Friday, June 29, 2007

Upon This Coward

from Chesterton Day by Day

WHEN Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its corner-stone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward -- in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing -- the historic Christian Church -- was founded upon a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.
G.K. Chesterton in Heretics


Thursday, June 28, 2007


Special bulletin:

Dawn Eden was apparently given the American Chesterton Society's prestigious "Outline of Sanity" award shortly after her address at the recent conference. Boo to all the reporters who failed to mention this fact in their accounts, but cheers indeed for Dawn.

Happy anniversary to the Chesterblogg

Today is the wedding anniversary of G. K. and Frances (June 28, 1901).

For their silver anniversary in 1926 he wrote:

Epithalamium Argentum

I need not say I love you yet
You know how doth my heart oppress
The intolerable tenderness
That broke my body when we met.
I need not say I love you yet.

But let me say I fear you yet
You the long years not vulgarise,
You open your immortal eyes
And we for the first time have met.
Cover your eyes; I fear you yet.

Ann Coulter clerihew

Ann Coulter,
sensibility jolter,
will continue to say what she wants to say
as long as we pay

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A fragment

The following was written by Gilbert some time between 1902 and 1906. It's short but sweet.
The furious Frenchman comes with his clarions and his drums,
His tactics of Sadowa and his maxims of Jean-Paul,
He is bursting on our flanks, grasp your pikes and close your ranks,
For Belloc never comes but to conquer or to fall.
Just a little someting to bide the time.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Conference Round-Up

For the sake of all those who could not be there in person (like me, I regret to say; next year, by God!), here is a broad selection of reports from those lucky enough to attend 2007's ChesterCon.
  • The American Chesterton Society's blog has a number of reports from the conference floor, courtesy of both Nancy Brown and Dr. Thursday. 1, 2, 3, 4.
  • The Unknown Poet at Waiting for Godot to Leave has three meaty posts about the experience, making me salivate with envy. 1, 2, 3.
  • Joe Grabowski, a seminarian with a good sense of narrative, has another three solid entries about the weekend. 1, 2, 3.
  • Denny at The Book Den has a series of in-depth looks at some of the lectures that were given as well as the general ambience of the thing. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
  • Todd Mitchell at With Tears Oppressed offers a somewhat abstract but wholly enjoyable post about time spent at the conference. 1.
  • And of course, the incomparable Dawn Eden speaks about her speaking about her book about chastity at the conference (fisk that one for grammar, Mr. Dailey!). 1.
That should keep you busy for a while, at least. Sounds like a grand old time, and I look forward to attending the conference next year, possibly even on the school's dime and in an official capacity if I can convince them it's worthwhile. We'll see.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Street Fight Part 2

Here is an update on my fight with a local op-ed writer. It has been long. It has not been pretty. I know when two people fight no one wins. Of course this is not about me or her winning. From my point of view it is about trying to turn this ginormous runaway culture of death train back on the right track.

In her second-to-last article she said I had obscenely misrepresented her position on abortion. Allowing that I could have done that my follow up letter said that if indeed she was against abortion under any circumstances I would apologize in every media outlet I have access to. She began her last article talking about a bumper sticker she saw, “We Vote Pro-Life”. She says, “There is a lot to be read into that statement. I assume it meant the occupants apply the standard litmus test of a candidate’s stance on abortion to determine worthiness of a vote. Kind of ironic when you consider most elected officials opposing abortion still uphold what is transpiring in the slaughterhouse formally known as Iraq and continue to refuse medical benefits to our nation’s children.” This sets abortion at best third on her list maybe fourth because she also strongly believes that the Palestinians are correct in trying to get rid of Israel. Then she said something promising “For the record, I made my opposition to abortion perfectly clear.” This she did not do but maybe she thought she had so I held out hope that I was wrong. Then she follows that statement with, “While I’m in favor of birth control, including “morning after” emergency contraception.”
After that statement my heart sank. Then she says, “However, rather than imposing an all-out ban on abortion so the erstwhile “pro-lifers” can go buy stock in coat hangers, I suggested attacking the causes for why women seek abortions.” This is the new twist on the personally opposed but… rhetoric. It is like she is saying that we stop working on a cancer cure until we get everyone to stop smoking. No, when one has a cancer you first cut it out then apply treatment to stop the growth then and only then do you confront life style. She believes women seek abortions (70% she tells us) is for financial reasons. Poverty is now a crime punishable by death. Margaret Sanger would be proud. She then goes on in the article in favor of discarding left over embryos from in-vitro fertilization to be used in embryonic stem cell research.

