Quotations and Allusions in

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man


compiled by Arend Smilde (Utrecht, The Netherlands)



References are to paragraph numbers in the Fount edition of 1978, with the first few words of each paragraph added in small capitals. This paragraph division has probably been the universal one for most of the time after the book’s first publication in 1943. However,

– the first edition has fewer paragraph divisions

– the second British edition (1946) and most, perhaps all, subsequent editions, with the exception of the 1978 Fount edition and its reprints, have an extra passage inserted in Chapter II,

Different paragraph numbers in the first edition are noted in square brackets from each chapter’s point of divergence onward.


In addition to the added passage in Chapter II, I have pointed out five small improvements found in the second British edition as compared with the first. As far as I know, most of these changes have found their way into all subsequent editions.


No references are given where Lewis gave adequate notes, and no information from his notes is repeated here. The list is based on the notes added tot my Dutch translation of The Abolition of Man, published in 1997 (De afschaffing van de mens, 5th edition 2011). This website also offers a 2,000-word  Summary  of the book, followed by a much briefer summary of just over 300 words.


I apologize for telling you that Shelley was “an English poetif you already knew that, and further apologize for not telling you that Plato was “a Greek philosopher”, should that be news to you. I still hope there will be at least a couple of interesting items for most visitors of this page. Double question marks – ?? – represent places where I did not find the information I wanted to give. Corrections and additions are welcome. Updates are listed at the end. Latest update: 5 March 2024.








chapter motto


So he sent the word to slay, etc.

From the Christmas Carol, “Unto us is born a Son”. “...This did Herod sore affray, / And grievously bewilder, / So he sent the word to slay / And slew the little childer.”



para. 1    i doubt whether


Gaius and Titius, The Green Book

This book is The Control of Language: A critical approach to reading and writing, by Alex King and Martin Ketley, published in 1939. “Gaius” and “Titius” are, in classical Latin, generally representative standard fictitious names. In modern colloquial Italian, un tizio is still in use as a word for “a guy”, “a fellow”.



para. 2   in their second


the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (1772-1834), English poet and philosopher. Lewis appears to be referring to a passage in Dorothy Wordsworths Recollections of a Tour in Scotland, A.D. 1803 (published in 1874, edited by J. C. Shairp), and to rely on The Green Book for the way he cites it. There are considerable differences with the original account, although the point Lewis wants to make can still be based on it.
     Dorothy was the sister of William Wordsworth (see note to next paragraph) and was making the tour with him and Coleridge. The scene at the waterfall – Cora Linn, near New Lanark – appears in her account of 21 August 1803 (p. 37 of the 1874 edition):

... we had different views of the Linn. We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic waterfall.” “Sublime and beautiful,” replied his friend. Poor Coleridge could make no answer, and, not very desirous to continue the conversation, came to us and related the story, laughing heartily.

No one actually calls the waterfall “pretty”, and there are no signs of actual “disgust” on the part of Coleridge. What presumably made him laugh was that the gentleman was using “sublime” and “beautiful” as near-equivalent terms. Educated literary people like Wordsworth and Coleridge in those days were all familiar with Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756), in which the two terms are completely opposed to each other:

Indeed, terror is in all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime. (II.2, “Terror”)

By beauty I mean that quality or those qualities in bodies, by which they cause love, or some passion similar to it. (III.1, “Of Beauty”)

Coleridge was perhaps not so much rejecting the gentleman’s judgement as making fun of his sloppy language and thinking. At the same time he probably felt some real concern about the wrongness of the epithet “beautiful” for the waterfall.
     In 20th-century language, the incongruity noticed by Coleridge was certainly more effectively evoked by the word “pretty” than by “beautiful”. Since The Green Book was intended for school children, the authors were probably justified in retelling the story this way – although it might have been advisable and easy for them to make their point with a different story without so much editing. The same is true for Lewis; but he was criticizing their point, not their example. A little confusion is added by Lewis only when he calls the story “well-known” while citing a very imperfect version of it.



para. 6 [first edition: 5 continued]   they might have


Johnson’s famous passage

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), English writer, poet, literary critic and lexicographer. The fame of this passage, like Johnson’s own, is partly due to his biographer James Boswell. It was Boswell who selected this passage as an example of the “sublimity” of Johnson’s style.



