Today is the anniversary of the birth of G.K. Chesterton.
If you do not know this storied and celebrated British author, thinker, philosopher and theologian then stop whatever you are engaged in right now and do all you can to correct your unpardonable omission at once!
Chesterton, among many other things, was particularly adept at boiling down lofty concepts into tweetable sentences - long before anyone ever dreamed up Twitter. Consider the following:
"To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”
“He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.”
"There are two ways to get enough: One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less."
“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”
“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”
“Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God.”
“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”
And perhaps my favorite GKC quote, from his book, "What's Wrong With the World" (1910)...
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
If you are even a nominal reader of my often erratic blogging, you will not be surprised to discover that my favorite author, FW Boreham, has a short on essay on Chesterton. Enjoy Boreham's thoughts as we celebrate our literary hero's birthday!
The Wake of a Hurricane
It is interesting to inquire on this, the anniversary of his birth, as to the effect of the years on the enormous vogue of G. K. Chesterton. A cyclonic disturbance swept the purlieus of Fleet Street when Mr. Chesterton's immense shadow was first cast upon those classical pavements. Then, for a few memorable years, his titanic personality dominated the entire situation. No figure in London was more readily recognised than his. Even those who had not actually gazed upon his gigantic form, or heard the reverberating thunders of his stentorian voice, seemed strangely familiar with the features of which they had read so much.
In contemplating his work and his renown at this distance, one circumstance strikes us as extraordinary. Chesterton died at 62. It is an age at which many eminent litterateurs have left us. But if, in the case of almost any other man, the 62 years be divided into two periods of 31 years each, we see at a glance that the first period was a period of preparation, whilst the second was the period of achievement. With Mr. Chesterton it was quite otherwise.
His most brilliant work was executed whilst the dew of his youth was still upon him. In the second half of his life he produced no volumes more startling, more original or more provocative than those which he published in the early days of his career. He was a veritable whirlwind. He broke upon a gasping world with almost terrifying abruptness. He electrified his generation. He seemed to have entered violently the sedate precincts of London journalism without having rung the bell, knocked at the door, or given any other signal of his approach. He established his great fame so swiftly that, whilst he was still in the twenties and thirties, books were being written about him.
The Mingling Of Comedy And Prophecy
During those amazing and youthful years Chesterton seemed to produce his sparkling and scintillating volumes by some occult system of legerdemain. They sprang up at his command as if by magic. He waved his hand, and there they were! They were no trouble to him. He appeared to throw his massive form upon his bed at midnight, and, when he rose in the morning, the finished manuscript lay waiting for him on his dressing table. Each, in its turn seemed to eclipse and outshine all its predecessors. Each, in its turn, set everybody laughing, set everybody thinking, and set everybody quoting.
Few writers were more impressive, for he made everybody feel that, with all his intellectual acrobatics, with all his passion for paradox and with all his delicious nonsense, he was in deadly earnest. If, on the other hand, he was a clever clown, he was, on the other, an inspired prophet.
His vogue was tremendous. When, in those days, a man received from his bookseller the copy of his favourite magazine, they began its perusal by glancing at the index to see if it contained anything from the pen of Mr. Chesterton. If it did, everything else had to wait until the galvanic thrills of those magnetic pages had been enjoyed to the full.
Chesterton's palpitating paragraphs were certain to be packed with haunting epigrams, glittering self contradictions, daring witticisms, droll and pungent humour, shrewd philosophy, acute criticism and quaint observations concerning everything and everybody. For Chesterton was always Chesterton. In his "Prophets, Priests, and Kings," A. G. Gardiner refers to him as one of the most mountainous objects on the horizon of that time. Towering like a colossus against the skyline of his period, he, in more senses than one, dwarfed all his colleagues and contemporaries. Those who applauded him, those who differed from him, and those who, dazzled by the confusing glare of his luminous genius, could make neither head nor tail of him, all agreed that, whatever he was and whatever he was not, he was at any rate a superlative oddity, a dynamic authority and a despotic personality.
Personality The Explanation Of His Products
Chesterton was big enough to think his own thoughts, and it was in his nature, having thought them, to like them. They were his children, born of his own brain, and he looked upon them with the affection and pride of a doting parent. He revelled in pushing them to the front, in attracting attention to their virtues and in seeing them secure the recognition that they deserved. He really loved them; regarded them as bone of his bone, and was ready, if need be, to die in their defence. He poured the vital essence of his own being, the hissing tincture of his own personality, into every syllable that he penned. Herein lies the secret.
It may be argued that the work of an author, and his work alone, will determine his place in the ultimate judgment of mankind, he himself remaining an invisible and inconsiderable nonentity. Chesterton's record proves that the man and his work are indivisible.
Like Pitt and Macaulay, he never grew. All three were at their golden best at 25; neither lost the intellectual splendour that he then commanded: but neither made the slightest advance upon it. In the course of the years, Chesterton gave us books that were as good as his prentice efforts: but he gave us none better. With characteristic shrewdness and sagacity, he lapsed into silence for long periods. He liked to write, not because he had to say something, but because he had something to say. He held that it is far better for a man to lay down his pen while there is still a drop of ink on the nib than to go on scratching long after the point has become dry. With prophetic insight, he detected a shining sublimity in the drabbest commonplace.
Such men, as Blake would say, see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of their hand and eternity in an hour. Men of such virility, and of such vision, are not soon forgotten.
- F. W. Boreham
Image: G.K. Chesterton