February 2, 2018

A Teacher and a Gentleman

Category: History,Literature :: Permalink

Sister M. Madeleva, looking back over her life in her delightfully titled My First Seventy Years, recalls her experience with C. S. Lewis during a brief stay in Oxford:

Oxford that Trinity term meant and continues to mean for me Mr. C. S. Lewis.  After attending his second lecture on the Prolegomena to the Study of Medieval Poetry I said to some of the students at Cherwell Edge, “Mr. Lewis is the one person at Oxford with whom I should like to tutor.”  “But,” they exclaimed in amazement at my temerity, “Mr. Lewis refuses to tutor a woman.”  “That,” I replied stoutly, “does not change my statement in the least.”

You probably are not interested in a prolegomenon or preface to medieval poetry, or indeed in this archaic poetry itself.  I should like, however, to share with you two experiences from the class in which Mr. Lewis dug up medieval poetry by the roots and planted it in our minds, there to grow and flower as it might.

At the beginning of the course he announced by titles nineteen lectures.  Later in the term he missed three of these because of illness.  Returning to class, he stated that obviously some of the assigned lectures would have to be omitted.  He asked that if we had any preference for those to be retained we would write him a note saying so….

I had been anticipating impatiently the single lecture on Boethius.  I wrote as much to Mr. Lewis.  He gave in response three lectures on the author of The Consolation of Philosophy.  This was the graciousness of the teacher.

Later, I wrote to thank him and to ask if there was available a bibliography on his course.  He replied by writing out for me a history of the development of his study, a list of the books I should read relating to it, a list I might read, and a list to which I need pay no attention at all.  This was the gentleman.  Mr. Lewis had tutored me. — Sister M. Madeleva, My First Seventy Years, pp. 75-76.

By the way, in case you wish you could see that letter Lewis wrote, you both can and can’t.  The letter is in the second volume of C. S. Lewis’s Collected Letters.  But alas, the bibliography is not there.

It seems that what Lewis did was loan Sister Madeleva a notebook that contained the book lists she mentions here, which (judging by his letter) were the bibliography he worked with in particular when he was preparing The Allegory of Love.  But the notebook itself is not reprinted in the Collected Letters and may, in fact, no longer exist … although one wonders if it really was loaned (as Walter Hooper says in his footnote in Collected Letters), with the intention that she return it, or if it was given, since Lewis’s letter says nothing about returning it and it would have been laborious for her to copy it out.  In either case — whether it was loaned and she made a copy for herself or if it was given outright — one does wonder if it exists somewhere in Sister Madeleva’s papers.


Posted by John Barach @ 9:06 pm | Discuss (0)

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