The Inklings - Muses & the Beau Monde
The Inklings were an informal literary discussion group associated with J. R. R. Tolkien at the University of Oxford for nearly two decades between the early 1930s and late 1949. The Inklings were literary enthusiasts who praised the value of narrative in fiction and encouraged the writing of fantasy. The best-known, apart from Tolkien, were C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and (although a Londoner) Owen Barfield.
"Properly speaking," wrote Warren Lewis, "the Inklings was neither a club nor a literary society, though it partook of the nature of both. There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections." As was typical for university literary groups in their time and place, the Inklings were all male. Readings and discussions of the members' unfinished works were the principal purposes of meetings. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet, and Williams's All Hallows' Eve were among the novels first read to the Inklings. Tolkien's (later to be abandoned) fictional Notion Club (see "Sauron Defeated") was based on the Inklings. Meetings were not all serious; the Inklings amused themselves by having competitions to see who could read notoriously bad prose for the longest without laughing.
Until late 1949, Inklings readings and discussions usually occurred during Thursday evenings in C. S. Lewis's college rooms at Magdalen College. The Inklings and friends were also known to informally gather on Tuesdays at midday at a local public house, The Eagle and Child, familiarly and alliteratively known in the Oxford community as The Bird and Baby, or simply The Bird. The publican, Charlie Blagrove, permitted Lewis and friends the use of his private parlour for privacy; the wall and door separating it from the public bar were removed in 1962. Later pub meetings were at The Lamb and Flag across the street, and in earlier years the Inklings also met irregularly in other pubs, but The Eagle and Child is the best known. While this article is an overview of the Inklings I will be writing in detail about certain interesting individuals throughout this month.
The more regular members of the Inklings, many of them academics at the University, included:
Arthur Owen Barfield was a British philosopher, author, poet and critic.
Barfield has been known as "the first and last Inkling." He had a profound influence on C. S. Lewis and, through his books The Silver Trumpet and Poetic Diction (dedicated to Lewis), an appreciable effect on J. R. R. Tolkien.
Their contribution, and their conversations, persuaded both Tolkien and Lewis that myth and metaphor have always had a central place in language and literature.
"The Inklings work… taken as a whole, has a significance that far outweighs any measure of popularity, amounting to a revitalisation of Christian intellectual and imaginative life."
- Owen Barfield
Jack A. W. Bennett
Jack Arthur Walter Bennett was a New Zealand–born literary scholar.
Bennett studied at the University of Auckland, where he is described by biographer James McNeish as "poor and deserving" before going on to Merton College, Oxford, where, still indigent, he survived on a diet of Cornish pasties.
In McNeish's book Dance of the Peacocks, he is noted as a member of what was to be described in British academe as the Oxford "New Zealand Mafia", a loose-knit group of extraordinarily gifted young men from New Zealand who studied at Oxford University, many as Rhodes Scholars, before the Second World War. The link between them was to endure for the rest of their lives. McNeish describes Bennett as:
"...at an angle, separated by the exuberance of his scholarship, his saintliness, and his forgetfulness ... he considered himself lucky to have received the Scholarship [to Oxford], since he forgot to include any testimonials with his application".
Lord David Cecil
Lord Edward Christian David Gascoyne-Cecil, CH, was a British biographer, historian, and scholar.
Cecil read Modern History at Oxford and in 1924 obtained first-class honours. From 1924 to 1930 he was a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford. With his first publication, The Stricken Deer (1929), a sympathetic study of the poet Cowper, he made an immediate impact as a literary historian.
In 1939 he became a Fellow of New College, Oxford, where he remained a Fellow until 1969, when he became an Honorary Fellow. In 1947 he became Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London, for a year; but in 1948 he returned to the University of Oxford and remained a Professor of English Literature there until 1970. Cecil described the Inklings as "a feeling for literature which united, in an unusual way, scholarship and imagination.”
While a professor at New College Cecil's pupils included Kingsley Amis, Bidhu Bhusan Das, R. K. Sinha, John Bayley, the Milton scholar Dennis Burden, and Ludovic Kennedy. Neil Powell describes Amis's relationship with him, or lack of a relationship, as follows:
[Amis's] allocated supervisor was Lord David Cecil, who seemed disinclined to supervise anything at all; after a term and a half had passed without any contact between them, Kingsley decided to go in search of him at New College. This caused much amusement at the porters' lodge, as if he had asked for the Shah of Persia: 'Oh no, sir. Lord David? Oh, you'd have to get up very early in the morning to get hold of him. Oh dear, oh dear. Lord David in college, well I never did.'
