C.S. Lewis and His Dobell Edition of Traherne’s Centuries

In my last entry, I wrote about Bertram Dobell’s role in the first-ever publication of Traherne’s Centuries in 1908. If one had happened to read Traherne’s Centuries between 1908 and 1958, it was probably from Dobell’s edition. There is one story in particular that highlights the impact of this edition.

On July 8, 1930, C.S. Lewis was relaxing before preparing for ten days of exams. In addition to his studies, he was enjoying other personal reading. At this time of his life, he wrote his close friend, Arthur Greeves, at least once a week. Halfway through his letter on this day, Lewis wrote, “Almost ever since the Vac. began I have been reading a little every evening in Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations (Dobell. About 7/-. Lovely paper). I forget whether we have talked of it or not.” He then goes on to share several quotes:

“What do you think of the following ; – ‘The world. . . is the beautiful frontispiece to Eternity’ – ‘You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars. . . till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God as misers do in gold’ – ‘I must lead you out of this into another world to learn your wants. For till you find them you will never be happy’ – ‘They (i.e. Souls) and are dark and vain and comfortless till they do it. Till they love they are idle or misemployed. Till they love they are desolate.’”

And then Lewis pays Traherne the ultimate compliment: “But I could go on quoting from this book forever.”

This was the beginning of Lewis’s lifelong enjoyment of Traherne.

What a perfect example of Lewis’s senses blending with his intellect. His sharing this description of Traherne’s book and Dobell’s ‘lovely paper’ with Greeves (mind you, these are two adult, highly-educated men) could not help but evoke in me a similar vivid image of two men sitting at a pub with their cigars. They pass the cigars slowly under their noses, taking in the aroma before lighting them and launching into a long thoughtful discussion. They puff away on their cigars while sipping on their beer-filled mugs. The senses and the intellect and the spirit and human relationships co-mingling.. And, ah, Dobell’s ‘lovely paper.’

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