The Quotable Lewis edited by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root (Tyndale House, 1989)
As I discovered when doing my George MacDonald retrospective, reading a collection of quotations from an author's works can be delightful, but it's less so when you've been immersing yourself in the works themselves and have read the passages in context. The difference here is that my MacDonald collection could be considered complete, and my Lewis collection cannot. The net of this 651-page book has caught, among its 1565 excerpts, several that were new to me, especially from Lewis's letters.
The editors have given each quotation a number, so in my own selections below I give that instead of the usual page number. Many of the quotations are quite long, which in the main is great, but no so much when one is typing them out. So in some cases I have excerpted the excerpts. There are a lot of quotes here, but it is a large book! All bold emphasis is my own.
[From a letter written in 1930, when Lewis was 31 years old] From the age of sixteen onwards I had one single ambition, [to succeed as a writer], from which I never wavered, in the prosecution of which I spent every ounce I could, on which I really and deliberately staked my whole contentment: and I recognize myself as having unmistakably failed in it. (42)
It may well be that the author who claims to write neither for patron nor public but for himself has done our art incalculable harm and bred up infinite charlatans by teaching us to emphasize the public's duty of "recognition" instead of the artist's duty to teach and delight. (68)
There is great good in bearing sorrow patiently: I don't know that there is any virtue in sorrow just as such. It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can. (95)
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. (105)
I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once. (123)
Clearly one must read every good book at least once every ten years. (124)
Consider how many bores whose history you know well after a short acquaintance ... because they had nothing to say and would not be silent. (131)
Disputations do more to aggravate schism than to heal it: united action, prayer, fortitude and (should God so will) united deaths for Christ—these will make us one. (207)
I think almost all the crimes which Christians have perpetrated against each other arise from this, that religion is confused with politics. For, above all other spheres of human life, the Devil claims politics for his own, as almost the citadel of his power. Let us, however, with mutual prayers pray with all our power for that charity which "covers a multitude of sins." (209)
Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the Vicar: he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one's own church is an embarrassing role. (218)
We must get rid of our arrogant assumption that it is the masses who can be led by the nose. As far as I can make out, the shoe is on the other foot. The only people who are really the dupes of their favourite newspapers are the intelligentsia. It is they who read leading articles: the poor read the sporting news, which is mostly true. (228)
Have you tried Chesterton's The Everlasting Man? the best popular apologetic I know. (231)
Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters. (326)
The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come. (385)
All schools, both here [England] and in America, ought to teach far fewer subjects and teach them far better. (394)
The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are. (524)
Mere change is not growth. Growth is the synthesis of change and continuity, and where there is no continuity there is no growth. (649)
I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homosexual no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’ Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations which, if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homosexual has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forego otherwise lawful pleasures because he would be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition. What should the positive life of the homosexual be? I wish I had a letter which a pious male homosexual, now dead, once wrote to me—but of course it was the sort of letter one takes care to destroy. He believed that his necessity could be turned to spiritual gain: that there were certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, a certain social role which mere men and mere women could not give. (729)
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's "own,"or "real" life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one's "real life" is a phantom of one's own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it's hard to remember it all the time. (820)
We must think of the Son always, so to speak, streaming forth from the Father, like light from a lamp, or heat from a fire, or thoughts from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father—what the Father has to say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it. (831)
As for my own work, I would not wish to deceive you with vain hope. I am now in my fiftieth year. I feel my zeal for writing, and whatever talent I originally possessed, to be decreasing; nor (I believe) do I please my readers as I used to. I labour under many difficulties. My house is unquiet and devastated by women's quarrels. ... My aged mother [his "adopted" mother Mrs. Janie Moore], worn out by long infirmity, is my daily care. Pray for me, Father, that I ever bear in mind that profoundly true maxim: "if thou wish to bring others peace, keep thyself in peace." These things I write not as complaints but lest you should believe I am writing books. If it should pleas God that I write more books, blessed be He. If it shall please Him not, again, blessed be He. (919)
That was from a letter written in 1949. The first of the Narnia books was published in 1950. The rest of the series and a great many other books followed until his death.
My own work has suffered very much from the incurable intellectualism of my approach. The simple, emotional appeal ("Come to Jesus") is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it. (918)
The trouble about writing satire is that the real world always anticipates you, and what were meant for exaggerations turn out to be nothing of the sort. (937)
I had much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt if he had never entertained them. The possible Lucretius in myself interests me more than the possible C. S. Lewis in Lucretius. ... You must, so far as in you lies, become an Achaean chief while reading Homer, a medieval knight while reading Malory, and an eighteenth century Londoner while reading Johnson. Only thus will you be able to judge the work "in the same spirit that its author writ." (955)
Would that our modern writers felt the same way! Especially in television series and books for young people, there's a deplorable tendency to set a story in past times but give the characters—or at least the good, wise, and appealing characters—21st century beliefs and attitudes.