My latest letter to the editor follows:

Since my last letter to the editor I have longed to make a public apology for misrepresenting Tammy O’s view on abortion. This began because she came out against partial birth abortion but said any other type was OK. Now she is saying that she opposes surgical abortion but favors chemical abortion which she calls “emergency contraception” aka the "morning after" pill. This pill was supposed to be "different" from Mifepristone (RU-486), which induces a miscarriage at any time after conception. The company that produces the chemical agent delivered through this pill, Women's Capital Corp. (WCC) claimed that their "Plan B" pill used "progestin", a hormone used in contraceptive pills, to interfere with ovulation or prevent fertilization. However, the weight of medical evidence clearly disputed the claim. This chemical mix is an abortifacient, in that it makes the implantation of human life in the womb impossible. In effect, the "Plan B" Pill is no different than abortion-inducing medications like RU-486 used to cause medical abortions, it evicts human life.

“It is not as if any of these attempts to distinguish between chemicals which allegedly prevent fertilization and those that actually kill the child does not really matter in this barbarism disguised as science. A chemical weapon is a chemical weapon. This new "pill" essentially denies nascent human life any room at the Inn, the first home of his or her mothers' womb. This "Plan B" chemical weapon thus renders that human life homeless, interrupting "Plan A", which is life and safety that is supposed to take place in the warmth and nurturing environment of the womb.”

Then she supports selective abortion (what other kind is there?) inherent with America’s unregulated in-vitro fertilization industry. With embryonic stem cell research (ESR) you believe the ends justify the means in that many should die so one can live. Not one clinical test using ESR has been successful yet stem cells from adults and umbilical cords have worked. So why are you continuing to pursue a scientific dead end? (Pun intended). But the issue is no longer about science; it’s about when life begins and when life ends and who gets to decide.

Tammy, I have not been as kind as I should have but you still favor death, so it is with a heavy heart that I see your views on the genocide of children have not changed and I can not apologize for my earlier statements only for my sarcasm.

FYI: my bumper sticker says, ‘Adoption – the loving choice’.

Your friend,
Alan B. Capasso, MI

Thursday, June 21, 2007

An Easy Essay

People credit Dorothy Day
with starting
the Catholic Worker movement.
Dorothy Day credits Peter Maurin
with the ideas behind
the Catholic Worker movement.
Peter Maurin credits
many Catholic thinkers
for the ideas he had.
In his Easy Essays
Maurin names many of those thinkers.

G. K Chesterton
shows up in the Easy Essays.
Maurin likes to quote
Chesterton’s idea that
“The Christian ideal
has not been tried
hnd found wanting.
It has been found difficult
hnd left untried.”

Maurin cites that quote
several times.

Chesterton shows up again
In an essay called

“R. H Tawney said
that Englishmen wear blinkers.
Because they wear blinkers
the Englishmen
lack vision.
Because they lack vision
the Englishmen
are very strong
for supervision.
And supervision
Is not a substitute
for vision.
A few Englishman
got rid of their blinkers.
Among the Englishmen
Who got rid of their blinkers
one can name:
William Cobbett,
John Ruskin,
William Morris,
Arthur Penty,
Hilaire Belloc,
G. K. Chesterton
Eric Gill ….”

It's easy to see
Peter Maurin
had the right idea.

Conference CDs

CDs of the American Chesterton Society conference talks are now available at

"If for some inexcusable reason you did not attend this year's Conference here's a chance to hear what you missed."

Order them now if you want to have them before the summer is over: "Please allow eight weeks for delivery." I hear patience is a virtue.


UPDATE: Eight weeks was a large safety net, I suppose, for I happily received them in a little over one week. I ordered on June 21, and they arrived to my mailbox on June 30. The recording quality is superb. Thanks to the Dailey family at the St John Fisher Forum for producing these.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Devoted to a Drivelling Dissipation

Today's quote from Chesterton Day by Day is another bit on the comradeship of men (see my previous post "Man Night"):
JUNE 20th

THERE are two very curious things which the critic of life may observe. The first is the fact that there is one real difference between men and women: that women prefer to talk in two's, while men prefer to talk in three's. The second is that when you find (as you often do) three young cads and idiots going about together and getting drunk together every day, you generally find that one of the three cads and idiots is (for some extraordinary reason) not a cad and not an idiot. In those small groups devoted to a drivelling dissipation there is almost always one man who seems to have condescended to his company: one man who, while he can talk a foul triviality with his fellows, can also talk politics with a Socialist, or philosophy with a Catholic.

