C.S. Lewis: The Ham Letters

Thanking a multitude of Americans for supplying his household with unsolicited hams and other foodstuffs rationed in England during and after World War 2–he invited friends over to help eat them and eventually began giving them away to the less fortunate–stretched C.S. (Jack) Lewis’ powers of expression to the breaking point. He finally wrote one benefactor, “I have exhausted all possible forms of saying ‘thank you’.” Here are just a few of those he wrote over the 14-month period between January 24, 1948 and April 6, 1949:

“My dear Dr. Firor . . . No one ever sees a ham these days over here . . . I shall probably be known in Oxford for months as ‘the man who got the ham from America’!”

“My dear Mr. Allen . . . One, two, perhaps even three parcels can be inadequately but not entirely unsuitably acknowledged, but what is one to say when bombarded with a non-stop stream of kindnesses?. . .”

“My dear Mr. Firor, The arrival of that magnificent ham leaves me just not knowing what to say. If it were known that it was in my house, it would draw every housebreaker in the neighborhood more surely than would a collection of gold plate!”

“My dear Mr. Firor, I give it up! I’m beat! My command of the English tongue is insufficient to go on thanking you for your apparently interminable kindness to me. Another enormous parcel has just arrived from you, marked by ‘Air Mail’ . . . If I may judge by the weight, you must have chartered a special plane to carry it over the ocean. . .”

“My dear Mr. Allen, I’m thinking seriously of . . . hiring a space in one of the leading American newspapers such will read something like this:–‘Grateful thanks to Mr. E. A. Allen for his weekly kindness’ . . . Another beautiful gift, numbered 32, has just arrived . . .”

“Dear Mr. Firor. . . Oh golly! A Ham a month? Did you say a Ham a month? If you added a Phoenix-nest and a Unicorn’s horn it wd. hardly be more dazzling. I can only hope (and I almost believe) that you enjoy the sending as much as we do the eating.”

“My dear Mr. Allen. . . My scientific friends tell me that the entire structure of the human body is renewed once in every seven years. If the apparently unceasing flow of your generosity continues, I shall, in common gratitude, have to put a placard on my back stating that ‘this body has been reconstituted entirely by the generosity of Edward A. Allen Esq., of Westfield, Mass. U.S.A.’!”

“My dear Mr. Firor, Most of the great musicians have tried their hand at ‘variations on a theme’ and I wish I could borrow some of their expertise in order to add a little freshness to my thanks for your great and continued kindness to me. . .”

“My dear Mr. Firor, Your generosity has reached such proportions that if I were less scrupulous (and greedy), I should have no difficulty in setting up in the Black Market provision trade on the side!”

“My dear Mr. Allen. . . In this matter of food gifts, your continued goodness has long since passed the point at which even one of the professional eulogists of the seventeenth century could have found any fresh terms in which to express his gratitude. . .”

“My dear Mr. Firor . . . To all my set you are by now an almost mythical person—Firor-of-the-Hams, a sort of Fertility God.”

“My dear Mr. Firor. . . I begin to wish I was more statistically minded, for I would like to know how many hundredweight of pig my friends and I have eaten at your expense. And here is yet another noble ham arrived today. . .”

At the end of this series, Jack was rushed by ambulance to the hospital for a week. His brother Warnie recorded in his diary that “J’s real complaint is exhaustion,” no doubt from having to continually come up with original ways to thank Americans for hams!

Culled from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis

Essays by Jessica on Lewis’ Collected Letters:

C.S. LEWIS: SIXTY YEARS OF LETTERS–A THEMATIC OVERVIEW http://hisscribedownloads.blogspot.com/2010/05/c.html

THE PASSIONS OF C.S. LEWIS AS SEEN IN HIS COLLECTED LETTERS http://hisscribedownloads.blogspot.com/2010/05/passions-of-cs-lewis-as-seen-in-his.html

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About Jessica Renshaw

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This entry was posted in amusing anecdotes, C.S. Lewis, food, Humor, words, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to C.S. Lewis: The Ham Letters

  1. I thought those letters were hilarious. In reply after reply, Lewis, one of the great masters of the English language, practically gave himself a verbal hernia trying to come up with new ways to say “thank you.” With fresh foods both scarce and expensive during and after World War II, however, I’m sure Lewis felt that it was worth the strain.

  2. If he was trying to hint that he’d had an “elegant sufficiency” and they could back off the pressure on the fire hose, it didn’t work. I just hope the Americans at the other end were not deluging him with deliveries just to elicit delightfully original responses they could chortle over.

    Lewis felt obligated to personally respond–by hand–to every single letter and parcel, even after he developed rheumatism and struggled to write legibly. He called correspondence “very laborious,” “the ghastly, daily grind,” and “the chief burden [and] bane of my life.” He dreaded Christmas time, when mail was delivered every half-hour. Yet he dutifully answered every letter and card during what he termed “that utterly galley-slave hour or so every day” before breakfast.

  3. jubilare says:

    “Firor-of-the-Hams, a sort of Fertility God” Oh, this had me rolling!

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