Monday, May 29, 2017

G. K. Chesterton -- a new day and new beginning


Today is the birthday of English author G.K. Chesterton (books by this author), born Gilbert Keith Chesterton in London (1874). He was a large man, well over six feet, and rotund. He disagreed sharply with many people, most notably H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, but he was so agreeable and full of good humor that he kept them as close friends. He was also remarkably prolific, writing fast and scarcely editing what he wrote. He considered himself primarily a journalist, and he wrote 4,000 newspaper essays; he also wrote some 80 books - books of fiction, criticism, literary biography, and theology - as well as several hundred poems, about 200 short stories, and several plays. His best-known character is Father Brown, a detective-slash-priest, who features in several short stories. He dabbled in the occult as a young man, and he and his brother tried out the Ouija board, but eventually he returned to the Church of England, and converted to Catholicism later in life; his thoughts on religion influenced much of his writing. His book The Everlasting Man (1925) contributed to C.S. Lewis's conversion from atheism to Christianity.

George Bernard Shaw was his good friend and verbal sparring partner. They rarely agreed on anything, but disagreed amicably. Chesterton wrote of Shaw, a modernist, in Heretics (1905): "If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby."

He made his points with wit and paradox, and in such a large body of work, there is no shortage of quotable material:

"The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane." (Orthodoxy, 1908)

"Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." (Tremendous Trifles, 1909)

"Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property, that they may more perfectly respect it." (The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908)

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad."
(The Ballad of the White Horse, 1911)


* * * * *

And there is this personal postscript:
There were moments during the past 48+ hours that I had some grave doubts about my future on this side of the sod. This morning, however, I feel as though I have been given a reprieve from a Higher Power who has a wisdom that goes far beyond the here and now of my understanding.

And, as a bonus to my exit from the binnacle list, in a moment of serendipity, combining with today's beautiful post-thunderstorm sunrise and giving me some hope for the hours, days, and weeks head, I discovered the foregoing Chesterton posting at The Writer's Almanac. I take joy in the discovery and being able to share it with you.

Now, though, I feel the need for a bit more rest and recovery, so I will simply close the posting, I will maybe do a little Chesterton reading if my mind and body will cooperate (finding comfort in sadness, my touch of madness, and the reality of dragons), and I wish you all a beautiful day.

But, wait a minute, you cannot get away without answering a question: What are you favorite Chesterton reading encounters?



14 comments:

  1. Tim,

    My favorites would have to be the Father Brown mysteries, perhaps because those are my only GKC readings. I have read _The Man Who Was Thursday_, but that was for a group and I probably wouldn't have read it on my own. I've read some of his poetry when I came across them, but I have never yet searched him out.

    For some unknown reason, I just never got interested in him.

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  2. Glad that you're feeling better, Tim. And I like it very much that you've decided to focus this post on Chesterton. I always liked his Father Brown mysteries. Not only are they interesting as mysteries, but they explore character development, too.

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  3. Fred and Margot, I am dismayed that one man could write so much.

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    1. Tim,

      Yes, that can be demoralizing to us lesser mortals.

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  4. Orthodoxy. Everyone should read it.

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  5. there are four collections of Father Brown mysteries, of which I've read two, numerous times; I think, unconsciously, that I've been saving them for a treat in my old age... Come to think of it...

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    1. Mudpuddle,

      Have you watched any of the TV versions?

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    2. I've seen some of them; I prefer the books, tho...

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    3. Mudpuddle,

      I think some of the episodes said they were based on the characters created by GKC.

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    4. I've never seen the show. I'm tempted but I'm afraid it would change how I imagine Father Brown and I already love the stories so.

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  6. I must read Fr. Brown and Orthodoxy. Thanks, folks.

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  7. I find that I keep hearing of Chesterton unexpectedly. Yesterday at a barbecue, an acquaintance recited several lines of "The Winding English Road" (http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/rolling.html). Years ago at a Lutheran college, a young woman, the daughter of a minister, quoted Chesterton in a brief speech. And at a bookstore now gone, I opened a slim volume called something like "Poems of Friendship" and found the rhyme beginning "Oh how I love humanity with love so pure and pringlish,/And how I hate the horrid French, who never will be English."

    I read quite a few of the essays when much younger. These days I am generally looking up something I more or less remember--bits from his autobiography, this or that essay. For this purpose Martin Ward's G.K. Chesterton site is an excellent resource: http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/.

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    1. Thanks, George. I will check out the Ward link.

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  8. Did you have a thunderstorm as well? We had a horrible storm Sunday evening. Not long but so intense we keep losing power.

    I cannot express strongly enough how much I love G.K. Chesterton. Those quotes are wonderful, I especially like the fairy tale one. Fairy Tales would be an endless source of fascinating study for me.

    I have most of Chesterton's work. So far my favorite is Orthodoxy, but his Father Brown mystery's and also the Paradox's of Mr. Pond are also brilliant.

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