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Owen Barfield: I think the first thing I ought to do is to thank the administration for providing this magnificently comfortable armchair. It is so comfortable that if I fall asleep, you will know who to blame.
I'm not very clear, I have to confess, whether it's old age or some other reason, exactly what I'm expected to do. But I have been told that there were likely to be a great many questions, and it occurs to me that as the time is not unlimited and there are quite a number of people here, perhaps it would be best, and I'm subject to correction here, perhaps it would be best if we confined ourselves to begin with questions which I will do my best to answer.
Kim Gilnett: You met Lewis in 1919. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the occasion of when you met Lewis?
Barfield: Oh. Yes. It's not a tremendously dramatic one. I met Lewis through a friend. I was an undergraduate at Wadham College, and the man who became a friend was also an undergraduate there, Leo Baker, who was already acquainted with Lewis. I don't know in what connection, beforeeither of them came to university. Leo Baker and I were both interested in reading and in writing poetry, and I think Lewis and Baker and another friend called Paisley were already planning to produce a collected volume of their poems. Anyhow, Baker introduced me to Lewis by the simple process of asking us both to tea. That was when I first met Lewis in the autumn of 1919. I have a very vivid recollection, which may have been distorted because it doesn't altogether accord with my recollection of Lewis in later life. I recollect a rather lean young man, arriving on a bicycle at Wadham, looking a bit hungry. I think he was in those days. He wasn't then at all well off. Now exactly what we talked about, because it was about sixty years ago, I couldn't possibly tell you. It was certainly quite a number of subjects. What was already impressing me was Lewis's acuteness, so to speak. He always had his eye on the ball. Whatever we were talking about, he would have something pointed and relevant about it to say. He never spoke in a hurry or slurred his words at all. There was a kind of eagerness behind his thinking that often does come out, and I'm afraid in my own case comes out, in rather hurried and inaudible diction. He had this eager mind, so to speak, shining through his eyes. Shining is such an excessive adjective, but it was there. And somehow I suppose we felt we had something in common, and after that we met occasionally on our own. Sometimes with Baker, sometimes on our own. Not frightfully often during that term; not tremendously often while we were still undergraduates. When we did meet most was after I had finished the doctorate and was living someplace very near, and he had then become a don at Magdalen. I would go in to see him or he would come up and see me, and we began a rather long and complicated argument of an epistemological nature about which a book has subsequently been published, called The Great War between C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield [sic].
Gilnett: Tell us a little more about that argument in which you had an impact on his thinking, particularly before Lewis became a Christian.
Barfield: I don't know that this is a very appropriate venue to go into the philosophical details of the struggle, but I supposed it worked out, to put it as untechnically and briefly as possible, he was philosophically a materialist. He didn't believe that any access to the spiritual or supernatural world was possible for the human mind, and that any human mind that supposed that it had such access was living in a world of fantasy. I took a different view. I thought that what had come to be called "imagination" at the time of the Romantic movement, and had been developed a good deal since, was a line of communication between the human mind and a mind in the universe that was immaterial. That's the nearest I can get in a few words putting what the issue was between us, but it wasn't as brief or as simple as that, because it led to a long correspondence. We used to correspond at intervals and also to meet and argue verbally, and then he wrote a long sort of treatise, you would call it, in Latin, intellectually reminiscent of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Contra Gentiles, because it was Summa Contra Anthropophia, and I wrote a longish answer to it, and he wrote again, and that together with the correspondence was what was dealt with, I think skillfully and at a fair length, in the book I have mentioned. I don't think I can carry it any further; otherwise we shall be here until approximately this time tomorrow.
Walter Hooper: I wonder, Owen, could you mention when you first met the household?
Excerpted from C. S. Lewis Remembered Copyright © 2006 by Harry Lee Poe. Excerpted by permission.
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