I came today to one of my favorites in my reading of C.S. Lewis’ Letters. It’s one he wrote to his friend Cecil Harwood on May 7, 1934.
If you know about Lewis’ life, or if you hang out with Lewis people (and let’s face it, you’re here) you probably know of his great love for the music of Wagner. But he knew Wagner almost exclusively from gramophone records. He had very little opportunity to hear the operas performed live.
In spring 1934 he and his brother Warnie, along with J.R.R. Tolkien and others, planned to go to London to attend festival performances of the entire Ring cycle. Cecil Harwood was entrusted with the job of buying tickets. Harwood, for some reason, failed to carry out this assignment.
Lewis responded to Harwood’s letter of apology with this epistle (which Harwood himself, if I remember correctly, described as “Johnsonian”):
I have read your pathetical letter with such sentiments as it naturally suggests and write to assure you that you need expect from me no ungenerous reproach. It would be cruel, if it were possible, and impossible, if it were attempted, to add to the mortification which you must now be supposed to suffer. Where I cannot console, it is far from my purpose to aggravate: for it is part of the complicated misery of your state that while I pity your sufferings, I cannot innocently wish them lighter. He would be no friend to your reason or your virtue who would wish you to pass over so great a miscarriage in heartless frivolity or brutal insensibility. As the loss is irretrievable, so your remorse will be lasting. As those whom you have betrayed are your friends, so your conduct admits of no exculpation. As you were once virtuous, so now you must be forever miserable…. I will not paint to you the consequences of your conduct which are doubtless daily and nightly before your eyes. Believe me, my dear Sir, that I forgive you.
As soon as you can, pray let me know through some respectable acquaintance what plans you have formed for the future. In what quarter of the globe do you intend to sustain that irrevocable exile, hopeless penury, and perpetual disgrace to which you have condemned yourself? Do not give in to the sin of Despair: learn from this example the fatal consequences of error and hope, in some humbler station and some distant land, that you may yet become useful to your species.
C. S. Lewis