One of the great uses of literary history is to keep on reminding us that while man is constantly acquiring new powers he is also constantly losing old ones. (969)
The true aim of literary studies is to lift the student out of his provincialism by making him "the spectator," if not of all, yet of much, "time and existence." The student, or even the schoolboy, who has been brought by good (and therefore mutually disagreeing) teachers to meet the past where alone the past still lives, is taken out of the narrowness of his own age and class into a more public world. ... "History" alone will not do, for it studies the past mainly in secondary authorities. It is possible to "do History" for years without knowing at the end what it felt like to be an Anglo-Saxon eorl, a cavalier, and eighteenth-century country gentleman. The gold behind the paper currency is to be found, almost exclusively, in literature. (971)
I know nothing that gives me such a feeling of spiritual healing, of being washed, as to read George MacDonald. (1033)
This is a point I would press on anyone dealing with the Middle Ages, that the first essential is to read the relevant classics over and over: the key to everything—allegory, courtly love, etc.—is there. After that the two things to know really well are the Divine Comedy and the Romance of the Rose. The student who has really digested these (I don't claim to be such a person myself!) with good commentaries, and who also knows the Classics and the Bible (including the apocryphal New Testament) has the game in his hands and can defeat over and over again those who have simply burrowed in obscure parts of the actual middle ages. (1065)
Sure. Way to make Medieval Studies more intimidating than graduate-level mathematics.
To abstain from reading—and ... from buying—a paper which you have once caught telling lies seems a very moderate form of asceticism. Yet how few practice it. (1134)
What do people mean when they say "I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?" Have they never even been to a dentist? (1162)
A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion. (1195)
Keep clear of psychiatrists unless you know that they are also Christians. Otherwise they start with the assumption that your religion is an illusion and try to "cure" it: and this assumption they make not as professional psychologists but as amateur philosophers. (1257)
The idea that a Puritan was a repressed and repressive person would have astonished Sir Thomas More and Luther about equally. ... Puritan theology, so far from being grim and gloomy, seemed to More to err in the direction of fantastic optimism. (1260)
If we must find out what bad men are writing, and must therefore buy their papers, and therefore enable their papers to exist, who does not see that this supposed necessity of observing the evil is just what maintains the evil? It may in general be dangerous to ignore an evil, but not if the evil is one that perishes by being ignored. (1271)
There are two ways of enjoying the past, as there are two ways of enjoying a foreign country. One man carries his Englishry abroad with him and brings it home unchanged. Wherever he goes he consorts with the other English tourists. By a good hotel he means one that is like an English hotel. He complains of the bad tea where he might have had excellent coffee....
But there is another sort of travelling and another sort of reading. You can eat the local food and drink the local wines, you can share the foreign life, you can begin to see the foreign country as it looks, not to the tourist, but to its inhabitants. You can come home modified, thinking and feeling as you did not think and feel before. So with the old literature. You can go beyond the first impression that a poem makes on your modern sensibility. By study of things outside the poem, by comparing it with other poems, by steeping yourself in the vanished period, you can then re-enter the poem with eyes more like those of the natives; now perhaps seeing that the associations you gave to the old words were false, that the real implications were different than you supposed. (1273)
If all men stood talking of their rights before they went up a mast or down a sewer or stoked a furnace or joined an army, we should all perish; nor while they talked of their rights would they learn to do these things.... The man preoccupied with his own rights is not only a disastrous, but a very unlovely object; indeed, one of the worst mischiefs we do by treating a man unjustly is that we force him to be thus preoccupied. (1302)
I believe that the men of this age ... think too much about the state of nations and the situation of the world. ... We are not kings, we are not senators. Let us beware lest, while we torture ourselves in vain about the fate of Europe, we neglect either Verona [where Lewis's correspondent lived] or Oxford. In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet. (1344)
The convention was well understood, and very useful. In such [poetical] works the gods are God incognito and everyone is in on the secret. Paganism is the religion of poetry through which the author can express, at any moment, just so much or so little of his real religion as his art requires. (1368)
You write much about your own sins. Beware lest humility should pass over into anxiety or sadness. It is bidden us to "rejoice and always rejoice." Jesus has cancelled the handwriting which was against us. Lift up our hearts! (1372)
Smoking is much harder [than drinking] to justify. I'd like to give it up but I'd find this very hard, i.e. I can abstain, but I can't concentrate on anything else while abstaining—not smoking is a whole time job. (1403)
It is part of our spiritual law never to put survival first: not even the survival of our species. We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honourable and merciful means.
