MacDonald (as selected by Lewis)

I struggled to understand this one a bit. Here is the full context: that Helen is horrified that the curate may persuade her brother to turn himself in (for his crime of murder that only Helen knows about), and for which Leopold is now suffering a tormented conscience. She still hopes to protect him (and the family name) from the gallows and from his own conscience. While the curate (trying to be supportive and earnestly righteous about it) is still ignorant of the depth of impossibility of Leopold making restitution. So I guess the ‘awful first self’ referred to by Polwarth here, is the true self that is of God, buried though that self may be.

(308) On Asking Advice

“I will follow her,” said Wingfold. “She may faint again. If she does I shall whistle.”

He followed, and kept her in sight until she was safe in her aunt’s garden.

“What IS to be done?” he said, returning in great trouble. “I do not think I made any blunder, but there she is gone in tenfold misery! I wish I could tell you what passed, but that of course I cannot.”

“Of course not,” returned Polwarth. “But the fact of her leaving you so is no sign that you said the wrong thing,—rather the contrary. When people seek advice, it is too often in the hope of finding the adviser side with their second familiar self, instead of their awful first self, of which they know so little. Do not be anxious. You have done your best. Wait for what will come next.”

As found in MacDonald’s: “Thomas Wingfold, Curate

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(309) No Heel Taps

What a change had come upon him—slow, indeed, yet how vast, since the night when he sat in the same churchyard indignant and uneasy with the words of Bascombe like hot coals in his heart! He had been made ashamed of himself who had never thought much of himself, but the more he had lost of worthiness in his own eyes the more he had gained in worth. And the more his poor satisfaction with himself had died out, the more the world had awaked around him. For it must be remembered that a little conceit is no more to be endured than a great one, but must be swept utterly away. Sky and wind and water and birds and trees said to him, “Forget thyself and we will think of thee. Sing no more to thyself thy foolish songs of decay, and we will all sing to thee of love and hope and faith and resurrection.” Earth and air had grown full of hints and sparkles and vital motions, as if between them and his soul an abiding community of fundamental existence had manifested itself. He had never in the old days that were so near and yet seemed so far behind him, consciously cared for the sunlight: now even the shadows were marvellous in his eyes, and the glitter the golden weather-cock on the tower was like a cry of the prophet Isaiah. High and alone in the clear blue air it swung, an endless warning to him that veers with the wind of the world, the words of men, the summer breezes of their praise, or the bitter blasts of their wintry blame; it was no longer to him a cock of the winds, but a cock of the truth—a Peter-cock, that crew aloud in golden shine its rebuke of cowardice and lying.

As found in MacDonald’s: “Thomas Wingfold, Curate

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that’s a tough passage–I agree. Thanks!

Background: Wingfold is interested in Helen; both are going through self examination about what they really believe in terms of God. Helen’s atheist cousin feels we don’t need to deal with sin, except when it’s considered heinous in the eyes of others (social sins). Leopold is Helen’s somewhat spoiled, passionate, younger half brother. In a fit of drugged (he was using opium, I think) rage at being mocked by his girlfriend, who had left him for someone else, he stabbed her. She died. Partly because of the drugs, but also because he’s really a very gentle soul, he can hardly believe that he did it. Eventually, he seeks help from his beloved sister, Helen, about what to do. Bascombe hears and pooh-poohs the idea, not even believing that he did it. Helen believes him, and tries to get Wingfold to agree he should smooth his guilt over, and not address it. Leopold becomes convinced that in order to really get forgiveness, he has to approach the girl’s parents and give himself up to the law. Helen does not feel he should do that, and wants to shelter him as she has always done. It’s the “first self,” knowing what one should really do to get rid of guilt (confess to the wronged ones in front of God). The “second self,” that tries to make excuse, soon loses excuses. Even drugs didn’t make him forget his responsibility. Helen, however, wanting to protect her brother, leaves Wingfold abruptly after discussing a theoretical, similar (but not so awful) crime, at which Wingfold had humbly suggested confession.

Polwarth reassures Wingfold (even though he doesn’t know the full story) of the rightness of his advice.

Spoiler: Both Polwarth and Wingfold do eventually get to know the whole story, and love Leopold as a wonderful boy, but support him in doing the right thing. Leopold detoxes of the drugs, and comes back to sanity–but does die of TB in the end. He confesses and approaches the justice of the peace, but dies before actually making it to the courthouse. The murdered girls’ mother finds out he is the murderer, and approaches him for vengeance on his deathbed. After talking with Wingfold, she realizes more about what kind of person Leopold was, what kind her daughter was, and what the circumstances were. The whole discussion, with Helen and Bascombe trying to smooth things over, Polwarth and Wingfold seeking how to resolve things before God and people appropriately, and the mother seeking vengeance, affords us a varied way to observe the way to deal with the murderer in each of us.