Island on the western coast of Scotland, site of an ancient abbey dating from the sixth century A.D.



William Wordsworth (1770-1850), English poet.



para. 7 [first edition: 5 continued]   what they actually


Lamb, Virgil, Thomas Browne, Mr. de la Mare

Charles Lamb (1775-1834), English essayist, critic, poet, a friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge; Virgil (70-19 B.C.), Roman poet, author of the Aeneid;  Thomas Browne (1605-1682), English physician and writer famed for his “poetical” prose;  Walter de la Mare (1873-1956), English poet, novelist and short-story writer.



para. 9 [first edition: 6]   but it is



The book referred to is The Reading and Writing of English (1936) by E. G. Biaggini. The pseudonym is the name of an ancient Roman language teacher, Lucius Orbilius Pupillus. According to the poet Horace (Epistulae II.1, 70), his rude treatment of pupils translating Homer got him the nickname Orbilius Plagosus, “Orbilius with the Ferule”. The idea to use this name for a modern language teacher (and thus to accuse him of rudeness) likely came to Lewis from the example of Thomas Fuller’s Worthies of England (1662). Writing about Richard Mulcaster, language teacher of the young Edmund Spenser in the years 1561-1569, Fuller describes Mulcaster’s “severity” and calls him plagosus Orbilius. See Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, p. 350, where Lewis appears to construe this “severity” as “cruelty”. Michael Stapleton in his Cambridge Guide to English Literature (1983) describes Mulcaster as “a teacher of formidable quality and a man with a passionate devotion to the possibilities of English as a literary language; the schoolboy Spenser was already practising the poet’s craft as Mulcaster’s pupil.”


Ruksh and Sleipnir and the weeping horses of Achilles and the charger in the Book of Job

– Ruksh is Rustum’s horse in Matthew Arnold’s poem “Sohrab and Rustum” (1853). “So arm’d, he issued forth; and Ruksh, his horse, / Followed him like a faithful hound at heel” (270–271). Ruksh grieved over the fate of his master Rustum and the latter’s son Sohrab: “and from his dark, compassionate eyes / The big warm tears roll’d down, and caked the sand” (735-36).

– Sleipnir, in Germanic mythology, is Wodan’s eight-legged horse.

– The Greek hero Achilles’s two horses, Xanthus and Balius, appear in Iliad XVI.148-154, XVII.426-428 (where they weep over the death of Patroklos), and XIX.400-424.

– The “charger” is the horse described in Job 39,19–25.


Brer Rabbit

Principal character in the “Uncle Remus” stories, by J. C. Harris (c. 1848-1908).


Peter Rabbit

Principal character in the children’s  book of the same name, by Beatrix Potter (1866-1943).


ordinate love

The phrase certainly anticipates the references to Augustine’s ordo amoris and Aristotle’s “ordinate affections” in para. 14 [10], notes 11 and 13.



para. 11 [first edition: 8]   but i doubt


Dr. Richards

Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979), British linguist and literary critic; his books include The Meaning of Meaning (1923), Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), Science and Poetry (1925), Practical Criticism (1929), and How to Read a Page (1942). See also the second note to Chapter II. Lewis later devoted a short paragraph to Richards and “the problem of badness in literature” in the final chapter of his Studies in Words (1960):

Dr Richards began by hoping he had found the secret of badness in an appeal to stock responses. But Gray’s Elegy beat him. … The solution of the problem is, I suspect, still far away.



para. 13 [first edition: 10]   until quite modern times...



Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), English poet.



Thomas Traherne (1637-1674), English mystical prose writer, poet and divine. The Centuries of Meditations were not published until 1908.

N.B. “Century” in the book’s title means not “one hundred years” but simply “one hundred”: the book thus contains “hundreds of meditations”.



para. 14 [first edition: 10 continued]   st augustine defines


In the Republic ...

In note 9 to Chapter II Lewis refers to the same passage in Plato’s Republic (Politeia), 402a. Related passages can be found in 409a, 424d, 429b-c, and 430a. In these sections (Books III and IV) Socrates is discussing the education, life, duties and morality of the class of “guardians” in what he conceives to be an ideal society.


Plato said that the Good was “beyond existence”

Republic, Book VI, 509b. In a letter of January 1928 to Owen Barfield, Lewis cited the same phrase in Greek with a slightly different translation (Collected Letters III, p. 1634):

You cannot get the that into the what as an element ... (I take it this may be what Plato means when he says that good is ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας on the far side of being.)

