Warnie on the death of Charles Williams

Tuesday 15th May, 1945

At 12.50 this morning I had just stopped work on the details of the Boisleve family, when the telephone rang, and a woman's voice asked if I would take a message for Jack —"Mr. Charles Williams died in the Acland this morning".  One often reads of people being "stunned" by bad news, and reflects idly on the absurdity of the expression; but there is more than a little truth in it.  I felt just as if I had slipped and come down on my head on the pavement.  J had told me when I came into College that Charles was ill, and it would mean a serious operation; and then went off to see him: I haven't seen him since.  I felt dazed and restless, and went out to get a drink: choosing unfortunately the King's Arms, where during the winter Charles and I more than once drank a pint after leaving Tollers at the Mitre, with much glee at "clearing one throats of varnish with good honest beer": as Charles used to say.

There will be no more pints with Charles: no more "Bird and Baby": the blackout has fallen, and the Inklings can never be the same again.  I knew him better than any of the others, by virtue of his being the most constant attendant.  I hear his voice as I write, and can see his thin form in his blue suit, opening his cigarette box with trembling hands.  These rooms will always hold his ghost for me.  There is something horrible, something unfair about death, which no religious conviction can overcome.

"Well, goodbye, see you on Tuesday Charles" one says — and you have in fact though you don't know it, said goodbye for ever.  He passes up the lamplit street, and passes out of your life for ever.  There is a good deal of stuff talked about the horrors of a lonely old age; I'm not sure that the wise man — the wise materialist at any rate — isn't the man who has no friends.  And so vanishes one of the best and nicest men it has ever been my good fortune to meet.  May God receive him into His everlasting happiness.

W.H. Lewis (Warnie)
Brothers & Friends (1982)

100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (10-1)

The final page devoted to the important publication of "The Third Inkling".  In November, normal 'Inklings' service will be resumed!

Number of days left to the launch of  'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling".  Researched and written by Grevel Lindop.  You can pre-order - Click on the title above.

Day 10
Charles Williams told Anne Ridler that the monstrous Wentworth in his novel [Descent into Hell] was based on himself.

Day 9
Expecting poor sales, OUP paid Charles Williams nothing for his finest book of Arthurian poems [Taliessin Through Logres] (1938).

Day 8
Charles Williams hoped to write a novel called [White Martyrdom] dealing with all the themes he wanted to treat in fiction but hadn't.

Day 7
Anne Ridler undertook mystical 'substitution' to carry Charles Williams's pain over his love for Phyllis when she married & went to Java.

Day 6
Anne Ridler often read drafts of Charles Williams's Arthurian poems, helped to polish them and modernise his style.

Day 5
Charles Williams reviewed his own book [Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind] anonymously in the [Week-End Review], 1933

Day 4
Charles Williams's poem [Vision of the Empire] was inspired by Olive Speake, a typist in the OUP music department.

Day 3
In 1927 Charles Williams wrote an article for music journal [The Dominant] about being tone-deaf & unable to appreciate music.

Day 2
Charles Williams to A M Hadfield: I ... leave my reputation in your care - prevent me being called sentimentalist, philanderer & 1000 other things.

Day 1
For 20 years Charles Williams spent alternate Sunday evenings with Stella Matutina (Golden Dawn) members at vicarage of Rev AHE ('Henry') Lee.


Charles Williams biography (click here)

Just a fortnight away from the launch of Grevel Lindop's new Charles Williams biography. Author Grevel Lindop discusses the shadowy figure of poet, theologian, magician, and fantasy-writer Charles Williams. He describes the influence of this extraordinary and controversial figure who was also a central member of the Inklings.

100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (20-11)

Number of days to the launch of 
'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling"
Researched and written by Grevel Lindop

You can pre-order (£25) - Click on the title above.

Day 20 
WH Auden's long poem [The Double Man] (in UK [New Year Letter]) was inspired by Charles Williams's book [The Descent of the Dove]. 

Day 19

Charles Williams' wife Michal saw 1st performance of his play [Terror of Light] & said 'I think it is dreadful!' CW rewrote it over the weekend.

Day 18
Charles Williams thought WW2 could be affected by his poems: 'Must write poem about archangels destroying octopuses, ensure Macarthur conquers in East'

Day 17
Payment for Charles Williams's play [House of the Octopus] went to cover dental work: he said, 'That play will always mean teeth to me!' 

Day 16
It was Anne Ridler who first proposed the idea of a spiritual group or society of Charles Williams's followers.

