The Ballad of the White Horse
Lepanto: With Explanatory Notes and Commentary
The Secret of Father Brown
St. Thomas Aquinas
A site dedicated to G.K. Chesterton, his friends, and the writers he influenced: Belloc, Baring, Lewis, Tolkien, Dawson, Barfield, Knox, Muggeridge, and others.
In my last post, I noted that so few people seem to be following this blog any more - even the former team members.
I got no responses.
This used to be a respectable blog. There were some good writers. When they asked me to join I felt honored.
I've decided to continue for now. Chesterton and the "friends" - writers who knew him, were influenced by him, or who are like him in some ways - are too important to simply ignore.
Who knows, maybe some time in the future someone will be inspired by something here.
I've been attempting to keep this blog alive. But it seems that very few people read the new posts - even my fellow team members appear to have abandoned it entirely.
Is it worth the time and effort? I know blogs are considered passe, but then, some people think Chesterton is passe.
In 1978 I was counselor and a life guard at a summer camp. During one session, the boys' cabin I was working with played a softball game against a girls' cabin. The girls trounced the boys.After the game, my fellow male counselors and I chided the boys for allowing girls to beat them. We were echoing the kind of comments we had heard our high school coaches saying to us.
"We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it's like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness." - C. S. Lewis
The most recent issue of Gilbert (September/October 2022) contains an essay by Mark Johnson, "Old Friends Pay a Return Visit."
In the essay, Johnson notes his habit of reading classic novels every night. He has a fondness for 19th Century novels - a fondness I share.
But he ran into a problem.
After years of reading, he had read them all, even down to the "fourth tier." With nothing new to read, he was faced with the terrible prospect of "mid-life acedia.".
Then one night he dipped into Middlemarch, a book he'd already read, to look a few of his favorite pages, and found himself caught up in the book again and completely reread it, enjoying it just as much - if not more - than the first time he read it.
So now he is rereading some of his "old friends."
In rereading, he discovered he is better able to keep the characters or plot twists straight, and found he is able to relax more with the books. In the process, he also realized that, "Some aspects of a novel are literally impossible to recognize until a second read." He is able to make connections; he has a greater level of maturity and understanding as well. "I'm now aware that the art inside great literature unfolds and blooms most vividly upon a second or subsequent read."
This essay resonated with me. I am also in the process of rereading. I just include more than the 19th Century novels that I like.
Rereading is not a new thing for me. As a teacher, I had to reread some of the books I was teaching to keep them fresh. I don't know how many times I've reread To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and various of Shakespeare's plays. While I enjoyed the rereads, the purpose was professional.
Now I am rereading for pleasure books that I read 30-40-50 years ago. When I first read them, it was often because I had to read them for a class I was taking or teaching, or because I felt I was "supposed" to read them. Like Johnson, I find myself now not only enjoying them, but also that I am better able to appreciate their artistry and insights into human nature and the spiritual.
I don't, however, limit myself to 19th Century novels, though they are certainly in the mix. In recent months, I've reread St. Augustine's Confessions, Brideshead Revisited, Chesterton's "biography" of St. Thomas Aquinas, The Screwtape Letters, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, to name a few. I'm currently rereading The Imitation of Christ, and The Brothers Karamazov.
Unlike Johnson, there are books I haven't read before - as an English and History teacher, I was often reading books for class, and did not have time for as much pleasure reading as I desired, and before that when I was a reporter, I was constantly reading the books and essays and background information of the people whom I would interview or the topics I was covering. So now I mix in the books I always wanted to read. The Idiot, for example, or Oliver Twist.
Now that I'm retired, many more first reads and rereads await.
Johnson's essay revealed to me a kindred spirit. And as I reread, I, like him, will "make sure I don't waste great wine."
In addition to the wonderful talks and getting to interact with fellow Chestertonians at the Rochester Chesterton Conference, one of the joys is perusing the books/magazines/etc. for sale. Dale Ahlquist and Joseph Pearce are almost always there hawking their books and materials.
