Tuesday, August 5, 2008

C.S. Lewis Resigns

Forty five years ago, on 6 August 1963, C.S. Lewis resigned his position at Magdalene College, Cambridge. With his health steadily declining, Lewis did not anticipate recovering enough to be able to return to his role as Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English.

Lewis accepted the Cambridge offer in 1954. Despite serving with Oxford for 29 years as a fellow (don or tutor), Oxford never made Lewis a full professor, probably because Lewis didn't fit the academic mold that was expected. He colored outside the lines by dabbling in popular writings that weren't even related to his field. His outspoken Christianity didn't particularly endear him to many of his colleagues. So Lewis left Magdalen for Magdalene.

Initially Lewis turned down the Cambridge offer, but then reconsidered following some convincing by J.R.R. Tolkien, and wrote a letter expressing his change of mind. But by this time Cambridge had already offered the position to another candidate. Fortunately, the other person - Helen Gardner - heard that Lewis had a change of mind and graciously stepped aside, acknowledging that Lewis was the perfect fit for the new position. And so he was. His innaugural lecture, "De Descriptione Temporum," (a description of the times) is readily available online, and was delivered on 29 November 1954, Lewis's 56th birthday.

A great educator, Lewis gave 38 years of his life to academic pursuits. But on 6 August 1963, C.S. Lewis resigned. Not long after he left the world behind, too, passing away on 22 November 1963, one week short of his 65th birthday, news of his death largely overshadowed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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