Day 15
Charles Williams' 'dearest male friend' was writer DHS Nicholson, editor of The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse.

Day 14
1948 C.S Lewis nightmare: chased by lions; 'A figure approached — touched my hand — "Hallo Jack!"—it was Charles. And I knew everything was ALL RIGHT.'

Day 13
After conversation about some other poet, Charles Williams said to his wife "I say, you won't ever write my biography, will you?"

Day 12
Having failed to get OUP to publish Dylan Thomas's poems, Charles Williams wrote a reference suporting DT for a Royal Literary Fund grant.

Day 11
Charles Williams told Anne Ridler his 1935 biog [Rochester]  'shall not be about John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester at all. It will be about me.’

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The Third Inkling - Video (Click here)

Charles Williams: Oxford’s lost poetry professor
It was strikingly appropriate that Sir Geoffrey Hill should have focused his final lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry on a quotation from Charles Williams. Not only was the lecture, in May 2015, delivered almost exactly seventy years after Williams’s death; but Williams himself had once hoped to become Professor of Poetry. And with supporters of the calibre of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot – admittedly not all of them Oxford M.A.s – Williams might well have succeeded, but for his sudden death, aged 58, in the final weeks of World War Two.
Charles Williams had come to Oxford with other staff from OUP’s London office when war broke out in September 1939. OUP then had its London headquarters (specialising in textbooks and mass market books) at Amen House near St Paul’s cathedral – too vulnerable to bombing. So when war began, the London business was moved to Southfield House, a mansion on the north-east edge of Oxford.
Williams was a central figure at the Press, running the World’s Classics and the Oxford Standard Authors, both highly successful series. But he was also a notable popular novelist, with a string of fantasy-thrillers to his credit – Buchan-style adventure tales which dealt with eruptions of the supernatural into ordinary life. Their themes now seem oddly prophetic: War in Heaven concerned the theft of the Holy Grail by a gang of black magicians; Many Dimensions was about the Philosophers’ Stone.
But Williams was also an experienced and entrancing lecturer on literature. Forged in the tough environment of London County Council evening classes, his lecturing skills included an encyclopaedic knowledge of poetry (he would quote tracts of Milton, Tennyson or Shakespeare from memory at the drop of a hat), fervent and engaging enthusiasm, and a strikingly odd accent (North London mixed with Hertfordshire, with quirks all his own) which you either loved or hated. Most listeners – used to lectures delivered in a languid ‘upper class’ accent – were shocked and then fascinated by his harsh tones.
Moving to Oxford in 1939, Williams already knew Lewis and Tolkien. In fact he had edited Lewis’s scholarly masterpiece The Allegory of Love for OUP. (It was Williams who devised the book’s snappy title; Lewis’s own title had been The House of Busirane: An Essay on the Erotic Allegory of the Middle Ages – which would have killed the book!) Lewis and Tolikien were both avid readers of Williams’s fantasy thrillers, and they immediately invited him to join the Inklings. He remained a central member of the Oxford Christian writers’ group throughout the war.
Wartime Oxford was short of lecturers, and Lewis immediately set about pulling strings to get Williams to lecture for the English Faculty. He began in February 1940, speaking on Milton, and the results exceeded all expectations.
Fifty years later, former students still remembered his performances vividly – ‘Mounting the steps at a bound and launching straight into a flood of quotation’; ‘telling students “Never mind what Mr. so-and-so says about it, read the text and think for yourself!”’; ‘declaiming like an Old Testament prophet or an enthusiastic evangelical preacher’; ‘Leaping from one side of the stage to the other, and acting in turn the part of each character he was talking about’; ‘clutch[ing] his copy of Wordsworth, once almost throwing it into the air, but luckily catching it again… totally absorbed in his fascination with the subject’; ‘Pacing up and down the platform… return[ing] to its centre table three times to bang on it three times with his fist to impress on his audience that “Eternity — forbids thee – to forget”’. In short, ‘Electrifying!’ Some of those students went on to become teachers of English and throughout their careers returned to their notes on those lectures for inspiration.
Lewis was so impressed with Williams’s lecture on the theme of chastity in Milton’s Comus that he declared, ‘That beautiful carved room had probably not witnessed anything so important since some of the great medieval or Renaissance lectures. I have at last, if only for once, seen a university doing what it was founded to do: teaching Wisdom.’
But Williams was also a notable poet. In 1930 he had edited the first mass-market edition of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and it had galvanised his own writing. In 1936 he had published Taliessin Through Logres, the first of a two-volume sequence on the Arthurian legends.
The poems, together with his powerfully inspiring lectures, had brought him admiration not only from his contemporaries (Auden in New York writing to say that he couldn’t wait to buy Taliessin, though ‘it would take courage’ because he didn’t know how to pronounce it!) but from aspiring undergraduate poets, many of whom were taking short courses whilst awaiting mobilisation. Drummond Allison, Sidney Keyes and John Heath-Stubbs, all at Queen’s College, read his work avidly, attended his readings at the Celtic Society and the Poetry Society, and wrote on Arthurian themes in emulation of his work. Both Allison and Keyes, after an early poetic flowering, would die, tragically, in the war; Heath-Stubbs remained a lifelong enthusiast for Williams’s poetry.
And on days when he wasn’t enjoying a lunchtime drink with the Inklings at the Eagle and Child, Charles Williams could often be found in the King’s Arms with Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin. Less enthusiastic about his poems, both keenly attended his lectures and it was to Williams that Larkin sent the manuscript of his first novel, Jill, hoping that Williams could gain the attention of Eliot at Faber and Faber.
With retirement approaching, Williams began to consider the future; there were murmurs that the Chair of Poetry would suit him ideally; he could continue at the Press whilst lecturing, and perhaps take a college Fellowship afterwards. Not only were the Inklings keen; scholars of the calibre of Helen Gardner and Maurice Bowra were likely to back him.
Then, on 15 May 1945, it all fell apart. An old abdominal complaint suddenly recurred; Williams was rushed into hospital, and died after an emergency operation. In the turmoil of the war’s last weeks, his death passed largely unnoticed by the outside world. But literary Oxford was bereft. Hearing the news, C.S. Lewis’s brother Warnie wrote, ‘The Inklings can never be the same again.’ Another undergraduate poet and future Professor of Poetry, John Wain, heard from a fellow-student (‘she was only just not crying’) as he walked into college. Wain sensed that it was the end of an era: ‘This was a general disaster, like an air-raid… The war with Germany was over. Charles Williams was dead. And suddenly Oxford was a different place.’
Grevel Lindop was formerly Professor of Romantic and Early Victorian Studies at the University of Manchester. His previous books include The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey; A Literary Guide to the Lake District; Travels on the Dance Floor, which was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week; and a twenty-one volume edition of The Works of Thomas De Quincey. He has published six collections of poems, and his Selected Poems appeared in 2000. His latest book is Charles Williams: The Third Inkling (OUP, 2015).

