Wednesday, May 31, 2006

How do you celebrate the birthday for a giant of a man (both physically and intellectually) like Chesterton? My love and respect for him grows with every word of his I read. I don’t want to let this celebration go by without participating in it in some tangible way. Since I gave up cigars lighting one up for him is not an option. So what can you give such a man especially, well like, since he’s dead? And there is no Chesterton Society to dance with anywhere near where I reside.

I live in a small town which has it good and bad aspects. Some of the good things are; you can leave your jacket on the back of the chair in the cafe, and when you go back the next day, it's still there, on the same chair. The other is that the Librarian knows your first name (her name is Deidra). Both of these come in handy for me since I’m forgetful and have a love for the smell of books. The down side is that; the traffic jam in front of you on Main Street is caused by a farmer's combine and the library never has the books I want. So I’ve learned to be patient and take advantage of the inter-library loan program.

This past Thursday I went in to order some of Chesterton’s plays thinking I could get the kids in an English/Theatre class, I’m subbing for this week, to do some readings.

“Chesterton wrote plays?” Deidra asked.

“Well ya.” I said. “Like The Wild Knight", "Magic", and "The Surprise", just to name a few.”, showing off a little. “By the way what books of his do you have here?”

Deidra did a quick computer check and found that they did indeed have Chesterton here, The Father Brown Mysteries. “You should get more.” I told her. And I ran off some other titles, “Like Orthodoxy, Everlasting Man, What’s Wrong With The World. These are great works on theology, philosophy and social commentary.”

“Did you forget where you live? We have a small new book budget so who besides you would check them out, you know, to justify the purchase?” she asked me.

She had me on that one. But I knew the best place for anyone to discover Gilbert is this place.

On the way home I came to realize the best gift I could give Gilbert was to give Gilbert to my town. When I arrived at home I ordered a copy of The Man Who Was Thursday to give to the library. They could put it the Mystery section, since they don’t have a Metaphysical Thriller section. It might lead to other things.

Check out your local library. If they have a new book budget put GKC on their list. If they don’t have the money buy them one, (very few libraries turn down books), to start their collection or increase it. Hand the shinny new book to them and say, “Happy Birthday Gilbert.”

Chesterton-Shaw Debates

Atheist/Christian. Aquabib/wine drinker. Thin/fat. Vegetarian/meat eater. Socialist/Distributist.

Shaw/Chesterton. They fought it out in print, they fought it out verbally.

It would've been great to see those debates. But what made them so good? Chesterton's early biographer, Maisie Ward, explains it better than anyone. She starts by pointing out that Shaw was asking the questions that infuriated the British conventional class, but so did Chesterton:

They hated Shaw's questions before they began to hate his answers. And that is probably why so many linked Chesterton with Shaw -- he gave different answers, but he was asking man of the same questions. He questioned everything as Shaw did -- only he pushed his questions further: they were deeper and more searching. Shaw would not accept the old Scriptural orthodoxy; G.K. refused to accept the new Agnostic orthodoxy; neither man would accept he orthodoxy of the scientists . . .

They attacked first by the mere process of asking questions; and the world thus questioned grew uneasy and seemed to care curiously little for the fact that the two questioners were answering their old questions in an opposite fashion. Where Shaw said: 'Give up pretending you believe in God, for you don't,' Chesterton said: 'Rediscover the reasons for believing or else our race is lost.' Where Shaw said: 'Abolish private property which has produced this ghastly poverty,' Chesterton said: 'Abolish ghastly poverty by restoring property.'

And the audience said: 'These two men in strange paradoxes seem to us to be saying the same thing, if indeed they are saying anything at all.' . . .

Shaw and Chesterton were themselves deeply concerned about the answers. Both sincere, both dealing with realities, they were prepared to accept each other's sincerity and to fight the matter out, if need were, endlessly.


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For perhaps the best essay on the web about Chesterton and Shaw, check out Fr. Ian Boyd's CHESTERTON-SHAW DEBATE SPEAKS TO THE PRESENT CRISIS. Fr. Boyd is one of the world's foremost Chesterton authorities and has done much to trigger the Chesterton renaissance.

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GKC on GBS (from The Quotable Chesterton):

"Mr. Bernard Shaw's philosophy is exactly like black coffee--it awakens but it does not really inspire."

"He has pleased all the Bohemians by saying that women are the equal to men; but he has infuriated them by suggesting that men are equal to women."

"The truth is, of course, that Mr. Shaw is cruelly hampered by the fact that he cannot tell any lie unless he thinks it is the truth."


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A few Shavian anecdotes (from The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes):

Before Shaw became famous, one of his plays was consistently turned down by a certain producer. After Shaw achieved success, the producer cabled an offer to stage the rejected work. Shaw replied, "Better never than late."

A dancer approached Shaw, suggesting they should have a child together. "Think of it! With my body and your brains, what a wonder it would be," she said. Shaw replied, "Yes, but what if it had my body and your brains?"

Saddled with a pompous young bore who barraged him with pointless information during a dinner party, Shaw said, "You know, between the two of us we know all there is to know." The young man eagerly asked, "How is that?" Shaw replied, "Well, you seem to know everything except that you're a bore. And I know that."

The Socialist Shaw liked money. When a young anthologist wrote to Shaw, asking to include one of Shaw's pieces in an anthology but explaining that he couldn't pay much because he was a very young man, Shaw replied, "I'll wait for you to grow up."

Shaw loved flowers. When Arnold Bennett visited Shaw's apartment, he was surprised to see there were no flowers in the place. He said to Shaw, "I thought you so fond of flowers." Shaw said, "I am, and I'm very fond of children too, but I don't chop their heads off and stand them in pots about the house."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A letter from GK to his mother

As I promised in my comment on Eric's summary today of Gilbert's courtship of his true love, Frances Blogg, what follows is a letter written by Gilbert to his mother wherein he pleads his case.

His writings are always heartfelt and beautiful, but there is in this letter more depth and feeling than I can recall ever finding in any of his books or essays. The intimacy of the mother/son bond and the gravity of the situation have opened him up to the full breadth of his powers, and I don't know that there's a mother alive who could resist such a missive as we shall shortly observe.

The letter is taken from Maisie Ward's biography of Chesterton, from the chapter Incipit Vita Nova.
My dearest mother,

You may possibly think this is a somewhat eccentric proceeding. You are sitting opposite and talking - about Mrs. Berline. But I take this method of addressing you because it occurs to me that you might possibly wish to turn the matter over in your mind before writing or speaking to me about it.

I am going to tell you the whole of a situation in which I believe I have acted rightly, though I am not absolutely certain, and to ask for your advice on it. It was a somewhat complicated one, and I repeat that I do not think I could rightly have acted otherwise, but if I were the greatest fool in the three kingdoms and had made nothing but a mess of it, there is one person I should always turn to and trust. Mothers know more of their son's idiocies than other people can, and this has been peculiarly true in your case. I have always rejoiced at this, and not been ashamed of it: this has always been true and always will be. These things are easier written than said, but you know it is true, don't you?

I am inexpressibly anxious that you should give me credit for having done my best, and for having constantly had in mind the way in which you would be affected by the letter I am now writing. I do hope you will be pleased.

About eight years ago, you made a remark - this may show you that if we "jeer" at your remarks, we remember them. The remark applied to the hypothetical young lady with whom I should fall in love and took the form of saying, "if she is good, I shan't mind who she is." I don't know how many times I have said that over to myself in the last two or three ays in wich I have decided on this letter.

Do not be frightened; or suppose that anything sensational or final has occurred. I am not married, my dear mother, neither am I engaged. You are called to the council of ciefs very early in its deliberations. If you don't mind I will tell you, briefly, the whole story.

You are, I think, the shrewdest person for seeing things whom I ever knew; consequently I imagine that you do not think that I go down to Bedford Park every Sunday for the sake of the scenery. I should not wonder if you know nearly as much about the matter as I can tell in a letter. Suffice it to say, however briefly (for neither of us care much for gushing: this letter is not on Mrs. Ratcliffe lines), that the first half of my time of acquaintance with the Bloggs was spent enjoying a very intimate, but quite breezy and Platonic friendship with Frances Blogg, reading, talking and enjoying life together, having great sympathies on all subjects; and the second half in making the thrilling, but painfully responsible discovery that Platonism, on my side, had not the field by any means to itself. That is how we stand now. No one knows, except her family and yourself.