Crisis Magazine - "A Voice for the Faithful Catholic Laity" - has been featuring a series of articles about some of our favorite authors.The recent articles include:
EWTN rebroadcasts this wonderful show Monday mornings at 6:30. What a pleasant way to begin the week.
Though it is odd seeing Dale without a beard!
Dale's article printed in Catholic World Report -
Because GKC became Catholic, I became Catholic. And so have countless others.
When G.K. Chesterton was received into the Catholic Church one hundred years ago, on Sunday, July 30, 1922, it was big news. Except it wasn’t. It didn’t quite qualify as “news” because nobody knew about it. The two priests who received him into the Church – Fr. John O’Connor, his long-time friend who was also the inspiration for Chesterton’s immortal fictional detective Father Brown, and Dom Ignatius Rice, a Benedictine monk from Douai Abbey – vowed to say nothing about the ceremony. Not for any religious reasons. They just wanted to see how long it would take the press to find out.
It took three weeks.
And it was big news when it was finally reported. Except it wasn’t. At least for part of the reading public. Many of them thought Chesterton was already Catholic. After all, he’d been defending the Catholic Church for years, and taking the Catholic position at every turn, on every topic, and in every controversy. And he’d already written two dozen popular stories featuring the aforementioned Father Brown.
But there was also many Chesterton admirers and devotees who were genuinely surprised because they refused to believe he would ever do something so inconceivable as actually joining the Catholic Church. This group included both Catholics and non-Catholics, from his best friend and faith Papist Hilaire Belloc to his good friend and philosophical opponent George Bernard Shaw who had long made fun of what he called Chesterton’s “Roman Catholic hobby.” When Shaw heard the news, he fired off a letter to his debating partner saying, “Gilbert! This is going too far!” And Belloc, in genuine and pensive awe, wrote: “I never thought it was possible.”
The reaction within the Church of England, to which he belonged, also ran the gamut. When the local vicar in Beaconsfield heard the news, he said, “I’m glad Chesterton is going over to Rome. He was never a very good Anglican.”
On the other hand, an editorial in the Anglican weekly, The Church Times, said what was strange about Chesterton was not that he had become Catholic, but that he had remained so long in the Anglican communion. The growing liberalism within the Church of England was driving away the educated laity, and had never “attracted one educated man to the church” but rather “robbed that church of the genius of G.K. Chesterton.”
In contrast, the Catholic papers were ecstatic. THE TABLET’s headline crowed: “THE HOMECOMING OF MR. CHESTERTON.” It likened the conversion to that of John Henry Newman, and expressed happiness over having Chesterton’s happiness in the Church. “He will not let the devil have all the frolic.” But it also expressed what many felt: that Chesterton would not change.They wanted the same Chesterton they had already come to know; not a new one, just a Catholic one.
Chesterton called his conversion “the chief event” of his life. And we can say that in his writing and in his public persona, he didn’t change. In fact, there is not a discernible difference in his post-conversion writings from his pre-conversion writings. Except there is. He does in fact take on specific Protestant doctrines and is more specific in his rebuttals of them. He had always challenged Calvinism, but he zeroed in more on Luther. He had always demonstrated a mastery of Scripture but took apart the “Bible-worshippers” whom he found as small minded as the “Bible-bashers.”
He said there were ten thousand reasons, but they all amounted to the same reason. It was because “The Catholic Church is true.”
But when asked, these were some of the other reasons he gave.
The most striking answer: “To get rid of my sins.” Only the Catholic Church can do that.
Another answer was the sober realization that the Anglican Church wasn’t Catholic. “I always believed in the Catholic view of Christianity, at least I have believed it for twenty years. Unless the Church of England was a branch of the Catholic Church, I had no use for it. If it were a Protestant Church, I did not believe in it. In any case the question is whether the Church of England can claim to be in direct descent from the medieval Catholic Church …
“It appears to me quite clear that any church claiming to be an authoritative church must be quite definite when great questions of public morals are put. Can I go in for cannibalism or the murder of babies to reduce the population, or any other scientific and progressive reform? Any church with authority to teach must say whether it can be done. But the Protestant churches are in utter bewilderment on these moral questions.”