Does that sound right?
Thanks for the thoughts.


It’s wonderful if we can give up our conceit and insecurity, and transform it into worship–especially if it comes from someone who is abrasive and against who my defensiveness rises quickly!


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(310) Silence Before the Judge

“And if there be here any soul withered up with dismay, torn with horrible wonder that he should have done the deed which he yet hath done, to him I say—Flee from the self that hath sinned and hide thee with Christ in God. Or if the words sound to thee as the words of some unknown tongue, and I am to thee as one that beateth the air, I say instead—Call aloud in thy agony, that, if there be a God, he may hear the voice of his child, and put forth his hand and lay hold upon him, and rend from him the garment that clings and poisons and burns, squeeze the black drop from his heart, and set him weeping like a summer rain. O blessed, holy, lovely repentance to which the Son of Man, the very root and man of men, hath come to call us! Good it is, and I know it. Come and repent with me, O heart wounded by thine own injustice and wrong, and together we will seek the merciful. Think not about thy sin so as to make it either less or greater in thine own eyes. Bring it to Jesus, and let him show thee how vile a thing it is. And leave it to him to judge thee—sure that he will judge thee justly, extenuating nothing, for he hath to cleanse thee utterly, and yet forgetting no smallest excuse that may cover the amazement of thy guilt, or witness for thee that not with open eyes didst thou do the deed. At the last he cried, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. For his enemies the truth should be spoken, his first words when they had nailed him to the cross. But again I say, let it be Christ that excuseth thee; he will do it to more purpose than thou, and will not wrong thy soul by excusing thee a hair too much, or thy heart by excusing thee a hair too little.

As found in MacDonald’s: “Thomas Wingfold, Curate


honestly, it’s a relief to rely on a stable and independent judge. In a world where the loudest, angriest voice makes the most waves, we need a wise God to judge and protect us from the fickle mood of the crowd. It reminds me of GK Chesterton’s “The Chief Mourner of Marne,” a Father Brown mystery–but you see this all the time with social media, with a sin du jour which is usually just far enough away from my habits that I can focus on others’ faults, rather than my own! The problem is that the second self is judgemental and confused, and can come down equally (or even harder) on another error. Heaven help us. :slight_smile:


This brought to mind Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress.

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That holds true all too often of people going to a pastor for guidance – what they really want is something from the Bible that confirms what they want to believe or do.

It’s a phenomenon that contributes heavily to pastors and priests giving up.

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I’m dredging my memory but can’t recall the title or author of a science fiction book I read where a youngster has gotten himself onto a space navy ship and is unhappy that at his age they had still made him a midshipman. Through a series of experiences he manages to throw away chunks of his pride in himself, but refuses to stop thinking that his age made him better than the usual midshipman until he screws up an assigned duty and the first lieutenant sends him to the ship’s engineer for punishment; the engineer sees that his problem is some remaining pride and makes him recognize that pride in his age is empty and foolish, that the younger midshipmen had more to be proud of than he did because they had actually accomplished most or all the things he was still struggling with. As part of the lesson the guy is demoted to ship’s boy, which means he will now have to take orders not just from the midshipmen and other officers but all the chiefs and mates (the non-commissioned officers) as well plus on top of that from any senior spacer.

I remember closing the book at that point and trying to decide if I was in the same place that character was in, ending up concluding that (false) pride is something that others are far more likely to perceive in me than I ever will.

= - = - = - =

§ midshipmen normally started at age thirteen, sometimes fourteen; this character was nineteen when he signed on

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(311) Nothing so deadening

nothing is so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things

As found in MacDonald’s: “Thomas Wingfold, Curate


initially, I wondered if he was referring to washing a cup on the outside–but maybe more on the externals…


Something like that. I wasn’t crystal clear on it myself, and this was one of those rare times when including more context of what surrounded the selected text may not have been as helpful as usual if someone hasn’t read that book.

But I’m thinking he speaks of those preoccupied with the visible trappings of a pious life rather than their actual heart condition or devotion.

In any case, it’s a personal ‘ouch’ for me to reflect on.


Good point! I guess that it sort of fits in the self reflection and purification theme. An interesting theme in the book, as I recall, is the acceptance of Wingfold as a faithful Christian, despite being part of the Anglican, state church. MacDonald came from a dissenting, Congregational church, and it was considered somewhat scandalous that he’d accept the Anglicans–though Macdonald was kicked out of his own congregation, I think, because he felt that God would accept those outside of the fold, too.



It’s a great lesson to be others’ servant…sort of like Christ (only He did it willingly).