My dearest mother, I am sure you are at least not unsympathetic. Indeed we love each other more than we shall either of us ever be able to say. I have refrained from sentiment in this letter - for I don't think you like it much. But love is a very different thing from sentiment and you will never laugh at that. I will not say that you are sure to like Francess, for all young men say that to their mothers, quite naturally, and their mothers never believe them, also, quite naturally. Besides, I am so confident, I should like you to find her out for yourself. She is, in reality, very much the sort of woman you like, what is called, I believe, "a Woman's Woman," very humorous, inconsequent, and sympathetic and defiled with no offensive exuberance of good health.

I have nothing more to say, except that you and she have occupied my mind for the last week to the exclusion of everything else, which must account for my abstraction, and that in her letter she sent the following message: "Please tell your mother soon. Tell her I am not so silly as to expect her to think me good enough, but really I will try to be."

An aspiration which, considered from my point of view, naturally provokes a smile.

Here you give me a cup of cocoa. Thank you.

Believe me, my dearest mother.

Always your very affectionate son,
Gilbert

GKC's Engagement

After Nick’s stunning opening salvo yesterday, I’m nervous about following-up. Readers shouldn’t expect the thoughtful and beautiful piece Nick penned. I’ll be happy if my entries today and tomorrow are reasonably tolerable.

It falls to me to write about GKC’s engagement. What’s there to be said? He met Frances Blogg, he fell in love, he proposed, she accepted.

Joseph Pearce in his excellent biography, Wisdom and Innocence, says it was love at first sight for the 22-year-old Gilbert (in 1896). Chesterton, recounting the occasion, characteristically said her beauty was elven (and I don’t think he was referring to the little pranksters, but rather the elves Tolkien would write about). Later that night, he penned a devotion to her:

God made you very carefully,
He set a star apart for it,
He stained it green and gold with fields
And aureoled it with sunshine;
He peopled it with kings, peoples, republics,
And so made you, very carefully.
All nature is God’s book, filled with his rough sketches for you.

The biographers say she was pretty, which is hard to believe, given GKC’s apparent physical unattractiveness, but then again, he hadn’t packed on all the extra pounds yet. Frances apparently thought he was handsome. According to Frances, he was “a striking figure . . . upright and with a gallant carriage. His magnificent head had a thick mane of wavy chestnut hair, inevitably rumpled. His hands were beautifully shaped, with long, slender fingers . . . “.

We don’t know as much about their courtship as we’d like, since Frances, being an intensely private person, destroyed the love letters she received from GKC. We know it took nearly five years to wed, though, because Chesterton simply wasn’t solvent enough. According to Alzina Stone Dale’s biography, Outline of Sanity, he was earning only 25 shillings a week, he hadn’t published his first book yet (which would be Greybeards at Play, published in 1900), and it wasn’t acceptable for a woman to work after she was married.

One of the purposes of this 16-day celebration is to give readers a feel for GKC’s times. We live in a money-obsessed culture, so I figure it’d be nice to demonstrate GKC’s financial straits. A shilling is 1/20th of a pound. Around the turn of the century, a pound was typically worth a little less than $5, so GKC was receiving about $6 a week. A dollar today would’ve been worth about $20 in 1900. Consequently, GKC was earning about $120 a week.

It’s no wonder that Alzina Stone Dale says “his salary was about enough to buy his lunch and snacks and to pay for his transportation, but little else . . .”.

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Miscellaneous:

To know what was going on in the literary world at this time, see these Wikipedia links: 1896, 1901.

Perhaps the cleverest URL in blogdom: http://francesblogg.blogspot.com/

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Chestertonian Celebration!

Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little church of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge. I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian.
- Autobiography, 1936
Yes, today is indeed the birthday of Gilbert Keith Chesterton - were he still alive, he would be one hundred and thirty-two years old.

And what a life was his! Few men have done so very much while simultaneously doing so very little. Gilbert never fought in any wars, invented any machines, or made any scientific or medical breakthroughs. He was not a bullfighter or a riverboat captain. He was a man - plump, genial and eccentric, but a man of great character and imagination. A man, you might say, who knew what being a man really meant even if circumstances often conspired against him living up to that glorious template. He knew the value of Fatherhood with a comprehensiveness rivalled only by that of God Himself, and yet was sadly denied children of his own. He knew the value of chivalry with that awful clarity that can only come to the Knight on the walls of Jerusalem, or on the fields of Agincourt, and yet was never called upon for that last, heroic defence; never drew his sword except in merriment or passion; never fired his revolver except in sport.

And yet, here we are, paying homage to him. Gilbert Chesterton was the avatar of successful theory, and that theory has been both expansive and plentiful. I once heard it said of Hilaire Belloc that we no longer remember how right he was about everything because we simply can not bear to consider how tragic has been our ignorance of his wisdom. There is in his warnings all of the power of "I told you so," with none of the spite. I would argue that the same is true of Gilbert, who made it his business to be right when everyone else was wrong, and who can only be properly appreciated in retrospect. For a man so utterly devoted to history and tradition, such a description is, perhaps, accurate.

He was born to honest and caring parents. His father - Edward - was the sort of attentive polymath that one would hope all men might be - an avid record-keeper who took great interest in philosophical and political matters. Better still, he was of the sort who delighted in becoming sufficiently accomplished at numerous small crafts that he would have the means of enteraining even the most mixed of company. One such outpouring of this talent was the production of a small puppet theater that would, obliquely, inform much of Gilbert's view of the world. The young man crossing a bridge to a tower. The man with the golden key. His play, The Surprise.

His mother was of the sturdy sort that belies some Scotch heritage, and of course this was the case. It is to his mother's side of the family that Gilbert claims he owes all of the infamy and intrigue that attended his early days, with that mighty ancestral name of Keith echoing across the centuries like the fall of the axe. Mrs. Chesterton was of the type who would work herself ragged for the comfort of others, though she had no compunctions about sometimes being imperious in her own home. She is remembered by contemporaries as a witty and pleasant woman, albeit one who would brook no nonsense. Gilbert's relationship with his mother was complex and - on the whole - quite positive.

Gilbert was himself an unusually serious child, but also an unusually happy one. There was in him a delight in all the world, merely as it had been presented to him, that would endure in the man even unto his dying day. He had well-developed romantic and intellectual streaks that were fostered at every turn by the learned discussion that his parents constantly brought into their home. Art was his calling, even from the beginning; as he was himself made in the image of his Creator, so too would he become a Father of Craft.

He was not without his problems. An early infatuation with the works of Walt Whitman and a burgeoning interest in the field of mysticism produced results that he has himself described as alternately morbid and embarassing, though his respect for both Whitman and the mystic would abide forever. His accomplishments at school were never what we might call astounding, during his early years, coming frequently under the censure of his masters for his slovenly inattentiveness to most everything to which one might potentially attend. Nonetheless, they saw in him the raw literary brilliance that would become his greatest gift to the world in later years, though they despaired of him ever accomplishing anything.

And so, it is those very accomplishments that I and the other contributors of this blog intend to discuss and celebrate in the coming days. Gilbert was born on May 29, and died on June 14. Between now and the anniversary of his death, you can look forward to daily articles covering various epochs and areas of Gilbert's life, ranging from a treatment of his life with Frances Blogg to his work on Father Brown to his travels around the world. These little articles - some involved, some concise - will be presented topically rather than strictly chronologically, and aim to serve as introductions to the life and work of a man who was as broad as the Earth itself.

What is more, this is an opportunity for reflection and action on the part of you, the reader. Though his political and social views were necessarily varied, Chesterton stood above all for faith, sense and family. The Internet, though wonderful in various ways, is not in and of itself highly complementary to any of those of things.

On the two Saturdays that fall within this extended festival, you will find articles about exactly these issues. The first will be an approach to the Chestertonian Life. Socrates famously opined that the unexamined life is not worth living, but we know that this is only half of the truth; the corollary to this is that the unlived life is not worth examining. Life should be a romance, even if it is a necessarily tragic romance; it should be an adventure, even if it is a dangerous one. This danger and this tragedy are both acceptable - and even necessary - because the prize at the end of the quest and the kiss at the end of the courtship are far too precious and sweet for anything mundane.