One of the moral questions was contraception. When Anglican bishops became champions of what Chesterton called “a low and poisonous trick, not far removed from infanticide,” he realized they were taking a position that was essentially heathenism. They were speaking with no unity, no authority, and could not denounce open immorality. He wanted to be part of the Church Militant. As he explained to his mother, he was joining “the one fighting form of Christianity.”
He was accused – and dismissed – as having a romantic attachment to a love of ritual and the aesthetics of the high Middle Ages with its Gothic Cathedrals reaching towards heaven.
Three years later Bertram Hyde was received into the Catholic Church.
Which brings us to the ripple effect of Chesterton’s conversion. G.K. Chesterton might be one of the greatest makers of Catholic converts of the last century, and the ripples continue to be felt.
Here is just one ripple. Because GKC became Catholic, I became Catholic. Here’s another ripple.
Because I read Chesterton and became Catholic, I did a television show about Chesterton on EWTN. And because lots of people watched that show, it helped lead to a revival of interest in Chesterton. And also, many people who watched that show became Catholic, or became more Catholic.
But here’s another ripple. Because I became Catholic, my wife became Catholic, too, that is, she returned to the Catholic Church in which she had been baptized and confirmed, but it was a faith she had never really lived, until we both embraced it. We had the great pleasure and blessing of getting married again, by having our marriage validated by a priest. And because we became Catholic, for some reason we had four more children. And because we had those children, we eventually started the first Chesterton Academy. And because we started the first Chesterton Academy, there are now almost 50 other Chesterton Academies in five countries, with more schools in the works. These schools have led to young men becoming priests and young couples getting married in the Catholic Church, and revival of Catholic classical education across the country and across the world.
(Editor’s note: This essay was first posted on July 19, 2022.)
The prophet Amos
BOOK PICK: New edition of 1910 classic packs relevance today.
Sophia Institute Press has just republished a book with a title that is as perennial as it is thought-provoking: What’s Wrong With the World by G.K. Chesterton.
Essentially a book of political philosophy, Chesterton lampoons, with forensic wit, what were then faddish ideas in Edwardian Britain. His four targets are: large corporations, even bigger governments, feminism and education. These and the then thinking underpinning them are the public “wrongs” he identifies, alongside an overarching one, namely, man’s fallen human nature.
First published in 1910, one may well ask: What does What’s Wrong With the World have to say to today’s world?
Depressingly, the same wrongs are with us still, if receiving fresh expression in the 21st century. Helpfully, Chesterton not only identifies “what’s wrong” with the world but also points out that what people, often erroneously, think is wrong, and then wherein lies the cure of the world’s ills. ...
You can read the rest of this fine review/essay from the National Catholic Register here - https://www.ncregister.com/features/chesterton-is-right-about-what-s-wrong-with-the-world
Charles Williams in Letters & Remembrances - LOVE DURING WARTIME - By Cicero Bruce"... Williams’s part in this prolific exchange is accessible thanks to the dutiful research of Roma A. King Jr. King’s edition of Williams’s personal correspondence, published in 2002 under the title To Michal from Serge: Letters from Charles Williams to His Wife Florence, 1939-1945, includes representative selections, painstakingly transcribed by King, from nearly 700 hurriedly handwritten letters. In them we hear Williams at his best — as faithful Christian, loyal husband, caring father, and generous friend — and, occasionally, at his worst — as one who loved human beings but sometimes found them intolerable. What resounds above all else is the voice of a man “honestly struggling,” as King puts it in his introduction, “toward the light beyond the darkness.” ...
The most recent issue again turns to Chesterton, taking the title of Pearce's own highly-regarded biography of Chesterton, Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton, and using it as a focus for the issue.
