Friday, June 30, 2006

Gord Wilson on the Chesterton Conference

I received an email yesterday from Gord Wilson. We met at the Chesterton Conference in St. Paul, where we enjoyed a good conversation during the concluding banquet. Gord has posted conference notes on his website; there are short summaries of all the talks, pictures of some of the presenters, and even a picture of a nice couple from Texas (hee hee!).

Gord writes: "The banquet was a lot like GKC's view of the Inn, replete with music, jokes, a catered feast, wine and bon homie. There was also a contest for clerihews, that odd limerick-like form invented by GK and E. Bentley and taking the form AABB. Each evening we night people stayed up nearly all night drinking beer and smoking cigars, hopefully observing GK's dictum, that 'we should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.' One night I jumped into a great talk with Joseph Pearce and Carl Olson on punk rock and gospel rock, one of my favorite topics. There was also iced tea and homemade wine provided in the daylight hours, along with crackers and cheese. I very much enjoyed the New York contingent who not only seemed to supply an infinite amount of beer but put on a midnight barbeque with dogs on the grill. As GK probably wouldn't say, jolly good show!"

You can read all of Gord's review here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

C.S. Lewis, GKC, and fairy tales

The fairy tale is a form of literature both Chesterton and C. S. Lewis enjoyed and wrote.

Lewis’ fairy tale series – The Chronicles of Narnia – is, of course, the best known of their works in this field.

In his learned way, he also wrote about fairy tales, providing scholarly analysis.

Chesterton’s comments were no less insightful, but perhaps more easily graspable.

Academic vs. journalist.

I’ll briefly deal with Lewis first.

With a title that says it all, Lewis wrote an essay called “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said.”

Gee, the essay itself almost seems anticlimactic!

In the essay (which can be found in Of Other Worlds), Lewis begins by quoting Tasso’s comments that poets “ought `to please and instruct.’” (As I said, Lewis is the scholarly academic.)

He says that good writing (including his own), should be both “pleasing” and “instructing.”

“If only one of these is present, then, so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first is lacking, it can’t; if the second is lacking, it shouldn’t.”

He points out that children’s literature should not be written with purely pedantic purpose and in a calculated way. As far as his writing for children goes, he says such a notion is “pure moonshines” and notes “I couldn’t write in that way at all.”

He says his own children’s fiction begins with images (Narnia started with an image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood), and that the story takes form around the image, a process he calls “bubbling.”

As for the Christian nature of the Narnia stories, he says he didn’t set out to write Christian stories: “At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”

Of course, that is only natural as Lewis was a Christian, and that faith formed his thinking. Thus what came out on paper had to grow out of that way of thinking.

As the stories began to take shape, they became fairy tales.

“As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale.”

He said he fell in love with the “Form” of the fairy tale because of “its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and `gas’.”

The fairy tale form allowed him to present the Christian faith without all the religious trappings (“lowered voices”) that can help to “freeze feelings.” Paradoxically, through the use of fantasy, the elements of faith can become more real.

“But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school association, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency?”

Which explains his Narnia tales. As for fairy tales (and fantasy) in general:

"At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of 'commenting on life,' can add to it."

I dare say Lewis’ fairy tales have added to many people’s lives.

(Chesterton will be covered in a post this weekend.)

He died a hero

This is the sort of story that gets bandied about a lot in tall tales and urban legends, not to mention books and movies, and it is, as such, something of a delight to discover that it is true, in this case, and impressive to a magnitude that I can not adequately express.
Waldemar Kaminski, who quietly ran a food stand in Broadway Market for more than 50 years, has been revealed to be a self-made millionaire and philanthropist who anonymously gave millions to Buffalo charities and neighbors in need.

He died at home Wednesday night from complications of a long illness. He was 88.

It seems that Mr. (the honorific hardly seems enough) Kaminski had been investing his meager profits in the stock market for decades, reaping modest dividends, and then investing again. This slow but steady process resulted in some enormous capital, when all was said and done. $1,000,000 went towards endowing a pediatric chair at the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. Another $1,000,000 went towards building a small but lovely park. He also donated extensively to the Salvation Army, the Father Baker Home, and Hilbert College, among others.

And it doesn't stop there. Dozens of people who knew him personally, and could always count on him for help. Hundreds who never met him, but reaped the benefits of his philanthropy. Through it all, Mr. Kaminski toiled merrily along in obscurity, feeling even that the simple and pleasant life he lived was too extravagant to be just.

For he was one who would not, as the saying goes, "look a gift universe in the mouth." His time was spent in fishing, kite-flying and horseplay with his youthful relatives. To simply see people, and the world, and to feel the happiness that can be found therein, was to Mr. Kaminski a gift beyond gratitude. We know this feeling; we have felt it. Chesterton felt it, too.

Hail and farewell, then, to Waldemar Kaminski; requiescat in pace.

[Cross-posted from A Gentle Fuss]

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The New Gods concluded

Rod Bennet offers up the fifth and final part of his look at the new mythology of man.
The paganism of St. Justin’s day was soon supplanted by Christendom—a culture steeped in the Bible. From the Middle Ages to about the beginning of the 20th century, the Bible reigned as the central epic of our culture. We might say that Mythmaking was superceded by the blinding presence of myth-become-fact. But by the turn of the 20th century the Bible had lost this role—the re-paganization of the West had begun. And it’s this re-paganization of our people that has led to the recreation of mythology and it’s return to a central role in the lives of our young people.

Now, undoubtedly it would have been better if this hadn’t happened. But that isn’t the point right now—that ship has sailed. The need for a St. Justin has returned.

Facts and Truth

Dicit ei Pilatus quid est veritas (Jn 18:38)

Alan's post of last Thursday, Still wearing my ID bracelet, sparked some good comments. In the combox, “Chestertonian” mentioned a favorite story of mine: Tolkien's creation myth in The Silmarillion. Tolkien, a man considered here to be a friend of GKC, loved truth, and he loved myth as an expression of truth. The word myth seems to be defined as “a delightful lie” in the mind of many, but it should not have this connotation.

Joseph Pearce, biographer of both Chesterton and Tolkien, was interviewed by James Person for The University Bookman (Fall 2004, link); in the interview Pearce says “What I call Tolkien’s philosophy of myth is the fact that mythology is the only means of expressing adequately metaphysical truth—because truth is metaphysical, facts are physical. Now, let’s go back a step for a moment: G. K. Chesterton wrote, 'Not facts first, truth first.' This is the key thing, because we need to differentiate between facts and truth. Facts in the sense that Tolkien and Chesterton were referring to them are physical realities. Truth is the metaphysical realities that inform the facts.”

John Paul II made a similar point when talking about Biblical interpretation. In an October 1981 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences he said: “The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven.” (link)

“Not facts first, truth first.”

I don't know from where this exact quote comes, or even if Chesterton wrote it that way; but it is certainly a good synthesis of what Chesterton wrote. A fact, or a collection of facts, is not the whole truth. Chesterton's interest was in pointing towards the whole truth. In so many things he wrote Gilbert was helping his readers to overcome misconceptions of facts and truths. In his fiction: “'Facts,' murmured Basil, like one mentioning some strange, far-off animals, 'how facts obscure the truth.'” (The Club of Queer Trades); in his philosophy: “I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.” (Orthodoxy); and especially in his biography St. Thomas Aquinas when Chesterton wrote that St. Thomas “was willing to allow the one truth to be approached by two paths, precisely because he was sure there was only one truth.”

St. Thomas was ready to fight for the doctrine that the Faith and scientific study would not yield two opposing 'truths' (whatever that could even mean); Chesterton thrills us this with the sentence: “So, in his last battle and for the first time, he fought as with a battle-axe.”

The Dumb Ox went off to war, to fight for the Truth, and it seems the battle never ends.

(Nikolay Gay. "Quod Est Veritas?" Christ and Pilate. 1890. Oil on canvas. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. link)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The New Mythology

Rod Bennett of Tremendous Trifles has been posting a series of essays about the "new mythology" of the modern world; Superman, Star Wars, and so forth. Firmly grounded in the present, yet reaching back to the age even before the coming of Christ, it's an analysis well worth your time to read. As an added bonus, Chesterton is quoted with some creditable frequency.

It’s strange but true: Just about every aspect of Our Lord’s life and character is foreshadowed, in some way, in the myths and legends of pre-Christian paganism. This fact was very obvious to people of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. So obvious, in fact, that the pagans often used it as an argument against the Faith! The Christians, after all, spoke of Jesus as a real man, who lived in a certain city, in a certain country, not much more than one long lifetime earlier. And yet it seemed clear to the pagans, that their Christ was just one more example of the typical mythological avatar—just another Icarus or Heracles. Just one more “Corn King”—who dies and rises again, bearing much fruit. And Christ’s teachings seemed to them to echo, at times, the ethics of Zeno or Epictetus.

Well, this is where St. Justin came in…

Be sure to check it out.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

There's also a quote Rod mentions from the young C.S. Lewis which shall be shockingly familiar to those of you have had any dealings with "young atheists:"
“You know, I think, that I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man's own invention‑Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn't understand...thus religion, that is to say mythology grew up.”
We all know how that turned out, of course, but it's still neat to see such a common and silly position expressed thusly by such a man as he.

Summer reading

Like so many people, I first encountered Chesterton through his Father Brown mysteries.

Although I have gone on to read a number of other works by him – including more Father Brown tales – I have not read any of his other short fiction.

