Lewis’s Daily Grind


Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963), or Jack as he was known to his friends, was a British novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist. He probably needs little introduction because almost everyone in the western world is familiar with his Chronicles of Narnia books for children. But in essence he was an academic, first at Oxford, then later at Cambridge. Late in life, 1956 to be exact, he married the American writer Joy Davidman, who died of cancer four years later. He tells of his romance with her, among other things, in his book coincidentally entitled “Surprised by Joy.” In that same book he describes his ideal daily routine, mirrored on his routine in the house of his erstwhile tutor William T. Kirkpatrick where his father sent him for schooling in 1914. Here’s what he says about it:
“For if I could please myself I would always live as I lived there. I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. A step or so out of doors for a pint of beer would not do quite so well; for a man does not want to drink alone and if you meet a friend in the taproom the break is likely to be extended beyond its ten minutes. At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to smoking, and then farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned. The only friend to walk with is one (such as I found, during the holidays, in Arthur) who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared. The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude, as I took it at Bookham on those (happily numerous) occasions when Mrs. Kirkpatrick was out; the Knock himself disdained this meal. For eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably. Of course not all books are suitable for mealtime reading. It would be a kind of blasphemy to read poetry at table. What one wants is a gossipy, formless book which can be opened anywhere. The ones I learned so to use at Bookham were Boswell, and a translation of Herodotus, and Lang's History of English Literature. Tristram Shandy, Elia and the Anatomy of Melancholy are all good for the same purpose. At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or, failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies (and at Bookham I had none) there is no reason why you should ever be in bed later than eleven. But when is a man to write his letters? You forget that I am describing the happy life I led with Kirk or the ideal life I would live now if I could. And it is essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman's knock.”
In reality he worked incredibly hard giving lectures, grading papers, taking tutorials, writing books –whether academic works, theological books, or novels for adults or children, and giving extra-mural talks at Christian gatherings. How he had time to sit down with the Inklings, drink beer, smoke and discuss various creative writing projects that the group presented is anyone’s guess; but he did. All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but this particular Jack was anything but dull.

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