Nevill Henry Kendal Aylmer Coghill FRSL, was an English literary scholar, known especially for his modern English version of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Coghill read History and English at Exeter College, Oxford. In 1924 he became a Fellow of the college, a position he held until 1957, there is a small bust of him in the college chapel. In 1948, he was made Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College. He was Merton Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford from 1957 to 1966.
His Chaucer and Langland translations were first made for BBC radio broadcasts. He was well known during his time as a theatrical producer and director in Oxford; he is noted particularly as the director of the Oxford University Dramatic Society 1949 production of The Tempest.
In 1968, he collaborated with Martin Starkie to co-write the West-End and Broadway musical Canterbury Tales. In 1973, the same team collaborated on a sequel The Homeward Ride comprising more of Chaucer's Tale. To date, this has been premiered only in Australia.
In a memoir, Reynolds Price writes:
Nevill himself was born in 1899, served in the First War, married, fathered a daughter, then separated from his wife and lived a quietly homosexual life thereafter. He later spoke to me of several romances with men, but he apparently never established a residence with any of them; and until his retirement from Oxford, he always lived in his college rooms.
Henry Victor Dyson Dyson, generally known as Hugo Dyson and who signed his writings H. V. D. Dyson, was an English academic.
Dyson taught English at the University of Reading from 1924 until obtaining a fellowship with Merton College, Oxford, in 1945. His students at Oxford included the later cultural theorist Stuart Hall, whom he tutored in the early 1950s. Dyson retired in 1963 but returned as emeritus fellow in 1969, teaching the newly introduced "modern" literature paper. His tutorials were notable because many of the writers he discussed had been personal friends.
Dyson was not a prolific writer, but the quality and voluminous quantity of his lectures and general conversation had quite an effect on people. Dyson preferred talk at Inklings meetings to readings. He was also known to have a distaste for J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and complained loudly at its readings. Eventually Tolkien gave up reading to the group altogether.
Adam Fox, Canon, was the Dean of Divinity at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was Oxford Professor of Poetry and later he became Canon of Westminster Abbey. He was also warden of Radley College.
During his time at Oxford, he wrote his long poem in four books "Old King Coel". As Professor of Poetry, Fox advocated poetry which is intelligible to readers, and gives enough pleasure to be read again.
He was one of the first members of the Inklings. In his 1945 Plato for Pleasure, he tried to introduce the general public to Plato. Fox wished to make Plato well known among the English Classics once again and hoped that people would study the platonic dialogues, as well as the plays of Shakespeare.
Roger Lancelyn Green
Roger Gilbert Lancelyn Green was a British biographer, children's writer and Oxford academic.
He studied under C. S. Lewis at Merton College, Oxford, where he obtained a B.Litt. degree. As an undergraduate, he performed in the Oxford University Dramatic Society's Shakespeare dramas produced by Nevill Coghill.
He was deputy librarian at Merton College from 1945 to 1950, then William Noble Research Fellow in English Literature at the University of Liverpool from 1950 to 1952.
As the Andrew Lang Lecturer at the University of St Andrews from 1968 to 1969, he delivered the 1968 Andrew Lang lecture. The most famous lecture in this series is that given by J. R. R. Tolkien in March 1939, entitled 'Fairy Stories', but published subsequently as 'On Fairy-Stories'.
Dr. Robert Emlyn Havard was the physician of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Havard has also been credited as a "skilled and prolific writer".
In addition to his medical research papers, Havard authored an appendix for C. S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain as well as a description of Lewis included in Remembering C. S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him and one of J. R. R. Tolkien included in Mythlore.
Lewis invited Havard to join the Inklings because of the literary interests he shared with that group. Like Tolkien, he was a Roman Catholic. Havard was sometimes referred to by the Inklings as the "Useless Quack," mainly because Warren Lewis once called him so upon being irritated by his tardiness, and his brother, Jack, thought it quite amusing at the time and caused the nickname to continue. The abbreviation "U.Q." was thereafter a common reference to Havard.