Among the articles:"The Wisdom and Innocence of G.K. Chesterton" by Joseph Pearce
"Perhaps to our surprise, this third Lewis, the medievalist, emerges in the 1962 list that he shared with The Christian Century. When Lewis replied to the editors, he mentioned ten books that shaped his sense of vocation and his philosophy of life, some of which we would expect: 1) George MacDonald’s Phantastes; 2) G.K. Chesterton’s Everlasting Man; 3) Virgil’s Aeneid; 4) The Temple, by George Herbert; 5) William Wordsworth’s Prelude; 6) Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy; 7) Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy; 8) The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell; 9) Descent into Hell, by Charles Williams; and 10) Arthur James Balfour, Theism and Humanism. Some of these books, even if they have been largely forgotten by us, make sense in light of Lewis’s interest in apologetics. ..."
The essay is an adaptation of the introductory chapter of The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis: How the Great Book Shaped a Great Mind.
You can read the full essay here.
He did not dwell on his Scottish roots - he viewed himself as English - though he did have a fondness for Robert Louis Stevenson. And he did discuss Mary, Queen of Scots, including an essay (reprinted in the Ignatius edition of Lepanto) called "If Don Juan of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots." I'll deal with that essay in a later post..
In All Things Considered, he did include an essay dealing with Scotland, declaring in it “I am quite certain that Scotland is a nation; I am quite certain that nationality is the key of Scotland.”
Here is the essay:
Edward VII. and Scotland
IHAVE received a serious, and to me, at any rate, an impressive remonstrance from the Scottish Patriotic Association. It appears that I recently referred to Edward VII. of Great Britain and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, under the horrible description of the King of England. The Scottish Patriotic Association draws my attention to the fact that by the provisions of the Act of Union, and the tradition of nationality, the monarch should be referred to as the King of Britain. The blow thus struck at me is particularly wounding because it is particularly unjust. I believe in the reality of the independent nationalities under the British Crown much more passionately and positively than any other educated Englishman of my acquaintance believes in it. I am quite certain that Scotland is a nation; I am quite certain that nationality is the key of Scotland; I am quite certain that all our success with Scotland has been due to the fact that we have in spirit treated it as a nation. I am quite certain that Ireland is a nation; I am quite certain that nationality is the key to Ireland; I am quite certain that all our failure in Ireland arose from the fact that we would not in spirit treat it as a nation. It would be difficult to find, even among the innumerable examples that exist, a stronger example of the immensely superior importance of sentiment to what is called practicality than this case of the two sister nations. It is not that we have encouraged a Scotchman to be rich; it is not that we have encouraged a Scotchman to be active; it is not that we have encouraged a Scotchman to be free. It is that we have quite definitely encouraged a Scotchman to be Scotch.
A vague, but vivid impression was received from all our writers of history, philosophy, and rhetoric that the Scottish element was something really valuable in itself, was something which even Englishmen were forced to recognise and respect. If we ever admitted the beauty of Ireland, it was as something which might be loved by an Englishman but which could hardly be respected even by an Irishman. A Scotchman might be proud of Scotland; it was enough for an Irishman that he could be fond of Ireland. Our success with the two nations has been exactly proportioned to our encouragement of their independent national emotion; the one that we would not treat nationally has alone produced Nationalists. The one nation that we would not recognise as a nation in theory is the one that we have been forced to recognise as a nation in arms. The Scottish Patriotic Association has no need to draw my attention to the importance of the separate national sentiment or the need of keeping the Border as a sacred line. The case is quite sufficiently proved by the positive history of Scotland. The place of Scottish loyalty to England has been taken by English admiration of Scotland. They do not need to envy us our titular leadership, when we seem to envy them their separation.
I wish to make very clear my entire sympathy with the national sentiment of the Scottish Patriotic Association. But I wish also to make clear this very enlightening comparison between the fate of Scotch and of Irish patriotism. In life it is always the little facts that express the large emotions, and if the English once respected Ireland as they respect Scotland, it would come out in a hundred small ways. For instance, there are crack regiments in the British Army which wear the kilt—the kilt which, as Macaulay says with perfect truth, was regarded by nine Scotchmen out of ten as the dress of a thief. The Highland officers carry a silver-hilted version of the old barbarous Gaelic broadsword with a basket-hilt, which split the skulls of so many English soldiers at Killiecrankie and Prestonpans. When you have a regiment of men in the British Army carrying ornamental silver shillelaghs you will have done the same thing for Ireland, and not before—or when you mention Brian Boru with the same intonation as Bruce.