Thanks to Ignatius Press, I intend to remedy that situation this summer - and to drag you along.

Volume XIV of The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton is Short Stories, Fairy Tales, Mystery Stories – Illustrations.

As a bonus, it includes some Father Brown stories, two of which had been “lost.”

The collection includes a number of stories that had been published in various periodicals but not collected previously. The editors note that some of the stories had been published in English editions, but not American editions, and vice versa. The collection also includes stories from his notebooks and some juvenilia.

The stories are dated (where possible) and arranged in chronological order in each of the three sections - "A Potpourri of Tales," "Juvenilia," and "What Might Have Been" (complete stories and fragments from the notebooks).

Over the summer, I will work my way through the stories, then report back periodically with comments and reviews.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Maisie Ward on Gilbert and Woman

Just as a brief follow-up to the last post before I leave for work, here's a noteworthy paragraph from Maisie Ward's Gilbert Keith Chesterton, from the chapter, "Silver Wedding:"
His views concerning the sexes were equally at variance with those of Shaw and of most of the moderns. He was quite frankly the old-fashioned man and Frances was the old-fashioned woman. They both agreed that there is one side of life that belongs to man - the side of endless cigars smoked over endless discussions about the universe. He often said that the important thing for a country was that the men should be manly, the women womanly: the thing he hated was the modern hybrid: the woman who gate-crashes the male side of life: no one, he had said later in a letter of his engagement time, "takes such a fierce pleasure as I do in things being themselves." And both he and Frances found amusement in that "eternal equality" which Gilbert saw in the sexes so long as they kept their eternal separateness. If everything, he said, is trying to be red, some things are redder than others, but there is an eternal and unalterable equality between red and green.
The clarity of that last line is particularly striking to me, and it is one of the very few sections of text I have ever underlined in a book.

GKC: President of the Woman-Hater's Club?

To hear modern thought say it, the answer would be a resounding "yes." After all, here are some of the things he steadfastly refused to affirm:

1. A woman's "right to choose"
2. A woman's duty to work in the corporate world out of spite
3. A woman's right to disdain children, and spend as little time with her own as she can manage
4. A woman's right to be snarky and disrespectful to her husband, while he himself is of course required to treat her like a delicate pagan goddess lest she file for divorce
5. A woman's duty to rebel against any traditional conceptions of womanhood that may still, incredibly, exist

All this, and more, he did not affirm. The world we live in today has brought us to the point where it is not merely enough to "live and let live" with disagreement in principles; either you explicitly promote the agendas listed above, or you are cast off into the outer darkness.

Alan wrote on Saturday of the various ways in which "women's liberation" has come back to enslave women in even worse ways than they felt they were enslaved before. The "supply" of women will decrease as the years go by. That is a fact. The sexual desires of men will not. This is a fact. The idea of women walking around like ancient Arabian god-queens, draped in finery and with mute masculine harems in tow, is a fallacy both in terms of optimism and ethic. If we must refute its optimism, we could suggest observation of how a group of men long in prison reacts to the presence of almost any woman at all. For indeed, this is the mentality that will grow, in the long term, in such men as remain. If we must refute its ethic, we should turn to the likelihood (and it is a strong one) that a decrease in the number of women would lead, if anything, to a resolute strengthening of those women's radical feminist ideals, becoming as they would be a small elite. They would, in essence, rule the world; and it is worth considering the possibility that they would have, rather than harems, no men at all. Radical feminists aren't known for their extravagant promiscuity, whatever their faults may be, and it's unreasonable to think that they would suddenly dole themselves out to a succession of men if they are generally disdainful of even one.

So it is not even a tarnished utopia to which we can look forward, and this generation is steaming full ahead into Moloch and Astarte's waiting arms. The old gods never die; they merely abide. Yahweh knew this, and He knows it still. With every child modern woman commits unto the furnace of convenience or "personal choice;" with every day modern woman crushes her soul and hardens her heart in the corporate world; with every marriage she disolves "without fault," another offering is laid at the foot of the great idol. In a mad rush to defend their honour, many women have forsaken their dignity and their value. It is an instructive and not unrelated truth that both "dignity" and "value" have been dismissed as vacuous fictions by post-modern thought.

Gilbert spoke grandly on all of this and more, most notably in What's Wrong with the World, but also elsewhere. His strongest and most bewildered comments were reserved for those who trumpetted the coming of "equality between the sexes." Such an event, taken to the conclusion its proponents demanded, would be disastrous; and we have seen that it has been disastrous. It is a not a true equality, measuring similarities and differences alike, and coming to a common equation. It is an equality born of the death of distinction. It creates a world in which women try to be hard and manly, and fail everyone; in which men try to be sassy and feminine, and die a little inside with every passing day. Gilbert took great pleasure in "things being themselves," for they're simply no good at being anything else. The results, says he, are ominous:
Men are beginning to revolt, we are told, against the old tribal custom of desiring fatherhood. The male is casting off the shackles of being a creator and a man. When all are sexless there will be equality. There will be no women and no men. There will be but a fraternity, free and equal. The only consoling thought is that it will endure but for one generation.
I do not see in all this a hatred of women, but rather a fierce and almost desperate love for them, motivated in equal parts by duty, reason, compassion and - what is more - the imminent prospect of loss. I can not be accused of being a "church hater" for crying out against seeing my church turned into a brothel. It is no slander on my country if I should implore her to stay true to the principles upon which she was founded.

It is a sad state of affairs, and I can not close on a happy note.

More on the Young Chestertonian Front

While reading coverage of the recent Chesterton Conference over at the blog of the American Chesterton Society, I noticed some references to a gentleman by the name of John who was apparently a blogger himself, and who had made the trip to the Conference with great delight. Following a link provided, I found myself at his own effort, This Red Rock (an Eliot reference, of course), whereupon he has set forth a number of interesting things.

Most notable, from our point of view, is the poetry. John seems to be a firm proponent of the sonnet, and has some considerable skill in the field. His most recent post is a lengthy series of the things, dedicated to the Carmelite Order, and it is simply wonderful to behold.

You can also find plenty of stuff about ChesterCon, economics, and his prodigous summer reading list (plenty of Chesterton and Dickens). He seems to have started posting regularly again since the advent of the Conference, and hopefully this trend will continue. Be sure to stop by and take a look. More encouragement means more posting, after all.


This is just a note to say that there will be something more put up by me (and possibly even by others of our number) later today, so be sure to check back in the evening.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Detection Club

Jane Dickinson reviews The Detection Collection, the latest anthology from Britain's Detection Club, in today's Rocky Mountain News:
There's a select club in the mystery world, with membership limited to the great names of British crime writing. Founded by Golden Age greats like Dorothy Sayers and G.K. Chesterton (its first president), the Detection Club now counts luminaries such as P.D. James and H.R.F. Keating among its ranks as it celebrates its 75th year of murder most foul.

According to an afterword in this anthology of short stories by present-day members, it's principally a dining club with traditions that each era reshapes to its own image. The originators required that members had published two detective novels "of admitted merit." They also had a few rules that modern-day writers would do well to heed: those who were chosen had to forego the use in their stories of "Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery Pokery" to solve crimes, while agreeing to use only in moderation "Conspiracies, Death-Rays, Ghosts. . . Trap-Doors. . . Super Criminals and Lunatics."
you can find the rest of the review here

A curious drinking song for your weekend

Here's something light for a Friday. Those of you who have read Belloc's The Four Men should recognise it easily, and those of you who have not should go out and read Belloc's The Four Men. What the song lacks in historical and theological accuracy it makes up for with singability and bewilderment.
Song of the Pelagian Heresy for the Strengthening of Men's Backs and the very Robust Out-thrusting of Doubtful Doctrine and the Uncertain Intellectual

Pelagius lived in Kardanoel,
And taught a doctrine there,
How whether you went to Heaven or Hell,
It was your own affair.
How, whether you found eternal joy
Or sunk forever to burn,
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own concern.

Oh, he didn't believe in Adam and Eve,
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began with the fall of man,
And he laughed at original sin!

(With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
He laughed at original sin!)

Whereat the Bishop of old Auxerre
(Germanus was his name),
He tore great handfuls out of his hair,
And he called Pelagius Shame:
And then with his stout Episcopal Staff
So thoroughly thwacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall,
They rather had been hanged.

Oh, he thwacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions,
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong,
Their orthodox persuasions!

(With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
Their orthodox persua-a-a-sions!)

Now the Faith is old and the Devil is bold,
Exceedingly bold indeed;
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth,
And still can drink strong ale,
Oh - let us put it away to infallible truth,
Which always shall prevail!

And thank the Lord for the temporal sword,
And howling heretics too;
And whatever good things our Christendom brings,
But especially barley brew!

(With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
Especially barley brew!)
So, see if you can't drown out the TV at the bar with this one tonight. Far from simply being a pleasant thing to do, you will give the other patrons something they will remember for the rest of their lives, for good or ill.

Still in the Clouds

This is my first post back here since attending the conference last weekend. It was a great experience on so many levels.

I finally met a number of people whom Ive known only through writing or email. Something which struck me was the social levity and upbeat tone of the entire gathering. One would expect that people who come together through their admiration of old books to not be so jovial. Over the course of a lunch strangers often became friends. The presenters and speakers this year included some people with substantial credentials and the same spirit of camaraderie can be extended to them. Whatever accusations of elitism are leveled at "conservatives", I noticed how the speakers casually interacted with conference attendees. I thought it a very rare thing to be able to converse with people of that level in such a setting.