Medicine can really be a place where ego and insecurity outweigh good manners and service…if we want to be tested for our true personalities, put us in a position where we can direct hierarchical inferiors. It’s scary. Marrying a nurse really taught me a lot, because they can tell me who acts to them unjustly. Nurses really put up with a lot.

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A precious memory from my high school years is from when I was put in charge of a work detail for a serious project at my summer job getting the grounds ready for and then keeping them up during the county fair. After several days of dirty work and sweat, when we’d finished up and were heading back to report to the supervisor, one of the guys said, “I’d have you for a boss any time”, and another commented that I didn’t seem like a boss, more like a team captain.

Years later I was put in charge to the degree that I could fire people – that was scary! It was so easy to slide into thinking, “I can’t stand her, I’ll just fire her” (thinking of someone I did fire, for really screwing things up due to treating the place we worked as her own personal domain she could make a mess of as she pleased).

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(312) Rounding and Completion
(a conversation between the deformed dwarf, Polwarth, and the new convert, the draper (business man) - a bit difficult at some points to identify who says what in the exchange, but the flow is well-worth following.)

“How goes business?” said Polwarth, when the new-comer had seated himself.

“That is hardly a question I look for from you, sir,” returned the draper, smiling all over his round face, which looked more than ever like a moon of superior intelligence. “For me, I am glad to leave it behind me in the shop.”

“True business can never be left in any shop. It is a care, white or black, that sits behind every horseman.”

“That is fact; and with me it has just taken a new shape,” said Drew, “for I have come with quite a fresh difficulty. Since I saw you last, Mr. Polwarth, a strange and very uncomfortable doubt has rushed in upon me, and I find myself altogether unfit to tackle it. I have no weapons—not a single argument of the least weight. I wonder if it be a law of nature that no sooner shall a man get into a muddle with one thing, than a thousand other muddles shall come pouring in upon him, as if Muddle itself were going to swallow him up! Here am I just beginning to get a little start in honester ways, when up comes the ugly head of the said doubt, swelling itself more and more to look like a fact—namely, that after this world there is nothing for us—nothing at all to be had anyhow—that as we came so we go—into life, out of life—that, having been nothing before, we shall be nothing after! The flowers come back in the spring, and the corn in the autumn, but they ain’t the same flowers or the same corn. They’re just as different as the new generations of men.”

“There’s no pretence that we come back either. We only think we don’t go into the ground, but away somewhere else.”

“You can’t prove that.”


“And you don’t know anything about it!”

“Not much—but enough, I think.”

“Why, even those that profess to believe it, scoff at the idea of an apparition—a ghost!”

“That’s the fault of the ghosts, I suspect—or their reporters. I don’t care about them myself. I prefer the tale of one who, they say, rose again, and brought his body with him.”

“Yes; but he was only one!”

“Except two or three whom, they say, he brought to life.”

“Still there are but three or four.”

“To tell you the truth, I do not care much to argue the point with you.—It is by no means a matter of the FIRST importance whether we live for ever or not.”

“Mr. Polwarth!” exclaimed the draper in such astonishment mingled with horror, as proved he was not in immediate danger of becoming an advocate of the doctrine of extinction.

The gate-keeper smiled what, but for a peculiar expression of undefinable good in it, might have been called a knowing smile.

“Suppose a thing were in itself not worth having,” he said, “would it be any great enhancement of it as a gift to add the assurance that the possession of it was eternal! Most people think it a fine thing to have a bit of land to call their own and leave to their children; but suppose a stinking and undrainable swamp, full of foul springs—what consolation would it be to the proprietor of that to know, while the world lasted, not a human being would once dispute its possession with any fortunate descendant holding it?”

The draper only stared, but his stare was a thorough one. The curate sat waiting, with both amusement and interest, for what would follow: he saw the direction in which the little man was driving.

“You astonish me!” said Mr. Drew, recovering his mental breath. “How can you compare God’s gift to such a horrible thing! Where should we be without life?”

Rachel burst out laughing, and the curate could not help joining her.

“Mr. Drew,” said Polwarth, half merrily, “are you going to help me drag my chain out of its weary length, or are you too much shocked at the doubtful condition of its links to touch them? I promise you the last shall be of bright gold.”

“I beg your pardon,” said the draper; “I might have known you didn’t mean it.”

“On the contrary, I mean everything I say and that literally. Perhaps I don’t mean everything you fancy I mean.—Tell me then, would life be worth having on any and every possible condition?”

“Certainly not.”

“You know some, I dare say, who would be glad to be rid of life such as it is, and such as they suppose it must continue?”

“I don’t.”

“I do.”

“I have already understood that everybody clung to life.”

“Most people do; everybody certainly does not: Job, for instance.”

