Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Fool's Pardon

It came over me like a thunderclap about 30 seconds after I had left you in the Lodge this afternoon that I must seem to you to have committed, in one very short conversation, all the most unprovoked and indeed inexplicable kinds of rudeness there are.* I implore you to try to understand - and believe - how it came about with no such intention.

The starting point was the fact that I have never noticed the slightest inequality in your gait. Seeing it for the first time when I was waiting behind you to cross the street I therefore immediately assumed some temporary mishap to be the cause: no alternative explanation entered my head. My evil genius then led me to ask you about it - largely because two people who see each other once a week can't very well meet on an 'island' and say just nothing. After your answer I ought of course to have apologized and dropped the subject at once: but by that time I had completely lost my head.

You are not the first to suffer this kind of thing from me: I am subject to a kind of black-out in conversation which now and then leads to ask and say the utterly wrong thing - the Brobdingnagianly tactless thing. I have (quite against my will) made many enemies this way. I hope very much you will not become one of them: give me a fool's pardon.
~C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letter of C.S. Lewis: Volume III, Letter to Robin Oakley-Hill Feb 16, 1953


*The recipient of this letter said: "I was walking from the boathouse back to college on an unpleasantly raw winter afternoon after an unsatisfactory session of coxing when I was joined by C.S. Lewis waiting to cross the High. He said something like: "You're limping - did you hurt yourself?" I said no, I'd had polio, in a fairly unfriendly manner, because I was fed up with the weather, the unsatisfactory rowing and the tedious unfinished work I was going back to. He looked embarrassed and said "Oh, poor chap," and we went our separate ways. I was astounded to get the letter next day, and was inclined to reply that it didn't signify, but a confidant warned me to take the apology in a serious manner because otherwise it would seem that I did not appreciate the trouble he had taken in writing the letter, and I did so."

5 Comment(s):

At Sun Feb 17, 10:01:00 AM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

This little tableau endears Lewis to me all the more. He goes to such pains to repair what he perceives as an egregious lack of tact, and the recipient all along felt the fault was on his side, not Lewis's.

Makes me think a little bit about Australia's Apology Day. If only we could learn to apologize more and better and sooner.

At Mon Feb 18, 06:44:00 PM EST, Blogger Connie Marie said...

So great to know he could be tactless just like most of us.

I enjoy your posts, thanks!

At Mon Feb 18, 09:58:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

And thanks for visiting, Connie Marie. :)

At Mon Mar 16, 02:08:00 PM EDT, Blogger Pola said...

Arevanye, thanks for that link. What a nice idea indeed. Apologising. Won't help the Aborigens, but still...
Back to Lewis, that's the kind of letter I want to send every time I realise I just did something foolish, only now it would be perceived as something even weirder, generally.

At Mon Jul 18, 03:26:00 PM EDT, Blogger GreenPoet said...

David Oakley-Hill said...
My brother Robin related this story to me in a phone call on 18 July 2011. C S Lewis was his tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford. The High Street was just called “High”. Robin had sent the letter some years ago with his comment to the College archives. He was faintly embarrassed that here it was on the internet for all to see, but I assured him that the story has great charm, and provides a gentle moral lesson about politeness and misunderstanding.


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