The Third Inkling - 1st Review

Just seen 1st review of Charles Williams ('gripping - I read it cover to cover in 30 hrs - had to eat & sleep')

Click on the title above... here is the URL too:


100 things you never knew about Charles Williams in 100 days (30-21)

Number of days to the launch of 
'Charles Williams: The Third Inkling"
Researched and written by Grevel Lindop

You can pre-order (£25) - Click on the title above.

Day 30
In 1919 Charles Williams underwent a Rosicrucian initiation ritual which involved his being tied, standing, to a full-sized wooden cross.

Day 29
In CW's poem [Vision of the Empire] the image of the headless Emperor is from Byzantine historian Procopius [Secret History] XII.

Day 28
Charles Williams wrote his 1943 Dante book [Figure of Beatrice] from lecture notes because he cdn't face reading the whole Commedia again.

Day 27
Charles Williams's magical sword was buried in the garden at 9 South Parks Road Oxford - University's Chemistry Lab now stands on the site.

Day 26
Charles Williams's wife Michal offered him a divorce during his relationship with colleague and sweetheart Phyllis Jones.

Day 25
Charles Williams hoped to write trilogy: Figure Of Beatrice (Dante) - Figure Of Arthur - Figure Of Power (Wordsworth). Only 1st & part of 2nd written.

Day 24
In 1941 verse letter to Anne Renwick, Charles Williams wrote of "laying you on the altar / whole & bound & glorious'' in St Cross Church Oxford.

Day 23
CharlesWilliams drafted 1944 codicil to will: 'I do not wish that anything written before 1939 shall be published ...'

Day 22
Charles Williams used to tell his students: "You must get poetry into your blood & your bones! Yes into your BLOOD & your BONES!' ‪#‎NationalPoetryDay‬

Day 21
Charles Williams researched roses in the Encyclopedia Britannica to write his poem 'Taliessin in the Rose Garden'.