“They say that is but a poem.”

“BUT a poem! EVEN a poem—a representation true not of this or that individual, but of the race! There ARE such persons as would gladly be rid of life, and in their condition all would feel the same. Somewhat similar is the state of those who profess unbelief in the existence of God: none of them expect, and few of them seem to wish to live for ever!—At least, so I am told.”

“That is no wonder,” said the draper; “—if they don’t believe in God, I mean.”

“Then there I have you! There you allow life to be not worth having, if on certain evil conditions.”

“I admit it, then.”

“And I repeat that to prove life endless is a matter of the FIRST importance. And I will go a little farther.—Does it follow that life is worth having because a man would like to have it for ever?”

“I should say so; who should be a better judge than the man himself?”

“Let us look at it a moment. Suppose—we will take a strong case—suppose a man whose whole delight is in cruelty, and who has such plentiful opportunity of indulging the passion that he finds it well with him—such a man would of course desire such a life to endure for ever: is such a life worth having? were it well that man should be immortally cruel?”

“Not for others.”

“Still less, I say, for himself.”

“In the judgment of others, doubtless; but to himself he would be happy.”

“Call his horrible satisfaction happiness then, and leave aside the fact that in its own nature it is a horror, and not a bliss: a time must come, when, in the exercise of his delight, he shall have destroyed all life besides, and made himself alone with himself in an empty world: will he then find life worth having?”

“Then he ought to live for punishment.”

“With that we have nothing to do now, but there you have given me an answer to my question, whether a man’s judgment that his life is worth having, proves immortality a thing to be desired.”

“I have. I understand now.”

“It follows that there is something of prior importance to the possession of immortality:—what is that something?”

“I suppose that the immortality itself should be worth possessing.”

“Yes; that the life should be such that it were well it should be endless.—And what then if it be not such?”

“The question then would be whether it could not be made such.”

“You are right.—And wherein consists the essential inherent worthiness of a life as life?—The only perfect idea of life is—a unit, self-existent, and creative. That is God, the only one. But to this idea, in its kind, must every life, to be complete as life, correspond; and the human correspondence to self-existence is, that the man should round and complete himself by taking into himself that origin; by going back and in his own will adopting his origin, rooting therein afresh in the exercise of his own freedom and in all the energy of his own self-roused will; in other words—that the man say ‘I will be after the will of the creating I;’ that he see and say with his whole being that to will the will of God in himself and for himself and concerning himself, is the highest possible condition of a man. Then has he completed his cycle by turning back upon his history, laying hold of his cause, and willing his own being in the will of the only I AM. This is the rounding, re-creating, unifying of the man. This is religion, and all that gathers not with this, scatters abroad.”

As found in MacDonald’s: “Thomas Wingfold, Curate

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That’s a really interesting example–thanks. Do you think there’s a difference between the 2 jobs, in that in the first, you’re doing the same job as the other–and they can see that you are suffering/struggling like they are, from minute to minute–and in the second (I’m just guessing), you couldn’t demonstrate that in the same way? Firing sometimes has to be done, but it’s really hard for people who aren’t right there to communicate empathy. You can have the most empathetic boss, but not be able to communicate that. In a way, for us, that’s a translation of God’s empathy. He can be the most empathetic possible, but we won’t see that till we see He suffers, too. (Maybe–just musing)

My first thought was of how while in grad school I briefly served as one who after worship took care of the Eucharistic vessels, including one that represented most of the value of a long-dead parishioner’s estate, a chalice of gold with silver inlay highlighting rubies and deep blue sapphires – the only time in my life I can say I held an item worth more than $25k in my hands. I recall Fr. Evanson telling us not to get thrilled; they were just stones and the chalice just metal and it was what went inside that counted.

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On the matter of spiritual development I agree with a principle I encountered somewhere, that it is often necessary to temporarily emphasize certain “visible trappings” in order to discern in and learn from them actual devotion. Lewis somewhere applies this theme to church liturgy, making the point that until one knows the liturgy well enough to join in with confidence then one’s focus tends to be on not getting any of it wrong, and only once it has become second nature can it be mined for the richness of meaning. That’s similar to something Martin Luther once wrote, that he found at one point that he could join in saying the Lord’s Prayer with his lips because they knew the words while his mind and spirit might be caught up by just one phrase or word and enriched by it.


Could be; there was that difference to an extent. In the second I had to be able to do all the different aspects but didn’t always do so. Though a more striking difference occurs to me: in the second job some people thought that certain parts weren’t what they’d signed on for and resented having to do them; since I wasn’t there constantly I required everyone to cover all the aspects on their shift. The gal I fired mostly skipped doing the parts she didn’t like, which burdened everyone else.

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