The phrase is found in a passage (506d-513e) where Socrates proposes the Sun as an image of the Good: each in its way can be understood as the thing which (508a) “makes it possible for our sight to see and for the things we see to be seen”.

I think you’ll agree that the ability to be seen is not the only gift the sun gives to the things we see. It is also the source of their generation, growth, and nourishment, although it isn’t actually the process of generation. (...) And it isn’t only the known-ness of the things we know which is conferred upon them by goodness, but also their reality and their being, although goodness isn’t actually the state of being, but surpasses being in majesty and might.
–– translation by Robin Waterfield (World’s Classics, Oxford U.P. 1993, p. 236)

In Benjamin Jowett’s translation (1894) the second sentence reads:

...the good may be said to be not only the author of knowledge to all things known, but of their being and essence, and yet the good is not essence, but far exceeds essence in dignity and power.

In Paul Shorey’s  translation (Loeb 1935, p. 107):

... the objects of knowledge not only receive from the presence of the good their being known, but their very existence and essence is derived to them from it, though the good itself is not essence but still transcends essence in dignity and surpassing power.

Lewis appears to be radicalizing or overstating Plato’s case in two ways: by omitting the restrictive clause “in majesty and might” (or “in dignity and power”), and by his rendering of ἐπέκεινα (epekeina) as “on the far side”. Waterfield has actually added a note to this passage warning the reader that

The notion that goodness “surpasses being” is hyperbole: it does not mean that we cannot talk of goodness “being” and have to think of it as somehow beyond the intelligible realm of types (otherwise we would have to think of the sun as beyond the visible realm); it just stresses the exalted status of goodness within the intelligible realm.

A note to Shorey’s translation suggests that Lewis’s rendering may betray a Neoplatonic slant in his understanding of the Greek word:

ἐπέκεινα became technical and a symbol for the transcendental in Neoplatonism and all similar philosophies. Cf. Plotinus xvii. 1, Dionysius Areop. De divinis nominibus, ii. 2, Friedländer, Platon, 1, p. 87.

In answer to charges of exaggeration, Lewis would presumably have argued that the ontological point he made must be distinguished from the epistemological. He was affirming, not denying, that “the Good” is knowable and known.


Wordsworth ... through virtue the stars were strong

A reference to William Wordsworth’s “Ode to Duty” (1805), stanza 7:

Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead’s most benignant grace;
Nor know we any thing so fair
As is the smile upon thy face;
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds;
And Fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the Stars from wrong;
And the most ancient Heavens through Thee are fresh and strong.



para. 16 [first edition: 11]  this conception in


‘the Tao’

A fundamental concept in ancient Chinese philosophy. Lewis is adopting the Confucian interpretation of it while disregarding the rival Taoist view. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) and the Confucian school talked of Tao as “the Way” – a more or less obviously recommendable code of conduct. Taoists, on the other hand, following Lao Tze (c. 600 B.C.) and the Tao Te Ching, have always insisted on the impossibility of saying anything about Tao. For them, Tao is “the Whole”. Since there can be nothing else beside “the Whole”, and the function of words is (in Taoism) to mark the boundary between what a thing is and what it is not, Tao can be said to be in a very literal sense indefinable. There are no words about it because there are no boundaries to it.

     The idea to adopt the Chinese word for his present purpose may have been suggested to Lewis by Charles Gore’s book The Philosophy of the Good Life (1930), which he read in January 1940. See Collected Letters II, pp. 321 and 324, and a quotation from p. 57 of Gore’s book in Adam Barkman, C. S. Lewis & Philosophy as a Way of Life (2009), p. 174-175:

Thus the traditional wisdom of China finds at the basis of all things a divine principle or – the Tao [the Way] – closely akin to what the Stoics described as Nature, to which all things in heaven and earth must conform, and to which human nature is akin; so that for man the highest knowledge is to know the Tao and the highest wisdom is to live by it. In the Chinese Classics the Rites, religious and social, of the Chinese tradition are regarded as the will of ‘Heaven’, which is the name for the Supreme Power ruling the affairs of men as an ominpotent and omniscient righteousness.