Let me be considered therefore to have made quite clear that I believe with a quite special intensity in the independent consideration of Scotland and Ireland as apart from England. I believe that, in the proper sense of the words, Scotland is an independent nation, even if Edward VII. is the King of Scotland. I believe that, in the proper sense of words, Ireland is an independent nation, even if Edward VII. is King of Ireland. But the fact is that I have an even bolder and wilder belief than either of these. I believe that England is an independent nation. I believe that England also has its independent colour and history, and meaning. I believe that England could produce costumes quite as queer as the kilt; I believe that England has heroes fully as untranslateable as Brian Boru, and consequently I believe that Edward VII. is, among his innumerable other functions, really King of England. If my Scotch friends insist, let us call it one of his quite obscure, unpopular, and minor titles; one of his relaxations. A little while ago he was Duke of Cornwall; but for a family accident he might still have been King of Hanover. Nor do I think that we should blame the simple Cornishmen if they spoke of him in a rhetorical moment by his Cornish title, nor the well-meaning Hanoverians if they classed him with Hanoverian Princes.
Now it so happens that in the passage complained of I said the King of England merely because I meant the King of England. I was speaking strictly and especially of English Kings, of Kings in the tradition of the old Kings of England. I wrote as an English nationalist keenly conscious of the sacred boundary of the Tweed that keeps (or used to keep) our ancient enemies at bay. I wrote as an English nationalist resolved for one wild moment to throw off the tyranny of the Scotch and Irish who govern and oppress my country. I felt that England was at least spiritually guarded against these surrounding nationalities. I dreamed that the Tweed was guarded by the ghosts of Scropes and Percys; I dreamed that St. George's Channel was guarded by St. George. And in this insular security I spoke deliberately and specifically of the King of England, of the representative of the Tudors and Plantagenets. It is true that the two Kings of England, of whom I especially spoke, Charles II. and George III., had both an alien origin, not very recent and not very remote. Charles II. came of a family originally Scotch. George III. came of a family originally German. But the same, so far as that goes, could be said of the English royal houses when England stood quite alone. The Plantagenets were originally a French family. The Tudors were originally a Welsh family. But I was not talking of the amount of English sentiment in the English Kings. I was talking of the amount of English sentiment in the English treatment and popularity of the English Kings. With that Ireland and Scotland have nothing whatever to do.
Charles II. may, for all I know, have not only been King of Scotland; he may, by virtue of his temper and ancestry, have been a Scotch King of Scotland. There was something Scotch about his combination of clear-headedness with sensuality. There was something Scotch about his combination of doing what he liked with knowing what he was doing. But I was not talking of the personality of Charles, which may have been Scotch. I was talking of the popularity of Charles, which was certainly English. One thing is quite certain: whether or no he ever ceased to be a Scotch man, he ceased as soon as he conveniently could to be a Scotch King. He had actually tried the experiment of being a national ruler north of the Tweed, and his people liked him as little as he liked them. Of Presbyterianism, of the Scottish religion, he left on record the exquisitely English judgment that it was "no religion for a gentleman." His popularity then was purely English; his royalty was purely English; and I was using the words with the utmost narrowness and deliberation when I spoke of this particular popularity and royalty as the popularity and royalty of a King of England. I said of the English people specially that they like to pick up the King's crown when he has dropped it. I do not feel at all sure that this does apply to the Scotch or the Irish. I think that the Irish would knock his crown off for him. I think that the Scotch would keep it for him after they had picked it up.
