(CCSLQ-3) Experience That Most Brutal

Experience That Most Brutal

This is part of an occasional series (currently it’s weekly) exploring quotations attributed to C.S. Lewis that are questionable for one reason or another. There is an “at a glance” page HERE to quickly see what has been posted so far in this series. Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to read the INTRODUCTION to this series. 


“Experience that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

It’s been said “Experience is the teacher of all things.” According to the Internet this is a saying from Julius Caesar. Additionally, I’ve also heard it said that “It’s best to learn from other people’s mistakes, but most require first hand experience to really learn.” That’s my own vague memory of an idea that I picked up some years ago, somewhere. I’d be more specific, but I’m trying to prove a point. Which is our memory is a pretty faulty thing; at least that’s what I think I was wanting to point out when I starting composing this.

But seriously, the problem with many quotes attributed to C.S. Lewis and countless others (on or off-line) is that you don’t really know if it’s really by them and sadly most don’t care. Why not? Because we usually look for a quote to prove a point we already believe. Of course, sometimes one is not looking for a quotation and merely come across something that is interesting.

The above quote attributed to Lewis about experience is another one that Anthony Hopkins says in the 1993 edition of Shadowlands. At least, that’s what my research suggested and I believed it until I actually took the time to watch movie again and discovered it was in reality a misquote! So what we have here is a distorted misattributed quotation. The real (it seems funny phrasing it that way) false quote is “Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn, my God you learn.” Hopkins says it after his wife has died to the actor playing his brother. BUT, it is NOT found in the published writings of Lewis.

Interesting, another variation of the quotation appeared in the ABC show Last Man Standing. In the final episode of the 6th season entitled Shadowboxing (that first aired on 3/31/17) , the main character (Mike Baxter), played by Tim Allen shared a modified version of the quote. During his Vlog segment he stated “C.S. Lewis said, ‘Experience is a brutal teacher. But you’ll learn, by God, you’ll learn.'” Of course, as already noted, this is actually misquoting the movie where Anthony Hopkins made a similar statement.

Why does the fictional Lewis say that line in the movie? Lewis is (falsely) portrayed at the start of the film as  someone who can’t relate to pain. He can only repeat what he believes is true about the subject (more on that in a future article). In reality he had experience the death of his mother during his elementary years and ten years before his wife died, a close friend of his (Charles Williams) died unexpectedly.


“What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.”
from Miracles, chapter 1


“If I may trust my personal experience no doctrine is, for the moment, dimmer to the eye of faith than that which a man has just successfully defended.”
from The Founding of the Oxford Socratic Club in God in the Dock


“Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God.”
from Mere Christianity, book 4, chapter 1


“What I like about experience is that it is such an honest thing…You may have deceived yourself, but experience is not trying to deceive you. The universe rings true wherever you fairly test it.”
from Surprised by Joy, chapter 11


The next quote examined is:

“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God – it changes me.”

Related Articles:

What Lewis NEVER Wrote  (Podcast)

Not Quite Lewis – Podcast Version

Not Quite Lewis – Questionable Lewisian Quotations (Conf. Paper)

Updated 4/9/2017

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