G.K. Chesterton in Tremendous Trifles


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sleuth Show

The big guy will be making appearance in Chicago: At the Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore. Gilbert Magazine's Art Livingston will play GKC.

Our next Meeting of Minds (XIV) is scheduled for Friday & Saturday October 26 & 27 at 8:PM. Our guests will provide the audience with an animated, witty, enlightended & informative conversation. The guests are G. K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw, Bram Stoker, Ellen Terry, & Oscar Wilde. Admission will be $10/person payable with reservation with a 30 person limit.{We had 32 people for both performances last year}.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Considerations of a Ceremony

As I mentioned all too briefly last week - and apparently with poor grammar - last Monday saw me graduate from the University of Western Ontario with an Honours BA in English. Hooray!

There were several Chestertonian elements to the thing that struck me at the time, though they were more bittersweet than reassuring. Primarily, that is, they were elements that suggested much that was possible, but nothing much that was ever really realized.

Many of you will no doubt have experienced (endured, for all I know) similar ceremonies, so all of this may come as no surprise. Knowing as I do my school's tendency towards the boring and the cheap, however, I must count myself almost (almost) delighted by the proceedings, which were somewhat different than I thought they would be.

That we - that is, my extensive class and myself - should mill about in a gym offsite while the exasperated organizers attempted to herd us into some semblance of alphabetical order was about what I expected, at the outset. Our robes generally fit well, though they were all rented, and there was something in that crowd of black-clad geeks that seemed to suggest something faintly hermetic and arcane, though it was often spoiled by the high-pitched tittering of happy women and the brawny halloos of young men catching sight of one another. UWO, you see, is no wizards' school. Above that sea of black bobbed the heads of those I had known and loved so well, and I was somewhat surprised to see that almost nobody was wearing the mortarboard to which they were entitled. I say "almost" because, perhaps characteristically, the field of bare heads was interrupted by a single black square, worn at a jaunty angle by my friend of many years, which did not surprise me in the least. He alone really looked the part as he glided around serenely, hands alternating between a steady clasp behind the back and gently making points in the air as he spoke.

Once the proper lines had more or less coalesced, the organizers - who I can only assume in retrospect were the professors emeriti, for such was what their eventual placement on stage suggested - began to don their own robes for the occasion, and this marked a moment of real pleasure for me, though one largely of amusement for the others, who are moderns and heathens and have no sense of space. The robes and caps worn by the organizers appear to have been designed to their own specifications, or at least with some greater thought in mind than "make it loose and dark." Theirs were rather colourful, in fact, and their caps were extravagant and luxurious, with all sorts of fringes and tassles and so forth in evidence. I was reminded of the garden party that concludes The Man Who Was Thursday, though I regret to say that my ignorance of the individual professors' specific reputations or professional capacities prevented me from making the sort of connections that were so obvious on that other occasion, or in the dazzling uniforms of the reconsistuted boroughs in The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

Thereafter we all moved out, keeping careful tabs on who was where in line so that we would not eventually get up on stage at the wrong time. Many schools are small, but UWO is not; there were hundreds of us to get through, and this was the first of two ceremonies to be held that day during a week that would see two every day. Anyway, this snaking black line obstructed traffic and caused all sorts of confusion as it made its way into the auditorium proper, where we were greeted with the traditional processional music (though not, if memory serves, the traditional processional music by Elgar). We found our seats and awaited the entrance of the rest of the professors emeriti, who were to a man and woman clad in robes so bright and curious as to put ours to shame. Old-guard Canadian journalist Rod McQueen was on hand to receive an honorary degree, and he too was dressed in a highly distinctive outfit, wrought in yellow, purple and dark violet bordering on blue (if I did not misapprehend this latter colour in the dim light).

The procession of the colourful processors was attended by a number of things that seemed again to be out of place in a school so frequently and obsessively (and needlessly) mundane; first among them were the banners. A number of these were arrayed on the stage behind the professors emeriti, but several were carried in as well in a manner reminiscent of the great battle eagle of imperial Rome, or the cross of Peter the Hermit. There was little beautiful about them, though, I'm afraid. They were done in the strange modern style that seems actually to disdain skill and quality, and were by measures childish or incomprehensible. We may at least say of them charitably that their depictions approached their intended subjects, and may even have looked at them very hard and with genuine admiration before deciding to do their own thing.

Next came the Mace, which was both as plain and as portentous as the name suggests. It was an enormous silver mace, brought forward with all due reverence, and presented in a way that suggested it was being brandished in the abstract, though both the threat and the promise of the thing were dulled wholly by the fact that few present had ever heard of the school's mace or had any idea what it was for apart from the wholesome and unacademic pursuit of breaking heads. Our schools will break idols, barriers and spirits with gleeful abandon, but anything beyond that smacks too much of objective truth.