para. 19 [first edition: 14]   perhaps this will


dulce et decorum

(Latin) “sweet and seemly” – as Lewis translates at the beginning of this paragraph. Quoted from Horace, Odes III.2, 3: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”).


greater love hath no man

John 15:13.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.


para. 21 [first edition: 16]   but this course


We were told it all long ago by Plato

The parallel three-part division of human communities and the individual human mind is established toward the end of Book IV of the Republic, 441c, just before the passage (442b-c) referred to by Lewis. It is a milestone in Plato’s overall argument:

“It’s not been easy,” I [|Socrates] said, “but we’ve made it to the other shore: we’ve reached the reasonable conclusion that the constituent categories of a community and of any individual’s mind are identical in nature and number.”

It is then further concluded (441d) that just as

a community’s morality consists in each of its three constituent classes doing its own job ... [w]here each of the constituent parts of an individual does its own job, the individual will be moral and will do his own job.
(translation by Robin Waterfield, 1994)

Among the many further developments and application of the idea in the Republic are the passages beginning at 435c and 580d. It is also found in Plato’s Timaeus, 69c-72d and 89d-90b.


the chest – the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity

Alanus ab Insulis, or Alain de Lille (c. 1125-1203), was a French scholar reputed to be a universally learned man. As a theologian he contributed towards a mystical counter-movement against Scholasticism; as a defender of the Christian faith he presented it as founded on self-evident basic principles. His poem De planctu naturae (“Nature’s Complaint” or “The Plaint of Kind”) is a satire on human vice. In The Allegory of Love (1936), C. S. Lewis describes him as a poet in the “School of Chartres”; and admitting that the Plaint “is difficult to read, and rather more difficult to buy”, he translates two long fragments, one of which includes the remark about Magnanimity (Allegory, p. 109).

     As a literary historian, Lewis discussed the “triadic pattern” derived from Plato as a favorite device of medieval thinkers, including Alanus, in The Discarded Image (1964), chapter III.D, p. 43-44, and IV.A, pp. 56-58; see also his essay “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages”, in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1966), pp. 57-59.






Chapter II:  THE WAY



para. 1   the practical result


ν δ φει κα ὄλεσσον

(Greek) “Kill us in broad daylight!” Homer, Iliad XVII, 647. The idea of accepting death rather than evading manifest truth is related, as a more dramatic variant, to what Lewis elsewhere commended as a Socratic principle – “Follow the argument wherever it leads”; cf. Plato’s Phaedo, 95b.

Cebes: ... I quite imagined that no answer could be given to [Simmias], and therefore I was surprised at finding that his argument could not sustain the first onset of yours, and not impossibly the other ... may share a similar fate.
Socrates: Let us not boast, lest some evil eye should put to flight the word which I am about to speak. That, however, may be left in the hands of those above, while I draw near in Homeric fashion, and try the mettle of your words. Here lies the point: You want to have it proven to you that the soul is imperishable and immortal, and the philosopher who is confident in death appears to you to have but a vain and foolish confidence ...



para. 2   however subjective they


It would not be difficult to collect...

In the first edition, the word “difficult” was followed by “(though it would be unkind)”. Thus the passage ran, “It would not be difficult (though it would be unkind) to collect...” As far as I know, only the 1978 Fount edition follows the original 1943 text at this point.



para. 8 [first edition: 7]   in reality we


that we ought to obey it.

The first edition has “...that we ought to obey instinct.”



para. 12 [first edition: 11]   finally, it is


Olaf Stapledon

British writer and philosopher (1886-1950); his works include what he called “fantastic fiction of a philosophic kind”. Denying that religion and a belief in immortality were of any use, he postulated a sort of god-in-development. His philosophical works include A Modern Theory of Ethics (1929), Philosophy and Living (1939) and Beyond the “Isms” (1942). Much like C. S. Lewis, he would deliberately blend his view of life into his science fiction books  – which include Last and First Men (1930), Odd John (1935),  Star Maker (1937), and Sirius (1944).



para. 13 [first edition: 12]   the truth finally becomes...


cuor gentil

Probably a reference to Dante, Inferno V, 100; Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende (“Love, rapidly clinging to noble hearts”).


the Chün-tzu, the cuor gentil or gentleman

The first edition puts the terms in a different order: “the Chün-tzu, the gentleman or cuor gentil.”


“Do as you would be done by”, says Jesus.

