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The Thoughts of Charles Williams

October 28, 2016

 

Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1886 – 1945), famous as an author and member of the Inklings along with J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and others, was educated at St Albans School, Hertfordshire, and was awarded a scholarship to University College London, but couldn’t complete the degree because of a lack of financial resources. Williams became an editor at the Oxford University Press (OUP) and continued to work there until his death in 1945. 

 

Williams published poetry, literary criticism, theology, drama, history, biography, and many book reviews, but is best known for his novels including War in Heaven (1930), Descent into Hell (1937), and All Hallows' Eve (1945). Unlike those of his friends Tolkien and many of Lewis’s works, Williams’ stories are set in the recognisably contemporary world. He also wrote complex Arthurian poetry, of which two books were published, Taliessin through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944), and more remained unfinished at his death. He was a devoted member of the Church of England. C. S. Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength (1945) has been regarded as inspired by his acquaintance with Williams, who came to know Lewis after reading Lewis's then-recently published study The Allegory of Love. In 1939, Oxford University Press moved its offices from London to. Oxford, which allowed Williams to participate regularly in the informal literary society known as the Inklings. To this group, Williams was able to read his final published novel, All Hallows' Eve.

 

‘Co-inherence’, a term used in Patristic theology to describe the relationship between the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ, and the relationship between the persons of the blessed Trinity, was extended by Williams to include the ideal relationship between the individual parts of God's creation, a ‘mutual indwelling’, Christ in us and we in Christ, interdependent: social and economic and ecological fabric and the natural world functioned, he thought, through a ‘co-inherent’ web of interrelationships.

 

Here are some of his thoughts, taken mainly from his novels.

 

'But I have promised to believe in God, and here is a temptation to infidelity already, since I know that any god in whom I can believe will be consonant with my mind. So if I believe it must be in a god consonant with me. This would seem to limit God very considerably.' 

 

‘An hour's conversation on literature between two ardent minds with a common devotion to a neglected poet is a miraculous road to intimacy.' 

 

'It’ll do you all the good in the world, Giles, to be a little uncertain of yourself'.' 

 

'The image of a wood has appeared often enough in English verse. It has indeed appeared so often that it has gathered a good deal of verse into itself; so that it has become a great forest where, with long leagues of changing green between them, strange episodes of poetry have taken place. Thus in one part there are lovers of a midsummer night, or by day a duke and his followers, and in another men behind branches so that the wood seems moving, and in another a girl separated from her two lordly young brothers, and in another a poet listening to a nightingale but rather dreaming richly of the grand art than there exploring it, and there are other inhabitants, belonging even more closely to the wood, dryads, fairies, an enchanter's rout. The forest itself has different names in different tongues- Westermain, Arden, Birnam, Broceliande; and in places there are separate trees named, such as that on the outskirts against which a young Northern poet saw a spectral wanderer leaning, or, in the unexplored centre of which only rumours reach even poetry, Igdrasil of one myth, or the Trees of Knowledge and Life of another. So that indeed the whole earth seems to become this one enormous forest, and our longest and most stable civilizations are only clearings in the midst of it.' 

 

'The dark mystery of being that possessed her held no promise of light, but she turned to it and sank into it content so as to avoid the world.' 

 

'Why was this bloody world created?'

'As a sewer for the stars,' a voice in front of him said. 'Alternatively to know God and to glorify Him forever.'

' [...] The two answers are not, of course, necessarily alternative.' 

 

'She sat the sister of Arthur, the wife of Lot

four sons got by him, and one not.’

 

'It’s said that the shuffling of the cards is the earth, and the pattering of the cards is the rain, and the beating of the cards is the wind, and the pointing of the cards is the fire. That’s of the four suits. But the Greater Trumps, it’s said, are the meaning of all process and the measure of the everlasting dance.' 

 

'And jewels and words are no less and no more necessary than cotton and silence.' 

 

'How can one bargain for anything that is worth while? And what else is worth bargaining for?' 

 

'Over the white curve he had looked into incredible space; abysses of intelligence lay beyond it.'

 

'Nothing was certain, but everything was safe - that was part of the mystery of Love.' 

 

'She endured her own nature and supposed it to be the burden of another's.' 

 

'It may be a movement towards becoming like little children to admit that we are generally nothing else.' 

 

'The Church expected the Second Coming of Christ immediately. The converts had known a first coming. And then? And then! That was the trouble — the then. He had come, and they adored and believed, they communicated and practiced, and waited. The then lasted, and there seemed to be no farther equivalent Now. Time became the individual and catholic problem. The Church had to become as universal and as durable — as time.’

 

'Love was even more mathematical than poetry. It was the pure mathematics of the spirit.' 

 

'I hope you still think that ideas are more dangerous than material thing,' Quentin said. 'That is what you were arguing at lunch.'

Anthony pondered while glancing from side to side before he answered, 'Yes, I do. All material danger is limited, whereas interior danger is unlimited. It's more dangerous for you to hate than kill, isn't it?' 

 

'I generally give the title-page a fair chance,' Roger said. 'Once can't always judge books merely by the cover.' 

 

'They're beautiful hands,' he said; 'though they've ruined the world, they're beautiful hands.' 

 

'We who are here to-night are here as the servants of the guests of a great University, a University of knowledge, scholarship, and intellect. You do well to be proud of it. But I have wondered whether there may not be colleges and faculties of other experiences than yours, and whether even now in the far corners of the continents powers not yours are being brought to fruition. I have myself been something of a traveller, and every time I return to England I wonder whether the games of those children do not hold more intense life than the talk of your learned men -- a more intense passion for discovery, a greater power of exploration, new raptures, unknown paths of glorious knowledge; whether you may not yet sit at the feet of the natives of the Amazon or the Zambesi: whether the fakirs and the herdsmen, the witch-doctors may not enter the kingdom of man before you.’ 

 

'There is no possible idea,' Kenneth thought as he came onto the terrace, 'to which the mind of man can't supply some damned alternative or other. Yet one must act.'

 

'but it was a religion which enabled him to despise himself and everyone else without despising the universe, thus allowing him at once in argument or conversation to the advantages of the pessimist and the optimist.'

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