September 18, 2008

C. S. Lewis the Agrarian

Category: Farm and Garden,Literature :: Permalink

From a 1930 letter to Arthur Greeves, in which Lewis is speaking about his friend Alan Griffiths (later known as Dom Bede Griffiths), who lived in a commune with two friends:

There is certainly something attractive about the idea of living as far as may be on the produce of the land about you: to see in every walk the pasture where your mutton grazed when it was sheep, the gardens where your vegetables grew, the mill where your flour was ground, and the workshop where your chairs were sawn — and to feel that bit of country actually and literally in your veins.

Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood — they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside.  What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them.  We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth.  We are synthetic men, uprooted.  The strength of the hills is not ours. — Collected Letters 1:908-909.

Never mind the stuff about nymphs and dryads.  I’m not entirely sure I understand Tolkien’s argument, for that matter.  And what Lewis says at the end seems exaggerated to me, too.  Still, I understand the attraction of the life he depicts and I appreciate what he says about a long connection between people and place.  Shades of Wendell Berry!

By the way, one of the surprises, for me, of Lewis’s letters (and also of his diary, which overlaps with some of the years in this first volume of letters) was the discovery that Lewis, bookish as he certainly was, was not exclusively bookish.  Again and again, you find him washing dishes, cleaning out the hen run, digging out stumps around his house, cutting wood, and, in short, engaging in manual labor with great vigor and enjoyment.  Furthermore, far from being the sort of bachelor who has little familiarity with the life of a bustling household, Lewis was thoroughly acquainted with domestic life and spent a fair bit of time helping Mrs. Moore, the lady he lived with, clean the house and do other chores, including teaching and, to a large degree, raising her daughter through her teens.

In short, Lewis has turned out to be much more well-rounded than I had previously thought.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:51 am | Discuss (2)

2 Responses to “C. S. Lewis the Agrarian”

  1. Gordon Says:

    What Lewis says at the end could be accounted as hyperbole, which allows one to think of it as a kind of parable. One possible lesson of such a parable is that by living on the produce of other nations one becomes less interested in the fate of one’s own.

  2. Tim VanBraeden Says:

    I was surprised to see that your blog had a “farm and garden” heading, so I was curious. This post, a discussion on how Lewis was a well rounded man, is a comment on a book. There is just a little bit of irony there. 🙂

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