So I say to you, then, during this microcosmic treatment of Gilbert Chesterton's life, bring your family together and be. Embrace your sense, and know. Strengthen your faith, and love. This night is a night for celebration, so celebrate. The evening of Wednesday, June 14 will be a night for valediction, so celebrate all the more.

Let's get serious about life. It's what Gilbert would have wanted.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Cornerstone of Secularism

One of the Cornerstones of secularism seems to be the idea that religion is responsible for all of the conflicts in the world. Fanatical adherants to the different belief systems wage holy wars of extermination upon designated infidels.

I have thought a great deal about this and find it disturbing. If one makes such a claim, one should be able to bring up examples as proofs. This is done by brining up Crusades, Jihads, Inquisitions, etc., etc. However, looking more deeply at the issue, these items are false hits and selective information. If one examines history critically we find: The Hundred Years War - Fought by 2 Catholic nations, the numerous internal wars of Islam(Turk vs Arab vs Persian). The conflicts of the 19th century were based on enlightenment nationalism. We also find more blood spilled in less time than anywhere else in history by anti-religious forces in the 20th Century. Carl Sagan, hardly a believer, came up with a "baloney detection kit" for uncovering hucksterism and pseudoscience. Even his methology would invalidate this enshrined dogma of the Enlightement.

I dont have my copy of Orthodoxy handy, but GKC had an excellent line which summarizes a point : It is more likely that religion stopped the first war, rather than causing it. It is far more likely that ancient peoples arrived at peace through the idea of "we must not fight, for we are on holy ground," than through any other means.

I dont mean to make light of war and conflict. But these are parts of fallen human nature, and again it would seem that only the "orthodox" believer has the tools and equipment to fully understand the full truth.

Have a great holiday.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

St. Francis and GKC, brother poets

In his biography of St. Francis - St. Francis of Assisi - Chesterton argued that in order to look at Francis properly, we must assume that he was “a poet and can only be understood as a poet.”

In so describing St. Francis, Chesterton was describing himself. Indeed, it has become almost a cliché to say that no matter what Chesterton was writing about in his essays, biographies and criticism, there was often as much of Chesterton as there was of the subject. (And sometimes more.)

Chesterton was clearly a poet. The first two books he published were of poetry, and he ultimately published seven volumes of verse. Poems are scattered through his works, as are characters who are poets (such as Gabriel Syme of The Man Who Was Thursday and Gabriel Gale of The Poet and the Lunatics).

The quality of Chesterton’s poetry is mixed. Yet he persisted, and I believe it essential to understanding him as it is, he contends, to understanding St. Francis.

Chesterton here is using the word “poet” to mean not so much a published poet in the common sense, but rather a person with a particular way of viewing the world.

Chesterton noted that St. Francis was able to call all creation his brother and sister not because of some “sentimental pantheism” typical of romantic poets who used nature as an idealized background, but because he viewed each part of creation individually.

“Now for St. Francis nothing was ever in the background,” he wrote. “We might say that his mind had no background, except perhaps that divine darkness out of which the divine love had called up every coloured creature one by one. He saw everything as dramatic, distinct from its setting, not all of a piece like a picture but in action like a play. A bird went by him like an arrow; something with a story and a purpose, though it was a purpose of life and not a purpose of death. A bush could stop him like a brigand; and indeed he was as ready to welcome the brigand as the bush.

“In a word, we talk about a man who cannot see the wood for the trees. St. Francis was a man who did not want to see the wood for the trees. He wanted to see each tree as a separate and almost a sacred thing, being a child of God and therefore a brother or sister of man.”

As for the human race, Chesterton noted, “It is even more true that (St. Francis) deliberately did not see the mob for the men. … He only saw the image of God multiplied but never monotonous. To him a man was always a man and did not disappear in a dense crowd any more than in a desert. He honoured all men; that is, he not only loved but respected them all.”

This comes from a man who could write about a donkey or a cabman or St. Joseph and use them as a means to reflect on the universe, all the while respecting their individualism and reality.

The donkey of his famous poem was not some idealized donkey; he was a donkey with feelings and pride. The extraordinary cabman comes alive in Chesterton’s essay because he is not some abstract creation intended just to symbolize the demonic, but rather a real man who was either a thief or simply confused, or perhaps a bit of both with a touch of the demonic. And St., Joseph in yet another poem is not simply the plaster saint, but a man who feels desire and loss even as he accepts what God has asked.

St. Joseph becomes real, as do the donkey and cabman.

St. Francis saw the image of God in all creation – sun, wolf flame and all his other “brothers” and “sister” – in a personal and individual way, likewise, every person and thing had meaning to Chesterton. “It is impossible for something to signify nothing,” he wrote in A Handful of Authors.

St. Francis was full of a sense of wonder at creation. Chesterton also viewed the world with wonder, and lamented the fact that others often failed to see them

“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder,” he declared in Tremendous Trifles.

St. Francis celebrated the small and seemingly insignificant. Chesterton presented us again and again with what we would consider insignificant and pointed out their significance. Think only of his Father Brown mysteries to get a glimpse of his method.

Getting back to St. Francis the poet. Chesterton said, “But he had one poetic privilege denied to most poets. In that respect indeed he might be called the one happy poet among all the unhappy poets of the world. He was a poet whose whole life was a poem.”

I think the title of “happy poet” aptly describes both Chesterton and St. Francis.

And while Chesterton’s life is not often described as a poem, I think it is. But, of course, it would have to be an epic, complete with drama, humor, battles, romance, and a quest – a quest that, as his poet protagonist Gabriel Syme shows us, ultimately leads us to God.

Chesterton and St. Francis, those brother poets, are prodding us all to join in this quest.

For, as he notes in Come to Think of It, “What are poets for except to go about asking everyone whether they wake or sleep?”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The loyalty to life

I do enjoy surprises. To the extent that I feel it has been a bad day if I do not get surprised at least once. It is one of the main reasons I love teaching – a young mind will always surprise you. Then there are the other kinds of surprises when 2, 3 or 4 ships of thought, that come from different directions, converge to form a “How wonderful!” or a “This is very sad.” The former is the triumph of virtue the later is when vice masquerades as a triumph of virtue.

Chesterton can hand you both in one breadth leaving you wondering where you left your socks.

Unfortunately for me today’s surprise was of the ugly kind.

This past weekend I began to re-read GKC’s Orthodoxy. I stopped when I came to the following passage, (Yes dear. I’ll mow the lawn now.).
“In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane. Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man, who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief is satisfied with diamonds; but the suicide is not: that is his crime. He cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury: for each has received a personal affront. Of course there may be pathetic emotional excuses for the act. There often are for rape, and there almost always are for dynamite. But if it comes to clear ideas and the intelligent meaning of things, then there is much more rational and philosophic truth in the burial at the cross-roads and the stake driven through the body, than in Mr. Archer's suicidal automatic machines. There is a meaning in burying the suicide apart. The man's crime is different from other crimes--for it makes even crimes impossible.”

During a later web surf I came across a piece by Barbara Nicolosi, “…The flock has been bred as teeming little narcissist lambs who stubbornly consider themselves "special" no matter how mediocre their understanding and living out of their life of discipleship. We have a global pasture full of sheep pasturing themselves, with coats shamefully besmirched by loving their sins. They bleat defiance and pride of their filth, and insist that Jesus is indifferent to their degradation and shame. "Who knows, Jesus is probably just like us!" They don't know, and don't know that they don't know, or don't know, and don't care that they don't know.”http://churchofthemasses.blogspot.com

Then I came across this as I was rifling through a pile of old newspapers in school today.



An eighty year old woman had ‘DO NOT RESUSITATE’ tattooed on her chest. Here is a lady proudly wearing her sin. It is the sin of future suicide. Would Chesterton consider this or a living will as writing your suicide note well before you actually do it, or rather have someone else do it for you? Mr. Archer's suicidal automatic machines dressed as doctors or as judges. How does one enjoy life after writing that will? They are saying, “I will only play this game if I can do it on my own terms otherwise I quit!”