Thereafter things progressed efficiently. One person in a hundred (charitably) leapt to his feet when the opening notes of "God Save the Queen" were played, with the rest following them upwards in baffled alarm. This sorry production was followed by the colonial anthem (that is, "O Canada"), and then a return to our sitting position. The girl beside me: "What was that song we stood up for first?" Someone in the row behind: "Why did they play 'My Country 'Tis of Thee'?"

This was followed by a number of warm, sincere, and inexorably platitudinous speeches, including that of Mr. (now Dr.) McQueen. Then the PhD students got their hoods, and received their applause. Then the MA students. Then us. All present were counselled to hold their applause until the end of each section, or we'd be there all day, but this edict was not able to prevent sporadic cheers when people of note to our tribe took the stage. I was gratified to receive some myself, but maintained my grim resolve, for this was a solemn occasion. Following the example of those who had passed before me, I knelt before the subchancellor tasked with hooding me to receive my degree. He uttered the sacred words (a secret; I will not divulge them) inititating me into the mysteries of the baccalaureate - which name sounds far more ominous and lusty than what it actually describes, regretably - and the deed was done. I walked off the stage in my stately way, pausing briefly for poorly-lit photographs before descending the steps.

That's the substance of the thing. There were elements of it, as I suggested, that approached the sort of mystic reality that one would hope to find in a ceremony of this sort, but on the whole it seemed to my monstrous soul to be a sumptuous veneer on nothing very much. It fostered in me feelings much like those that must have swum about so furiously in the hearts of The Great Reformers of centuries past as they smashed statues, shredded paintings and burned chapels to the ground; tearing the useless vanity from the essential core of the thing. I was frustrated as they were, yes, but looking around at the plainly delighted faces of my colleagues, I discovered that I was wrong, too, as they were.

Getting a BA is not the same as a coronation, or a wedding, or an excommunication, though for some I'm told it feels like all three and more; but this is no reason to insist that the experience should be drab, utilitarian or unmemorable. If we can cheer the new prince with the flash of purple and a peal of brass, we can do the same for a new (if minor) lord in the court of the academy.

But enough of all this. Next week we'll return to simpler stuff, but for now I'm talking about this. It helps take the sting off of my non-presence at Chestercon, which wrapped up yesterday, no doubt to great acclaim and gentle regret. Around the same time they would have been finishing it all off, I myself finally finished Chesterton's The Flying Inn, a novel that is remarkably straightforward but for a few incidents that are never explained and a conclusion that baffles utterly. I'll have more to say about the book eventually, but for now I'm going to bed.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Report from ChesterCon

Not here, but over at The Unknown Poet's blog.

It sounds hot there again this year. I hope the first-timers found the fans kept hidden in the basement last night.

Let's all turn off our A/C in an act of solidarity. Heh.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chesterton citing

A while back I mentioned that I’ve been working my way through My Life with the Saints by Father James Martin.

Father Martin does not list Chesterton among his “holy people,” but he does cite GKC

In his appreciation of St. Francis, he mentions that he’s read a number of biographies, including “G. K. Chesterton’s affectionate one.”

Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis was actually one of the books that got me reading Chesterton in the first place, so I was disappointed Father Martin did not say more about it.

He made up for that in is discussion of St. Thomas Aquinas and Chesterton.

“In his touching biography, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the English writer G. K. Chesterton compares Thomas and another beloved saint, Francis of Assisi. Were we to see the two of them coming over the hill in their friars’ habits, the contrast between them would seem almost comic. (But what a wonderful conversation they would surely have!) Francis, writes Chesterton, was a 'lean and lively little man; thin as a thread and vibrant as a bowstring; and in his motions like an arrow from a bow.' Thomas, on the other hand, he describes as a 'huge, heavy bull of a man, fat and slow and quiet; very mild and magnanimous but not very sociable; shy, even apart from the humility of loneliness.'”

He later cites Chesterton’s “delightful phrase, 'occasionally wrote a hymn like a man taking a holiday'” in reference to St. Thomas’ songs we still sing.

Fr. Martin said he came to like Aquinas the person, not the philosopher, “Specifically, it was the person I met in G. K Chesterton’s Saint Thomas Aquinas whom I found so compelling and attractive. The immensely learned man given to deep humility. The theologian whose lifelong study of God drew him ever closer to God. The famously busy scholar who was not too busy to write a poem or a hymn. The active person whose life was rooted in prayer.”