I ramble, this is an event that more people should attend.
I only bought a few books. Got the Chesterton Sherlock Holmes Ive been trying to get for years, I re-purchased Pieper's Leisure, the Basis of Culture( I kept my old one in the garage to read when I took the dog out, lost it when I cleaned out the garage --lost the book, not the dog), also picked up a couple books on the Jesuits in China, and a couple travelogue books by Arbp Sheen.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ignatius Friends

The new Ignatius Press catalogue is out. Its new books section is packed with GKC and Friend stuff:

The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton,
Common Sense 101 (Ahlquist's new GKC book),
Narnia & Beyond: A Guide to the Fiction of C.S. Lewis, by Thomas Howard (reprint, I think)
C.S. Lewis: The Man Who Created Narnia, by Michael Coren (a reprint, I think)
Beyond the Wardrobe: The Official Guide to Narnia
Narnia: Official Illustrated Movie Companion
Dynamics of World History, by Christopher Dawson (an ISI Books product)
Shakespeare the Papist, by diehard Chestertonian Peter Milward (a Sapientia Press product)

If you don't get Ignatius Press' catalogue, order one.

Chesterton and the young

One of the things I like to do is to search at random online for mentions of G.K Chesterton.

In a number of search engines like Google, Yahoo and Technorati, he shows up frequently – sometimes as officials sites dedicated to him or mentioning him, mostly as cited quotations.

But sometimes people write more in depth about him, quoting him at length, discussing his ideas, citing books of his they are reading (Orthodoxy seems to be showing up quite a bit lately).

I recently came across this entry by Stephanie in her MySpace blog:

G. K. Chesterton is one of my most favorite authors. It takes patience to read Chesterton because he writes in this long-winded Britishy speak and can drown you in minute details. But, in one of his books, he argues that the nature of the human is closer to the nature of God than to the nature of the animal. Chesterton doesn't base his theory on intelligence. He bases it on the fact that we humans have IMAGINATION. We express ourselves through poetry, stories, artwork, dance, song, and the like.

I think that's beautiful and true.

You can teach a dog to roll over, a parrot to speak, and marvel over the intelligence of the worker ant, but when is the last time a cat painted the Sistine Chapel? So, I say, the more CREATIVE I am the closer I am to God. Ahhh! That makes me even happier to be an artist!

Nice. I chuckled at the mention that he writes in “long-winded Britishy speak.” But her point about imagination is a good one.

A lot of young people are discovering Chesterton. That gives me hope for them – and the future.

In the Catholic world, there is even a youth-oriented Chesterton blog just begun on June 19 – Chesterteens.

Created by Ria, gilbertgirl and Margaret, they describe it as “an unofficial society for teenage Chesterton fanatics.”

In her first entry, Ria wrote, “I hope that I will soon be joined by other Chesterton loving teens This is going to be fun!!!!!”

I certainly hope so. Chesterton can be a lot of fun - even in a "long-winded Britshy speak" way.

Check them out and encourage them. So many blogs start out with grand ideas, then fade as reality (and life) intrude. I hope this is one that will succeed.

This post is brought to you by the word "bigot" ...

Fr. Sean Major-Campbell from the Cayman Islands teaches vocabulary today (with a little help from GKC):
The first word is 'bigot'. It sounds almost like the biblical 'begat'. However these are two different words in spelling and meanings.

A bigot may begat. Conversely many bigots have been begat. A bigot is one whose prejudice is sustained by intolerance for differing views. It does not matter whether the different view is informed by reason, logic, and possibly reality.

Prejudice is for some, a life source. It gives sustenance to nonsense, and it provides bliss for the ignorant. G.K. Chesterton suggests that, "bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions."

** don't forget Furor's Chesterton Experiment **

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Chesterton Experiment

Before doing this exercise, please be sure to read Alan's article for the day, which appears just below this one on the screen.



I'm posting this today because I've noticed that our traffic has grown significantly since the great Chesterton Express rolled into the station, and I think it would be a good idea to make sure that there's more content than usual around here at key points during the week. Wednesday - "humpday" - is one such time. Weekends are another, but we'll address that in times to come.

So, I was reading an old article by Mark Shea lampooning revisionist biblicism and modernity, and found myself thereafter wondering just what I would do if Gilbert suddenly walked through my front door. What would it mean for the world? For me? For history? It's an enormous concept.

So, in lightning fashion, I distilled the essence of this universe-spanning conundrum into a five-point questionnaire. My own answers will be provided below, but I invite any who are interested to respond in the combox with their own ideas.

If you could spend a day with Gilbert, here and now...

1. What would be the first thing you'd say to him on his arrival? What would you talk about thereafter?

2. You need some way to pass the morning before lunchtime; what do you do?

3. What media would you attempt to expose him to in the time you had? Or would you?

4. It's time for dinner; where do you do about it? What do you have?

5. What would be your valediction when the time comes to part?

My own answers to these are:

1. The first thing I would say would be, "Oh God! The surprise!" The time spent thereafter would be devoted to just seeing what he's been up to, what has occasioned his presence, that sort of thing. More intense and self-serving questions can wait for the afternoon.

2. As is traditional (or at least expected), the time before lunch would be spent on a light walk around town to expose Gilbert to the modern feeling, and it, likewise, to him. This could be an occasion for glee as well as sadness, on both our parts, so I should be sure to direct us to a bar for lunch. I would make certain to take him to St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica, in the heart of downtown London (Ontario; it's where I live), to show him that though the main streets may be lost, some medieval virtues live on.

3. I should like to take him to the movies, just for the sheer absurd novelty of the thing, but I don't know if I could bring myself to do it. There are certainly films that I would pay great sums to hear his commentary upon, but the agony of choice here has paralysed me. Let us settle upon showing him What Dreams May Come, then, which in both ethos and delivery has much that he would find familiar, or even pleasant. I would also be certain to demonstrate the Internet to him, and see what he thinks of blogging.

4. The dinner arrangements are something that I simply can not crack. I am no great cook, for my own part, but I feel it would be almost unacceptable to take Gilbert out to a restaurant. In any case, something would certainly be done, and it would certainly involve meat and beer, in the old high way. His opinion on pizza could also be sought.

5. As much as I should like to deliver an oratory of parting that would shake the world, only a simple "thank you" would be appropriate. What else, indeed, can be said?

So, there you go. As I say, be sure to reply to this below with your own ideas. Even if you don't, however, this is still something to meditate upon.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Conference Review

Last Thursday morning my wife and I left Texas, leaving our children with grandpa and grandma, and headed for St Paul, MN, for our first American Chesterton Society conference. After our cabby took the "long way" from the airport to the St Thomas campus, earning himself at least an extra $17 (read as: one less book that I could buy), we arrived on the wrong side of campus. A kind college student directed us towards the opposite corner of the campus and we set off to join the conference.

After getting checked in and dropping off our luggage we went down to see the action and immediately started recognizing faces: hey there's Fr Jaki! and there's Dale Ahlquist! and there's Joseph Pearce! and look, there's a guy tapping a keg! Nathan Allen graciously provided his homebrew for the conference, brewed under the patronage of Our Lady of Walsingham; I was blessed with the opportunity to drink some of it while visiting with Nathan and with Joseph Pearce, and to talk about important things (like beer). And there was Stilton cheese and homemade wine.

The conference allowed me to put faces with a few names that I see online or in print. Many more writers were in attendance than I was able to meet, but a few people I met whose names you might recognise are: Kyro Lantsberger, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Battle With the Dragon) and one of the gang here at Chesterton & Friends; David Beresford, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Flying Inn) of mushroom and mustard fame; Peter Floriani, Dr Thursday of GKC's Favourite, a man of enormous laughter (hee hee!); Nancy Brown, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Flying Stars) and blogger at TBOTACS; Sean Dailey, editor of Gilbert Magazine, who comments here and there as Chestertonian; and Ted Olsen, of "Four Man Feast" fame, who gave me some tips on cooking the bacon and eggs just right.

A beautiful component of the conference were the book sellers. It was distributivism in practice as the small dealers of books set up their tables for business. Each vendor had his own flavor; I spent most of my book-browsing time in ecstasy at the Notting Hill Books table, which had a beautiful ChesterBelloc section containing many first editions. Gier Hasnes, Norwegian bibliographer of Jilbert [sic], said it succinctly when he asked during his presentation "Don't you want to run out there to the book tables and buy everything before anybody else can get to it?" My wife attended the conference with me possibly for this very reason: to temper my book purchasing. I did manage to take home a very fine hardback of Belloc's The Servile State, and a reading copy of Cruise of the Nona.

