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,


E said...

That's the letter he wrote when he came home to announce his engagement to his mother, correct? Instead of telling her, he sat down at the table and wrote about it.

Nick Milne said...

Indeed it would appear to be. His insistence that he was "not even engaged" yet is rather curious, but I don't pretend to know his mind on this issue. A letter from the same time from Frances to her own mother does indeed indicate that they were engaged.

What a thing to go through. I'll get there yet.

Anonymous said...

great great blog you have here. i shall be visiting often.

Nick Milne said...

Well, we'll be glad to have you, Raphael. Thanks for stopping by!