The first edition has “...say Jesus and Confucius both.


Humani nihil a me alienum puto

(Latin) “Nothing human is alien to me.” Terentius, Heautontimoroumenos (“The Self-Tormenter”) I.1, 25. More fully quoted by Lewis in the Appendix, I ( b).



para. 15 [first edition: 14]   the innovator, for example...


a duty to our own kin, because they are our own kin, a part of traditional morality

In the second edition, “a part of” is preceded by “is”. The corrected passage runs: “a duty to our own kin, because they are our own kin, is a part of traditional morality.’



para. 18 [first edition: 17]   a theorist about language...


a great poet, who has “loved, and been well nurtured in, his mother tongue”

John Keats (1795-1821), The Fall of Hyperion I, 13–15.

Since every man whose soul is not a clod
Hath visions, and would speak, if he had loved
And been well nurtured in his mother tongue.


In the same way, the Tao admits development from within. There is a difference …

The words “There is a difference” are the beginning of a seven-sentence passage – ending with “...eating bricks and centipedes instead” – which is absent from the first edition. Lewis introduced this passage in the second edition (1946), and it has found its way to most or all later editions, except for the 1978 Fount edition and its reprints. The inserted passage is, after its first sentence, almost literally taken from Lewis’s 1943 essay “The Poison of Subjectivism”.

     In the first edition, the sentence “In the same way … from within” opens a new paragraph and is immediately followed by “Those who understand its spirit” etc. When Lewis made the insertion, he removed this paragraph break and did not start a new paragraph until immediately after the inserted passage, with the sentence “Those who understand its spirit” etc. In spite of these different openings, the new paragraph in each case ends with the words “…no ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else.”









chapter motto


It came burning hot into my mind, etc.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, ed. James Blanton Wharey, 2nd edition revised by Roger Sharrock (Oxford 1960), Part I, p. 70. The passage comes from the discourse between Christian and Faithful, shortly after the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Lewis quoted the same words at the end of his essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” as published in 1949.



para. 6 [first edition: 5]   i am not



Clotho is one of the three Moirai, or goddesses of Fate, in the ancient Greek pantheon. Each was considered to perform an important task regarding a human being’s “thread of life”; Clotho was the one who spun it, Lachesis gave it out, Atropos cut it off.



para. 7 [first edition: 6]   for the power


Plato ... “a bastard nursed in a bureau”

cf. Republic, Book 5, 460b-c (translation by Robin Waterfield, 1994):

... the officials whose job it is to take charge of any children who are born ... [will] take the children of good parents to the crèche and hand them over to nurses (who live in a separate section of the community); and they’ll find some suitable way of hiding away in some secret and secluded spot the children of worse parents and any handicapped children of good parents.

Socrates is talking about the relations between the sexes within the ideal society’s class of “guardians”. In his defense it may be noted that

– this whole section is introduced by Socrates asserting that “there are plenty of reasons for misgivings”, and “I’m frightened of dragging my friends down with me when I stumble and fall short of the truth in matters where uncertainty is the last thing one wants” (450c, 451a);

– he concludes by reminding his friends that “we’re trying to construct a theoretical paradigm of a good community”, not a readily applicable political program.

     Lewis’s quotation is not from Plato and is perhaps not actually a quotation. His reference to a “bastard” is somewhat confusing since any notions of illegitimacy based on monogamous marriage are out of the question in Plato’s class of guardians; “bastards” are here precisely among the baby’s that are, presumably, not nursed in a bureau or government crèche – they are “without standing or sanction” (461b).



Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490-1546), British scholar, diplomat and Member of Parliament. The Governour (1531) is his principal work.



John Locke (1632-1704), British philosopher and physician.



para. 8 [first edition: 6 continued]   the second difference


Human nature has been conquered – and, of course, has conquered

cf. Plato, Republic 430e (translation Robin Waterfield, 1994):

Isn’t the phrase “self-mastery” absurd? I mean, anyone who is his own master is also his own slave, of course, and vice versa, since it’s the same person who is the subject in all these expressions.



para. 11 [first edition: 8]   to some it


to scorn delights and live laborious days

John Milton, Lycidas (1637), 72.