Nancy Brown, over at TBOTACS (TEE-bo-tacks ... I made that up; it's not official), made several posts during the conference about the various talks (which were all very well done -- both the talks and Nancy's posts). I won't do the same (but I will say that in The Surprise Dale Ahlquist played a drunk quite well). Instead of telling you about the conference I'll mention a little about the small area of St Paul that I visited. Just prior to the conference I read GKC's Charles Dickens, and this book mentions travel and noticing the "common" things that are different -- not the extravagant things that one might visit but the everyday things. So my senses were a little more attuned to noticing the little things of the St Thomas campus and of the little area of St Paul that I explored. Many things were, to me, surprisingly the same as home. I went North expecting cooler, dryer weather; but was greeted with a warm and humid day that make me think I was still back in Texas. And as I walked across the St Thomas campus there was the ridiculous artwork typical of an university campus. I expected something different and it was surprisingly, almost shockingly, the same. Everybody can notice the odd taste of tap water when visiting a place away from home. Here was something different; each time I took a sip of water it was a surprise, like the man of "artistic temperament" who drank from his water bottle and was surprised to find it filled with wine. Then there was the afternoon I took off for a jog along the Mississippi River Blvd path: a perfect asphalt trail along the river that the locals can take for granted, but I was able to appreciate it. Alongside the asphalt there typically was the dirt path which I and Mr Belloc prefer; in the gutter of the road I passed a dead beaver, victim of a passing car, and I smiled as I noticed that it was not the armadillo typical of Texas roads. The houses along this way were certainly something to look at: a kind of cottage style that were built in the early 1900s; in their yards, when a tree was cut down they were not removed or left as a stump, but instead they were cut six feet tall and carved into sculpture. And then there was the Ford Street bridge over the Mississippi River that I jogged: something used constantly by the locals in cars, but that I could experience as I rather slowly passed across it.

Our stay in St Paul ended with a 6:00 AM ride to the airport with Carl Olson, which was graciously given to us by John & Luba Hickey.

We hope to be back again in 2007.

The Book of Hope

William Bennett quotes Chesterton in his most recent book America: The Last Best Hope:
No small part of the denunciation of Columbus and his successors in our times is an update of the leyenda negra — the Black Legend — that Protestant countries applied to the Catholic Spaniards. As the gifted writer G. K. Chesterton put it, many of the English histories of Spanish exploration and conquest reflected “the desire of the white man to despise the Red Indian and the flatly contradictory desire of the Englishman to despise the Spaniard for despising the Red Indian.”

GKC Maiden

In 1985 the heavy-metal rock band Iron Maiden released an album with the cheerful title, Live after Death. One of the songs included therein bears the title "Revelations"; and barely decipherable there, amid the successive detonations of electric guitar, someone is singing the words of Chesterton's famous 1905 Christian hymn, "Oh God of Earth and Altar."

We don't know whether GKC rolled over in his grave or smiled.

Monday, June 19, 2006

More on Christian Periodicals

This is just a follow-up to Alan's recent post about some of the options that Christians have today with regard to magazines, journals and the like. In addition to the St. Linus Review and Hereditas Magazine, here are ten more offerings you might wish to check out.

Touchstone Magazine - This "journal of mere Christianity" is my favourite of the current crop for a number of reasons. First, the sheer variety of material they cover is excellent. The magazine's raison d'etre is to look at culture in a way that is informed by Christianity, and as such, anything is fair game (with reasonable exceptions). Looking at a back issue I've got here, I can see articles about the overpopulation scare, the problems of television, gender-inclusive mutilation of hymns, a light analysis of Jane Austen, the minority Suriani Christians of Turkey, and one of Mike Aquilina's wonderful patristics pieces. If there's nothing in there that tickles your fancy, or if even the variety of it doesn't, well... I don't know what to say. Anyway, Touchstone is broadly ecumenical, and offers a platform for Christians of all denominations and platforms. I recommend this one heartily.

First Things - This one operates along much the same guidelines as Touchstone does, but with a more overtly political and editorial tone. It's certainly worth checking out, and their website is updated with a truly impressive amount of content on a regular basis.

Christianity Today - A more generally protestant magazine, it nevertheless carries a tremendous amount of information about all sorts of things. I've been particularly impressed with their ability to carry entertaining stories with the same frequency as they do serious and thoughtful ones. And, much as with Touchstone, the topics are as wide as they are interesting.

Dappled Things Magazine - This magazine, with a name from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, is a newcomer to the field, and focuses on young Catholic writers, and the issues that concern them. What's more, they offer a truly wonderful selection of poetry and short fiction. They're still trying to get off the ground, so why not head over there and lend your support?

Crisis Magazine - Catholic. Conservative. American. This is some excellent reading, and is absolutely worth your time. Their website boasts an extensive archive of past content, and the magazine itself features regular columns from Maureen Martin, Fr. James Schall and Sen. Rick Santorum. Go for it.

The St. Austin Review - Besides being great fun to read, it is worth noting that the St. Austin Review has some of the most beautiful covers of any magazine going. Apart from that, however, I can tell you that this periodical has a decidedly artistic feel to it, and is often concerned with matters literary and paint-spattered.

Our Sunday Visitor - Offers a wide variety of products and services, including a number of small magazines, books, and a weekly newspaper. I don't have much experience with them, but I've heard good things.

The National Catholic Register - The gold standard of Catholic newspapers. Just go there and check it out; you will not be disappointed. I'm not just saying that because Eric works for them, either. Note: Not to be confused with the National Catholic Reporter, which I'm told can be Problematic in its approaches to some things.

Envoy Magazine - This magazine is devoted to apologetics and, well, arguing with people. That might not be everyone's thing, but you can usually find some good interviews and analyses there.

Gilbert Magazine - Naturally.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I am very impressed with the response to our life of GKC series. Some very powerful words were written on equally strong themes.

The timing of this was wonderful in that tonight begins the ACS's Chesterton Conference at the University of St. Thomas. Dale Ahlquist has assembled such lumenaries as Fr. Stanley Jaki, Carl Olson, and Joseph Pearce for this event.

I have to leave early tonight, but I plan on updating all of you through here on this first rate event.

As many of you may have noticed, for as much as Chesterton's defenses of traditional Christianity represent the best ink on paper in this area, I have a great affection for Chesterton the mystery writer. For years, I have had Chesterton's Sherlock Holmes - compliation of essays and GKC drawings of stories from Holmsian canon-- on Christmas wish lists, birthday hint lists, father's day options, etc. I guess I have to just go and buy it myself.

Parting on that theme, I leave an imperfect Clerihew,

Poor Kyro,
is out of luck
trying to get the GKC book on Sherlock.
Have a great weekend.

Reasons to live - GKC style

After the last few weeks of dwelling on GKC’s life, I thought it would be amusing to read one of his reflections on “death” (or at least putting it off!).

A Ballade of Suicide

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours--on the wall—
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay—
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall—
I see a little cloud all pink and grey—
Perhaps the rector's mother will not call—
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way—
I never read the works of Juvenal—
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational—
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small—
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The death of the man who lived

Today, on June 14th, we come at last to the most dolorous end of the journey that was Gilbert Chesterton's life.

Throughout the course of this venture we have seen him in all his glory, and, what is more from a Christian perspective, his shortcomings as well. We have seen him with his God; we have seen him with his People; we have seen him with his Wife. The three most definitive aspects of Gilbert's life were relationships, and in this we can see even the phantom of advice.

The last days were marked by hardship, but also by triumph. Most importantly for his fans, Gilbert finally completed his infamous Autobiography in 1936, the very year of his passing. It is fortunate indeed for us that this analysis of his own life and times should sneak in, as it were, under the wire. But there is a somber aspect to it. Could it be that, having offered up the tale of his life as he saw it, from start to finish, Gilbert came to feel that there were no more chapters left to write? Was the book as much a valediction as it was a summary of all that had passed?

Whatever the case may be, the Autobiography was the last book he was to write, though one would not know it by reading the thing. There is in that text all of the lively energy of a man of thirty (who has lived, it must be granted, somewhat more broadly than most), and it was taken by those who did not know him well that he remained as spritely as ever he was, faculties blazing and heart burning, ready to lead them even further down the road to roundabout in the years that were to come.

But those who knew him best - and by dint of this knowledge were around him frequently - knew that all was not well. Gilbert lived up to the curse of the most powerful intellectuals: an immortal mind trapped in frail, unsuitable flesh. Thomas Aquinas was similarly afflicted; so too, we might say, is Stephen Hawking. Gilbert was always a big man, as you will recall, but his wondrous bigness was fast becoming too much for a man of his age and health to handle. There had already been serious concerns about the ability of his heart to sustain his form, and his feet to move it about; both of these worries now bore miserable fruit.

More tragic still, his latter days - that time of life often called "the second childhood" - were spent in the shadow of the evident moral collapse with regard to Abyssinia of the Italy he had so loved, as well as the rise of Hitler and all of the evils that would attend that name. His friends and colleagues at his magazine, G.K.'S Weekly, did him no favours with their constant infighting about such looming circumstances, and their constant demands that he arbitrate their disputes added heavily to the burdens he already bore. In a time when a man should be at peace, in reflection on all the good that has come to him, it is poor meat indeed for him to be rather assailed, provoked and dismayed by even those closest to him.

1936 was spent in quietude, broken only by a brief tour of France in an attempt to cheer Gilbert up. The voyage certainly lifted his spirits, but did little to restore his health.

The last days found him confined to his home, frequently to bed. The strain of his constant writing and dictating had led to severe fatigue, and he was frequently found asleep at his desk. Fr. Vincent McNabb was at last summoned, and stood by with Frances when the end was upon Gilbert. There are many stories about these final hours, and all of them are touching. Fr. Vincent kissed Gilbert's writing pen, which lay on a nearby table, never to inscribe again. He also intoned the Dominican Salve Regina over Gilbert's prostrate form, an act that Maisie Ward calls a fitting tribute to "the biographer of St. Thomas."