Does it matter if you pull the trigger or have someone else pull the plug? Is the later worse because the patient not only chooses to die but is too cowardly to do it themselves so they drag a willing second party into the act? The first submits to a “… refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life.” The second agrees that the patient’s existence is of no interest, no value, and the loyalty to life is now a legal document and no longer a spiritual force that must be protected, nurtured and preserved. For many the abundant life has come to mean a good hair day, stuff and the ability to still do the fandango.

As for me I took my medical card out of my wallet and wrote on the back, “You do not have my permission to kill me.”

Oxford Matter

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Chesterton in Today's World

If God did not exist, there would be no atheists.

It's one of my favorite Chesterton sayings, and this story out of Massachusetts supports it. A woman and her unborn baby are killed in a car accident. Mourners place memorials, including a cross and booties, at the site. The property owner waits two weeks, then takes the cross and booties and buries them in his backyard. Why? Because he's an atheist:

"I removed them because I'm an atheist and I do not want any Catholic symbols on my property," Bill Brodmerkle told the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg.

Brodmerkle, who owns the property the memorial was on, said he buried the cross in his backyard. He said he didn't mean to bury any booties, but the weather was bad and he might not have noticed.

He couldn't just throw away the cross with a shrug. He had to bury it, an act of defiance.

Being an atheist is awfully visceral, for all the reasons Chesterton summarized in one sentence.

Gilbert and George

I must admit, I'm one of those Chestertonians who was duped. I always thought the quote was authentic:

In the September 1923 issue of The Adelphi, the biographer Hesketh Pearson published what appeared to be a verbatim report of a private quarrel between Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw. (Shaw: "Have you any adequate excuse for not being drunk?") In fact it was entirely Pearson's invention. Chesterton was delighted and told Pearson that he ought to write his next book for him. However, the transcript was thought to be authentic by most readers, and to this day it is accepted and often quoted by Chesterton scholars. [Ian Hunter, Nothing to Repent, London: 1987, p. 94]

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

New Gilbert is Here

The new issue of Gilbert Magazine should be hitting mailboxes this week. It looks like a great issue. I especially liked the cover story by Dale Ahlquist: A Visit to Clear Creek Monastery. With the theme "Whenever monks come back, marriages will come back" (a GKC quote), Dale discusses the rise of a new monastery in the foothills of the Ozarks in eastern Oklahoma. It's one of those new-fangled monasteries: old fashioned in the best sense of the term. Families are now moving into the area to be near the holy men.

The thing I found most fascinating: These men are progeny of John Senior's humanities program at the University of Kansas back in the 1970s (and 1980s?). Senior advanced an intelligent, radical, and Catholic view of civilization. And he did so convincingly, so much so that his students starting converting and some entered convents and monasteries. I remember reading elsewhere that parents started complaining to the University of Kansas about the alleged brainwashing (read: "brain cleaning," cleaning off the ugliness that is pop modernity). The program was subsequently terminated. . . But not before Senior laid down some seeds. And the seeds have sprouted a strong plant in eastern Oklahoma.

If you want to read Senior's vision, get The Restoration of Christian Culture. In my opinion, it's a modern classic.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The True Romance

Today we have a rare Chesterton essay, from the Daily News in 1911, that can only otherwise be found in the lightly-available A Handful of Authors. The essay itself is delightful for any number of reasons, being an excellent exhibition of Chesterton's linguistic and aesthetic prowess, and ending with a wonderful little kick.

The True Romance
By G.K. Chesterton
This is a perfectly true story; but there is in it a certain noble irony, not very easy to analyse, which goes down to the very roots of Christianity.

Some hundreds of years ago there was born in one of the southern peninsulas of Europe a man whose life was very like the life of a boy in one of Mr. Henty's books. He did everything that could possibly be expected of a boy's hero; he ran away to sea; he was trusted by admirals with important documents; he was captured by pirates; he was sold as a slave. Even then he did not forget the duties of a Henty hero. He made several picturesque and desperate attempts at escape, scaling Moorish walls and clambering through Moorish windows. He confronted the considerable probability of torture, and defied it. But he was not like the unscrupulous prison-breakers, like Cellini or Casanova, ready to break the world as well as the wall, or his promise as well as his prison. He remembered that he was the hero of an honest boy's storybook, and behaved accordingly.

Long afterwards his country collected the depositions of the other Christian captives, and they were an astonishing chorus. They spoke of this man as if he were a sort of saint, of the almost unearthly unselfishness with which he divided their distresses and defied their tormentors. As one reads the coldest biographical account one can feel the alien air, that enormous outside world of Asia and Africa that has always felt slavery to be a natural and even monotonous thing. One feels the sunny silence of great open courts, with fountains in the midst, guarded here and there by mute, white-clad, unnatural men; dim and secret divans smelling of smoke and sweet stuff; grass burnt out of the bare ground, and palm trees prised like parasols. And in all this still horror of heat and sleep, the one unconquered European still leaping at every outlet of adventure or escape; climbing a wall as he might a Christian apple tree, or calling for his rights as he might in a Christian inn.

Nor did our hero miss that other great essential of the schoolboy protagonist; which is accidental and even improbable presence on a tremendous historical occasion. All who love boys' books as they should be loved know that Harry Harkaway, as well as crossing cutlasses with an individual smuggler or slaver, must also manage to be present at the Battle of Trafalgar. The young musketeer from Gascony, however engrossed in duels with masked bravos or love-letters to Marguerite de Valois, must not forget to put in an appearance at the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Here also my hero in real life equalled any of the heroes of juvenile fiction; for he was present and took an active part in one of the most enormous and earth-changing events in history.

Europe, in the age in which he lived, was, as it is now, in one of its recurring periods of division an disease. The Northern nations were full of sombre fanaticisms; the Southern nations of equally sombre statecraft and secrecy. The country of the man I describe was indeed rich in territory; but its King was morbid, mean, and lethargic; a man of stagnant mysteries, as he looks in those fishy, pasty-faced portraits which still endure. His strong but sinister Imperial armies were engaged in wars, more or less unjust on both sides, with the sinister enthusiasms of the North; the whole civilization was bitter and trivial, and apparently tumbling to pieces. And at this moment appeared upon its Eastern borders its ancient and awful enemy, the Turk.

Like genii summoned out of that Eastern sea by the seal of Solomon, robed in the purple of the twilight or the green of the deep, rose the tall, strange, silent sails of the admirals of Islam. The very shapes of the ships on the horizon were unfamiliar and fearful; and when they came close to the Greek islands, prow and stern showed the featureless ornament of the foes of idolatry; the featureless ornament in which one seems to see a hundred faces, as one does in a Turkey carpet. The ships came silently and ceaselessly, in numbers that, it seemed, had never been seen since Xerxes seemed stronger than the gods. And every hermit on a Greek headland, or little garrison of knights upon an islet in the mediterranean, looked at them and saw the sunset of Christendom.

They encircled and besieged a stronghold in that central sea, whose fall would have been the fall of Europe. In the general paralysis the Pope, with one exception, was the only man who moved promptly; he put out the Papal galleys and addressed a public prayer for help to all the Christian princes. The cold and sluggish King doubted and hung back, just as he would have done in the historical novel. But he had a half-brother - as he would have had in the novel. The half-brother was every bit as brave, handsome, brilliant, and generous here as he would have been in the novel. The King was as jealous of him as he would have been in the novel. This quite genuine hero rushed to the rescue, and in such crises it is popularity that tells, even in empires.

The young Prince had already won romantic victories in Africa, but he could bring only a few ships in time for the attack. Then was waged on that blue and tideless sea what must have been one of the most splendid and appalling battles that ever stained the sea or smoked to the sun. The Turks slew eight thousand Christian soldiers, and the sea drank galley after galley of the Christian fleet. But the fight was sustained with that terrible and intolerant patience that only comes in a collision of strong creeds, when one whole cosmos really crashes into the other. before night the tide of that river of blood began to turn. Thirty thousand of the Turks were killed or taken prisoners, and out of the Turkish ports and galleys came into light and liberty twelve thousand European slaves.