In full, a petitio principii, a case of “begging the question”; a logical error which consists in setting out to prove something by argument and then quietly or unconsciously assuming it to be self-evident.



para. 12  [first edition: 9]   yet the conditioners


all motives except one

cf. Plato’s description of the dictatorial type of man, Republic 577d-580b.


sic volo, sic jubeo

(Latin) “This I will, this I command.” Juvenal, Satire VI (against women), line 223. The full saying is Sic volo, sic iubeo; sit pro ratione voluntas: “This I will, this I command: let [my] will take Reason’s place.”

    Lewis doubtless knew his Juvenal, but it seems likely that his use of the Latin phrase here was at least partly inspired by one of his favourite authors, Richard Hooker (1554-1600), as quoted in Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, p. 49:

In the first book of Hooker we find that God Himself, though the author, is also the voluntary subject, of law. “They err who think that of the will of God to do this or that there is no reason besides his will” (I. i. 5). God does nothing except in pursuance of that “constant Order and Law” of goodness which He has appointed to Himself. Nowhere outside the minds of devils and bad men is there a sic volo, sic jubeo. The universe itself is a constitutional monarchy. The Almighty Himself repudiates the sort of sovereignty that Tyndale thinks fit for Henry VIII.

See also Lewis’s letter of 11 January 1961 to Clyde S. Kilby, Collected Letters III, pp. 1226-1227.



para. 14 [first edition: 10]   at the moment, then


Ferum victorem cepit

(Latin) “...and captured her savage conqueror.” Horace, Epistles II.2, 156–157. The “savage conqueror” is Rome, “capturing” Greece on the battlefield in 168 B.C. only to see the Greeks “capturing” Rome in the field of arts and culture. The full passage is Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio, “Greece, when captured, captured her savage conqueror and brought the arts into rustic Latium.”



para. 15 [first edition: 11]   my point may


Nature is a word of varying meanings

In a later book, Studies in Words (Cambridge University Press, 1960), C. S. Lewis spent fifty pages on the various meanings of “Nature”.



para. 16 [first edition: 12]   from this point


always conquering Nature, because “Nature” is...

In the second edition, the word “because” is not in italics.



para. 18 [first edition: 14]   i am not



Greek for “matter”, “raw material”; also for timber or firewood. See Lewis’s undated 1930 letter to Owen Barfield in Collected Letters III, pp. 1519-1520.



para. 19 [first edition: 15]   the true significance



In the second edition this was changed into “H.C.F.” Lewis appears to have realized that what he actually meant was not Lowest Common Multiple, but Highest Common Factor.



para. 23 [first edition: 16 continued]   if we compare


Bacon … a spouse for fruit

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), British statesman, philosopher and essayist. See also his later work Novum Organum (“New Instrument”), I.3 and I.81. It is quite usual, and certainly no original idea of Lewis’s, to characterize Bacon as “chief trumpeter of the new era” or something similar. Bacon himself famously called an earlier Italian philosopher and scientist, Bernardino Telesio (1509-1588) “the first of the moderns” (novorum hominum primum), but was not an unqualified admirer of him; see his unfinished work “On Principles and Origins according to the Fables of Cupid and Cœlum”, in The Works of Francis Bacon, ed. Spedding, Ellis & Heath, Vol. 5 (London 1861), 495, and Ellis’s introduction to the original Latin text in Vol. III, 1859, p. 65-77, especially 74ff.
    Lewis is referring to The Advancement of Learning, Book I, chapter V, end of section 11 (Works III, 294, just after the indented Latin quote):

But as both heaven and earth do conspire and contribute to the use and benefit of man, so the end ought to be, from both philosophies [viz. heavenly and earthly] to separate and reject vain specula­tions, and whatsoever is empty and void, and to preserve and augment whatsoever is solid and fruit­ful; that knowledge may not be as a courtesan, for pleasure and vanity only, or as a bond-woman, to acquire and gain to her master’s use; but as a spouse, for generation, fruit, and comfort.


he rejects magic because it does not work … Filum labyrinthi, i.