Reports on Gilbert's last words vary, and I confess that I can find no definitive answer as to what they were. The two competing traditions are both of things that were certainly said by him in those final hours, but I do not know which came first, or which came after. The most likely candidate is his light awakening from his final lapse, turning to Frances and saying, "hello, my darling," and turning to his secretary, Dorothy Collins - for whom both he and Frances felt an almost parental affection - and saying, "hello, my dear."

Maisie Ward's biography suggests, alternatively, that the last from those lips was almost a warning: "The issue is quite clear now. It is between light and darkness and every one must choose his side."

For the man who said so much, in so many paradoxes, it is perhaps fitting that there be some ambiguity as to his last testament on this Earth. Whatever his pronouncement was, however, Gilbert Keith Chesterton passed on June 14th, 1936; a Sunday. The funeral was held in Beaconsfield, at the little church that Gilbert and Frances had so generously helped bring into being. Mourners arrived from all over England, Europe, and the United States. The procession passed in a ramshackle way through the small village, passing the local bars and barber shops that were Gilbert's haunts during his long and pleasant time in town.

He was laid to rest in the churchyard; the spot was marked by a monument produced by Eric Gill, a friend of the Chestertons'. Two years later, Frances followed Gilbert to his rest; Dorothy Collins would live on in Beaconsfield until 1988, when she too went to meet her maker. The two are interred at Gilbert's side.

What can be said about Gilbert Chesterton that has not been said already? The time that my colleagues and I have spent in describing his life to you has been, in many ways, a labour of love. A diversity of interests has given us all our own styles and successes, but our unified admiration for Gilbert has brought us together here and now. In him we have found much more than a great man of letters, a gifted apologist and a man consumed by love. We have found almost the friend we never knew.

This unbridgeable gap between us and him is something that we must bear, and is in itself almost an example of tragedy. Gilbert once wrote, in one of my favourite of his essays, that "if ever there was a woman who was manifestly meant, destined, created, and as it were crying aloud to be carried off by Don John of Austria, or some such person, it was Mary Queen of Scots." The two never met, however, and a similar gloom afflicts us now. If ever there were an age that was manifestly designed, as it were, to be put right by Gilbert Chesterton, it is this one.

And we have met him, make no mistake; but he has travelled beyond the silent sea, where we can not follow. And if we did, we should not return.

So I say to you, my friends: raise your glass tonight, wherever you are, in field or forest, concrete womb or wide-open sky. Raise your glass in tribute to Gilbert, and in tribute to the majesty of God's creation. Gilbert was not the new Adam; that position has been taken, and his successor has done him credit. However, there may be something in him being the new Abel.

So burn, then, solemn and reminscent eyes, as you behold what has been wrought by the century that followed in his stead with all of the envy and ravages of Cain.


Tributes and condolences at the time of his death

The Archbishop of Westminster

Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Robert Lynd, of the News Chronicle
Hilaire Belloc
Fr. Vincent McNabb
J.K. Prothero (Mrs. Cecil Chesterton)
W. R. Titterton
Walter de la Mare
Pope Pius XI


And so concludes our extended look at the life of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a gentleman of great sense. We invite you to offer up comments about him and his legacy in the combox below, as well as thoughts about this venture in general, or, really, anything you'd like to say at all. If you've been following along, we want to hear from you!

On behalf of Eric, Lee, Alan, Kyro, Joe and myself, I will close by thanking you for reading, and offering up hopes that we will continue to enjoy your custom in the future.

From Pope Pius XI

[Note: This telegram was actually sent on Pope Pius XI's behalf by Cardinal Pacelli, who would himself become Pope Pius XII]

Holy Father deeply grieved death Mr. Gilbert Keith Chesterton devoted son Holy Church gifted Defender of the Catholic Faith. His Holiness offers paternal sympathy people of England assures prayers dear departed, bestows Apostolic Benediction.

[Another note: Defensor Fidei is the same title once granted by Pope Leo X to King Henry VIII, though, of course, with somewhat different results. Because of the controversial regal nature of this title, many English newspapers refused to print the telegram in full.]

From Walter de la Mare

Knight of the Holy Ghost, he goes his way
Wisdom his motley, Truth his loving jest;
The mills of Satan keep his lance in play,
Pity and innocence his heart at rest.

From W.R. Titterton

What shall we do without him? You who knew him as I did, and had for him as deep an affection, are bewildered by our loss. As a family when their father dies, so we are stricken. No need to tell you what he had done, or what he stood for. All that's in our blood. Nor can I describe him. He is too big, and too near; as well as too simple. The best I can do is to try to recall some memories o fhim.

The last memory is of him sitting beside me on the platform of Essex Hall. he was too crippled with arthritis to stand up when he spoke; yet when I had my head turned from him I got the illusion that he was on his feet, fighting with the old vehement gaiety. Well, his spirit never grew old. Not longer before that, when I went down to Beaconsfield to get him to talk for the papers, ever and again his head went up, and out came that deep-throated laugh that was like the challenge of a trumpet. But there was a time, not so long ago either, when his rising converted the dullest debate into a festival, his very entry into a room was like sunburst. You see him, don't you, towering suddenly beside the chairman, his big jolly face lit with laughter and loving kindness, as he tosses his boyish curls - Don John of Austria, with the brave locks curled - and falls on with lusty joy!

Don John? Oh well, I always say Gilbert Chesterton as a Knight. God knows that he seemed like the last Knight in England taking weapons from the wall.

"The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has song
That once went singing southward when all the world was young."

When he came into the office, big soft hat on head, huge cloak flapping round him, I always imagined a sword by his side. He was all compact of chivalry. If he had a weakness in polemic, it was that he hated to hurt. Yet in a good cause, the good old cause, he could, against the urge of the heart, be ruthless. But he had to be roused. Chivalrous, and one of the few instinctive democrats that I have known! The mystical doctrine of the equality of man was to him a self-evident fact like granite. Yet, though he felt superior to no man, he was the humblest of them all. And the simplest. Stranger still in a democrat, it was the simple people he liked best and respected most.

Of course he loved children, being a child. When he used to dawn on me in the office, the wraith of a cigarette sprouting from beneath his fierce moustache, and the pince-nez perpetually tumbling from before those wise, bold, innocent eyes, and the big cloak trailing, I knew that here was a child upon whom "the shades of the prison-house" had never closed, who trailed the clouds of glory still. Prison-house! You can imagine what the wise child would have had to say about that vile slander on God's world.

I think it was his humility and simplicity that led the mandarins to underrate his verse. The usual poet dramatizes himself - writes in a toga with a laural wreath cocked over one eye. But G.K.C. wrote poetry as he drank wine or ate bread and cheese, and had as much zest for a squib as an epic. And so, if you please, the author of "The Ballad of the White Horse," and "Lepanto" and twenty more of the major poems in English literature was not a "dedicated poet" like the solemn Johnnies who... but never mind! All this talk doesn't account for him - a child who was a very wise man, a gay companion who was profoundly serious, a simple soul who gloried in tumultuous decoration. But the Gothic he loved gives us a hint. The surface of his work is often a riot of decoration. Yet the outline is sane and simple, the bulk of it is majestic, and inside it is a shrine.

And this may be added: We may say of his work what Walt Whitman said of The Leaves of Grass: "Comrade this is no book. Who touches this touches a man."

From Mrs. Cecil Chesterton (J.K. Prothero)

The news that G.K.C. is dead must come as a hurt to his fellow men of all sorts and conditions, to thousands whom he could not have known but who learnt to regard him with intimate affection and admiration. There are those who must mourn him as a great poet, as a famous writer, but how many are there who, apart from his fame, will miss him as an infinitely understanding, kindly friend, as ready to unloose his matchless imagination for the diversion of a little child or an inconsiderable acquaintance as the entertainment of a waiting universe.

His voice on the air, full and deep and rounded, with that incomparable chuckle which circled the world with laughter, was always the signal for a family gathering. He never lectured or talked down to people, he was at one with them in a marvellous sort of fireside intimacy - an intimacy which radiated from his unequalled fantasies, his saitre, essays and unexpected novels. There are so many small people - small, that is to say, in the sense that they have no public life - who owe a great deal to his marvellous capacity for bringing out the best in them. His greatness never overshadowed the individuality of anyone, but was rather the kindly warmth that draws from hidden sources a sudden burgeoning of confidence.

His associates and those who worked for and with him had a sense of happiness in their relationship. Charmingly and outrageously absent-minded, with an incorrigible habit of mislaying things G.K. was amazedly grateful when resourceful secretaries came to the rescue. I remember those devoted competent young people - Kathleen Cheshire, Bunny Dunham, and, lastly, Dorothy Collins who, perhaps, more than all of them understood and ministered to his genius and tactfully enforced his literary committments.

But though I know and appreciate all these different sides, I think of Gilbert more intimately and clearly as a Fleet Street journalist who, like me, knew the adventures, the disappointments, the thrills and joy of companionship that go to its make-up. I see G.K. in his favourite wine bar with polished barrels and oak tables, turning out reams of copy in that decorate caligraphy reminiscent of a medieval missal. Over a glass of Burgundy he would look up with a sudden glaem and give out sparkling gems like my favourite lines: -

"I don't care where the water goes,
If it doesn't get into the wine."

