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The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2
Books, Broadcasts and the War, 1931-1949
To His Brother (W):
Oct. 24th 1931
My dear W --
Your letter from Gibraltar has arrived and my reading aloud of as much as was suitable to the female capacity had something of the air of an event in the household. As you say it seems long ago to our day at Whipsnade and so many things have since followed it into the past that I must write history and get you up to date before I can talk.
By a stroke of bad luck for you Mr. Thomas rang up and invited you and me to tea the day after you had left. His wife was there at the meal but he took me into his study afterwards and we had quite a long talk. He is, I think, a little shy, or at any rate in a first meeting seemed to be feeling his way with me. He is a moderate conservative, an enemy of the wireless, has travelled a good deal, encourages us 'not to stand any nonsense' from the fox-hunters, was bred in Surrey, approves strongly of our afforestation programme, and knows his Foord Kelsie.
I ventured to remark that I noticed how a sermon preached in his Church had reached the honours of print in the Oxford Times. 'The old rascal!' said Thomas, bursting into laughter. 'Do you know the history of that? The Wednesday after he preached it, he met me and asked me if there had been a reporter in the Church, for somehow or the other they had got hold of his sermon. So I taxed him with it. 'You sent it to the papers,' I said; and then he owned up. The old rascal -- the old rascal!'
He also gave me the final stages of the footpath quarrel, in which we have practically got our point: at least a route v. nearly the same as the original path has been conceded.4 Apparently old Snow ended, as he had begun, by being the hero of the story. Thomas asked for written statements from as many parishioners as he could get hold of, and Snow produced one the length of your arm -- a marvellous and highly autobiographical document which Thomas forwarded to the committee of the Town Council as likely to move anyone who had a sense of humour. But it was embarrassing when the case came into court and Thomas, going down to give evidence, found that old Snow had prepared the second and much longer statement which he proposed to read to the Magistrates from the spectators gallery during the hearing of the case: and since the old man thought that he could give a good account of himself if the police attacked him, Thomas had great difficulty in persuading him that he would be removed if he spoke or that the probability of removal was any reason for not at any rate beginning to read his statement. By the bye, the doury old man who made the speech about women and children turns out to be our local member of the Town Council, in fact one of the enemy: so that Snow's instinct ('I want him stopped') guided him very well.
The next important event since you left is that Maureen has been offered and accepted a residential job in a school at Monmouth -- a choice of time in which again you might have been more fortunate. I didn't know whether to approve or disapprove. Minto was in favour of it, and I only held back by the greater solitude she would be exposed to. Now that it is all settled, Minto, as I foresaw, fears the loneliness and is a little depressed about the whole thing. One must hope that the actual freedom from the innumerable extra jobs and endless bickerings wh. Maureen's presence occasions will make up in fact for any feeling of 'missing' her.
In public works I have made tolerable headway. As soon as I began to choose a site for my first tree in this autumn's programme, it occurred to me that even if uprooting of all the elders were impracticable, still, there was no reason why each tree should not replace an elder instead of merely supplementing it. The job of digging out a complete elder root proved much easier than I had expected, and does not take much longer than digging an ordinary hole -- the extra time you spend on extraction being compensated for by the fact that when once you have got the root out you find little solid digging left to be done. Unfortunately some of the places I chose as sites for the trees did not contain elder stumps, and many elders are in spots where one could hardly hope to make a new tree grow. However of the four tree holes which I have dug in the wood three are vice elders cashiered. When I came to the problem of afforestation outside the wood I was held up by the necessity of doing a good deal of mowing. I have now scythed a wide open space round the western clump (i.e. the clump containing the ill fated beech) and a more or less continuous strip along past the Wasps nest to where I rejoined my summer's mowing. General October has proved a complete failure and last week while I was at work near the enemy lines vedettes seemed to be out and as twilight drew on riders or working parties were constantly passing me on their homeward journey.
Talking of beeches, Snow (you remember, the Magdalen botanist) tells me that beeches will never grow well on a soil of clay and sand: chalk is what they want. I am inclined (if you agree) after one more trial to give up the effort to grow beeches, as Snow certainly knows his stuff: and you remember Johnson 'Nay Sir, never grow things simply to show that you cannot grow them.'The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2
Books, Broadcasts and the War, 1931-1949. Copyright © by C. Lewis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.