This was the great battle of Lepanto, and of course our hero was there, sword in hand; of course he was wounded there. I can fancy him standing on the deck, with his arm in a sling and looking at the slender escape of Europe and the purple wreck of Asia with a sad, crooked smile on his face. For he was a person whose face was capable of expressing both pity and amusement. His name was Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, commonly called Cervantes. And having another arm left, he went home and wrote a book called Don Quixote, in which he ridiculed romance and pointed out the grave improbability of people having any adventures.
Most of the people I know have never heard of the battle of Lepanto, much less of its deadly importance. When told that Cervantes was there, they usually give a little start of surprise, but that's as far as it goes, they generally not having read Don Quixote either.

Most of the people I know are hopelessly lame.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

One More Bite

For those of you have not yet had your fill of The Da Vinci Code nonsense here is one more tidbit from Screwtape’s table.

I spent a few days giving a small talk on Leonardo for each art class at a local high school. I did this because I had seen several students with the DVC book and a few had expressed interest in seeing the movie. Now as you know talking about Jesus and the Church can be tricky in a public school setting, but you can talk about art history. I can mention that since Dan Brown got so many things wrong about Leonardo what are the chances he got anything else right.

In one class this talk led to some interesting comments. When I showed them Leonardo’s painting of The Last Supper (it’s not a fresco) I explained that this is a depiction of the Last Supper from the Gospel of John, (a quick lesson on that Gospel, you know just to give background, honestly not a church and state issue. No need to notify the police.) I pointed to the beardless one next to Jesus and one kid quickly said, “That’s Mary Magdalene right?”
Another said, “They’re only thirteen people there so if that’s Mary Magdalene where’s John?”
I jumped in and said, “John had to run out and buy a chalice and he did not get back in time for the picture.”

More than one kid seemed to nod their heads in sudden understanding. It went silent for a moment until one kid said “Nuh uh.”

Sometimes teaching can be fun.

The issue of John being Mary M. was put to rest with some more explaining about Renaissance art and it’s symbols and then closed up tight when I showed them Andrea del Castagno’s fresco of The Last Supper from John’s Gospel account. One that was completed 50 years before Leonardo’s and low and behold, next to Jesus there is a beardless person resting his head upon His chest; (actually there are 4 beardless people in this piece. Can you find the Mary M. in this picture Mr. Brown?) and definitely no Chalice.



But who would buy a book called The Del Castagno Code.

It was after the last day of these talks that I went home and opened my latest issue (May 12) of the The Catholic Telegraph of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. This is usually a good paper to read with your afternoon tea and Oreos, but not this day. In this issue I was drawn to an article by the paper’s Managing Editor, Dennis O’Conner entitled Decoding the hype around Da Vinci.
“Oh good”, I thought, “More ammo to fight the devil.” I was wrong.

He goes on for several paragraphs telling the reader this book is fiction and no big deal, not unlike “The Exorcist”, “The Last Temptation of Christ” or “The Word”, so everybody just lighten up.

True, not all fiction is blasphemy but all blasphemy is fiction. He wants to blur the distinction or tell us that blasphemy is only a literary devise, a common practice. (“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” GKC)
He does go on to state that people in today’s world, if they see something published, believe “… it must be true. Sadly, I think, the underpinning of that concern is based on the belief that most of us are gullible and can’t discern for ourselves what is true and what is fiction.”

This is true Mr O’Conner we can not discern for ourselves what is true and what is fiction (Sola Scriptura anyone?)– We must be taught.
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet.”Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.
"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?"
(Acts 8:30-31)

Just saying a piece is an untruth and leaving it at that does no good unless followed with what is the truth and then why it is true.

He then goes on to tell us he gave the DVC to his teenaged children to read. These are kids attending a Catholic high school. Still, I saw red flags.

“They liked the book, understood it was a work of fiction and left it at that.” Mr. O’Conner tells us. He then proves the gullibility factor with his following statement, “There were a few questions though.”
” Was Jesus married?” they ask. (Makes you wonder if they really understood that this was a work of fiction don’t it?). His answer to that question, “We don’t know for sure, but probably not.”
That line stopped me cold. I read that line again and said, “What!?! We don’t know!? Probably not!?”

What kind of seeds did that answer plant in his children and the readers of this newspaper? His readers will think. “Here is a man of authority with a Catholic publication, so he must be right.” Right?
There is only one answer he should have given them as a Christian. “If you mean married like your mother and I, then NO. If you mean spiritually in the fullest sense then YES and His mystical bride is the Church.”

As Father Thomas J. Euteneuer, (President, Human Life International http://www.hli.org) said about DVC and statements like Mr. O’Conners,
“… we're going to forever have to be pulling noxious weeds out of our kids minds on some basic matters of the faith.”

As for Dan Brown GKC tells us, A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author."

Fortunately the Movie is being widely panned. Critics and observers called it just short of a waste of celluloid. As Peggy Noonan says about this movie’s lackluster reviews, “There is a God. Or, as a sophisticated Christian pointed out yesterday, there is an Evil One, and this may be proof he was an uncredited co-producer. The devil loves the common, the stale. He can't use beauty; it undermines him. "Banality is his calling card." “ http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pnoonan/?id=110008389

One good thing about this DVC battle is that no one is talking about Harry Potter any more. Dan Brown has definitely raised the stakes.

Some idle Sunday reading

If any of you are sufficiently interested in Nietzsche, Chesterton, or the differences between them, you can feel free to read a lengthy and rambling essay on the subject that I produced under the influence of divine fervor and beer. You can find it here.

In the grand tradition of both Chesterton and Nietzsche, I have managed (if I say so myself) to make uniformly beautiful generalisations about both of them without necessarily being specifically correct about anything.

An excerpt follows, that you might make up your mind before committing:
Nietzsche's avatar, one might say, was one of intense physical energy; of the will unbound in lust, movement, and violence. His preoccupation with dance is notable in this regard. By contrast, we see in Chesterton - both in a broad literary sense and an unfortunate literal sense - the sacrifice of such exquisite dynamism in favour of the mind, and of the soul. A reading of Maisie Ward's excellent biography of Chesterton paints a picture of the man as being a creature wrought almost entirely out of brain. Indeed, there was in him no physical vanity, or even care. We read of weeks on end spent doing nothing but writing; of years that see the release of five or six books in addition to the articles he was writing without end for various newspapers and magazines. We see, in the more pathetic (here I use the word in its proper, non-pejorative sense) passages, a man who can scarcely even move, though his brain is a liquid diamond.
You will forgive me, I hope, if this seems an awful lot like self-promotion. Content is content, however, and the article is large enough for two blogs. Good luck with it.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Hemingway on Chesterton

At the May 18 meeting of the Rochester Chesterton Society, Father Leo Hetzler amused us all by reading a passage from a Hemingway story that praises Chesterton.

The passage comes from the Nick Adams story, "The Three-Day Blow." Nick and his friend Bill are drinking and discussing books and writers they like:

"I'd like to meet Chesterton," Bill said.

"I wish he was here now," Nick said. "We'd take him fishing to the `Voix tomorrow."

"I wonder if he'd like to go fishing," Bill said.

"Sure," said Nick. "He must be about the best guy there is. Do you remember `Flying Inn'?"

If an angel out of heaven
Gives you something else to drink,
Thank him for his kind intentions;
Go and pour them down the sink.


"That's right," said Nick. "I guess he's a better guy that Walpole."

"Oh, he's a better guy, all right," Bill said.

"But Walpole's a better writer."

"I don't know," Nick said. "Chesterton's a classic."

"Walpole's a classic, too," Bill insisted.

"I wish we had them both here," Nick said. "We'd take they both fishing to the `Voix tomorrow."

"Let's get drunk, Bill said.

"All right," Nick agreed.

The Walpole mentioned is Hugh Walpole (1884-1941), a contemporary of Chesterton. Before Chesterton's name appears in the story, the Nick and Bill had been talking about two of Walpole's books, Fortitude, and The Dark Forest.

"Flying Inn," is, of course, The Flying Inn. The cited verses is part of song recited while the characters are drinking water. (The edition I have renders "Gives" as "Brings.")

