Some Personal Memories of C.S. Lewis, an Incarnational Man

November 1987By Christopher Derrick

Christopher Derrick a pupil and long-time friend of C.S. Lewis, is an English writer and critic widely published on both sides of the Atlantic. His latest book is Words and the Word. Copyright 1987 Christopher Derrick.

Once upon a time, on a wintry day in December 1939, I went to Oxford in order to be interviewed for a place at Magdalen College. Our war had already been going on for some three months, but there had been little fighting, and I was one of those numerous young Englishmen who saw it as a "phony war" indeed, one that would soon be patched up. Chamberlain would do some sort of deal with Hitler: one could look forward to something very like an ordinary university career.

My great fear was no: of disruption and military service, but of rejection by Magdalen. That college had a particularly notable tutor in my own subject, English Language and Literature, or so I had been told. I wanted to go there.

In some anxiety, therefore, I took my place in a large room. A number of dons were sitting about in armchairs, smoking pipes and apparently taking no notice whatsoever of anything.

Then a large, burly, red-faced, and shabbily dressed man came and sat beside me.

"Well now, Mr. Derrick," he said. "In Book III of Paradise Lost, we find Satan addressing the Sun - or, rather Uriel as the Sun's Regent. Mr. T.S. Eliot objects that Satan's language on this occasion is rhetorical. Would you care to comment?"

I was not a particularly clever young man, but I had been well coached In the ideas and tastes of this particular don. "May I comment by asking you two questions, Sir?"

"Good, good, good!" It seemed that I was in the presence of a keen dialectician.

"Well, in the first place, Rhetoric was for many centuries an important part of a gentleman's education: when did the word ‘rhetorical' first become a term of abuse?"

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