For my part, I should be inclined to adopt quite the opposite method of asserting nationality. Why should good Scotch nationalists call Edward VII. the King of Britain? They ought to call him King Edward I. of Scotland. What is Britain? Where is Britain? There is no such place. There never was a nation of Britain; there never was a King of Britain; unless perhaps Vortigern or Uther Pendragon had a taste for the title. If we are to develop our Monarchy, I should be altogether in favour of developing it along the line of local patriotism and of local proprietorship in the King. I think that the Londoners ought to call him the King of London, and the Liverpudlians ought to call him the King of Liverpool. I do not go so far as to say that the people of Birmingham ought to call Edward VII. the King of Birmingham; for that would be high treason to a holier and more established power. But I think we might read in the papers: "The King of Brighton left Brighton at half-past two this afternoon," and then immediately afterwards, "The King of Worthing entered Worthing at ten minutes past three." Or, "The people of Margate bade a reluctant farewell to the popular King of Margate this morning," and then, "His Majesty the King of Ramsgate returned to his country and capital this afternoon after his long sojourn in strange lands." It might be pointed out that by a curious coincidence the departure of the King of Oxford occurred a very short time before the triumphal arrival of the King of Reading. I cannot imagine any method which would more increase the kindly and normal relations between the Sovereign and his people. Nor do I think that such a method would be in any sense a depreciation of the royal dignity; for, as a matter of fact, it would put the King upon the same platform with the gods. The saints, the most exalted of human figures, were also the most local. It was exactly the men whom we most easily connected with heaven whom we also most easily connected with earth.
We’ve had a small late March snowstorm a couple of days ago. In Western New York, this is not unusual. I’ve experienced April snow here.
There was enough snow I had to do a little shoveling of the driveway.
I like shoveling snow. It’s a physical activity, albeit, a short-lived one. But it makes me feel … virtuous. And there’s a sense of accomplishment as I clear a path for the cars. And it gives me time to think, to pray, to mull over my latest writing project or what I should have said (or might say).
When the snowfall is heavier, as it was earlier this year, I’ve even had to get out the small electric snowblower my daughters kindly gave me one Christmas. I like to shovel, but I’m not a masochist.
My wife, however, frets any time I go out to clear snow off the driveway. She is certain I will at some point have a heart attack and drop dead. Shovel in hand. She keeps bringing up the idea of hiring someone to plow.
When she brings this up, I usually respond I don’t want to hire a plowing service. And if I do drop dead, it’s actually one of the ways I wouldn’t mind going into the great beyond. It would be sudden; no lingering.
Another way I wouldn’t mind going is mowing the lawn. It’s also an activity I enjoy for many of the same reasons I enjoy shoveling the driveway. And it’s another activity my wife frets about and repeatedly calls for hiring an outsider to battle the grass.
So far, I’ve held off giving in to her.
There’s also a romantic side to me, so if I had to go I wouldn’t mind if it was in some heroic way. I’m too old to be a soldier, a police officer, or a firefighter, so I wouldn’t go into the heavenly realms doing my job. But dying while saving someone during some kind of disaster - natural or man-made - would be a fine way to step into the light.
Another romantic way to go would be as a martyr. Yes, that might be slow and/or painful, but dying for my faith in such a way would make up for some (too many) sins in my past, and would (I hope) punch my ticket into heaven.
I’ve joked that when my time comes, family members should just drive me deep into the Canadian woods, open the car door, and let me out to sit under a tree to welcome Brother Death. Of course, the fact that I might also have to deal with Brother Bear or Brother Wolf makes me reject this option.
When I look at the ways I wouldn’t mind dying, I think of Dylan Thomas’s admonition not to go gentle into that good night. Go down fighting. Don’t go with the current like a dead thing, as Chesterton noted, go against it like a living thing. Confront the forces of nature. Go against the currents of evil or the secular secular culture. Be alive, even as you die.
What I would not like is a slow, lingering slide into that good night. I’ve watched too many loved ones suffer in that way. My father, who in his youth had been a star athlete and even a heavyweight boxer, suffered a massive stroke and spent his last 13 years gradually losing his abilities to walk and to take care of himself. He ended up in a nursing home. He was aware of his decline, and it deeply troubled him.
That’s not for me.
Just give me a shovel and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.