He had the inborn capacity of the true journalist and could write anywhere and everywhere, on an omnibus, in an A.B.C. shop or at an office table. I recall the picturesque figure, with flowing cape and swordstick, hailing a taxi with a spacious gesture - to take him possibly just across the road. he might want the Daily Telegraph, the Cheshire Cheese, or the Daily News - and what were taxis for but to convey him thither. Time and distance were inconsiderable items to the G.K.C. of those days, and of time as of money he was always lavish. The veriest penny-a-liner could always go to him for copy and get it, red hot, with the incomparable sense of news that is the birthright of the journalist. And when, alas, Fleet Street knew him less often in the flesh, his absence did not rid him of his pensioners. Broken-down pressmen, the erstwhile newspaper seller and the man who had been "told by Mr. Chesterton to call" still trailed their way knowing they would not leave empty-handed "the night they went to Beaconsfield by way of Bethnal Green."

I see him as I first met him, at a meeting of The Moderns - his splendid leonine head flung back, his voice pealing throuhg the small back room in a Fleet Street alley, in a brilliant paradox, a scintillating epigram. We were a Debating Society and met to hammer at each other on the problems of the day, the possibilities of tomorrow. It was a mixed lot who gathered at these discussions - there was Cecil, the antithesis of his brother, politically speaking, with his keen brain and relentless logic; Conrad Noel the red and revolutionary padre, Louis McQuilland, Bill Titterton, my brother Charles Sheridan Jones, and others of the glorious company of the New Witness.

His zest for life, I think, made him such a good companion. A hard worker, he entered into school-boy games with that serious delight which animates his unforgettable ballads of the Simple Life. I love to think of Gilbert in one of his bursts of high spirits, sitting at a Mock Trial in Judge's wig and gown, and laying down the law with a quick wit that never overlaid his perception of the part. A great man of letters, yes, but an incomparable playboy whose very zest sharpened his senses of the serious issues of life and his never ending campaign for justice, sincerity and truth.

His exit to me rings down the curtain on an era of high spirits, full of gallantry and comradeship - Cecil, the man who would not know fear; his old friend and controversial sparring partner Clifford Sharp; Stacey Aumonier, the beloved vagabond; C.K. Scott Moncrieff, soldier and satirist; Tommy Pope, round faced and full of fun; and Thomas Seccombe, kindliest of critics. All, all are gone, the old familiar faces. And yet they still are with me, glad ghosts who haunt the Fleet Street we all loved.

From Fr. Vincent McNabb


I keep on moaning this to myself. If I did not believe the things he believed, his death would be almost the death of hope. I should despair of everyone; and of myself most of all. For how could I again trust my judgment when it once misled me into hailing as one of the great men and major prophets of her country a man whose death has been announced amidst a thousand trivialities, with the banalities of praise? Yet in this hour of temptation to despair I re-enkindle hope by recalling how often I have said that sometimes even greater than the gift of prophecy is the gift of recognizing a prophet! In the night-hour of Chesterton's death despair seems treason for me as for all the group who knew the time of their visitation because they knew that in giving him to them God had visited His people.

I looked upon this child of London Town as one of the greatest sons born to England for four centuries. Londoners at their best like More and Chesterton do not look down on England; they look round on England and see its central place in Europe and the world. Their London River (as the seamen call it) after its long quiet sauntering through England's smiling meadow-land welcomes with a smile all nations of the Earth.

Londoner of Londoners. English of the English. Gilbert Chesterton towered shoulder high about his contemporaries. His massive body, crowned with a massive head, struck me as being only the well-proportioned outward visible sign of the massive intellectual, spiritual reality within. And this inward reality was in the sphere of memory, mind and heart. His memory was not just beyond the average, but far beyond the average. Had it not been balanced by equal powers of mind it would have been, as in lesser minds, a danger or even a disease. But Gilbert Chesterton's memory was a storehouse of such ordered facts that from it, almost at will and always at need, he could bring forth things old and new. In control of this vast, densely filled memory was a mind of more than average power. It was not just a power of reason - though few could reason better - it was an unusual power of instant intuition; which, the philosophers say, is to be found only in a few men; and, as the theologians say, is found in all the angels.

One of his books he called An Outline of Sanity. The title was the man. His was the same healthy mind that recognizes in the outline the first necessary line of thought received or thought expressed. His thought about things was always the deep philosophical recognition not of resemblance but of differences. Unconsciously he acted on the principle that "a philosopher is one who knows how to divide." His rapidly moving intelligence recognised in one principle a hundred conclusions; and in one phenomenon of nature or one fact of history recognised a hundred principles. This made him the best of listeners. But whilst he listened even to something he had already heard and perhaps knew better than the speaker knew, his giant mind was tracing within the accurate outline of the subject an elaborate diaper of thought. The myriad epigrams of his style were not carefully designed effects. But they were the irrepressible and spontaneous results of a clear mind always set with philosophic instinct on discerning differences.

It is terrifying to think what his extraordinary gift of memory and intelligence might have been and done had it been the supreme quality of his soul. Lesser intelligences amongst his contemporaries have risen from wealth to wealth or from power to power to a wealth and power that meant the impoverishment or the enslavement of their fellow men. But God's greatest gift to Gilbert Chesterton was a heart that could seek neither wealth nor power, so deeply did he love the people. Even those who knew him least - say, by the books he wrote and they read - were conscious that his heart was no little part of his manifest greatness. But those who knew him best and marvelled at his gifts of mind, knew that his still greater gifts of heart were needed and used to keep the balance of his soul. His was a richly furnished memory controlled by a brilliantly clear mind; but aove all a noble chivalrous heroic heart in full control of memory and mind.

I remember that once his instant chuckle of laughter showed how he understood the humour in the Preface of the Mass when the Priest says to the people: "Lift up your hearts," and the people reply almost testily, "We have lifted them up." Gilbert Chesterton's heart was never otherwise than "lifted up." He sought only the highest aims for himself, and for the England that he loved, and for his fellow men whom he loved, if that were possible, more than England.

A long life of battling came to end last Sunday at Top Meadow, Beaconsfield. We might well ask was his aim ever lower than towards the topmost? And in his knightly quest of the highest at all costs except the cost of honour, was his life and work ever less than a great beacon of light to England and the world? Here and there in the heavy harvest of his writings his pen becomes one of the angriest, sharpest swords in Europe. But you will search this angry sword-battling without finding that the swordsman was ever defending himself. A laugh was usually self-defence enough for him. But behind his angry swordsmanship you will find some of the most defenceless or destitute beings of the world - the poor, the persecuted, the unfit - or some of the greatest principles, like loyalty, or wedded love or the homestead or liberty.

Once upon a time I called a book of his poems "Bugle-Music." Now I know there is in truth no Bugle-music, but only Bugle-calls. Every word that came from Gilbert Chesterton's pen-hand (which I kissed in his unconsciousness last Saturday) was like a Bugle-call to some of those tops of human aim to which from boyhood he had never been disloyal. But


His great heart gave way. Our Beacon is burned out. And what was left of this great Beacon we have buried in God's field. But in our memory there is something of him that will never burn out, till our ashes are as his.

From Hilaire Belloc, in an essay in G.K.'s Weekly

The death of our Editor is an event of such national magnitude that it is impossible to set down in a brief word the meaning of it and the meaning of the man who has gone. Yet the word must be brief because it is written just as the paper over which he presided for so long goes to press.

I have known him, and still know him, not only as a most intimate friend from the days when I first came up to London from Oxford nearly 40 years ago, still more as one in whose expression of thought I continually lived. His was the one expression of thought in England which could convey to his fellow-citizens those things they most needed to know and from which they are most debarred, and therefore men such as I, for whom those things are vital, sought the expression of them continually as hungry men seek for food. During all those years - it is the whole of an active lifetime - there was no other pen writing thus and no other voice speaking thus. And the first movement of the mind provoked by the hearing of such news is a question - and an unanswered one - "Will that great effort bear fruit?"

That is should do so in any society not moribund is self-evident; that it should bear ample fruit in any society not sterilised is a thing with which all men of culture throughout Europe will agree. But what fruit it will bear, even whether it will bear fruit, is something veiled from us. It is customary, I know, to take for granted the success of energy directed towards those objects which we most desire. It is thought, through some confusion of mind, an actual duty to prophesy success. But indeed there is no duty in these matters save that of telling the truth - and the truth is that we do not know.

The effect of Gilbert Chesterton's focussed and exact appreciation of reality, of his vivid untiring stream of exposition, will certainly be great in the United States. It will more slowly be felt, but certainly be felt, in Europe; every patriot will hope that it may be sufficiently felt also at last here. The special character of his work was a triumph in journalism; and he was the first to welcome that despised word and to give it its full and real value. He was proud to say, "I am a journalist," and he was indubitably the chief of that trade; our trade. He was not only the chief of that trade but the most complete representative of it; for the journalist is the man who discovers the truth about important happenings affecting his country in the world, even as they happen, and who, having discovered the truth, proclaims it in such fashion that his fellows shall know it too. Now the journalist to act thus must be a free man. No one working under the orders of another is fully free in that sense. Gilbert Chesterton remained free of his own will and through his own action, all his life. That is even a greater thing to say of such a man than to say how great his genius was.

Not so long ago in England we had some dozens of such men, not of his stature indeed, but free. The capital which furnished the printing of their words, which for that matter paid them their salaries, was commonly the capital of others, but they were not the servants of those others. Today they are nearly all of them servants. What they say is not of themselves, they are not telling truths that they have discovered, they do not make personal comment upon affairs vitally affecting their fellow citizens, rather do they write what a master pays them to write and omit what that master desires to have omitted. So that it is often said abroad and increasingly said that here in England we have no true journalism left.