Finally, in his last section “For Further Reading,” he recommends Chesterton’s biography as “a fine introduction to the life of the Angelic Doctor.”

I haven’t read Chesterton's Aquinas in a while. Maybe that should be one of the books I add to my “To Read” pile for the summer.

But first, I have to finish Father Martin’s book - it’s due back at the library!


"GILBERT CHESTERTON IS DEAD" began Fr Vincent McNabb's written eulogy in G.K.'s Weekly regarding the event, 71 years ago today, when "His great heart gave way."


The 26th Annual Conference of the American Chesterton Society begins this evening. I am homesick at home this year, but join them in spirit. Hopefully Kyro will make it to the conference and can give us some posts as events unfold.


And today's quote from Chesterton Day by Day is a gut-splitter: "You say your civilization will include all talents. Will it? Do you really mean to say that at the moment when the Esquimaux has learnt to vote for a County Council, you will have learnt to spear a walrus?" (from The Napoleon of Notting Hill)


A clerihew

For Arthur Clough
Life was short and sometimes tough.
His skeptical views and rhymes
Did not always fit his times.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What's Wrong with the World

I can tell you what's wrong with my world: no time. Twelve-hour days, then kid functions up the wazoo (whazoo?). For today, I merely direct everyone's attention to this blog: What's Wrong with the World.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Anger Online

Matthew Anger, editor of the recently published Belloc anthology The Eyewitness, has been blogging for a year and a half at Glendalough: Books, Philosophy and Culture.


Monday, June 11, 2007


I am now the proud bearer of an Honours BA in English from the University of Western Ontario. This has been taking some time, though, so I'm afraid I don't have any post for today.

So, there you go.

PSA: How to Open a Book

If you buy old books, then occasionally you'll come across a book that is unopened: Pages are joined with the next at the top or bottom. God forbid that the book remain unread, a mere collector's item, but it must be opened! In eagerness I once ripped a page of an old collection of Belloc essays. I will not do the same with my newly acquired Life of Johnson.

Here, courtesy of the Tappin Book Mine, are the needed instructions:

unopened: A state where the book's pages at the fore edge and/or top are still joined from the folding. This cannot occur if the book has been properly cut(See: uncut). At one time many books were issued unopened, and it is not uncommon to find older books still in this pristine state.

A rare book that is unopened may be considerably more valuable than that same book opened. Therefore, one should consider carefully before opening a book. Of course, you cannot read a book that is unopened, at least not in its entirety.

NOTE: If you wish to "Open" a book in order to read it, DO NOT USE A VERY SHARP BLADE TO OPEN IT. Use something like a letter opener, and gently TEAR the fold, DO NOT CUT THE FOLD. You may find it useful to sharpen the crease at the fold before you attempt to open it. Don't use your finger to open a book, either. That is guaranteed to result in a book that is "Badly Opened", with rough, ragged tears that extend into the page. At one time, Gentlemen carried a "Paperknife" to open books.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Classic Melancholy

Maybe doesnt fit with the beautiful weather of early summer, but too classic to pass up.

Basil Rathbone reading Poe over illustrations by Gustav Dore'. Can you get cooler than that? Well, you could add Chesterton on Poe from Robert Louis Stevenson.

"Dark wine, dying lamps, drugging odours, a sense of being stifled in curtains of black velvet, a substance which is at once utterly black and unfathomably soft, all carried with them a sense of indefinite and infinite decay…The point of Poe is that we feel that everything is decaying, including ourselves; faces are already growing featureless like those of lepers; roof-trees are rotting from root to roof; one great grey fungus as vast as a forest is sucking up life rather than giving it forth; mirrored in stagnant pools like lakes of poison which yet fade without line or frontier into the swamp. The stars are not clean in his sight; but are rather more worlds made for worms. And this corruption is increased, by an intense imaginative genius, with the addition of a satin surface of luxury and even a terrible sort of comfort… This dark luxury has something almost liquid about it. Its laxity seems to be betraying more vividly how all these things are being sucked away from us, down a slow whirlpool more like a moving swamp. That is the atmosphere of Edgar Allan Poe; a sort of rich rottenness of decomposition, with something thick and narcotic in the very air."

Those of us who know GKCs bio are aware that he suffered from deep melancholia and depression as a young man. Chesterton was able to climb out of that pit, but the pendulum swung the other way for Poe.

Have a great weekend.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Man Night

My friend, Marcel, is a proponent of what he calls "Man Night". On these nights we can gather, with no gurlz alowd, in a backyard or a bowling alley. We can get a bit loud and need not pay excessive attention to manners. Throughout the night, with beverages and games for a framework, there is plenty of conversation.