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis was an Irish writer and lay theologian. He held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy.
American author and teacher Diana Glyer points to December 1929 as the Inklings' beginning date. Lewis's friendship with Coghill and Tolkien grew during their time as members of the Kolbítar, an Old Norse reading group that Tolkien founded and which ended around the time of the inception of the Inklings.
At Oxford, he was the tutor of poet John Betjeman, critic Kenneth Tynan, mystic Bede Griffiths, novelist Roger Lancelyn Green and Sufi scholar Martin Lings, among many other undergraduates. Curiously, the religious and conservative Betjeman detested Lewis, whereas the anti-establishment Tynan retained a lifelong admiration for him.
Warren Hamilton Lewis was an Irish historian and officer in the British Army, best remembered as the elder brother of C. S. Lewis.
After World War II, he took up residence with his brother at a house named The Kilns at Headington, near Oxford. He was a frequent participant in weekly meetings of the Inklings and recorded comments about them in many of his diary entries.
Soon after his first military retirement in 1932, Warren Lewis edited the Lewis family papers. During his final retirement, he began researching a topic of his lifelong interest: the history of 17th-century France. He published seven books on France during the reign of Louis XIV under the name W. H. Lewis, including The Splendid Century: Some Aspects of French Life in the Reign of Louis XIV and Levantine Adventurer: The travels and missions of the Chevalier d'Arvieux, 1653–1697.
After C. S. Lewis died in 1963, Warren edited the first published edition of his brother's letters (1966), adding a memoir of his brother as a preface to the letters.
J. R. R. Tolkien
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE FRSL, was an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic, best known as the author of the high fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Lewis and Tolkien formed the Inklings, continuing an acquaintance that had begun in 1926, when Lewis met the “smooth, pale fluent little chap” at a tea. The two formed a strong bond over beef, beer and English literature.
The Inklings continued regularly for 16 years. The informal meetings consisted of friendly conversation, the exchange of ideas, and, most often, readings of new and original material. “Our habit was to read aloud compositions of various kinds (and lengths!)”
Lewis and Tolkien remained “literary soul mates” until Lewis’s death in 1963. They inspired each other, and their relationship remains one of the most significant in twentieth-century literature. Tolkien once wrote of Lewis: “Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby.” Another commentator noted, “Without J. R. R. Tolkien, we might never have heard of C. S. Lewis, but without Lewis, we might never have heard of Tolkien.”
Charles Walter Stansby Williams was a British poet, novelist, playwright, theologian and literary critic.
Williams began work in 1904 in a Methodist bookroom. He was hired by the Oxford University Press (OUP) as a proofreading assistant in 1908 and quickly climbed to the position of editor. He continued to work at the OUP in various positions of increasing responsibility until his death in 1945. One of his greatest editorial achievements was the publication of the first major English-language edition of the works of Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher.
Although chiefly remembered as a novelist, Williams also published poetry, works of literary criticism, theology, drama, history, biography, and a voluminous number of book reviews. Some of his best known novels are War in Heaven, Descent into Hell, and All Hallows' Eve. T. S. Eliot, who wrote an introduction for the last of these, described Williams's novels as "supernatural thrillers". All of Williams's fantasies, unlike those of J. R. R. Tolkien and most of those of C. S. Lewis, are set in the contemporary world.
Other frequent member included J. H. Grant III, Camille Smith (cousin of C.S. Lewis) and Christopher Tolkien (J. R. R. Tolkien's son). Below is a selection of illustrations by James A. Owen for Diana Glyer's book Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings.
Less infrequent visitors included:
Sir Percy Elly Bates, 4th Baronet, GBE was an English shipowner.
Bates was an occasional guest at meetings of the Inklings, having an interest in literature. Whether he contributed any writing or readings in unknown.
James Dundas-Grant KBE, MD, FRCSED, FRCS, was a British ear, nose and throat surgeon. He was surgeon to a number of London hospitals and surgeon to several institutions. He also had a lifelong passion for music and was surgeon to the Royal Academy of Music and aural surgeon to the Royal Society of Musicians. A favourite pastime of his was conducting an orchestra which he had formed.
He was a prolific writer contributing articles on a wide range of topics within his speciality. His knowledge of the specialty was regarded by colleagues as encyclopaedic. He had a particular panache for devising surgical instruments, several of which were widely used. Dundas-Grant was an irregular attender of the Inklings.