It's hard to imagine two writers with such different writing styles and world views as Chesterton and Hemingway. But that wouldn't have prevented them from appreciating the each other's skills. Indeed, a number of brief biographies of Chesterton mention that Hemingway praised Chesterton. (Other than this passage, however, I haven't found any other praises. Perhaps someone has a quotation to share?)

I suspect Hemingway is in part playing around here. Chesterton was still alive at the time he was writing the Nick Adams stories, so he was familiar with him, as would his readers have been.

Hemingway would have known that Chesterton was not a sportsman of the "manly" sort Hemingway portrayed himself as being. But I can imagine them enjoying a drink together.

Of course, two boys like Nick and Bill would likely not have been aware of all of this. Yet the subtext of this story is Nick trying to figure out what kind of person he is going to be. A man's man? A married man (he's just broken up with his girlfriend)?

Is Chesterton introduced to help suggest Nick's spiritual quest?

As for the boys' idea of getting Chesterton to join them for a day on the `Voix, it's hard to imagine Chesterton fishing - or even getting into a small fishing boat.

And putting Walpole and Chesterton in a boat together?

Only if the boat had been converted into a bookshelf!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Greetings,

My name is Alan Capasso and I have been invited to join this little band of blogers. I have no given day so I could pop up at any time or when one of the other members is on leave.

I am a second generation Italian American, the grandson of a union between a priest and rectory cook/cleaning lady. I’ll tell that story in some later post. I’m a father of 6, grand father of 5, and husband to1. I earn my daily bread as a free lance artist, writer and a full time substitute teacher. I’m a revert to Catholicism after many years of an ugly head long tumble down.

My spiritual reversion is credited to a weekend at Franciscan University in Steubenville and my intellectual reversion is do in no small part to GKC.

I saw a Chesterton quote on the back of T-shirt at Steuby.
“Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.”

Until then I thought something was wrong with me for loving the time of my early youth. And here was a T-shirt saying it’s OK. No, I do not get all my insights from t-shirts. Bumper stickers however, are another matter. I asked the student about who Chesterton is and was greeted with flaming enthusiasm for his writing, I went to the book store and bought Dale Ahlquist’s book The Apostle of Common Sense. An overview seemed right for me at the time before I jumped into the deep end.

I have lent that book out several times since to any one I can corner. I have also been filling my library with Chesterton, Lewis and Belloc ever since then.

I do have a tendency to rail against big lumps of stupid that some wear as hats. I am working on learning from GKC that gentle humor is better than ranting but my record is not so good with that.

Talk to you soon,
Alan

Chesterton, Doyle, Holmes, and Fr. Brown......

I really dont think enough attention is paid by contemporary Chestertonians to the contributions that GKC made to the genre of detective fiction. The Illustrated London News essays contain several gems of insight into AC Doyle, Holmes, and the modern detective novel itself.

One of the first books I ever bought as a kid, which I still own, was a collection of facsimilie reprints of the original Sherlock Holmes stories from The Strand. I can still remember picking that book up and paging through those wonderful Sidney Paget illustrations, knowing that I had indeed found something special. I still pick up Holmes pastiches here and there, Larry Millet writes some excellent ones, placing Sherlock Holmes in turn of the century Mpls-St. Paul. Ive bought a couple of Sherlockian collections/criticisms which include reprints of some of the GKC essays, or at least make reference to GKC as a literary figure of the time

There are a couple points I believe we should keep in mind from this. First, Chesterton is not "just" an essayist and journalist, but is a figure of great stature in mystery and detective fiction. A great deal of Chesterton's appeal to me is that as a man of deep faith and conviction, he was also a fabulous writer discussed in the same circles as AC Doyle and Agatha Christie. I think Chesterton is an example par excellance of what a believer in the world should be. Instead of writing saccharine literature, or Left Behind types of Christian pulp, Chesterton's fiction writing wasnt Catholic literature.........but solid, high quality literature written by a Catholic.

Second, even in his day, Chesterton paid the price for his conversion. I never heard of Chesterton in school, yet I now realize that one really cannot properly study Sherlock Holmes, George Bernard Shaw, or even modern English literature without him. Chesterton's career and legacy suffered due to his conversion. Going back over these books now is incredible. As a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan, I have to say that knowledge of Chesterton is elementary to understanding the Holmsian canon.

Cheers!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The man who is Thursday

When I agreed to join the Chesterton and Friends team, I was told I would be responsible for a day.

The day turned out to be Thursday.

I laughed when I received the e-mail telling me this.

I am the man who is Thursday.

There’s a certain irony in this.

The Man Who Was Thursday was the first of Chesterton’s novels that I read.

The novel resonated with me when I read it some 30 years ago, and particularly the main character, Gabriel Syme. He is a poet working as a detective posing as a poet pretending to be an anarchist. He is given the name Thursday on a council of anarchists whose names are the days of the week and whose leader is Sunday.

If that seems convoluted, remember that Chesterton’s subtitle is, “A Nightmare.”

But this is a Chestertonian nightmare, so we are treated to a merry quest complete with twists and turns, philosophizing, battles, revelations, and verbal sparks. As we are swept along, Chesterton reveals the truth beneath the characters’ disguises, and then ultimately reveals who Sunday is.

God, of course.

(Sorry if I reveal too much. But then, when we read a fairy tale, we often already know the end - though we may be unclear on some of the details. The pleasure comes from discovering how we get to that end, the wonders we encounter along the way, and the satisfaction of discovering that what we sensed would happen does indeed happen. The pleasure of Chesterton often comes from the simple act of reading how he gets where we know he is going.)

In her biography of Chesterton, Maisie Ward quotes a Chesterton interview about the novel.

“In an ordinary detective tale the investigator discovers that some amiable-looking fellow who subscribes to all the charities, and is fond of animals, has murdered his grandmother, or is a trigamist. I thought it would be fun to make the tearing away of menacing masks reveal benevolence.

“Associated with that merely fantastic notion was the one that there is actually a lot of good to be discovered in unlikely places, and that we who are fighting each other may be all fighting on the right side. …

“There is a phrase at the end, spoke by Sunday. `Can ye drink from the cup that I drink of?’ which seems to mean that Sunday is God. That is the only serious note in the book, the face of Sunday changes, you tear off the mask of Nature and you find God.”

My first encounter with this book was during the time of social chaos in the mid 1970s. The Vietnam War had ended in a debacle. Nixon’s Presidency had ended in disgrace. Assassins still targeted Presidents and Presidential candidates. The economy was unstable. The Catholic Church was stumbling along as it continued to try to implement Vatican II.

Anarchists – under the more contemporary names of radicals and revolutionaries - were more than just fictional characters at that time.

Then, as now, I thought of myself as a poet (I let others judge how good a one!) and a journalist, a profession I ultimately pursued professionally. A journalist is in many ways a detective. The honest journalist is, of course, engaged in a quest to discover the truth.

Like Syme, while I played at being a rebel, I was really more in “rebellion against rebellion.” Even as I took part in many of the social/political movements of the time, I found that while they had ideas, they lacked soul. Consequently, I was always on the edge, watching and critiquing, aware that there should be something more.

I found the ultimate way to rebel against rebellion was to become more active in the most revolutionary movement in the world: Christianity (and, for me, The Catholic Church).

At the time that he wrote the novel, Chesterton was himself on the road to Rome.

And, in line with Chesterton’s comment above, I often find God through Nature. Indeed, at the time I first read this book, most of my discernable experiences of God came through Nature.

So Thursday is an apt day for me.

The book was not the first of Chesterton’s that I read – his biography of St. Francis takes that honor – but it was a major step in developing my devotion to his writings, and those writings played a vital role in helping me to rediscover and strengthen my faith.