But in Gilbert Chesterton England had such a man. It is the fullest commentary I know on the condition into which we have fallen, the social and intellectual level to which we have sunk, that such a man should not have been seen at his full stature and should not have been acclaimed upon the level of what he was. One other free man in his own profession, the late Mr. Orage, said of him as exactly true a thing as was said anywhre; he said it many years ago, before the War, and the truth of it stands out enormously today. He said that Gilbert Chesterton was the most typically English man in England: not Englishman, but English man. He was for our generation what Dr. Johnson was for his. But Dr. Johnson telling some truth was heard by all the England of his time, all the England which counted, in the sense of that word "heard" when we use it to mean understood and taken for what he was in full. We have no longer the social machinery for such appreciation.

"The Times," which men still talk of as though it were particularly national, published upon hearing the news an obituary so utterly beneath the level of its subject as to be negligible, and I take that pronouncement to be typical of that tragic truth which I am announcing here. A great Englishman has left England, and that English-man who was most English. Buy the knowledge of his fellow Englishmen may have of such truth, by the measure with which they measure that truth, they may be politically judged.

From E.C. Bentley, during a broadcast tribute

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was not only one of the most greatly gifted, but one of the most beloved men of his time. [. . .] His intellectual powers were amazing. Included in their range were some of the noblest of modern poems and some of the most sparkling of light verse. Mr. Chesterton had in him the stuff of a great artist in the commonly accepted sense of the word. There was nothing he could not do with a pencil or, by preference, what, in our boyhood, we called a box of chalks. He honoured simplicity and kindness. As he once put it in an unforgettable lyric line - "Kindness which is God's last word."

From Robert Lynd, of the "News Chronicle"

The truth is, he never ceased to be a poet even when he was writing prose. How fine a poet he was at his best everyone who has read the "Ballad of the White Horse" knows. Some of his vese might be described as a riot of rhetoric, but the rhetoric is the genuine expression of a riotous and exuberant imagination. The novels, too, were riots - some of them glorious riots, with little imps of nonsense tumbling head-over-heels among apocalyptic visions. There are writers who hold that Chesterton squandered his genius and endangered his literary immortality by his indifference to form. He was certainly of a squandering temperment, but in his case it was not a common spendthrift but a millionaire who did the squandering. He once said that if he were a millionaire he would like just to "chuck his money about" - not to deserving people, but to "just chuck it about." In literature and journalism he may be said to have chucked his genius about. It seems to me likely that we shall still for many generations to come be collecting the gold pieces that he has strewn with such magnificent recklessness.

From the Archbishop of Westminster

We have lost a man, a big man of unique strength, a man of courage and conviction. G.K., as he was everywhere known, was an ardent Catholic, a lover of liberty, a sound philosopher, an apologist of highest value, a keen, clean humourist. He will be sadly missed in das when men in the mould of St. Thomas More are rare. Those who share our heritage of English speech may well owe a great debt to G.K. Chesterton for his work as a master artist. Some will certainly repay him with the meed of so many words. But his friends and comrades in the rank of the Church militant will remember chiefly that he staunchly fought the good fight and upheld the faith. To them words without prayers will seem a scant and empty requital of hsi unswerving loyalty.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"he is a worm and a god"

In anticipation of the start of ChesterCon: The Best of All Impossible Worlds this Thursday evening, I again pass on today's quotation from Chesterton Day by Day (from GKC's Charles Dickens):
IF we are to save the oppressed, we must have two apparently antagonistic emotions in us at the same time. We must think the oppressed man intensely miserable, and at the same time intensely attractive and important. We must insist with violence upon his degradation; we must insist with the same violence upon his dignity. For if we relax by one inch the one assertion, men will say he does not need saving. And if we relax by one inch the other assertion men will say he is not worth saving. The optimists will say that reform is needless. The pessimists will say that reform is hopeless. We must apply both simultaneously to the same oppressed man; we must say that he is a worm and a god; and we must thus lay ourselves open to the accusation (or the compliment) of transcendentalism.

Chesterton and Belloc

It was about twelve years ago. I had converted from Lutheranism three years earlier after falling in love with Chesterton, Belloc, Muggeridge, Dawson, and others about five years earlier (it took about three years for their prose to work). My father had accepted my conversion, and he liked the fact that I was reading a lot of Chesterton.

Then one day I mentioned Belloc. My dad replied that he didn’t care for him, saying Belloc was abrasive, or something to that effect. I admitted to my father that Belloc didn’t have a lot of patience for non-Catholics, and my dad said, “Which is good, because I have little patience for him.”

And that’s where Belloc sits with many. Ignored and neglected.

He rubbed people the wrong way while he was alive, too. His nasty wars with H.G. Wells are legendary, but even before the nastiness started, Wells didn’t care for him. Wells cherished Chesterton’s company, saying he desired to “drink limitless old October from handsome flagons” with him. But not with Belloc. “Chesterton often – but never by any chance Belloc. Belloc I admire beyond measure, but there is a sort of partisan viciousness about Belloc that bars him.”

“Partisan viciousness.” I think my father would agree with Wells on that one.

Yet the vicious Belloc also had a good side and many good friends . . . including Chesterton, one of the kindest literary souls to grace the written page.

Chesterton is loved by all, including non-Catholics, but Belloc isn’t. Yet the overlap in their ideas is immense. In fact, many people, including G.B. Shaw and C.S. Lewis, said Belloc influenced Chesterton immensely (both Shaw and Lewis, incidentally, disapproved of the influence). In the words of Frank Sheed, writing about the Catholic Literary Revival in the twentieth century: “There was Chesterton, of course, but then Belloc had so much to do with the making of Chesterton and Chesterton not much with the making of Belloc.”

Those are significant words, spoken by a man who knows of what he speaks. It’s almost as though Chesterton was an intellectual hack and merely rode Belloc’s genius.

But that would be a gross mistake. Belloc influenced Chesterton, yes, but in the way water influences a flower. Belloc’s ideas nourished Chesterton and gave him direction, but it was Chesterton’s unique brilliance that allowed the flower to bloom in a way that would influence millions.


A few heavyweights on the Chesterbelloc:

Robert Royal in 1985 National Review.
Joseph Sobran.
Ralph McInerny.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gilbert's Travels

This is miserably late, but such is life. It would probably have been up half an hour ago if not for the fact that Blogger keeps crashing my browser, for some reason.


Over the course of our treatment of Chesterton, he has been referred to variously as the Englishman's Englishman, the man of Fleet Street, and a small-town homebody. All of this accurate. It is the mark of a great and expansive man that he can fit so many varied and often contrary descriptions of his person without giving the reader worrying pause.

But today we may add another epithet to this worthy stable: globetrotter.

Yes, though Chesterton deplored the cosmopolitan mindset - believing that it eroded one's respect one's own country while promoting only a superficial admiration of others - he was himself no stranger to travel, and some of his finest and obscurest works are the result of his voyages. There are four major excursions to be covered, though I will not do them in order for the simple reason that I can not, for the life of me, remember their order. Also, they really will be brief, I swear to you on my life.

1. America
"He wished to discover America. His gay and thoughtless friends who could not understand him, pointed out that America had already been discovered, I think they said by Christopher Columbus, some time ago, and that there were big cities of Anglo-Saxon people there already, New York and Boston and so on. But the Admiral explained to them, kindly enough, that this had nothing to do with it. They might have discovered America, but he had not." - From The Coloured Lands
Gilbert loved the United States of America, and went there twice. These two trips occasioned two books, What I Saw in America and Sidelights on New London and Newer York, respectively. Calling America "the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed," Gilbert found himself enchanted by the no-nonsense energy of the American citizenry, the then-widespread prevalance of the family farm, and the furious zest with which an entire country pursued the tenets of Democracy, in one form or another.

But he was not without his worries, of course. We all remember his famous quip about the lights of Broadway: "How beautiful it could be for someone who could not read." He was similarly disenchanted with the American city's pretension to soulless skyscrapers and brick-laid labyrinths, as well as urban sprawl. As we have come to see, these worries were quite legitimate.

As I was not there with him, my commentary on his travels is essentially uninformed. I will leave the rest of this description to the American journalists he so admired.

From the docks:
[On disembarking] he shook hands with some half-dozen Customs officials who welcomed him to the city on their own behalf. The impression given by Mr. Chesterton as he moved majestically along the pier or on the ship was one of huge bulk. To the ordinary sized people on the pier he seemed to blot out the liner and the river. Mrs. Chesterton was busy with the baggage.

"My wife understands these things," he said with a sweep of his stick, "I don't."
From New York:
I found, with Mrs. Chesterton at the Biltmore, this big, gentle, leonine man of letters, six feet of him and 200 odd lb. There is a delightful story of how an American, driving with him through London, remarked "Everyone seems to know you, Mr. Chesterton."

"Yes," mournfully responded the gargantuan author, "and if they don't they ask."

He really doesn't look anything like as fat as his caricatures make him, however, and he has a head big enough to go with his massive tallness. His eyes are brilliant English blue behind the big-rimmed eyeglasses: his wavy hair, steel grey; his heavy moustache, bright yellow. Physically he is the crackling electric spark of the heaven-home-and-mother party, the only man who can give the cleverest radical debaters a Roland for their Oliver.
Still more:
Mr. Chesterton speaks clearly, in a rather high-pitched voice. He accompanies his remarks with many neverous little gestures. His hands, at times, stray into his pockets. He leans over the reading desk as if he would like to get down into the audience and make it a sort of heart-to-heart talk.

