The Odd Relationship Between CS Lewis and TS Eliot

Ron Dart:

It is virtually impossible to live in the 20th century Western Tradition without being exposed to T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) and C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Both men, for different reasons, were main actors and intellectuals on the stage of the early decades of the 20th century. Eliot and Lewis rise, like towering Alpine peaks, far above the lesser mountains that surround them. Books abound aplenty about them, and libraries are packed with their literary contributions and many publications.

Both men won many of the highest awards of their time, and both are still widely read today. Both men opposed the drift and direction of the modern world, and stood for a form of Classical Christian thought as embodied in the time tried Anglican way. Both were catholic in their understanding of the Anglican Tradition, and both had serious doubts about the types of Protestantism that emerged in the 16th century. Both men, in different ways, attempted to recover the discarded image and remnants of an older tradition, a tradition whose wells go deep into the waters of eternity.

There is tendency by the literary mandarin class to toss kudos Eliot’s way in his early years, the period of time in Eliot’s life when he and Ezra Pound pioneered a modern way of doing poetry, and the era of The Waste Land (1922). As Eliot became more explicitly Christian and decidedly Anglican by the time For Lancelot Andrewes (1928) was published, the critics tended to be less receptive. Needless to say, the same thing happened to Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey a century before.

Lewis, like Eliot, was not primarily known as a Christian and Anglican in his early years. In fact, he earned his badges as a Medieval and Renaissance literary scholar. It was not until The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933) and the WW II BBC lectures that Lewis stepped forward in a more public way with his faith. Chad Walsh, ear close to the temper of the times, penned an article for the Atlantic Monthly (September 1946) called, ‘C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics’. The fact that Lewis had, in such an articulate manner, defended Christianity on the BBC meant that he had become a significant public intellectual. Time: The Weekly Magazine (September 8 1947) ran the lead story on Lewis, and his face graced the front cover of Time. The article about Lewis was called “Oxford’s C.S. Lewis: His heresy: Christianity”. The title speaks volumes. The times were against Lewis and Eliot. It was considered heretical to the spirit of secular liberalism to be Christian. It is significant that Eliot won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Both Lewis and Eliot after WWII emerged on the intellectual stage as two of the most significant Anglican and Christian laymen. Lewis was ten years younger than Lewis, and it would seem they had real affinities. Both walked the extra mile to reclaim and recall the remnants of a more ancient way.

  • Nice start of a essay. Big typo: you say ”
    Lewis was ten years younger than Lewis” near the end. Also you omit to mention that the men encountered each other when working on proposed re-wording of parts of the Book of Common Prayer. Lewis commented on his relationship with Eliot. This material would add useful heft to your work.