Am 7. Juni 1934 schrieb C. S. Lewis an Sister M. Madeleva (1887-1964), ein Mitglied der Schwestern des Heiligen Kreuzes, Englischlehrerin am St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana. Sie hatte 1934 an Lewis‘ Vorlesungen über die mittelalterliche Poesie teilgenommen. Lewis beschreibt den Entstehungsprozess seiner Vorlesung „Prolegomena to the Study of Medieval Poetry“.
1. Einige Jahre Arbeit am Thema – Materialsammlung
The history of my lecture is this. After having worked for some years on my own subject (which is the medieval allegory), I found that I had accumulated a certain amount of general information which, tho far from being very recondite, was more than the ordinary student in the school could gather for himself.
2. Idee zur Vorlesung
I then conceived the idea of my ‘prolegomena’.
3. Lücken schliessen: Durch Vorlesungsnotizen anderer gehen, den Quellen nachgehen
There were however several gaps in the general knowledge which I had accidentally got. To fill these up I adopted the simple method of going through Skeat’s notes on Chaucer and Langland, and other similar things, and followed these up to their sources when they touched on matters that seemed to me important. This led me sometimes to books I already knew, often to new ones. This process explains why I inevitably appear more learned than I am. …
4. Induktive Methodik
In fine, the process is inductive for the most part of my lecture: tho’ on allegory, courtly love, and (sometimes) in philosophy, it is deductive—i.e. I start from the authors I quote. I elaborate this point because, if you are thinking of doing the same kind of thing (i.e. telling people what they ought to know as the prius of a study of medieval vernacular poets) I think you would be wise to work in the same way—starting from the texts you want to explain. You will soon find of course that you are working the other way at the same time, that you can correct current explanations, or see things to explain where the ordinary editors see nothing.
5. Fehlzitate auch in den besten Büchern
I suppose I need not remind you to cultivate the wisdom of the serpent: there will be misquotations, and misunderstood quotations in the best books, and you must always hunt up all quotations for yourself and find what they are really in situ. But of course, I do not know what it is you propose to do.
6. Quellen im Notizbuch aufgezeichnet
I have therefore mentioned all the more important ‘sources’ in my note-book without any attempt at selection. You will see at once that this is the bibliography of a man who was following a particular subject (the love-allegory), and this doubtless renders the list much less useful to you, who are hardly likely to be after the same quarry. In the second part, texts, I have been more selective, and have omitted a certain amount of low or lowish Latin love poetry which is useful only for my own special purpose.
7. Mit klassischen Autoren beginnen und wiederholt lesen
You will observe that I begin with classical authors. This is a point I would press on anyone dealing with the middle ages, that the first essential is to read the relevant classics over and over: the key to everything—allegory, courtly love etc—is there. After that the two things to know really well are the Divine Comedy and the Romance of the Rose.
8. Dem Studenten Handwerkszeug in die Hände geben
The student who has really digested these,* with good commentaries, and who also knows the Classics and the Bible (including the apocryphal New Testament) has the game in his hands, and can defeat over and over again those who have simply burrowed in obscure parts of the actual middle ages.
9. Hintergrundwissen ausbauen
Of scholastic philosophy and theology you probably know much more than I do. If by any chance you don’t, stick to Gilson as a guide and beware of the people (Maritain in your Church, and T. S. Eliot of mine) who are at present running what they call ‘neo-scholasticism’ as a fad. Of Periodicals you will find Romania, Speculum and Medium Aevum useful. Remember (this has been all important to me) that what you want to know about the Middle Ages will often not be in a book on the Middle Ages, but in the early chapters of some history of general philosophy or science. The accounts of your period in such books will, of course, usually be patronizing and ill-informed, but it will mention dates and authors whom you can follow up and thus put you in the way of writing a true account for yourself. If there is any way in which I can assist you, or if you would care to call and discuss anything with me, do not hesitate to let me know.
Yours sincerely, C. S. Lewis