The sacrifice is not so great as it seems. Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs. Those who care for something else more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved. Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best. Those who love Man less than God do most for Man. (1443)
Christians naturally think more often of what the world has inflicted on the saints, but the saints also inflict much on the world. Mixed with the cry of martyrs, the cry of nature wounded by Grace also ascends—and presumably to heaven. That cry has indeed been legitimized for all believers by the words of the Virgin Mother herself—"Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing." (1440)
[Jonathan] Swift is hard ... to classify. There is, to be sure, no doubt of his churchmanship, only of his Christianity, and this, of itself, is significant.
Some parts of Gulliver seem inconsistent with any religion—except perhaps Buddhism. ... And yet there is much to set on the other side. His priestly duties were discharged with a fidelity rare in that age. The ferocity of the later Gulliver all works up to that devastating attack on Pride which is more specifically Christian than any other piece of ethical writing in the century, if we except William Law. (1446 and 1447)
Two kinds of symbol must surely be distinguished. The algebraical symbol comes naked into the world of mathematics and is clothed with value by its masters. A poetic symbol—like the Rose, for Love, in Guillaume de Lorris—comes trailing clouds of glory from the real world, clouds whose shape and colour largely determine and explain its poetic use. In an equation, x and y will do as well as a and b; but the Romance of the Rose could not, without loss, be re-written as the Romance of the Onion, and if a man did not see why, we could only send him back to the real world to study roses, onions, and love, all of them still untouched by poetry, still raw. (1448)
[The birth of the machines] is on a level with the change from stone to bronze, or from a pastoral to an agricultural economy. It alters Man's place in nature. ... What concerns us ... is its psychological effect. How has it come about that we use the highly emotive word "stagnation," with all its malodorous and malarial overtones, for what other ages would have called "permanence"? (1453)
I do however strongly object to the tyrannic and unscriptural insolence of anything that calls itself a Church and makes teetotalism a condition of membership. Apart from the more serious objection (that Our Lord Himself turned water into wine and made wine the medium of the only rite He imposed on all His followers), it is so provincial. ... Don't they realize that Christianity arose in the Mediterranean world where, then as now, wine was as much part of the normal diet as bread? It was the 17th Century Puritans who first made the universal into a rich man's luxury. (1455)
Theology teaches us what ends are desirable and what means are lawful, while Politics teaches what means are effective. (1460)
All the theology of the liberal type involves at some point—and often involves throughout—the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by His followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars. ... The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. (1463)
Well, let's go on disagreeing but don't let us judge. What doesn't suit us may suit possible converts of a different type. My model here is the behaviour of the congregation at a "Russian Orthodox" service, where some sit, some lie on their faces, some stand, some kneel, some walk about, and no one takes the slightest notice of what anyone else is doing. That is good sense, good manners, and good Christianity. "Mind one's own business" is a good rule in religion as in other things. (1470)
Truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is. (1482)
A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others. ... Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people's rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish. (1494)
C. S. Lewis's world, where women are concerned, was far from mine, or he wouldn't have made such a generalization. I'm much more with the men on this one.
The child, both before and after birth, lives on its mother, just as the parasite lives on its host, the one being a horror, the other being the source of almost every natural goodness in the world. It all depends upon what you do with this principle [of vicariousness]. (1497)
Once the old Christian idea of a total difference in kind between man and beast has been abandoned, then no argument for experiments on animals can be found which is not also an argument for experiments on inferior men. If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies, or capitalists for the same reasons. (1505)
If war is ever lawful, then peace is sometimes sinful. (1509)
All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. (1514)
Nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her. Here, as in the courts, the character of the evidence depends on the shape of the examination, and a good cross-examiner can do wonders. He will not indeed elicit falsehoods from an honest witness. But, in relation to the total truth in the witness's mind, the structure of the examination is like a stencil. It determines how much of that total truth will appear and what pattern it will suggest. (1551)
The following four quotations are from letters Lewis wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves, the first three when Lewis was 17 years old, the last when he was 31.
Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago. (1552)
What you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn't matter what we write (at least this is my view) at our age, so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write a page of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it's thrown into the fire next minute, I am so much further on. (1554)
It is impossible to write one's best if nobody else ever has a look at the result. (1555)
I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves; for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn." (1556)
Returning to work on an interrupted story is not like returning to work on a scholarly article. Facts, however long the scholar has left them untouched in his notebook, will still prove the same conclusions; he has only to start the engine running again. But the story is an organism: it goes on surreptitiously growing or decaying while your back is turned. If it decays, the resumption of work is like trying to coax back to life an almost extinguished fire, or to recapture the confidence of a shy animal which you had only partially tamed at your last visit. (1564)