This blog enables me to share that devotion, and to offer a little payback for lessons learned, which, I hope I will offer “with the great unconscious gravity” of a child of God “in possession of some impossible good news.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Launching Lawrence

In the spring of 1908, the unpublished D.H. Lawrence sent Chesterton one of his essays, asking for an appraisal. After a number of weeks, and much to Lawrence's displeasure, Mrs. Chesterton returned the manuscript, with apologies, saying that her husband's workload prevented him from evaluating the work as Lawrence had requested. [John Worthen, D.H. Lawrence, Cambridge, 1991, p. 190]

In 1909 Ford Maddox Ford attended a Dutch-Treat dinner for writers and publishers presided over by the poet Herbert Trench. At his table of five, Ford was joined by H.G. Wells, Hilaire Belloc, Maurice Baring and G.K. Chesterton. When Belloc began to insult a novelist at the next table, an embarrassed Wells changed the subject by loudly asking Ford to tell everyone about a new writer he had just discovered. Thus did Belloc help launch the career of D.H. Lawrence after Chesterton had taken a pass. [Edward Nehls, D. H. Lawrence, Madison, 1957, v. I, p. 202]

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Five Friends

It would appear we now have five contributors to this blog. Readers can count on posts every day. We're still working out assignments, but I'm so excited (valley girl accent) at the prospects of a jumping GKC blog. We'll see how it goes.

High School Friend

GKC still read by high schoolers? It'd appear so, at least from this blogger, who whips out a rather arcane quote from The Man Who Was Thursday. Most impressive.

Ok, cool Chesterton quote from The Man Who Was Thursday (which fits in well with God telling Moses he can only see His back): "…

"Listen to me," cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. "Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front..."

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Mystery of G.K.'s Weekly

[Reprinted from G.K.'s Weekly the week ending April 4, 1925]
From Notes and Queries of the later twentieth century.

The question of the meaning of the letters "G.K." on this rare and quaint old broadsheet have been much disputed. "Curious" will find the question discussed at length in Pillington's "The Alphabet of Industrial England." The view that the two initials stood for the "German Kaiser" is now generally abandoned; though Higgs points out that the German sovereign in question was an amateur in many of the arts, and was quite likely to have edited a literary paper all by himself; and that the contents of the paper show traces of the mental disturbance or weakness that is said to have been heriditary in his house.

It is now generally agreed that the monogram probably stands for the statement "God Knows," which was a ritual or religious reply common in the England of that time to a variety of questions affecting public life and private welfare. It can be ascertained from contemporary documents that questions such as "What will happen next?"--"What is the Protocol?"--"Where shall we get a house?"--"Why was Jinks knighted?"--"Who is playing with the bank rate?"--"What has become of the Navy?"--"What does this picture mean?"--"Who are the Slovenes?"--"Where will the income tax stop?"--"What on earth is to become of us?" and even "Is there a God?" were answered by this devout and dignified reply of "God Knows."

It is itself a sufficient proof of the passionate devotion to dogmatic theology that was the mark of the time, and a refutation of the idea that it was infected with scepticism. Various other theories, as that G.K. stood for Getting Kicked, Golfing Knickers, Going to the Kinema, General Kissing and Gratuitous Killing may be dismissed as most improbable. But a case may perhaps be made out for the theory recently advanced by Professor Pooter, that the Gin King, the celebrated bootlegger who became the richest man in the world by providing all the Prohibitionist countries with their chief article of consumption, conducted this organ in the interests of his immense business.

This, as the learned scholar truly remarks, would account both for the formal concealment of a formally illegal thing under initials, and for the actual ostentation and even vulgarity with which the initials are displayed. It has all the character of a brazen and accepted legal fiction. As to the notion that the personal initials of some obscure individual journalist, now forgotten, could ever have been counted sufficiently important for such a place, it is too absurd for discussion.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

New contributor

Greetings Friends of Chesterton, Kyro Lantsberger here. It looks like I am going to be a new "face" around here. Eric was looking for some other people to contribute, and found me. Ive written for Gilbert and a couple other Catholic publications here and there. I have the following words to say in introduction......My dad traveled the world with the Red Cross, picked out my name in Greece, and decided to make it my problem ever since. I grew up on a family farm in South Dakota, and have ambled about the face of the Earth ever after. Im a US Army veteran of Bosnia (2000) and Iraq (2003). My branch was PSYOP, psychological operations, which is the propaganda/information warfare branch of the Army. I feel honored to have served with the people I did, and am humbled by some of the mentoring extended to me as I developed into an NCO. Some of my other interests include history, weapons, martial arts, and fitness.

on the other hand........I am really not a militaristic person at all.

I love fine wine and dark beer. I listen to classical music and study classical paintings-- want to start a pre-raphaelite collection. I strum my never quite in tune guitar whenever I get a chance. Im married with 2 children, boy -5, girl -2. I also have a lifelong love of books and reading.

All of these things seem to have led me to discovering Chesterton. I grew up in a Catholic home, and was fairly well versed in apologetics, but for the most part, I swallowed the worldview that my college education (indoctrination) promoted. Looking back, I see it as an issue of pressure and authority. The worldview promoted on campus, essentially leftist, is presented as the only view which could possibly be held by educated, enlightened people. It was during my deployment to Bosnia that I really could no longer justify my professor's teachings with what I saw with my own two eyes. Their expanations and aphorisms proved only to be ridiculous when faced with a real world situation of this magnitude. This led me to deeply questioning EVERYTHING, and essentially starting over intellectually, discovering Plato and the classical philosophers, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics. I discovered modern thinkers whom I had never encountered before; Dietrich von Hildebrant, Josef Pieper, Jacques Maritan and......G. K. Chesterton. I extend that sense of humility, awe, and gratitude which I mentioned before regarding my unit members to these great thinkers. I am truly both baffled and angered when I think that all of these great thinkers must be sought out. The educational process in both secular and religious institutions has expunged all of these names.

Chesterton's thoughts were the keys to many locks which I had been looking for through many years without knowing it. I often had the feeling in certain situations that something didnt sound quite right, that there was something lacking in an idea, whether in politics, art, or religion. Chesteron's lively insight, and wonderous freshness put words to that funny feeling for me.

I hope you appreciate my thoughts here. I will try to find interesting and original things to share.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Over at Ignatius Insight

The Life and Theme of G.K. Chesterton Randall Paine An Introduction to "The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton"

Friends Needed

Chesterton and Friends is a collaborative blog among Eric Scheske, Nick Milne, and Joe Tremblay. Unfortunately, we lost Smokin' Joe, leaving Eric and Nick to carry the weight. Problem is, Chesterton is heavy. We've been plugging away for the past six weeks by ourselves, but we could use another blogger or two. If you're interested, let us know (email link on right). It's not a heavy-duty arrangement. You can post pretty much anything you want, within reason, whenever you want. We'd typically ask you to be accountable for one day during the week. If you post on other days as well, that's great.

Let us know. GKC blogs come and go quickly. This one has been chugging away for a year now. That's 45 in blog years.

Note: If anyone knows how I can get in touch with Kyro Lantsberger, please let me know. I had his email at one point, but I appear to have lost it.

Lewis Friends


When I started this blog, I couldn't find any blogs dedicated to GKC Friends. There were GKC blogs, but none (that I could find) dedicated to friends, disciples, famous pupils, etc.

Well, it appears that C.S. Lewis blogs are popping up. It's not surprising, of course, given the success of the Narnia movie. I found an intriguing one last night: The Window in the Garden. Like most of the 40 million blogs in blogdom, it might be defunct (if a blog hasn't been updated in over a month, I consider it a defunct candidate; more than three months, I declare it dead). But it consists of a lot of original C.S. Lewis script, which the blogger either keyed or scanned in. There are also some pretty good pictures, like the one above from Voyage of the Dawn Treader. You might want to check it out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

GKC Sighting

The folks at the Albuquerque Journal invoked the big man's name last week:

"Zacharias Moussaoui -- the so-called 20th hijacker from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States -- eludes the death penalty for his part in the deadliest mass murder in American history.

"Hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets demanding rights that don't exist, or at the very least don't apply. (For a brilliant, witty but almost despairing take on the "immigration madness, " read Tony Blankley's op-ed piece in Wednesday's Washington Times.)

"What's the common denominator? A disconnect between the law and common sense.

English essayist/novelist/poet G.K. Chesterton wrote nearly 100 years ago, "We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table."


"Well, we are well along that road -- and to apply to the law what poet Robert Frost said about free verse, for quite some time we've been playing tennis without a net."

