Reading Time: 4 mins

Unsung Inklings: Robert E. Havard

Reading Time: 4 mins

Even at Lewis’ graveside, Havard was a faithful friend, and a friend full of faith in Christ, confessing his hope in the resurrection.

Most people will not willingly spend more time visiting their doctor than necessary. And yet, that is exactly what C.S. Lewis did when his physician made a house call at his home outside Oxford. Dr. Robert E. Havard entered Lewis’s home as a physician and by the time he left, he had made a life-long friend. R.E. Havard, known as the “medical Inkling,” is the focus of this week’s closer look at some of the unsung Inklings.

Havard’s first meeting with C.S. Lewis was in 1934 when he came to treat Lewis for a recent attack of influenza. Their conversation about Lewis’s illness lasted about five minutes before turning to more intellectual matters. The doctor and the don spent the next thirty minutes discussing ethics and philosophy. 

Havard recalled his first encounter this way:

Lewis was something of a Berkleyan and had returned to Christianity via idealism, as he describes in his autobiography, whereas I, as a scientist of sorts, had been attracted to the realism of St. Thomas Aquinas. Our differences laid the foundation of a friendship that lasted, with some ups and downs, until his death nearly thirty years later. [1] 

Robert Emlyn Havard (1901-1985) was born on March 15, 1901 in Faldingworth, Lincolnshire. His father, Rev. John Emlyn Havard, was an Anglican vicar, though his son joined the Roman Catholic Church at the age of thirty one, and remained a devout, faithful Christian throughout his life. He read chemistry at Keble College beginning in 1919, and took a First-Class degree in 1921. He went on to complete further graduate studies at Queen’s College, earning his MD in 1934. In addition to his medical practice, Havard was an accomplished researcher, particularly on malaria and antimalarial drugs, as well as a scholarly contributor to various journals of biochemistry and medicine. He was also a family man, husband of Grace Mary Middleton and father of five children. Lewis’s Narnian book, Prince Caspian, was dedicated to Havard’s middle child, Mary.

Although he was somewhat of an odd-man out in terms of profession, Havard quickly became an essential and loyal member of the Inklings. Havard recalls his first meeting with the Inklings sometime in 1935, though it seems more likely that it was closer to 1940, when the first written record of his attendance is noted in a letter of C.S. Lewis. Regardless of when he joined, Lewis biographer Walter Hooper wrote that he was “one of the most faithful Inklings, rarely missing a meeting.” [2] 

At one of the Thursday night Inklings, where more serious literary critique occurred, Havard and company heard Lewis read portions of his apologetic work, The Problem of Pain, published in 1940, which was dedicated to the Inklings. As a practicing physician, Lewis asked his friend, Havard, for medical advice along the way, and to contribute a brief appendix on his clinical experience with pain for the book. Havard’s observations on physical and mental pain are succinct yet insightful. Havard observed, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’” [3]

Medicine was not Havard’s only interest. C.S. Lewis recalled that at one Inklings gathering, “Havard read us an account of a mountain climb he had taken part in - a straight account in plain language, which made our hair stand on end.” [4]

Among his fellow Inklings, Havard was similar to St. Luke in Acts, a constant companion, a beloved physician, and a skilled historian. Havard’s recollections provide fans and scholars of the Inklings a glimpse of their Thursday night gatherings.

“The usual procedure, after drinks and gossip had been exchanged, was to settle into armchairs and then for someone to be invited to read a recent manuscript. The rest then commented, led nearly always by Lewis. Criticism was frank but friendly. Coming from a highly literate audience, it was often profuse and detailed. The universal complaint from the speaker actually holding the floor was that everyone else spoke so much that it was barely possible to get his own ideas in edgeways…As the only non-literary and non-teaching member, my chief contribution was to listen. The talk was good, witty, learned, high hearted, and very stimulating. We all felt the itch to join in.” [5]

When it came to the Inklings, Havard was more than a good listener; he was a scholar in his own field. In 1942, he had the honor of being the first speaker at the Oxford University Socratic Club where he presented a paper titled “Won’t Mankind Outgrow Christianity in the Face of the Advance of Science and of Modern Ideologies?” But above all, Havard was a loyal friend. As one of the few of his friends who owned a car, he frequently served as the Inklings Uber driver to various pubs and inns across the countryside. As a sign of close friendship, Havard became known to his fellow Inklings by several affectionate nicknames, the U.Q or Useless Quack - given completely in jest. Hugo Dyson once could not remember his name and called him Humphrey, which as most nicknames have a habit of doing, stuck with him the rest of his life. Lewis immortalized his friend and his nickname by including a physician named Humphrey in his book Perelandra. After he returned from his service in the Navy as a surgeon in WWII, his friends began calling him the Red Admiral due to his blazing Esau-like red-haired beard.

Further evidence of Havard’s good humor was recorded by Tolkien who recalled in a letter that, “the U.Q. (Alias Honest Humphrey) arrived tricked out in mountaineering kit. When asked why he was out of uniform he replied: ‘I am not in the Swiss Navy. The British Navy does not come out in the snow.’” [6]

Although Havard’s literary contributions to the Inklings gatherings appear to be rare, his faithful presence at the gatherings and mutual respect shown to him by his fellow Inklings reminds us that while the Inklings were literary and scholarly, they also enjoyed each other’s company. On one occasion in 1939, he filled in as captain of Warren Lewis’s river boat, Bosphorous, on a pleasure cruise up the Thames with Hugo Dyson and C.S. Lewis. Warnie had been called up for military duty. Havard certainly thought of his fellow Inklings first and foremost as friends. “I woke up one morning to find that my friends were famous.” 

In 1963, standing by the graveside of C.S. Lewis, Commander James Dundas-Grant remembers the feeling that the Inklings shared; “they had lost a friend, but as Havard said quietly, ‘Only for a time, D.G.’” [7] Even at Lewis’ graveside, Havard was a faithful friend, and a friend full of faith in Christ, confessing his hope in the resurrection.

As a Christian and a physician Havard demonstrated the Biblical reality that God cares for us holistically, in body and soul. Havard also left a good example for his fellow Inklings, and Christians today, that we are called to bear one another’s burdens and to care for one another in body and soul. The word compassion describes R.E. Havard well. He was one who showed great compassion in his vocations, and in so doing points us to the compassion of Christ, the great physician.

[1]  Robert E. Havard. Philia: Jack at Ease in C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences, ed. James T. Como. New York: Harvest Book, 1979, p. 216.
[2]  Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis Companion and Guide, 680.
[3]  R.E. Havard in The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, p. 161.
[4]  CSL Letters, Vol. 2, p. 405.
[5]  Robert E. Havard. Philia: Jack at Ease in C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences, ed. James T. Como. New York: Harvest Book, 1979, p. 217.
[6]  JRRT Letters, p. 109
[7]  James Dundas-Grant. From An Outsider in C.S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table and Other Reminiscences, ed. James T. Como, New York: Harvest Book, 1979, p. 233.