romanticism without trial...", and that this is financially motivated, "this popularity... depends on the reviewers and other agents of publicity. And they depend on finance... There is [between "Big Business and Bolshevism"] a common materialism, a common antitheism... of which Romanticism was the last expression."
The second letter is essentially a continuation of the first, "I find it impossible not to continue...", apparently without response from Coghill. Lewis starts by going into more detail and clarifying or adding balance to the views of the first letter. Urbanity is now titled "Village v. Alexandria", "only an exceptional ass will think he can make a complete induction from the society of the village green: but quite a sensible man may be dazzled into supposing that he can do so from living through a season at Alexandria...."
Lewis concludes that they are fundamentally in agreement on Criticism, "The esse of poetry is that it produces wisdom...", and introduces a new theme of "Aristocratic + Democratic Literature", in which Lewis defines two meanings the word aristocracy "A... a self conscious group bound together by the hereditary practice of Virtue in the Pagan sense... B... bound together by any code of behaviour good or bad...", explaining that "in the A sense there may be aristocratic literature. It will not be the very best...". Lewis continues that "Neo-Classicism is the literature for a B aristocracy. This is shown by its lack of manliness and nobility.", condemning Dryden as a proponent, "should have such a fawning eunuch of a bard whipped". Later Lewis compares quotes of Pope and Keats, adding rhetorically, "which is more quaint... Which has in a higher degree the qualities of gravitas + constantia."
Nevill Coghill (1899-1980), met Lewis as a postgraduate at Oxford in 1923, both taking a second degree in English in one year under F.P. Wilson. In the Hilary term of 1924 they became good friends,
"A week later they went for the first of many walks, over the Cumnor Hills, walking almost as fast as they talked of the books they were reading under Wilson and having "thunderous disagreements and agreements."" (Sayer - Jack, C.S. Lewis and His Times)
Both became members of the Coalbiter Club set up by J.R.R. Tolkien. The demise of the Coalbiter in 1933 coincided with the founding of The Inklings which Coghill was a regular at from the start. These letters give rare first hand evidence of the lively discussions that took place amongst Inklings and how such developed into the published work of their members.

Stock ID: 25465


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