Aside: GKC would've also liked Frost's analogy.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

GKC and Orson

In 1981, according to a local Australian Radio Guide, a radio adaptation of The Man Who Was Thursday was broadcast on April 18, 7:30 P.M., on ABC Radio 2's "World Theatre." Chesterton's novel was dramatized by Tony Evans and featured Edgar Metcalfe as Gabriel Syme and Ray Long as President Sunday. [The Chesterton Review, November, 1981, pp. 360-61.] As some Chesterton fans may recall, an earlier radio dramatization of The Man Who Was Thursday was broadcast on Orson Welles' Mercury Theater, September 5, 1938 (just a few weeks before Welles' famous radio recreation of The War of the Worlds). Frank Brady's 1989 biography, Citizen Welles, offers some interesting sidelights on this broadcast. Chesterton's novel was the last production of the Mercury Radio Theatre's inaugural season. Brady credits Welles' "splendid adaptation" of Thursday ("one of the finest shows of the season") with the last minute decision by CBS to renew the Mercury Theatre series. Furthermore, according to Brady, "Welles had great affinity for the works of Chesterton and decided to write the adaptation himself, allowing no assistance." [New York, p. 144]

Monday, May 08, 2006

Reuters echoes Chestertonian conceit

A recent story from that venerable news agency fauns over scientism's latest triumph: conclusively proving that kicking the ball towards the top corner of the net on a penalty kick in Soccer (or Football, for you ancient traditionalists) is the best way to score.

[Quantum Physicist Ken] Bray has analyzed memorable games over the past 50 years and applied research in physics, biology, computing and psychology to the beautiful game.

Using biomechanics to calculate the absolute reach of a goalkeeper diving to try to save a penalty, Bray has identified an area near the posts and in the top corners where the goalkeeper cannot reach as the "unsaveable zone."

"If a player were to place the ball in those regions, which are 28-30 percent of the goal area, there is not a sniff that the goalkeeper can do to get across to them," explained Bray, from the University of Bath in England.

He advised goalkeepers to move before the kick is taken because if they wait, the ball will be halfway to the goal before they can react.

He said that where the striker places and points his standing foot is a good clue to where the ball will go.

"It's been shown that in about 85 percent of cases the direction in which that foot points is the direction of the shot," he told a news conference in London.

Which is all very well and good, of course. Marvelous time to be alive, etc.

We are reminded, however, of a truly inspiring selection from Chesterton's "On the Pursuit of Success" (from All Things Considered), which I shall reproduce here:

It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating. Both are much too simple to require any literary explanation. If you are in for the high jump, either jump higher than any one else, or manage somehow to pretend that you have done so. If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success. Especially you cannot want a book about Success such as those which you can now find scattered by the hundred about the book-market. You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners.

If these writers, for instance, said anything about success in jumping it would be something like this: "The jumper must have a clear aim before him. He must desire definitely to jump higher than the other men who are in for the same competition. He must let no feeble feelings of mercy (sneaked from the sickening Little Englanders and Pro-Boers) prevent him from trying to do his best. He must remember that a competition in jumping is distinctly competitive, and that, as Darwin has gloriously demonstrated, THE WEAKEST GO TO THE WALL." That is the kind of thing the book would say, and very useful it would be, no doubt, if read out in a low and tense voice to a young man just about to take the high jump.

Or suppose that in the course of his intellectual rambles the philosopher of Success dropped upon our other case, that of playing cards, his bracing advice would run—"In playing cards it is very necessary to avoid the mistake (commonly made by maudlin humanitarians and Free Traders) of permitting your opponent to win the game. You must have grit and snap and go in to win. The days of idealism and superstition are over. We live in a time of science and hard common sense, and it has now been definitely proved that in any game where two are playing IF ONE DOES NOT WIN THE OTHER WILL." It is all very stirring, of course; but I confess that if I were playing cards I would rather have some decent little book which told me the rules of the game. Beyond the rules of the game it is all a question either of talent or dishonesty; and I will undertake to provide either one or the other—which, it is not for me to say.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Chesterton predicts the Internet

A brief excerpt from his short story, "A Real Discovery:"
[The story is set in] the period in which the new application of physics and electricity had reached their widest and wildest triumphs. Invisible wires linked together the remotest continents and islands: a tangled and tingling net of vibration and sound. [...] Every house, it need hardly be said, was fitted up with receptacles for the new signalling; and woven about with a viewless veil of voices from all the ends of the earth. American interviewers were saved the trouble of crossing the Atlantic; their flying ghosts or spirits could besiege the house and make the householder happy with their ceaseless and artless queries about all the details of the household. The less reputable member of the Smith family, who had been paid a considerable sum of money on the condition of his becoming an empire-builder in the more remote parts of Canada, was enabled to revisit his home at all hours of the day; and his flowing and continuous demands for more money filled the house with the sense of something uninterrupted and familiar. The rich uncle, who was so much respected by reason of his living in Australia, was enabled to lend his somewhat loud and hearty voice to the most intimate conversation of the tea-table, as if the intervening seas and continents had been swallowed up in his large and roaring mouth, as in the mouth of Gargantua. In short, the family enjoyed all the latest comforts and conveniences that science could provide.
The story is based along the familiar Chestertonian lines of men going halfway around the world to avoid simply speaking to their neighbour, and is broadly concerned with a man who has managed to invent a means of manufacturing empty space. It is not one of his most compelling stories.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

CMQ: A GKC Friend Today

I’ve started reading a new publication, and I’m recommending it to readers: Catholic Men’s Quarterly. I received sample issues in the mail two weeks ago, and I was impressed. Drink, humor, history, travel, theology. Each issue is 44 pages, and subscriptions are only $20 a year.

Readers will find a lot of Chesterton, Belloc, and other writers in that vein. The current issue, for instance, contains a piece about the "new Distributism." There is also a new column that drips with wine-loving Catholicism of GKC and his friends: Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion," which contains this lesser-known anecdote:

The "love of such as Chesterton and Belloc of both smoking and drinking are very well known; it was even said by their contemporaries that the Chesterbelloc had misheard the Creed, and thought it demanded belief in 'One, Holy, Catholic, and Alcoholic Church.'"

Monday, May 01, 2006

A glimpse into the far future, courtesy of the distant past

Continuing with our coverage of oddities from back issues of G.K's Weekly, Chesterton's wonderful magazine, we come upon a column which is much like the one posted most recently, except that it is from a hundred years in the future, rather than the past. Behold:
FROM G.K.'S WEEKLY A HUNDRED YEARS HENCE

March 28, 2025.--
. . . Professor Chew is already famous among the Higher Critics for his reconstruction of the history of St. Joan or Joanna, to whom he has assigned a date much later than that of orthodox tradition; such documents as have survived the Great Change indicating that canonisation following on her rehabilitation can definitely be fixed in the twentieth century. Moreover it is clear that the most enlightened classes knew nothing of her until her cause was championed by Bernhardi Shaw, the famous German propagandist. Her surname seems to have been Southcott, though she was sometimes called "of the Ark" in reference to the sacred box that contained her scriptures. The Church is much criticised for still stubbornly refusing to accept these results of research; especially since Professor Chew's final discovery about the oil-fields of Chapagne. He points out that the affair obviously happened under the dynasty of the Oil Kings, which preceded our present royal house of Rubber Kings; since there is definite reference to Joanna making a king at Rheims through the power of oil.

His new work is concerned with the old thesis that our present system is much older than is commonly supposed; and that the alleged period of anarchy, in which economic and sexual activities were left to the caprice of individuals, was altogether legendary. He points out that there is no official record of the alleged "love-making" and personal proposals of marriage in any of the State papers or government reports; and that these individual adventures are only recorded in the "novels" or narratives of the period, which are full of improbable events. "To ask us to believe," he concludes, "that a man felt a personal attraction to a woman at the same time as the woman to the man, and that this occurred continually throughout society, is to ask us to believe that society was founded on a coincidence." He points out, moreover, that as men are not equal in attractive power, any more than in money making, all the attractive men would have had enormous harems and all the unattractive have remained celibate. In this there is probably some exaggeration: the professor hardly allows for a readiness for such reciprocation in normal psychology. We suspect that in the Victorian time polygamy in a legalised sense was the exception rather than the rule . . .
Although some of the specifics are off, the general sentiment is horrifically accurate.