Chesterton wrote about the Man Night in What's Wrong with the World, though he referred to it as comradeship: "No one has even begun to understand comradeship who does not accept with it a certain hearty eagerness in eating, drinking, or smoking, an uproarious materialism which to many women appears only hoggish. You may call the thing an orgy or a sacrament; it is certainly an essential."

And again, in response to a woman asking why should not there be this comradeship between the sexes, G.K. wrote: "Because if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade you would turn me out of the house."


Marcel is burdened with a Masters degree in theology, and he is a director of campus ministry at St Mary's next to Texas A&M University. He writes a high-quality blog called Aggie Catholics. After a few more Man Nights I'm sure we'll be seeing him quote Chesterton and Belloc over there.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

An All-Strong Edition

Yep, that's what the good editors at Gilbert Magazine called the "Clerihew Corner" in their April/May edition (which, oddly, I received June 7 - how Chestertonian).

Anyway, they had a backlog of my humble efforts (maybe impacted would be a better word), so they published six of them in one go.

I'd better write some more!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

New Gilbert is Here

The new Gilbert Magazine arrived, and it's a good one: heavy on Joseph Pearce, Schumacher, economics. They're favorite topics of mine, so I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

The best part, however, might be Sean Dailey's first trifle: Golfer Bobby Jones was a Catholic convert and Chesterton fan. He probably read GKC's Fr. Brown story "The Queer Feet," which features a club where the men wear green jackets. Bobby belonged to Augusta National. You probably see the connection, but if not, check out the Golf Digest story, Why Green? Excerpt:

Jones read and often consulted Giovanni Papini's The Life of Christ. Papini had converted to Catholicism, as Jones would do later in life. Authors Charles Price and Mark Frost have claimed that Jones' reading of Papini helped him decide to convert. English writer G.K. Chesterton, widely read during Augusta National's formative years in the 1930s, was another convert. Abbass believes Jones would have read his stories that featured the amateur sleuth Father Brown. Therein, according to Abbass, lies the reason the Masters jacket is green.

In Chesterton's story "The Queer Feet," published in 1911, a thief makes it into an exclusive London dining club that met in the very private Vernon Hotel. Chesterton wrote that the hotel prospered "not by attracting people, but actually by turning people away," and noted, "It was a small hotel, and a very inconvenient one. But its inconveniences were considered as walls protecting a particular class."

Members of a club called The Twelve True Fishermen met there one evening, in their usual dress of black pants and jackets. They brought their "celebrated set of fish knives and forks, which were, as it were, the insignia of the society, each in the form of a fish, and each loaded at the hilt with one large pearl." The waiters, of whom there were always 15, also wore black pants and jackets. However, one waiter was deathly ill, and could not attend. Father Brown had been summoned to minister to him. A thief, aware of the waiter's absence, wore the identical uniform and got into the hotel. The waiters thought he was a Fisherman, while the members assumed he was a new waiter.

The thief removed the dinnerware from the kitchen after the meal. He was nearly out of the hotel when Father Brown heard unexpected footsteps. He captured the thief.

Chesterton wrote that the club "decreed that henceforth the members would wear green evening coats instead of black to distinguish them from the waiters. One never knows what mistakes may arise when one so looks like a waiter. Or a waiter like a gentleman."

Patrick Deneen: What I Saw in America

Here is another blog named after a book by G.K. Chesterton: Patrick Deneen's What I Saw in America. Deneen is an associate professor of government at Georgetown University. At this time when the blogosphere offers so much crud to sift through, Patrick Deneen's writing is high quality.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Vocation of Business

John Médaille, author of The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace, sent this announcement along. I had bookmarked it on when it was not yet released, but now that it is available I don't at the moment have the time to read it (I just bought a 3-vol 1900 edition of Life of Johnson, among a dozen other gems). If any reader of this blog picks up Médaille's book, then please write a short review, send it along, and we'll post it here if you like.
New Book on Distributism:
I am proud to announce the publication of my book, The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace, by Continuum International.

The overriding theme of this book is that the original unity of distributive and corrective justice that prevailed in both economics and moral discourse until the 16th and seventeenth centuries was shattered by the rise of an individualistic capitalism that relied on corrective justice (justice in exchange) alone. But an economics that lacks a distributive principle will attain neither equity nor equilibrium and will be inherently unstable and increasingly reliant on both government power (Keynesianism) and consumer credit (usury) to correct the imbalances. Catholic social teaching, by contrast, emphasis a greater equity in the distribution of land and other means of production, and the just wage, and thereby leads more naturally to economic equilibrium and social justice. Finally, the book shows many examples of functioning systems, both large scale and small, that operate on the principles taught by the Church and produce a high degree of both equity and equilibrium.