The title stated is a term occurring in three different titles in the list of Bacon’s works. Lewis is referring to Filum Labyrinthi, sive Formula Inquisitionis (“Thread of the Labyrinth, or Formula of Inquiry”), found in Works III, 493ff, or VI, 418ff of the American edition. This volume also contains The Advancement of Learning. An html text of Filum is available online from the older Montagu edition.
    The opening paragraph reads:

Francis Bacon thought in this manner. The knowledge whereof the world is now possessed, especially that of nature, extendeth not to magnitude and certainty of works. The Physician pronounceth many diseases incurable, and faileth oft in the rest. The Alchemists wax old and die in hopes. The Magicians perform nothing that is permanent and profitable. The Mechanics take small light from natural philosophy, and do but spin on their own little threads. Chance sometimes discovereth inventions; but that worketh not in years, but ages. So he saw well, that the inventions known are very unperfect, and that new are not like to be brought to light but in great length of time; and that those which are, came not to light by philosophy.


Marlowe’s Faustus

The Tragicall History of Doctor Faustus, a tragedy in blank verse and prose by Bacon’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593). Faustus was a semi-legendary magician and astrologer in early sixteenth-century Germany. He became the habitual hero of stories about the magician selling his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power – or chiefly for power, as Lewis suggests.



Pseudonym of Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), Swiss physician and alchemist. He considered the human body to be a microcosm reflecting in each of its parts some particular part of the Macrocosm, or Universe.



para. 24 [first edition: 17]   is it, then


Dr. Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), founder of Anthroposophy, editor of Goethe’s scientific works. He assumed the existence of a spiritual world which we might get knowledge of by (a training of) our highest cognitive powers.


Martin Buber

German Jewish theologian, Biblical scholar, Bible translator, philosopher of religion and a master of German prose (1878-1965). Having abandoned early mystical views about union of God an man, he published his Ich und Du (“I and Thou”) in 1923. An encounter (not union) of God and man is here presented as, ideally, a model for all human relationships, especially those with fellow-humans. The reduction of any Thou to an It ought to be resisted. As Buber explained, in some other century he might have felt impelled to preach the opposite message, but clearly his own time called for a rehabilitation of this “Thou”.


conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her

Given the previous paragraph’s reference to Francis Bacon, it seems likely that Lewis is here alluding to one of Bacon’s famous sayings (in Novum Organum I.3; see also I.129):

Natura non nisi parendo vincitur
Nature is conquered only by obeying her.

For a detailed study of Bacon’s place in The Abolition of Man see my essay “Wonderful Works of Nature: C. S. Lewis and Reijer Hooykaas on Francis Bacon and the Scientific Revolution”, Journal of Inklings Studies 11/2 (October 2021), 193-209.



para. 25 [first edition: 18]   perhaps i am asking...



Legendary snake-like animal, a frequent subject or feature of stories from ancient times until the seventeenth century. Eyes were not its only weapon; among other things its breath, too, was considered to be lethal.


sui generis

(Latin) “a class of its own”, not reducible to or explainable from anything else.






14 August 2008
ch. I and II: two corrections in references to Iliad.

8 February 2011
ch. I: added notes on Plato and Wordsworth.

16 March 2011
ch. III: added note on the chapter epigraph (Bunyan).

8 January 2012
ch. I: expanded note on the well-known story of Coleridge (with thanks to Sam Schulman and Jan Dirk Snel).

4 April 2014
ch. III: expanded note on

3 June 2015
added information and notes on the difference in paragraph breaks between first and later editions.

13 July 2015
ch. II: expanded note on
ν δ φει κα λεσσον.

25 July 2015
ch. I: expanded note on Plato said that the Good was “beyond existence”.

25 September 2015
added notes on
ch. I: in the Republic...
ch. I: We were all told it long ago by Plato.
ch. III: Plato ... “a bastard nursed in a bureau”.
ch. III: Human nature has been conquered.
ch. III: all motives except one

5 January 2016
ch. I: expanded note on the ‘Tao’

27 June 2018
Various improvements from beginning to end, notably in paragraph numbers and on the inserted passage toward the end of ch. II.

15 July 2018
expanded note on the chest – the seat etc. in ch. I

31 July 2018
expanded note on sic volo, sic jubeo in ch. III

14 December 2019
expanded note on
Bacon in ch. III, and added subsequent note on Filum labyrinthi.

4 May 2020
expanded note on
Dr. Richards in ch. I, and improved note on Filum labyrinthi in ch. III.

23 October 2020
improved note on
Bacon … a spouse for fruit in ch. III

27 July 2023
added note on
conquer Nature without etc. in ch. III

5 March 2024

     added note on greater love hath no man, in ch. II