(OUP Blog) Charles Williams: Oxford’s lost poetry professor

Wartime Oxford was short of lecturers, and [CS} Lewis immediately set about pulling strings to get [Charles] Williams to lecture for the English Faculty. He began in February 1940, speaking on Milton, and the results exceeded all expectations.

Fifty years later, former students still remembered his performances vividly ”“ ”˜Mounting the steps at a bound and launching straight into a flood of quotation’; ”˜telling students “Never mind what Mr. so-and-so says about it, read the text and think for yourself!”’; ”˜declaiming like an Old Testament prophet or an enthusiastic evangelical preacher’; ”˜Leaping from one side of the stage to the other, and acting in turn the part of each character he was talking about’; ”˜clutch[ing] his copy of Wordsworth, once almost throwing it into the air, but luckily catching it again”¦ totally absorbed in his fascination with the subject’; ”˜Pacing up and down the platform”¦ return[ing] to its centre table three times to bang on it three times with his fist to impress on his audience that “Eternity ”” forbids thee ”“ to forget”’. In short, ”˜Electrifying!’ Some of those students went on to become teachers of English and throughout their careers returned to their notes on those lectures for inspiration.

Lewis was so impressed with Williams’s lecture on the theme of chastity in Milton’s Comus that he declared, ”˜That beautiful carved room had probably not witnessed anything so important since some of the great medieval or Renaissance lectures. I have at last, if only for once, seen a university doing what it was founded to do: teaching Wisdom.’

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, History, Poetry & Literature, Theology, Young Adults

One comment on “(OUP Blog) Charles Williams: Oxford’s lost poetry professor

  1. driver8 says:

    Indeed. Strangely enough I think too of another Williams who never became Professor of Poetry at Oxford, almost exactly a century before Charles: gentle Rev’d Isaac Williams, Newman’s curate.