Mr. Chesterton's right hand spent a restless and rather disturbing evening. It would start from the reading desk at which he stood and fall to the points of that vast waistcoat which inspired the description of him as "a fellow of infinite vest." It would wander aimlessly a moment about his - stomach is a word that is taboo among the polite English - equator, and then shift swiftly to the rear until the thumb found the hip pocket. There the hand would rest a moment, to return again to the reading desk and to describe once more the quarter circle. Once in a while it would twist a ring upon the left hand, once in a while it would be clasped behind the broad back, but only for a moment. To the hip pocket and back again was its sentry-go, and it was a faithful soldier.
One would never suspect him of being our leading American bestseller. His accent, mannerisms, and dress are pro-Piccadilly and he likes his Oolong with a lump of sugar. He thinks with his cigar, a black London cheeroot...

When asked which of his works he considered the greatest, he said: "I don't consider any of my works in the least great."
And finally:
During the whole inspired course of his brilliant reasoning, he caught the little rivulets which ran down his face, and just as they were about to drop from the first of his several chins flicked them generously among the disconcerted people who sat actually at his feet. From time to time, too, unaware of this, he grasped deep in his pockets and rattled coins and keys, going from point to point, from proof to proof, until the Constitution of England was quite devoid of Law and out from under his waistcoat bulged a line of shirt.

It was monstrous, gigantic, amazing, deadly, delicious. Nothing like it has ever been done before or will ever be seen, heard and felt like it again.
As you can see, he was well-received.

2. The Holy Land

Gilbert's trip to the Holy Land with Frances was instrumental in his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and it produced his best travel book: The New Jerusalem. His arrival, he writes, was met with the fall of snow in those deserts of the East; a circumstance rarely repeated, and about which he had arch commentary, of course. A picture from a recent snowfall in Jerusalem follows below:

I can offer no greater comment on his journey to the Holy Land than can be found in The New Jerusalem (available here), so my remarks here will be brief. There is one essay in that book in particular, called "The Meaning of the Crusade," which sums up everything in a deliciously visceral and poignant way. There is in that essay all of the cold fury that is anger without rage. The modern perversion of the history of the Crusades is one of the greatest scandals to afflict the West, and has largely informed the decline of Christendom in the world. Gilbert knew this, and the distaste for such revisionism comes through dramatically.

Gilbert's trip to the Holy Land also underscores his often complex relationship with Zionism and the Jewish people in general. Though he writes scornfully in his Autobiography of a Zionist driver he had while touring Palestine, it must nonetheless be noted that he was a firm proponent of solving "the Zionist problem" by giving the Jews a real Zion; that is, the creation of a Jewish nation. As always, of course, he was ahead of the curve. Anyhow, the best cure for charges of anti-Semitism on Gilbert's part is to actually read The New Jerusalem, which is often held up as the firmest evidence of this alleged lapse on his part. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

The trip to the Holy Land came about as a result of both Gilbert's desire to take Frances on a journey for the good of her delicate health, and of his friend Maurice Baring's insistence to publishing friends that Gilbert could write a book about the voyage of unequalled value and insight. Would that we all had such friends, who could bring such things about.

There are delightful parallels between Gilbert's trip through Rome and the Holy Land and Mark Twain's jaunt through the same places as described in his masterpiece, The Innocents Abroad. I will leave these up to the reader to discover, however, as this is neither the time nor the place.

3. Rome

Gilbert's time in Rome was controversial in a number of ways, some of which are just, and some of which are not. It was the first trip to Rome that cemented in Gilbert his determination to finally join the Roman Catholic Church, having seen as he did all of its glories distilled into one, eternal city.

This proved controversial in itself, as Lee admirably pointed out last week. For though England has a distinctly Catholic history, she existed at the time in a distinctly Protestant present, generally inhospitable to the Church even as she tried to erase her own Then to appease the Now. It is even worse, nowadays, for even Protestantism is seen as an embarassment, and fair England has slid, as have all Western nations, into the abysmal cesspool of vague, directionless secularism.

But I'm speaking about Gilbert. His conversion was of course lauded by his Roman Catholic friends, such as Maurice Baring, Hilaire Belloc and Fr. John O'Connor, but in the nation at large it was actually a subject of some heated discussion. It is a mark of just how exorcised religion has become from public life in the West that the religious conversion of a great man of letters would be viewed now as none of the nation's business, and unworthy of real comment; but it is just as well, for we have no great men of letters to discuss.

The second sting of controversy regarding Rome came with his second trip to Rome, in 1929. The sting is perhaps more deserved, though it can be somewhat dispelled with the application of charity and careful analysis. While in Rome, Gilbert found himself impressed by the strong national identity of "the New Italy," and remarked upon its serious potential. He went so far as to interview Mussolini himself, and the exchange has been seen as almost an embarassment to Gilbert for his lack of criticism.

Maisie Ward suggests - not without merit, I would argue - that this mutedness on Gilbert's part is more to do with his desire to "be fair to Fascism" than with any sympathy or admiration he may have therefor. What's more, Mussolini - apparently a fan of Gilbert's work - took the opportunity to conduct his own interview of Gilbert, asking him about distributism and literature and the like. There was a sort of curious interplay to the whole thing that could be mistaken for An Understanding, but we must remember that Gilbert was not one to let a discussion become unpleasant, and Mussolini, whatever else he was, was a man of great charisma. In any event, Gilbert certainly spoke out against Fascism in various articles, and in the book about his trip to Rome itself.

That book - The Resurrection of Rome - is not particularly good, as far as Gilbert's work goes, but it is worth reading to get an understanding of just what some of his contemporary critics are carping about; for indeed, they carp on.

4. Poland

The trip to Poland was one of the most fascinating for Gilbert, as he found in the Polish people and in the Polish nation much that was in common with England, and much else that was utterly inextricable from well-endowed Christendom. The trip was a result of an invitation to Gilbert on the part of the Polish government, who were grateful for his untiring defense of their country against those in Western Europe who dismissed it as little more than a political football to be passed and punted as circumstances required.

His time in Poland was spent on something of an official tour, although he took a good amount of time to himself as well. Everywhere he went he was reminded of the constant struggle between Prussia and Russia that was waged, with varying degrees of intensity, over the small parcel of land that, for the moment, belonged to the people who actually lived there. His comments on this tragic situation set the stage in a grim and ironic way for the war the he would not live to see.

All that I know of his trip there comes from his own account in his Autobiography, so two anecdotes therefrom shall suffice.
I was driving with a Polish lady, who was very witty and well-aquainted with the whole character of Europe, and also of England (as is the barbarous habit of the Slavs); and I only noticed that her tone changed, if anything to a sort of coolness, as we stopped outside an archway leading to a side-street, and she said, "We can't drive in here." I wondered; for the gateway was wide and the street apparently open. As we walked under the arch she said in the same colourless tone; "You take off your hat here." And then I saw the open street. It was filled with a vast crowd, all facing me; and all on their knees on the ground. It was as if someone were walking behind me; or some strange bird were hovering over my head. I faced around, and saw in the centre of the arch great windows standing open, unsealing a chamber full of gold and colours; there was a picture behind; but parts of the whole picture were moving like a puppet-show, stirring strange double memories like a dream of the bridge in the puppet-show of my childhood; and then I realised that from those shifting groups there shone and sounded the ancient magnificence of the Mass.
And, my favourite:
I made the acquaintance of a young Count whose huge and costly palace of a country house, upon the old model (for he had quite different notions himself), had been burned and wrecked and left in ruins by the retreat of the Red Army after the Battle of Warsaw. Looking at such a mountain of shattered marbles and black and blasted tapestries, one of our party said, "It must be a terrible thing for you to see your old family home destroyed like this." But the young man, who was very young in all his gestures, shrugged his shoulders and laughed, at the same time looking a little sad. "Oh, I do not blame them for that," he said. "I have been a soldier myself, and in the same campaign; and I know the temptations. I know what a fellow feels, dropping with fatigue and freezing with cold, when he asks himself what some other fellow's armchairs and curtains can matter, if he can only have fuel for the night. On the one side or the other, we were all soldiers; and it is a hard and horrible life. I don't resent at all what they did here. There is only one thing that I really resent. I will show it to you."

And he led us out into a long avenue lined with poplars; and at the end of it was a statue of the Blessed Virgin; with the head and the hands shot off. But the hands had been lifted; and it is a strange thing that the very mutilation seemed to give more meaning to the attitude of intercession; asking mercy for the merciless race of men.

And so we conclude this treatment of Gilbert's travels around the world. There were trips to Spain, to Ireland and to France that could have borne mention, but they were not anything near as important (or, vitally, as well-documented) as the ones outlined above. I think that in the quartet of New York, Warsaw, Rome and Jerusalem we can find a startling and profound statement on the variety of the human condition, as well as upon its essential sameness. I should have liked to have written about Ireland et al., but I do not think I have done the cause a disservice by neglecting them.

Be sure to return tomorrow for Eric's treatment of the Chesterbelloc, and on Wednesday for the final, apocalyptic vision of Gilbert Chesterton, the man who died.