I am also proud to have two very nice "blurbs."

‘In this remarkable book John Médaille succeeds in showing how the more radical elements in Catholic Social teaching can be turned into really practical projects for building an alternative to capitalism. He shows that the key is to alter the culture of the business and the corporation in order to ensure that political and economic purposes, distributive and corrective justice become once again integrated, as classical philosophy and Christian theology alike demand. *The Vocation of business* supplies us at last with some keys for the turning of Christian critique of liberalism into a new from of effective practice.’

John Milbank University of Nottingham

"John Médaille has produced a tour de force - a book that manages to give the reader just enough insight into the various thinkers and subjects treated without overloading the reader and without missing anything important out. The careful yet unequivocal judgement on neoconservatism and the chapter on Distributism are particularly good."

Helen Alford OP, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Angelicum

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Universalists

There are some authors who find a niche and fill it. They figure out what works, hone their skills on that, and never progress beyond it. Danielle Steele comes to mind. There have been good authors who have done this - even great authors. Thackeray. Larry McMurtry. Graham Greene. Alfred Duggan. Talbot Mundy. Even Charles Dickens could, with a certain blushing hesitancy, be "accused" of this sort of tight focus, for all his considerable and broad majesty.

But then, there are others. We remember Bernini for his sculptures; we remember Caravaggio for his paintings. And they were unspeakably good. But there are also the likes of Michelangelo or Gustave Dore, who could quite reasonably be celebrated for their contributions to any number of fields. They didn't just stick to one topic or style.

I was speaking of authors, though. Yes, the Other Kind are quite a different bunch, and we can easily count Chesterton among them. They are the universalists, though not (always) in the unfortunate religious sense. They see all things, and find them interesting. They want to examine them. They want to connect them. Most of all, though, they want to have fun with and craft beauty from the strange, conflicting confluences of this curious world of ours. They want synthesis, but not the forced synthesis of the totalitarian approach, wherein history is hammered into something that pretends to be old to support something that is manifestly new.

This universalist approach takes many shapes, some concerned with subject matter, others concerned with form. We can think of the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, who was a composer of not inconsiderable talent before he was an infamous pundit, and whose philosophy of "accepting all the paths" (as Chesterton described it in Orthodoxy) was, in its very universalism, his undoing. We can think of Nietzsche's forebearer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was an accomplished poet as well as a prose stylist, and whose orations on all subjects were much sought-after. He wrote about subjects as diverse as Michel de Montaigne and the concept of Circles; of Moses and of self-reliance. He wrote about them exceedingly well, and with disastrous misconception, but he wrote about them.

Now, I may not have established a very enticing pedigree, here, but it does get better. Chesterton, as we have seen, could be considered the smiling patron saint of such broadness. It's not just anyone who can produce reams of essays, hundreds of poems, a good number of novels, stage plays, works of art criticism, theology, economics, philosophy, biography, and a million other topics. And he was a cartoonist of a skill (and sensibility) very much similar to that of William Heath Robinson.

What is this man who can see the entire world? Is he Emerson's anthropomorphic eye? Jeremy Bentham's panopticon? Borges' Aleph? None of these are sufficient. Emerson's eye is selfish; Bentham's panopticon built on deceit; Borges' Aleph a strange anomaly in a basement in Buenos Aires. What Chesterton was, even before he was, was a Catholic, with all that the name implies. Noted Catholic commentator Mark Shea once said in an interview that everything, in general terms, is "good." If something exists, it's a safe bet that it exists at God's discretion; and, should God choose to permit something, it is also a safe bet that God sees some value in it. God is not typically known for impotence, after all. The sentiment is similar to that which can be found in Alexander Pope's excellent poem, "An Essay on Man," in which this claim is made:
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
Which is all very much in keeping with the notion that, as Chesterton again would say, there are no uninteresting subjects, only uninterested people.

So, what is the point of all this? Believe it or not, this lengthy preamble is leading up to nothing more astounding than me recommending a couple of books. Blake spoke of seeing the world in a grain of sand, and the principle here is similar; these are books in which one might see the world. Not everyone can "do" this sort of book well, I regret to say. Oxford Don and Dawkins friend A.C. Grayling keeps trying, again and again, with no special or lasting success. Harold Bloom, one of the last of the old guard literary theorists, seems to put out nothing but such books, but there's a sort of tired petulance to them that disappoints rather than impresses. Books of his that would be magisterial if done in a more pleasant spirit (The Western Canon; Genius; Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?) are instead more often tiresome. It's a real shame, too, because Bloom, like Christopher Hitchens, clearly isn't dumb. It's just that, also like Hitchens, there's just something wrong in there, somewhere, and it puts it all off kilter.

