McLuhan: ‘The Global Lewis’

McLuhan’s short contribution to the Lewisletter (original series #5, October 1976) is available online at the excellent Wyndham Lewis Society website.

The Global Lewis

Marshall McLuhan has written very kindly of the Lewisletter and suggested as a theme for an issue “Windy at Rugby” — or Lewis’s schoolboy adventures. “He was exceedingly proսd of having been the rare recipient of the sixth licking, i.e. in one day he received six separate lickings. He said that having received the fifth, he suddenly realized he was near immortality, and hastened round to the prefect’s door to smash his tennis ball against it until he qualified for the sixth licking.”

McLuhan has a number of interesting anecdotes of Lewis in America: “Once, when I was recording his voice in St. Louis on a little home recorder, he was amazed to hear his voice: ‘I sound like a bloody Englishman, and thought that I had a good American accent!’ It must have been the first time he had ever heard a recording of his own Voice.”

“My first meeting with Lewis occurred as a result of a letter I received from my mother who had heard him on the Christian Culture Series. His theme was [Georges] Roualt, ‘Painter of Original Sin’.1 Lewis delivered this lecture at the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit ー it must have been in 1944.2 Having checked that he was the Wyndham Lewis, the ogre of Bloomsbury, I got on the train with my friend Felix Giovanelli, of the Modern Language Department at St. Louis University. We found Lewis in a basement apartment in the heart of Windsor, and he told is how lucky he had been to find it. He had simply stood on the street, asking passers-by if they knew of any available space for rent. Lewis accepted us at once, with no kind of formality, and we gradually formed the project to bring him to St. Louis where we hoped to find him some painting commissions and some lectures. We were sufficiently successful in this to justify his coming to St. Louis with [his wife] Froanna. One bit of luck occurred when I discovered through a neighbour in St. Louis (Mrs [Martha] Gellhorn, mother-in-law of Ernest Hemingway) that [Joseph] Erlanger, the [1944] Nobel Prize winner in Physics at Washington University in St. Louis, was to have his portrait done. When speaking to Mrs. Gelhorn, I proposed Lewis as a worthy painter to do the Erlanger portrait and she at once phoned Hemingway in Cuba and asked him directly about whether she should commission Lewis for the job. Hemingway promptly said “yes” and gave Lewis an enthusiastic build-up , With the result that Lewis did the painting for $1,500.00. This act of Hemingway’s is not insignificant in view of the rage that he had felt when ‘The Dumb Օx’ essay appeared in Men Without Art.”

  1. In ‘Wyndham Lewis at Windsor‘, Stanley Murphy, the longtime head of the Christian Culture Series, gives the title of the lecture as ‘Religion and the Artist’ (Canadian Literature #35, Winter 1968, p 11).
  2. Murphy gives the date as January 1943. In fact, since McLuhan and Giovanelli first visited Lewis in the summer of 1943, McLuhan’s 1944 date cannot be correct.