Colin Graham Hardie was a British classicist and academic. From 1933 to 1936, he was Director of the British School at Rome. From 1936 to 1973, he was a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and a tutor in classics. In addition, from 1967 to 1973, he was the Public Orator of the University of Oxford.
Pictured left to right James Dundas-Grant, Colin Hardie, Dr. Robert E. Humphrey Havard, C.S. Lewis
Anthony Gervase Mathew was a Catholic priest and British academic. A member of the Dominican Order, he taught at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford.
Matthew's publications covered a range of fields, including classical antiquity, Byzantine art and history, historical theology, patristics, and fourteenth-century English literature and politics. In collaboration with the Chair of Modern Greek studies, Professor J. Mavrogordato, Mathew instituted Byzantine Studies at the University of Oxford.
R. B. McCallum
Ronald Buchanan McCallum was a British historian. He was a fellow (and later Master) of Pembroke College, Oxford, where he taught modern history and politics. McCallum was also the creator of the term psephology (statistical analysis of elections).
In 1925, Pembroke College, Oxford, elected him a fellow and tutor in history and was a member of the Senior Common Room with R.G. Collingwood and J.R.R. Tolkien. He was a tutor for several generations of undergraduates in British history and political institutions, including an influential seminar on British parliamentary procedure. One of his most famous pupils was the Rhodes Scholar and future American Senator J. William Fulbright.
C. E. Stevens
Courtenay Edward Stevens was an English historian specializing in Antiquity. He was a teacher at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Stevens was a prolific writer, mostly covering the history of the Romans in Britain including the books The decline and fall of Roman Britain and The building of Hadrian's Wall.
It was C.S. Lewis who proposed he join the Inklings in November 1947. Within the Inklings, he was nicknamed Tom (or Tom Brown). There is no explanation as to why.
John Barrington Wain CBE, was an English poet, novelist, and critic, associated with the literary group known as "The Movement". He worked for most of his life as a freelance journalist and author, writing and reviewing for newspapers and the radio.
Wain taught at the University of Reading during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and in 1963 spent a term as professor of rhetoric at Gresham College, London. He was the first fellow in creative arts at Brasenose College, Oxford (1971–1972), and was appointed a supernumerary fellow in 1973. In the same year he was elected to the five-year post of Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford: some of his lectures appear in his book Professing Poetry. Wain was appointed a CBE in 1984. He was made an honorary fellow of his old college, St John's, Oxford, in 1985.
Wain's tutor at Oxford had been C. S. Lewis. He encountered, but did not see himself part of the group of Lewis's literary acquaintances, the Inklings. Wain was as serious about literature as the Inklings, and believed as they did in the primacy of literature as communication, but as a modern realist writer he shared neither their conservative social beliefs nor their propensity for fantasy.
Charles Leslie Wrenn
Charles Leslie Wrenn was an English scholar. He became Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford in 1945, the successor in the chair of J.R.R. Tolkien, and held the position until 1963. Wrenn was a Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford.
He was an occasional member of the Inklings. Some of the work published by Wrenn includes The English Language, A Study of Old English Literature, and An Old English Grammar, written with Randolph Quirk. His literary interests were primarily comparative literature and later poets including T. S. Eliot.
John Dynham Cornish Pellow MBE was an English poet and civil servant.
Pellow wrote poetry throughout his life, professionally, he followed in his father's footsteps and joined the National Health Insurance Commission in 1908. In 1913, he was promoted, and eventually reached the rank of Senior Executive Officer. On his retirement in 1950, he was awarded an MBE.
Parentalia and Other Poems was published in 1923. His poems were also included in the Georgian Poetry anthologies for 1918–1919 and 1920–1922 and also in several later anthologies.
We end with Professor G.E.K Braunholtz, who I can find no solid information on, apart from his name featuring as an editor of Transactions of the Philological Society which contains the text of Tolkien’s lecture Chaucer as a Philologist: The Reeve's Tale. In the lecture (delivered on 16th May 1931) Tolkien discusses Chaucer’s use of the Northern Middle English dialect as a linguistic joke in The Reeve’s Tale.
Guest included poet Roy Campbell and author Eric Rücker Eddison and his wife Molly Eddison
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