But there are plenty - plenty! - of positive contributions to check out. For example:
  • Simon Schama's Landscape and Memory, in which this excellent English historian and theorist addresses in a spritely and affectionate manner the way in which the natural world has played upon the human mind. It's a lush and beautiful book, as befits its subject matter.
  • Peter Ackroyd's Albion, which bills itself - not without cause - as a look at "the origins of the English imagination." Ackroyd has done excellent work on Dickens, Shakespeare and countless others, and Albion is every bit as good. Chesterton comes up in the book a couple of times, too, which is a pleasant surprise considering the project's scope.
  • Fr. James V. Schall's Another Sort of Learning, which is chiefly concerned with how to teach a brand of this glorious catholic (and Catholic) universalism to a rising generation of students who have already been miserably schooled in the other, worse universalism of relativism and apathy. Fr. Schall is familiar to us already for his constant and delightful work on Chesterton and his constant contributions to Ignatius Press. Check this one out. Do it!
  • Northrop Frye's Spiritus Mundi, which is a collection of twelve essays on "literature, myth and society." Frye, like Thomas B. Costain (who I mentioned rather recently, I fancy), is one of our obscure Canadian treasures, although he is somewhat better known than the other given his steady engagement in (interference with?) the wider world of literary theory. His The Educated Imagination proved to be a foundational text, and a delight besides, and his The Great Code remains one of the more novel and bewildering works of biblical analysis of the 20th century, which is saying something.
  • Raymond Wilson (R.W.) Chambers' Man's Unconquerable Mind, which is a lengthy and gorgeous treatment of the whole of English literature ("from Bede to A.E. Housman," boasts the subtitle). I first stumbled onto this gem while researching a paper on Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, and Prof. Chambers devotes a whole chapter to the play in this book. It proving to be one of the most readable and perceptive academic essays I'd ever read, I got a copy of the book for myself and dove in. Pure gratification, I tell you. Prof. Chambers, as some of you may know (who knows? you might), was a great friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, and a medievalist and Catholic besides.
And there are plenty of others. Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot wrote about all things under the sun. So did Borges and Lovecraft, whom I mentioned (Lovecraft's poetry, incredibly, is almost always conventional and often quite good; I may yet post some of the more comic examples to compare to Chesterton's, though the latter's is much the better). So did Costain and Eric Hoffer and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

These authors are accessible to us, and through them so is most, if not all, of the world. The universalists of art and literature are to their field what the Church is to philosophy, religion, and existence. I'm glad that they're around, and will continue to be around. The world is wide as it is round, as we known, and it doesn't seem fitting somehow to read about it in pieces.

Friday, June 01, 2007

From an old Gilbert

I was cleaning off some shelves and paged through an old Gilbert where I found an article about a Recently deceased Jesuit priest, Fr. Walter Ong, SJ. His specialty was communication studies and technology. He was without peer in this area of observing and drawing conclusions regarding the ways that societies and individuals pass on knowledge.

Reading this article again helped clarify a couple things Ive had on my mind lately. Ive been thinking how as Catholics, we believe that the action of the Holy Spirit is seen in development of doctrine and in the life of the Church. Belloc makes note in The Great Heresies that heresies seem to have a lifespan of 400 years and then their fire goes out, the true doctrine and the True Faith outlive the challenge. This is more or less correct. Even in the 1st Century, the Church's mind was ancient, rooted in the Old Testament and the promise made to Adam in Genesis 3:15.

This is an area where we live surrounded by temptation. Im writing these words, and deleting and rewriting most of them on a very impermanent medium. It took me a moment in Google image search to find the pic above. These things are both not evil in themselves, and actually are a good if kept in the proper place. However, we are conditioned to instantaneous results, and immediate access to information. In order to learn something, it used to be necessary for that something to become part of you, burned into your brain and soul. Benedict XVI speaks of Christ as Logos , and viewing knowledge as the product of discipline necessarily implies reverence. Allowing ourselves to be remade in the image of e-culture and superficial facts as opposed to wisdom is against the example of the Fathers, and begins to turn us away from thinking with the mind of God, Ancient of Days Yet Ever New. This is why I cringe when I hear people talk about "renewal"